How Many Thailand Farang Are Broke?
Why does it feel like so many Westerners living in Thailand are broke? Thais no longer think of Caucasians in Thailand as wealthy. Today, many urban Thais think white guys in Bangkok are poor. Are they right, and if they are, what happened?
Poor or not, the profile of farangs in Thailand is changing. Expat society is no longer dominated by Americans, Brits, Germans and Scandinavians as it was just 20 years ago. Today, expat society in Thailand is so much more diverse. There are more Caucasians in Thailand than ever. There are more farang females both in number and, I suspect, in percentage terms.
Turning back the clock for a minute, I clearly remember my early days in Bangkok. The new kid on the block, in mid 1998 I was earning 33,000 baht / month base salary teaching English. I occasionally did an extra class or two which pushed up my take home pay to around 35K baht / month. I was happy with that in my first year in a new country. I guess 35,000 baht / month back then had the equivalent purchasing power of about twice that amount in Bangkok today. It was a decent salary for a teacher, but everyone I knew outside of teaching earned much, much more.
The offshore oil / gas industry workers, the foreign-hired expat fat cats and the IT specialists all earned many multiples of what us teachers made.
The Asian Economic Crisis marked the beginning of the end for expat packages which back then usually meant a car, a driver, an executive home / or a high-end apartment downtown, kids’ international school fees paid for, and maybe even the tax paid by their employer. Some even received a hardship allowance. Many expats took home north of half a million baht a month and had few monthly expenses.
Such generous expat packages are much less common these days. International companies can find employees locally, be they foreign nationals or Thais who studied abroad. Bangkok may have more expats than ever but in many cases local hire salaries aren’t what they used to be.
Many offshore oil and gas industry workers based themselves in Bangkok, while others regularly passed through. These guys earned big and partied hard. $USD 1,000 day-rates were far from uncommon. But with oil prices down, day rates are down and there’s less work around. How often do you come across offshore oil and gas guys these days?
Ditto with the guys working security in the Middle East. Many were based in Bangkok but just like the offshore oil and gas guys, I can’t remember the last time I met someone living in Bangkok who worked security in the sandpit.
Today Thailand is full of poor foreigners. Where once poor foreigners in Thailand meant those on the backpacker circuit, today it feels like Thailand is home to many broke Westerners.
I frequently hear of foreign retirees living on less than 20,000 baht per month. You just didn’t hear about poor retirees in the past. Poor farang? They were passing through. Poor resident farang? They were few and far between. Oh, there were the rumours and the sniggers about poor farang hiding out in Isaan – but did they really exist? Now poor farang are everywhere – and they’re for real!
The change in the profile of farangs in Thailand can be seen all over.
Real estate agents who deal with the top end of the market report that general enquiries and customer numbers are well down.
Foreign Chamber Of Commerce memberships are, as I understand it, in decline.
Where upmarket restaurants and bars were once dominated by wealthy white guys, now the customers are much more likely to be Thai.
And let’s not forget that there are plenty of Thai women who are reluctant to date white guys because they believe many Thailand farang are broke.
It used to be that most people you met in Thailand had a life. They had a real job, earned real money and they actually did stuff. Their life was not spent in front of a computer screen, wasting their day on a diet of Facebook, ThaiVisa and downloaded movies. Early retirees? Few and far between. Digital nomads? That wasn’t yet a thing. People had real jobs and were doing real things. Maybe they worked on the construction of the skytrain or the likes of the new airports in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. Maybe they ran the IT Department at Thai Airways.
Most Thailand farangs back in the day had a decent job that they secured from abroad, lived in an apartment similar to what they would live in if they were back in their homeland, had a car and did stuff at the weekend. In other words they were….normal!
These days Thailand feels like it is full of poor farang. Chancers, wasters, retirees on the breadline. Sure, there are lots of expats doing well for themselves, foreigners in business and wealthy retirees….but there’s a hell of a lot who just seem to exist.
Whether Thailand has become more attractive to Westerners of modest means or whether Westerners come to Thailand and lose their mind and their money, I don’t know. Probably a bit of both along with some bad luck and even worse planning. But for sure, white guys are no longer the wealthy guys in town – and locals know it.
