Expat Tip: Which kind of apartment in Bangkok?
NB: The advice on this blog comes from my, currently unfolding, experience as an expat, ICT wife and so some things may not be relevant to, nor match the experience of self-funded expats (though it won’t hurt to read!)
If you’ve just begun the relocation process and are filling out the survey from your relocation consultants, there’s probably a question asking you which type of housing you want – when I came across this question, my response was “That’s what I was going to ask you.” If you are an ICT (Inter-Company Transferee) couple that has children, your answer could simply be ‘house’ and you might choose/have the budget to live in one of the green, gated, outer suburbs of Bangkok, where some wealthy Thais, but mostly expats, live in white houses, amidst manicured lawns. Without the extra budget or motivation for yard space that comes with having children, though, you are more likely to do what the rest of us do: rent an apartment in a condominium, serviced apartment building or “apart-hotel” in downtown Bangkok – and your relocation agent will ask you which one you want. So, here’s my understanding based on what I learned while we were home-hunting, and a few things since we arrived (a whopping month ago) to help you out.
Condo apartments are apartments in buildings in which each apartment may be individually owned and may or may not be rented. Condos can be larger than apartments in the other building types but have little to no service, the attitude/quality of support from property managers are as much of an unknown quantity as they are anywhere and not all of the apartments will be rented, so condo dwellers are very much tenants rather than ‘guests’. This may be attractive if you’d rather either do your own housekeeping, or hire your own staff because in most serviced apartments, and definitely in the hotels, you will have little control over who cleans your house, and when. It is illegal for non-Thais to own land but they can own property on the land, so many condos are owned by expats and your neighbours, or your landlord may be expats – for what it’s worth.
Also, you might think that if you don’t care about having housekeeping you could get some more space for the same, or even less, money than a serviced building but it’s not necessarily so. Because condo apartments are mostly individually rented out, your relocation agent won’t be able to negotiate a special price based on the many ICTs that your company might bring to the building (this also applies to the smaller serviced apartment buildings.) If you are being transferred by a company with a small presence in Thailand then a condo might be cheaper per square inch than a serviced building, but I cannot speak to that, as Anonymous Car Concern is far from a small company.
Serviced Apartment Buildings
Serviced apartment buildings offer apartments that are, we found, usually, a little larger than in apart-hotels - the ones we saw had larger kitchens and they were the only apartments in which we saw any gas stoves. A serviced apartment will be partly to fully furnished and you can request for furniture to be removed or rearranged if you want to bring your own. Serviced apartments provide housekeeping a few times a week (on average, more is negotiable) and varying other services, depending on the building. Like hotels, many will have shuttles to the nearest BTS station or shopping complex, if it’s not within walking distance. All residents in a serviced apartment building are medium to long-term, usually from companies that the building managers would like to ‘keep sweet’ for future business, so residents are valued tenants, treated more like guests and will, potentially, be more stable neighbours than you will get in an apart-hotel.
An “apart-hotel” is an apartment in an hotel with a varying number of self-contained rooms (i.e., with small kitchens) in which they are happy to take medium to longer term guests (from what I gather, mostly with an agreement with a company who brings many ICTs through the city.) Hotel rooms are, of course, fully furnished but all of the hotels we were shown were happy to move or completely remove furniture (and furnishings) to accommodate any of our own furniture that we wanted to bring or buy (in our case, desks, desk chairs and bookshelves.) In an hotel, the rooms are mostly going to be smaller than the other types (bedrooms particularly, living areas seem to be large.) Of course, to be attractive to tourists without cars, hotels are often in locations which are closer to transport and/or entertainment/restaurants. Hotel housekeeping is likely to be every day (which can be great in some ways but challenging if one is used to one’s privacy) and all the usual hotel services are available: room service; laundry; concierge etc.…
A few points on transport and location:
- If the place you’re looking at has a shuttle to the nearest station or shopping centre, check the timetable to make sure that it goes both ways – many shuttles are at your service at any time from a building but do not have a regular round so you cannot be picked up to go back.
- We find being walking distance to the BTS (Sky Train) and/or MRT (subway) be VERY handy. The trains of both kinds are clean and safe (the MRT stations are cool on a hot day, too) and can get you at least a short taxi ride to anywhere.
- On the matter of short taxi rides, consider how far away your building is from places you may need to get a taxi (if only in the rain.) Taxi drivers prefer short trips – very short ones. We have seen many people – expat and Thai – rejected by a driver because their destination will take him too far away from good fairs, or from his base, especially on rainy nights when everyone wants a taxi.
So, that’s the basics that I found to be the most important while we were house hunting and as I look back, now that we’re here. Which apartment type you choose will depend on lots of factors but I hope this little summary helps.