Bangkok at a Glance
Moving to Bangkok
Relocating to Bangkok will lead expatriates to one of Southeast Asia’s most dynamic cities, a place of stark contrasts. The city encompasses cultural heritage and economic growth, Thai hospitality and political unrest, glitz and glamour, as well as urban sprawl and squalor.
Before setting out for Bangkok, expats might read up on the history and living conditions of Thailand’s capital to be better prepared for moving to Bangkok. An amusing little fact that many foreigners moving to Bangkok will come across is the official name of the city.
While Bangkok is the name used by most foreign residents, locals call it Krung Thep Mahanakhon or Krung Thep. The full name, which is abbreviated thus, is actually the longest place name on the globe, with 168 letters and an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Its beginning means “city of angels” – a romantic and auspicious name.
Unfortunately, the “city of angels” is anything but a romantic place, as foreign employees moving to Bangkok will discover. The city is the social and economic hub of a newly industrialized country. Its urban growth is partly fuelled by migrants moving to Bangkok from poorer provinces.
According to the most recent official census, the population of Bangkok counted more than 5.7 million people in 2010. However, this does not include the rural migrants coming to Bangkok as unregistered residents, so estimates put the urban population at up to 9 million. Moreover, if you consider the larger Bangkok Metropolitan Region – since lots of urbanites move to the outskirts and neighboring provinces – it was actually over 14.5 million.
Expatriates moving to Bangkok should therefore be aware that they will be living in a 21st-century metropolis, which is currently going through rapid change. Indeed, the demographic growth is far higher in Bangkok than in other parts of Thailand.
Pollution and Other Urban Issues
It’s not much of a surprise that the city’s biggest problems include housing shortages, particularly for poorer people. Other issues include traffic jams, crowding, and pollution. Expats with respiratory diseases may have to cope with the effects of particulate matter in the air over Bangkok.
The Chao Praya River suffers from very low water quality. Moreover, the remaining canals (khlong) of the network that once inspired Western visitors to call it “Venice of the East” sometimes resemble an open-air sewer.
However, it was not dirty water that became a problem for Bangkok in 2011. During the monsoon season, large parts of the country were flooded, and in October the floods reached the capital. Downtown Bangkok was mostly safe, but, for example, parts of Nonthaburi to the north were inundated.
Many industrial locations of international companies such as Toyota suffered heavy and costly damages, which also affected their expat employees moving to Bangkok. However, the metropolitan economy has recovered from the 2011 flooding by now.
Despite all current problems, foreigners moving to Bangkok don’t remain immune to the city’s considerable charms. Its historical venues attract countless culture enthusiasts every year, and the upscale nightlife locations are the stuff legends are made of. Moreover, expats will be relieved to hear that it’s a relatively safe city, compared to other places of the same size.
As the 2010 anti-government protests died down after the last general election in July 2011, moving to Bangkok usually means facing theft and property damage (rather than violent crime) as the greatest risks. Price-gouging, profiteering, scams, and credit card fraud are the biggest dangers for tourists and foreign residents.
However, you should know that, especially on the party circuit outside Bangkok (e.g. in Koh Samui, Phuket, and Pattaya), an increase in muggings, violent robberies, and sexual assault has been reported. Also, if you think that you are falsely accused of petty theft or property damage by blackmailers, please contact your nearest consulate immediately.
Behavior in Public
Despite the end of outright political strife, you should still take care to avoid becoming embroiled in the capital’s political strife. When moving to Bangkok, you should not discuss politics in public or with people whom you don’t know well.
Make sure to avoid political demonstrations. If the political tension should flare up again, do not wear red or yellow shirts (the symbolic colors of the anti- and pro-government factions). That way, you can easily stay out of harm’s way and truly enjoy moving to Bangkok.