Greg left Canada for Thailand in 2001 for a few months to relax, and never left. He works for a large travel/tech company, and produces and hosts the widely recognised Bangkok Podcast. At weekends, he takes time out to relax with his wife and son.
Follow him on Twitter at BkkGreg, listen to him at BangkokPodcast.com, or read his blog GregToDiffer.com.
For more information see our Expat Arrivals guide to Thailand.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Calgary, by way of Vancouver, Canada.
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Bangkok, Thailand.
Q: When did you move to Thailand?
Q: Why did you move to Bangkok; what do you do?
A: I came on a vacation with my friend. We were supposed to stay for about four months and see what happened. Turned out he wasn’t a fan of the chaos and heat and left after 12 days. I decided to stay by myself, knocked around for a few months until I ran out of money, then got a teaching job. Since then I’ve acted in films and commercials, been a corporate trainer, journalist, worked at a magazine, and now a large tech/travel company. In between all that, I co-created and co-host the Bangkok Podcast.
Living in Bangkok
Q: What do you enjoy most about Bangkok? How would you rate the quality of life compared to Canada?
A: I love the controlled chaos of Bangkok. If offers experiences that match any mood, from wild and unpredictable to civilized and even boring. You can have a great evening out for 500 baht, or $500, it just depends on what you’re looking for. There is also Thai culture and Thai people, which are wonderful and fascinating. The expats that make their home here are a wild, crazy, and never-boring mix of people from around the world. They all come with their own interesting stories and experiences to share.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: Beyond friends and family, I miss autumn the most. You don’t get the cold cheeks, crunching leaves, and hot chocolate here. There are certainly negatives to Bangkok. The heat can get oppressive and inescapable during summer. Occasional coups and violent protests break out, which is not something most Westerners have to deal with. The issue most expats complain about, I believe, is that no matter how long you live here, how much tax you pay, or how well you assimilate into Thai culture, you still have to follow restrictive visa/immigration policies. I’ve been here 20 years and I’m still only technically allowed to stay for 1 year at a time. That’s not much different from being a tourist.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Bangkok? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Some people have a hard time (like my friend who left after 12 days), but if you just roll with it and enjoy the adventure, it’s not that hard to adjust.
Q: Two decades on, do you still experience any elements of culture shock as an expat in Thailand?
A: Not really, after this long you’ve sort of seen it all, or at least seen videos/heard stories of it all. However, each day is still interesting from a cultural point of view. Even something as boring as riding a motorcycle taxi or speaking Thai, which I do every day, is still pretty cool to me.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Thailand?
A: Bangkok is an expensive city these days, but if you know how the system works and don’t demand Western comforts, you can still live pretty cheaply. Things like cheese and booze are expensive no matter where you go.
Q: Has the cost of living changed at all in the decade you have lived in Bangkok?
A: Up, up, up.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Bangkok? What is your most memorable experience of using your city’s transport system?
A: Traditionally it’s been terrible, but there are some new train lines opening in the next few years. They will definitely improve things. The worst experience I had on transit was an April afternoon. It was 38°C, and I was on a non-airconditioned bus, squeezed in between some old Thais while wearing my proper teacher’s outfit. I had sweat dribbling down my forehead, back, temples, armpits, and the bus was stuck in a huge traffic jam. Inside my head I was screaming, but outside I just sat there, sweating. It was excruciating. Still, it’s better than my friend Joe’s experience, where one guy vomited on the back of his neck while he sat on a bus.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Bangkok? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: If you have insurance and/or can afford a private hospital like Bumrungrad, Samitivej, or Bangkok Hospital, it’s as good or better than the West. It’s cheaper, faster, nicer, and more comfortable. A doctor once told me I should have an MRI and asked if I was free that evening. I told him I wasn’t, because I had to watch a movie with a friend, so I came back the next day instead, no problem.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Thailand? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Generally speaking, you need to take responsibility for your own safety. There aren’t the nanny-state safety rules here like there are at home. Watch out for broken sidewalks or drain covers, bad food, shoddy construction, etc. That being said, I’ve never had a problem with anything.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city? What different options are available for expats?
