Moving to Bangkok as a foreigner is a big decision. When we were deciding on whether to move here from London a year ago, there wasn’t a whole lot of useful information on the pros, cons, similarities and differences.
It’s obviously a huge decision to move halfway across the world to a new country, lifestyle and culture – and while you might get a feel from Bangkok from a visit or two, it’s very different to live here permanently. With that in mind, here’s a quick guide to our experiences in Bangkok vs London. This isn’t by any means comprehensive, so if there are things you’re wondering about, ask away in the comments!
Cost of Living in Bangkok
I once read an article that claimed it was more expensive to live in Bangkok than London. This is actually true, but only if you’re doing it completely wrong.
Bangkok is an extremely low cost city compared to somewhere like London. Living in Bangkok should cost a fraction of what it does in the west. Let’s look at a couple of major outgoings:
Rent and bills– Pound for pound, rent in Bangkok is around a half to a third the cost of London. If a nice one bed flat in a well-located area of London might cost £1000, the equivalent in Bangkok should cost £300 to £500. Your money also goes further in Bangkok – for the same price as our 50sqm one bed in Hammersmith, we have a 110sqm two bed in a luxury riverside condo with 7 swimming pools here in Bangkok (reason to move #1 right there…).
Bills are generally cheap. There’s no council tax and utilities are cheap. My phone contract has 4GB of data – more than enough – plus calls I never use for £10 a month. Water is £4 a month. Electricity is the only kicker and only if you have aircon. Your aircon unit will drain electricity like it’s trying to cool down a perennially hot climate, meaning our electricity costs between £50-80 per month.
Food and drink– Eating in Bangkok is quite a different thing compared to London, but it’s certainly a cheaper experience in the main. Every other shop in Bangkok is a restaurant, and the ones that aren’t all have food carts in them. The food scene in Thailand is world class, it’s impossible to eat badly. It’s also impossibly cheap.
As such, it’s much more common to eat out here, which we do 4-5 times a week. Home cooking is a rarity to the point that some new condos are being built without kitchens.
Even so, dinners out usually cost in the range of £1 to £3 per head (for some insanely delicious fare), which won’t even get you a Tesco meal deal back in the UK.
The flip side to this is the cost of ‘western’ food. A good thing to know is that most things that are imported to Thailand have a hefty import duty on them, including food. If you want to eat pasta and drink wine every night, you’re going to pay more than you would in Italy – which shouldn’t be too surprising. Wine is a good example here. Your typical £4 ‘danger bottle’ of crap plonk in the UK will set you back at least £15 here in Thailand. This extends to spirits too, although locally-made beers are comparatively cheap.
Home cooking can also be cheap when living in Bangkok; meat, fish, poultry and local veg are all very inexpensive. Again though, if you want a roast dinner on Sunday (in this heat! You must be mad!) it’ll cost you a pretty penny. Or a bonnie baht perhaps?
The list goes on and on – transport is cheap, travel is cheap, clothes are cheap unless you want western brands. The only things we’ve found which are bizarrely pricey in Thailand are bedding and towels, presumably because not many people want a full duvet here. Best to bring your own if you’re moving out here.
Lifestyle and culture
Day to day life in Bangkok is relaxed compared to London. This is almost entirely driven by the people, who are welcoming and generally chilled out. It’s rare to feel out of place and I can’t recall ever feeling unwelcome anywhere.
At the same time, Bangkok is a manic city in terms of people and traffic. The traffic in Bangkok is legendary and not easy to describe unless you’ve experienced it. Commuting on public transport is a decidedly intimate experience – if you think the Tube gets busy at rush hour, try getting on the Skytrain in the morning. Somebody once described their commute to me as a free daily massage, which is fairly apt. Prepare to look down and see upwards of three people nestled under your armpit. You can get on a train with your feet hanging over the edge of the platform, only for five more souls to mould themselves into the atom-sized spaces around you.
That said, it’s not a stressful experience. There’s never the kind of rage and low-level arsey-ness you see in London. Thai culture prizes respect and politeness, so you rarely see disagreements or people getting in a huff.
