By Maxmilian Wechsler
Since they are not permitted to buy land, unless it’s through a Thai spouse, the vast majority of foreign long-termers plump for a unit in one of the city’s innumerable high-rise condos, a move that invariably comes with nagging problems like noise, pollution and Bangkok’s endless traffic jams.
Is there a viable alternative? Yes, if they do what I did twenty years ago and forget about the apparent benefits of inner city living. Back then I moved to a more peaceful province adjacent to the capital. That way, you can slip any time you want into the bustling metropolis that, for all of its chaos, or maybe because of it, is still undeniably one of the most exciting and mesmerizing cities in the world.
And when you’ve had enough, you can retreat back to your quiet village, or moo baan, where instead of waking up to the roar of motorcycles, trucks and tuk-tuks from the streets below, you can start the new day by opening the window and letting in the sounds of nature – birds singing in the trees, leaves rustling in the wind, and even dogs barking in the distance.
The moo baan where I live was built over 30 years ago and is well laid-out and generally well maintained. Getting around the restrictions on foreign ownership of land and house there may be possible, but it needs the services of a good lawyer.
There are other options for those who don’t want to commit to home ownership. On the outskirts of most good size villages there are condos and townhomes without adjoining land for sale or rent, as well as modern, comfortable apartments. You can find a house for rent in a housing development for around 15,000 baht per month, while a two-story townhouse is around 5,000 baht a month.
For the past 20 years I have lived in a spacious two-story house surrounded by a fair size plot of land, with plenty of trees for shade. That sort of living arrangement would cost dearly in central Bangkok. The house is on a dead-end street in a large moo baan off Highway 345 in southwest Pathum Thani province. Normally the only man-made noises are the sounds of a garbage truck once a week and a motorcycle manned by the postman on his daily deliveries, as well as the electricity and water works employees on their once-monthly rounds to read the meters.
The facilities at my housing development include a kindergarten, a 7-Eleven, a large community swimming pool, a football field, tennis and basketball courts, art gallery, outdoor gym and a kids playground. There are many small business owners operating eateries, grocery shops and a beauty salon. Vendors sell foods and fruits on the footpath.
The large and popular RungRuang market is just a few hundred meters from the village. There you can buy meats, fish, fruits, clothes, leather products, mobile phones – almost anything you need really, all at a good price. The market has another 7-Eleven, a well-stocked pharmacy, pet shop, pet grooming shop, post office and optical shop. There are several other good markets in the area as well.
There is a third 7-Eleven inside a petrol station next to the entrance to the village. In fact, there are twelve 7-Eleven stores within a three-kilometer radius of the gate, all open 24/7. A number of eateries are also in business at the development entrance, including Cafe Amazon, Black Canyon, McDonald’s and Chester’s Grill, along with a variety of retail shops. Pickup trucks – some converted to mini-shops – park along Highway 345 selling food, fruits and even furniture, toys, inflammable swimming pools and other goods.
There are numerous gas stations on the highway and most have retail shops. You can also find many car repair shops along the highway. In my experience they work very quickly and the workmanship is good, all for a very reasonable price.
Pathum Thani is brimming with mostly new department stores, cinemas, markets, banks and good restaurants. All foreigners residing in the province are obliged to extend visas and take care of other immigration-related matters at the Pathum Thani immigration office. This may surprise a lot of readers, but I find it a rather pleasant place. It is usually not nearly as crowded as the big immigration office on Chaeng Wattana Road, where foreigners residing in Bangkok overflow the big waiting room or sit patiently on plastic chairs waiting for their number to be called and hoping it will be before noon, when the place is closed an hour for lunch.
The staff at Pathum Thani immigration are mostly women and they are always friendly and helpful. They can’t bend the laws and regulations for anyone.
There are a number of government and private hospitals, as well as clinics, dentist offices and pharmacies in Pathum Thani. Of interest to animal lovers like me, there are several pet clinics and hospitals in the area I live. There are also several top-ranked international schools in the vicinity.
As for transportation, motorcycle taxis are everywhere, but it would be very difficult to manage without a car in a housing development like mine. Taxis are parked outside the village, but a trip to Bangkok and back will cost you around 1,000 baht. There are several large and small showrooms selling brand new and second-hand cars, but I would recommend renting a car on a monthly basis or buying an inexpensive second-hand vehicle from the owner.
After living 25 years in various places in the center of Bangkok, I still have a strong appreciation for the relaxed pace of Pathum Thani and I still think of my place as an oasis of tranquility. It was a good move and I couldn’t be happier.
I have never regretted the decision and there is no way I would move back to Bangkok. But although living in a place like Pathum Thani was a great choice for me, it might not be the right move for someone who needs to make daily or frequent trips to Bangkok. In my opinion, a car is a necessity for anyone in that situation.
Driving to Bangkok from Pathum Thani takes a lot longer than it did back in 2000 because there are lot more cars on the road. Normally it takes about an hour to reach the center of the city by car if you take the expressway. You can save more than 200 baht round trip on tolls if you chart a route on non-toll highways, but this will likely make the trip a good bit longer.
But the obstacles facing motorists are nothing compared to the hardships awaiting those who depend on public transportation and want to travel to Bangkok or to other destination. They might spend a long time waiting at bus stop outside the moo baan for a bus.
Several Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT) and the Bangkok Mass Transit (BTS) routes reaching Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan provinces and other routes are under construction. That will be a great help to many people, although perhaps a bit expensive for some. The trains won’t reach a lot of areas, so many people will still have to rely on buses to at least ferry them to the trains.
This applies to my moo baan. If you can afford it, the most convenient way by far to get to Bangkok is to phone the security post at the entrance to the development and request a taxi, which will soon arrive at your door. Several taxis are usually on stand-by at the entrance.
There are a couple other issues where Pathum Thani comes up short when compared to Bangkok. One of these is medical facilities. There are some good hospitals and clinics in Pathum Thani but there is a language barrier as many medical staff are only able to speak a basic English. For something serious or potentially serious I still prefer to be treated at a private hospital in Bangkok.
The Bangkok Post won’t deliver a paper to my village and you have to install a satellite dish if you want to watch cable TV. Another problem is the drainage system. After an hour of rain the streets are flooded and only SUVs can pass. However, the water will go down within an hour after the rain stops.
Finally, if you love the night life and can’t live without bars or pubs, you’re probably better off in Bangkok. There are some karaoke places and bars around, but they mostly cater to locals. Fortunately, that doesn’t present the least problem for me these days.