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Finding the right place to live in Thailand depends on many factors. There are practical considerations such as accommodation prices, cost of living and availability of amenities. Then there are emotional criteria, such as the desirability of a place – whether what you desire is happiness, safety, friendly locals or an active social life.
Thailand has very many beautiful sights and places to explore: parks, ancient cities replete with temples and reclining Buddhas, diverse natural wonders. The country also has a diverse, long-established expat community. Accommodation in Thailand is much cheaper than in more Westernised Asian places such as Hong Kong or Singapore. One peculiarity is that there are no exclusive expat areas in the big cities, as property ownership for expats is capped at 49%.
First and foremost is the capital, Bangkok (local name: Krung Thep). This is by far the largest city, and naturally most expats head there. Bangkok is a haven for those who want both plentiful Western conveniences and cultural delights. This is because the city has a great deal of character; there are modern skyscrapers and neon lights alongside the many ancient temples.
There is always plenty going on in Bangkok, with near-endless choices of entertainment, eating out, shopping etc. Around half of Bangkok’s expats choose to live in the city centre. This reinforces one of the city’s main benefits, of being a combination of the familiar and the exotic. Other popular districts are Bang Na and Nichada Thani. Most accommodation is in the form of flats, and they are not huge. Due to the heavy traffic congestion, it is worth considering finding a place close to work.
Bangkok is a hectic city, loud and often very crowded. It also has somewhat of a seedy reputation and is not to everyone’s taste. If you want to have the best of both worlds, avoid this chaos and intensity but still dip into it occasionally, there are several expat-friendly suburbs or satellite cities that you can choose from, such as Muang Thong Thani and Nonthaburi.
A little further away from the city is Pattaya, which is 85 miles south-east of Bangkok by road. With many residential areas, plenty of international schools and advanced infrastructure, Pattaya has a strong draw for expats. Note, however, that it is rather more expensive than other places outside the capital. Also within reach of Bangkok is the coastal city of Hua Hin. This has also recently become an expat’s playground to some extent, the beach and sea breeze and calmer attitude than Bangkok being main attractions.
Of course, you may want to live in another part of the country altogether. The north-west of the country includes Chiang Mai province. This region is only an hour away from Bangkok but is very different. The pace of life is much slower, and in this more mountainous region, it is milder and less humid. A major cultural centre for the north, Chiang Mai city has hundreds of Buddhist temples, especially in the Old City, which retains its original square layout. Outside the Old City are as many modern conveniences as you would expect.
There is a smattering of expats in the rural areas of Thailand. The north-eastern region, the Isaan, is virtually untouched by tourists, though a handful of foreigners do live there. Living in the Isaan grants a genuine experience of the country, though of course many of the conveniences you can get in larger cities will be absent.
In the far south, beyond the Isthmus of Kra, lie the beach resorts and islands. This area is very popular with tourists and expats alike, attracted by the near-permanent sunshine, clear beaches, beautiful rocky islands and laid-back atmosphere. The largest of these islands, Phuket, is also the busiest resort. It is a popular destination for the retired, as it contains housing estates purpose-built for expats. Phuket is a little more expensive than other parts of the south, however.
Some expats teach English and some do other jobs such as teaching scuba-diving. Elsewhere is the town of Krabi and the island of Koh Samui, both of which are also very popular. There are also less commercialised places such as Phi Phi Island. These are billed as being close to paradise as possible but there are safety matters to observe.
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