Bangkok vs Manila: Which Is Better for Expats and Nomads?

I’ve lived 6 months in Bangkok and 1 month in Manila (BGC) as a digital nomad. I’ve also stayed in 15 other cities in Asia. In this post, I’ll share the differences I noticed between Bangkok and Manila, and which I recommend.

Keep in mind: I’m a single male American digital nomad in his 30s. I don’t speak Thai or Tagalog. I like big cities. I don’t drink alcohol or partake in much nightlife. All of this affects how I view both Bangkok and Manila.

Overview: Living in Manila vs Bangkok

Manila and Bangkok are both big cities in SE Asia, so they have many similarities. The climate is similarly tropical, and they have millions of residents and 100+ skyscrapers each.

But when it comes to expats and nomads, Bangkok is much more popular than Manila. There are really only a few parts of Manila where most of the expats live, especially Makati and Bonifacio Global City (BGC). Personally, I stayed in BGC.

Comparing my experience in Bangkok and Manila, I found these 4 benefits of living in Bangkok:

  1. Lower Cost of Living
  2. Faster and More Reliable Internet
  3. Better Transportation
  4. Better Shopping Malls and Grocery Stores

That said, there was still one strong benefit of living in Manila:

  1. More English Is Spoken

Now let’s look closer at each of these points below, starting with the reasons why Bangkok is better. I’ll share related points, stories, and photos along the way!

Why Bangkok Is Better

For me personally, Bangkok is quite a lot better than Manila on balance. Here are some of the top reasons why.

1. Lower Cost of Living

One of the biggest reasons that people move to Southeast Asia is for the low cost of living. And indeed, Thailand and Philippines both have low costs on average. But not all cities are equally affordable.

Manila is actually one of the more expensive major cities in SE Asia, after you exclude Singapore. In particular, the rent and hotels seem more expensive in Manila than Bangkok.

Numbeo reports that rent is 24.9% more expensive in Makati, Manila, compared to Bangkok. And when I stayed in BGC, I observed an even bigger difference.

My typical Airbnbs in the popular expat areas in Bangkok are ~$30 to $50 per night for nice studio or 1-bedroom units in high-rise condos. But in BGC, Manila, I was paying roughly $45 to $80 per night for similar rooms.

Aside from rent or hotel, I didn’t notice a huge difference in costs between the two cities. But overall, living in Bangkok will be cheaper for most people.

2. Faster and More Reliable Internet

The biggest weakness of the Philippines for digital nomads is the Internet connectivity. You might think the Internet would be consistently strong in the nicest parts of Manila—but you’d be surprised.

I stayed in four different Airbnbs in BGC, Manila, but only one had good, reliable internet. The wifi in all the others was slow or kept cutting out. At times, I had to watch YouTube videos at very low quality (144p) to avoid buffering.

Most cafes in BGC, Manila, also do not have working wifi—I tested at least five of them. The Starbucks locations had working wifi, but even that was annoying, as it only granted 1 hour of free access.

In contrast, I’ve never had any Internet problems in Bangkok. My internet connections in my Airbnbs, cafes, and elsewhere are almost always strong. And when needed, I can tether from my phone easily.

If you’re just casually browsing the internet, you might do fine in either city. But if you need to do video calls regularly—or other tasks that require a lot of data—Manila could get frustrating.

3. Better Transportation

Bangkok and Manila both have pretty bad traffic at times. So, neither city is perfect in this regard.

But in my experience, it was easier to quickly order a ride or find a motorbike taxi on the street in Bangkok. There were a couple times I struggled to hail a taxi or find/order a ride at all in Manila.

Bangkok also has the BTS and MRT trains, which are clean, modern, and pretty great overall. Manila has an MRT as well, but personally it didn’t seem convenient for any of the trips I needed to take.

It’s possible I just didn’t stay in Manila long enough to really “figure out” the transportation there. But it seemed that Bangkok has better transportation.

4. Better Shopping Malls and Grocery Stores

Bangkok is world class when it comes to shopping malls and grocery stores. You can basically buy anything you need, pretty conveniently. Let’s start with the groceries.

In BGC in Manila, the grocery stores were a lot smaller and did not have as many international foods, compared to Bangkok grocery stores like Gourmet Market and Villa Market.

BGC does have a store called Healthy Options, which has an impressive selection of international health foods. In fact, it had some foods from America that I’ve never been able to find in Thailand. But it’s also very expensive.

Both Manila and Bangkok have plenty of shopping malls. But the Bangkok malls seemed nicer and bigger. My favorite mall in the world is still Centralworld in Bangkok.

Why Manila Is Better

Despite all the above points against it, Manila does have at least one strong strength for western expats and nomads.

1. More English Is Spoken

Aside from Singapore, the Philippines has the best English proficiency of any country in Asia. Education First ranks Philippines “High proficiency” in English. In contrast, Thailand is ranked “Very low proficiency.” (source)

In fact, English is an official language in the Philippines. So, compared to Thailand, you’ll find it easier to communicate with taxi drivers, restaurant workers, and landlords. It also makes it easier to form real friendships with locals.

Don’t get me wrong—you can still live in Bangkok easily without learning Thai. Many expats do it. But you’ll deal with more language barriers than in Manila.

For example, if you’re trying to show a Bangkok taxi driver where to take you, they often won’t be able to read the English map on your phone. In Manila, you won’t have that problem.

The English fluency also makes it a bit easier to date and make good friends in the Philippines.

Both Manila and Bangkok are potentially good for dating, but Manila is arguably on another level, as there is no language barrier between you and the whole local population.

Overall, I see more advantages to Bangkok over Manila—and it seems that many people agree with me, based on the relative popularity of the two cities with expats and nomads.

That said, if you have some preference or special connection with Manila or Filipino culture, Manila could still make an awesome home.