Last week’s photo was taken from the pedestrian overbridge at the top of Sukhumvit soi 18, very close to the mouth of soi 23, and outside the Jasmine City Building. More than two dozen readers got it right – well done! This week’s photo is another building in downtown Bangkok, but which one?
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
RIP Queens’s Park Plaza.
The rumour that Queen’s Park Plaza would be sold off has been doing the rounds for at least 5 years, if not longer, which is why a friend of mine sold his bar there (which had been my local for 7 years) 2 years ago. I will be sorry to see Queen’s Park Plaza go. It was an oasis in the Bangkok desert for many of us for a long time. You describe it as ramshackle, and you are right, it is, but that was always part of the charm. One night a cat got on the roof of a bar, cocked its leg, much like a dog, and pissed all over me and my friends’ heads. Where else do you get that? Some of the most interesting and entertaining characters I have ever met in Bangkok I met in Queen’s Park Plaza, and I would much rather it survived over bland British, Irish, Aussie, Kiwi and American bars which offer nothing you can’t get back home. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but pool, Connect Four, Jenga, lucky dice etc. It is the last bar area of its kind in central Bangkok where you go to relax as opposed to partake in the sex industry, although clearly that is on offer too. I was there 7 years, and it was my local all that time. It was a great spot to relax with no hassle, no chrome poles and crucially, very few tourists. You forgot you were in the centre of a busy, polluted, vibrant capital city. And to lose it to yet another hotel that Bangkok clearly does not need and will not be able to fill (why on earth would you go to soi 22 if there were no bars?) is a further kick in the teeth. Old-style Thai bar culture has always been part of the country’s charm. No good will come of this, and Bangkok has lost a damn sight more than it realises. RIP Queens Park Plaza.
Making it work with a lady from another culture.
I agree that it takes a lot of time and effort to make a relationship between a Thai and a Foreigner work. If you meet someone from any South-East Asian country it’s very difficult. The best bet might be to meet someone from Asia in your own country, but then again they probably have the same attitude that most women in your country already have towards men.
Indians love Thailand.
I’m back in Thailand for my summer break and here are some observations. The first is that there are Indians everywhere, mostly lo-so single males. In the last 4 weeks 2 more low cost carriers announced new flights from India to Bangkok with at least 3 new flights / day which could mean 800 Indian guys arriving every day. Hua Hin night market is much busier than it was 2 years ago. All the big seafood restaurants are full, some 80% compared to 20 – 40% in 2017. It’s a mixed clientele including Chinese and a few Indians. The farang quarter in Hua Hin, however, was very quiet. Pattaya it was more of the same: Indians and Indians! There were fewer Chinese than last year. In Jomtien there are still many Ruskies and a few Westerners. Businesses looking for Westerners are doomed. Thais have been complaining about business without being asked. I was shocked in Soi Buakhao, where 2 Indian restaurants are now located in this epicentre of farangdom.
Which country has the most famous food?
You asked about the number of Thai restaurants in other parts of the world. I do a little substitute teaching in a town here in Arizona. One school asked me to substitute in a French class for a week. I said I don’t know any French. No problem was their reply, they had movies and worksheets. I wanted to give the students something more than just being a monitor. I made a sheet comparing France and Thailand. Both France and Thailand have a land area of approximately 200,000 square miles. They both have a population of around 66 million. They both have a red / white / blue striped flag. One has vertical stripes, the other has horizontal stripes. But, I asked, which of these two countries is world famous for its cuisine? The students all said in unison, “France!” I then asked, “How many French restaurants are there in Flagstaff?” The answer is 1. How many Thai restaurants are there in Flagstaff? The answer is 5. So, which country is the most famous for its food?
TM30 reporting a challenge for Facebook.
With regards to your comment on the TM30 “perhaps a Thai company loses critical foreign staff for the same reason“, this is already happening. Facebook employs a number of foreigners in Thailand and they are having issues. Facebook has decided to relocate them to the Singapore office (meaning huge hotel bills for now) until something happens with regards to the TM30 issue. There are already major corporations who are fighting this issue and it will be interesting what comes of it.
Relationships in Thailand, thoughts of a retiree.
