Our co-founder Megan Kenna is on the road to new adventure, uncovering the surprise reality of living and working in Thailand.
After getting a job offer in Bangkok, I was excited to move to the city, and more excited to launch myself into Asia. Years in slow-paced Europe made me yearn for some excitement. Like stores open past 7pm, exotic fruits, mystery meats, and the rapidly changing streets.
Then the Thai surprise hit.
$8 for some fruit and yogurt? $3 for a coffee? My rent is HOW MUCH?!
Suddenly I yearned for boring old Brussels, with a steady affordability that I’d come to take for granted.
So, after several months of hunting bargains, here’s a quick guide for what to expect for cost of living in Bangkok.
Since my work contract was short term, I was looking for a 3-month lease. Most places charge more for a 6-month lease, and less for a 1-year lease. But forget about looking for a 3-month lease from the owner. Best to try Airbnb or a Facebook group (like this one here).
Bangkok is full of fancy high-rises, and I had looked forward to finding one with a pool and gym. I expected to find luxury at prices less than Europe. Because this is Asia.
But I was in for a shock. In Brussels I’d paid €700 (about $875 USD) for a 60-square metre (645 sq feet) duplex with a coveted sunny terrace.
In the areas I want to live in Bangkok, I could find no less than $1000 USD for 33 square metres (322 square feet). That’s right: I’m paying more to live in a studio that is half the size of my apartment in Europe.
I’ve spent countless hours trying to hack this, but I would never consider changing the target neighborhood. I want to be where the people are, and that’s Sukhumvit. With Bangkok’s legendary traffic it’s simply out of the question to save $400 only to waste 3 hours per day in a stand-still.
Now I am sure that after a few more years of living in Thailand I might get to know the market better, or meet a friend that would give me more tips… or generally save money by getting a 1-year lease. But this was my first lesson to throw out all my expectations on price and value for money.
Including the pool.
Pools are usually not well-kept, often found in weird, shaded (cold) locations, and you never end up visiting. The gyms usually consist of one treadmill and a few weights in a room with no air-conditioning, but you can open the window to feed the other residents, the mosquitos.
Thus, my #1 tip for apartment hunting is: you do not need to find a place with a gym or pool.
Once you un-check that box, you can find better apartments, and just join an actual gym you might use. One with proper facilities.
And, for short term, it may be that you can find a nicer hotel room for the same amount as an apartment, which has the added bonus of a daily maid, 24-hour security and free bottled water. My recommendation on hotels is Rezt and Thee. Both are in the same area, Rezt is a bit newer with a great view over the Dino park, but Thee has better TV channels. Although in 2019 you might re-start the search because hotels get worn out very quickly.
(And a special note for fellow points-lovers, if you book a hotel with Agoda, you can also earn frequent flyer miles for your preferred program. Win-win!)
Next up was the inconsistency of food. A coffee might cost me 90-100 baht (about $3-4) but a meal could cost 50-900 baht ($1.50-$28). Food depends on where you buy it, and whether the prices are posted or you’re charged based on your “look”.
Yesterday I managed to have 2 grilled chicken sticks and a sweet Thai taco for 52 baht ($1.60) but this morning I slipped up and accidentally ordered yogurt with fruit for 250 baht ($8). Yesterday I had one taco – one! – for 250 baht, $8. It just doesn’t make sense, and it’s a constant battle on how many nights you can get away with eating street meats, and how strong your stomach is.
For travelers on a budget, the food court at Terminal 21 on the top floor is a remarkable value. Rumor is that the vendors aren’t charged rent, meaning your pad thai can cost 30 baht, $0.96, and be served in a place with running water and available bathrooms. Other malls also have food courts, but can’t compare to this value.
And what about cooking at home? I’ve recently discovered Tesco and Happy Fresh do delivery. Unfortunately, it’s almost always better to just go to the market and try to figure out what you might eat. Cooking at home is something after 3 months I still haven’t done…
But there is also Food Panda, home delivery of all of Bangkok’s restaurants with no delivery fee.
Happy hour is back! On a positive note, outside of London it’s rare to find a happy hour in Western Europe. 2-for-1, special deal on draft, whatever the combination or selection, I love a good bargain sundowner. And bonus, because in this city, cocktails come with a view!
Vanilla Sky, two for one cocktails until 7pm
Above 11, Escape Bangkok, above EmQuartier mall on a lovely roof terrace.
Note happy hour and times are constantly changing, so best to drop by or try dropping them a message on Facebook.
Would you pay $30 to go to a networking event? After spending time in London, Brussels, Kigali and Kampala as an expat, I was shocked at the culture of networking in Bangkok- nothing is free.
An evening with the French-Thai Chamber of Commerce is 1000-1200 baht, which is $32, €25, usually with one (1!) free drink. The picnic at AmCham: 300 baht, nearly $10, and that doesn’t include food (but there is a Hooters stand if you’re interested… in wings).
All of these professional events drop if you become a member, which I am reluctant to do. Isn’t the point of “networking” to get outside your existing bubble?
My way to hack this has been to go to different coworking spaces and get on their mailing lists, where I learn about startup industry events (which are not always free but usually less than 300 baht).
But, events and networking is still a puzzle I’m trying to solve.
With my apartment, meals, coworking, and occasional events, I’m estimating one month in Bangkok will cost me around $1700-$2000. The maximum I could ever spend in Brussels on the same, would be $1700 (€1400)
The alternative explanation is that Brussels is an oasis. Bangkok is a big city with big city prices. Like London, Paris, New York, people want to live here, and that drives up the cost of living. Boring old Brussels, if you can stand it, is good for a time. But it’s nice to be in a place with an energy and buzz, where people want to be.