Living Like a King in Bangkok
Have you ever seen the expatriate sites that claim you can move overseas and live like a king on $3000 or $5000 a month? I have, even about Bangkok and I thought that before I give you some insight into my own Bangkok budget I would put to rest the rumors of living like a king on $5000 a month in Bangkok. Hopefully it will help you see that anywhere in the world can be as expensive as you like and will also provide some contrast to my own modest lifestyle in The Big Mango.
Housing: Setting up your Palace
It’s true that you can find small studio apartments (30sqm) in Bangkok for less than 10,000THB ($300) per month, but that sure isn’t how royalty live. No way! If you are planning on living like a king in Bangkok you will need a penthouse apartment at the very least. So, what is the going rate for royal digs in Bangkok?
Several condominiums in the heart of Bangkok can offer you a top floor penthouse with commanding views of the city, complete western amenities, a balcony pool, 600sqm (6500 sqf) of space and even 2 floors. The typical price for this luxury is around 300,000THB ($10,000) and right there goes any illusions of living like a king on $5000 a month. You’ll spend twice that just on your apartment and we are only getting started. Of course you could always buy. Penthouses in the 600sqm range go for 200-250 million baht ($6.67 to 8.33 million). Bangkok is definitely one city where renting is almost always cheaper then buying.
Food: Eating Like a King
Staples like rice and chicken are pretty darn cheap in Bangkok and you can get many varieties of dinner for 30-40THB ($1 – $1.33). Of course that is for the peasants, a king requires meals and foods meant for a more refined palate. If you want to have dinner cooked at home every night you can probably get by with a budget of 70,000THB per month of so. This will get you prime aged US Angus beef for 2000THB/kilo ($30/lb), the finest grass fed Wagyu beef for 4000THB/kilo ($60/lb) and sushi grade tuna for ????/kilo ($??/lb). While Thais don’t eat cheese you can still find a wide selection of cheeses from both Europe and the US.
Of course it’s relaxing to eat at home, but sometimes you’ll crave the company of others and the decadence of world class restaurant cooking and service. Bangkok is home to thousands of restaurants so if eating out is your thing you can try a different place every night if you like. Many of the restaurants are moderately priced, if they were located in another country. You can get a good to great meal at any number of Bangkok restaurants for 500-1500THB ($17-30) per person (not including drinks…I’ll talk about that later). If you are looking for the height of culinary expertise in Bangkok though you will find that such delights don’t come cheaply.
Take a look at this menu from Reflexions at the Plaza Athenee. As you can see, it would be easy to spend 3000-4000THB ($100-135) person. Other great restaurants with similar price tags and up include both Le Normandie and Lord Jim’s at the Mandarin Oriental, Tables at the Grand Hyatt, The Dome at Lebua and quite a few others. Set menus at some top restaurants begin at 5000THB ($167). Assuming you won’t be dining alone and you can double all of those prices
I think it is safe to say that dining like a king in Bangkok could easily cost you upwards of 150,000THB ($5000) per month.
Drinks and Nightlife
If you are the type of royalty who enjoys going out, being seen and partying the night away be ready to pawn the royal jewels. Having a great time in Bangkok is not much cheaper than in other cities around the world. Sure you can find cheap beer bars and nurse a warm Singha for 60THB ($2), but that isn’t royal treatment. It is far more likely that you will want to hit up the nightspots like Q Bar, Bed Supperclub and RCA Plaza. Admission to these hotspots is typically free (no cover), but that’s where your freebies end. It’s typical to buy a bottle of whiskey or other spirits in the Thai clubs and the club provides the ice and mixers. Johnny Walker Black Label is a very popular choice and you can expect each bottle to set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000THB ($65). Or if vodka is your thing Grey Goose will set you back just 3000THB ($100) per bottle. Many of the clubs also carry more premium selections, but since they are WAY out of my league I can’t quote prices. I wouldn’t be surprised though if it was possible to spend 10,000THB ($335) or more on a bottle of whiskey or vodka.
What I can tell you though is if you are a wine drinker you could easily rack up tens of thousands in one night. Wine is heavily taxed here and because it is a relatively new trend amongst the Thais there is a limited selection, but here’s a quick glimpse:
- Your basic Australian and South American whites and reds are priced between 600-1000THB ($20-35)
- White and red French ‘Villages’ type wines for 750-1500THB ($25-50)
- Kendall Jackson Chardonnay – 1250THB ($42). I’m pretty sure I didn’t pay more than $12-14 for this in the US.
- Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc and Grgich Hills Chardonnay – 3300THB ($110)
- Caymus Vineyards 08 Cabernet – 3300THB ($110). You can also get the Caymus Select 08 for 6300THB ($210)
- My favorite Stag’s Leap 01 for 6000THB ($200)
- Opus One – 12,000THB ($400)
- Chatuea Mouton Rothschilds 01 – 38,700THB ($1290) or if you are cheap you can have the 02 for just 17,600THB ($585)
- If you want to enjoy a bottle of wine with your dinner at a restaurant expect to pay 2-3x the retail price
As you can see, it could run you literally hundreds of thousands of Thai baht per month if you enjoy wine or drinks on a daily basis. Even if you are only a weekend drinker I wouldn’t be surprised to see you blow through over 100,000THB ($3300) in a month (assuming you had unlimited funds).
Servants and More
Having servants is certainly a luxury reserved for royalty and the very wealthy in the West. Here in Thailand that isn’t as true. Labor is quite cheap and even in Bangkok you shouldn’t expect to pay more than 15,000THB ($500) for a housekeeper, driver, nanny, gardener or cook. So, with your penthouse apartment you might have a housekeeper, cook and driver for a grand total of 45,000THB ($1500) per month.
Speaking of the driver, you’ll naturally want a car and since you are living like a king nothing will do but to get a Benz (the most common display of auto status here). Cars, like wine, are extremely expensive in Thailand and a Benz is going to set you back 2.2 million baht for a basic C class ($73,500) or up to 7x more for a CL500. So, expect to pay anywhere from 45,000THB ($1500) and up for your vehicle.
You will also have all the basic expenses such as electric, cable TV and internet. Most of this is reasonable and budgeting an additional 20,000THB ($665) per month should cover it.
Finally, you should also consider travel expenses. Thailand has some of the best beaches and oceans in all the world. In addition, Bangkok is quite central to the rest of Asia so trips to Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing, Bali and Macau will probably appeal to you. I know these aren’t technically Bangkok expenses, but living here puts the rest of Asia in your backyard and its inevitable you will want to do some exploring.
As I’m sure you know, it is easy to spend $500 a night and up in any of those cities and your dining options will also be quite pricey. Add in shopping and gambling in some of those locations and you will quickly find that you can spend as much as you like traveling throughout Asia. $5000 a month…simple. $15,000 a month…easy. $40,000 a month…possible in Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau for sure. Probably doable in Seoul and Beijing as well.
It’s Good to be the King
If you have the kind of bankroll that let’s you live without a care in the world for money you can live like a king in Bangkok. $5000 or even $20,000 a month won’t cut it though. To live a life of true luxury including accommodations, dining, nightlife and travel (I haven’t even touched on shopping) you could easily spend $50,000 a month. Anyone who doesn’t believe me can feel free to transfer $50,000 to my bank account and I’ll spend it for you in a month and do a complete case study!