What would be the most important things to me if I were looking for a new Bangkok neighborhood to live in?
OK, here are my main requirements in no particular order - and I'm aware that everyone's priorities will be different.
A good laundry / dry cleaners
If you're one of those hardy souls who gets busy with the marigolds and the ironing board every weekend, then I take my hat off to you - but it's not for me. And that's why a reliable laundry shop is always going to be near the top of my list.
When I first moved into my neighborhood, I used to use the laundry shop at my local Tesco Lotus; however, I got sick and tired of going to pick up my clothes and seeing ‘back in ten minutes' scribbled on a scrap of paper and taped to the glass door. Then an hour or so would pass without a single sign of life, with the laundry shop owner eventually putting in a guest appearance when she felt like it.
Reliability is crucial when selecting a laundry. The shop at Tesco Lotus closed down within a few months and is now a mobile phone outlet. No surprises there.
The laundry shop I go to now is a dream. It's always open and the clothes are always ready and hanging neatly on quality plastic hangers. And the two ladies who run the joint count every single item and enter it into a computer so you know exactly where you stand and when you need to pay them more money. And if they ruin a shirt - as sometimes happens - they pay the full purchase price, no questions asked.
A choice of supermarkets
I love cooking and eating but I hate supermarket food shopping. When I need to push a trolley around a supermarket, I want to know instantly where everything is and I want to be out of the place as quickly as possible. The weekend hours are far too precious to have to spend them traipsing up and down supermarket aisles.
I have four local supermarkets; Foodland, Tesco Lotus, Makro and Carrefour. The bulk of my shopping I do at Foodland. Yes, it's a little pricier than its competitors but I know where everything is displayed and I can pick up a week's groceries in less than half an hour.
As is often the case though, there are a few items I need that Foodland just doesn't have - so once every three weeks, I'll make the trip to Tesco and buy those things that only a supermarket giant tends to stock.
I never go to either Makro or Carrefour; I just find them far too big and chaotic. But it's nice to have a choice of supermarkets nearby because you can rarely get everything you need under one roof.
A fresh food market of some description
Although Foodland is my choice of supermarket, for some reason their fresh fruit prices are outrageous. I've long wanted the chance to confront the person responsible for the pricing of such items and ask him if he lives in the real world. Does he actually know what normal people pay for their apples and oranges?
So it's always nice to have a fresh market option in the neighborhood - somewhere just a few minutes walk away. Thai fresh markets are brilliant - not only for being cheap but also for letting you select small quantities of stuff and avoid having to chuck half of it in the bin at the end of the week because it's all gone rotten - as I often seem to do.
A fitness club / gym
I was bitten by the fitness bug a few years ago and now I'm a gym regular, either pounding out the miles on a treadmill or lifting dumb-bells under my trainer's watchful eye. I can't believe I'd ever be saying this but I just can't imagine life without those gym sessions.
My neighborhood doesn't have many plus points, but it does have a modern gym and spa complex with great staff and facilities - and all just five minutes walk away. If you go during the day when most people are at work, you'll virtually have the place to yourself.
I'm one of only half a dozen foreign members anyway so I'm something of a novelty. Quite a few of the ‘braver' Thai members like to chat with me and practice their English - so going to the gym has become something of a social occasion as much as a place to improve my fitness.
Close proximity to a BTS station
Before the Sukhumwit line was extended to Bearing Station in the east, it would take me at least an hour to get into Bangkok using a combination of taxi and sky-train from Onnud (which was then the end of the line) Now it's a 5-minute taxi ride to Bearing and I know that barring any major disruption or disaster, I can leave my home and be in downtown Bangkok within thirty minutes.
Oh boy has it made life so much easier. I don't venture into Bangkok that often but in the past, when someone arranged to meet me for lunch on Sukhumwit, it was like planning an expedition. Now I know I can leave home, enjoy a nice lunch with a friend, get back home - and only use up half a day at most.
Proximity to a sky-train station opens up the whole city and a whole new world for you.
A place to just sit and breathe
This is one thing my neighborhood totally lacks - a park or some sort of open space where one can just sit and watch the world go by. Whenever I'm in the Sukhumwit area around the Emporium Shopping Mall, I'm always envious of the folks who can make use of that lovely little park next door. And what about those lucky buggers who live in spitting distance of Lumpini Park? Wouldn't it be wonderful to just sit back under a shady tree, by the side of the lake, dip into your backpack for a good book - and imagine you haven't got a care in the world.
A shopping mall or two
In terms of shopping malls, I'm not that well off considering how many there are in Bangkok these days.
I've got The Jas Urban, which is not that great but is only a 10-minute walk from my home. However, if I want something better, I have to schlep to either Central Bang Na or Megamall Bang Na, which are both a 20-30 minute taxi ride away, depending on the traffic.
There's no getting away from the fact that walking around an air-conditioned shopping mall is one of Thailand's favourite pastimes so if you can't beat ‘em, you better get out there and join ‘em. And it's nice to have a choice of course.
A few decent Thai restaurants
Although there is usually a great choice of restaurants in shopping malls, you're not always in the mood to get a taxi or park your car and then half to negotiate half a dozen escalators to get to your favorite eateries. You don't always have the time.
This is when you need a good selection of simple, local Thai restaurants or food-shops where you can enjoy a duck and rice for 50 baht a head or perhaps something a little more up-market where even ordering drinks and a few dishes won't run a hungry couple in excess of 500 baht.
A good selection of street-food stalls
The famous Thai street-food is not quite the bargain it once was, but there are still those occasions when all you can be bothered to do is pick up a couple of plastic bags from your favourite footpath vendor and zap the contents in the microwave back home.
I didn't realize how important a decent selection of street-food sellers was until I moved to a neighborhood that didn't have any.