Moving to Bangkok

What I did right and what I did wrong

When I moved to Bangkok last October, I wasn't really sure what I was doing. I'd left home for a year long adventure in Thailand, hoping to teach English and travel. I wasn't sure what to expect, how to prepare or even what to pack. Looking back, nine months later, I can honestly say that I did some things right and other things I did completely wrong! Maybe you can learn from my mistakes.

Let's start with what I did wrong:

1. I didn't bring enough money. I originally came to Asia in September to complete my TESOL certification and to travel. But, after one month of classes, a beach and Angkor Wat trip, my savings account was dwindling. By the time I settled into Bangkok with a job and apartment I had the dreaded task of having to ask my parents to lend me some money that would last until my first paycheck. I thought that I had done well with my money! However, I hadn't considered the work clothes, apartment supplies, groceries and other ‘getting started' items that I would need on top of my apartment deposit.

TIP: Look at your expected budget and bring at least 1/3 more!

2. I packed clothes that I've never worn. When I first moved to Thailand I wasn't sure where in the country I'd be living or at what type of school I'd be teaching. I packed for the most conservative of all options: elementary school in the country. I packed long button-up tops, ill-fitting khaki pants, and long, unflattering skirts. Basically, these clothes made me look like a 1950's school marm. Of course I ended up living in cosmopolitan Bangkok and working at a language school. In short, my wardrobe was unacceptable. I had to spend a lot of money to update my work look to match my stylish coworkers.

TIP: Don't pack clothes you dislike. If you're unsure of what you'll need, just plan to buy new clothes in Thailand. You'll save money because most clothing in Thailand is quite affordable and you'll also be able to dress according to the job you get.

3. I packed too many bulk items. Before coming to Thailand, I was under the impression that it would be utterly impossible to find basic things. ("What if they don't have nail polish remover!?") In the final days before my departure I hit the aisles of Target hard, stocking up on contact solution, cotton balls, shampoo, toothpaste etc. These items proved to be expensive and they took up a lot of space in my luggage. Imagine my surprise when I found all of the things that I had over packed readily available at Tesco Lotus for a fraction of what I'd paid for them in America. Even my prescription medicine costs only half of its American price.

TIP: You can find everything in Bangkok! Don't waste suitcase space with things you can pick up when you arrive.

4. I brought the wrong shoes. For work, I packed hideous, clunky flats (see above school marm look). For every day use, I packed three pairs of flip flops, all of which fell to pieces after one month in Thailand. Athletic shoes, heels and walking shoes? Nope. Left them in America. (WHAT was I thinking leaving my sparkly Steve Madden pumps at home??) I've had to spend a good deal of money updating my footwear since moving to Bangkok.

TIP: Pack footwear for all occasions. Pack comfortable shoes for walking, heels for going out, chic flats for work and water-resistant shoes for the rainy season.

5. I didn't properly research culture shock. I figured that because I'd traveled abroad before that I would be perfectly fine moving abroad. ("I won't experience culture shock like a newbie traveler!") I didn't understand that culture shock is more than just leaving the airport and noticing that tuk tuks have replaced mini-vans. Culture shock involves several stages, it can lasts months to years and it affects everyone differently. I wish I had been more prepared for the emotional ups and downs that accompany moving to a new country.

TIP: The more prepared you can be regarding culture shock the better off you'll be. Once I was able to recognize whatever stage I found myself in, I was able to cope with the culture shock. Matador Network's article on culture shock is a good place to start.

So, you can see that I did a lot wrong when I moved to Bangkok. But, of course, I got a few things right!

A few things I did right

1. I learned basic Thai. With the help of the internet and a beginner Thai book I was able to learn basic words and expressions that I'd use every day. Knowing how to order food, ask questions, introduce myself and shop made a huge difference in my level of comfort during my first couple of months in Thailand.

TIP: If you're studying Thai, try to familiarize yourself with the Thai alphabet. It's challenging but it may come in handy. Basic reading skills will also make your new Thai world seem a little less foreign and scary.

2. I learned about Thailand's history and culture. Researching Buddhism, history, geography and cultural norms of Thailand made my transition to life in Bangkok much easier.

TIP: At least research cultural do's and don't's before arriving in Thailand. You don't want to offend a monk by bumping into him on your first day, do you?

3. I made friends with Thai people. Before I left America, I made friends with several Thai students and teachers. This was great because I was able to get valuable advice and also great travel suggestions. And, when I arrived in Thailand I had several family connections I could call upon if I needed help.

TIP: Even if you don't know any Thai people personally, ask around! I found my friends through the internet, family and friends of a friend.

