1 Year In Thailand – Lessons On Business, People And Love
As I alluded to in my first post, I wish I had found this site before embarking on my Thai adventure. It would certainly have saved me a lot of problems that I ended up facing. Yet at the same time I am glad that I learnt these lessons because I fell in love with the country regardless of what transpired – and I made a vow to one day return. These lessons have prepared me in more ways than one and I thought I’d share these lessons with any person who wishes to move to Thailand in the future.
Now let me tell you straight up that I’m not your typical farang. I grew up in South Africa and I’ve worked all over the continent. As much as people worry about Thais, trust me, they have nothing on Nigerians, Congolese and all the rest of them. So I considered myself pretty street smart and this showed when my American and European friends would get hustled while I was pretty resistant to it.
Good God, how wrong was I? No matter how street smart you are on the surface there are multiple layers of hustlers in Thailand and if the first 10 layers don’t get you then eventually one layer will – and I am man enough to admit that I got hustled something bad. And with all good hustles you only realise it after the fact – but if we can learn from these lessons and pass on advice to others in our community, we all become more resistant.
So this story starts in 2010. I was 26 years old working on an oil contract in Nigeria as the head of catering of the project. The money was great but the lifestyle was lacking a bit. I decided I was going to do my Masters in Switzerland but before that I would teach English in Thailand.
I flew over and basically from when the plane touched down and I looked around I knew that I loved this country. I’ve been all over the world but this was just something special. So I arrive at the hotel, meet the fellow teachers and we go out for a night on the town. We did the whole teaching camp thing and then we set off to our various jobs.
They placed me in the north of Thailand and it really was a beautiful little village. But here was the problem for me – I went from having over 500 people working under me to having over 500 little brats not listening to me. The adjustment was just too big. Now although I was young I ran a good project and people respected and feared me – this was not the case at the high school. To me teaching requires a certain type of personality and maybe I could do it now being a tad older and calmer – but after working with oil workers and Nigerian peasants my mind-set was simply not right. Another factor was that I just didn’t need the money! I had more than enough in my bank account and decided to call it quits with the school before we wasted each other's time any more and decided I was going to travel around and enjoy myself for the next 3 months before I went off to Switzerland.
I ended up in Koh Samui and one night at a pretty well known nightclub I met with the owner (let's call him Joe) and we started talking about the industry in general and he loved my ideas. He suggested I buy 20% of his business and take over management. Now I had to weigh up my options. I already had an honours degree and if the shit hit the fan I could always join the family business or go back to work in Africa, but the chance to run a club in Thailand wouldn’t come up every day.
I drew up a contract stating the following:
• I would pay a certain amount as a deposit for a 20% share of the business.
• I had a cooling off period where after 5 months if the business was not showing a respectable rate of ROI I would have my deposit returned to me.
• In return for this I wouldn’t draw a salary from the business until the 5 months had elapsed after which I would be paid a performance based salary and my deposit amount would be converted into shares.
• This was all signed by myself, a well-known lawyer on the island and Joe.
The place was in a horrible state in terms of financial record keeping, stock control and training to name but a few. I put in systems that these guys had never even heard of, the staff were all given training programs and even the cleaner was given a cleaning regiment which she had never had before. Things were looking good until the red shirt riots hit, numbers went down but through me being able to control the cashflow we weathered the storm.
I met a great girl. Let’s call her Annie. She was fluent in English, had a stable job and had an honours degree from Bangkok University. She had a few tattoos which I really don’t like to see in a girl but I have one so who the hell am I to judge, right?
Annie was there every night drinking off my tab which I didn’t mind too much as I don’t drink while I am at work but then started getting a bit flirty with guys. I turned a blind eye – I really despise jealousy and not being an ugly fellow I felt secure that she couldn’t do much better than me anyway.
Joe was never present at the business but that was fine with me. He was one of the laziest human beings I ever met and didn’t really add anything to the business. What did strike me as odd as the fact that I wouldn’t be able to get hold of him for days at a time.
Things were looking up until the customers started drying up all along the street where the club is situated. Then early morning I arrived at the venue and noticed the electricity box had been removed. I called around and found out that the business owed the electric company over 200,000 baht. Now it clearly stated in my contract that I was not liable for any monies previously owed. It was Joe and his wife Tak that were responsible for utility payments as I set aside a certain amount each month for this purpose.
I immediately called Tak who let me state straight away is the only person who I can say without doubt has integrity out of all the people I met. She then started sobbing and told me that Joe was a heroin addict and that all the money was gone!
My heart sank! This is a man with a new born baby and a wonderful wife. I had even had tea with him and his mother, and the last thing I suspected was for him to be a junkie. Now from working on my projects in Africa let me tell you straight away that there are no problems that I run away from. I always make a plan and fix things, and the last thing you want to do is panic. High season was around the corner so if we could weather this storm we’d be able to come out on top – there was light at the end of the tunnel.
