10 ways you can tell you are a Bangkok Expat

Grand Palace Bangkok

1. You check how much change you have before you get in a taxi, because you can’t bear another run to the cash point in the rain whilst an angry driver harrumphs at you, revving his engine.

2. When setting the table for dinner, you put down a fork and spoon rather than a knife.

3. Time is no longer a precise measurement, but a vague promise of when you may be somewhere.

4. Over the year, you get more public holidays than leave days.

5. The concept of walking anywhere has become alien to you.

6. When someone smiles and says yes, you no longer take this as an affirmation. You desperately run through your Thai smile repertoire – is this a confused smile? Angry smile? Couldn’t give a toss smile?

7. There is a secret to squeeeeeeeeeeezing yourself on a full sky train at 8:20 every morning. You learnt this after months of waiting politely whilst smartly dressed ladies with poufy hair slinked on in front of you.

8. You’ve worked out that every stall at Chatuchak Weekend Market (JJ to the locals) also has a branch in an air-conditioned shopping mall in the city, so you no longer spend your shopping Saturdays hot, lost and feeling alone in the crowd.

9. A special walk and look means that tailors, scammers, prostitutes and beggars leave you alone, even in Nana.

10. You know the friendly food stall sellers in your neighbourhood so well that they now prepare your order as you approach, remembering to put the sauce on the side and only include one chilli.

Bangkok Sunset

This post was inspired by a post I found on the blog Between Worlds.

Newsflash: All Western women are U.G.L.Y

I went to the pub a few weeks ago with some friends, and at the table next to us was another Brit. He was in his 50s and we happily chatted about the craft beer craze that is taking over Bangkok. Then out of the blue he asked me if it was hard to be a woman in Thailand.

Thinking that he meant it was difficult because although women are often the dominant forces in families and communities, and despite the fact that Thailand currently has a female prime minister, women still get a rougher deal here than they do back in the UK. So I launched into a discussion about women’s position in society only to be shot down with a laugh and a bold statement ” no, no. no – because Thai women are so attractive”.

Now this chap was accompanied by a pretty Thai lady who spoke excellent English and seemed to be enjoying his company. But I didn’t sit there worrying that I was in some way inferior because I was western, although I admit I was a teensy bit jealous of her amazing coral pink killer heels.

Who you find attractive is a matter of taste and of course he is entitled to date whoever he wishes. But there was no need to assume that I should be depressed about the way I look. I brush my hair and I occasionally paint my nails. Whilst my eyebrows sometimes look a little mad scientist in the early morning, I always wet them down with a bit of water. Such. A. Catch.

I can only assume he was badly heartbroken by a western woman, leaving him incapable of finding love again with a fair skinned lady. The same thing happened to a senior member of staff at my old office. He announced in a meeting that marrying a British woman changed a man for the worse, and that’s why he moved to Asia. He must have thought I was American or something. But let’s get back to the shallow end rather than get bogged down in emotional detail.

Of course, there are many beautiful women in Thailand. There are plenty of very pretty ladies in London (where I used to live) too – but I never walk the streets feeling like an outcast because I do not fit with his (and we all know he’s one of many) version of attractiveness. I do stand out a little in Bangkok. Sometimes on the sky train I am head and shoulders above most people, and I feel sorry for those stuck in my armpits. My blonde hair makes me recognisable in a crowd, great for when I wander off like a small child.

The definition of beauty is an interesting one and very much down to an individual perspective. But I believe it is the whole package, rather than simply the wrapping. It still annoys me that people like this chap feel that they can go around making sweeping statements about the looks of an entire hemisphere in this way. He was not my type, but I would never ask him if his girlfriend was only with him for his money…

Sadly you don’t have to go far in Bangkok to stumble across a couple in which the woman is with a man for the security he provides rather than for love. I’m not looking to be arm candy, and I am lucky enough to be able to look after myself, although I am perfectly happy for anyone, from princesses to toads, to deal with the cockroach under the sink.

