Readers' Submissions

Thailand Survival Kit


Thailand, the Land of Smiles. You’ve been here a couple of times, and so far you like what you see. In fact, you’re probably quite enchanted with the place. The sights, the sounds, the smells – scenery, nightlife, whatever. For some reason, you’ve decided to take up residency in the kingdom for the long term.

Many of you have come to settle here; some came more informed than others, others were just feeling their way around blindly. I’m sure there are many success stories; they just don’t seem to want to come out of the closet.

I thought I’d write a short guide aimed more at the person who has recently made up his (or her) mind to stay here for the long term. Just for the sake of defining ‘long term’, you’ve decided to base yourself here. Legally. Possibly at a permanent address, no return ticket and no ideas fixed in your mind of returning to your home country. Overstaying backpackers and long-stay residents of the ‘Bangkok Hilton’ do not qualify.

Here’s my version of how to survive; it’s not comprehensive by any means, but is based on the experiences I’ve been through and may be of use to some of you.

A short disclaimer before the main topic:

The advice given here is for educational purposes only.

Not responsible for any mechanical failures, bodily harm or drained ATM accounts.

You can use anything you like for personal use only. Note that you do it at your own risk.

It is not my fault if you get disenchanted with the place. If you are, don’t read any further. The advice contained here is probably not for you.

It is also assumed that you are not under the influence of mind-altering drugs, alcohol, or that cute go-go dancer swinging on the second pole to the right.

I’ll divide this guide into several sections; the first is obviously preparation, followed by transition, and hopefully culminating with integration.

It’s just like getting another job; you prepare your CV, and then go for your interview, etc. If your preparation was good, you’ll have a job probationary period (that I have labelled ‘transition’). Depending on how well you cope with it, you either pass on to the job proper (integration stage), or have your probationary period extended. Once you get into the job proper (integration), you’ll still have to work at it if you want to keep your job (or integrate). Get slack and you could lose it.

Preparation

You’ve obviously got a plan. (Don’t you? You should.) The first thing to look at are the visa requirements. You will need to get this done at the local Thai embassy/ consulate in your country; it will save you a trip out and back again. This also depends on your situation – marriage, work, retirement – and will have different conditions/ requirements for each.

While many people do visa runs every so often, I believe the government is beginning to crack down on this.

You’ll need to communicate, so go find a language school, and learn some basic conversational Thai that should encompass reading, writing and speaking. That way, you won’t be totally lost when you get out here.

Get maps of the country and the places that you expect to find yourself in. Get familiar. The internet can be a useful place, but usually gets quite clogged with useless information.

Likewise, find out the modes of transportation, pricing and routes.

Make sure you have sufficient funds or access to funds to finance at least the first year here. Don’t bring everything across.

My experiences at this stage:

I’d worked with many Thai people at least ten years prior to moving up here. Most were technical staff connected with the aviation industry; so I had an idea of the culture and knew a little of the language. Many felt like family, and I used to stay at their houses whenever I visited Thailand. My incentive to learn the language was spurred on when my friend’s son, then almost three years old, said to his father ‘Daddy, I like to play with uncle SWB, but why can’t he understand what I’m saying?’ Suffice to say, the next time I was up, so were communication levels.

I met my wife through this circle of friends.

My visa was issued at the Thai consulate in my country for three months – I had applied for a non-immigrant visa on the grounds of being married to a Thai. This was further pursued at the Thai Immigration Office here on these grounds, and was eventually upgraded to a one-year visa.

The fact that my wife had a good position in a well-respected job helped.

Transition

So you’ve finally arrived, and you’re just off the plane. If you’re on your own, find a reasonable hotel, stay a few days to get the lie of the land, while keeping an eye out for long-term accommodation.

(A reminder here – this submission assumes you’re on your own, outside the influence of your teeruk if you have one.)

As part of the familiarization process, you will need to explore Bangkok, and find out where the important places are; your embassy, the immigration department, local hospitals and the police posts.

Try the transport system too; the buses are the best way to get around as they are about the only vehicles that can get around the one-way system in Bangkok. Just be careful not to get flattened by one when crossing those ‘one-way’ streets. Take a taxi, and you’ll be driven halfway around the city to reach your destination – it’s not the driver’s fault as they cannot use the same routes as the buses.

