For many westerners living in Bangkok, after a few years living in an apartment, a move to a moo baan is the obvious next step. For anyone living outside Thailand, a moo baan is a gated housing community, complete with security guards and various facilities. If you’re thinking of moving to a moo baan though, what are the pros and cons and what should you expect once you get there?
Townhouse or House – For most westerners (known as ‘farangs’ in Thailand), unless they are married to a Thai, moving to a moo baan involves renting and not buying, as westerners are not allowed to own houses (we can own the house but not the land the house sits on, so unless your house floats, you really can’t own a house here). Your choice in a moo baan depends on the area you’re thinking of moving to and what each individual moo baan has to offer. Most have a choice of either small or medium-sized townhouses or detached houses with one, two, three or more bedrooms.
Depending on the age of the moo baan, you’ll have a choice of old-fashioned, Thai-style cement townhouses that often have dark interiors and only the basic facilities (Thai-style bathrooms and not modern western-style, for instance) or, if it’s a modern moo baan, contemporary housing with all the mod cons.
Most westerners recommend renting a house and not a townhouse, if at all possible. Connecting walls can sometimes be a nightmare with Thai neighbors, who love playing karaoke at 1am with no regard for who’s next door. At least, if you’re in a detached house, you’ve more chance of getting a good night’s sleep.
Your Neighbors in a Moo Baan – As Thais are very friendly, and more than a little inquisitive, you’ll find your Thai neighbors in a moo baan are much more involved in your life than neighbors would be in the US. They’ll always want to know what you’re doing or where you’re going, they’ll gossip about you if you do something that’s not ‘normal’ in Thailand (and that’s pretty much everything you do), and they’ll no more worry about using your property as they would using your own.
On the other hand, most Thai neighbors will be the most helpful people you will ever meet, they’ll be happy to keep an eye on your house while you’re away and, god forbid if you ever have a catastrophe, half the neighborhood will want to help.
The Noise Level in a Moo Baan – From my experience, the type of moo baan you live in has a huge impact on the noise level. In the older ones, prices are cheaper so you get people of a lower social level living in them. Nothing wrong with that but, unfortunately, that seems to come with a higher noise level as many still have the ‘country values’ they grew up with. This can mean karaoke playing at 3am (from several houses competing with each other, not just one), loud parties and cars with super speakers. A quick word with the security guards can often get this stopped or a quiet word with the guilty neighbor and a small gift may also head things off at the pass the next time.
Security in a Moo Baan – Almost every moo baan is a gated community with several security guards manning the gate and denying access to anyone who doesn’t belong there. The security guards will walk or cycle around the moo baan several times an hour, so living with doors and windows open is often the norm. Most moo baans are very safe but, like anywhere, you can occasionally be unlucky. So use some common sense and take the necessary precautions (decent locks, padlocks, not leaving your house with the front door open etc).
Facilities in a Moo Baan – Obviously, every moo baan is different but most will have several places to eat (Thais will set up small restaurants just at their townhouse or house as there are no zoning laws here). There’ll be a place to get your laundry done, sometimes a gym and often a swimming pool. My friend’s moo baan even has a bakery, a coffee shop and a place to get a massage. Check out several moo baans and compare facilities before you make a decision where to rent.
Cost of a House or Townhouse in a Moo Baan – Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. Townhouses in a moo baan, depending on where you live in Thailand and how old the moo baan is, can be as low as 3,000 baht a month (less than $100) or as high as 65,000 (close to $2,000 a month). The same goes for houses, with a two-bedroom house in an average moo baan in Chiang Mai renting for 7,000 baht ($215) or a five-bedroom house in a new moo baan in Bangkok renting for 100,00 baht ($3,000) a month or more.
Shop around. See what’s available. Consider the facilities in each moo baan and don’t forget to bargain with your potential landlord. I have friends who managed to get the rent reduced more than 40% of the original asking price just by bargaining and agreeing to sign a longer lease (most leases will be at least six months).
Moo baans are a great place to live if you’re sick of the apartment life and want a bit more space. Plus, you’ll meet a lot of new neighbors.