In Praise of Small Apartments
A recent contribution suggested that the cheap end of the apartment market might best be avoided. These are concrete blocks, five or six storeys high, split into small rooms with a cold water bathroom, not that dissimilar to modern student accommodation, though without the shared kitchen. Some have lifts, some have stairs to ascend five or six stories. Some have overhead fans, some have air-conditioners. Some are nicely painted, others are done out in the cheapest sludge-like colour the landlord could obtain. Most have balconies, used for cooking but baked by heat and pollution in the day.
Many Thais don’t like paying rent to landlords and often split the cost between three or four people, children sometimes thrown into the mix. It would have the socialists back in the West leaping up and down in angst and rage but mostly the inhabitants knock along amicably enough and strangely don’t produce an excess of noise and noxious odours.
For foreigners the rooms are equivalent to staying in a 800 baht a night hotel – quality wise – but can be had for 4,000 – 6,000 baht a month, depending on location… true, a long-term resident might have started out paying 4,000 baht a month within walking distance of Soi Cowboy but will probably have had to move to the end of the BTS line, these days, to get that kind of value. A corner, top floor room preferred if you are sensitive to noise as the concept of insulation is not one the low-end building market has any knowledge of.
There is a major advantage to staying in these buildings – for foreigners – Thais will assume that you don’t have much money and the really greedy ones will not have much to do with you. Cops and shakedown artists will merely content themselves with a chuckle at your reduced circumstances rather than seeing you as an easy mark. Possibly, the management charge foreigners a little extra but as long as you pay the rent on time they don’t cause any problems. Some try it on with the deposit when you move out but the few times it has happened I always brought them around by pointing out how a good a tenant I had been.
Unlike the West, where credit history is checked for transgressions, it is just a case of handing over a month’s deposit and rent in advance – unless they don’t like the look of you, when the building will suddenly be full. In the past, I have gone straight from the airplane down to Sukhumvit’s side sois and walked into a new apartment in a matter of hours. It really was that easy, if you knew where to look.
Of course, coming to live in Thailand for a long period and ending up in a cell-like room might not produce much enthusiasm, a luxury condo at ten times the price the solution for many. Throwing all that money away, though, does not work for me, I am kind of inured to my surroundings, as long as I have somewhere to sleep and a private bathroom. It certainly tests your tolerances of the girl of the moment, if she moves in and stays with you 24/7, confined and caged in such a small area.
As to interactions with surly moto-taxi boys hanging outside the apartment, all – as is often the case in Thailand – is not what it seems. Many of these guys are actually keeping an eye on their women who may be shacked up with a foreigner and therefore have to be kept under close scrutiny or maybe she will forget her purpose in life (to make money and face for the moto-boy). If one of these guys has lost his woman to a foreigner he may decide to take it out on another foreigner, regardless that he is not guilty of any wrong-doing other than being a farang in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Or it may be that the foreigner has been taking a different girl each night and refused to pay decent money or wronged a girl, either resulting in an angry Thai man hanging outside the apartment, pretending to be a moto-boy and spending many hours, days, weeks bad-mouthing the foreigner to anyone who listens. He may have convinced the management that the farang is a bad ‘un and needs to be taught a lesson. A vicious beating is the normal result but just getting some money back by robbing his apartment may suffice. Usually, everyone involved in running an apartment is part of an extended family, these bonds making it unlikely that they will do anything to rip each other off – unless some serious dosh is involved!
This does not mean that all cheap apartments are dangerous places to stay just that if you do something nasty to some girl it is then quite easy to get at you, one way or another. Bear in mind that even in expensive condos your post will not be safe from interference so if they want to get at your banking details they can, unless you keep everything routed to the West. I always kept my valuables in a safe deposit box (there is a business running these at the Lumpini end of Silom) and always carried my passport and cash in a money-belt so in a worst case scenario all they could strip from the apartment was clothes and a cheap computer. But never been broken into, even in a quite down and out apartment on the edge of Klong Toey – which was the worst one I stayed in, the concrete seeping out heat and idiotic moto-boys revving their engines five storeys down at three in the morning.
Perhaps the big downside is that they do attract some of the dregs of farang residents, a couple of times have had drugged / drunk chaps running along the corridor hammering on the doors and shouting out nonsense in the middle of the night. I didn’t respond but Thai security eventually corralled them back into their rooms and the management eventually got them out of the building – of course, these idiots give all farang a bad name.
There does seem to be some karma involved in living in these low-end apartments, if you rub along okay with the natives and don’t cause them to lose face they tend to leave you alone… if you piss someone off, though, then things can get quite interesting.
In some ways I wish I was able to stay in such a cheap place (it’d save a lot of money) but I put way too much value on living amongst people with similar values, getting a good night’s sleep and generally spending my life in places that have a pleasant ambience. While I am no expert on cheap / low-end places, those I have stopped by have not left a great impression. Respect to those who can tolerate staying in a low-end unit, but it just wouldn’t work for me. But then it’s no different in New Zealand where I wouldn’t want to live in a down-market neighbourhood either for you would face some similar issues.
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