So it’s been a few months since I’ve been back from Bangkok. The times I’m spending here in NYC are often spent catching up with friends. Some of them I haven’t seem in ages.
And they now know about my long stints in Asia, particularly living in Bangkok for 6 to 8 months at a time. One of the natural questions they’ve been asking is “What’s it like living in Bangkok?”. First thing, I’m a city boy from New York. Bangkok’s a huge urban jungle too, though the infrastructure is not up there as of yet.
Second thing is I’m Asian already. No culture shock whatsoever to me. Though there are still certain aspects of Thailand I still find exotic. I have no difficulty eating Thai food and the cuisine is widely similar to many Asian style foods. The Thai language albeit difficult to learn is in some respects similar to Cantonese vocabulary. I just have to master the tones in the Thai language which to me is difficult because I think I’m tone death.
Contrary to popular belief I don’t get scammed every day in Bangkok. A lot of people who do research into visiting Bangkok will come across reports from tourists swearing they will never ever visit the city again because of the scams. Yes, it happens but these scams are isolated in tourists areas. So every Thai local is not out to get me. Want to avoid getting scammed check out my post on one tip that will save you some headache. For me, assimilating into Thai culture is not a far stretch though.
Cost of Living in Bangkok…
Is increasing and the Thai Bhat is steadily going stronger. If I recall correctly the first time I came to Bangkok $1USD was around 39 Thai Baht. That was about 9 or 10 years ago. As of writing the exchange rate is $1USD to 30.30 Baht. Last month the Baht was at 28.90. Does not sound like much but the difference is evident when you start exchanging large cash amounts or withdrawing money from an ATM.
One of the reasons why many foreigners decide to move to Thailand is because of the favorable exchange rate. For around $300USD you can get a nice decent studio apartment. Spend a $100 bucks more and you can land yourself a 1 bedroom apartment. On a past post I have more information on finding apartments in Bangkok so I’ll spare the details on this post.
Food is not so expensive but really depends on what you are eating. Just to give you an idea a 12oz. can of Coca Cola cost .50¢. A small bottle of water cost .30¢ or a little bit less. I love snacking and a small bag of Lays brand potato chip and in Thailand they go for around $1 a pack. Now if you buy a plate of food from a street side hawker stand you can expect to pay about $1 to $1.25 a dish. A stick of grilled chicken or pork cost about .30¢ from a hawker stand too.
Fast food restaurants are everywhere in the city, McDonalds, Burger Kings, KFCs, Pizza Hut you name it are all in Thailand and well accepted by locals. Once in awhile I’ll indulge myself in a good ol’ Big Mac meal with fries and a soda which in Bangkok cost about $5 bucks. Haven’t had a Big Mac here in NYC for a long while but I think it’s about $8 bucks now for a regular meal. Burger King’s prices cost about the same as it does in the States, except for any meals with chicken which are cheaper. KFC’s charge about $3 bucks for a 2 piece meal with fries and a drink.
The biggest money saver if you’re planning to live in Thailand is food. If you stick with a Thai meal eaten at a street side restaurant you can get away with $3USD to $5USD bucks a day. And that’s 3 square meals. Depending on where you go though some restaurants have smaller servings however.
Air conditioned indoor Thai restaurants away from the tourists hot spots cost about 2x as much as their street side food stand counterparts. Though depending on the dish it could be a small difference. So eating at an indoor restaurant is still an excellent bargain. Personally I prefer eating indoors with air condition or at least a couple of fans. Thai food can be really spicy so I don’t want to be sweating beads outside in the heat.
In Bangkok I mainly get around the city by bus, the trains (either MRT or BTS) and taxi. I never drove in the city before because it’s just total madness. Traffic is so bad and there are so many motorbikes it’s crazy.
Mass transportation is the way to go though I pick the hours I use carefully because buses and trains can really get jam packed with people. Taxis during rush hour will usually decline passengers if you ask the driver to take you to some place where there’s a lot of traffic. Which is pretty much almost anywhere inside central Bangkok. But taxis are ridiculously cheap. A ride from where I live to the airport is about $13 USD including highway toll and a small tip.
It is absolutely possible to get by comfortably on food and shelter with just $400USD a month in Bangkok. And I’ve met a few retirees from the States who live on that much in Bangkok. Some have more cash to spend per month though all are quite happy and content with spending less.
