8 Misconceptions About Life in Thailand

Misconceptions about Thailand

Thailand is the Kingdom of Smiles to be sure, but it is also the Kingdom of the Smiling Drunken Expat Who Will Fill Your Ears With Nonsense.

Also, you probably heard heaps of silliness from your friends and family when they found out you’re were planning on holidaying or even moving there.

“Goodness Gracious! It is filled with Zika-infested rapist cannibals with will steal your virginity and your purse!” Your mother said.

“It is full of gold-digging women with more social diseases than a submarine full of sailors!” Your dad warned, sounding bitter, nostalgic and a little bit randy.

“You will drown in the ocean,” your (now ex-) girlfriend tells you. “Those islands aren’t nearly as pristine or as beautiful or as safe as they look. Nothing could be.”

“Your cock is going to fall off from all that bloody shagging, mate.” The goons at the pub tell you. This is, you have to admit, a bit intriguing.

Thailand is a land of contradictions and millions of tourists and travelers pass through every year and bring back their (mostly inebriated) opinions about it. Many of them are true, many of them are funny, most of them are more revealing about the teller than Thailand, and most of them are full of misconceptions. Here are ten, listed in this blog post increasingly tongue in cheek style.

1. Thailand is wild and liberated and sexually depraved.

Don’t let Khao San Road and the red light district in Pattaya fool you. Thailand is much more conservative and traditional than most of the West. Outside of the go-go bars, most Thai women are family oriented. Many girls now are very career-focused, as well.

When you think about how huge of a city Bangkok is, just over seven million at last count, the red light district is actually quite small. It is just the openness that makes it noticeable. Furthermore, the sexier and sleazier parts of the city are confined to a relatively small few areas and you won’t just wander into a girlie or go-go bar without knowing it.

Thailand is an inherently conservative country where all sorts of behavior that would be acceptable in the West is considered taboo. The conservative nature of the Thai countryside has been well-discussed and deserves some inspection in this blog post as well.

But, generally, everywhere outside the go-go bars, public displays of affection such as kissing or groping your girlfriend is highly offensive and will draw stares of condemnation. Avoid what President-Elect Trump calls “locker room talk” at all costs as it will earn you a particularly descriptive and disgusting (and wholly appropriate) nickname, about which we will talk later.

You will face judgment, most of it silent or expressed with body language, for openly cavorting with prostitutes (known in the local slang as “taxi girls) in non-red light districts and even many of these girls are more conservative than you think, working in “the world’s oldest profession” to try to meet a man, find love, and marry. If you are here for the pleasure, remember; it is not a one-way street. There are consequences to all behavior.

Religion is hugely important in Thailand and even if you find yourself waking up next to “a woman of the night,” you might be surprised that she is heading out to the pagoda for a holiday or religious ritual. She will, of course, dress much differently for the temple than the bar.so

2. Life in Bangkok is hectic and hellish and full of eighty hour work weeks with endless commutes.

Okay that last part, about the commutes, that part is true. Solve that problem by living close to work.

Bangkok can be overwhelming. There is smog (although not comparable to Beijing or some other cities in the region) and dust and noise. Oh Lordy the noise. Remork horns and the calls of street vendors and two-stroke motors and airplanes roaring in and out of the airports, every vehicle, be it two, three, or four-wheeled (not too many unicycles here, yet…)has a radio, volume up full blast, playing their beloved pop music.

There have been a lot of political protests over the last decade, shutting down the airport and parts of the city. There is some religious tension and at times Thai get tired of the endless waves of poorly mannered foreigners that drunkenly party on their beautiful beaches.

However, once you have settled in, life is fun. The first people who will demonstrate this to you are your Thai friends.

