Living in Bangkok vs. Living in Phuket Town
Bangkok and Phuket Town are both popular locations for foreigners traveling to Thailand. If you plan on staying for an extended period there are some things you should know about living in each location. In this article I'll share some of the major points and offer comparisons between the two Thai cities, especially for those of you spending time in the Land of Smiles on a tight budget.
Both Bangkok and Phuket offer a wide range accommodation options. A traveler can choose anything from a simple hostel to a luxurious resort. I prefer to stay somewhere on the economical side of the middle-ground—my Thai equivalent of The Goldilocks Zone.
For me, that comfort zone is a clean and modern studio apartment. In Bangkok, this will set you back about 6,000 Thai baht per month. A standard studio apartment in Thailand will include one room with a bed, TV, air conditioner, fridge and some other basic furnishing. The bathroom will include a western toilet and a shower stall—sometimes all within a small space. Be sure to check if a wall-mounted hot water heater is provided for the shower. It's rare to find appliances for cooking or any kitchen space at this rate. The apartment building or hotel should have security in place.
In Phuket Town, a similar apartment with these features and services costs about 5,000 baht per month. In either city, you can expect to add at least a 1,000 baht per month for basic kitchen facilities. If you are willing to go without air conditioning—I wouldn't recommend it unless you are used to living in a hot climate without it—you can take 1,000 baht off the price. If you want to be on or near the beach in Phuket, you'll need to budget for an additional 1,000 baht or more per month.
In Thailand, landlords will initially request the first month rent plus one month security deposit to get started with a lease. In Bangkok, it's more common for them to ask for a work permit or other proof that you'll be staying for the duration of the contractual agreement.
Food and Eating Out
In my experience, Bangkok is the best bet for cheap and readily available meals. It's not difficult for a foreigner to find a plate of rice with meat or vegetables for 40-50 baht. In Phuket, the same meal will typically cost you 70-80 baht or more.
In Bangkok, you are more likely to find places that will charge you the same prices as their local customers. However, this may take some trial and error. Phuket thrives on tourism and despite your reasons for being in Phuket, you'll most often be treated as a tourist—and charged for your meal accordingly.
Bangkok offers the most variety in food options as well and the city is more populated with restaurants. If you are after fresh seafood, then Phuket is for you. No matter where you travel—if the prices aren't listed on the menu or posted elsewhere—be sure to ask before ordering.
In Phuket Town, I find myself shopping for groceries at the supermarkets and convenient stores to save some baht. In Bangkok, there's not as big a divide between prices for eating out vs. buying food to take home.
Bangkok wins by a landslide when it comes to cheap public transportation options. You have buses, songthaeows—small trucks with two rows of bench seating, tuk-tuks—motorized carriages, motorcycle taxis, metered taxis, the MRT subway, the BTS sky train, a plethora of mini-vans and more. On the ground traffic can be a real challenge in Bangkok. Phuket has its share of traffic problems too.
If you can get where you need to go in Phuket with the limited bus and songthaeow routes, transportation can be reasonable. If you need to get beyond these routes, you'll need to haggle with private taxi services that will overcharge even the best of negotiators. Motorcycle and car rental services are plentiful and can help you save money in the long-run. Although, driving in Thailand is not for the faint of heart. Throughout the day, Phuket does offer an airport bus service that travels from the airport to the heart of Phuket Town.
Beach Access and Nightlife
Phuket Town comes out on top with easy access to nearby beaches. Here, one can catch a songthaeow headed to the various beaches on Ranong Road near Phuket Town Central Market. The price is 40-50 baht and—traffic aside—you can be at the beach in about 45 minutes.
In Bangkok, the mini-vans to Hua Hin, Cha-Am, Pattaya or Rayong are good options. These mini-vans can be found throughout the city at locations such as Mor Chit, Sai Tai Mai, and Ekkamai—depending which direction you are traveling. The mini-vans cost 200-300 baht per person and one can be at the beach in under two hours—barring any infamous Bangkok traffic jams.
If you are looking for nightlife, Bangkok takes the win in this category. There are countless options to serve whatever type of nightlife suits you. Phuket does have nightlife options but they are sparse and on the very tame side in Phuket Town. Party people would be better off spending their holiday on Patong Beach—which is easily accessible via the Ranong Road songthaeows.