I’m newly retired here in Bangkok. I can say unequivocally that there will be no serious relationships for me! In fact, no relationships, other than the usual transactions. As a retiree aged 60 I have no business starting a new family at this stage of my life. Moreover, those of us who have some grasp of Thai culture know that when you marry a Thai woman you marry the entire seemingly endless family. We all know the rabbit hole that’s going to take you. I enjoy being retired and single in Bangkok. Enjoying my life in my modern condo high in the sky. I fall in love 100 times a day on the BTS. No way I would give that up. As for younger guys, they should be in their home countries maximizing their earning potential years. Save the fun of Thailand for retirement.
A pal and I didn’t half get a shock around 7 PM last night when we popped in to the Biergarten and counted no less than 8 stunning beauties. I’m not being sarcastic either. These girls were top draw in anyone’s book, and on the hunt. His immediate comment, “Yep, there’s a recession on.”
Important note, Tuesday 20th August AM. When this column was first posted I mistakenly wrote that Patpong soi 1 gogo bar Safari would be changing hands and format. I got that totally wrong and what I should have written was that Sahara in Soi Cowboy was changing hands and format. My fault entirely and my apologies to all over the misunderstanding.
The number of Chinese visiting Thailand has soared in recent years and been quite a talking point. The number of Indians visiting Bangkok is on the up and this past week a few readers commented on how many Indians were in Nana Plaza. Was it perhaps a holiday in India this past week that saw lots of Indian visitors venture on the plaza, or is this simply more proof that Indian numbers are on the rise?
Could Soi Nana become a hub for Indian visitors with a new Indian club soon to open on the soi advertising for staff this week. An Indian contingent will take over what was Nana Disco on the ground floor of the Nana Hotel, giving our Indian friends even more reasons to visit Soi Nana. Here’s hoping an influx of Indians in to Soi Nana might see some decent new Indian eateries open in the soi.
Also on Soi Nana, Morning Night – one of many popular bars in the particularly well-run Hillary Group – will celebrate its 17th anniversary this coming Saturday.
A little pub has popped up on Sukhumvit, roughly opposite Terminal 21, called Tailor. It’s located very near the original Black Swan pub. Not much is known about it, other than a beer buffet special is on offer early evening. If you like small standalone bars, check it out.
Down the road in Pattaya, PJ DJ Bar on the once popular soi of beer bars, soi 7, is up for sale. Relevant details including the asking price can be seen in the ad here. I know the industry is going through difficult times, but the relatively low asking price, low rent and the fact that the bar also has a guesthouse – meaning another source of income – might make it a decent buy for the right person.
The Rugby World Cup kicks off next month in Japan and while rugby isn’t as popular as soccer in Bangkok expat circles, I still expect bars will do well over the course of the tournament. The time difference between Japan and Thailand is just two hours so Bangkok will be a good place to watch with matches kicking off in the afternoon, Thai time. As for a prediction of who is going to win the Rugby World Cup, I am not going to stick my neck out. There are half a dozen teams who could win and it’s not nearly as clear cut as the last two tournaments.
Bangkok taxis have leapt in to the 21st century with new, high-tech, digital meters. Very cool.
On Silom Road, a fake monk is trying to con tourists. He was out and about last night. A gentle reminder – monks don’t beg so don’t give anything to them!
A large new branch of 7 Eleven opened last month near the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 11. Upstairs is a coffee shop and in what must be a first for 7 Eleven, a toilet for customers. That hardly sounds like something newsworthy – but think about it, how many public toilets are there in the area? More than a few eateries don’t even have toilets which at times feel about as hard to come by in downtown Bangkok as rubbish bins.
I’m fascinated by the rewards system in place where those who photograph motorbikes riding on the footpath can claim 500 baht if the rider is caught and the fine is paid. And if “dek-waen” – the hoons whizzing around town late at night on their motorbikes causing havoc – are captured, from September a reward of 3,000 baht will be paid. Woohoo, that’s not chump change. A report in the Thai TV news yesterday stated that some Thais are making a job out of this. The report went in to detail about the camera gear they used, the settings they use to take photos at night and how they set up in place where they cannot be seen by riders. No, I don’t have any intention of taking such photos when I am in town next, but I am fascinated by it!
The latest in a very long line of farang beggars was doing his thing this week at the Onut BTS station. With a hat placed out in front of himself to accept donations, he entertains by banging his drum. Onut is a hardly an area for tourists so I wonder how a foreigner ended up begging in that part of town?
