Friday, August 5, 2011
Similar to our arrangement in Australia, the US Embassy provides fully furnished housing for all of the US Government employees assigned to support the Bangkok mission. Basically, there are two choices... an apartment downtown or a single family home located in a residential community about 10 miles northwest of the Embassy.
As Kevin and I discovered during our visit in January, Bangkok is not a pedestrian-friendly city like New York or Washington or even Paris or London. The sidewalks are in terrible condition (uneven and broken) and street vendors often set up their stalls on the sidewalks so there is very little room (if any) for pedestrians. Many times, you need to step off the sidewalk and on to the street to pass around the vendors. There seem to be no traffic laws (or at least no enforcement of traffic laws). Pedestrians certainly do not have the right of way. In fact, when the traffic gets bad, the moto-taxis, tuk tuks and bicyclists have no problem with using the sidewalk as "their" lane. It is very difficult to navigate the city on foot and I was especially concerned about getting the kids to school & to their activities and walking the dogs (which would be absolutely necessary if we were living in an apartment). Bangkok also has very little green space. There is one public park downtown (Lumphini Park) and Kevin and I ran there several times in January. It is horribly crowded and is not the kind of park where the kids could go to meet up with their friends and play basketball or hang out. In addition, the park does not allow dogs so I would not be able to walk Sonder and Simpson there. Also, "soi" (street) dogs are EVERYWHERE in Bangkok. They don't seem to bother humans but most carry rabies and we heard several stories about them terrorizing domestic dogs. The apartments we saw were lovely and quite spacious and I am sure if we were moving to any other city, we could certainly make city living work for us... but it just wasn't feasible for us to do so in Bangkok.
With city living ruled out, we decided to live in a community designed specifically for ex-pats called Nichada Thani. A gated community, Nichada is located 10 miles northwest of the Embassy and has about 800 homes - single family homes, condominiums, and luxury estates. There are 40 "neighborhoods" within Nichada and everything is centered around a huge lake and a village center (Starbucks, grocery store, drycleaners, and spa/salon). There is a large community pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, and a gym. It reminds me so much of Lake Ann in Reston. The International School of Bangkok (http://www.isb.ac.th/) is also located within the gates of Nichada and this is where Caitlynne and Christopher will attend school. Everyone uses golf carts to travel around Nichada and outside the gates to the mall, shops, restaurants, gas stations, etc. Nichada is very accurately referred to as the "bubble". The area surrounding Nichada is very poor and dirty. Most people live in very crudely constructed shacks and some homes are no more than tarps draped over a wood frame. Dogs, chickens and livestock share the streets with cars, motorcycles, golf carts and pedestrians. However, entering through the gates into Nichada is like entering Disney. Everything is perfectly landscaped and the trees, bushes and flowers are bright green & flowering. It is incredibly clean and well maintained, quite a contrast to what is immediately outside the gate.
Our home is in a brand new neighborhood called Premier Place 2. It has its own separate pool and clubhouse right up the street from our home. When we first arrived, there were only two other families here (out of a total of 20 homes) so it was very quiet. The Embassy plans to have 15 new families moved in here by the end of August so we will see a lot more activity. The house is brand new and has 4 bedrooms, 5 baths and a study. The kitchen is large and there is a dining room, family room and formal living room. It is nice to have a second floor again. For some reason, it makes the house seem more spacious and the rooms more private. There are hardwood floors throughout except for the kitchen floor which is ceramic tile. The yard is beautifully landscaped and big enough for the dogs to have some room to run around but I will still need to walk them every day.
The Government provided furniture is much nicer than what we had in Australia and everything is newly upholstered. I can definitely work the colours and furniture styles in with my decorating when our household goods arrive. The Embassy provides a "Welcome Kit" (or "Survival Kit" as it is also called) to each arriving family. The Kit contains very basic items (bed lines, towels, plates, glasses, flatware, some pots and pans and a few small appliances) to help you get along until your shipment of household goods arrives. Fortunately, Tim, our sponsor, arranged to have our Welcome Kit unpacked & everything put away and the beds made before we arrived. He was also kind enough to purchase some basic food supplies - bread, cereal, milk, coffee, and eggs so we would be able to make breakfast the next morning.
It began to rain just as we pulled up to the house, so we unloaded the vans and let the dogs run around. Caitlynne and Christopher selected their bedrooms and explored the house. By the time we all got settled and in bed, it was almost 1:30 am!
Next Up... Photos... Finally!