The 10 Commandments – LOS Changes From A Middle-Aged Expat Perspective
I decided to add my two cents after reading the Anonymous submission from a few weeks ago. He wrote about a young person's viewpoint of changes happening in Thailand. I decided that a middle-aged expat's perspective is needed as well.
I am far from an expert on the topic having just spent over 3 years in Pattaya in this decade but thanks to Stickman's intensive school of LOS knowledge, having read all his columns and most of the readable submissions going back 8-10 years, together with all my personal experiences I have managed to get my own point of view.
Let me use this occasion to thank Stickman for all his contributions to all of us full and part-time expats in LOS. Thanks to your hard work, many of us who prefer to learn from the mistakes of others, instead of our own have avoided many of the problems, pitfalls and scams which are inevitable to most if not all long term visitors in Thailand.
This is my main reason for writing this long submission so my own and other Stickman readers experiences can be helpful to new expats to LOS young or old. Please remember that my point of view is Pattaya-oriented and might be not 100% accurate in other parts of Thailand.
I am 52 years old and semi-retired at age 38 and spend 6-7 months every year away from North America. During 2000-2006, I spent more than 2 years in a Caribbean country, 2006 to 2010 over 2 years in Philippines and since then Pattaya has become my second "home". I mention that because I might not be a long timer in Thailand but having spent over 7 years abroad this century as a part time expat had given me a unique perspective not only on changes in LOS but how Thailand compares to the Philippines and other countries.
Before I start my arguments, I have to disclose that I'm not the usual Pattaya expat. I don't drink beer (nothing personal against beer, I just dislike the idea of having a beer belly) nor do I set foot in beer bars even though go out almost every night while in Thailand. My point of view might not be unique but I am sure it's not a common one either because since my childhood I have never been a going along with the crowd sort of person. I have always extensively researched every place I lived in and that has helped me avoid many common mistakes.
Coming back to the subject at hand, I agree that Thailand has in many ways progressed from a typical 3rd world country 20-30 years ago to a hybrid between poorer neighbours and richer Asian nations. Another significant change is that most long term expats in Thailand have not only aged but gone way past the honeymoon period as well during that time.
Many arguments are about the negative changes in Thais' attitudes towards farangs. IMHO it's only natural with the economic progress that LOS has gone through in the last 2 decades and the extreme increase the number of tourists and expats in their country over that time. For several reasons: large number of tourists and expats, proud Thai heritage, semi official army policy on blaming some problems in LOS on foreigners and other reasons as well there are Thais that dislike or even hate farangs, especially in tourists areas. Overall, in my opinion it's not a large number compared to the total population. Bottom line is that if you treat Thais with respect or at least indifference, 99% of time you will be treated accordingly. I never get involved in their business even if I see things that are unacceptable by our western point of view and except for a few minor arguments in the first few months here, I have managed to avoid any medium or major problems. BTW, I understand that it is not an easy feat to always mind your business if you have had a few drinks when you are out and see questionable behaviour, but if you want to live here long term without headaches this is the only way. Lucky for me, I have never witnessed extreme aggressive behaviour towards a follow tourist or expat yet, so never had the moral dilemma of whether to follow my own rules.
There are many negative opinions about the army takeover and the impact on us expats and tourism in general. I have a pragmatic view that in many aspects of our life in LOS in last few years since the takeover, things have changed for the better. I'm talking from an expat perspective which has no political affiliations or opinions on Thai politics. It's much more peaceful and as major changes in Thailand are almost impossible, but small adjustments are visible. It's much safer in Pattaya than a few years ago <Really? Friends living in Pattaya tell me otherwise – Stick>, open season on farangs where bouncers or regular Thais could beat you to pulp with almost complete impunity are over. I feel much safer than a few years ago. As an example, at that time ladyboys were just unbearable and out of control but now on Walking Street they are much more low profile and not as aggressive. I'm not trying to say that all the changes are positive for the average Thai, only that some of the reforms have made our lives and safety a bit better and easier.
As far as the safety argument is concerned, I have in my lifetime visited 30 – 40 countries and Thailand is one of the few places where I feel relatively safe, especially when I walk at night. I would easily put LOS in the top 5 countries where I feel safest just because of that. I'm not implying that it's a super safe country (especially with the number of guns around), only that it has been safe for me over the years using my 10 rules and minding my own business. Stickman used the argument that New Zealand is safer (I haven't visited New Zealand or Australia) but from what I heard New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world so it's hard to compare safety there with Thailand. In summary, if you are street smart, are careful of people and crazy traffic and of course a bit lucky then chances are you will find most of Thailand relatively safe.
