Updated: 01/21/2018 | Orignally posted: 1/10/2009
I’ve been living in Bangkok on and off for two years now. It’s become my base of operations as I backpack around Thailand and Asia. It’s the place I return to when I am out of money and need to work. I’ve developed a network of friends, business contacts, learned the language, and mastered the city.
But now this chapter in my life is over. I must say goodbye to being an expat in the city.
I first came here with my friend Scott in 2005. We were on holiday and, upon landing in Bangkok, decided the first thing we had to do was figure out how to get out. We hated the city. It was dirty, crowded, polluted, seedy, and boring. We didn’t come here for crowded, hectic city streets. We wanted beaches and parties and jungles. You know, the “real” Thailand.
Even when I returned to Thailand in 2006, I spent just 10 hours in the city before leaving for the islands. I couldn’t leave the city fast enough. Again, why would I want to spend time in a massive, chaotic city when I could be relaxing on the beach?
But, when I decided I wanted to improve my Thai, I moved to Bangkok. It was the best place to learn the language as Bangkok Thai is considered the standard; learning it in one of the outside provinces would have given me a more noticeable accent. On top of that, it would be much easier to find a teacher in Bangkok (especially one that could also speak English). I figured I would tough it out for a month, learn what I could, and then be on my way.
But things changed, as they often do, and I found myself living in the city. Before I knew it, I started to enjoy my time there. Bangkok started to become a place that I liked spending time in…and then it became a place that I loved. As I came to realize, the city has a lot to offer if you know where to look.
As a tourist on those first visits, I didn’t know where to look — which is why I never enjoyed my time. But once I was able to peel back the curtain and get a glimpse of the real city, it became a place that I loved. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world.
As I leave in a couple of weeks to go teach in Taipei, I can’t help but think about all the things this city has taught me.
5 Lessons Learned from Living in Bangkok
Living in Bangkok taught me that first impressions are almost always wrong. I hated the city when I first came here, yet the longer I stayed, the more the city opened up to me and the more I found it an exciting and riveting place to live. Had I judged it by my first impression of it, I never would have stayed and learned how to make it in a city. I never would have developed the network I would have.
Living in Bangkok taught me that notions about safety are overrated. In the West, we’re super safety-minded. And if we aren’t, someone will be sure to sue us. But here you see little kids driving motorbikes and people running across busy streets, jumping on and off buses, and walking on sidewalks with gaping holes leading into pipes. Western lawyers would have a field day here. But by living here, I’ve learned that safety, while important, is not as important as having a level head. Few accidents happen because most people are just conscious of their surroundings and use their heads.
So are notions about cleanliness. Last night, I ate Thai food on the street next to a motorcycle stand. The night before I had chicken BBQ made with chicken that clearly had been sitting there for some time (on ice). The woman who cooks my Pad Thai uses her hands to make it. Yet here I sit, still alive. They say a lot of the reason children develop allergies is because we’re so hyper clean that their bodies don’t develop resistance. There’s no talk about peanut allergies and wheat allergies here. Our species lasted thousands of years a bit dirty. Bangkok taught me that a little dirt never really hurt anyone.
Living in Bangkok taught me that I can be tone deaf yet still learn a tonal language. I love learning languages. I’m also horrible at learning them. It takes me a long time to pick a new one up. I still can’t roll my R’s when I speak Spanish even though I started studying it when I was in high school. Though I don’t believe it, my Thai friends tell me my pronunciation is very good. I’m not fluent, but I can hold a basic conversation with the taxi drivers. If I can get my head around Thai, my upcoming forays into French and German shouldn’t be so difficult.
Most importantly, Living in Bangkok taught me I can make it anywhere. . I moved here not knowing anyone and spent the first weeks alone on my computer. Yet, I made friends, got a job, learned the language, found a girlfriend, created a social network. I managed to thrive in a foreign land. I navigated banking systems, rent, bills, and culture I didn’t understand. Bangkok showed me that I could be self-reliant and independent.
If I could start a life in a place like Bangkok, I could start a life anywhere. I could be who I wanted, make new friends, and live a life full of adventure. Now as I go to Taipei facing the same situation, I’m not worried about anything. If I can manage in one city, I can manage in another.
The city will surprise you.
And, now I can’t help but wonder, after learning so much in Bangkok, what will Taipei teach me?
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Book Your Trip to Bangkok: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:
If you’re looking for more places to stay, here are my favorite hostels in Bangkok. And if you’re wondering what part of town to stay in, here’s my neighborhood breakdown of Bangkok!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- Safety Wing (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on Bangkok?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Bangkok for even more planning tips!