When You Arrive in Thailand

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When you first arrive in Thailand, you’re likely to be a bit overwhelmed and disorientated, so it’s good to book at least a few nights in a hotel before you leave home. When you arrive, staying in a hotel will make your first few days a little easier, as it’s not fun trying to find somewhere to stay in a new country, especially when you don’t speak the language and have no idea how to find your way around. You wouldn’t book more than a week, though, as you will most likely find somewhere more suitable once you’ve been here a few days. Hotels here also tend to be cheaper if you turn up with cash in hand. Booking on the internet from Western countries usually means higher prices.

We’ve heard of a few people that booked long-term stays in condos before they arrived, and this is something that we would strongly advise against doing. Condos advertised in English on the internet are always more expensive than what you can find yourself when you’re here. You also will not have a real idea of what the area around the condo is like, and that is something that it is best to see in person. It is very easy to find a condo here, so wait until you arrive.

Most people flying to Thailand will usually arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Clearing immigration can take anything from ten minutes to over an hour, depending on what time of day you arrive, and how many immigration officers are on duty. Once through immigration, you’ll need to collect your baggage. The baggage carousels are located immediately behind the immigration desks. You’ll then walk through customs and out into the main airport area. There are some shops here that sell SIM cards, so we’d advise getting one here instead of trying to find one later. But if you don’t get one here, look for a local 7-Eleven store, and you can get one there.

Once out of the airport, you have two options for getting into Bangkok. The first option, and probably the most convenient for a newcomer, is to get a taxi. There will be plenty of taxis lined up outside the arrivals hall, so just let them know which hotel you’re going to, and you’ll be on your way. The fare to most places in Bangkok should be around 250-300 baht (less than $10,£7.75). You will also need to pay the road toll charges yourself, which may add another 100 baht or so to your total fare. But you’ll need to pay the tolls to the driver as he goes through each toll. There is also a 50 baht additional fee for airport departure, and you pay this to the taxi driver. It should usually take around 45 minutes from the airport to the city center by taxi.

The other option is to get the Airport Link train. This option takes 15 minutes and costs 150 baht (less than $5, £4). It also connects with the BTS system in Bangkok, so it is useful if your hotel is near a BTS stop, and you know your way around. We always get the taxi, as you get a door to door service. If your hotel is a long walk from the BTS, you may have to get a taxi after you get the train, so it seems to make more sense to get the taxi.  If two or more people share a taxi, it can actually be cheaper than the train.

If this will be your first time in Thailand, we’d suggest spending a week or so in Bangkok, as more people speak English there, and you’ll get used to finding your way around more quickly. We spent two and a half years in Bangkok when we first arrived but moved to Chiang Mai after that. If you’re not a big city person, you could fly on to your intended destination without visiting Bangkok. But Bangkok is such an interesting city that you’d be missing out if you didn’t spend at least a few days there. But where you go is ultimately your preference.

But wherever you end up when you first arrive, take a few days to walk around your area. Try the different foods, and generally find out what the area is like, and if it’s somewhere you’d like to stay long-term.

If you’re going to be staying in Bangkok for the first few days or weeks, we suggest getting a hotel in one of these areas:  the Sukhumvit, Silom, or Khao San Road. You will find many expats in all these areas, but mostly in Sukhumvit. It’s also where you’ll find most Western restaurants, bars, and clubs. The BTS and MRT systems serve both Sukhumvit and Silom, and for many people, this is the best place to be. If you’re more into the backpacker scene, then Khao San Road is the place to head. You won’t have the BTS or MRT, but you’ll have thousands of backpackers to chat with, and every day will seem like one big party.

If you know you’re going to stay awhile in Bangkok, or wherever else you first arrive, we suggest enrolling in a Thai language course. The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be able to mix with Thai people, and the easier it will be to find your way around.

Accommodation

Now that you’ve arrived in Thailand and settled in a little, it’s time to start looking for longer-term accommodation. And this is one of the easiest things to do, especially in the bigger cities. There seems to be a significant oversupply of condos here so that you will have plenty from which to choose.

We would strongly advise against booking any long-term accommodation before you get here. Prices for accommodation that you may see on the internet in your home country are mainly aimed at people with big budgets. If that’s you, we’d still advise against it, because what you see on the internet doesn’t always match reality. When we first came here, we checked out many condos online, and some seemed great. But when we went to see them, they looked completely different, because the photos were a few years old and the condos had deteriorated in the meantime.

If you book in advance, it’s possible that you may get a great condo. But what if you don’t like the area? There’s nothing worse than being stuck for months on end in a condo or area you don’t like. So always check out both the condo and the area before making a decision.

