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Comparing the Philippines and Thailand: A Different View

Some background:

I am a non-English speaking 30-year old married to a Filipina. I have known my wife for 7 years now and met her when she was doing a Masters in Belgium. I stayed in Thailand for a total of 6 months, 1 month at a boxing camp, 4 months travelling around and 1 month in my Thai friend’s home. I stayed a total of over 1 year and a half in the Philippines, most of it in the village of my wife.

Before that I lived 2 years with my wife in Belgium and used to hang out with her Filipino friends (co-students). I have also had a relationship with a Thai girl when I was younger and we lived together for 2 years also with some of her family members and friends always present.

Everything I wrote before is to explain how much or how little experience I have with Thai and Filipino culture and people.

The country:

The first time I visited Thailand I went to Phuket and believed I was in paradise. I had never been to the tropics and believed Koh Phi Phi was the most beautiful place on earth. I loved driving around on a motorcycle on Phuket Island and couldn’t believe the beauty. Fast forward 2 years I visited Phuket again, but by them I had experienced the beauty of the Philippines. Well I did not like it anymore at all, I was even asking myself how I could have found a place like that to be beautiful. Even Maya Bay with all its tourists and speedboats on the beach didn’t do it for me any more. This was because I was used to the non-touristic beaches and deserted islands of the Philippines. How often I took a boat to a small island just to have some drinks and food with a friend, something I never had the chance to do in Thailand. I must say, maybe I am not so good at comparing because I compare non touristic areas of the Pinas with touristic ones of Thailand. The problem is, most beautiful places of Thailand became touristic. When I visit a touristic place in the Philippines, like Panglao beach in Bohol I don’t like it either, a beach full of speed boats is not what I call paradise.

Of course now I have been comparing the south of Thailand to the Philippines. Due to what the Philippines have to offer I will never again visit that part of Thailand but I fell in love with the North, especially Mae Hong Son just after the rainy season when everything is nice and green. I did the Mae Hong Son loop multiple times, not only during sunny days but also in the fog and rain, I even ended up crashing a bike on that road.

Another thing I noticed is that when you step out of an air-con room in Thailand you feel as if you are entering a sauna. When you do the same in the Philippines you feel like you just stepped into a steam bath, it is so humid there that everything is rusting and lots of things get mould.

So to summarize, I prefer the Philippines compared to the South of Thailand but the North has a special place in my heart.

The people:

The first time I went to the Philippines I had been in Thailand already so I expected the people to be as polite, even over polite. My first experience of the real Philippines was in a shop. I said hello to the sales lady and she answered by not smiling and raising her eyebrows. When I asked her “excuse me where can I find X” and she just pointed towards it with her lips. Those are typical ways for Filipinos of interacting but I felt so offended that I wanted to take a plane to Thailand that instant.

Now I must say if you go to a touristic are like a shopping mall in Cebu or Manila, or a restaurant or shop in Manila airport people will be over-polite “thank you sir, yes sir, please sir”, it even becomes annoying because you notice they are trained to talk like that.

After staying in the Philippines I got used to the way Filipinos talk and interact, how they use a lot of facial expressions etc. I don’t expect people to say hello, goodbye or thank you anymore, because it simply isn’t in their culture (remember I still talk about the provinces). Once I got used to how Filipinos interact I started to really like them and got along well with all people in the village or had pleasant interactions with strangers everywhere I went. On Sundays for example I couldn’t walk 10 metres in the village or people would be shouting at me (at 7 AM or so) to drink with them “Hey, Amigo, come join us!” while before they didn’t even reply to my smiles or hello because they were just too scared to talk English or talk to the foreigner. The lack of politeness compared to Thailand didn’t bother me anymore because at least I was treated fair. I’ll give you 2 examples. One time I took a tricycle in Bohol, so quite touristic. The driver said no hello, no smile, no please, no thank you but gave me the exact change as if I was a local without even trying or thinking to rip me off (I didn’t even have an idea of what the going rate was and he knew I just got off the boat because that is where he picked me up). Another example: when I took the bus with my wife we both always paid 50 pesos. When my wife took the bus alone she paid 50 pesos, but whenever I took the bus alone and gave 50 pesos they gave me 10 pesos change back and I never knew why. Later I learned that students only have to pay 40 pesos and because I was young (late 20s) and there was a university nearby they believed I was a student so I only had to pay 40 pesos. Can you imagine this happening In Thailand?