Some months ago I mentioned that a Greek and Georgian restaurant would open up in the space that was previously The American Bar & Grill in the small sub soi off Sukhumvit soi 8 best known for Lolita’s. The restaurant is Argo and its menu looks decent and should appeal to those who like Middle Eastern food. It’s on the to do list for my next visit.
From Australia comes word that a combination of outrageous partner visa fees up almost 1,000% in a little over a decade and a plummeting Australian dollar is causing many Aussies to abandon the idea of taking their Thai darling home with them. A dozen years ago the visa fees for a partner visa was less than $1,000. Today? The visa fee starts at $7,715. It gets worse. Where once children could be included on that visa application, now there is a supplementary fee payable for each child included. And where once the partner visa was processed in a few months, today the processing time is estimated at 22 – 26 months. An Australian visa agent tells me that for many Aussies, partner visas have become too pricey and too difficult.
The solution to the ongoing TM30 hassles that many expats are up in arms about is simple: Release an application that actually works with a web-based version, an IOS version and an Android version. Foreigners extending their visa should have an account set up for them and when their visa extension is approved be emailed the account details with the login and password along with info outlining the requirement to register address changes. The solution really is that simple.
The last email in the emails to Stick section of last week’s column was a sign of the times. Who can imagine we would be comparing Bangkok with Tokyo and suggesting that with a bit of forethought and planning there might not be all that much between these two cities, price-wise? I used to be very price-sensitive and definitely fell on the kee-nee-ow end of the scale; these days I am more concerned about quality and value. I am happy to pay good money for something – so long as what I buy / is served / experience is of a quality commensurate with the price. And that’s where my concern with Thailand lies these days. It’s not that Thailand is expensive per se, it’s that what you get for the money sometimes has me scratching my head. A long overdue trip to Tokyo is on the cards.
Why do so many Thai male white-collar workers dress so unimaginatively? Black pants, white shirt – every day.
Earlier today the other half was reading through comments on one of those private Facebook groups for Thai women who date / are married to foreign men. There was a thread about Thai women who go to bars to meet Thai men, that is Thai men who you have to pay to spend time with. That sector of the industry is sizeable and there are many different grades and all sorts of options available. Two things stood out. First, all those things that Western men complain about with Thai women in the bar industry are exactly the same things these ladies were complaining about. The other thing that stood out was the pricing. The ladies going to these bars appear to be middle-class and they willingly pay as much or more than foreigners do in the likes of Cowboy and Nana. 3,000 – 5,000 baht seems to be the norm – and when you include other costs such as the room and drinks beforehand, the total cost can blow out. So if you think you’re getting a raw deal, Thai women seeking pleasure from local men feel much the same way!
Reader’s story of the week comes from Kloth and is a real sad story, A Farang’s Rights In Thailand.
Quote of the week comes from CryingDick, “Visiting Thailand is like having a holiday in some weird trashy Asian version of Mad Max world.”
An Indian guy makes a video of himself from the cells at Don Meuang Airport after he is refused entry in to Thailand.
The Bangkok Post highlighted some attractions in the old part of Bangkok.
A Kiwi’s life is about to change for the worse after being caught dealing drugs in Thailand.
A man who spent one night too many in karaoke bars is set alight by his wife.
Last week’s column opener about relationships with Thai women generated some spicy emails with a handful of readers claiming successful relationships are between those of the same age and where both make equal financial contributions. Some used the term gold digger. The other point a few (I think, younger) readers made was that the best relationships are age-appropriate. If I had written that column 15 years ago, I would have agreed with these two points. But my ideas have changed. Having observed Westerner / Thai relationships over many years, age gaps up to or even a little more than 20 years aren’t a problem! I know plenty of couples with an age gap of around 20 years and they’re genuinely happy. And as far as a woman who likes money being spent on her, it’s the same the world over….women like that! I’ll repeat what I said last week – in all of the most successful relationships I have observed between Western men and Thai women, he is financially secure. If he has money and is generous in terms of spending on the relationship then all other things being equal, odds are the relationship will work. Get over yourself if you disagree with the idea of a man spending $$ on a relationship to make it work. And do yourself a favour and read up on evolutionary biology.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : email@example.com