I am so excited to introduce you to Michelle, expat mom in Thailand, and her beautiful family who are sharing their story of living in Thailand with kids as an expat family. Her Instagram account is one of my favorites. You know how some feeds stand out from the millions of others, with beautiful vivid pictures and engaging informative captions? Michelle’s Instagram feed is just like that, and you can connect with her @theviewfromoverhere.
They are living in Thailand with kids, beautifully nicknamed the land of smiles. I am grateful that she kindly agreed to answer a million questions and share her expat and parenting experience in this gorgeous country.
RLT: Please tell us about your background and what has brought you to Thailand?
Michelle: Hello! My name is Michelle, and I live in Thailand with my husband and 2 young daughters. My husband and I both have a degree in intercultural studies and part of the requirements for graduating was to participate in an internship in a cross-cultural setting. We spent over a year in Chiang Mai, Thailand training and working with local non-profits and we loved it so much we decided to return after we graduated and live here long term. When we came back, we moved to a rural province of Thailand as part of a non-profit effort to meet Thailand’s need for better English language education.
RLT: You have recently moved to Bangkok from a small Thai town where you lived for six years. Why did you decide to leave and move to the capital?
Michelle: My husband taught English in a Thai government school in a small town in central Thailand. We ended up there because a friend of ours had a connection to a school in the area. We chose to live in a small town because we felt like that were the most need was. Plenty of teachers want to live in a big city, but few will venture into more rural areas so that’s where we wanted to focus our efforts.
Fast forward 6 years and, while we loved where we lived, we also realized that our family needed a change. We have 2 daughters who were both born in Thailand and our oldest started kindergarten this year. She’s incredibly social and after experimenting with homeschooling we realized it wasn’t for her or for me. She attended 2 years of Thai preschool but the public education system here is less than ideal, so we knew we needed to put her in an international school which meant moving to a bigger city.
Another reason we felt like the timing was right was because we lacked a community of other young families in our stage of life. Most rural areas don’t have a lot of young parents, because they often move to the cities to find work and leave their children back in their hometowns with their grandparents. The school where my husband now works and where my children attend has a number of other expat staff families and we’ve loved becoming part of this community and sharing daily life with them.
RLT: Both of your daughters were born in Thailand. Can you please share your pregnancy and birth experience? What were the health facilities like?
Michelle: Both my daughters were born in Thailand. The public hospital in our town was definitely not an option and I didn’t like some of the policies in the private hospital an hour away (husbands cannot be present and stirrups/episiotomies are standard) so we traveled to Chiang Mai to give birth both times. I had a wonderful doctor who studied in the US and spoke good English. In Chiang Mai epidurals are not available (they are in some other cities though) so I had planned on natural birth. Because I was overdue, I had to be induced and unfortunately, after 30+ hours of labor I ended up having an emergency C-section.
My second pregnancy 3 years later was an elected c-section since the hospital I gave birth at wasn’t set up for a VBAC. Prices are much cheaper than giving birth in the US (we only paid $2,500 for the emergency c-section) and there are some amazing hospitals and doctors to choose from here.
Living and travelling in Bangkok with kids as an expat family
RLT: Now that you moved to live in Bangkok, what were your first impressions of your new home?
Michelle: We’d been to Bangkok a number of times before as we transited through to other places. We did not like this crazy town with all its chaos, people, and traffic so would get in and get out as soon as possible. It’s a bit ironic that of all places this is where we’ve ended up!
It’s definitely warmed up on me. I love to get out of the house and go exploring. And there are endless things for us to do here, which after small town life is a blast for me. My husband is not a fan of big cities. So, while he loves our new school community, the city of Bangkok itself stresses him out. He does do the majority of the driving though so I can hardly blame him!
RLT: What facilities and activities exist for young children in Bangkok?
Michelle: There are so many! Museums, parks, child-friendly restaurants, indoor playgrounds, zoos and aquariums, cultural activities, theme parks, and more. I feel like it will take years to see and do it all! There are also plenty of after-school activities like dance, sports, music, theater, and swimming. The downside is that things can be quite expensive here, especially compared to the rest of Thailand.
RLT: What are the biggest challenges for expat parents in Thailand?
Michelle: One of the biggest challenges is being so far away from family. My children are growing up without seeing their grandparents and cousins. We haven’t seen the family at all since covid began. I often feel guilty and heartbroken that my girls don’t know their extended family very well.