I thanked Tak for her honesty and took another large portion of cash and together with Joe who managed to get the rest (I assumed from my deposit) we were able to reopen the club. I was now to deal with all the cash and Joe was to stay away.
Back to Annie who informed me how she still missed her ex-boyfriend from Sweden. She wouldn’t stop talking about it and I tried to be the understanding new guy. The flirting with other guys got progressively worse. She then moved out of her place and into my place. This now meant that I was buying the food and paying the rent – she would go to work and then go out and get hammered drunk with her mates, arrive at my club and drink to her heart's content off my tab.
I was growing increasingly suspicious of her, and for good reason. I hate myself for it to this day but I checked her cell phone messages while she was sleeping. There were messages to other guys about how much she enjoyed being around them and all the rest, nothing to arouse my suspicions. Then I saw a text to her ex-boyfriend about how much she loves and misses him. I was hurt but then again I had to empathise as I remembered when I got out of a long term relationship how much it can all hurt.
But then I saw a text to a Spanish guy suggesting they go out for dinner the next night. Now was my chance to see if my suspicions would be confirmed. They were to meet at 8 PM. At about 6 PM I suggested we go out for a bite to eat – we ended up going to a Thai BBQ joint and then walked back home. She started to shower and get dressed up. I asked her where she was going and she said she was meeting her friend Oh. I knew Oh pretty well and then suggested I join her. She refused saying they wanted a girls' night out to talk business. I knew they were going out to a specific restaurant, her and the Spanish guy. I then called her and said I knew what she was doing and that she better stay at his house that night because I was kicking her out. She came straight home and cried and performed and stated how sorry she was but he was just a friend.
Thailand had beaten me, I was a hard as nails youngster that had the world by the balls that wouldn’t take shit from a Nigerian oil worker yet here was this sneaky, lying little Thai who managed to convince me to come out with her for a drink and meet the guy who clearly wanted to bed her. I shook his hand and watched as they flirted, drank off my tab and danced around the whole night. I felt like a fxxxing cuckold! But after all the shit that happened to me I really was so weak in my soul that I couldn’t fight anything anymore.
The business wasn’t doing well – not for a lack of trying on my part. The external factors were just too numerous. The red shirt riots had hurt Thailand's credibility as a tourist destination, the planes in Europe were grounded because of frozen runways so high season wasn’t so high and the stronger baht and global economy meant that tourists couldn’t spend as liberally as before.
Half a year earlier I had been earning a crazy salary, had the respect of my staff and was planning to do my masters in Switzerland at one of the most prestigious universities in the world and now I was dating a two-timing Thai and had a failing business who’s debts were through the roof.
What other debts? Well it turns out Joe had borrowed money from a local strongman. You see I thought my deposit was used to clear the debts but Joe had wasted all of that on heroin. I then exercised the clause in my contract whereby my deposit should be returned to me. That night Annie and me went out for dinner and when we got back the house had been broken into. The contacts, my laptop and everything were gone. This was clearly Joe’s work, of that I had no doubt, but he was mistaken – I was smarter than that. I had electronic copies and went to see the lawyer the next day.
Tak begged me not to take it the legal route and guaranteed that I would get my deposit back. I trusted her and to this day I still believe she wants to pay me. I had another opportunity that beckoned anyway – a group of French and American investors had heard of my work and wanted me to move to Phuket to set up a new venture with them.
I thought that it was Koh Samui that was doing this to Annie and decided that the best thing to do would be to give her a chance and take her to Phuket with me. We stayed in a hotel which of course I paid for in full without any contribution from her. I then went to a series of meetings and we had a perfect location in Bangla Road we were going to take over.
The major American investor, Bob, had his misgivings about the property and pulled out. I had no income and was down to my last few baht. I picked up the phone to call the parents. Now my parents are wealthy people but I have never had to ask them for anything so this was the ultimate humiliation for me. They agreed to buy me a plane ticket back to South Africa.
I gave Annie 5000 baht and then set off on the journey back to Africa. I also arranged a ticket for her to fly home to see her family. My French partner had dinner at a hotel with some potential Thai investors and then he saw Annie walking around with another guy. This was literally 2 hours after I left Phuket.
From my hotel in Bangkok I phoned her to ask her why I couldn’t get hold of her at the hotel which I paid for her to stay at. She gave me some sob story about how she wanted to get a cheaper place. I then asked her what the name of the new hotel she was staying at was – and she said she didn’t know. Enough with the games! I told her that I knew she was at a hotel with another man, that my partner had seen her. She went silent and started crying. I then informed her that this was the happiest day of my life – that I would finally be rid of her. She begged and pleaded for me to fly back over but my mind was made up!
