In 2013 MasterCard ranked Bangkok as one of the top 4 cities in the world for international travelers based on arrivals and spend. Even with a turbulent couple of years the city still ranks favourably with New York, London and Paris in terms of visitors.
Being considered among such names it would seem that Bangkok would be an amazing city to live in. However, I feel I'm not alone in only being in Bangkok as it's the best place to find work in Thailand. It's more a place we put up with in order to stay in this amazing country than a place we will eventually call home.
Living in Bangkok
Many tourists talk about the amazing food, culture, shopping and temples as great reasons to visit Bangkok. I totally agree with them if you are a tourist - but what about when you live here?
Sure the food is great and after a while you will find hidden local restaurants. The flavours and smells are intoxicating. However, this food can be found all over Thailand, and often a lot cheaper outside of Bangkok.
I have friends who live in Pathum Thani ( about 25 km north of Bangkok ) and I love visiting them to eat and drink the same amazing food as found in Bangkok but in a quiet area surrounded by fields and beauty. On the flip side I do appreciate being able to find western food close to where I live. Outside the main tourist areas it can be very difficult to find something other than KFC or Pizza Hut if you want something familiar from back home.
Thai culture is very interesting to many tourists. From religion to the ways of the people there are many differences between Western and Thai culture. There are some things I appreciate about the culture here and others that I don't understand. It's not for me to judge and I certainly don't tell people to try and change who they are. However, how much culture are you going to find on Khao San Road or Sukhumvit?
Eating Pad Thai and fries with a big bottle of Chang whilst listening to the cover band play Oasis all night on Khao San. I cringe every time a visiting friend asks me to take them to these places to get the "real" Thai experience. Of course other cities and places in Thailand suffer with the same issues - I guess anywhere with tourists does.
Many Thai people are now telling me that even Chiang Mai is losing its charm due to the tourist takeover and the culture is being watered down. However, when you live here and get to meet Thai people you understand more about the country. I have made great friends and can say that the Thai people I know are kind, generous and always happy to see me.
These people are not used to foreigners but have made me feel at home and it's great to exchange ideas, language and conversation with them. They also recommend great places to go out visit.
There are nice areas of Bangkok where you can avoid the crowds of tourists and be very happy. It's important to remember that you're here to work and live, not on a vacation. Khao San may be great for a few nights when you're travelling but do you want to live there and spend all of your nights at a bar?
At either end of the BTS / MRT lots of expats live in places like On Nut and Ari where you can access the city centre and still feel away from all the craziness. I used to live in London and I feel it's a similar comparison - I never went to the tourist areas in central London to eat and party and don't feel the need to in Bangkok. As an expat you will soon discover this city has so much more to offer you and it caters for every taste.
Living Outside Bangkok
Looking through the Ajarn job section you will see lots of jobs for provinces outside of Bangkok. You will also quickly note that many of them are at lower salaries than those in Bangkok. It is not uncommon to see wages at around 25-30,000 Baht per month. People have debated the living costs and salary levels in Thailand but for me I think it is unwise for most native English speakers to take one of these positions.
However, there are many people who do live outside Bangkok and by all accounts live comfortable lives. I guess there are several ways you can make this situation work. Firstly by having an alternative source of income coming in - for example renting your house out back home, a pension or having a business elsewhere.
Secondly, living very basically and not feeling the need to splurge on Western food, new technology or lots of nights out.
Finally if you move with a partner and have two salaries coming in then maybe it makes things easier if you split bills etc. I did three months working at a government school outside Bangkok for 34,000 Baht a month and the thought of having to survive on those wages forever would be quite scary to me.
Where is ideal?
I'm sure many people would love to escape Bangkok and live in a different part of Thailand. Some would love to go rural and have a motorbike to drive through the countryside in the evenings after working in the local school. Others would prefer to be in a small town with a few more facilities but not feel like they had 10 million other people crammed into the areas around them.
Personally I would love to live somewhere about 100KM outside of Bangkok in a small town. A place you could get a van back to the city in 2 hours if you needed to but somewhere quiet and relaxing where you can sit and stare across rice fields whilst reading a book. So why don't I move there today?
The problem is work.
Bangkok is a magnet for Thai people who want to study at university, or find higher level jobs. As such the greatest demand for English teachers is in Bangkok. There are more schools and language centres here than in other places around Thailand.
Finding a job here is easier and also pays better as students have higher salaries and more disposable income to spend on learning English than other areas in Thailand. The government high schools pay the same across the country but the chance and availability of extra private classes for these teachers is higher in Bangkok.
Is Bangkok A Good Place To Live?
Overall I would still say it is a good city to live in. I have moved to the very edge of the city and can even see some fields from my condo. Every city has areas we would like to avoid and I can still go for a good night out without going anywhere near the places I don't like.
It's not perfect here but that is one of the charms of Thailand, you never know quite what to expect. Sure I would like to be able to breathe fresher air and travel without stopping in a traffic jam on every journey but the alternative of being without enough money is a worse situation for me.
When the government schools are paying 50,000 Baht a month on a 12-month contract, I'll be happy to venture further away from Bangkok but we all know that isn't going to happen anytime soon. So, for now, I'll happily stay in Bangkok and enjoy the opportunity to save and travel around Thailand whilst I can.
Bangkok might never be the place I truly call home but it's a place I'm happy to be right now.
If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country
Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand.
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