Thailand culture has a deep-rooted concept known as “sanuk,” which very roughly translates to “having fun.” Naturally, like most cultural customs, the idea is deeper and more complicated than mere “fun” or “blowing off steam.” Although that is a part of it, Bangkok is steamy! The concept is much more complex and interesting than that. To expand a bit, life in Thailand can be focused on enjoying the moment, no matter how frustrating it may be. You will see Thai folks laughing and flirting and teasing and chatting and talking in the midst of traffic jams, in long lines at the bank, and in other places and occasions where Westerners would be lost in their phones at best, downright hostile at worst. Sanuk flourishes in unusual places; I have seen entire romances start from flirting, flower into affection, blossom into romance, decay into bitterness, and then die, all in the course of a single traffic stop at a traffic light. Mind you, traffic stops in Bangkok can take three hours, but still, it was a remarkable thing to witness.

Sanuk also relates to the joy that can be had doing things in groups as opposed to in couples or, god forbid, alone. I don’t think Southeast Asians ever do anything alone! Like spicy fish sauce, a family makes everything better. People in Thailand always prefer to do things in the presence of a rowdy, close-knit group.

These are the some of the ways that the Thai use their concept of Sanuk to deal with life in what can be a very difficult city. They also drink.

3. All Thai Women are Hot for Western Men

If you are an ordinary looking western man (and take it from me, old chum, you are. And when I say “ordinary,” I am being kind, because I like you) visiting Thailand for the first time, you will probably notice how much attention you are receiving, especially from women. You have not magically transformed from a schlub into a stud. You did not lose ten kilos. In fact, all that beer and fatty food on their airplane have actually added a couple. If your hotel has a gym or workout area, spend an hour there before hitting the beach. Your towel mate will thank you for it.

The reason you are getting so much more attention is natural and obvious; it is because you are as white as a Saltine Cracker. Staring in Thailand is not nearly the cultural taboo that it is at home in the West and you will see people taking much longer looks than you are used to.

Don’t get cocky. While being a Westerner in Thailand may allow you some attention from women who wouldn’t give you a second look at home, don’t think you have domain over every woman you meet or even a shot to “hook up with them.” Remember that most Thai are conservative and middle class, and that not all Thai families will love the idea of their daughters cavorting with tourists and other random foreigners.

Generally speaking, you will know where to find women who are interested and easily available. Many women out at the bars and clubs will be eager to mingle with you. Wait until you have been in the country for a reasonable period of time and have learned some phrases and some culture before trying to “pick up” on an everyday Thai girl. That would be considered very forward and cause both you and her to lose face. And regular readers of this blog post (and who of you out there are not?) know how damaging losing face can be.

4. Thailand is a poor or a cheap country to visit.

There are a number of guidebooks that shall remain nameless that promise “Thailand on a shoestring budget” or “Thailand on five dollars a day!”

Ignore these shameless profiteers and neo-economic imperialists peddling poorly researched, out of date pulp in order to line their pockets at the expense of a few pennies for the locals.

Far from being a lost jungle kingdom on the verge of collapse, Thailand is actually the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia, after an economic powerhouse, the populous and rapidly modernizing Indonesia. After some rocky times during the 1990s, when the “Asian Tiger” financial success and subsequent economic collapse, the Thai economy is now well-funded and relatively stable. As of my last reporting in July of 2013, Thailand held US$171.2 billion in international reserves, the second-largest in Southeast Asia (after worldwide powerhouse Singapore.

And tourism isn’t Thailand’s only source of income; the Kingdom of Smiles is a regional trade power, ranking second in Southeast Asia in volume, after, again, world leader Singapore.

So, unlike the much poorer Cambodia and Laos, Thailand won’t wither on the vine without incoming Western tourist and holiday cash, and prices reflect that of a middle-class economy. For example, “the nation is recognized by the World Bank as “one of the great development success stories” in social and development indicators.