I’m cool in my world, but not so cool about to views he’s broadcasting from his. Because what IS depressing is that women are always being compared and judged against each other in the looks department above anything else.

Being all repulsive and British
Scaring some strawberry tarts with my western looks.

I love taking a bath in the tropics

A few days ago I visited a hotel for a work review and when I was looking at the rooms I noticed that they all had baths. This is unusual, so I pointed it out to the hotel representative “Oh!” he exclaimed “Of course we have a bathtub in every room, we have many many Japanese guests. Japanese guests like to take a bath”.

If this is indeed an actual fact, rather than hotel myth, then hurrah for Japan! Despite living in a country where the thermometer frequently hits the high 30s, there is nothing I love more than a hot bath when I’m feeling unwell or stressed. Sure, I sometimes feel a little faint from all the heat, but when I eventually cool down, I always feel much better. Obviously somewhere in my fuzzy brain there is a association between baths and comfort, a little slice of cosy that is impossible to find in Bangkok’s air-conditioned interiors.

Of course bubbles are great fun, but the reason that baths are so exciting is because here in Thailand, having your own tub is a HUGE deal. Many flats in Bangkok don’t have  them, so when we were looking for somewhere to live last November I was excited to find a one bed with a proper bath. In fact it may have swayed my decision to pick this flat, despite what I tell people about the extra window in the living room… Who cares about light, if I keep the blinds open during  the day it’s like a greenhouse and I have close them again at night to prevent any weirdos/neighbours looking in.

What I need in Bangkok is a bath!

It’s a bit of a pain in the mornings as the shower is over the bath and the boy has stubbed (well, he claimed it was broken…) his toe clambering over the edge to have a shower. Some people think it’s mad, and can’t appreciate the joys of fancy bubble bath, and others think it’s a bit gross to hang around in your own dirt for half an hour. I just tell them about grandfather used to bathe in disinfectant – although I am not sure if this helps me look sane or just makes people think that craziness runs in the family.

As my bath is not very beautiful, I will share a picture of one in Hotel Muse in Bangkok:


I hope that one day I will also have an Adams Family inspired bathroom like this.

I think a lot of expatriates bring a habit, or item from home that does not quite fit into their new surroundings. I’ve seen men on the sky train in tweed jackets and watched people countdown to their PG tips delivery. I packed so many things that I never used, tried and failed to keep up with British soaps and like to pretend that Bangkok is as easy to walk around as London, even when I am dripping in sweat and jumping over soi dogs. Sometimes a little taste of where you come from, however mad it may seem to other people is enough to keep homesickness at bay.

Five Expat Lessons from Bangkok

Nothing beats doing what you love as a job. I never thought that I would take such a huge pay cut, but when the opportunity came up to write for a living it was worth it. I was lucky that I worked out what I wanted to do and managed to find a job only a few months after that. It took me seven long years of doing a lot of dull admin before that, but it makes it all the sweeter. Don’t listen to those who say you shouldn’t or couldn’t do it. If you keep your focus and put the hard work in most things are possible.

You don’t have to be geographically near someone to feel close to them. I haven’t seen my mother or brothers in the flesh for over two years, but I don’t let it worry me. I know that the next time we end up in the same room it will be as if I have just popped away for the night. With Skype, instant messaging and email they are as much a part of my life as if they were around the corner (plus side – I can keep all the cringe-worthy moments hidden from them if I want).

Don’t let the fear freeze you. I get so worried about things and sometimes I just don’t seem to be able to move forward, but this year I have had my hand forced and it has been great. Whether it was interviewing 20 consultants in Jakarta or running around Singapore hunting down 70 stories and taking 900 hundred pictures, I always feel much stronger after facing what I dread.

I need to try more new things. This year has been a blend of successes and failures on this front. I have tried chicken feet, century egg (black inside, eeewwww), white-water rafting, a three-person bicycle, and plenty more. Still no cricket munching though.