This would be my last night in Thailand and I ran a bath and got in. I felt a massive sense of relief immersing myself in the bubble bath and thinking of the craziest year of my life! I lay there so happy knowing that when I left the bathroom I wouldn’t have this little Thai leech waiting for me in the room. No longer would I have to pay for everything, no longer would I have to worry about who she was messaging and no longer would I be victim of her psychological games and mood swings.
But at the same time I felt a sense of loss – wondering how this journey which started out with so much hope had been crushed. How could I who is so strong and smart become victim to all of this?
As I exited the bathroom, what was in front of me was an empty bed. I looked out of the window and saw the Bangkok city lights. I felt a renewed energy – the leech wasn’t there! My strength came back, my balls grew and I felt my power come back. I immediately cancelled her flight back home and took the money and met my mates out for a night out on the town!
I took a Thai girl back into my bedroom and ravaged her! I woke up next to this beautiful, naked, golden-brown body and had my second round. I had breakfast with her and she suggested that we meet up later because she really liked me. This all sounded too familiar – this is how Annie baited me although with Annie I never had to pay and it didn’t happen on the first night. I told her I didn’t think it was a good idea as, after all, I had 3 days left in Bangkok. She smiled and said goodbye. As I sat there seeing her walk into the distance I realized that what I had done was set up a boundary – I had said no! With Annie I never said no. I couldn’t, it just wasn’t in me. With my balls firmly reattached I spent the next 3 days in Bangkok living it up with my mates and having the time of my life. I got on the plane with my last memories of Thailand being just as positive as my first and as we took off I vowed I would return a wiser man.
How did I end up? Well I joined a multi-national franchise company of which I am a minority shareholder. I recently got an offer on my shares for the local portion of my business which leaves the international expansion firmly in my hands. I am travelling to the Middle East and African opening stores and the money is great. I am working with a team of professionals who love to exchange ideas and who share the same work ethic as I do. I have life by the balls again!
My experience in Thailand made me twice the man I was before. I really do believe that. I have never fallen so hard in my life and I am just lucky that I had the family and support structure that allowed me to escape. I am also lucky that I am young enough to start all over again. What this experience ultimately taught me is that no matter what challenges life throws at you, the human spirit ultimately will triumph, that good will beat evil no matter how unlikely it seems at the time. Don’t believe me?
Well Joe is now in hiding as the mafia are after him. Rumour has it he is stuck in Cambodia and cannot get back into Thailand – I have it on good authority that he will not live to see the new year.
Tak is running a new business and is separated from Joe. She is working hard to raise their young child and is still making a plan to get my money back from me. I’ve basically written it off, insisting any money that is owed to me be used to educate their child.
Annie got a plane ticket back home from the other guy she was screwing in Phuket. She stayed with her family in Isaan and sent me a host of rotten e-mails claiming how I am going to hell for my sins. She managed to hustle her way back to Koh Samui where she met a British guy 3 years her junior who set her up in a business in Bangkok and flew her over to England to stay with him for a few months. There he was able to see her true colours as she was flirting with every Tom, Dick and Harry and basically sent her back home. She lost her business without money from the British guy to sustain it and is apparently now dating a Dutch guy even younger than the Brit who has set her up in a beauty salon. I have no doubt that once her looks disappear this vicious cycle will continue, but while there are impressionable foreigners who are attracted to her the vicious circle will continue.
So what are the lessons I learnt? And how will I do things differently?
• Be sure to go through a reputable broker rather than just meeting somebody like I did. The broker will dispense invaluable advice to you.
• Make sure the owner of the business stays on for at least a month to show you how to run the business “Thai style”. In some instances there are police, immigration and street “mafia” to pay, these are a necessary evil and these tributes as I refer to them go a long way to improving relationships with locals.
• Do as much due diligence as you can: I was so excited about the prospect of running a club in paradise that I failed on this part. Had I taken the time to ask the locals about Joe I have no doubt that it would have come up that he was a junkie and I would have stayed far away.
• Consider the external factors: While we can control what happens internally in our business it's hard to predict external problems. Build up adequate cash reserves so that if red shirt riots or floods occur you can weather the storm.
• Stick to your core competencies: If you are a plumber in England don’t think you will be a savvy restaurateur in Thailand. If you intend to open a club or restaurant in Thailand first study your backside off and learn the ins and outs of how to operate such a business. Rather offer to work for free at a restaurant back home and learn the business instead of making mistakes in your own restaurant. I was an expert in my field and this is the only reason why the bar didn’t go bankrupt in the first month I was there.
• Consider a franchise: 9/10 first time businesses fail while 9/10 franchises succeed. With a franchise you will get nearly all of the advice that is on offer here. It’s probably more expensive but you will have a support structure which is vital in this part of the world.
• Ensure your legal advice is from a 3rd party: with us both using the same lawyer a conflict of interest arose. Make sure you go through a different lawyer who will have you best interests at heart.