It’s fun and rewarding to experience Thai culture while living in Bangkok, and we feel lucky to live here. Learning the language is tough but extremely worthwhile and will get you a long way. There isn’t so much of a culture shock here – it’s easy to find home comforts if you need. But that said it’s also not too westernised – think somewhere like Singapore which is more like that in general. Bangkok feels very Thai in most respects.
The social side of things is a little different than in the UK. While we have a lot of Thai friends, there isn’t so much of the hanging out culture here. People seem to spend much of their free time with family, making it a little tough to truly fit in as an outsider. There just isn’t really a culture of drinks after work, weekend brunch, and that kind of (classic London) thing among most Thai people we know.
As such, friendship groups tend to be more focused around your fellow foreigners, which is fun and tricky at the same time. It can certainly be a more lonely experience living abroad and you will come to appreciate the depth of friendships and family relationships you’ve spent a lifetime building up!
Most of the trickiness is because nobody tells you how to make friends past the age of about 12. Most of us have school, college, uni groups who we stick with for life, and meeting people in your late 20s and 30s is – frankly – terrifying.
This is just a general reality of living abroad, nothing linked to Thailand. It obviously helps to get out and involved in things to find friends! We’ve met people through language schools, exercise groups and various random happenings. We’re lucky to have met a lot of really lovely people here in Bangkok, but it’s definitely one of the more challenging aspects of living in Bangkok.
Health, fitness and environment
Bangkok is a polluted city, no getting away from it. The millions of vehicles, the fondness for agricultural burning, the endless plastic waste and the ubiquitous construction combine to make a somewhat unpleasant environment.
Especially in the dry season, air pollution is a major issue of living in Bangkok, to the point where masks are a required part of your daily outfit. People complain about London’s air – Bangkok is literally 10x more polluted.
Plastic is a big problem too, although there’s a growing acknowledgement of the problem. On average a Thai person uses 8 plastic bags a day, each one having a lifespan of 12 minutes.
Bangkok is also not great for greenery. Lumpini Park offers a literal breath of fresh air, but there are relatively few parks and green spaces.
These conditions and the year-round heat dictate that most fitness work is done indoors. Most condos have gyms and pools, and a good gym membership isn’t very expensive. If you want more outdoorsy stuff, you’ll need to brave the heat in the morning or evening to go for a run, or get out of Bangkok entirely for the greener surroundings, which leads us nicely to…
We travel a lot from Bangkok and it’s a major perk of living here. Transport is cheap, be that a taxi to Khao Yai for a weekend in the jungle, or a train to Kanchanaburi to relax in a floating raft house.
Flights are also very inexpensive, although hardly helping with the environmental issues. Most companies in Asia now offer the option of carbon offset when booking which is a small step in the right direction.
There are a wealth of places within and close to Thailand to explore, from city breaks in Vietnam to the hundreds of gorgeous Thai islands. It’s possible to jump in a taxi in Bangkok and be on a beach in Phuket in about 3-4 hours, and there are also good islands like Koh Samet in driving distance from the capital.
We have loved every second of exploring Thailand and south east Asia since we moved to Bangkok.
It’s a bit of a false comparison to say that travel is better when living in Bangkok. Living in London, we could have been to loads of places in the UK and Europe in a similar timeframe. Ok, they’re less exotic to us, but we could have done that just as easily, but certainly not as cheaply. But somehow a weekend in Skegness just doesn’t hold the same allure as a weekend in Phuket.
Leading us finally to…
Weather and Climate
It’s 30 degrees pretty much all year in Bangkok, it rains like you wouldn’t believe in September/October, and between November and April it might not rain at all.
For me, living in Bangkok is a hands down better climate than London, but I am a massive sun-seeker. If you struggle with the heat, prepare for a new dimension of sweatiness. I will put up with this because it means I never have to wear socks, ever, and this makes me happy.
A big bonus living in Bangkok is that you can enjoy beaches and sunny breaks most of the year. South east Asia has a few differennt micro-climates, so when it’s wet in Bangkok it might be dry in Koh Chang for example. It’s only really the end of September, beginning of October where this is happening everywhere:
The rest of the time, expect something a bit more like this:
We love living in Bangkok. It was a big decision for us to move, but we’ve found it great overall. It’s not all sunshine and pad Thai, and there are downsides as well as positives, but overall we would gladly make the same decision again!