Practice your orienteering and reading skills – take a bus, any bus, from the Victory Monument (Anusawari Chai) to its destination, and then back. Make sure you have a map and a dictionary with you. Do this every few days or so, using a different route each time, and try to pick a time where it’s not rush hour.

Practice your spoken language at the seven-eleven, or most convenience stores. Don’t get too familiar with the security at your hotel or condo, though. The bars are also not such a good place to practice language, unless it’s body language.

Budget. You’re not on holiday.

Scan the local newspapers for work that is suitable for whatever skills you may have. You can’t sit on your arse forever. Do note that there are many jobs that a foreigner is restricted from doing by law; you cannot work as a barber, for example.

Look for a language school to further your understanding of Thai. Here’s my take on the necessity of proficiency in the language.

I did a basic Thai language course before I came permanently, but you will pick up your vocabulary as you go along. The type of vocabulary also tends to typify the company you keep. The Thais and most resident farangs can tell.

I use it with dealings with suppliers, product engineers, just to make sure everyone understands fully and the head-nodding is not for show. It's also fun with some taxi drivers; you get involved in some very interesting conversations.

In a restaurant, see what language they address you in, and answer back in the same language. If they look uncomfortable, then offer to speak Thai. I adopt the same practice in the watering-holes, but give myself a few minutes to assess the situation first. No one likes surprises.

Know the bad language and avoid using it. It's called etiquette.

Being able to read takes the mystery out of the road signs.

Since you're going to be here for a while, you might as well pick it up. Everybody benefits.

My experiences in the early days – go read an earlier submission ‘Robin Hood, English Teacher’ to get an idea. I’d ride the buses from terminal end to another, dictionary at the ready. You’ll find many signs will start to look familiar; look them up and remember them. I also used to commute frequently to the province where my wife was stationed. She quit worrying once she found out I could find my way around without her help. I eventually got a technical job (and work permit to boot).

Integration

So you’ve finally settled in, are doing something useful where work is concerned, and you’re comfortable with your environment (and the neighbours). They smile back at you.

You can find your way around without a map, and shrug off the fact that a lot of motorcycles are actually driving down on the wrong side of the road, or on the pavement.

You’ve got your local driving licence, and can actually drive around town without getting annoyed at the traffic conditions.

(The driving licence is useful too; in many places that practice double pricing, the driving licence is proof that you’re paying taxes. Even the banks accept this as personal identification, so if you’ve got one you can leave your passport at home.)

You look at the farangs who have just arrived and laugh at their antics and pathetic struggle to speak Thai. The Thais, however, are only smiling, and are encouraging them on…

Part of the secret of living here is learning to go with the flow. I, for one, have never been accused of 'knowing too mutt'. My wife, her colleagues, my colleagues, staff – all speak to me in the language they feel comfortable in. At the hospital dispensary, for example, the pharmacists are normally nervous if they see a 'farang' type face; they'll ask if you can speak Thai, and are usually relieved if you say yes.

Know the customs and etiquette. I have had to attend marriages, funerals, housewarmings – many times on my own. Dress sensibly for the occasion, and be prepared to speak at the function if your position is senior enough. You’re normally given some warning in advance, though.

I am comfortable driving upcountry alone; it's partly expected that I use some back roads in the course of my job. A good, detailed map (and compass) is also a necessity. I'll get GPS when I can afford one. (Yes, I was a boy scout once). Stick to the main, well travelled highways if you have to drive at night. Road rage (and stupidity) is on the rise, drive carefully.

Don't get upset with the apparent lack of a get-up-and-go attitude; the Thais are not as pressured as the more modern world we came from. You'll eventually adjust (meaning slow yourself down) and start seeing the world around you for a change, not the blur you were rushing through before. Thais are good learners; the only problem is the language barrier. Train them in a job, show them some respect, and they will reciprocate with conscientious work within their limits. There are many Thais that you and I will learn things from, too. It's a two-way street; if you're going to live here you'll have to adapt.

The nightlife is one small aspect of it, though this website tends to cover it extensively.

There's a lot more to this country than meets the eye.

There’s lots of good, fresh food practically anywhere, the cost of living is not astronomical, some things may be not as readily available (Heaven knows how I waited this long before they finally started brewing Tiger beer here) but they can be had.

You’ll know you’ve really integrated when you use the submission ’Happy New Mia’ as a reference.

Stickman's thoughts:

Excellent advice.