I released an article earlier this week that went over many of the benefits of potentially living my FIRE lifestyle in Bangkok.
Life is absolutely wonderful in Chiang Mai, where I’ve been living since 2017, but I’m always open to new opportunities and changes.
So after spending about a week in Bangkok, I thought it’d be neat to compile and record some thoughts and pictures for this short series that’ll delve into the idea of actually living in one of the most vibrant cities in the entire world.
As promised, I’m following up on that first article with a few drawbacks to living in Bangkok, as well as my conclusion on the whole idea.
Bangkok has an official population of 8,280,925. That puts it nearly on par with New York City.
However, Bangkok kills NYC in terms of tourists, which only adds to the number of people actually walking around the place on a daily basis.
Bangkok, believe it or not, is the world’s most visited city. Actually, it’s been so for three years in a row. Not London, NYC, or Paris. Bangkok.
As such, the city is absolutely crammed with people, especially around the central area of Sukhumvit.
I mentioned loving the public transportation in the last piece. And I do.
However, my love wanes a bit when I step into a train that’s so crowded that I know exactly who ate what for lunch.
I don’t think this blurry picture really does my point justice. There were many times when it was too crowded for me to even reach into my pocket to grab my phone and take a picture.
Again, this is why if I were to ever live in Bangkok, it’d be in one of the outer neighborhoods.
The level of crowds significantly intensify the closer you are to the Siam BTS stop. That’s because of the aforementioned tourism.
The crowds, in my opinion, make the Thai people in Bangkok a bit less friendly than those in the north. I felt like just a number at times. Like cattle being pushed along.
You can also see what I mean when looking at some of the pictures around Siam Center and Iconsiam in Part 1. It’s a very crowded and intense place, made even more intense by the heat.
Speaking of heat, one aspect of Bangkok that doesn’t compare well to Chiang Mai is its climate.
I noted in the last post that Bangkok is the hottest city in the world. I like heat. But it’s a bit much down there. I don’t personally see that much heat as desirable.
It’s also quite a bit rainier in Bangkok relative to Chiang Mai. We’re talking 64 inches annually for the former; 44 inches per year for the latter.
Plus, Bangkok is sinking at an alarming rate, which doesn’t help with flooding concerns. And that’s not even to mention the long-term viability/livability questions this raises.
Chiang Mai, on the other hand, is actually quite pleasant in terms of the climate. It’s one of my favorite things about the place. As I write this, in early January 2019, it’s a balmy 83 degrees Fahrenheit outside with low humidity.
Meanwhile, Bangkok is a good six degrees warmer today – with higher humidity, to boot.
Chiang Mai’s northern latitude and higher altitude means cooler temps across the entire year.
Chiang Mai has some hot months. March through May can be brutal. But an average day in Chiang Mai will be noticeably more comfortable than what you’d experience in Bangkok, which is important for me since I walk a lot.
Likewise, I’ll admit that Chiang Mai does actually get a little too chilly for me from time to time. Some December nights are downright cold. But I think those few crisp moments are worth the more comfortable averages.
One good thing about Bangkok, though, is that I felt like it’s a lot easier to seek shade and indoors there. The BTS cars are quite cold, for instance. And the BTS tracks along Sukhumvit, along with the towering skyscrapers, create an artificial “shade” that offsets some of the urban heat effect, with that heat rising off the concrete.
One other good thing about Bangkok: no burning season, which is one of the biggest drawbacks of living in Chiang Mai. However, this is mitigated by a high amount of year-round pollution and smog.
I almost didn’t want to bring this up. It’s not fair to compare Chiang Mai to Bangkok.
Bangkok would be better compared to New York City in the US, or some very large, developed, well-traveled, epicenter capital city anywhere else in the world. Think a London or a Paris. In that sense, Bangkok is exceptionally cheap. It’s actually quite extraordinary.
However, I have to compare it to Chiang Mai because that’s where I live, and I’m viewing Bangkok through a comparative lens – fair or unfair.
And when you look at it this way, Bangkok is materially more expensive.
I’d say my baseline spending on essential expenses would be ~30% higher in Bangkok.
I’m spending about $1,000/month on basics like rent, food, transportation, toiletries, my mobile phone, etc. (I end up spending between $1,200 and $1,300/month all-in, however, because I voluntarily cover Oh’s way whenever we’re together. And I have a few modest luxuries in my life like a gym membership.)
That means I’d be closer to about $1,300/month on my basics in Bangkok, before even talking about taking care of Oh (which would also be more expensive in Bangkok). This is assuming replicating my exact Chiang Mai lifestyle, as it currently exists, in Bangkok.
I have a pretty good margin of safety right now between passive income of $1,400+ per month and ~1,000/month on my basic bills. That buffer would disappear in Bangkok. Of course, I could easily afford Bangkok – and much more – if you were to include my active income. But that’s putting water on my FIRE.
I don’t have any good pictures to explain this. I forgot to take pictures of receipts because I wasn’t really focused on money during the trip (nor do I really focus on money at all anymore). But I do track of all of my expenses every single day, down to the penny (or baht), to keep myself accountable and to show you readers what this unique, dream-come-true, FIRE lifestyle costs.
Well, it wasn’t hard to notice the difference when I was recording the data at the end of every day. This is true even on an apples-to-apples basis (or as close as it gets between these two cities).
Similar accommodation to my apartment here in Chiang Mai would probably run me closer to 18,000 baht/month (or more) – even at On Nut. That’s assuming I wanted to be close (less than 300 meters) to a BTS station. I know because I looked at places.
