Why Bangkok?

Posted: February 21, 2010    Categories: Thailand

When I made up my mind to find a place to work for a few months, I went through a process of trying to figure out what would be the best place. Inside, however, I sort of knew the answer the moment I asked the question: I’d be going to Bangkok.

In the three weeks since I’ve been here I’ve met many expats living in Bangkok and travelers passing through Bangkok who have contacted me via Twitter. While I often meet people in cities I visit, nothing has come close to the volumes of people there are to meet in Bangkok. Every major world city has some expat population, but nothing seems to approach the size of the community I’ve met here in Bangkok. It isn’t just the size of the community either. It seems to have a special draw to bloggers and location independent workers. It is true of Thailand in general, as I know of even more people who are staying in the islands in the south or up in Chiang Mai, but Bangkok is the clearly the center of the action.

As I meet travelers in the region, the one constant in everyone’s itinerary is Bangkok. Khao San road is the perhaps the largest and best known backpacker hub in the world. There is so much tourism in Thailand that when the tsunami hit in 2005, it was the biggest natural disaster in terms of lives lost in the history of ……. Norway. The area around Sukhumvit Avenue where I’m staying has four British/Irish pubs within a one block distance. They should call the area “Little Britain”.

With every day that passes here I keep asking myself the question “Why Bangkok?” There are other great cities in the world, but what makes Bangkok such an attractive location? I’ve come to several reasons:

Bangkok is Cheap

Thailand might not have the lowest cost of living in the world, but compared to North America, Europe, Australia or Japan, Thailand is downright cheap. I’ve talked to people who stay in rooms for as little as $5/night. You can rent a fully furnished studio apartment (in a nice building) with utilities including internet for US$450/month. You can eat street food every day for $1 per meal. If you want to take part in a higher level of food and lodging, there are plenty of places for that as well. If you were starting an online business where you could work from anywhere in the world, keeping your costs low is your first priority. Bangkok is perfect for that. There is no way you could approach your living costs in any OCED country.

Bangkok is Developed

Bangkok is not the most developed city in the world, let alone South East Asia. Kuala Lumpur and Singapore score higher in those areas. Bangkok, however, has passed some threshold where it is developed enough. Malls like Siam Paragon are on a par with what I’ve seen in Dubai. The movie theaters I’ve seen here the best I’ve seen anywhere. The transportation system is far from perfect, but if you live near the BTS (skytrain), you can get around easily enough. Taxis are cheap and you can get to most places in town for under 100TBH (US$3). There are big box retailers and almost every other convenience imaginable.

Bangkok is Clean and Safe

I’ve heard some people say that they thought Bangkok was dirty. They haven’t seen a real dirty city. Maybe everything isn’t brand new like Dubai or Singapore, but you will not find much litter here. The streets are swept every day by hand. Street vendors have an incentive to keep their place of business clean. Outside of pickpockets that you can find in any major city, there is very little major crime. There is almost no graffiti. Thailand has issues with corruption, but it is far from the worst place in the region. If you mostly do business online, you are immune from most of it.

Bangkok is Wired

For a guy like me who spends a lot of his line online, this is huge. Even if money were not part of the equation, I’ve found connectivity to be an issue in places like Australia, New Zealand and Dubai. In Australia it can be slow and in Dubai it is slow and the government filters many legitimate sites like Flickr. In Europe the connection is good, but you almost always have to pay and arm and a leg to get online. Wifi is plentiful in Bangkok and you can often find open wifi just walking down the street. You can get a monthly unlimited wifi plan which covers most of the city for only 800TBH per month.

Bangkok is not the only city in the world that meets these criteria. I think Kuala Lumpur does too and I also considered Panama City, but I had never been there. I’m sure there might be some cities in Eastern Europe that could fit the bill as well.

Bangkok might not be this attractive forever. There are many unresolved political issues which are still simmering. Things could blow up here at some point in the future. It will probably not affect tourists or expats, but it will significantly reduce the appeal of the city.

I’d like to hear from people with more experience in Bangkok. What do you think of where the city has gone and where it is going? Also, what other cities in the world do you think meet the criteria of cheap/developed/wired?

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