Most expats that come to live in Thailand end up living in Bangkok, at least initially. And Bangkok is probably the easiest place to find accommodation in Thailand, with prices to suit all budgets. You can rent a studio in a brand new building for as little as 5,000 baht per month ($170, £110) to as much as 100,000 baht per month ($3,300, £2,200) for a 3-4 bedroom condo in a magnificent building in a great location. What you choose will depend on your budget, but everything is available here.

So, the first step in finding long-term accommodation is to set your monthly budget, as that will determine what areas you can start looking in. If you followed our earlier advice, you’d have already spent a week or more exploring the city, so you’ll have at least some idea of the areas you do and don’t like and where you will not want to live.

Most expats live in either Sukhumvit or Silom. Sukhumvit is where the vast majority live, and if you want to hang out with other expats, then that’s an excellent place to be located. It’s also the center of the nightlife in Bangkok, so this may be important to you. Some people prefer the Silom area, especially the part that’s nearer to the river. The last condo we rented in Bangkok, before moving to Chiang Mai, was a 1-bed 55 m² condo a couple of minutes walk from Surasak BTS. The rent was 25,000 baht per month ($830, £560).

The condo itself was quite modern, with a swimming pool, fitness center, and parking. Within a few minutes’ walk, there were numerous cafes, restaurants, street stalls, a Tops supermarket, and a Robinson’s department store. Another bonus was that it was only about 5 minutes’ walk to the river. Being near the river was great because traveling by boat is a great way to get to certain parts of Bangkok, especially when there are so many traffic jams on the roads.

One of our favorite parts of Bangkok is Chinatown, and you can get a boat from Sathorn Central Pier to Chinatown for only 15 baht. The journey takes around 20 minutes, and it’s a very relaxing ride. You can also get a boat to within a few minutes’ walk of the world-famous Khao San Road. There are lots of hotels along the river, and an excellent way to spend a few hours is to take the free boat to the Anantara Hotel. It’s a 30-minute journey, and there are lots of restaurants and cafes near the hotel.

So, if you like to travel by boat, Silom could also be a good option. But you’ll need to be based around Surasak BTS station, as the other end of Silom (near Sala Daeng BTS), would be too far to walk.

Condos in Sukhumvit and Silom generally cost from 20,000 baht upwards. If your budget is only around 5,000-10,000 baht per month, you’ll have to live out a little further. There are many condos around the On Nut BTS station, and many of these are in that price range. It’s a working-class area, but lots of expats live there. It’s also only a few minutes ride on the BTS into central Bangkok.

If your budget is meager, then you’ll need to live away from the BTS system. But bear in mind that you’ll also end up paying extra for motorbike taxis and regular taxis. These expenses may only add up to about 50 baht per day, but that’s 1,500 baht per month. You can easily spend a few thousand baht extra per month if you go out a few times a day. An 8,000 baht condo near the BTS may end up costing you less than a 5,000 baht condo some way from the BTS.

If you’re going to be working in Bangkok, you’ll need to live somewhere convenient to get to work every day. And that usually means somewhere near the BTS.

Once you’ve decided on an area, the best way to find a condo is to walk around and see which buildings you like. When you see a suitable building, walk into the office, and ask if they have any condos for rent. Most will give you a list of quite a few condos that are available and show you them right away. Leases are almost always negotiable, so don’t accept the figure they quote. If they say the rent is 30,000 baht, you could counteroffer with 25,000 baht. There’s a good chance that your offer will be accepted. We would suggest trying at least ten buildings and comparing prices and facilities before you make a decision. That way, you’ll quickly get up to speed on what an excellent rental rate is.

And when you’re exploring an area, don’t forget to explore the side streets, as these often have smaller and cheaper condos. They will also be a bit quieter, which may suit some people.

If you’re not going to be living in Bangkok, then the same procedure as above should be followed. You’ll first need to explore the area, find where you like, and then start looking at suitable condos.

In Chiang Mai, you can get a studio for 3,000 baht per month is some buildings that are very near the center of the city. At the moment we’re staying at Smith Residence, a mixture of hotel and long-stay rooms. We have a corner room that costs 9,000 baht per month. Other rooms start at 7,000 baht per month if paying month to month. Rates are a little cheaper if you sign up for 6-12 months. Besides rent, we spend around 2,000 baht per month for electricity, 300 baht for water, and 400 baht for the internet. That gives you an idea of what’s available.

In Chiang Mai, expats live across three main areas. The first is an area near the center; the second is around the night bazaar and river area, and the third is around the university area to the northwest of the city. The university area is the most expensive, with monthly rentals of around 25,000 baht for a 1-bed condo. The night bazaar area has some cheap studios for approximately 3,000 baht per month.

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