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 169 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 fueled 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 nine 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. By 2015 the population has obviously increased further.
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 higher in Bangkok than in other parts of Thailand.
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.
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.
On the other hand, the recent terrorist attack in August 2015 probably didn’t enhance Bangkok’s appeal, but such incidents have been rather rare in the past few years. Price-gouging, profiteering, scams, and credit card fraud are usually 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.
Despite the end of outright political strife, you should still take care to avoid becoming embroiled in the capital’s political unrest. 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.
The political crisis escalated in 2013 and 2014. By 2015, however, the situation has become more stable, and the martial law imposed during the crisis was lifted from most of the country.
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