“Bangkok greets one with strong smells, traffic jams, extravagant bling of royal palaces and temples juxtaposed against the dark suffocating allies lined with dilapidated shanty houses, burning hot woks of street vendors, mice scurrying around its sidewalk-less streets, militarized police with threatening whistles and frowns, and buddhist monks in bright orange ropes.”
Photo by Bangkok Street Art Graffiti
Rites of Passage, Bangkok-Style
Teetering on the line that differentiates a tourist or long-term visitor from an expat is a wealth of knowledge, information and experiences. Being a foreigner who lives and works in Bangkok may make you an expat, but by literary definition only! There are many boxes to tick if you want to become a bona fide Bangkok expat. Here are 25 things you can do or see to earn your legit expat stripes.
Shop at a ma and pa shophouse
These shops offer a random selection of products, from small sugar doughnuts to single cigarettes. You can buy a glass bottle of coke opened fresh and poured straight into a plastic bag with ice.
Show up late for an appointment
You aren’t a true expat if you don’t adopt Thai time. Just add thirty minutes to the time you said you would arrive! Make sure to stop for an iced coffee while you are at it.
Put ice in your beer
When they say ice cold beer they really mean it. Over here, pouring up a cold one means adding ice, even if your beer is already cold.
Spot a mobile vendor
Selling everything from brooms and brushes to stickers and balloons from his motorbike and side-car, one must venture deep into the back sois of Bangkok to spot these guys in their natural habitat.
Use your shoes to hold your place in the line
Thai people are notorious for leaving shoes in place of standing in long lines. As an expat, you are no exception! Queue up using your sandals and take a seat! Don’t just stand there next to a bunch of shoes like an idiot!
Reserve a table
At every one of Bangkok’s million malls there are cheap and delicious food courts. Nothing is more annoying than walking around a packed cafeteria with a tray of boiling hot noodles looking for a place to sit. Find a table first, then go for it. This makes the most sense on the top floor of Terminal 21.
Buy fruit off the back of a truck
Even if you tried, you wouldn’t miss them. Travel away from downtown to find pick up trucks driving 5km/h, blaring out the prices of fruit in a monotone drawl. Bonus points if you can find the guys selling fruit on modified bikes; just listen for the clown horn.
Master the motorcycle taxi
These guys are everywhere, but know where to go when you need one. Most motorcycle taxis on the street won’t pull over if it’s out of their “territory”; expats know better than to provoke motorcycle-taxi-turf-wars. Find the right queue!
Wipe your plate with a pink tissue
When eating shared dishes at a street stall, make sure to wipe down your plate with that pink tissue paper, even though it’s probably dirtier than the plate itself. It’s a peace of mind thing.
Eat the heads of fish and prawns
That’s right, baby, and the tail too! Come on now, don’t let that perfectly good fish head go to waste!
By now you’ve met Thai people that have all sorts of names, anything from Tittipporn, and Kittiporn to nicknames like Nut, Cartoon, Ping Pong, Goat or Guitar. Maybe you just got off the MRT to Bang Sue. Just know that a real expat can look you dead in the eye and say, “Good morning, Poochit!” without even the slightest smirk.
Chill out in traffic
Traffic is ridiculous, almost cruel, but, by now, we all don’t mind chilling at a red light while the timer ticks down from 300. Maybe you’ll have better luck at the next one.
Clean everything with TP
No one has the time nor space for paper towels. Toilet paper is a universal necessity here, used for anything from spills, stains, drying your hands, cleaning table tops, to wiping sauce off your fingers and mouth.
Put ketchup or mayonnaise on pizza
We’re not advocating this. We’re just saying, by now, you shouldn’t be surprised when you order a pizza and the waitress also hands you a bottle of ketchup or mayo. The most hardened expats have about 50 packets in the fridge, all from deliveries!
Use a squat toilet (the right way)
Don’t lie… we know your first time was a disaster. Either way, knowing how to use them will come in more handy depending on how far you venture out of Bangkok. Pro tip: take your pants off.
Spot 5 people on a motorcycle
Maybe you’ll see three or even four every now and again, but seeing five people (usually teens) on a motorcycle is truly mind blowing. Those kids have some talent. Bonus points if they are wearing helmets and extra bonus points if they are holding pets or shopping bags.
Anyone who has lived here a while will notice the offerings of red Fanta around telephone poles and shrines all over the city. Expats in tune with local beliefs know these are offerings to appease wandering spirits or deities. Theories suggest the red Fanta symbolises blood!
Use a bathroom at the BTS/MRT/Airport Link
Have you ever had to answer nature’s call on the subway or sky train but realised there weren’t any? Rookie mistake! Go ask the security or cashier if they can let you into the bathroom. They will walkie-talkie personnel to personally escort you to private bathrooms behind locked doors.
Practise proper escalator etiquette by standing on the right and letting people walk up on the left. Backpackers suck at this.
Use a straw
Straws come with everything, including pop, beer and even milk. Have you ever sipped up soy milk through a straw?
Know when to buy alcohol
For all the drinkers out there, we all know about the alcohol laws, especially during Buddhist holidays. Experienced expats will mark these days down and stock up in advance. Bonus points: Stocking up in case you feel like going on a bender between 2-5pm.
Kind of adopt a stray dog
All expats have that one street dog we shower with morsels of food. Whether they are posted in front of your condo or they’re grabbing air con by your nearest 7-11, no day is complete without paying them a visit.
Eat a big meal on the floor
When it comes to big shared meals, leave that table alone. The floor has enough room to accommodate everyone AND their dishes.
Spot a Monk Shopping
Wander into Pantip and keep an eye out for monks buying electronics, or look for a monk wearing headphones. Wonder what he’s listening too…
Get a massage at a bathroom urinal and not freak out
Sorry, ladies, this last one is for the guys. Go to a nice open air Thai restaurant with live entertainment, or some swanky ritzy dining venue, you know the type of place we’re talking about. Take a stop at the men’s room and head to the urinal. While relieving yourself, don’t be surprised if the bathroom attendant you passed by when walking in gently slides his hands onto your shoulders and starts rubbing. I’m not going to lie, this will feel uncomfortable on many levels, but just let him do his thing, go with the flow, give him a tip like a gentleman and walk out the bathroom door.