I‘ve lived in Thailand for almost a year and a half now, my longest stay anywhere since my university days in Annapolis, Maryland 5+ years ago, and I’ve been amazed at how little I’ve written during my time here. (Please forgive me!) I thought this post would be a good way for all of you to get a glimpse of what life’s like here in tropical paradise.
Here is a little list of my top loves and hatreds from my life in Thailand so far:
- Wonderful, Cheap Massages
- Excellent, Cheap Pedicures
- Delicious, Cheap Thai Food
- Cheap Rental Rates for Spacious Properties, Almost Always with a Pool Nearby
- One of the Best Places in the World to Get Your Diving Certification
- Frangipanis (a.k.a., the flower that smells like heaven itself)
- (Almost) Unwavering Sunny Weather
- Colourful, Cheap Silk Scarves
- Thai Driving
- Shopping for High-Quality Clothes
So how can you know if Thailand is right for you? Here are two lists that will help you consider some of the often-overlooked aspects of Thai life as a Westerner:
12 People Who Would Probably Love Thailand
1. Endless summer sounds like a dream-come-true, and you’ve tested your theory.
If your perfect day begins with a forecast of “hot and sunny,” Thailand’s got you covered. However, even people who swear they love summer best of all may not be happy to endure it for 90% of the year. If you have a history of skin cancer or fair skin that doesn’t tan easily, that endless summer may soon begin to feel like hell. So, before you pawn your furniture for a flight to Phuket, make sure you’re ready to give up the other three seasons, and pack your floppy hat and sunscreen!
2. You love golf, yoga, or swimming – or all three!
Thailand has a plethora of golf-courses and yoga retreats available for low prices in stunningly gorgeous settings. Many houses on the market come with pools, and community pools are common. Thailand also boasts of some of the world’s best beaches, if you prefer your swimming in the sea. If it’s your dream to be at any of the above, every day, this is the place to be.
3. Your summer wardrobe is your favourite.
The simple loveliness of a summer wardrobe meshes well with the Thai culture – casual and colourful. Flip-flops are worn every day by almost everyone in the country. If you have a pair of mile-high legs that look great in anything above-the-knee, pack ‘em up and show ‘em off!
4. Your ideal mode of transportation is a motorcycle.
Many people do have cars, but motorcycles (or motorbikes) are found in abundance in Thailand. They don’t drive and park on the sidewalks like in Vietnam, but the streets and traffic favour the slight frame and quick manoeuvrability of two-wheeled vehicles. Besides, the prolific clear, sunny skies and tempting breezes make driving out in the open quite a pleasure.
5. You enjoy living a relaxed life, just going with the flow without worrying too much.
Thailand’s catchphrase is “Sabai, sabai,” an idiom translated loosely into our English phrase “no worries,” and that feeling pervades the entire Thai culture. Saving face is very important to Thai people, and becoming visibly agitated or angry is abhorrent. If you’ve got a naturally calm disposition and can roll with the punches, you’re going to find yourself in a world of like-minded people.
6. You’ve got income coming in from a foreign source and/or no debts left behind.
Thailand is an inexpensive place to live, but it’s not an easy place to build your funds by Western standards. If you’ve got an international employer, can work from home, or have income from rental properties abroad, you’ll be able to live in Thailand with ease on a fraction of what you would at home. However, if you have bills to pay or want to travel extensively in the West on your holidays, a career in Thailand is probably not going to be able to support you. Take a look at your monthly budget, see what expenses can and can’t be alleviated, and make an educated financial decision.
7. You believe most rules are mere suggestions and aren’t bothered if they are broken by yourself or others.
Thailand has operated under corrupt government officials for a very long time, and although there have been steps forward, the corruption remains evident in many ways. However, if you take no issue with small bribes to get you past the police and other bureaucratic absurdities, you’ll enjoy your generally vast freedom to do as you like – including the ever-popular driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
8. You’ve had botox injections to quell your Western sweat glands, or you’re of Asian descent.
There’s no getting around it; if you are a Westerner living in Thailand, you are going to be amazed by the profuse amount of sweat that materialises in places you never knew could sweat…and by the maddeningly dry bodies of the local Thais. If your body has been blessed, by God or your parents or some alternative substance, to not produce obscene amounts of sweat in blistering hot weather (or if you just don’t care), come on over!
9. You prefer yellow gold to silver or costume jewellery.
Thailand is one of the best places to buy yellow gold jewellery of all shapes and sizes, and there are reasonably priced shops all over every city. The most spectacular attribute of gold in a place like this? It doesn’t tarnish. Silver and costume jewellery tarnishes in the warm, muggy weather more quickly than you can believe, and that same warm, muggy atmosphere breeds infection quickly from any dirt or grime. If gold’s your thing, not to worry: bring all you’ve got and add to your collection!