Just to recap my arguments, here are a few of my humble 10 "Commandments" (some if not many learned from Stickman himself or his readers) that every smart expat should follow in Thailand to survive and enjoy Thailand for an extended time, even past the honeymoon period:
1/ Be respectful or at least indifferent to Thais regardless of their age, sex or stature. Mind your own business, let Thais fix problems among themselves. Forget about right and wrong, even if you are right in an small argument it's better to walk away smiling. The other choice – you can be right but be beaten up or worse.
2/ Do not own or operate any motor vehicle in Thailand. That's a crazy rule for a person who drove a car for the last 36 years but it's the only way in my opinion to avoid a visit to the hospital or worse, the morgue. The statistics for road accidents in Thailand are just mind-boggling and being even a professional car or bike driver does not make you immune from potential accidents as many Thai drivers are not well educated in the rules of road and completely unpredictable at times. That's one of the main reasons I love Pattaya since I can walk everywhere – it's a paradox, a small city with a huge influx of people. I don't even use motorbike taxis since at night some of them are more drunk than their customers! It takes me 10 – 15 minutes everyday to walk to Walking Street, drink my daily dosage of 250-300 ml of vodka on the way, watch people around me and on Walking Street – my most enjoyable time during the day and only then go party. I never drive bicycles / bikes as well, since even cycling can be dangerous. When you walk, be extremely careful even on a rare sidewalk and always – and I mean always – walk against the traffic so at least you have a chance to jump away if a drunk is going to hit you. Another pitfall of using bikes which are extremely convenient in Pattaya are the stray dogs who love to bite passing bikes drivers' legs and cause completely unnecessary accidents.
3/ Do not over drink, become an alcoholic or walk around drunk in Thailand. Do not drive any motor vehicle after a few drinks. Just because some people got away with bribes in the past does not mean that it will be true in the future. That's the biggest change I have noticed and am happy with lately in Pattaya – you might not get away with it even with a large contribution, to say nothing of the stupidity in endangering others or yourself. If you show that you are under influence, take a taxi home straight away. It's just not safe to be out drunk, especially at night in LOS. I'm not a doctor so will not get into the topic of the health implications of daily consumption of countless beers by many Pattaya expats.
4/ It's not advisable to open a business in Thailand. There few examples of successful farang businesses in the past are an exception to the rule. It's not worth it because of the possible problems or aggravations – legal, greed and otherwise. If you are over 50, try to enjoy life without work or with minimal work at your home country. Even if your nest egg is not huge you can manage to live here quite well on a budget of US 15-25K a year if you are single. If in relationship or looking at inflation in the next 10 years, all these numbers get thrown out the window.
5/ Rent, do not own and I mean it in every aspect! Rent a condo or a home because if any medium or big argument arises in the future that will require changing the address or even moving to another country at short notice, chances are that you will lose part or all the money for those things which are immovable. On a funny note, don't rent on a high floor if you don't want to become a member of the flying club in case of disagreements with your girlfriend, her family or her other Thai partner/s.
6/ This might not be a popular view but if you are still mobile and active, rent the "better half" as well. Not going to use the argument of buying the cow when you can just buy the milk. The truth is, as uneducated as many Thai women in tourists areas are, most of them are way more street-smart in removing farangs from their hard-earned money than most of us give them credit for. The evolution of the internet in the last 10 years has a lot to do with it but underestimating the average Thai woman is a common mistake. Many of them have / had a hard life and are adjusted to do whatever has to be done to make their and their family's life better. This attitude is not unique only towards farangs but part of the culture as well in some Thai only relationships. I agree that there are many examples of successful Farang / Thai relationships but again, statistically they are a small minority although it is possible under the right circumstances. What comes to my mind is a quote from an anonymous contributor's Vietnam story about the love of a Vietnamese woman, "You might be in a long term relationship with a Viet woman but only after you die you will truly know if she loved you or pretended all that time". Your Thai long term partner might accept you, be used to you, even be respectful towards you but seldom does a Thai woman treat and love her Farang husband as well as their family which is our western norm for a loving relationship. I had a young Iranian friend few years ago who had a quote: "You should go out with a Thai lady only once because the second time is when the problems start." I don't live by that rule and have many lady friends whom I have known for some time but those who more than like me (financial or otherwise) and show any sign of jealousy quickly are no longer my friends. There is another reason for this. Prefer not to be in a relationships or have an official girlfriend because of limited funds. Being a long term expat and visitor in my own country, my business is minimal compared to 10 years ago and I am now of very limited means (that's a topic for another submission in the future – how to survive and enjoy yourself in LOS with limited funds) so any long term relationship is out of question for me financially.
