Part One: Nichada Thani
I really appreciated where we lived, which was a gated compound/community about 30 km north of BKK called Nichada Thani. I really want to write a little bit about it, because googling for it often leads to snarky comments about Nichada life from posters on Thai Visa and other forums like it, and those sentiments aren't really helpful to familes who might be trying to figure out where they might like to live if they're moving in the Bangkok area. So, without further ado:
Things that I liked about living in Nichada:
- It was green and clean, by Bangkok standards. There were actual sidewalks to walk on, and they were free of vendors selling hair accessories, squid snacks, edible insects, or fake Rolex watches. They weren't full of dozing (or oozing) soi dogs, either. The sidewalks were actually fairly stroller/tricycle friendly for my young kids, which can't be said of a lot of the footpaths in BKK. For my first 2.5 years in Thailand, walking around the lake in Nichada Thani (I don't know if it has an actual name, but I always thought of it as Lake Nichada) was my primary form of exercise, and I enjoyed passing by the gardens of roses, frangipani, bougainvillea, and the other tropical plants on the way. Lots of coconut trees. And I never actually saw a snake, though I often saw snails of an awesomely impressive size!
- The amenities. Nichada was a nice place to live for the times when I didn't feel like venturing into all of the crazy outside of the gates. The shopping plaza had a pharmacy (which will happily dole out a lot of meds that we'd otherwise need prescriptions for in Canada) with a very nice pharmicist, a photo studio where I could get the dozens of ID photos that life in Thailand required, a beauty salon (which my family patronized for haircuts and pedicures), a fitness center, a travel agency, and my beloved Villa Market was also located there. Bumrungrad also operates a medical clinic within Nichada Thani, and I really liked the current pediatrician. And there is also a Starbucks, but I wasn't a huge fan as they don't have chai lattes on the menu. The other nice thing about having all of this within walking distance was that my family did not have a car around all of the time (which is true for most families living there), and I often needed to make emergency trips to the grocery store ...
- The location was quite convenient. Even if it's thirty-some odd kilometers north of central Bangkok, the expressway into the city was only two minutes away, and we made the trip into the city all the time for doctors appointments, dinners out, touristy things, and shopping at the markets and malls. There were also plenty of good international schools and preschool programs within a fifteen-minute radius, so Madeline was spared a bus ride in busy Bangkok during rush-hour. Nichada Thani wasn't the most exciting place to live, but there was a decent amount of things to do in the nearby area (for example: cinemas, horse-back riding at the Nonthaburi Equestrian Club, bowling, biking, swimming). Things definitely improved when the Central Chaengwattana shopping center opening nearly two years ago, and many new restaurants opened in the three years that we were there for. It was also convenient to not be so close to central BKK during the protests in the spring - life for my family was largely unaffected by the unrest with the roads, schools, and shops in the area remaining open.
- It was easy to make friends; I'd run into the same people all the time at the schools, at the pool, and the grocery store, etc. The residents of Nichada are foreigners by a large majority, so nearly everyone had had the experience of being newly-arrived in Thailand at one time. Because of the proximity to the schools, it's a popular location for families with young children to chose to live. We did, after all :)
- It seemed fairly safe*. There were guards everywhere, and somehow, they managed to even keep the soi dogs out of the compound. The most dangerous thing on the roads were probably brand-new drivers tooling around on golf carts (unless you counted the taxi drivers who had never seen a traffic circle before). The US Embassy puts a lot of their families into Nichada, which seemed to give Nichada some security credibility as well. *By "safe", I don't mean to imply that the community pool had life guards on duty, because it didn't, or that all of the playground equipment was in good shape, because it wasn't. I was speaking more about serious crime!
I am not going to pretend that living in Nichada let us have an authentic Thai experience; Nichada Thani is an ex-pat bubble, but it was a good place for my family to live for three years. To be honest, I think that even if we'd chosen to live in the city instead of out in Nichada, we'd still have lived in a some version of the bubble, but would have had a more intimate experience with the authentic Bangkok traffic. I didn't mind giving up the traffic :)
Three month out, I still miss my old life in Thailand dearly. I didn't think that I would feel so strongly, but I have to admit that our life in Nichada in our apartment with the wonderful maintenance team really helped me (and my family) navigate life in a foreign country with a bit more grace than I'd have had otherwise.