Now, this does not mean there isn’t poverty. Far from it; some Thai in the country sides and the slums of Bangkok, are desperately poor and much of the country lives “check to check.” The average Thai salary is US$5,210 per year, which ranks it in the middle-lower end of the Human Development Index. There has been good news, however, the percentage of people who live below the poverty line has been decreasing across this decade, but such numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt; or, a bit of salty fish paste. It tastes better, and as the old saying goes, “when in Rome…”

(economic facts courtesy of wikipedia and the World Bank)

5. Thailand is an Easy Country for Old Pensioners to Retire to.

This was once true. Stories of scores of elderly “gents” in small swim-suits (and I do mean small. Think “banana hammock.”) would line the beaches with their acres of flesh turning from English pink to fried pork belly color, slowly leathering and eventually turning to jerky. This natural wonder was made possible by Europe’s generous pension and retirement system, which was easily collected from abroad.

Retirement Visa Application Process (as currently as we can determine it).

The application for the Thai retirement visa can be processed either in your country of residence or in Thailand, although multiple reports (including from the Thai Embassy itself) that the process can be much easier and faster if done in your home country, at Thailand’s embassy there.

Naturally, all necessary documents stated above must be submitted to the Thai embassy or consulate in your country and in Thailand as well. Make about a dozen copies and keep them in multiple safe places, and even on your person with your passport and other documents.

Further confusing things, make sure that the Thai consulate in your area has the authority to issue the retirement visa, as for some reason, not all do. As with all things, it pays to check twice beforehand.

Your first step is the Application for the Non-Immigrant O Visa and extension in Thailand. From the Thai Embassy: “It is required that you apply for a 90-day initial non-immigrant visa from the Thai embassy or consulate in your home country prior to your application for a retirement visa in Thailand.”

It gets further complicated from there: “You will have to wait for 60 days to be in Thailand before you can file your retirement visa application at the immigration office or you must be on the last 30 days of your current permit to stay. Proof of address in Thailand (utility bills, rental agreement, etc.) is also required.”

Since this is a blog post about misconceptions about Thailand and not how to retire here, we will stop there and assure you it gets much more complicated, and we are devoting a lot of words to the issue in this space in future blog posts, coming very soon.

This dovetails nicely into our next point, the misconception that…

6. Thailand Has an Easy Visa System for Long-Term Travelers.

Have you met a nice lass? Been offered the lease on a bar on Kho San Road that looks like a sure moneymaker? Joined and NGO and want to save the world or the elephants or just the glue-huffing street kids?

That means you are going to have to stay longer than your original plan and extend your tourist visa.

The world has become more and more obsessed with immigrants and immigration. Freely moving about the “hippie trial” among its other names, backpacking without care or counsel, and the occasional random visa overstay for a week here and a few days there was once no problem. Borders were porous and often covered in jungle, so difficult to patrol or police. Furthermore, the Thai government very cleverly realized there were scads of money to be made in enforcing their visa system, and other nations in the region soon followed suit.

Now, visa issues are one of the most common things talked about over rounds at the pub. Geezers are desperately trying to hang on to their semi-permanent status in the country and the customs and immigration officials are working to squeeze every ounce of blood (money) from the proverbial stone (that is you, bub). The laws are arcane, byzantine, and ever-changing. This blog post is not meant to be an end-all, be-all, definitive guide to your Thai visa, so take our advice with a grain of salt and always search out the latest reputable information online.

7. Thailand is Just Bangkok and the Beach and Islands

True, that is all most tourists see, but this is a varied and verdant country, a place of great biodiversity and unique regions throughout the land.

Chiang Mai is increasingly popular with tourists looking to “step off the beaten track” but still have some familiar, homey comforts. The beauty of this mountainous and hilly region is unparalleled, as are its day-trips to elephant sanctuaries and national parks.

The main attraction for most, however, are the temples and the wildlife. Chiang Mai is not far from Bangkok and if that is your home base, you can easily make a weekend trip with your lovely new Thai girlfriend here to add some depth and some spice to your romantic routine.

If you are in Chiang Mai, you have got to see Wat Doi Suthep. It is at the top of the mountain and the walk up will make your belly jiggle and wet half moons appear on your shirt underneath your armpits, but trust a fellow fatboy (that’s me, mate), the view is worth it. An absolute “must see.”