The best relationships in life don’t come for free, they require investment, but for the most part what you give you will get back tenfold. There are times when you will have to love harder than before, have faith in the people close to you and forgive them for hurting you. I am not religious but I believe in people, and whilst there have been times I have struggled, especially as someone who has a memory like an elephant; it is much easier to let go of anger and allow people back into your life. No-one wants to end up bitter and alone.

Being an Ex-pat: 2 years in Bangkok!

Being a long-term expat in Bangkok was never going to be easy. In some ways it feels like only yesterday that we stepped off our long flight from London, unused to the heat, smells and bugs of Bangkok. These days it feels so much like home that I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now, even if I sometimes wish I could apparate Harry Potter style to spend time with family and friends, or even partake in a proper cream tea. The Bangkok balance, which for a long time was swaying this way and that has finally reached an even keel, and I feel extremely positive about most aspects of my life (I won’t run through the ones I need to work on!).

We have finally found a new flat, and with this being our third move in 2 years we are keeping it simple and going 10 floors down to a very cute one bed in the same building. I am glad to be putting down tiny roots. If only I could convince Dan to let me get Elvis, my dream Thai kitten with blue eyes and grey fur… Signing a lease means another year here, and I am glad to have that in ink.

After giving up Thai lessons early this year I am probably getting my head around one new word a month. At this rate I will never be fluent, but with such a busy end of year I just can’t find the energy to dedicate myself to something I am not very good at. So instead I have signed up for a great deal on Ensogo for 20 pilates lessons for 2000 baht (around 40 GBP – 2 quid a lesson, bargain). I am so far failing to meet any of my exercise targets, but I still have a few months to work on this, and also to stop looking so pathetic when I try to do a sit-up using my core. I also plan to take a photography class so I can express myself better with images, I am currently struggling far too much with aperture and angles.

With the cooler, sunnier weather finally here, it’s a great time to remember all the brilliant things about Bangkok and start planning my explorations to discover even more.

Finding a new job in Bangkok

I am now almost two months into my job and so far it’s been pretty much all fun. It can still be hard sometimes to find the words to express what I want to say, especially when describing food. I have been reading up on food reviews to get some inspiration and so far my favourite (by far) is Jay Rayner. Whilst I am nowhere near his level I know that reading, reading and more reading will help me improve. I still can’t believe I have suddenly had so much work luck. There has not been a second where I have missed my old job – I just don’t think about it. Every week I look forward to going into the office, I am learning so much about photography, websites and Bangkok as well as writing. My first overseas assignment is in a few weeks, five days pounding the streets of Singapore. I am both nervous and excited! Here is a link to some of the cool things the team has been exploring in Bangkok.

Life outside work has been hectic too, and it finally all caught up with my last week and I caught a very bad cold and cough. I hate being sick, it feels like such a waste of time, but my body was not letting me go to work, so I spend the day in bed napping. There is nothing more odd than having a cold in Thailand. Runny noses go with scarves, falling leaves and lemsip – none of which are currently available here. I was feeling so sad and pathetic about the lack of lemsip that my lovely grandmother rushed to post office and sent some out. It will be rationed, so if everyone around me could try and limit germs in my direction that would be great.

We’re fast approaching our two year anniversary in Thailand, and the the longer I am here, the less sentimental I am getting about objects.  In the UK my family are considering a move, so I went through my boxes with my dad via Skype.  We store all these mementos that will sit for years in boxes and when we finally pull them out we feel nostalgic for about ten minutes then forget about them again. I don’t really need the vase I was given during my first job after graduation, or the books I studied at University. Only a few things made the cut, my set of ‘Little House in the Prairie’ books and my glitter globe collection were selected, but all the classics and old birthday cards got chucked out.

Off to visit the floating market tomorrow, need to be and out by 6:30. Getting up at the crack of dawn isn’t fun, but a morning getting paid to be a tourist sounds perfect!