10. You’d choose the spa over shopping any day.
Thailand is a magnificent place for spa enthusiasts because the treatments are high-quality, and the prices are great. Massages, facials, and mani-pedis are an easy thing to budget for on a weekly basis, if you choose, and there are so many salons that you’ll soon find you have a favourite for each soothing fancy you might have! I spent $10 on my OPI pedicure this morning, and I spent $20 on an incredible hour and half Thai & foot massage earlier this week. Both appointments were at high-end salons, so their prices are some of the highest I’ve seen – I have a friend who spends $4 on her basic pedicures and $8 on her one hour Thai massages! Shopping with a Western body is difficult and often disappointing because of sizing, cut, and low-quality materials, so make arrangements to shop abroad on your holidays or have packages sent to you from overseas (especially if you’re larger than a B cup and want a nice bra!)…or just get a consolation massage afterwards and forget all about it!
11. Rescuing stray dogs is one of your hobbies.
There are an inexpressible number of wild dogs living all over Thailand. Thai people feed them leftovers, but many go hungry or die because of preventable diseases. If you enjoy putting your dog-loving soul to service by adopting strays, arranging and paying for vaccines, or just volunteering at your local veterinary clinic, Thailand is an excellent opportunity for you to pair your talents with a hefty need.
12. Mosquitoes usually leave you alone.
If you’ve got the lucky pheromones that mosquitoes don’t seek out, consider yourself a wonderful candidate for an enjoyable life in Thailand. The mosquito season never stops around here, and the lack of infrastructure produces more than ample breeding grounds for the blood-sucking pests. I’ve tried so many different mosquito-sprays that I can’t keep count, but nothing has worked. While cases of malaria and the various viral encephalitis diseases are not common in the usual expat areas, dengue fever hits quite often. Not that you really need to worry!
If some or all of these characterisations match your style, take a look at the next list to make sure there aren’t any deal-breakers, and then get a move on! Thailand is waiting for you!
12 People Who Might Have Trouble in Thailand
1. You’ve got a 24-page passport that isn’t blank.
Thai Immigration procedures require enormous amounts of space in your passport and will cut into your precious page-allotment at least every 3 months, if not more regularly. I suggest getting an upgrade to the 52-page book before arriving or as soon as possible once you do.
2. Following the rules is important to you.
If you like doing the right thing because it’s right, Thailand is going to be a difficult place to make your home. Corruption still runs rampant, and even if there are rules, they are rarely followed and are often purposely confusing or just plain ridiculous. Racial profiling will become a part of your regular interaction with the local police, and your stress level will go through the roof when you try to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops to get a Thai driver’s license, go through the proper immigration channels, or just drive to your destination in a direct manner without having to disobey something. Paying attention to how others manoeuvre their world will make you crazy, and you’ll start to wonder where all the virtue is in the world.
3. Your ideal mode of transportation is walking.
Firstly, the little neighbourhoods of typical expat-friendly housing are too far away from all the places you want to go. Even then, the sidewalks are broken or non-existent, and there are stray dogs barking at you, possibly chasing, in most areas – especially nice open ones that make you want to walk in the first place. Most walkers carry heavy wooden staffs they amusingly call “sticks,” but the general fear and disturbance of having a pack of wild dogs following you and barking isn’t assuaged by carrying it, in my opinion.
4. You think you should have the freedom to buy alcohol at any hour of the day.
In grocery stores and convenience stores, signs are posted to notify shoppers of the available times to buy alcohol, and they don’t just apply to hard liquor. Wine, beer, and cocktail coolers are prohibited to purchase except during specified times, and never on public holidays.
5. You’re deathly afraid of geckos or lizards (or bugs or snakes).
Thailand is fantastically green and growing, but that means that creatures that live in the forest roam freely in these parts. Our house always has at least five local geckos or lizards living in it at any time, feeding on the little bugs that come through the screens or cracks. Armies of ants frequently appear out of nowhere, scouring a box of macaroni and cheese or a bag of your favourite snacks that was unopened before their evil little pincers ripped through the packaging. (They are so ferocious that they once ate through electrical wiring on a friend’s rice cooker!) Snakes are commonly seen on the side of the road and often climb into yards looking for yummy frogs. Few are poisonous, but we did find a young python near the school one day last term.
6. You’re allergic to pollen or animal dander.
As mentioned earlier, there are too many wandering dogs for anyone with highly-sensitive pet dander allergies to be able to function properly. Most people will be fine unless they pet the dog itself, which is not advisable with the stray dogs anyway, but you should make sure you bring enough allergy-relief medicine with you to prevent your inevitable misery should one brush up against you by accident. The pollen situation is as bad as you can imagine from a tropical country; plants and trees and bushes are blossoming at various intervals all year long, and many restaurants and shops are open-air, so there’s no escape from the onslaught. If you shut all of your windows at night, you’ll likely be stifling by morning unless you crank your AC unit non-stop.
