Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Accomodation In Bangkok
by Stickman

Note: The current exchange rate is ~40 Thai Baht to the US dollar.

There is a huge range of accommodation available in Bangkok from houses to apartments, guesthouse to hotels. Most foreigners who settle here initially choose an apartment over a house because they are more readily available, cheaper and the lack of any maintenance requirements is more convenient. The cheapest apartments start at about 1,500 a month and prices can go up to over 200,000 baht a month for the most luxurious executive digs.

Decide where you want to live, which may largely be dictated by where you work (if you need to), and then pound the pavement looking for your new digs. Take your time and look at as many places as you can before making a decision. If at all possible, talk to other foreigners who are staying in the building and see how they have found it. Ask them about any problems they may have had and how those have been dealt with by the apartment staff.

You can also enlist the services of an agent to help you find an apartment. These agents advertise daily in the Bangkok Post (English Language Newspaper) and their tools of the trade consist of a mobile phone and a car. They have a number of apartment buildings that they have agreements with. They will run you around all over the place showing you all sorts of apartments in the area / price range that appeals to you. You do not pay them directly so if they are unable to find something that you like, their service is free. They are paid by the apartment building if they introduce you to a building and you decide to take out a contract. Note however that this may reduce your chances of bargaining down the apartment price.

Although cheaper places exist, you will need to spend 1,500- 5,000 baht to get somewhere adequate - basic and not too far out in the sticks. 2,500 - 5,000 baht will get you a smallish (about 20 sq. m) studio apartment in the central areas or a slightly more spacious (35+ sq. m) apartment further out. Obviously, the further away you are from Central Bangkok, the cheaper the cost of accommodation. Paying any less than this and you are starting to look at some real doss houses. The cheapest place I have ever seen was this room for 1,000 baht a month - to say it was awful was an understatement.

Reality check: You might be surprised at exactly what is termed an "apartment" in Thailand. Often it is just a 20 square metre room with an add on toilet / bathroom. Back in the West, if someone says apartment to me, I think about a nice lounge / living area with full sized kitchen, bathroom, a couple of bedrooms and of course, a decent balcony. Of course, such apartments are available in Bangkok but a new one in a good location will be quite expensive.

If you want to use the internet, the telephone will be important to you. Most apartment buildings have a limited number of phone lines so when you make a call, there will be a time limit after which the call gets cut off. Time limits vary between 5 and 40 minutes - hardly enough to keep an internet junky happy. Calls from apartment buildings usually cost 5 baht flat rate for a local call. You can get your own direct phone line installed which bypasses the apartment switchboard giving you 3 baht phone calls with unlimited duration. The two most popular companies offering direct lines are the TOT and Asia Telecom. The installation cost of your own line is about 3,000 baht plus you need another 3,000 baht as deposit and the monthly rental charge runs at 100 baht per month. Some buildings will allow you to install a direct line in while others will not - some may even have the audacity to charge you an extra 500 baht per month for this (God only knows why - bunch of greedy so and sos...)

Most apartment buildings will have a laundry within the building where you can drop off all of your smelly, sweaty clothes and get them back in an umm, err, well, you get them back - most of the time! The quality of the work provided by apartment building laundries is variable... Some do a great job while others quite simply butcher your favourite garments.

Beware that power for the air-conditioning unit, especially in the hot season, can easily run up to 5,000 baht a month if you have an inefficient air-con unit operating at a low temperature every day and night. Purchasing a fan (500-700 baht for a small Japanese brand) will save you a lot of money because fans don't consume much power. A fan should be the very first item that you purchase and it is better to go for a bigger one, rather than the smaller size. The bigger fans seem to be a little quieter and less prone to breaking down, at least in my experience. Further, the bigger fans are definitely more effective. A couple of fans can be almost as good as air-conditioning.

Apartments usually require a deposit of one months rent and two month's rent paid in advance. (If you are an English teacher or someone moving to Bangkok without a lot of capital, you need to consider this.) Many apartments insist on a six month contract but with occupancy rates being low in all but the cheapest apartment buildings, you may be able to negotiate this. Rates too are up for negotiation but if you are going to be there for a short period of time, they may be less willing to negotiate. Figure on knocking at least 10% off the asking price.

Cheaper apartments tend to be less negotiable and dearer apartments tend to be far more negotiable but obviously it depends on many factors - take a Thai friend along for best results if you don't speak adequate Thai. Of the people that I know who have broken apartment contracts and left early, they have always lost their deposit, even if there was only one month to run - keep this in mind if you are unsure how long you are going to stay.

Other than this, Thai proprietors seem to be ok with returning deposits - at least in the experience of both me and my friends. If you are moving into an apartment building without any recommendations from people that you know and trust, it may be an idea to sign up for a minimum contract, just in case. Like many things in Thailand, you never know what might happen and it is nice top keep your options open.

The way the Thais live is a whole lot different to the way that we farangs reside. As the Thais generally have a far smaller salary, they will often live three or four to a usually small apartment. Such an apartment, typically 3,000 - 4,000 baht per month may even house an entire family. By night, the floor will have many fold away mattresses out as everyone fights for their space. In fact the Thais may even sleep two or three of the same family members in the one bed. Farangs living alone is just one of many things that the Thais do not understand about us. They find it particularly strange that we are not scared of ghosts at night...

[When first arriving, the cheapest place to stay is the backpackers ghetto on and around Kao San road. You can base yourself there while you look for a job and an apartment].

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