In the weeks leading up to my departure from Bangkok, I was jubilant. I couldn’t wait to get out of the chaotic, raucous, and humid concrete jungle that is Thailand’s biggest city. I longed for green spaces, blue skies, and a cool breeze.
But in the year since my move, I can’t count the number of times that I’ve wistfully missed living in Bangkok: the crowded sidewalks, steaming food stalls, and flamboyant lights of the crazy city.
Time away has changed my perspective, allowing me room for comparison and to consider the living in Bangkok pros and cons.
POSITIVES of Living in Bangkok
Living in Bangkok Pro: The cost of living in Bangkok is CHEAP
Aside from imported items, Thailand is insanely inexpensive.
For less than $1, you can get a full meal of rice, vegetables, and a protein. You can see a movie for $5. You can buy a lightly used perfect condition iphone for $200. Your modern, tastefully furnished one-bedroom apartment in a great part of the city near all kinds of public transportation and activities is only $500 per month. You can get a phenomenal massage for $10.
Even if you earn a small salary, you can easily save a good chunk of money each month, while having a great quality of life.
the view from my nicely furnished Bangkok 1 bedroom apartment that rents for less than $500 a month
Living in Bangkok Pro: Travel is beyond easy throughout Bangkok and beyond
Bangkok has complicated bus, van, and songthaew (truck) systems, but also a miraculously easy and modern intracity train. The BTS (skytrain) is seriously the gold standard for a city train system. It is the most few clean, efficient, and reliable aspect of Bangkok, and the views are great as well. The metro system is equally awesome, hitting different parts of the city, but underground.
If you’re looking to travel within Thailand (which you should!), it is almost ridiculously easy and inexpensive. Take a night bus from Bangkok and wake up in Phuket or Chiang Mai for $25. Or, be a bit more luxurious, and take a flight for only $50. The night train is another awesome option, with air conditioning and a nice little bed, for only slightly more than the bus.
International travel is just as nice. Suvarnbhumi Airport is connected to city center by the convenient (and inexpensive) Airport Rail Link, making it easy to arrive to your flight on time. From Thailand, you can reach any of the countries in Southeast Asia for under $200 roundtrip, if you keep your eye on prices. AirAsia and Bangkok Airways regularly run deals.
get here, quickly and cheaply
Living in Bangkok Pro: Vegetarians and vegans are super welcome in Bangkok (and Thailand)
Learning the word “jai” will be your best friend as a vegetarian. Awesomely, not many foods include milk or eggs, already easy to be vegan once you get the meat subtracted.
Every food court will have a vegetarian stall or vegetarian options, all you have to do is ask. There are a plethora of vegetarian restaurants as well, especially in the old Bangkok area.
The best time of year for any veg-eating is the Vegetarian Festival (yes, seriously) which takes place throughout Thailand and is signaled by the easily recognizable yellow flags. The whole country gets involved, as almost every Thai goes vegetarian for the week. Even if it looks like meat (which it probably will), if a stall has the yellow flag, you’re safe. It’s an awesome time to try out traditional Thai specialties that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
Bangkok vegan food at Mango restaurant near Khao San
Living in Bangkok Pro: Bangkok is a hub for foreigners
You’ll meet people of every nationality traveling to and living in Bangkok. I’ve never experienced an international scene like it in my life. At my average dinner party, between 10 people there’d be 7 different countries represented. You get to experience other cultures without even traveling there.
Having other expats around means you have sympathetic ears to vent frustrations, share loneliness, and bounce advice off of. There’s always someone who knows someone who has been through a similar situation and knows what to do – or who knows who to go to for help.
There are many expat groups, in addition to the typical Internations and Rotary, including expat women, expat fitness, and expat nutrition, great places to make friends.
Additionally, Bangkok offers very Western conveniences. With more Western mega-malls than imaginable, and more McDonalds and KFCs than sensible, sometimes Bangkok can be almost too comfortable.
a small international dinner party (Israeli, Canadian, American, Chinese, Thai, British, and Swedish friends)
Living in Bangkok Pro: The food in Bangkok is amazing
Thai food is famous worldwide for its spice, flavor, and unique taste. It’s obviously at its best in Thailand. Green curry, som tam (a savory unripe papaya salad), and unnamed vegetarian tofu mixes are my favorite. Half the time, I don’t know what I’m eating, but as long as it’s “jai” – its DELICIOUS.
In addition to the ubiquitous local food, Bangkok has an amazing international food scene. I’ve had the best Indian of my life in Bangkok, and some of the best Arabic and Mexican. There are even a few spot-on branches of Dean & Deluca (best breakfast EVER).
