We just signed a one year lease on an apartment in Bangkok. This is a little change from our original plans to travel slowly, spending one to six months at a time in a location before moving on. After looking at things, we think we will spend less by having a permanent place in Bangkok while we explore South East Asia for the next two or three years. The apartment gives us a home base at a few hundred dollars a month cheaper than an equivalent Airbnb, and yet gives us the flexibility to spend a month here and there as we travel around SE Asia. Airfares are super inexpensive here. Some return airfares for example: Ho Chi Min $39, Singapore $79, Kuala Lumpur $65, Yangon $65, Manila $186, Jakarta $129, Seoul $222, Beijing $222, Osaka $218.
How Apartment/Condo Rentals work in Bangkok
Most of the condo units we looked at are privately owned. The owners might own one or more condos in a building and rent them out. Some of the smaller apartment buildings might all be owned by the same person or company, but we looked mostly at large condo building, 20 stories and above. Typically, these larger condos have multiple owners that either live there themselves or rent out to others.
Most of the time the condo owners use an agency to find tenants. The smaller buildings rely more on posting signs or word of mouth to rent their units. There are several websites where you can search for condos. We ended up using http://www.ddproperty.com/en to look for places and to get an idea of buildings and price ranges. The thing I liked about this site was it has a map that shows you where each property is. However, one thing we found was that we got very few responses through this and other web sites. I am not sure if it was because we were English speakers only, or the website didn’t pass on information, or what it was. We got best results when we made phone calls to individual agencies after using a web site to narrow down our search.
Almost all condo rentals require a one year lease minimum. There are a few places that rent for shorter periods of time, but rates go up for the short terms like 3 months or 6 months. The rental process is very simple; two months’ rent deposit, plus first month rent in advance. No credit check, no application required (and hence no assorted fees). We signed a contract, in English, plunked down our money, and were on our way.
Typically, you pay for electricity and water on your own. These are not included in the rent. If you want internet or cable tv, those costs are on your own as well.
Things that are different about a typical condo in Bangkok versus in the USA or Canada
Our condo is very Western in construction. From the outside, it looks like any high rise building you would find in any major city in the USA or Canada. Even inside it is more Western in style. If we were to rent a traditional Thai house or apartment, the kitchen would likely be outside, under cover, but outside. (Why would you want to smell up your house with all the cooking odors?) However, there are still several things that are different than the typical condo or apartment in the USA or Canada.
- Condos and apartments come furnished – the furnishings vary, but typically you always have a bed, couch, dining table and chairs, and a tv that come with the apartment. You are responsible for bed linens, towels, dishes, pots and pans, etc. This is especially nice for us because we don’t want to shell out the money for furniture if we are only going to be here a year or two.
- Smaller size – this is probably a Bangkok thing, a crowded city of 8 million. Space is at a premium. Our one bedroom one bath condo is 420 square feet in floor area. The average one bedroom apartment size in the USA is 794 square feet according to rentcafe.com. Of course, if you live in New York City, San Francisco, Boston, etc. average sizes would be smaller and maybe closer to our apartment size.
- No central air conditioning – although not that common in the USA or Canada, mini-split air-conditioning is the most common type of air-conditioning found in, well, most of the rest of the world. A mini-split air conditioner is an air conditioner split into two parts, an outdoor compressor and an indoor air handler mounted on the wall. Many condos only have air conditioning in the bedroom. We are fortunate that our condo has ac in the bedroom and living room. There is no AC in the kitchen or bathroom.
- No built-in closets – in the USA and Canada most bedrooms have a closet that is built in as a permanent part of the structure. In the USA and Canada there is usually a built-in closet in every bedroom, one near the front entrance and maybe a linen closet in the hallway or a pantry closet in the kitchen. Not so in Thailand. Closets are free-standing pieces of furniture and not part of the structure of the condo or house.
- Wall to bedroom is sliding glass – in many of the newer condos we looked at, the bedroom was separated from the living area by a set of sliding glass doors. We preferred a condo with a hard wall and door, but liked the condo we settled on even with the sliding glass doors. It does make the place more spacious when you open them up.
- No oven in kitchen – I am sure you can get condos with an oven in the kitchen, but those would be very expensive, high-end, high square footage apartments. Our observation is that most apartments and condos do not have an oven.
- Smaller major appliances in kitchen – we have a two-burner stove top. Some condos have a counter-top plug-in induction cooker – no built in stove top at all. The refrigerators tend to be much smaller than in the USA or Canada as well. Ours is quite large by Thai condo standards, but still would be considered small by USA or Canadian standards. Perhaps part of this is that food is so accessible and inexpensive, you really don’t need to cook in. You can eat out very economically.