4. I stocked up on cosmetics. Yes, I know I packed too many bulk items, but I am so glad that I over packed my makeup and other...ahem "lady products." Because most makeup, facial and skin products in Thailand include whitening chemicals I knew it was important to bring these things with me. Let's be honest, I'm already white enough!

TIP: Stock up on any product that touches your skin because in Thailand it WILL contain whitening. My deodorant from Tesco has whitening in it. (Yay, white armpits?)

5. I got a Kindle! Although it's quick and easy to find English language books in Bangkok, it's not so easy to lug those books across the world. My kindle has gotten me through long flights, overnight buses, traffic jams etc.

TIP: Use your Kindle to download travel guides. This will save space and lighten your backpack.

Have you moved to Thailand? What are some things that you did right and wrong?

Don't forget to pay a visit to my own personal on-line blog as well - see you there!


Great post, I agree with your packing tips for sure. If I was re-arriving in Thailand, I would pack next to nothing-you're better off getting it all here! Except for the beauty products-finding lotion without whitening cream is a nightmare. And I agree with Stacey about the sunscreen for sure. Good sunscreen is outrageously expensive here, and so necessary during March/April.

I would say if you want to bring clothes, bring something nice for work. Thais dress so fancy and femininely compared to where I'm from in the US. Pencil skirts and button-up blouses galore!

I've started a blog about assimilating into life in Bangkok (specifically, the teaching life but there's other useful stuff on there too). You might find it useful for teaching or others who are new to Bangkok:

By Blayne, Bangkok, Thailand (4 years ago)

good article,

But when I went back to the UK for a month i took dresses heels and pumps home because never wore them.

Heels in Bangkok yes but rural thailand unless your an expert at walking uneven potholed paths never will you wear them. I had to leave my beloved chuck taylors at home, yes these are practical for walking but when you take shoes off going in and out of rooms houses etc who can be bothered lacing up each time, some nice flats.

I didnt learn any thai but if learning before coming to Thailand absolutely learn the alphabet and tones. Vocab unless your in Bangkok you will need to learn new vocab as the south and north speak local thai.

Clothes again unless you are in Bangkok bring a selection as I need to wait until i go shopping in Bangkok for new school clothes. Unless you are short you may find clothes difficult to find as a girl. I can scruff around in football shirts and t-shirts at the weekend. But even going to Hat Yai everything was too short!

kindle ipad etc yes you can carry a 1000 books with little weight and blog away.

Bring suncream its really expensive here especially if you want stuff without whitener. UK people we have tesco and boots here that sell all the toiletries from home. But anything without whitener is more expensive.

More importantly remember to have fun and relax and never expect anything to run on time. Dont expect to know more than a few days in advance when the school term will start.

and learn MAI BPEN RAI - it will be ok/ no problem / thank you

By Stacey, Satun, Thailland (4 years ago)

Nice article and sometimes a relative newbie can give better advice to a new arrival than us old timers. I remember I was asked a while back what someone from back home should pack before moving abroad, and I thought to myself, hell, I have no idea of what is even available back home :).

Good practical advice given with a sense of humor!

By Scott, Closer than you think (4 years ago)

Hello karisa, been in Thailand, bangkok mostly for several times now and I can say I can't get enough of Thailand. Soooooo love the culture, food..... everything! I am now 47 yes old working as a bank manager and thinking of retiring, pack up my bags and live in Thailand. Are there any other jobs for an ex banker like me aside from teaching, of course! I would love to teach though, but am I qualified? How do I apply' what are the requirements? Would love to hear from you please. Any useful tips before I take the plunge.

By helen joyce cabugos, philippines (4 years ago)

What a great piece, thank you Karisa :)
I moved to BKK in July 2011 - It all happened so fast, I didn't do any research really - barely knew WHERE Thailand was located on a map (embarrassing, I know). I moved in with a friend, and that didn't turn out so well... I also had to ask my parents for money a couple of times - I don't why, by my money just DIDN'T last in BKK....

I packed all the wrong clothes, and shoes - but I could fit into any Thai clothes or shoes - they are such tiny people - and I am not THAT big :)

BKK was a big scary place, even though I had heaps of fun for 2/3 months :)

I know live in Phuket, Thailand - it's so different from BKK - I LOVE IT - island lifestyle - we don't worry about shoes or clothes or make up here :) But I still get to wear some high heals when we go for wine tastings on Saturdays at our local WINE LOVERS restaurant :)

It seems like you are enjoying BKK, it is just not for me :) But you have some great tips, and I will be sure to send them around to my friends who are all planning to come to Thailand for teaching :)

By Lourika Reinders, Phuket (4 years ago)

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