Considering that I just finished describing how satisfied I was with my room at Happy Inn, you might find it surprising that I’d go to the trouble of looking for a “real” apartment in Bangkok.
Well, it’s true: I was quite happy at Happy Inn. It’s spacious enough, centrally located, and very comfy. Still, the fact remains that I absolutely love living out here – and can easily see myself doing so many times in the future. While a guesthouse maybe fine for a week or two, with Thailand’s ridiculously affordable rent it just doesn’t make sense to limit myself when I could get a top-class apartment for the same price or less. Unlike Japan, Thailand is overflowing with options – all fully furnished and ready to go. There’s no key money, no guarantor, no hassle. Just show up with a wad of cash and you’ve got yourself a new place to live.
And so the hunt began.
Over the course of my two-month stay I spent a huge number of hours walking around the city, looking at rooms and noting my findings. In addition to providing a nice opportunity to explore nearly every nook and cranny of central Bangkok (almost acting like the “tourism” for my stay), I really learned a lot. Hopefully, sharing my process will be of some help to others who are looking to do the same 🙂
I started my search by scouring the Internet for “serviced monthly apartments” – with such an enormous expat community, Bangkok’s resources in English are remarkably extensive. The goal was to compile a list of places that are furnished, contract-free, within walking distance of a BTS (skytrain) or MRT (metro), and with rent no higher than about $600 (what I was currently paying). The third criteria turned out to be by far the most limiting – but while moto taxis are cheap and widespread, I’d still personally rather pay a few bucks extra for the convenience of being able to pop out and get anywhere in the city within minutes…regardless of traffic.
The majority of my leads ended up coming from ThaiApartment.com; I had only limited success with CraigsList or realtors as they seem to deal almost exclusively with longer-term leases.
After compiling an initial list of options, I mapped them out in Google Earth and synced them to my phone. Each day I’d go out and focus on a different part of the city, using GPS to find my way from spot to spot. I’d time how long it took to walk there from the BTS, take notes, photograph what I found, and come home to revise the list of candidates.
It didn’t take long to start noticing a pattern. There seem to be three main types of monthly apartments available:
(1) “Actual” monthly serviced apartments;
(2) Hotels which allow monthly rentals at reduced rates;
(3) Regular apartments which allow contract-free rentals at increased rates
The first option is attractive because they’re all geared up for this type of situation and make it easy to get in and out. The second is nice because you can try it out for a day or two, and out-of-town visitors can always grab a room right next to yours. They’re very classy but often have microscopic refrigerators, no cooking facilities, and those annoying power-toggles that cut off as soon as you leave the room. The third is cool because you can try the place for a month, then if you like it, sign a longer lease at an even better rate. However, this is the only option that isn’t usually serviced.
I was also surprised to discover that “wandering at random” is actually a far more effective way to accumulate options than researching online; apartments of a given type tend to be pretty tightly clustered, so once I found an interesting area, walking up and down the surrounding streets turned up literally dozens of similar options:
- The area around On Nut BTS is booming with brand new furnished apartments, all very affordable and all vying for tenants. I went there with just one pushpin in my map and left with 10 real contenders.
- Central Sukhumvit is far more expensive, but Soi 22 does have some reasonable options a couple km down from the boulevard.
- Parallel Suk16 and Suk8 are significantly overpriced, and more for well-to-do expat families than single “middle-class” travelers. Few options exist with less than 2 or 3 bedrooms.
- Near Lumphini MRT is an area with a TON of guesthouses, almost as dense as Khao San – but with a somewhat older crowd. Many of them rent monthly at pretty reasonable rates, but the “true apartments” are few and far between.
The list goes on and on; each area I checked had its benefits and drawbacks, but the one common theme was that everyone seemed to advertise with big visible signs almost always in English. Thus, once you find the right area, roaming at random and building a list of options is a cinch.
Originally I’d limited my search roughly to the box defined by Victory Monument to the North, Surasak to the West, Silom to the South, and On Nut to the East – but as I learned just how much I could get in my price range, I ratcheted it down even further. I decided that I wanted to be on the Sukhumvit BTS line specifically, which hits all my main hangouts: the clubs in Thonglor and Suk11, my gym at Ratchathewi, and of course Siam Square.
I started to develop a pretty specific list of exactly what I was looking for, giving points for things like bathrooms: many apartments have those “Asian-Style Bathrooms” I used to hate in Japan (where the whole room is the shower), while others have classy Western ones with medicine cabinets and tubs. I noted which were serviced and which weren’t; which had better windows with more natural light; how nice the lobby felt; if the staff spoke English; and which had the better cooking facilities.
(One thing that really surprised me was that, despite how classy a place may be, VERY few have any sort of kitchen at all. They have fitness centers, concierges, and rooftop pools – but not even a microwave. I guess that’s just a consequence of a society where eating out is so easy, cheap, and delicious: why even bother cooking for yourself!)
In the end, I decided my favorite area is Victory Monument, followed closely by Sukhumvit 22 (Asoke) and Sukhumvit 81 (On Nut). Asoke is perfectly located, but you don’t get nearly as much for your money – it’s one of the most expensive parts of town. On Nut is the opposite: right at the end of the BTS line it does take longer to get around, but as an up-and-coming neighborhood the value is simply unreal. Victory Monument seems to offer a nice compromise. It’s right on the BTS line just a few stops from Siam, has plenty of reasonable options, and as home to a major medical university, is absolutely bustling with local conveniences – from nice restaurants and coffee shops to cheap street food and wide-open parks.
Ironically, despite all my efforts I never did end up moving – due to a number of reasons that I’ll get into later. But I did learn a ton about the city, and now have a concise list of exactly where I’ll stay the next time around. So although I may’ve ridden out this two-month visa among the sleaze of Soi 4…next time, I’ll see you all at my nice, furnished, serviced apartment just a few steps away from Victory Monument 🙂