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Living in Bangkok

Set Up a Comfortable Base in Thailand in Less Than a Week

By Robert Hein

Trishaw in Bangkok

In spite of its size and big city bustle, Bangkok is a safe place for farangs (foreigners) to live. The biggest threat is the traffic. And Bangkok is a renter’s market with plenty of vacancies at bargain prices. Studios start at $100 a month and 1-bedroom apartments at $300. Even if you can’t speak Thai, renting an apartment, then lining up the services you require, is easily done; you can set up your Bangkok base in less than a week.

If you plan to work, it’s best to live close to your job or good transportation links. But if you have no constraints, I recommend the Sukhumvit Road area between Soi 1 and Soi 63 (Ekamai), the softest landing strip for a newcomer to the City of Angels. Here there is an informal expatriate community and many neighborhood markets, restaurants, department stores, and hospitals employ English-speaking staff.

The Bangkok Post (www.bangkokpost.com) always has some listings, but most landlords don’t advertise. So if you see an apartment or condo that you like the looks of, go to the desk and ask if they have vacancies.

Rent and Lease Terms: Renting or leasing an apartment, condo, or house in Bangkok is easier than in many cities of the U.S. You only have to present your passport and pay the first and last months’ rent and sometimes a security deposit. The rental contract is usually month to month.

• All apartment buildings have 24-hour security.

• All apartments are furnished. Additional furniture or appliances can be rented.

• Most apartments include daily maid services with the rent.

• Telephone costs are very low.

Budget Hotels

The Sukhumvit Road area has several inexpensive hotels to stay in while looking for an apartment: Nana Hotel, Sukhumvit Soi 4; 66-02-656-8235, www.nanahotel.co.th. Comfort Inn, 153/11-14 Sukhumvit Soi 11; 66-02-662-251-9250; comfort@ksc.th.com. Honey, 31 Sukhumvit Soi 19 Bangkok 10110; 66-02-253-0646; honeyho@ksc.th.com. Federal Hotel, 27 Sukhumvit Soi 11; 6602-253-5332; federalhotel@hotmail.com. Bangkok hotels from $10 and up are listed on www.thaihotel.com.

Budget Apartments

Tarit Court, 8 Sukhumvit Soi 27; 66-02-259-0350; taritcourt@yahoo.com. Manager: Khun Oy. Studios, 1-bedrooms with kitchens, phones, maid, laundry, 24-hour security. Rent from $110.

City Mansion, Soi 3, 16 Sukhumvit Soi 3 (Nana Nua); 66-02-655-5461; www.citymansion.com. 1- to 3- bedroom apartments with kitchens, maid, laundry, pool, tennis court, and 24-hour security.

38 Mansion, 25/2 Sangchai, Sukhumvit 38; 66-02381-7603-6, fax 66-02-381-7607. Includes business center, direct telephone line, room service, satellite, cable TV, coffee shop, pool, spa, sauna, and 24-hour security.

Lakeside Residence, Soi Asoke, On Soi Asoke near Sukhumvit Road, Tel.: 66-02229-4300, mobile: 01-915-0585. Studios and 1- and 2-bedroom apartments.

Street Lodge, Sukhumvit Soi 1; Tel. 66-02-254-3572.

RS Court, 29 Ekamai Soi 30, Sukhumvit Soi 63; Tel. 66-02-392 9005, fax 66-02-391-5558.

Medical Care in Bangkok

For decades Europeans and other Asians have come to Bangkok for the high quality and reasonable costs for heart surgery, and other complex medical procedures. Most Americans, however, are unaware of the reputation of Thai surgeons or skeptical of the quality of Asian hospitals.

Shortly after my wife and I moved to the city, we were in an accident while riding in a tuk-tuk. She suffered a deep cut in her scalp, so we caught a taxi to Samitivej Hospital. We had no idea what to expect, and we were pleasantly surprised.

The duty nurse gave the wound a quick glance, called for a doctor, and ushered us into a nearby treatment room where she shaved the area around the cut. An English-speaking doctor showed up five minutes later to treat and stitch the wound. The total bill: $35 including the prescription medication.

An American friend was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and, being short on funds, he could only afford the Police Hospital. I was skeptical about the care he might receive there for $2 a day including meals, and I visited him often over the months as he went through several reconstructive operations. I needn’t have worried. The care was excellent and he healed without a limp, infection, or other aftereffects. (He still lives in Thailand, traveling around the country for a charity organization that provides free prosthetic limbs to amputees.)

Hospitals usually require a cash deposit and your passport before admission for major operations or inpatient care, and you will not be released until the hospital bill is settled. Most of the major hospitals accept Visa card payments. Some accept U.S. insurance. Blue Cross medical insurance is available in Thailand;since the medical costs are so low, so are the insurance premiums.