After a while in Bangkok, you’ll find that your conversations are becoming similar to your friends’ (both expat and local) in one way – you talk about food a LOT. What you’re going to eat for lunch, what you had for breakfast, and debating where to find the best massaman curry.
even overly stereotypical Pad Thai is insanely delicious
Living in Bangkok Pro: Bangkok is just plain fun
Whether you’re going to see a movie, a new art installation, checking out the farmer’s market, strolling in the park, or meeting up with your friends at the beer garden, there’s always something going on and everyone can join regardless of their budget. Any time, day or night, you can find something fun and cheap to do.
Some of my favorite nights in Bangkok are the simplest, drinking a Chang or a Sangsom diet coke at a plastic table on the sidewalk, sharing laughs and swapping stories with friends. And a few of my favorite nights were more upscale – having a drink at the Sky Bar followed by a fancy evening dinner at Indus.
easily fun, like watching tourists share a cockroach
NEGATIVES of Living in Bangkok
Living in Bangkok Con: Thai language is overwhelming and difficult
Thai is HARD to learn. There’s a different alphabet, and totally different way of structuring sentences.
Not to mention – tones. One word can mean six different things, depending on the rising, falling, high, low, or peaked tone of voice. Great example? Mai.
mai (falling tone) = to burn, to be on fire
mai (low-tone) = new
mai (rising-tone) = a tree, a plant
mai (high-tone) = isn’t it? (a question particle)
mai (mid-tone) = no, not
I seriously think it is almost impossible. After weeks of class, I could barely introduce myself. But I can count!
Living in Bangkok Con: Prostitution is openly accepted in many circles in Bangkok
You will see young, pretty girls (and boys) hanging limply onto the arms of old, fat, balding, sweaty men. While you can debate the ethics and economics of prostitution all you want, for me it is hard to see. I know a young girl can’t be enjoying that, and I know that she deserves better opportunities. It sickens me to see women so openly devalued and disrespected, treated like play things rather than human beings with feelings.
The unfairness of her situation hits me in the heart every time I see it, and it doesn’t get easier.
It’s not just old, ugly Australians that buy into prostitution – it is an openly accepted aspect of the male expat community in Bangkok. You will likely have acquaintances, coworkers, and even friends who have no qualms about buying a woman for the night or the hour.
Living in Bangkok Con: You’ll never be Thai
A lot of people are okay with this, but some aren’t. It definitely isn’t the easiest culture to integrate into.
While there is a great expat community that will welcome you with open arms, you will never be Thai. You’ll never be fully accepted into Thai culture, and will always be and feel like an outsider looking in. It’s easy to be an expat, but impossible to be Thai.
Living in Bangkok Con: The government can be unstable in Thailand
From protests, to coups, to constantly changing rules, Thailand is a confusing place to live the past few years. While I never felt unsafe, it is disconcerting to know that laws can change overnight and that a military government is in power.
Living in Bangkok Con: Bureaucracy for foreigners is time-consuming in Thailand
If you’re on a tourist visa, your time in Thailand is limited. If you wish to stay, you’ll need to get a proper visa (like education or non-B and a working visa), or pay off a lawyer to help you out.
Regardless, you’ll need to make regular trips to immigration (depending on your visa – 4 times a year or more). Located in a far off neighborhood called Chaeng Wattana, each trip will take you an hour to get there, and likely a whole day waiting in lines and filling out paperwork. It is a repetitive and time consuming process run by pedantic officials.
Living in Bangkok Con: Poverty is everywhere in Bangkok
Destitute children will pull on your hand, limbless beggars will plea for coins, and women holding infants will cry for food. Shoeless kids will beg for help right outside fancy shopping malls, and shantytowns sit right across the canal from luxury high rises. The inequality is inescapable.
People say you will get used to it, and maybe you do get a bit numb after a while, but is that a good thing?
Living in Bangkok Con: Cops are corrupt throughout Thailand
The police are paid pennies, and take every opportunity they get to squeeze more funding out of foreigners, who are seen throughout Thailand as wealthy (regardless of their actual economic status). You’ll be charged with false crimes, made-up allegations, and petty fines, and then given the opportunity to pay on the street to avoid being brought to the police station. Usually, if you haven’t done anything wrong, agreeing to go to the police station will drop the charges right there and nothing further will happen.
If you’re being framed or have actually done something wrong, it might be best to pay. Start the bargaining in the basement with a super lowball offer of 100 baht.
Living in Bangkok Con: Service is just not that good in Bangkok
Restaurant service (and basically any other service other than massage) is below “Western standard”. You’ll need to call your waiter over if you need something (he definitely won’t check on you), and if the food is wrong/bad/cold you’d better just deal with it. Complaints won’t get you anything positive.
When you go out with a group and order food, you’ll get each dish at different times throughout an hour. One reason is because service is generally bad and slow, but also because in Thai culture people share all the dishes on the table, so receiving dishes at different times isn’t problematic. This is quite different than the Western concept of ordering meals, in which everyone orders for themselves – just get used to it because it won’t change.
