Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 40,000 baht (this was in 1996 - 25 years ago)

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I was working full-time at the Ramkhamhaeng branch of a private language school chain (head office was in Victory Monument). I was working six days a week and got Saturdays off. It sounds ridiculous now but some weeks I would do as many as 36 classroom hours (including 9 hours of TOEFL test prep and about 10 hours of academic writing). They were punishing schedules but when you're in your early 30s and you need the money, you find the energy from somewhere. I think my hourly rate was in the region of 250-300 baht.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I was probably lucky to save 5,000 - 10,000 a month.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

8,000 baht a month, which at the time was almost double what my colleagues were spending on rent. It was probably more than what I should've been spending but I've always been a great believer in the more you spend on a nice place, the less you'll 'waste' on going out and on entertainment, etc.

I lived in a very nice studio apartment on Rama 4 Road, next to Klong Saem Saeb. Although it was only 30 square metres, the building owner had divided the room in half with a chipboard wall and then painted it, so it gave the impression of being a one-bedroomed apartment. It had hot water and a good air-con unit and there was a small restaurant downstairs that also doubled as the laundry. Nice staff as well. I always got on with them.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?


I used to catch the public bus to and from work. I think the air-con bus was 8 baht and the non-aircon was 3 baht. I used to catch whichever came first because my school was only 3-4 bus stops. So this expense was barely a few hundred baht a month. I did get the odd taxi at weekends though.

Utility bills

I always had the air-con going when I was in the apartment. My bill was usually in the region of 1,500 baht.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I look back and realise I never ate particularly well in those days. Not because I couldn't afford it but I could never seem to get myself organised. My main meal of the day would always be lunch, which was often grabbed from the shopping mall opposite the school. A lady in the food court there did a particularly good 'gaeng galee gai' (Indian style curry) for 30 baht. In the evening I'd either throw some sliced ham between two slices of killer white or walk to the nearby McDonalds before I got the bus home.

In 1996, you had nothing like the choice of Western fast food that you have now. There weren't that many McDonalds around, a few KFCs, Chester's Grill was quite popular, and that was pretty much your lot.

I generally skipped breakfast most mornings or I'd grab 10 baht's worth of 'pathong go' to dip in my coffee while I was preparing the day's lessons.

I guess all in all, eating and supermarket shopping came to about 6,000 a month.

Nightlife and drinking

Saturday night was always the big night out. It was the highlight of the week and they always followed the same pattern. 3-5 of us would meet in the staff-room and with neckties stuffed in our pockets, we'd start the evening about 6pm with a few cheap beers at a cafe in the shopping mall, then pile into a couple of taxis and head for the fleshpots of Sukhumwit Road. The German Beer Garden on Soi 8 was always a popular starting point but we'd nearly always end up in Cowboy, Nana Plaza or down 'The Pong' if we fancied a change of scenery (I never liked Patpong though)

In those days, beers were 40-80 baht tops, lady drinks were 40 baht. You could have a skinful of ale, a Maccy D opposite Patpong, a taxi home as the sun was coming up and you'd still have plenty of change from a thousand baht note. So probably 4,000 a month on entertainment.

Very occasionally I would go to the movie theatre (50 baht a ticket) or have a couple of hours on the green baize at one of the many snooker clubs dotted around that you just don't seem to see anymore. I can't remember for the life of me how much snooker was per hour but it wasn't expensive. And you always bunged a 50 baht tip to the markee (the young girl who worked at the club and who handed you the rest and put her hands in the pockets to fish your balls out)

Books, computers

These were the days well before the internet and smartphones so you never had those expenses to worry about. However, I was totally addicted to my Playstation and Lord knows how many hours of my life I wasted on Tomb Raider. A good friend and colleague would sometimes come round and we'd get a few cans from the old Chinaman at the dusty corner shop and have mammoth 'Resident Evil' sessions that would go on until the small hours. Not the smartest thing to do when you've got eight hours of teaching the following day.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

This is a really tough question to answer but 40,000 just seemed to be enough to do what I wanted to do. I never went hungry, I had some pretty wild Saturday nights out and any spare minute was usually spent on the Playstation. To be honest, I was doing that many bloody teaching hours, I didn't have time for much else. I never travelled much either. The thought of a few days away in Pattaya or Hua Hin didn't appeal to me. I just didn't have the time and I'd been to those places before anyway.

The one expense I did need to put money away for was the annual trip home to England to see family - and you did that as cheaply as you possibly could. I remember flying home one year with Bangladesh Biman via Dhaka, for 17,500 baht return. And of course when you get home, you kind of hope your family will take care of you (treat you to meals out, etc). One year I managed to scrape together 20,000 baht for spending money and it felt like a fortune.

I was a guy in my early 30s paying no attention whatsoever to his future and his retirement years but the truth is, I never worried about it. When you're footloose and fancy free, you just hope that things will eventually take care of themselves. I was about 40 when I realised that this is not the case.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Nothing was unaffordable to a teacher on 40K. You often hear folks say that Bangkok has become as expensive as any other international city, and while I wouldn't disagree with that, it's only half the story. You simply didn't have the temptations back then; there was less to spend your money on. So naturally, once you had paid your rent, your spending money went much further.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

Almost every foreign teacher earned around 30-40,000 baht a month, some even less that that. But we all lived reasonably well and I think that answers the question.

Phil's analysis and comment

Many thanks to my old mate, Anthony, who gave me the idea of stepping into a cost of living 'time machine' and going back to 1996 (25 years ago) We often say that teacher salaries in Thailand have hardly risen since then (partially true) but I think what's interesting is how much further your money went in the Bangkok of yesteryear.  

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