I noticed the same Thai dishes in Bangkok would average 40-60 baht (or more), instead of 35-50 baht here in Chiang Mai. I’m not sure if we were just going to the wrong places, or what it was. But I imagine that I’d learn the best values if I actually lived there. As I noted in the first article, we had a difficult time finding hole-in-the-wall markets and street food.
Western food was also significantly more expensive. Again, it’s not fair because I’d argue the quality is higher on average. But more expensive is still more expensive. So it’s really an individual’s call on value.
Coffee is another area where I think I’d get hammered in Bangkok.
Independent coffee shops are everywhere in Chiang Mai. It’s almost unreal how robust the coffee scene is here. I wouldn’t believe it unless I saw it firsthand. Cheap, delicious coffee can be had anywhere in the city.
However, Starbucks absolutely dominates in Bangkok. Their stores are ubiquitious, beautiful, and busy.
I appreciate this as both a shareholder and consumer – the coffee is great and I love to see them spread the love. The packed stores gave me those warm and fuzzy feelings when I think about Starbucks paying me my growing dividends.
However, their coffee is substantially more expensive than what I pay here in Chiang Mai. A 16-ounce caramel macchiato, for example, runs 155 baht at Starbucks in Bangkok. I get the same thing for 70 baht here in Chiang Mai. This difference would add up quick if I were still visiting coffee shops every day of the week.
And while the public transit in Bangkok is great, it’s only so necessary because Bangkok is so sprawled out. I walk almost everywhere in Chiang Mai. I’d probably end up spending more on transportation due to the differences in distance that I’d be intermittently covering.
Lastly, I wonder if living in Bangkok might create fertile ground for increased spending in general. There are just so many more opportunities in BKK to spend money. It’s easy to blow money in a big city like that.
I’m a value-minded guy who’s quite diligent about spending. I have a very good handle on money at this point. But Bangkok entices spending in a way that Chiang Mai does not. That lack of “allure” is one thing I like about Chiang Mai.
I literally don’t think about money at all anymore. But I’d have to be cognizant about spending if I were to live in Bangkok. After experiencing what life is like to not think/worry about money, I don’t think I could ever go back.
Our New Year trip was great. Bangkok is amazing.
Likewise, I adore living in Chiang Mai.
Again, it’s impossible to compare these two disparate places. The value equation changes immensely when looking at each one and what they offer and don’t offer. So it really comes down to one’s priorities and value system.
Let’s answer the question I posed in the first article.
Could I live in Bangkok?
Absolutely. I could easily live there.
Would I live in Bangkok?
Now, that’s really the question to ask.
My answer, right now, is no.
I simply don’t see the boost in cost of living to be commensurate with any matching boost in quality of life. In fact, I could just as well argue that my QOL would drop when looking at my current priorities and value system. Spending more for less would be irrational.
It makes sense that Bangkok costs more. It’s a global city with a very large economy. Jobs naturally pay better down there (relative to Chiang Mai). So living in Bangkok makes a hell of a lot more sense if you’re working there and taking advantage of that economy. If you’re living off of passive income like me, however, it becomes disadvantageous. You’re paying the money to live in that economy without taking advantage of it (via the higher wages). The three main facets of the city are shopping, nightlife, and dining. If you’re into all of that, Bangkok has few rivals.
Due to Bangkok’s stature and economy, I can see how it’d be easier to meet younger expats who are permanently located there. I’m sure there are many younger professionals who have made the city their home. Bangkok is also popular for English teachers.
One of the things I dislike about Chiang Mai is how transient it is among the younger crowd. It’s easy to meet new people, but it’s very difficult to make long-term friends.
So my answer to Bangkok is no right now because my current value system prioritizes things that are easier to access and cheaper in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a very “sabai sabai” place to be. It’s relaxed.
Chiang Mai is charming, while Bangkok is intense.
I picked Chiang Mai to live out my FIRE lifestyle because I thought it offered the highest quality of life at the lowest cost of living, out of anywhere in the world. That’s taking into account what I want out of life right now. I remain convinced I made the right choice.
However, I also readily acknowledge that my priorities could (and most likely will) change down the road. If you asked me a decade ago how important coffee shops were to me, I would have said not at all. I mean, I didn’t even know what a blog was 10 years ago. FIRE only meant combustion to me back then. So things do change. I embrace change. And I’m excited about what I might be getting into five or so years down the road.
With that in mind, there’s a chance that I’ll one day want to be in a city that offers a more dynamic, urban, intense environment. Depends on where I’m at in life in the future. Just as well, I could be living near a beach. I really don’t know.
One aspect of Bangkok that isn’t lost on me is its central location. This is definitely a benefit. Chiang Mai is isolated way up in the north. I plan to eventually execute my “perfect” snowbird solution. This would be easier to do, logistically, if I were located in Bangkok. Living in Bangkok would make both domestic and international travel less cumbersome.
I’d honestly say the biggest reason I could ever see myself moving to Bangkok, though, is the food.
No joke, folks. That’s the honest truth about it. I love to eat delicious food. It’s one of the most enjoyable pleasures in life. If I didn’t leverage financial fitness into physical fitness, I’d probably be slightly obese by now.
But I still truly enjoy eating Thai food for 80% to 90% of my meals, so Bangkok’s broader array of food options isn’t a major priority for me right now.
Furthermore, I still truly enjoy living in Chiang Mai. I have no desire to leave, even with the blinding glitz of Bangkok beckoning.
Bangkok is great. But I absolutely love my life in Chiang Mai. I can easily visit Bangkok when I get that big-city craving, then happily come back home to easy, breezy northern Thailand.
What do you think? Have you ever been to Bangkok? Been to Chiang Mai? How do these cities compare for you? Love one more than the other? Did you enjoy this report on my BKK trip?
Thanks for reading.
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