First, my sincere apologies for the lack of updates recently. I’ve been traveling for the last two years and spent very little time in Thailand, so didn’t have a lot of relevant ideas related to the blog.
With that out of the way, I came across this interesting article recently: https://www.chiangraitimes.com/tourism/expats-changing-their-minds-and-relocating-to-vietnam/
The core point of the article is that, as Thailand tightens up its visa system and the cost of living increases, a large number of Western expats are trading it in for life in Vietnam.
This is interesting to me because, until recently, I never viewed Vietnam as an equally nice place to live as Thailand. Thailand, to me, always had a fairly significant advantage over its neighbors, with the exception of Malaysia — which is a place I’ve always enjoyed visiting, but have no particularly desire to move to.
Well, the times are changing and, as the article says, many people are leaving Thailand for greener (or, I should say “redder,” considering the national colors of Vietnam) pastures.
Part of this is due to the changes in visas, which, as the article says, have become frustrating recently. The last time I visited Thailand I was quizzed by immigration about whether or not I planned to work in the country on a tourist visa despite having been out of the country for almost four months at a time.
I’m not the only person that has experienced this, by the way. After talking to a number of friends that either travel to Thailand often or live there on-and-off using tourist visas (none of whom work illegally in Thailand), others have had similar experiences.
Another factor that’s undoubtedly causing this exodus is the overly strong Thai baht. When I first moved to Thailand, one US dollar bought almost 40 baht. Today, it barely gets you 30 baht. Along with this strong currency there’s also been a huge increase in costs, meaning that an item that cost 100 baht ($2.50 USD about a decade ago) may now cost 200 baht ($6.70, at the current exchange rate).
You can see this huge change in currency value here (select the 10 year chart to see recent changes). Needless to say, this is a massive factor for many expats who earn in a foreign currency, or live on a fixed income pension.
The third factor, that I think is not adequately mentioned, is the big increase in livability in Thailand’s neighbors, particularly Vietnam.
The first time I visited Vietnam, which is more than 10 years ago now, the country wasn’t very developed. There were few apartments similar to those found in Thailand and the prices for those that were available was higher than in places like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, I assume as a result of the limited supply.
The same was true of supermarkets and other essentials. There were few Western quality supermarkets and the few that were available were often overpriced. Similar story with dining options, things to do, travel opportunities and so on.
Compare that to today. A quick glance at a real estate agency website such as RentPro shows countless apartment buildings near identical to those in Bangkok, usually at prices about 30% lower. Big C, a Thai company, has expanded massively into Vietnam, along with a wide range of other supermarket brands. There are malls everywhere, including the extremely impressive Saigon Center in District 1 of Saigon.
Put simply, Thailand’s competition (at least from the perspective of a destination for Western expats) is starting to catch up with it. While there’s still a gap between Thailand and Vietnam, it’s nowhere near as large as it used to be.
With Thailand largely stagnating economically, there could eventually come a time when Vietnam becomes the predominant destination for Western expats in Asia. Will that come soon? Most likely not, although the outflow of productive, often talented people from Thailand doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Thailand doesn’t quite have the coffee culture of somewhere like Italy, or even neighboring Vietnam (which is surprisingly one of the coffee capitals of the world). However, over the last few years I’ve noticed more and more cafes pop up throughout Thailand, as well as a variety of new coffee options.
Of course, they’re not cheap — anything imported in Thailand is going to cost an absolute fortune compared to back home. But they’re not overly expensive either. Most cafes in Thailand roasting imported beans charge about 80 to 120 baht for a cup of coffee, which isn’t quite as bad as what you’d pay in a high-end cafe in Singapore or Australia.
If you like your coffee at home, your options are also pretty good. The Gourmet Markets at Siam Paragon and Emquartier are stocked up with lots of different brands of imported coffee, most of which aren’t too expensive. You can also get Nescafe Dolce Gusto and Nespresso capsules here, although frankly they are overpriced.
So what are my favorite places to drink coffee? How about:
The Ink and Lion Cafe, which is on Ekkamai Soi 2. This place serves great cold brew coffee at pretty fair prices, especially when you consider it’s in a flashy area known for expensive drinks and Western dining.