The medical system is based on the U.S. model and the hospital staff is well trained, efficient, courteous, and very caring. I have found these characteristics to be consistent in all levels of hospitals, from the lowest priced to the most expensive.

Dental care is also on par with the U.S. and many times less expensive.


Spare Time in Bangkok

Whatever your hobbies or interests, chances are good you’ll find an English-speaking venue in Bangkok that caters to them. You may even discover some new ones.

The expatriate community in Bangkok has established choral and musical groups, a community theater, business organizations, writers’ workshops and many other common- interest groups. Few are nationality oriented and most most include all nationalities.

Sporting facilities in the city include golf courses, swimming pools, tennis, squash, and racquetball courts. Inner-city parks offer rental rowboats as well as picnic grounds, bicycling, and jogging paths. All are safe, clean, and well maintained. Sports clubs of every kind are not only an excellent way to cut the already reasonable costs but also a great way to meet other expats.

Golf is big business with a dozen courses around the city and several driving ranges in town. The reasonable fees attract hoards of Japanese golfers who find it cheaper than Japan even with the airfare and hotel costs included. There is an inner city driving range at the dead end of Soi 18 Sukhumvit where, if you choose, you can hire a caddy to place the ball on the tee for you.

Cultural organizations present their nations’ literature, theater, film festivals, and music to the public. Guest artists’ schedules are listed in the Friday edition of the Bangkok Post. Most of the events are free of charge.

Lending libraries with Bangkok’s many English language publications are located at the American Univ. Alumnae Language School (AUA), The British Council, and the Neilson Hays Library. Membership is open to all residents of Bangkok.

The AUA Library has an excellent collection of books by American authors as well as Thai cultural and historical publications in English. Membership requies proof of residency (a rent receipt) your passport, and a small fee.

The British Council Library maintains a collection of books by British authors as well as magazines, VDO movies, and documentaries. Membership requires proof of residency (a rent receipt) your passport, and a small fee.

The Neilson Hays Library is supported by its membership program which is open to all. It stocks English language magazines and books, fiction and nonfiction, and often hosts lectures by guest authors.

This short lists of activities available to the expat in Bangkok will get you started, and you will undoubtedly find more venues and creative outlets for your special interests as you live in the city and join in the expat community.

Cultural Centers

• Alliance Francaise, 29 Sathorn Tai (South) Rd.; 213 2122. French films, theater and music presentations.

• AUA (American University Alumnae), 179 Rajadamri Rd.; Tel. 25-1607. American films, theater and music presentations.

• British Council, 254 Soi 64 Phayathai Rd. (in Siam Square); Tel. 252 6136. British films, dance, drama and music presentations

• Community Services of Bangkok (CSB), 15/1 Sukhumvit Soi 33; Tel. 258-5652; csb@loxinfo.co.th. Helps newcomers adjust to living in Bangkok with orientation programs on Thai culture, language, and guided tours of the city—a great way to meet people and learn your way around.

• Goethe Institute (Thai-German Cultural Foundation), 18/1 Soi Attakarn Prasit, Sathorn Tai (South) Rd.; Tel. 287 0942. German films, theater and music presentations.

Libraries

• British Council Library, 254 Phayathai Soi 64 (in Siam Square). Public lending library for Bangkok residents. Requires proof of residency, passport, and an annual fee.

• Siam Society, 131 Sukhumvit Soi 21 (Asoke); www.siamsociety.org. Books on Thai history and culture.

Music and Theater

• Bangkok Symphony Orchestra Foundation. Contact Khun Witaya, Tel. 223-087. Musicians are invited to join.

• Bangkok Community Theatre (BCT). Contact: Angela Mitchell, Tel. 02258-8495. Bonnie Zellerbach, Tel. 02618-7080. Louise Truslow, Tel. 02618-4047; ww.bct-th.org. Presents several productions yearly. A social night is held on the first Thursday of each month at the British Club on Silom Rd., 7:30 p.m.. This is a very good way to meet people. Membership is open to all.

Parks

• Lumpini Park, Located at Rajdamri Road and Rama IV Road Favored for tai chi workouts. It has jogging and bike riding paths as well as a small lake with rowboats for rent.

Sports Venues

• Bike & Travel, Tel. 02990-0900. Specializes in organized weekend bike tours.

• Phukijdee Flying Club, Bangkok Office, 15th Fl., Richmond Bldg., 75/47 Sukhumvit Soi 26; Tel.0 262-1646. Flying lessons at reasonable rates. English-speaking instructors.

• Soi Klang Racquet Club, 8 Sukhumvit Soi 49; Tel. 02-391-0963. This popular club has tennis, squash, badminton, and racquetball courts as well as swimming pools, saunas, and gym.

• The Capitol Club, Exercise Gym, Sukhumvit Soi 24 in President Park Complex; Tel. 02-661-1210. Very large facility with modern, California-style machines.