Because I stayed there for such a long time I made a lot of friends in the Philippines because once you get to know them it is very easy to form friendships with Filipinos, with people of all classes. I made friends with tricycle drivers, laborers, university teachers, medical doctors and politicians. In Thailand that is not so easy. Because Thais seem more reserved and there is a language and cultural barrier. Still my best friends (I still consider them my best friends in Asia) are a Thai couple. I lived in their house and they never asked me anything in return. They were middle class and everywhere we went we paid half : half. We still keep in contact once a month and even when writing this I miss them.

To give a short view of how I compare Thai people to Filipinos:

When arriving in the Pinas coming from Thailand I have to get used to the lack of smiles. But when arriving in Thailand coming from the Philippines I find people cold and have to get used to it also…

The ideal mix between both cultures I find in Cambodia, the people are open and macho as Filipinos but polite as Thais.

The food:

I don’t even have to write about this because it is obvious Thai food is way better, and even my Filipina wife shares this opinion. In the Philippines food is more expensive, greasy and all restaurants are franchises. There is a lot of influence from the US (fast food) and Spanish (Lechon) culture. There really is a reason why Filipinos are everywhere but you only see Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants.

The beer however (San Miguel and Red Horse) is much better in the Philippines and a lot cheaper.

As is the good and dirt cheap Tanduay rhum. My favorite drink in the Philippines is still coconut wine with Pepsi which goes for less than 100 pesos a gallon (!) and can only be found in the provinces. A lot of times you’ll see groups of Filipinos sitting around emptying a few gallons and having a good time. I once was drinking with a group and my friend hit another guy on the back (friendly) and the guy fell over in the dirt. The coconut wine made us think up the ideal solution to clean him up so we carried him to the sea, threw him in the water, got him back out and delivered him soaking wet and drunk as a whale in the middle of the night to his 78-year old father…it’s so much fun in the Philippines!


I must say I felt really safe in Thailand and I was surprised not to see armed guard at shopping malls. In the Philippines even a small shop has guards with shot guns and you get searched for weapons before you enter a mall or big shop. Aside from the shop I’ve read a lot of horror stories in the local newspaper and a friend I made in the Philippines got killed because he used the horn of his car, no joke! Walking around in Bangkok at night I felt safer than inside a taxi in Cebu or Manila.


This is my big issue with the Philippines. Everybody knows the big cities like Manila are very, very polluted but I suffer the most in the provinces. During the day people burn rice fields, garbage, cook with firewood…you are always in the smoke and it made me so sick at one time that I had to escape to Chiang Mai to get some fresh air. Keep in mind it was burning season in CM at that time and still I found the air fresh compared to the Philippines. Even if the mayor bought a garbage truck and installed garbage cans in the village everybody kept on burning garbage and nobody did anything to enforce the law. The big garbage belt was also burned every day by scavengers and you can image what that did for the air quality. I spoke to a lung specialist in the Philippines and he told me the level of lung issues, irreversible issues, where really high, and all of that was in the provinces between the rain forest and the sea! Another thing is that a lot of the garbage in the Philippines ends up in the rivers, from where it ends up in the sea and eventually on the beach. I have not really seen much of this in Thailand but can imagine it happens in remote areas. The only remote areas I visited were very clean and quiet, there were no young children, as if all people left the villages to go work in the cities. In the Philippines you see babies and kids everywhere. This huge population boom will lead to a lot of trouble in the long run, knowing the population is more than ten times what it was less than 100 years ago.

My dreams:

Ever since I stayed in South-East Asia for a while I cannot stop thinking of going back, this time forever.

If I could choose I would stay in Thailand mainly because of the safety and lack of pollution. But I would really miss the contact I have with the Filipinos. In the short time I stayed there it started to feel like home. Because my wife is Filipina there is little to no chance we will ever move to Thailand but her home country is still an option. If she chose we would have been there already. Time will tell…

Stickman's thoughts:

There is certainly some movement between the Philippines and Thailand but in recent times I would have to say that amongst retirees at least, more seem to be moving from Thailand to the Philippines than the other way around – at least that is how it is amongst people I know.