Medical care in Thailand, specifically in the cities is very good with many doctors trained and educated in the West. You’ll not only find well trained and qualified doctors at international hospitals but also local general ones too. Though the farther you get away from Bangkok for example the more difficult it may become to find an English speaking doctor.
So medical care is a lot more affordable. Problem is your medical insurance may not cover your hospital care in Thailand. So even if you have a lofty nest egg, depending on the type of illness your savings can get depleted rather quickly.
I went to an ENT a few years ago in Bumrungrad hospital which is one of the best international hospital in Bangkok. I had a sinus infection so I went there to get it checked out. The cost of the visit which includes seeing the doctor, CAT scan, had an endoscope shoved up my noise and then a prescription antibiotics (2 weeks worth) at the end came out to $175USD. I paid out of pocket at the time.
Back in the NYC last year I went to see another ENT for a follow-up. I wanted to see the price difference so I looked up a local ENT in my area in Chinatown. The doctor visit plus another endoscope examination of my sinus area plus a netty pot (used to flush out my sinus with saline water) cost me $150US. This was also paid out of the pocket.
For $25 bucks more at a hospital in Bangkok I had a CAT scan plus 2 weeks worth of prescription meds. I have to add that meds that normally require a prescription in the USA can be purchased over the counter without one in Thailand, except for narcotics of course. And it’s cheaper too.
Movies, bowling and even ice skating. It’s all in Bangkok located particularly in the malls. And there are quite a lot of malls throughout Thailand particularly in Bangkok. Every year I go back there’s a new mall somewhere in the city.
I mainly go to the movies because the theaters in most newer shopping centers are top notch. The seats are super comfortable and the picture and sound quality are up to snuff by USA standards. A movie ticket cost about $5 to $8 bucks depending on the screening though they have these higher classed movie tickets that can cost about $15 dollars. A box of popcorn cost $3 dollars and you can have it sweet, salty or cheesy flavored. Sodas cost a few dollars. So yes, even in Bangkok the snacks are still a rip off. However, the price of their movie tickets are well worth it.
The bowling alley we go to charge about $1 per game per person. So the price for bowling is very reasonable and always a good time.
When one thinks of Bangkok one would usually think of the infamous red light districts. Go go bars, massage parlors, bars and clubs you name it are usually kinds of establishments that doubles as brothels.
Though the scene is rapidly changing. Before it’s mainly male visitors, still is today, but you’ll also find a lot of foreign women, grannies and grandpas or anyone else on a vacation in Thailand strolling around go go bars and even sitting down for a few drinks. I’ve even seen a couple carrying an infant wander around Nana Plaza, a popular go go bar quarter in Sukhumvit district.
I’ve been with friends and at the time customers for my business to the go go bars. Never been to a sex show before because I heard it’s really gross and the establishments are rip offs when it comes time to pay the drink bill.
If you’re there to just drink, have a few beers it’s still not that expensive. A beer cost about 150THB or $5 bucks. Which is not bad considering that it’s a bar price.
So What the Heck Do I Do in Bangkok…
Well, I am semi-retired if there’s such a word. But that’s the best way to describe myself. So nothing much most of the day as of now though when I’m back in Bangkok in July I’ll be busy starting up a small cafe. But previously I spent most of my time at my wife’s coffee shop chatting with her friends and just chilling out.
In the mornings I try to wake up early enough to crank a workout at the gym in my apartment building. When and if the weather is comfortable I’ll take a walk around the city with my camera and have my own shutter therapy. I carry my camera out everywhere with me even when I’m not out in shutter therapy mode however.
A lot of times when I’ll make a jaunt into central Bangkok. I’ll take up a table at a True Coffee Shop and just surf the net all day and just people watch. I’ll take a walk inside Siam Paragon Mall or any other mall nearby to see what new food shops have opened up. I’m always looking for new pastries, cakes and such to try out. I take a stroll around a lot of different malls because there’s a lot to see and sometimes there are these special events like mini concerts or show rooms with the latest car models. Bangkok’s newer malls are a great places to escape the heat and find a clean toilet.
When my wife has free time we take a drive out to the beach at Cha Am or Hua Hin to hang out for a few days and unwind. If she has even more time we’ll fly out to Phuket. Sometimes we’ll head over to her parent’s home for a visit too. We’ll feed the stray dogs with snacks and play with them too. I also enjoy walking through the orchid and rice farms surrounding their home when it’s not too hot.
And that’s basically it.