I’ve spent a lot of time in Thailand during the last dozen or more years, including living there full-time for 2 years. These days I have a business in the Kingdom and continue to spend more than half my time there. I think I’ve gained enough exposure to the ups and downs of living there that I long ago stopped viewing the place through rose tinted glasses. Nonetheless I continue to like being in Thailand and I think it compares well with most alternatives. Yes, it’s changed during the last decade, but who are we expats to deny Thailand the right to develop and move on? And many, if not most, of the changes are for the better.
Here are a few remarks about various aspects of living in Thailand as an expat, some of them in response to the comments you (Stick) reported in your latest (Feb 1st) weekly letter.
Things that in my experience – are unequivocally good
* My experience of Thailand as an expat is that it’s safe. I have never once had any threat of physical violence from a Thai person, and I have never been robbed. Nor has my car been vandalized. (I have, however, been threatened by drunk farangs in Thailand, on 2 occasions). Compare that to my home city in the West, where I have been robbed 5 times in the last 6 years.
* Thai food is just great, and it’s cheap. Plus Bangkok has an incredible selection of foreign restaurants representing just about every cuisine on the planet.
* The women are beautiful and take the trouble to make the best of themselves.
* Bangkok has developed a good pub scene over the last few years which has vastly improved entertainment options for resident expats, tourists and Thais alike. No longer are go-go bars and hotel lobby lounges just about your only options.
* It’s a good place for a family holiday. I had my youngest son over there last year and he had a great time at the snake farm, riding a tuk-tuk, elephant trekking etc etc. I wouldn’t want him in Patpong but then I wouldn’t take him to Sydney’s Kings Cross either.
* Compared to most other Asian countries (Singapore an exception), it’s relatively business friendly. Yes there are tedious rules that regulate farang businesses, but I have found the authorities to be quite pragmatic in the way they apply them. And tax rates, both corporate and personal income, are pretty reasonable.
* Thailand is cheap, compared to the West, for just about everything. A few exceptions of course (wine, English books) but on average your expenses there are low.
* I continue to find Thai people friendly and welcoming and largely tolerant of the way that I massacre their language. I feel relaxed there in a way that I can’t in, for example, Indonesia.
* There’s a lot of other expats in Thailand, from many different backgrounds, and your options for finding like-minded souls and good company are many.
* Religion: I find Buddhism to be less absurd than any other religion I’ve come across, and at least its adherents tend not to start wars or commit acts of mass violence in its name. OK the established Buddhist hierarchy may be misogynist and somewhat corrupt, but the natural dignity with which the Thai people demonstrate their religious devotion is quite inspiring.
Things where my views differ from those of some of your correspondents
* Thai men: the implications I have seen in this site and elsewhere – that Thai males are some kind of lower form of life are just a total crock of shit. Of course the guys that flock around the bar scene can be suspect, but they are completely unrepresentative of Thai men in general. And I lived in London’s Soho for 3 years (before it was gentrified), and the men around there were at least as bad as those that I’ve encountered around the Thai bars. I work with normal Thai guys all the time and find them to be pretty much the same as guys working at a similar level in the West.
* Bar girls: I haven’t had much to do with bar girls in recent years but in the past my interactions with them were mostly fine. I experienced numerous acts of friendliness, kindness and, yes, honesty from these girls. Having said that, I never had a BG as a girlfriend so have no experience of how such a relationship might develop. But those bars are a place for doing business, and the girls usually do their best to make the business pleasant and fun. Like many contributors to this site, I refrain from making a moral judgment on prostitution in Thailand. From a libertarian standpoint, I support the right of consenting adults to enter into a business arrangement for the purpose of sex; from a social point of view, I don’t like the long-term effects on either the girls or the punters. These 2 points of view are hard to reconcile, and I have nothing more to add to that debate.
* Honesty: I have had no significant problems with dishonesty (I’m not talking here about corruption) in Thailand. Yes, my bar bill has been padded from time to time, but the general level of honest behavior there is comparable to any of the half dozen or so other countries, Western or Asian, where I have lived.
* Comment from last week’s piece “they <farangs> are given less and less respect by Thai people”. Well, this is to be expected. Take the industry I work in as an example: when I first came to Thailand, the industry was relatively undeveloped and the pool of experienced local talent was small. The expat import was generally viewed as valuable and more experienced mostly because, at that time, he (or she) was. Many years on, the Thais have developed comparable levels of experience and work at the same level as, or higher than, the farangs. So exaggerated levels of respect and deference which certainly existed in the past are no longer justified. This is normal. It’s the way it should be. [And it’s probably hard to give farangs automatic respect when their most visible representatives are drunk and belligerent].
Some of the bad things
* Driving: Thailand kills people on the roads at (according to official figures) more than 4 times the rate of the UK, Holland or Japan, and more than twice the rate of the US (fatalities per 100,000 people per year). The gross stupidity high speed, tailgating, lane-weaving, failure to indicate, cellphone in one hand and cigarette in the other, to name just a few examples seen on Thai roads is directly responsible for high levels of human suffering. The only good thing I can think of to say about Thai driving is that, in congested traffic, the local drivers are better at yielding and letting you in than their counterparts in, say, Australia.
* Petty corruption: the tea money harvests that you sometimes encounter around the toll plazas can be pretty irritating, but on average I get nailed only once or twice a year. And, at a small business level (OK, not a bar or restaurant) I have never encountered it.
* High-level corruption: this is quite disturbing though it’s hardly unique to Thailand. I find it disquieting that the country’s PM is also its richest businessman and that his family’s companies continue to profit from changes proposed to government regulations (see the Bangkok Post article of Feb 4th about the PM’s self-imposed “gag order”). But this is hardly unique either: look at Italy & Mr. Berlusconi.
* Thais walk too slowly! I’m a tall guy with long legs and my natural walking pace is fast, even when I’m relaxed. I struggle to adapt to the snail’s pace adopted by most Thai people (especially the women!).
* Minor courtesies: I find in general that Thai people are not very good at exhibiting minor courtesies like waiting for you to exit an elevator before piling in, or holding a door open. Actually this is improving though.
* Human rights: the outcome and the muted local reaction to it of last year’s war-on-drugs carnage is rather disturbing.
* The Hi-So: I find the snobbery, disdain and discourtesy exhibited by the “Hi-So” Thais towards those they consider to be the lower orders to be pretty disgusting. And it’s irritating that they can often (literally) get away with murder. But this is no worse than the UK used to be.
* Emphasis on status symbols: I’m a jeans, trainers, black plastic Timex and cheap Honda kind of guy. I’m not on the lookout for finding a women in Thailand, but if I were I would find it pretty hard to go along with the tiresome dress code (i.e. smart & with the appearance of wealth) that some of your correspondents report to be necessary.
* The dark underside of Thai society that farangs don’t usually see can be pretty seamy: domestic violence, heavy-duty loan sharking, gambling related violence, debt, poverty and drug addiction.
So Thailand has its good points, its bad points and its good-and-bad points. Strangely enough, this is just like 100% of societies that exist now, have ever existed, or ever will exist. People are people and everywhere have fundamentally similar genetic make-ups, psychological drivers and ways of behaving. Every culture presents a unique interpretation of that make-up, those drivers and those human behaviors. As it happens, I mostly like the Thai interpretation, but there’s a lot of things I like about others too.
There’s a bunch of things I haven’t gone into, but this submission is long enough already so I think I’ll close it there. As a final remark, I just want to emphasize that (in Stick’s own words) this is “one man’s opinion” of a few aspects of life in Thailand. I have no doubt that many others have experiences of Thailand which will lead them to a different view; I’m just reporting what I have experienced.