Ten things I had forgotten about the UK

  1. Pennies. A lady handing me some change was surprised at how excited I was to get a handful of coins.
  2. How bloody cold it is. It’s July and on Monday I wore tights underneath my trousers and still shivered. My colleagues have been ribbing me about it all week.
  3. How much bad/good food there is. I pretty much have the sweetest tooth of anyone I know, but yesterday I overdid it by eating a brownie, chocolate mousse and half a crunchie. I felt too sick to eat the other half of the crunchie and threw it away. I shall return to Bangkok a slightly chubbier version of myself.
  4. It stays light so late in ‘summer’. Even at 10.30pm last night the sun had only just set here in Edinburgh. It was a beautiful sunset.
  5. Most people can understand everything you say. So don’t say they look like a Russian prostitute.
  6. How addictive  British television is. I don’t miss it at all whilst in Bangkok, but now I  NEED to know who will be the next Jesus and who Spencer chooses on the Bachelor.
  7. To appreciate the sunshine. It had been raining for five days when the sun came out yesterday. I went out at lunchtime and just stood there enjoying the rays.
  8. When people give things stupid names here they actually understand what they mean. I went to a juice bar and could not bear to order as the names of their drinks were so ridiculous. The juice also cost about five pounds for a glass. No thank you.
  9. How enjoyable it is to be able to read all the adverts and street signs. How annoying it is for my friends when I read them out loud.
  10. Things really don’t change that much. They are still familiar and comfortable, but like that old coat that hasn’t been out of my wardrobe for two years, aren’t really missed.

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Disappointing Dishes

Everyone who has lived abroad for a certain time has done it. You go to a restaurant and order Toad in the hole or rush over to those amazing looking biscuits at the café down the road with such high expectations. These are the flavours that remind you of times gone by… So much anticipation invariably means a crushing disappointment. Most familiar things taste quite different to  the way you think they should. I once almost had a tantrum in Vietnam when I ordered a BLT that did not even resemble a sandwich.

Thankfully we now have the wonder of food miles, simultaneously filling us with guilt and providing us with the taste of home. We even have Marks and Spencer here (there is one in Central Rama 9 and Centralworld). Sometimes I go there just to look at biscuits. I am currently debating whether it is worth it to spend over two pounds on their basic dark chocolate digestives. I often get hunger pangs for a certain dish or type of cuisine and at the moment I am having a bit of a ‘missing snacks from home’ time.

When my father visited before Christmas he filled his suitcase with biscuits, mince pies, tea and chocolate. Decaf Earl Grey is ridiculously priced here, so I have become one of these people who uses every teabag at least twice. In my freezer are emergency Chocolate Buttons and a Crunchie. I fear the time will come when I am so crazed with desperation for Cadbury’s chocolate, so I never eat them. They are probably impossibly out of date. I would ask people to send more, but chocolate melts. There is nothing more heartbreaking than opening a package to find your buttons fused together in a big lump of milk chocolate. It is however worth noting that Green and Black’s Mayan Gold chocolate travels pretty well.

For everything you can get there are hundreds of products which just can’t be imported. Sometimes I sit at work with my ex-pat colleague and we play a cruel but very fun game of what we would most like to eat right now. On my list: Parma ham baguette from Pret a Manger, Cadbury’s Twirl, Walkers Sweet Chilli Crisps, Twiglets, Flapjack, Bourbon Creams, Green and Black’s of any kind, Starbucks skinny extra hot Chai tea lattes.

It’s not all bad news though. A new country means new snacks to discover. I can already imagine the longing I will feel for these things and I haven’t even left the country yet. Synthetic cheese flavoured crisps at only 10 Baht a pack, which also come in an eye watering spicy version, Schweppes Manao Soda – one of the best mixers for Gin, Creamo all chocolate cookies which look a bit like Oreos but in my humble British opinion taste far superior. This is without even broaching the awesomeness of the food-stalls along Sukhumvit which provide fresh coconut water, Mango Sticky rice and Banana and Chocolate Rotis (or if like me you don’t like banana – just chocolate and condensed milk, yum!).

