Readers' Submissions

Thailand Versus Korea, A Balanced View




First, a little about me so that you understand my perspective. I am an American contract engineer, 58 years old, and I have lived and worked all over the planet. For the last eight years I have represented various American and European companies that have outsourced precision and non-precision fabricated machinery component production to Asia. I have spent approximately 40-percent of my time in Thailand and perhaps 60-percent in Korea. In Korea, I was normally stationed in either Ulsan Si, or Onson Eup.

I would like to present a fair side-by-side comparison of Thailand versus Korea, which is based on my opinion, formed by my personal experiences:

Friendly people:

Thais win, but with a caveat … Both cultures are xenophobic, and insular to varying degrees. The Thais are simply more skilled at smiling and acting friendly. But, deep down, it is often just an act. Koreans are proud and honest, and if they dislike foreigners, then it damn sure shows. On balance, Thailand gets the nod for what I will term as “apparent friendliness”, only North Korea and Japan are more racist and insular than South Korea. Deep down, Thais are really no better than South Koreans, but they generally hide it better.

Safety:

There is no comparison. Foreigners are not preyed upon by South Koreans. You never hear of foreigners in South Korea getting their purses snatched, pockets picked, or getting robbed, beaten, kidnapped, extorted, or murdered. Thais can be absolute savages when they are angry or high on yaba or when they smell opportunity. Compared to Korea, most of Thailand is a third-world shithole, while most of South Korea is cleaner than the USA and safer than almost anyplace else. When it comes to the safety of your person and property, Korea wins hands down over Thailand.

Business Practices:

Same-same, but different styles. Under-the-table money is common in business deals in both cultures. In Thailand, a contract, or a job order, or a purchase order is legal and binding only if written in Thai. In Korea, dual-language contracts are common, and most large companies have staff that can accurately translate Hangul characters to English, (and vice versa) including technical and engineering language. In both countries you really need an attorney that is very skilled in both languages if you are going to hammer out the subtle nuances of a binding contract between large international players.

Honesty (In General):

Thais will lie even if they have no reason to lie, they are just born to do it. Koreans are simply much more honest.

Honesty in Government:

Koreans understand ethics, and the average civil servant has a job worth protecting. Don’t ever try to bribe a Korean civil servant or government official, or you just might end up in jail. The reverse is of course true in Thailand, where failure to bribe is almost unheard of.

Police Honesty:

See above. Same-same. Thai Police Colonels and Generals operate little feudal fiefdoms, they are the warlords of all they survey. Korean police, on the other hand, quit taking bribes roughly 15 to 20 years ago. That is to say, the Korean police used to be as corrupt as the Thai police, but they reorganized, something that I suspect the Thai police will never do. It is unheard of today to find a crooked cop in Korea. Korea has increased the professionalism of their police force requiring a good education for their cops and offering a very good salary and benefits in return.

Customs Duties, Imports and Exports:

Both Korea and Thailand understand the value of protectionism in defending their developing economies. The difference, for the average guy, is that Koreans are honest and Thais are not. An example from my own experience: I am 194cm tall, 130 kilos, built like a steel wedge, and I am hypertensive. My clothing is fairly special (big-big size) so I mail order everything from America, including size 14 shoes. Anytime that I have ever had so much as a pack of XXXL tee-shirts mailed to me in Thailand, I had to spend all day in customs, and ultimately pay a bribe to some Thai piece of scum. In Korea, I can import anything under the “personal-use-exemption”, and it just gets delivered to my apartment, no problems, no taxes, no nothing. In Thailand, if I try to mail order my prescription medications, even if they are accompanied with proper labeling and the doctor’s “Letter of Necessity”, forget it, the Thais treat me like a criminal, and they either steal my blood pressure pills, or they extort me for some serious baht, plus I waste a whole day sitting in Thai customs. In Korea, as long as the labels and the papers and the product all agrees as to description and contents, no problem, it just gets delivered.

Banking:

On the surface, the rules seem similar, but the big difference for me is wire transfers. When I wire money into Thailand, I have to prove what it is for, and that it is not for investment, and etc. The Thais have really screwed themselves with recent banking laws. In Korea, all I have to do is show my passport to open an account and subsequently receive a wire transfer. In Korea, I have found one bank in particular, KEB (Korea Exchange Bank) that is really set up to be friendly to foreigners. Any foreigner working in Korea under a Work Permit (or, under a Temporary “Letter of Introduction”) can also wire money back out of Korea, no problem. You can’t do that in Thailand. Korea has a first-world banking system, while Thailand has a banana republic banking system designed exclusively to trap money within the country.

