A Year in Bangkok
Around the middle of last year, I submitted a reader’s story titled “My plan to move to Bangkok” which detailed my thoughts in the months before I started my new life. In a few weeks, I will have been here for a year. I thought it would be nice to review my actual experiences over the past year in a way that might help other people thinking about doing the same thing.
The hardest thing to figure out before my move was what my monthly spend was likely to be. At the time, I can remember a submission that discussed this problem, where the author concluded that you wouldn’t be having a lot of fun for under 85k baht a month pre-tax. This led to a flurry of submissions from readers who were living on a lot less.
Well, having lived here for a year, and kept track of my spending, I agree with the original poster. While it’s possible to live on a lot less that 85k a month, I wouldn’t want to try it. My average monthly spend is 100k, give or take 10k baht. This gets me a nice one bedroom apartment in a central location, a maid three times a week, eating out most meals, going out quite regularly and one big expense a month. The big expense averages around 20k and includes things like health insurance, gym fees, short trips away, hospital visits and gadgets.
While my lifestyle is probably more extravagant than most ex-pats, it isn’t really different from what an average middle-class single guy would be living in the West. The maid is the only thing my friends back home don’t enjoy, and she’s cheap.
Of course you can live a lot cheaper than this, but I wouldn't want to. Many expats here have what I consider a marginal financial existence. Could you live in a council flat existing mostly on fast food, weighing up the benefits of every purchase no matter how minor, and never having any savings? If you are happy to live the equivalent of a student lifestyle while working as a teacher on 40k a month, then you can do it. But this seems like a pretty risky life to me. Many of these expats struggle financially and eventually find themselves back home with nothing to show for their time in Thailand except a big hole in their finances and careers.
The expats I know who are successful have at least one of the following: substantial savings, a good resume, or good business contacts. If you don’t have any of these, then moving here for anything more than an extended holiday will leave you with plenty of problems.
Finding a decent job here is more difficult than in the likes of London, Sydney or New York, but it isn’t impossible. I’ve found one that’s actually more senior than I had before, although it’s paid a lot less. My salary is more than enough to cover my spending though, which is the main thing you need. I won’t save a lot, at least by my standards, but as I’m reasonably financially independent already, this isn’t such a big concern.
Most expats I know who work here do not have what I would consider to be decent jobs. While teaching is a noble profession, English Teacher in Thailand on your resume will not do a lot to advance your career or your bank account. I’ve met quite a few people who are selling stuff on eBay or involved in some kind of boiler room operation. I also hear of people working in sales or something like it. I haven’t heard about any of these people making close to what I’d consider a decent income.
There’s been so much written on this site about girls, that there’s not much I can add really. I’ve done some online dating, and have friends that indulge in it a lot. You can meet all sorts of girls here and there’s more than enough to go around. The places I see the hottest girls are almost always Thai establishments with not many farangs around. Speaking Thai would be a big benefit, but is not really necessary.
I’ve detailed my adventures in online dating before, and my opinion is that it’s easy to meet as many sexy, cute, fun girls as you can handle. I’m often shocked at the poor quality guys attractive women end up with. The selection of eligible men available to women here is of a very low standard. Less competition means more benefits for you.
Claims that Thailand is being deforested of women or that it’s difficult to meet regular girls are exaggerated in my experience. None of my friends have any problems in this area. Their biggest problem, as was mine when I was active, is deciding which girl to go out with.
I used to mess around in the red-light areas when I was a tourist. Now that I live here I don’t indulge at all. I occasionally head to a go-go for a drink, but bar-girls are completely off my radar. There are so many nice available girls here that it’s just not necessary. And those who say paid sex is cheaper are dead-wrong when it comes to Bangkok <Thank you, at least someone agrees with me! – Stick>. None of my friends spend much money on girls and all of them have higher quality girls and more sex than they’d get if they were down at Nana Plaza every night.
Having spent a lot of time around Thai girls, I have to say this is not a place I would come if I was looking for a girl to start a family with. Thai girls are very enthusiastic when it comes to their love-lives and you can easily start passionate relationships with them. The problem is they are so enthusiastic that they easily get bored and are not really interested in being faithful. At home, I rarely hear stories of girls cheating on their boyfriends or husbands. Here, I get told such stories all the time. And the guy being a Thai or the girl being in a respectable occupation doesn’t seem to make the slightest difference. Of course, not every Thai girl is promiscuous, but so many of them are that it’s hard to find a diamond in the rough.