Interview with Internations

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Bangkok , etc.
My name is Claire and I am originally from the South West of England. I moved to Bangkok in October 2011 with my boyfriend. I got a transfer with work (I am a specialist recruitment consultant) and my partner came with me to teach English. I had never been to Asia before so it was pretty scary.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging the day I arrived in Thailand. At first it was to keep in touch with my friends and family but I soon realised that other people were also reading it. These days I try to write for a slightly wider audience. It’s great getting feedback and comments and I am always happy to answer any questions other ex-pats have about life here.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favourite blog entry was written in January this year. Towards the end of 2011 everything suddenly clicked into the place, and I was suddenly really content and happy with life here. Being a first time ex-pat is never easy, so I was glad that things had finally settled down.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Bangkok differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
It was a huge challenge to get used to a different culture and a new set of rules. I certainly didn’t expect it to be so hard, but for the first few months I felt like I was just pretending. Reading up on the dos and don’ts and having some great Thai colleagues to coach you made life a lot easier. I am also the kind of girl who used to order a Korma when went out for curry so getting used to the spiciness of the food was another challenge. It was totally worth the all sweating and runny noses because I can now enjoy more of the amazing food here.
The great thing about Bangkok is that it’s modern. The inter city transport system is really nice and so are the taxis. We even have an Ikea! The western clothes are super expensive but it’s nice to be able to get things from home. We don’t have many problems with electricity and the Internet connection is really fast. There are also some good western restaurants for when you are longing for a taste of home. I know a great Mexican restaurant, as well as a Lebanese and some great cafes.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Bangkok? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I wouldn’t have waited so long before signing up for Thai lessons. It makes everything easier if you can direct a taxi and order food. I would also have made some contacts with people already living here via the expat websites. It’s always reassuring to hear that other people have experienced the same frustrations as you, and that they are on hand to answer those important questions about living in Bangkok. Finally I would have avoided living in the same area as all the other ex-pats. It seemed like the safest option at the time but part of the reason I wanted to move here was to experience something different and outside my comfort zone. You don’t get that by surrounding yourself with westerners and Starbucks.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
During our first week I came home to find my boyfriend had lovingly prepared a roast chicken. It had been a tough week of starting new jobs and flat hunting and cockroaches in the hotel. The meal was intended to give us a small taste of home. As he started carving the chicken’s feet and head popped out of its body. I was horrified but I had to laugh. It certainly wasn’t the last time Bangkok threw us a curve ball!

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Bangkok ?

  1. Don’t worry if people laugh at you. This happens a lot but it doesn’t mean they are mocking you. It is just the Thai way of being friendly and respectful. It’s a tricky thing to get your head around, but it certainly makes life more cheery if you take it the way it was intended.
  2. Life isn’t as cheap as people expect it to be. When I first moved here people told me stories of how you could live on 5 dollars a day in Thailand, including accommodation. It’s true that you can get lunch for around a dollar but it costs more to live here comfortably and long-term.
  3. When it rains, it rains. The rainy season lasts for far longer than I expected, but it’s bearable. You just need to carry an umbrella around for six months. I used to try walking in the rain but it really doesn’t seem worth it, you are soaked in about three minutes! Bangkok has a terrible drainage system so the roads turn into rivers almost instantly and the taxis won’t pick you up. I now own rubber shoes, a brilliant invention.

How is the expat community in Bangkok? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I haven’t made hundreds of friends here, but through ex-pat websites and work I have a handful of good friends here, some that I would even like to keep in touch with when I leave! I go to yoga classes and Thai lessons but there are so many groups: reading groups, expat meet ups, ultimate Frisbee, and even an open mic night. I even did Netball for about three months but that was a disaster because I am terrible at it. It’s a lot about taking a risk and trying new things.

How would you summarize your expat life in Bangkok in a single, catchy sentence?
Bangkok is a city of temples and taxis, Sois and shopping, massages and mangoes.

InterNations is an expatriates community for people living and working abroad as well as all ʺglobal mindsʺ