Another challenge is all the hoops we have to jump through to live here. Visas, work permits, immigration check-ins every 90 days. The forms and paperwork can be daunting, especially at the beginning when everything is still so new.
RLT: Are there any differences in how Thai families raise their kids?
Michelle: Many children in Thailand are raised by their grandparents while their parents are off in a big city working and sending money back home. Those who do have parents at home often have grandparents or extended family living with them as well. Thai’s place a much higher value in maintaining family connections than Western cultures. The elderly are considered wise and are to be respected and honored. Many young people will continue to live with their family until they are married and are expected to provide for their parents as they get older.
We also tend to let our children be much more independent than many of our neighbors and friends. People were always surprised when I would let my 10-month-old feed herself. Or let my just learning to walk child fall without catching her. I also got many reprimands from Thai grandmas for not putting my babies in a hat when outside, despite the heat.
RLT: How much interaction do you have with the local community? Can you speak Thai?
Michelle: When we lived in a small town we were very immersed in the local community. Actually, we were some of the only foreigners who lived there. Here, it is less so. We live on the school campus where my husband works. Therefore, we spend a lot of our time here interacting with the other foreign staff families and the Thai staff. After being isolated from other foreigners for so long we’ve really enjoyed being able to be part of this close-knit community! However, any time we leave home for grocery shopping, going out to eat, or exploring we step back into the local community around us.
I speak enough Thai to get by. I hope to focus more time on language learning when both my children start attending school full time. My husband speaks fluently and can read and write as well. That is a huge advantage that has greatly reduced the stress of living in a foreign country.
RLT: What would you recommend to other expat families with kids planning to move to Thailand?
Michelle: Try to find a place where you can have community with other expats but still be a part of the local community, too. Make a real effort to learn about the language and culture, and remember that you are a guest. So you will need to adjust and become accustomed to local ways of doing things more than the other way around. Things take time here and aren’t set on our Western timetables. So learn to be flexible and just go with the flow. Many things will not make sense from a foreign perspective but accepting this from the onset will save you a lot of unnecessary frustration. Maintaining the humble posture of a truly interested learner will win you many friends.
Overall, Thailand is a safe and fantastic place to live with kids! The Thai people are friendly and loving and adore children. There is so much to do here – from mountain hikes to beach days and amazing cultural experiences.
RLT: What are the Top 5 places in Thailand that you recommend visiting with children?
Chiang Mai – there are so many fun child-friendly things to do in CM and it’s really great for families who love to experience nature, hikes, and wildlife.
Krabi – we prefer the peace and quiet of Krabi over the nightlife of Phuket. It’s a great beach destination and beautiful islands like Phi Phi are just a boat ride away.
Kanchanaburi – just a few hours outside Bangkok the area of Kanchanaburi is great for families looking to learn some history at the bridge on the River Kwai and death railway. As well as explore natural wonders like the incredible waterfalls at Erawan National Park.
Koh Samui – we visited this island for the first time recently and loved it. The beaches are gorgeous and we really enjoyed the laid-back island vibe.
Bangkok – if you’re looking for endless things to do then Bangkok would be right for you. It’s a clash of contrasts with a slum just blocks away from a mega mall and beauty in the most unlikely of places.
RLT: Could you tell us more about costs and standards of living in Thailand with kids?
Michelle: Cost and standard of living vary greatly depending on where and how you live. When we lived in a small rural town we only paid about $120 a month in rent. In bigger cities, you’ll pay about $400-$3000 depending on location and size/quality of your space. With Bangkok being the most expensive. It’s possible to live simply and have a very small budget, but also to live extravagantly and have a price tag to match.
With our family of four, we spend about $2000 a month total, but we prefer to live simply. Many of the higher expenses (rent, school fees, insurance) are also covered by my husband’s employer which helps keep our costs low. One important thing to consider if you have children is the mind-blowing cost of private school. If your company doesn’t provide a subsidiary and you’re not working at a private school and have free or reduced education costs then plan on paying the same amount for kindergarten as you would for a year of college in the US!
Michelle, ขอบคุณมาก for sharing story of living and travelling in Thailand with kids as an expat family! If Google Translate is correct, ขอบคุณมาก is supposed to mean thank you very much in Thai.
Photo credit: Michelle and unsplash.com