I also think having children with a Thai woman would present you with a lot of problems. I don’t consider Thailand a very good place to raise a child. Decent schools here are really expensive, roads are dangerous, and activities for children don’t seem to be a high priority. Moving your Thai wife back to your own country would also likely cause problems. I suspect most Thais have a hard time living outside Thailand.
Dealing with the Thais
When you read about Thailand online, you’d think it’s a country filled with scam artists and incompetent morons. This has not been my experience at all. I have generally found dealing with Thais to be a pleasant experience. They are mostly polite, honest, and eager to help.
Many long-term expats take too much of a colonial attitude. This is something I find quite offensive actually. When things go wrong back home, you get angry at the person at fault, when things go wrong here, it’s apparently because the Thais are all dishonest idiots. I’ve seen this kind of attitude from Westerners a lot in developing Asia.
Someone will get angry at a taxi driver for over-charging them a dollar, or at an underpaid waitress in a cheap restaurant for not having a comprehensive knowledge of the menu. The superior Westerner will huff-and-puff as if someone has committed the most grievous insult against them and declare loudly that the entire country is populated with thieving retards.
If you read between the lines, it’s clear that what really upsets him is that he’s not getting the respect he deserves for generously throwing a bit of money at the sub-human natives. Too many Westerners seem to relish any opportunity to bully underprivileged locals.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the complaints I hear from expats are mostly petty. In most cases, the service here is no better or worse than it is at home. It’s much better than you’re likely to receive in the tourist centres of Europe, where rude service, poor value, and outrageous prices are typical.
The complaints on this site about real estate agents are a case-in-point. Stick was measured and fair in his criticism, but the responses he received were mostly the same old stuff. While the service from Thai agents was far from perfect, it was still of a higher level than I have received when dealing with real estate agents in Sydney, London or New York. And the budgets being discussed wouldn’t get you spat on in those places.
Often here, you’ll get services that are rare at home. Most places will happily split a bill, for example.
I’ve also had few problems with honesty here. Taxi drivers from the airport have occasionally overcharged me, which is annoying. But I don’t think I’ve ever lost more than $5 in such a scam. The worst time I’ve been scammed was being overcharged 600 baht for a massage in an upmarket place. This made me angry, but no more so than an unexpected bank charge would at home. If losing $20 in a big scam once a year is the worst that’s going to happen, I think I can live with that.
I’ve seen some remarkable cases of honesty. At a restaurant I occasionally eat in, I forgot to wait for my change on one occasion. When I returned two weeks later, the waitress gave me an envelope with my money inside even though I clearly didn’t realise I’d forgotten it.
Dealing with the Thais rarely causes me any problem, and I suspect that those who do have constant issues are probably not telling you the full story. If you spend your life hanging around with prostitutes and low-lifes, you shouldn’t be surprised if things don’t always work out the way you’d like.
Those who get upset when things don’t always function perfectly here should be careful what they wish for. Part of the charm of Thailand is the laidback attitude to life. A sometimes lacklustre attitude to quality comes with that territory. Do you really want to turn Thailand into yet another society where an obsessive compulsive population runs around demanding that everything and everyone bend to their will?
If having everything function like clockwork is a priority for you, there are plenty of other countries where you’ll likely be happier than here. I’m grateful to the hard-working people of Silicon Valley and Germany trying to engineer a perfect world. But I’d hate to live in either of those places.
If accepting broken footpaths, occasional blackouts and steaks that aren’t cooked exactly as I like them is the price of living in a more relaxed country, then I’m willing to accept that cost.
Speaking of real estate agents, how’s the accommodation situation in Bangkok? For such a big city, it’s ridiculously easy to find somewhere nice to live. It’s also very cheap. In Sydney, London or New York, you’ll have to make major compromises and compete with other renters unless your budget is huge. Anyone who’s lived in those cities will know what I mean.
Here, there seems to be much more supply than demand. New condos are going up all over the place, so if anything supply is only going to increase. I’m amazed how often I see huge new, centrally-located buildings that seem to be empty of tenants. Those living in big Western cities can only dream of such a situation.
For 20k baht a month up, you can expect a nice, new apartment. It will likely be pretty small if it’s in a central location, but you can get bigger if you move further out.