I am kidding. They don’t make you walk anywhere in the world anymore, even when the walk was a central and necessary part of the experience. There are motodops and remorks and cyclo-drivers everywhere and the drive is a short one, so you can take as little as ninety minutes and as much as the whole lovely afternoon (the sunset is gorgeous).

You do have to do some walking, though, but its just up some stairs and the vendors and shoeless children selling souvenirs, antiques, and snacks are part of the local charm of the place.

The staircase is steep so take your time and be careful, but the effort well spent, trust me. Take in the menacing statues of the of two who demons stand fierce guard the entrance to the temple itself. The temple itself is meticulously hand carved and contains many beautiful depictions of the Buddha, some dragon statues with details out of a “Monsters Manuel” from a Dungeons and Dragons set, and some charming and realistic and elephant carvings. As with all temples in Thailand, and really across Southeast Asia, we state this standard advice: if you’re wearing shorts, you may be required to put on a sarong-like wrap to cover your legs. Unless it is brutally hot, just wear thin khakis. Also, it is strongly advised to cover your shoulders and your legs at least past your knees when visiting any temple. And naturally, there is a small fee to enter the temple complex.

Since you and your lady are probably up from Bangkok for the weekend, why not consider at day trip out into the countryside to visit some of Thailand’s rare wildlife? There are an abundance of opportunities for you to get out of the small city and into the jungle and finding a reliable tour guide is a great way to make sure you see all the highlights without getting lost, wasting your time, or missing something important.

One of the coolest is the Chiang Rai and Golden Triangle Day Tour, on which you can do a little “country hopping” without ever having to leave the boat. Beer Lao in hand, you can enjoy spectacular views from a lookout over the borders where three countries meet: Thailand, Burma, and Laos.

8. Thailand is no Longer “Hip” and Can Be Skipped on Your Dream Tour.

No matter your definition of hip, Thailand qualifies. Sure, it’s not “hidden” or “undiscovered” or “pristine” anymore, but it never really has been. There have been locals here for two centuries and tourists for more than two hundred.

Yes, the “full moon parties” are insufferable; hordes of lads pissing two euro beers into an already frothy ocean and howling and the cloud-obscured moon. The police can be exasperating in their corruption and their incompetence, the slums can seem endless, and the smiles at times hollow and misleading. It is hot and dusty and crowded, and then it is rainy and dusty and crowded.

But Bangkok is vibrant and electric and alive; on a good night, not like any other city on earth. It is at the same time wild yet safe, exotic yet familiar, entertaining yet somehow still hidden, alluring, and hustling.

The islands are earth porn, so beautiful you get aroused just being around them. They are so vast and so numerous that you can find a quiet getaway or a late night party, or hopefully for you, a quiet getaway after a late night party with a sexy new friend…

3 thoughts on “8 Misconceptions About Life in Thailand”

  1. Most people I meet when I travel back to the west think that Thailand is Bangkok and Bangkok is Thailand. They have no idea of how vast the country is. Those who travel outside Bangkok will go to the tourist hotspots of Phuket, Chiang Mai or Pattaya. It’s a shame because Thailand is a huge country endowed with amazing places all waiting for the discerning visitor.

  2. I have lived in Thailand for over twenty years and I have noticed that it is mainly northern women who often marry foreigners. Women in southern Thailand are not so quick to marry foreigners and those who do marry tend to be professionals and are not hurting for money. This is a complete opposite with northern women who marry foreigners. In the south, there is actually an underlying disdain for foreigners in general.

  3. I came here expecting to see a third world country and I was genuinely surprised. What I had read in the papers and magazines couldn’t be more wrong. I am a late comer here and the paradise they talk about is largely gone. This is understandable because Thailand has gone through an enormous amount of development. The infrastructure is really good and you can access any place in Thailand. Thailand definitely is not poor.

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