Doi Chaang, which is a chain of cafes kind of like Thailand’s version of Starbucks (we also have Starbucks here). Doi Chaang also sells great bags of fresh coffee beans and pre ground coffee to brew at home.
Artis. This cafe is close to Asok BTS, so I sometimes stop by in the morning on the way to work for a cup of coffee. It’s also a great place to work or read a book in the evening and on the weekend if you live in the Sukhumvit area.
What are your favorite places to drink coffee in Bangkok?
Thailand has a reputation as a very cheap place to live. Whenever I talk with my friends in Taipei and other countries, they always comment on how much I must be saving by living in Thailand compared to somewhere else.
At first glance, Thailand is very cheap. There are many expats here that survive for under 30,000 baht per month. Thats less than $900 US dollars, and thats their entire salary. They can rent a very modest apartment, eat local food and live pretty well for this kind of salary.
In this way, living in Thailand is very cheap. But if you want to have a better lifestyle the type of lifestyle you can get in most Western countries, with a house and car Thailand can get very expensive, very quickly.
For example, I was looking at used cars on One2Car.com the other day. Because of the import taxes in Thailand, even a very basic Volkswagen Golf from two to three years ago costs more than $30,000 US dollars. Thats a huge amount for what most of us would think of as a simple, affordable car.
The only way to reduce the cost of buying a car in Thailand is to buy a Thai-made car. Lots of Japanese companies like Honda and Toyota have licensing agreements with Thailand and make their cars in Thai factories, thus avoiding the import tax. If you want a simple, made-in-Thailand car, prices are low. If youd prefer a Ferrari (or even a BMW) you should be prepared to pay two, three or even four times as much as in other countries.
There are some ways in which Thailand is cheap, aside from the basics. Its also very cheap to go to hospital here. Medical care costs virtually nothing. I had lasik two months ago for just over $2,000 US dollars, which is a fraction of what it would cost from a good clinic in Australia. You can get dental veneers done in Thailand for $200-300 per tooth, compared to a fortune more elsewhere. In this way, Thailand is an amazingly cheap place to live.
So, to answer, Thailand is very cheap if you can live a Thai-style life, but quite expensive otherwise. Its also expensive in ways that we often take for granted as being cheap, such as buying a car or searching for a house. Land, vehicles, luxury goods and just about anything imported costs a lot in Thailand, and over time, those costs can add up to an expensive lifestyle.
For the most part, Thailand is a shoppers paradise. There are more shopping malls in Bangkok than you could ever possibly need, with more going up every day. Its easy to find very cheap clothing, electronics and other stuff from malls like Platinum and Pantip. Markets are everywhere and you can haggle the price of almost everything.
However, theres one way in which shopping in Thailand isn’t such a good experience. Imported products, from clothing to food, cost an absolute fortune in Thailand due to the import taxes applied to basically everything.
Case in point: I wanted to buy a pair of formal shoes (I have to travel to a friends wedding in California in January). I looked at reviews online and found that good brands were Loake, which is made in the UK, and Allen Edmonds, which is made in the USA. I googled Allen Edmonds Bangkok to see if they were available here and couldn’t find anything. Luckily Loake is sold here in the department store in Siam Paragon.
I visited to try on a few pairs and choose the ones I liked. The price here is almost THREE TIMES as much as they cost in the UK. Im fine with paying 20% more, but paying three times the retail price for a pair of shoes is crazy.
Another example: Recently I wanted to buy a belt for jeans to wear casually, since my old belts are being torn apart. A nice leather belt in Thailand (made in Italy, imported) cost twice as much as it would in any Western country.
Im not the first person to notice this. There are hundreds of threads on Thai Visa about the cost of imported goods (wine, in particular, is ridiculously overpriced here) and many other bloggers have commented on this before. Its not just shoes; everything thats made outside of Thailand or China is highly overpriced in 99% of Thai shops.
I ended up buying some Allen Edmonds loafers and having them shipped here. It costs slightly more than it would to get them in the UK, but I at least get them at a price thats close to the regular retail price. Hopefully they don’t get held at customs on the way here, which would mean I have to pay another huge tax to receive them in Thailand.