I pay just over 30k for a nice 51 sq/m apartment in one of the city’s best locations. I could probably knock 5k off my rent a month and still find a place I’d be happy with without too much effort.
If you want to pay less, you can get a nice place for around 15,000 if you’re prepared to move out a bit, particularly along the MRT line. Any less than that and you’ll likely be moving into a smaller, older room which may involve difficult neighbours or a bad location. Location is important in Bangkok because, while transport is cheap and plentiful, traffic can be a nightmare.
What I miss about home
To be honest, at the moment not much. Moving to Thailand was the right decision for me, at least at this time in my life.
The biggest one would be the natural environment. For a big city, Sydney is pretty hard to beat in this respect. Easy access to nice beaches, Sydney harbour, and great parks is something I definitely miss. The air here is less clean too, although it’s not bad enough that I notice it much. Bangkok has some really nice parks, but they are a bit of of the way compared to where I lived in Sydney.
While I haven’t had any problems with this directly, I worry about what would happen here if something went seriously wrong. Things like emergency services seem pretty bare-bones. And the roads are certainly dangerous. If I got into a legal dispute or the like, what would happen? I don’t know.
The other things I miss are pretty small. Sydney has better cafes. The internet and phone networks are better at home, though for most purposes what I have here is good enough. I miss some of my friends, but I seem to get plenty of visitors here so that’s not so bad.
What I don’t miss about home
For me, life in the West, even in big cities, is generally pretty boring. Most people spend their time either at work, sleeping or sat in front of the TV. A new store opening, a new gadget release or a new blockbuster movie are what excites people there.
Most men move out into the suburbs and become a kind of employee for their wife and children. Improving the lives of their families becomes their new reason to be. I find it sad when I hear the young adventurous guy I used to know talking enthusiastically about bathroom renovations or something equally boring and domestic.
People in Bangkok generally lead more fun lives. The people I meet are more adventurous and interesting.
I definitely don’t miss dealing with Australian women, or women from English-speaking backgrounds in general. When I see such women here, they appear even more overweight, miserable, difficult and rude than they do at home because I’m so used to friendly, slim, easy-going girls now.
I have real difficulty dealing with women from English-speaking backgrounds. Many of them seem to think their purpose in life is to make things difficult for others. Even such a simple decision as where to go to eat can end up in arguments and recriminations. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a social situation where one of these women has gone out of her way to poison the atmosphere. While they are not all like that, so many of them are that it makes it difficult to separate the good from the bad.
It seems incredible that I’ve spent my entire life studying, living, loving, socialising and working with such women, yet I don’t even have one that I count as a real friend. There are plenty that I get along okay with, but outside of my family I don’t know one that I could comfortably call up and ask out for a friendly drink.
Perhaps it’s my fault. Perhaps I’m just a ugly, misogynistic loser. But I will put forward a couple of points in my defence, even if they’re only anecdotal.
The first is that I have no problem establishing friendships with people from other groups, including foreign women. I’m an easygoing guy and generally avoid arguments. The temper-tantrums, rude behaviour, pointless power-games, snobbery and disagreements that are common when dealing with Anglo women are almost entirely absent when dealing with foreign girls.
Secondly, I’m not the only one who has trouble getting along with them. Many foreign girls have confided in me that they struggle to establish healthy relationships with English-speaking girls. And I don’t need to tell you how many men have similar complaints.
Our girls even seem to have trouble getting along with each other. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen friendships between Anglo girls implode for the most minor reasons . This behaviour is rare among people from other groups.
Are all Anglo girls evil bitches? No. Am I glad I don’t have to deal with them any more? Yes. One of the big advantages of living in Bangkok is that this kind of annoying behaviour is largely a bad memory.
So with that little rant over, let’s move on to the conclusion.
Did I make the right decision moving here?
In a word: Yes. I’m much happier here than I was at home. I’m healthier, I enjoy my work more, I have more fun and I’m less lonely. After a year in Bangkok, I have no regrets with my decision to move here.
I’ve also not really given anything up. My biggest worries were that my career and my bank account would suffer. Now that I’m working, those problems have evaporated.
Should you too make the big move? Only you can answer that. Hopefully I’ve helped you decide.
It's great to hear that you have done so well, and that life has been very good to you so far. It's hard to imagine that things could have gone better…and I am that as you get to know the city more, earn more money and pursue your hobbies with greater vigour, you'll enjoy life here even more!