• Learn the culture: vital! Don’t think as a tourist you know it all. There is so much more to Thai culture than meets the eye. If you don’t know about face for example you are in for a lot of shit in the long term. Read articles on this website, browse the web and even consider taking cultural classes when arriving in the country. Trust me, it will save you a lot of hassles. The only reason I didn’t have problems is because of growing up in Africa where much of the same cultural aspects apply.
• Attempt to have a passive income stream: This to me is the most important if you really do want to stay there for the long term. If you want to move to Thailand in say 5 years begin investing today so that in 5 years you will have a guaranteed monthly income. Even look at renting your house out for example. Personally I will have a monthly royalty stream coming in from my franchises that will sustain me in the bare months. And believe you me if you intend living in one of the tourist hot spots there will be bare months where every little bit will help you. Nobody wants to go to bed hungry no matter how beautiful the country.
Due Diligence: I have to repeat this again! While due diligence for a business does follow a process where generally one can see what debts are outstanding for example, remember that whatever your business it's only as strong as the people you are associated with. In the event of a partnership for example, ensure this person has a good standing in the local community and check people who worked with him before, and see what they have to say. They are easy to find! Ask a few locals and contact the previous partners on Facebook for example. If I had done this before I met Joe I would never have touched him with a pole.
Trust: This country is FULL of scammers. Do not just trust someone because they have the same colour skin as you or are from the same country as you are. Make sure people earn your trust, don’t give it away.
Money: don’t lend people money! It will only lead to shit. This place is full of broke foreigners trying to find any way they can to sustain their mongering. The same goes for the Thais, you will hear every sob story imaginable. When should you lend money? See above!
Money: beware! A lot of Thai women equate love to money. Your challenge is to filter through the gold diggers and the good girls. Annie was with me because she thought her big pay day was coming. Thank God it never came.
Loyalty: The scariest part about Annie was that she didn’t think what she was doing was wrong. The cultural definitions of loyalty varies or maybe it was just her, I don’t know. But you may find your Thai lovely has a completely different set of values to you and the only loyalty she has is to her family and most important to her, herself!
Research: I don’t give a SHIT about what anybody says about trust and all that. It’s for the dogs. In future if I meet a Thai girl I feel strongly about I will hire a private investigator to dig up everything I can about her. Rather the animal you know! If she is honest about her past and her present we can overcome anything, but if she is being economical with the truth then I’d rather learn it before I get taken for a ride that I wouldn’t want to be on.
Cheating: if she is constantly taking phone calls outside the room, if she is on Facebook and every time you walk past she turns the screen there are other guys involved. I’d be willing to bet on it.
Flirtation: there is a vast difference between talking to a guy and flirting with him. Annie was a terrible flirt and it enraged me and she knew it. If she is constantly flirting with other guys in front of you – move on. There may be lots of options for her, but there are far more out there for you!
Boundaries: I never had Annie respect me and be all over me after I called her on her bullshit. The one day she threatened to leave me and began packing her bags. I helped her pack and told I couldn’t wait for her to leave. She backtracked, hugged me and the ball was back in my court. With your new Thai love, build the boundaries STRAIGHT AWAY! If she flirts with other guys and it bothers you then leave her there! If she starts throwing tantrums, kick her out of the house. Don’t take shit from her! This is the biggest lesson I learnt – not to take shit from anybody, especially Thai women.
Personally when I do return to Thailand I will be far more careful. The lessons I learnt just mean I know what I’m going into and am far more prepared. Luckily I am young enough to be able to have learnt and am able to return. I will have a passive income from my overseas restaurants, I know a good franchise who I will partner to ensure I have something to keep me busy and if I meet a Thai girl whom I fancy I will look at all the warning signs before I commit myself.
There is something I forgot during my year there – I am the man! It might sound arrogant but it’s true. I am educated, I work hard and I am ethical. I don’t have to take the shit I was willing to accept while I was there. There are plenty of people who want to work with me as I found out with the group who wanted to open a club in Phuket. There are plenty of Thai girls out there that would kill for someone like me. Nobody is doing me any favours – I am doing them a favour.
If something about a person does feel right or if a girl starts acting like she is doing me a favour then I am going to do what I wish I had done with Annie and Joe – I’ll simply walk away, I’ll shut that door because there will always be another one that opens.
Thanks to all the readers for taking the time to read this and to Stick for publishing it. Quite a lot of content but if I can help even one person avoid my mistakes then it would not have been a waste of time.
I think one measure of character is how we respond to the challenges life throws at us. As a young man in a new country where a lot of crazy stuff is happening and one doesn't understand a lot of what is going on around him, you made a few mistakes of the sort you probably wouldn't make at home. There's no shame in that. You have then showed true character in the way you responded to them, overcome them and put them behind you, and are now living a good, clean and successful life. Well done!