Foreigner Status:

Both countries have tourist visit VOA arrangements. You can now only use so many back-to-back tourist visas in Thailand, but there is no restriction in Korea. In my experience, work visas and work permits are very easy to get in South Korea, but relatively difficult to get in Thailand. As a foreigner, I feel like I have more rights and protection in Korea than I do in Thailand. Both countries are APEC members. I recently applied for my APEC travel card. I have neither a criminal background nor any problem in any country. Korea was very quick to give me APEC pre-clearance. Thailand, on the other hand, has a huge backlog that may never clear. Of the 21 or so APEC countries, about 16 give criminal background pre-clearances that are then linked electronically to your APEC travel card. Korea was one of the first to clear me, right up there with Singapore and Hong Kong. I don’t know if I will ever get my Thai APEC clearance, and other business guys like me that I have talked to have confirmed that it takes the Thais as long as six months to process APEC travel clearances.

Pay For Pussy:

If you can’t get laid in Korea, it is only because you aren’t trying. I have a steady Korean girlfriend, and she is a gem. I have also mongered all over Korea, and I have been accepted in every P4P place, including double-pole barber shops, spas, massage rooms, blow job rooms, hand job rooms, and room salons. In Thailand, the pay-for-sex scene is easy for foreigners to find only if you are in the big cities. In Korea, it is everywhere, and it is worth knowing the distinction between a double-pole and a four-pole barber shop, and between an “anh ma” and a “man’s resting station”. From the smallest village to Seoul, there is sex for sale in every imaginable venue, and there is actually more of it commercially available than in Thailand. However, the actual brothel scene in Korea (“Pink Lady Rooms”) seems to be going away, but that only helps the higher end “massage” trade.

Dating:

If you are under age 40, and if you can bring yourself to learn just a few words of Korean, you can get laid by the horniest most beautiful college cuties on the planet. I have younger associates in my business that have had very good luck here. You have to be open-minded, adventurous and adaptable. My friends pick up the little cuties in bars, shops, restaurants and PC rooms.

Foreigner Enclaves:

There is nothing in Korea that compares to the Sukhumvit Falang Ghetto (thank you God) or to the Russian mobster-controlled Pattaya Beach (Thanks again, Lord). There are, however, some uniquely foreigner friendly upscale places in Korea in Seoul, Busan (Hyundae Beach) and in planned foreigner-friendly cities like Chang Won. For a taste of America, simply go to the shopping areas that are just outside any of the USA’s military bases in Korea. If you are former USA military (as I am) you may also be able to get on base, and even shop in the commissary and the PX.

Religion:

I would say that on the surface of things, both Korea and Thailand are equally tolerant of other religions. Korea is almost 50/50 Buddhist and Christian, and everybody gets along, with neither side especially trying to convert the other. On the other hand, Thailand has all of those Islamic Jihadists in the south of Thailand that have learned how to set off bombs, so maybe Thailand is not the place to practice religious diversity.

Education:

Korea produces world-class smart kids that easily compete in the world arena. Thailand does not. The current crop of Korean students are becoming tri-lingual, learning English as a second language and Chinese as a third language. Interesting factoid: The largest group of foreign businessmen permanently in resident in mainland China is Korean, not Japanese, not American.

Communications:

Korea has a better infrastructure, but a less friendly system. It is easy for a foreigner to find a way to get a SIM card based telephone quickly and anonymously in Thailand. Korea uses a very high quality – and somewhat unfriendly – CDMA system. All communications gear in Korea is registered, and foreigners can only get telephone and Internet service if they have a resident visa that is based on work, or retirement, or education. One way around this, however, is to go to used phone shops in Korea that sell used pre-paid (top-up card, already registered) phones. These phone shops can be found everywhere outside the USA military bases, and if you are lucky, you can buy a used phone that was once owned by a Russian prostitute, or a Filipino exotic dancer, or an American soldier. You can have a lot of fun with this the first few days that you have the telephone. Explain to the caller that you are the new “booking agent” for the Filipino whore, and tell him which Western Union account to wire his money to . . .

Ah, Korea, Land of the Morning Calm. You just have to be adaptable, that’s all.

Stickman's thoughts:

Very interesting indeed. It is fascinating to hear reports of other countries in the region and how they compare with Thailand on many different levels.

The author can be reached at [email protected]