Expat in Bangkok

Expat Bangkok

Expat in Bangkok

By Anna Power 

Global Living – Issue 9 | Novovember/December 2013

British expat Anna Power moved to Bangkok in June 2012 with her boyfriend and their two cats. She had been a lawyer in the United Kingdom for the previous 10 years, and so to say that life was going to change would be an understatement.

I initially found living in Bangkok a lot harder than I anticipated. In the final few months at work back in the U.K., pressure from clients and court deadlines made the idea of being a lady of leisure seem extremely appealing. I had not, however, really considered the reality of actually living abroad. As I soon discovered, outside of the tourist areas in Bangkok, people speak broken English at best, and the supermarkets sell a collection of unusual products, from chickens’ feet to processed fish balls shaped like teddy bears. I had also not given thought to how I was going to make friends, given that I no longer worked nor had a child to take to playgroup or school.

As a foreigner, unless you want to teach or you move to Thailand specifically because of your job, it is very difficult to find employment here. The Thai government has very strict rules about employing expats; there must be strict proof that the available job is not one that can be done by a Thai person and, if the company does offer employment to the expat, they need to demonstrate there is a ratio of 4:1 locals employed to expats.

I was due to go back to the U.K. in April 2013 as the bridesmaid for my best friend. A day before getting on the flight, my boyfriend announced that he no longer wished to be with me, and that I should not return to Thailand. I won’t go into further details, but in the five weeks I was back in the U.K. nursing a broken and somewhat bewildered heart while wondering what on earth I should do now, I received a job offer from a Bangkok legal firm for whom I had previously provided some freelance work.

Before I knew it, I was on a plane back to Bangkok, and signing a lease for my own condo. Five days later, it was Monday morning, 8 a.m, and I was on my way to work for the first time in 11 months.

Working in Bangkok is very different, of course, to what I had been used to in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Gone are the heels and tights I used to wear most days; now my standard outfit is a pretty summery dress and flip flops. Instead of overlooking Leeds County Court, I can now see Terminal 21 shopping mall and a total of nine swimming pools.

I work with eight Thai women, which in itself has been an incredible experience. Most things I do seem to make them laugh. However, there have also been plenty of amusing moments for me too, like when it was raining one day and I was urged to go to the hospital when I arrived at work with wet shoes, or when I was offered a dried fish stick and was told, Snack you and your cat can enjoy together, but these are conversations and memories I know I will treasure forever.

I am now learning far more about Thai culture. There are many public holidays in Thailand and, whereas previously I would read about them on Wikipedia, keen to try to understand all I could about my new country, hearing first-hand from my colleagues about how they will be celebrating and what the days mean to them is far more interesting to me. I love seeing pictures of them on Facebook over the weekends, visiting their hometowns and temples. My Thai trivia is also increasing; I now know that durian fruit is the king of fruits in Thailand, and mangosteen, the queen – little random things I probably would not have discovered were it not for work.

Living in Bangkok on my own has made me a much braver person. I am more open to trying new things – from different foods to experiences – and to seeing different things. In the last five months I have met so many different and interesting people, both expats and Thais; I just love hearing about people, and what their story is. I am far more adventurous with food – I eat street food every day for lunch. In the tourist areas, most of the street food stalls have signs or menus advertising what they are selling but, outside my office, you just have to hope for the best. I recall I chose one day what I thought was going to be a delicious beef stir fry, only to bite into the meat and discover it was liver.

Writing my blog has also made me braver. When I first began writing it, I posted no pictures of myself, but now I post my week in pictures, complete with warts and all! My blog has opened so many doors for me, from being invited to kayak along the River Kwai under the full moon (I urge you to try this if you ever have the opportunity), to being interviewed by an American radio station, to meeting people I otherwise would probably never have met in Bangkok.

On weekends, I get out and explore as much as I can, from visiting the so-called green lung of Bangkok when I need to escape the smog, to playing tourist and visiting the many temples and visitor attractions around the Big Mango, to traveling to the popular Thai weekend getaway, Koh Sichang, to visiting a 5-star spa in Koh Samui on behalf of an expat magazine I write for. I don’t think I would have ever considered going away by myself if I still lived in the U.K., but here it seems no big deal, while friends back home gasp when they hear I am traveling solo around Thailand. In the 15 months I have been here, I have also visited Singapore with a friend and made solo trips to Laos and Vietnam.

Although the view from Altitude rooftop bar in Singapore was breathtaking, and I really enjoyed seeing the Patuxai Arch in Vientiane, my favorite trip was probably Vietnam. I was only away overnight, for visa reasons, but it was the first time I had ever traveled to a foreign country on my own, and I remember sitting in the Rex rooftop bar, watching over the crazy traffic on the streets of Ho Chi Minh, and shaking my head in disbelief at just how different my life was compared to five months earlier when I was sitting at my desk in Leeds, juggling demanding clients and drafting urgent legal documents.

As much as I enjoyed these trips, I believe I have learned more about myself by traveling from Bangkok to other domestic locations, largely because I have relied on various means of transport rather than just a plane. As daring as my overnight adventure to Ho Chi Minh seemed at the time, I had far more fun catching the sleeper train to Chiang Mai with my friends (feeling so proud of myself when I was the only westerner), managing to negotiate a bus to Sri Racha pier using my limited Thai skills (when I visited Koh Sichang), and seeing wild dolphins while catching the ferry to Koh Samui, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I don’t believe in regrets but, with hindsight, I wish I had taken the time to see more of England when I lived there. I do so much now on weekends trying to see as much as I can of Bangkok. My new friends keep asking me if I have seen Stonehenge or been to such and such cute town in Wales. Nine times out of ten I haven’t. I see now that I didn’t make the most of the U.K. when I lived there.

However, lesson learned. I am already busy planning my next destinations. I am off to Phuket next month, and have potential trips to Cambodia (I am desperate to see the Angkor Wat) and Hong Kong in the pipeline.

Living on my own in Bangkok, traveling around South East Asia, and successfully navigating a career move at 33-years-old has taught me that the world truly is my oyster: anything is possible with a little bit of determination, ambition and motivation.

I have no idea what direction my life is taking, or where I will be in one year or even five years down the line. I won’t lie; there is a small (or sometimes very large) part of me that does find that terrifying, but then I tell that side of me to be quiet and I can also see that it is extremely exciting, and I am lucky to have this opportunity.

I intend to make the most of it.

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