Living in Bangkok Con: People lie. A lot.
If you ask a Thai for directions, and he doesn’t have the answer, he will point you in a random direction. You will get lost, ask another person who doesn’t know, and he will point you in another direction.
You’ll either end up scratching your head in confusion or pulling out your hair in frustration. Why do these people want to get you lost? They don’t – they just want to save face, so they can’t admit that they don’t know your answer and they actually do really want to help you.
The above is fairly innocent, but darker lies exist. Scamming tourists out of extra money for VIP services is extremely common. Any time you hear VIP or special price, you should run in the opposite direction, or pay for the cheapest option available – as that is what you will be getting regardless.
my new friends, after filming a commercial
Living in Bangkok Pros and Cons: My Conclusion
Bangkok is not a perfect city, by any means, but it is the city of my heart. It’s my favorite city to live in (so far) I’ve realized. And I can’t wait to go back.
Thailand is also my favorite country, and when weighing the pros and cons of living in Bangkok, the positives far outweigh the negatives – for me.
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I love Thailand and Bangkok….for both the pluses and minuses 😉 The lying thing is super common in face-saving cultures Stephanie. It can be frustrating but I know before I travel to my fave country on earth, it’ll be fun and….interesting LOL. Thanks for the cool share!
Thanks Ryan! Thailand was my first experience with Asia, and I was so confused my first few months – WHY DOES EVERYONE GIVE ME THE WRONG DIRECTIONS? I felt really sad, like everyone was playing a joke on me… until my Thai friends explained and it made a LOT more sense. But still, I hesitate before asking directions and take them with a grain of salt 🙂
interesting read your article. I am living in Bangkok since almost 1 year, but more in the outskirts not the city center.
I have to say I agree with most points you made about Thailand, but want to add some stuff.
Getting around in Bangkok is easy when you live near the BTS / MRT and want to get to a destination near the train system, but a lot of places are not near the BTS / MRT. Those places are espescially in rush hour times a nightmare to reach, because of horrible traffic jams.
Compared to other places in Thailand the Bangkok center is quite expensive. You can get a room in Thailand with air con for 100$, which has furniture and fridge etc. 500$ is quite a lot of money in Thailand and far from cheap.
I managed to learn Thai and speak/ read it quite fluently. I found the language not hard to learn. It is mostly learning vocabulary, no grammar at all and the tones a not THAT important, although I hear that point everytime somebody mentions thai is hard to learn. You can learn the language and use it well without getting the right tone everytime.
There are corrupt cops in Thailand, but I had no bad experience in Thailand with cops in the two years I visited Thailand.
Some of the cons you mention are really just a phenomenon of areas with a lot of foreigners, like beggars and the prostitution. I think foreigners and their behavior are to blame a lot for that.
Feel free to disagree with me or to evaluate the pros and cons further.
Hi Georg! Thanks for adding your perspective!
A few thoughts – choosing to live away from public transportation of course means that transport will be more difficult, and BKK does have traffic issues like most metro cities.
Compared to anywhere else in the world, $500 for a nice apartment in a city center is an absolute steal. I’m paying 3x that here in Rio, and would pay double even in a minor city anywhere else.
Congrats on learning Thai that is awesome! And agreed, cons and problems tend to follow foreigners, as it is in any country. But I myself am a foreigner as are the vast majority of my readers so I thought it good to mention 🙂
yes in that perspective accomodation in Bangkok is really cheap. One thing that came in to mind is that the level of english spoken throughout Thailand is very low. When I am around with some foreign friend and we conversate with thais I always notice how difficult even easy conversations are in english because the Thais really don´t speak it well.
Yes, that is very true. But at the same time, it’s not quite fair to expect other countries’ citizens to pick up English as a mandatory second language. Of course, it has benefits for their tourism and our ease of life, but I can’t fault any person for not having a high level of English as a second level fluency.
In Thailand, a farang is like a cartoon character that’s been brought to life (as opposed to being a human being), so anything goes in the way you’re treated.
It’s not that you’ll be treated poorly, I guess just don’t expect to be treated like a local.. It’s all a game and everything’s a hustle with the Thai people. I mean it’s damn near a 3rd world country.
What was it like being a foreign white (blonde) woman living in Bangkok in terms of dating? I met women who said it was a bit of a struggle..
BTW, like a bit about bogus directions. I unintentionally do that to strangers here in Melbourne sometimes. Gave me a good laugh, sorry.
I don’t know that it’s fair to make a sweeping statement that “It’s all a game and everything’s a hustle”.. I have Thai friends and colleagues and that’s not accurate of them whatsoever, nor most of the people I met. I was never expecting to be treated like a local, simply sharing my experiences of the Pros and Cons 🙂
I really enjoyed the dating scene for the most part in Bangkok, and found it much better/appealing than in the US. Of course, there were a LOT of skeezy guys who were into prostitutes, etc… but those aren’t the type of men I’d be interested in, anyways. I met my now-fiance in Bangkok.