- Washing machine in kitchen – this seems strange to people from the USA and Canada, but our experience is that in many other parts of the world, this is where the washing machine is.
- No clothes dryer – it is very rare to see a clothes dryer in Thailand. You dry your clothes by hanging them to dry, whether inside or outside.
- Only hot water is in shower – the sink in the kitchen and the sink in the bathroom are unheated water only. Thailand is a very warm country, so what comes out of the tap is lukewarm water. It is not unpleasant to wash your hands in or do dishes with.
- On-demand shower hot water – to us, this is a great plus – endless hot water! There is an electric heating unit in the shower. First you turn on the water, then adjust the temperature on the electric heater unit on the wall.
- Floor drains in bathroom – most bathrooms we have experienced in Thailand are “wet bathrooms.” What this means is that there is a drain in the floor of the bathroom and the tiles slope down to that drain. So, you can splash around all you want, any water that lands on the floor goes down the drain. Some showers don’t have a shower door or curtains. All the water just runs down the drain.
- Water nozzle by toilet – I have also heard this referred to as a “butt spray or bum gun.” They look kind of like the spray nozzle you would find in a kitchen sink in the USA or Canada. As a Westerner, I had never seen this before and was a little apprehensive about using it. However, these are the greatest things in the world! After doing your business in the toilet you use one of these to spray clean yourself and use toilet paper to dry yourself off.
Our Condo – Aspire Rama 9
We focused on locations very close to rapid transit and settled on the area near the Rama 9 MRT (subway) station. We don’t want the expense of owning a car and after being here a few months, we really don’t want to drive in Bangkok traffic. It is horrendous! The subway and Skytrain get us where we need to go quickly and inexpensively.
The building was completed in 2014 and is quite nice with a great location and great amenities. The complex has two 23 story buildings with a total of 663 units. We could have found a condo for about half the price if we had gone out a little further, got something further from public transportation, or gone with a place with fewer amenities e.g. no washer in unit, no pool, no exercise room, etc. We decided to splurge and get something a little nicer because it still fit in our budget and was a great location.
We are on floor 12A in building B. In the USA and Canada, many buildings skip the 13th floor, the floor above the 12th is 14th. Here in Thailand, they avoid the 13th floor by name, and call it 12A.
Our apartment is 39 square meters (420 square feet), one bedroom, one bath apartment. It is nicely furnished with the basics you would expect in a Thai condo, like a bed, couch, table and chairs, etc., but with a few extras – coffee table, larger than normal TV – 40”, dressing table in bedroom (I use it as my work desk), and plenty of closet space and extra storage and bookshelves in the living room. Another plus for us is that the bedroom has a king-sized bed. Most other condos of this size and price range had a queen or double bed.
The kitchen has a two-burner stove-top, lighted hood fan, a counter-top microwave, refrigerator and a washing machine. The condo also came with a very nice drying rack for drying our clothes – we put it outside on the small deck.
We made a run to IKEA and picked up some basic bed linens, towels, dishes, etc. For a few hundred dollars, we were comfortably set for our new digs.
The things we really liked about this place for the price were: large floor area, king sized bed, washing machine, upgraded furniture. What set us over the top on the Aspire Rama 9 were the condo facilities.
- Fitness center – the fitness center has a great selection of cardio and weight training equipment. Other condos in the area had a couple of machines, but I probably would have had to join the health club at the mall to get what I needed. Here I have everything I need.
- Swimming pool and sauna – there is a good-sized infinity edge pool, big enough to do short laps in. Another interesting thing about the pool is that it is outdoors, but under cover. It has changing rooms with showers and a steam room.
- Roof garden – there is a nice outdoor garden on top of the parking structure. A peaceful place to chill out.
- Secluded location and staff – our condo is at the end of a 500 foot (133 m) road that only leads to the condo complex. There is a 24 hour manned security gate there. It is hard to call this a “secluded” location since we are definitely in the middle of the city surrounded by other 20 plus story buildings, but is set back from the main road, so we don’t have the traffic noise or cars and people buzzing across the front of the building. There are plenty of security, cleaning and gardening staff on-site, so the place is kept up very nicely. It is always very clean and the gardens are fresh.
All of this for $508 USD per month! We think it is a very good price for what we get and makes for a nice, comfortable place to serve as our home base and launching off point for our explorations of South East Asia.
What do you think? Could you live without an oven in your kitchen? No hot water in the kitchen or bathroom sinks? Would it be worth it to live in a large, metropolitan, capital city and pay only $508 in rent?