More Than Go-Go Bars And Ladyboy Shows—Bangkok As A Retirement Choice
Bangkok is the largest city in Thailand and the third-largest city in Southeast Asia. It also has the biggest expatriate population of any city in the region, more than 155,000 foreigners. They come from throughout Southeast Asia and the Far East, Europe, Australia, and North America, giving the city a decidedly international flavor. Although the dominant culture is definitely Thai, it is easy to live a Western lifestyle here.
Many foreigners come to Bangkok to work. The demand for English teachers is insatiable, as is the market for skilled employees in many other industries. If you have at least a bachelor’s degree and a willingness to work, you will have no difficulty finding a job in this city.
Many younger people who want to be in the region choose to live in Bangkok so they can take advantage of the many schools here offering good English-language education programs and long-stay study visas. You could earn a college degree from Stamford International University, Bangkok University International College, or Webster University.
Bangkok is also a popular choice among retirees who appreciate its cosmopolitan flair, vast variety of entertainment venues, shopping, and warm, tropical climate. The city’s proximity to beach resorts is another plus. Pattaya and Cha-am are just two hours from the city, and the retirement haven of Hua Hin is less than three hours away.
When we first came to Bangkok, in 2003, we found the city difficult to navigate. The little Don Mueang airport was hopelessly crowded, with long immigration lines and a haphazard baggage claim. Buses with Thai-only writing were incomprehensible, and taxi drivers were notorious for overcharging.
Bangkok has had quite a facelift in the past decade. The Don Mueang airport now handles only a small percentage of the flights it once did, while the sleek new Suvarnabhumi Airport, opened in 2006, serves more than 45 million passengers per year. Bangkok is the gateway to the rest of Thailand and points beyond. If you come to Southeast Asia, there is a good chance that you’ll at least transit through the city. Indeed, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi services more flights than any other airport on the Southeast Asian mainland, and Bangkok is also a major rail hub.
Getting into the city from the airport takes just a few minutes on the new hassle-free BTS Skytrain, which interfaces with the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT), which, in turn, makes most of Bangkok easily accessible. Some taxi drivers still overcharge and the buses are still confusing, but now you have other options.
Although Bangkok has been an important population center since the 1600s, the modern city didn’t begin to take on its present shape until the 1960s and 1970s, when it became a destination for U.S. military troops who came to Bangkok for rest and relaxation during America’s war with Vietnam and Laos. It also, starting about the same time, developed into an infamous destination for sex tourism. Racy bars and clubs were opened to cater to servicemen in search of a good time.
Those bars still exist, and, if you’re looking for that sort of good time, you’ll have no problem finding it. Patpong, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy are adult-only venues that attract both men and women from all over the world.
If go-go bars and ladyboy shows aren’t your preference, there are many family oriented activities, too, including water parks, aquariums, indoor playgrounds, butterfly gardens, and zoos. The huge Lumphini Park offers a comfortable break from the noise of the city, with shady, tree-lined paths and activities for all ages.
The main tourism sites in Bangkok are fantastic and worth a trip to Thailand even if you have no interest in living or retiring to this country. The Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) were built in 1782 and have served as the residence for Thai kings and the Royal Court since. This is the administrative seat of the government and the spiritual heart of the Kingdom of Thailand. When most people conjure up a picture of Thailand, this is what they imagine. It’s dazzling, opulent, and quintessentially Thai.
No other site in Bangkok or, I’d say, the world, compares with the Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw in terms of jaw-dropping grandeur. In addition, the city offers other palaces, floating markets, golden Buddhas, luxury dinner cruises along the Chao Phraya River, and the Chatuchak weekend market, one of the largest wholesalers’ markets in the world.
If you are considering the idea of settling in Bangkok longer term, note that foreigners are allowed to own condominiums in Thailand. In Bangkok, we’d recommend looking for a place with a good view near an MRT or Skytrain station. As everywhere, location is key, and, in Bangkok, ease of access is a big part of what makes for a good location.
Politics is the wild card when buying property in Bangkok. Thailand has the dubious distinction of having more coup d’états than any other country in the world, and the most recent one was just a few months ago. For now, Thailand is ruled by an unelected military junta, though democratic elections are expected to return. Large protests have resulted in the closing of airports, traffic disruption, and martial law in the recent past. However, it’s important to note that this civil unrest has not affected every part of Bangkok or the country as a whole. And protests are directed toward other Thais, never toward foreigners. During these times, day-by-day life around the country continues much as it always has, regardless of what may be happening elsewhere. Avoiding large gatherings of protestors is the easiest way to stay out of trouble.
We’ll be back in Bangkok in a couple of weeks and will report more from the scene.