I am an Asian living in US and disagree your opinion on one of your listed CON That you will never be a Thai. I guess I feel the same living in US but isn’t that expected? I guess you never felt as a foreigner until you left US.
Hi David! Thanks for sharing your opinion. I never did feel like a foreigner until I left the US, that is definitely correct, because I was not a foreigner while living in the US (I’m American).
I think one of the differences I was trying to highlight is that many different races, religions, ethnicities, etc are recognized as American. Once you become an American citizen, you are an American in the eyes of the law and most of the people (of course, though, there are exceptions when it comes to close-minded racist, which is a shame). In Thailand, though, foreigners are never seen as Thai (an opinion supported by not just casual observation but confirmed by every Thai friend I ever discussed it with). Even my Thai friends who came from Chinese backgrounds (though their families had lived in Thailand for generations) were called Chinese, not Thai. Same for my Thai friends whose families had come from India years ago: they were called Indian, not Thai.
I have lived in provincial Thailand for a few years now. The only I thing disagree with is that on here you seemed to imply that the prostitutes are there purely for westerners to abuse. While the locals will be more than happy to blame farangs citing places like Pattaya and Nana as examples, what they don’t tell is that prostitution is all over Thailand and around 70% of it caters for local Thai men. Everybody knows it but Thai men are discreet about it unlike the fat, sweaty farangs who parade their lady around like the cat that caught the canary. A lot of the women working in the bars do it out of poverty but a lot also do it out of greed and laziness, knowing they can earn quadruple their hardworking sisters salaries just for playing a few games of connect four and laying on their backs. A good hearted, hardworking and respectable Thai woman wouldn’t dream of working in that industry regardless of how poor she is. Its bad enough that western men living here get stereotyped as sexpats by the locals without people in other countries assuming we’re here for the naughty nightlife too.
Thailand also does have a very low level of English compared to other parts of SE Asia, the education system is a joke and the government is making it harder and harder for foreigners to stay which is one of the reasons myself and my wife will leave.
Otherwise I totally agree with your points. I’ve loved Thailand and know its time to move on but when I leave, a part of me will always get nostalgic for the noise of a 7/11 and riding a motorbike down the beachfront with the coconut trees and sunshine.
Hi Jey! Thanks so much for commenting, and I didn’t mean to imply that foreigners are the only ones who abuse the prostitution system, simply that they are more “in your face” about it (as I think you are also agreeing with).
I will need to respectfully disagree with your statement regarding prostitutes, that “a lot also do it out of greed and laziness, knowing they can earn quadruple their hardworking sisters salaries just for playing a few games of connect four and laying on their backs. A good hearted, hardworking and respectable Thai woman wouldn’t dream of working in that industry regardless of how poor she is”. I can’t begin to understand or judge someone who comes from an impoverished background doing what she needs to do to survive for herself and for her family. While some women may choose prostitution from a selection of other possibly bad options, others are sent by their families or abandoned in the bigger cities, or sold into the career. Further – many of the women do not come from a situation of strong educational opportunities (or many opportunities at all), and are groomed by peers, pimps, and/or the culture into a job choice that she probably would not have made, had she been born into a life that afforded her a free education throughout her childhood and a family that encouraged career aspirations.
I also don’t think anyone should imply that a woman involved in prostitution is somehow less “good hearted, hardworking and respectable”. Anyone that hasn’t experienced dire circumstances: serious poverty, lack of educational opportunities, without many employment options, perhaps without hope for a better future – has no right to judge and has no way of knowing what they would do in the same situation.
Just read the comments on life in Thailand from Steph. These are typical,coming from a farang expat.
I have lived here for over 20 years, Jey, you are one 100% correct.
Thanks for sharing your opinion, John! I’ll continue to respectfully disagree in regards to the comments made about prostitutes.
Until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes and been put into their same life situation, I don’t feel you can fairly judge (nor should you). Especially not as an expat, especially not as a man, and especially not coming from an impoverished background.
Wow great insight. I’m just starting my journey here in Bangkok. I strongly feel you on prostitution, it sucks along with human trafficking. I have experienced a taxi scam once when I first got here, they told me 2.000 baht for a ride that end up being more of a 100 baht ride probably, but I learned from that quick, My guard is up here but I do think people are really nice even if some do lie. I also understand what you mean about being accepted as Thai,
Yeah the taxi scam is all too common. I try to remind myself that people are living on one-tenth or one-hundredth or one-thousandth of my salary, so it’s only fair that I pay at least a bit extra (though 2000 baht for a 100 baht is quite unfair).
I am trying to decide between living in Bangkok and Mexico City.
Which one do you recommend? Pros and cons?
Thanks a lot!