7. You don’t want to learn Thai.
Unlike our experience in India, most people do not speak English in Thailand. Many do speak some, and there are some who can speak quite fluently, but do not take it for granted that you’ll have a common language with which to communicate. Thai is a tonal language, close to Chinese though much simpler in both vocabulary and grammar, so it’s difficult for Westerners to learn to pronounce at first, but it’s not difficult in itself.
8. You’re a clean freak.
Again, compared to India, Thailand is very different; Thailand seems very clean after our most recent trip, but it felt very dirty coming from Korea and is quite below Western standards of sanitation. We have (unfortunate) white tile flooring in most of our house, which is luckily very easy to clean, but it shows the sheer volume of dust and dirt that is present in our tiny little neighbourhood. The water is unpredictable and can suddenly turn brown as you finish washing your dishes, or worse, your body, and you’ll have to wait hours or, during droughts, sometimes days for it to be clear again. You will find that everything will have a layer of dust on it within a day or two, and dusting will become a compulsive behaviour unless you give in to the nature of things here and restrain yourself to reasonable standards and scheduled dirt-attacks.
9. Prostitution, cross-dressing, and/or indistinct gender lines are repulsive to you.
It is common to see women on the streets soliciting men, men dressed as women, or men who have decided to take on a woman’s persona, clothes, body, voice, behaviour, and all. At first you might find yourself curiously looking, just to find out more, but if your ultimate reaction will be one of disgust or obvious outward disapproval, you’d better just stay away.
10. You love physical books or Christmas or putting your feet up…but especially if you love putting your feet up to read a favourite book at Christmastime.
The sunny, humid climate in Thailand will be deadly to any of your favourite books you might have decided to bring along, and in a very short time you will notice their pages yellowing, their bindings breaking, and their covers warping beyond repair. Paperbacks are less susceptible to the latter two, but it’s still not a pretty sight. Leave them in storage, somewhere safe, or prepare for a teary parting. This same lovely weather is catastrophic to any sense of traditional Christmas and will make Christmas-lovers despair at the lack of snow or general celebration of the holiday. Many Western families travel home for the holidays to get their fill. In Thai culture, as in most Buddhist cultures, your feet are considered highly unclean (read: morally), and it is unquestionably rude to put your feet up onto a chair, onto a coffee table, or, God forbid, onto another person, even if it’s to be comfortable reading a wondrous book. (Fun fact: it’s equally horrible for someone to touch another person’s head, especially the top, and especially if it’s a younger person to an older person.)
11. Punctuality is a virtue you cultivate in yourself and expect in others.
Going along with the “Sabai, sabai” culture of no hurrying, “Thai time” is a commonly amusing topic with Westerners who’ve spent time here. If someone quotes a time, say, that they’ll be at your house to fix your toilet, that person may arrive hours – or days- after the proposed time without a call or an apology. If you call a meeting, it’s customary not to expect it to start for at least 30 minutes to an hour after the decided time, no matter how much notice you’ve given for it to be held. Just this past week, I was having some new books delivered, and the delivery boy called to tell me he’d be there at 2pm. Forgetting myself in a busy moment, I called my co-worker to let her know to look out for him, but he didn’t show up until after 7pm, and then called, wondering why I was not still at school! The books weren’t delivered until 2 days later, for some inexpressible reason.
12. You’re an impatient or unconfident driver.
I consider the absolute worst part of living in Thailand to be dealing with Thai driving. I have yet to be able to stop myself from getting thoroughly upset when drivers do things I consider (weakly) absurd or (truthfully) incredibly dangerous. I’m hesitant to drive myself on busy roads because I simply cannot predict how Thai drivers will react to a situation and don’t trust my instincts enough to know I’ll be able to stop from crashing. One of the most commonly frustrating instances is that Thai drivers slow down to almost a stop as they turn corners, at every corner, no matter how busy the traffic is or how many cars pile up behind them. Additionally, it’s often seen that a car or truck is stopped in the middle of the driving lane, awaiting some passenger for a good few minutes and blocking all traffic in that direction. Calm, collected souls can just relax and wait good-naturedly, knowing that the few minute difference is not that important, but I can’t seem to stop myself from wanting to scream at the top of my lungs and bash something with a 2 x 4. There’s always room to grow, I guess! Haha.
Thailand is a fantastic place, filled with all sorts of amazing and intriguing things, but it’s not the right place for everyone. It’s good to challenge yourself to grow and adapt, but ultimately, when you’re choosing a place to live, you should strive to be true to yourself; know what you’re getting into, and make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time. Every place has its highlights, and every place has some infuriating parts, but make sure you focus your energy on the former – you’re sure to miss those gems when they’re gone, no matter how great the next place is! Learn from your experiences, and enjoy what you have, wherever you are!