7/ As a rule, avoid and get out of the way of young male Thais. This is not applicable in the case of younger expats making friends but for those of us that have crossed the Rubicon, it's a safer option. As a side rule, avoid ladyboys like the plague regardless of your sexual orientation. Just follow rule 8 and despite the dress and operations some of them go through to look as much female as possible they are still young Thai man, just more dangerous. If still in doubt and you think my opinion is too drastic, research the internet for the many beatings, killings and brutal attacks and severe injuries of young and older farangs in last few years in Pattaya. It's not just a few bad apples. To be honest I have met few quiet and trustworthy ladyboys who were friends of my friends or lady friends but IMHO they are the minority.
8/ Do not ever raise your voice in any argument, big or small, with Thais. Regardless of whether you are right or wrong, try to be respectful, smile a bit and be cool in any disagreement with Thais, if possible. This next comment might be controversial as well but at the same time do not be a pushover and do not show fear. Many if not most young or middle aged Thais regardless of their sex are fearless (you can even call it a 'stupid fearlessness') and just like an encounter with a pack of wild dogs, once you show fear you are done.
This last rule modified a lot is true for me even in foreigner on foreigner conflicts as well. I admit that in the past I was often not a happy camper and have drank a bit more and was getting in trouble sometimes but except in one situation I was able to get out of trouble by just being the more aggressive / fearless / crazy but compromising at the end if need be. Now I use alcohol like a medicine in exact dosage of 250-300 ml 40 proof to help me have a good time but not to be drunk and never ever drink anything after, just buy drinks sometimes for my lady friends. On the same note, never ever buy lady-drinks (when requested I always say a joke that it's against my religion) which is easy for me as I seldom go to gogo bars.
9/ If you live in Pattaya or a similar sized place, use the power of your own feet to move around if you still can. It's not only the best exercise and good for your health, but safer in my opinion than any other means of transportation. Mind you, you still have to be aware of what's going around you all the time and if you encounter aggressive stray dogs just bend over (just make sure there are no ladyboys around) to pretend that you are picking up a stone. In 99% of cases, even the most crazy dogs run or back away but make sure not to show any fear.
10/ Smile and be an outgoing person towards Thais. I have made tons of mostly female Thai friends with just those 2 rules and I mean many of my female friends have never been back to my place or any money changing hands. Last but not least, sanuk – be happy and enjoy yourself in LOS. You will be surprised how more enjoyable your stay will be in Thailand since sanuk is a big part of their outlook on life.
Some might think that I'm still in the honeymoon period. I humbly disagree. Having come to Thailand after few years in Philippines where people are much more pleasant and not as aggressive by nature (as if a bit against the grain of many expats leaving Thailand now for greener pastures in Philippines) allowed me for an a different perspective. In the beginning I came here mostly to lose weight (look at my submission from 2012) and liked Thailand in general but disliked Thais a bit in the first year or two due to reading all the submissions about potential problems and some mistakes and minor problems I had in the first few months. Then I made an "attitude adjustment" (read the 10 commandments) and suddenly the Thais started to grow on me to the point where now I am happy here and like not only the country as an affordable retirement destination but its people as well. During my daily walks in Pattaya I have encountered many random acts of kindness from complete strangers and that just proves to me that there are lots of nice and polite Thais who do not dislike us farangs.
The question is Thailand truly safe? If you are not careful, honestly, no. This is not the best expat destination for naive or non street-smart people.
Is it changing for the worse for us expats? In some ways absolutely, yes.
Is it changing for the better? Yes as well sometimes.
It's a glass half full, half empty argument. With a positive outlook, happiness and good karma might come to you but with a negative outlook it's highly unlikely that you will be happy in our adopted small piece of "paradise" with all its positives and drawbacks.
My simple truth is, for a single middle aged man with limited budget but not interested to live full or part time in a third world country Thailand is still on top of my list.