I like living in Thailand a lot and love shopping here, if its for cheap things like locally made clothing or electronics, but the prices for imported goods in Thailand need to get more reasonable if the malls want people to shop here instead of flying to Singapore or Hong Kong, or buying o
Over the last two months Ive had several friends visit me in Thailand. Two made the mistake of staying on Khao San Road. One didnt. His experience was (I estimate) 100 times better, at least from the perspective of actually experiencing what Bangkok is about, than those of my friends who stayed on Khao San Road.
Heres why I dont like Khao San Road: its not a good sample of life in Thailand. People that stay there have the misguided idea that theyre staying somewhere thats uniquely Thai or off the beaten path when they are actually staying on a street thats in a bubble away from normal Thai life.
The entire street is full of hawkers selling cheap products, usually at silly prices. The food isnt even remotely close to actual Thai food! I bought Pad Thai on Khao San Road and it was just cheap instant ramen noodles with sauce, while people that stay there rave about how authentic it is. Its the same story for other Thai dishes there Western Thai food thats watered down and poorly made, all sold to people that arent aware.
The other problem is the quality of most hotels on Khao San Road. There are some nice hotels there (the Dang Derm Hotel is the only one I recommend to friends, if they insist on staying there) but many are poorly maintained and are infested with all sorts of vermin. I stayed on Khao San Road the first time I visited Thailand (we all make mistakes) and remember seeing more cockroaches in the three nights I was there than in the last two plus years in this country.
If you want to experience a bubble life thats completely unlike Bangkok, stay in Khao San Road. If not, stay in a hotel along Sukhumvit Road, preferably from Phrom Phong to On Nut. Its still a bubble (this is the most upmarket residential part of Bangkok) but its at least a better sample of life in this city than Khao San Road is.
Living in Bangkok makes it easy to access places like Phuket and Koh Samui, both of which have beautiful beaches, by plane. However, sometimes I dont want to buy an expensive plane ticket (prices go up a lot on weekends and major holidays) to visit the beach, and just want to catch the bus to my destination.
Ive written before about visiting Hua Hin, one of my favorite beach resorts in Thailand. Hua Hin is close to Bangkok, but it isnt quite as close as Pattaya, and as such doesnt attract as many visitors.
Pattaya is a beach resort city thats about two hours from Bangkok. Its easy to get there from Ekamai Bus Terminal, which is located close to Ekamai BTS Station on the BTS Skytrain. I get the bus there for just over 100 baht and usually arrive within two hours, although sometimes it can take longer.
Pattaya has a lot of beautiful resort hotels, including the new Hilton right beside the beach (winner of several hotel awards and arguably the nicest place in town). Theres also the Dusit Thani and other nice places, many of which are older but have great facilities.
The beach in Pattaya is horrible, with lots of dirt and garbage, as well as street hawkers everywhere. At night, the entire road along the beach is full of prostitutes (this is a recurring theme in Pattaya, which I will talk about later) but there are other better beaches nearby Pattaya, including Jomtien, which is a quieter beach (but still not very quiet) just around the headland from Pattaya city.
The worst point of Pattaya is the constant sleazy nightlife thats present everywhere in the city. Almost all hotels in Pattaya are full of older male tourists with escorts in various sleazy states of dress, including high end hotels. In Bangkok some hotels allow people to bring guests back (there is a list here so you can avoid them) but most nice hotels bar this type of nightlife from intruding into the property. Its very annoying to pay over $100 per night for a beautiful room only to arrive at breakfast and feel like youre in the middle of a dirty nightclub.
There’s also a more updated list of hotels here, which seems to include some of the nicer ones in town. Looks like this side of Pattaya is unavoidable, even if you’re willing to pay for a nicer-than-average hotel.
Aside from this, Pattaya is an alright beach resort and an okay break from life in Bangkok. With that said, I recommend spending an extra hour on the minivan and visiting Hua Hin instead, which has a much nicer beach and less of the sleaze factor of Pattaya. Hua Hin doesnt have quite the selection of hotels and activities as Pattaya, but overall its a much better destination, especially for couples and families.