You know that old saying "You get what you pay for!"? I'd agree with that in most cases... but renting somewhere to bed down in Thailand is not bound by that proverbial sentiment.
There are few things more subjective than choosing a place to live. Where you eventually decide to set up base camp in Thailand won't be the same as where your colleagues would choose. There are a lot of aspects to consider... the location, landlord, utilities, neighbors... the smell! If you do NOT shop around for a place to live in Thailand you are going to miss out on a great deal that's just right for you.
It doesn't matter where you are on the pay scale, you should always devote a good portion of your energy on finding a place where you'll be comfortable sleeping in. This article isn't about specifics on renting in Thailand - there's lots of good advice available online. These are just a few thoughts that reflect my own experiences renting in Thailand over the last few years before I broke down and bought a place.
What to pay?
For teachers in Thailand, I'm guessing that most of us are paying less than 10,000 baht a month for rent, especially those of us outside Bangkok. The rest of us are paying less than 20,000 baht. Rents in Bangkok can be astronomical but anything over 20,000 baht offers little in return by way of extra services and comforts. In other words... anything more than 20,000 baht is really a waste of money if you have done your homework and made an effort to find somewhere that's right for you.
If you're budget conscious then about 8,000 a month can get you a clean, quiet room in Bangkok. It will also get you a crappy room with unreliable services, a sticky elevator floor, and nasty, annoying neighbors! Then again, I've seen plenty of my friends staying at more expensive places that wouldn't be right for me.
Choosing a 'home' is a balance of positives (what you want) versus negatives (what you are prepared to put up with.) You may want an apartment close to the BTS. But is the noise of the traffic outside worth it? You may want a quiet house tucked away in one of the back streets but that sweaty, twenty-minute walk to the bus stop is just too much to tolerate day in and day out. You've found a place that seems like a great location but the stink of food in the hallways makes you want to throw up. You've discovered a place with a great indoor gym but the rooms are tiny, roach-infested shitholes!
Be patient and KEEP LOOKING!
Do you know the difference between a "condo", an "apartment", and a "serviced" apartment? You should, so find out. Do you know what 'mansion' means in Thailand? It's certainly not what I thought it was! You're gonna laugh your ass off when you find out what passes for a 'mansion' here!
Consider how long you'll be living in your chosen abode. If it's a year or more than you really should make the effort to get it right first time. Ask questions before you sign the lease. Is the WiFi any good? How about the water pressure in the shower? Does the security guard sleep more than the average cat?
Are the air-con units old or new looking? The old ones will chew you up in electric bills. And what is the apartment charging for electricity? If you rent an actual house it will be the lowest domestic rate directly from the electric company. Apartments have more creative (and expensive) ways of calculating your electricity bill.
Can you afford to lose your deposit? Be prepared to. You will probably lose at least some of it with the mysterious 'wear and tear' deductions at the end of your stay. Before you move in, take lots of photos of the inside of the apartment... especially damaged and stained areas. Upload them all on somewhere like Facebook where the date they were posted can easily be seen. Some landlords (especially the women) are worse than the Pattaya jet ski Mafia!
How are the neighbors?
Who are your neighbors going to be? Hang around and find out before you move in. Is there a family of noisy Thais cooking up a batch of stink-flavoured curry in the room next to yours? Is there a drunk Dutchman on his way to making headlines by being a splat on the pavement as he says 'goodbye' to the world and jumps off the roof? Do you have a flirtatious ladyboy down the hall who has more night visitors than Nana Plaza?
Twenty years ago I did my rental research online. I was living in Mexico and working out my budget for the move to Thailand. I was very upbeat... the rents were looking cheap as chips. There were cool looking apartments with pools, gyms, shops and other expats I could talk to... but once I actually arrived in Thailand and started looking at these places, I quickly became disillusioned and abandoned all that research and those pipe dreams of living in luxury on a budget.
I tried settling in a couple of places that were cheap and cheerful. I was a younger man back then so my tolerance for inconvenience and discomfort was a lot higher than it is now. But as my salary increased and my stay in Thailand got longer and longer, I went through a series of upgrades to make my life better. You will probably go through the same steps as I did - learning along the way.
Through it all, the biggest lesson I learned was that the more effort you put into finding a place that's ideal for you, the happier your stay in Thailand will be. There really are brilliant bargains to be had in Bangkok (and the rest of Thailand) when it comes to living quarters. A little work and a little patience will pay off.
Good luck and happy living!