Thailand – September 2012

My wife and I have been in Thailand for over a month now. We will be in our apartment until around October 9th.

Thailand is a beautiful country in SE Asia. The Thai culture is predominantly Buddhist and very conservative. The landscape is beautiful and the people always have a smile. But Thailand is not what it used to be. It’s not as inexpensive as in the past. Tourists are everywhere. This country loves tourism (but not necessarily tourists — just their money). Although Thailand is the “land of smiles”, I get the feeling that a lot of the Thai smiles given to the farang are not genuine. I’ve seen Thais turn from really “helpful” to quite nasty when they realize they won’t be getting any of your money.

It’s still a nice place to visit, but I could never live here.

For one thing, as a person of European descent, no matter how hard you try to integrate into Thai culture, you will never be 100% Thai because you don’t look Thai. You could speak perfect Thai, follow all the cultural norms, rules and guidelines, pray at all the same temples as the Thai, even have a Thai spouse, but you’re still a falang to Thai eyes. It’s like Japan in that way. I would guess most Asian cultures are like this.

One of the good things about Thailand is the lack of the nanny state. For example, vehicular safety devices (e.g. seatbelts, helmets) are not required by law. Or maybe they are (I have no idea), but they’re not really enforced. You won’t get pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt or not wearing a motorcycle helmet. If you get injured, well it’s your fault for not wearing your safety device.

Another thing is less government regulation (or maybe it’s the same as the previous item). This inherently means more of a free market. When my wife and I got our apartment, it took about 1/2 hour to get all the paperwork signed and be shown up to our unit. We didn’t have to have any specific VISAs in our passports (we are here on the standard tourist stamps you get at the airport/border crossings). It didn’t matter than we were foreign — in fact, that’s kind of a good thing here. Thais assume that falang have a lot of money (and they do compared to most Thais), and that they are just either tourists or retirees. Which is true for the most part. These assumptions make certain things a lot easier (like not having to show proof of income/bank statements).

Chiang Mai is nice, but we’re ready to leave Thailand. We’ve been ready since about a week or so ago, actually. About 4 weeks in Thailand is really all we needed. Things are more expensive here I had imagined (and more expensive than when I was here 8 years ago). We’ve seen temples, sites, ridden a 125cc motorbike all over town, taken a cooking class, and eaten more vegan Thai food that we ever thought we’d eat in our lives.

As I write this, we have less than a week before our apartment lease expires, so we will be traveling again very soon. Probably to Kuala Lumpur for a few days and then to Singapore. I’m really looking forward to it, as I’ve never been to Malaysia or Singapore.

*I use “farang”/”falang” interchangeably in this post. Since Thais have a hard time distinguishing between the L and R sounds, you can say either and they will understand. It means “foreign”, and refers to people of European ancestry.