A: Much like a night out, it all depends on what you want to spend. You can spend $1,000 a month on a nice-but-small condo in the city centre, or spend half that and get a whole townhouse in the suburbs instead.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Ari and Thong Lor if you can afford it. Thonburi or Bearing if you want a bit of a slower/cheaper lifestyle.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Bangkok?
A: I’ve definitely experienced discrimination, but I’m happy to have had the experience, it helps me understand what others go through. And even my experience was nothing. In general, white males can’t really complain about this. Thais are generally accepting of foreigners if they make an effort to fit in. For those that don’t, I think the generalization is that they’re tolerated but not accepted.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: When I first moved here, no, it was hard. But now with Facebook and Meetup and Twitter, etc, it’s easy to find something to go to where you can meet like-minded people.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: Mainly with other expats. I find it easy to meet Thai women socially, but not men. I just seem to connect better with women when it comes to personality, hobbies, humour, general knowledge. I know I’m not alone here, and there’s probably a whole thesis that can be written on this. It’s also simply easier, and often necessary for your mental health, to hang out with people from similar cultural backgrounds when you’re living in a strange land. Like with anything, if you want to meet people – any people – you have to put some effort into it.
Working in Bangkok
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I did it myself for several years as a journalist. It was painful, but no more so than in any other country. But these days the company I work for handles all my paperwork, which is a lucky situation to be in.
Q: What is the economic climate in Bangkok like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: It depends on your training and experience, and salary expectations. Knowing the right people can help as well, so get out and start shaking hands.
Q: In your opinion, has the job market changed at all in the past decade for expats looking to work in Bangkok?
A: Yes, it’s become more formalized, more controlled, and harder to skirt the laws and regulations. After getting into several ‘issues’ myself, way in the past, my recommendation is just to do everything legally. The peace of mind from doing things above board, and as legitimately as possible, is worth it, especially if you want to stay a long time.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Bangkok or Thailand? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: I will say I’m very glad I work for an international company. I’m not a fan of how small Thai companies are run, and I’ve worked for several. The cultural element of “respect is not earned, it’s given to whoever is oldest, richest, or has the most important friends” is hard to get used to when my own culture is primarily merit-based.
Family and children
Q: How has your spouse or partner adjusted to your new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: My wife is Thai, but she’s certainly had to adapt to my own personal quirks. Luckily, she thinks quite internationally.
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: My son is 5, so the plentiful indoor playgrounds are nice. Dreamworld is a good escape for the day if you can put up with the heat.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Entire books have been written about this, but I’ll try to summarize. International schools – with highly-qualified foreign teachers, Western curriculums and gorgeous campuses– are insultingly expensive. They can run into the tens of thousands of dollars per year, per child, beginning in grade one. Usually, it’s a company who pays this expense for their C-level executives, or people with fat expat salary packages. The local Thai education system – which I’ve worked in – is considered poor quality. It focuses on rote learning and some outrageous, archaic ideas on what makes education effective. Luckily there are schools in the middle, which is where I put my son. They are not cheap, but affordable. Their campuses are not gorgeous, but as good as any school I went to in Canada. The teachers are not Ivy League, but they are qualified, competent, and work hard. Most importantly, my son is learning and having fun.
Q: Is there anything that you have learnt as a long-term expat in Thailand that you would like to share?
A: We talk about this often on my podcast, but the longer you stay, the harder it is to go back. Thailand offers opportunities for adventures and shenanigans that– to your average salary worker in the West – are outrageously exotic, and sometimes life-changing. Going back to my ‘old life’ would be dreadfully boring now. I’m here to stay.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Bangkok or Thailand?
A: Listen to the Bangkok Podcast. Go for walks and get lost. Smile. Learn the Thai alphabet and don’t just focus on the transliteration of the words in English. Eat all the food you can. Online expat forums can be awful places full of bitter jerks, avoid. For my money, meetup.com is the best way to meet people. Eat even more food.
– Interviewed February 2020