Living in Thailand

I first visited Thailand in 1992 where  my two Thai soul mates, Pete and Lek took my hand and showed me Thailand. I felt it was a carefree and fun time! I was blessed that Thailand and Thai culture was introduced to me not from the tourist traps, not from the notorious night life which has a niche of its own, but from living how a Thai would.
 I remember vividly arriving past midnight and Ms. Lek collected me from the airport. Riding in the backseat of the car, I felt a strange sense of "fear" looking at the Thai writing on buildings and signs and couldn't read it at all.  Although through much listening, patience and practice my spoken Thai improved enough to be functional and conversant  and my reading of Thai also improved. I believe this helped in a small way to open doors and communicate, although I feel I am far away from being an "expert".

When I first travelled and stayed in the "land of smiles" a nickname Thailand gives itself in tourist promotion, the immigration policy still  had a very liberal attitude for Western travellers, and I was able to pop in and out of the country on a "visa run".
This is an an uneventful thing which travellers must do when the date stamped on your arrival  in your passport soon expires, we would just take a small trip to cross the border into Malaysia or Myanmar, and return with a new stamp giving us with a longer time  again in Thailand!
I would do this every time with little or no effort for several years. Soon, too many people were doing this routine too and the rules got gradually stricter and until very recently, more difficult, with the process becoming involved.  I suppose it might be also due to reciprocal immigration policies from our nation towards Thais too.

A Farang, originally coming from the word "Farangset" meaning French, is a term used to classify Western people. Quintessentially the "blue eyed" and "European" looking foreigners.
Thai people, in my opinion, admire the technology, history, and the material things of Europe and USA. They are interested in Western culture, and try to emulate the positive aspects of it in their own society, and until very recently avoiding the less flattering elements of the West. 

 I think they admire the looks and features of Westerners, especially hair colour, nose shapes, and, funny enough, wearing winter clothing in Thailand's hot climate! I see many Thai young people wearing bottle blond hair, a heavy jacket, hats and winter clothing in blazing heat in Thailand. Not because they are feeling cold, but because of how the Chic and fashionable clothing looks on them. I saw a Thai woman walking with a huge fur coat in an up scale part of town, but I begin to feel sweat just looking at her! (not to mention the disgust in my heart of all those animals who lost their lives for her). When Western pop stars have Bangkok on their tour, Thais flock in droves making their tour sell out quickly.

On the negative side, I believe Thai people think our manners are rude and inconsiderate. We are very aggressive, we openly show our anger in public, raise our voices loudly. We are also seem as morally permissive, and dress too casually in a formal situation. (I agree with them on most of these points too!)
In Thailand, getting impatient and raising your voice, only slows things down more, and causes a loss of face. Sometimes it is difficult to forgive a loss of face.

Many Westerners coming to Thailand are not used to the climate. Most of the time the weather is sultry blend of being very humid and hot, and in the long rainy season, combine rain with the heat and thick humidity.  The Western diet also causes the aroma in sweat to become very strong, and body odour is frowned on in Thai society more than our own. Westerners are recommended to shower more frequently in Thailand than they would normally do in their own country. I used to shower three times a day, just to rinse off the sticky feeling on my body as well as the dust from outdoors.

 I felt, in the beginning when I was living in Thailand I felt I would be somewhat of a celebrity, as "farang" (Western people) were in fashion and everyone wanted to have a farang face seen with them, to have a farang boyfriend, or to have their Western face photograph somewhere in  the media. It was popular to have part times jobs as models for advertisements, and especially trendy if the person was เด็กครึ่ง which was half Thai and half Western. Now there is an abundance of Western faces in Thai media and around the country and the celebrity status for "Western looks" reduced quite significantly.


I can remember getting an English teacher job very easily, almost overnight any time I applied. I tried it in different kinds of schools, private as well as government, and around the country.  I taught at an all boys' school which was the same school my Thai friend graduated from, so I felt a connection there. That school was huge, very dirty, and the classrooms were stifling because a few  ancient ceiling fans were the source of air circulation with almost 50 sweaty noisy boys in the classroom, coupled with the Bangkok humidity.
internet photo- but same situation which I experienced

 I recall one especially sultry heat day in the classroom that I vomited on the floor in the classroom! I couldn't survive doing that my whole life in those government schools!


 Some of the really obvious future "divas" in the class enjoyed being the centre of attention. There were a few in every class of mine in that all boy school, who wore lipstick, had pretty hair and would come together with the other giggly boys. Some boys always came late on purpose, and I had one boy who played with a key ring which had a small rubber penis toy connected to it. When I past down the isle near him he would squeeze the penis and a white fluid oozed from it and he giggled. The school uniform for the males was a white shirt and dark blue shorts. The divas's always managed to make their shirts faintly pink, and their shorts tight and very short! I found it difficult to control a classroom with fifty boys, yet alone charmers who were vying for attention on themselves.


At an all girls' school in a remote up country town in the northeast of Thailand, the classrooms were all air conditioned. Even though that school had a more privileged feel and the parents were paying a high fee for their daughter to study, I must confess, the girl's school had some real competition with the boys' school in terms of noisiness, dirt, as well as it's share of female upon female fights!
 I had an old wooden three room house, all of my own, on the school campus which I rented for $75 a month including all utilities, and fully furnished. Sometimes local male friends of mine would also spend the night if it got too late for them to go back home or if the school campus gate had already been locked for the night before they could leave.

This girls' school I taught at also had a few boys attending it for the English programme it offered.  The thing I remember most vividly about that school was the huge imposing Buddha statue in the campus grounds and of the nosy guards at the gate who would at times snitch on me to my director about the "kinds of guys", local Isan guys, whom I had associated with. This nosy guard was overly attentive as these guys would be always leaving the campus at night on motorbike, with me sitting at the back of the motorbike.

 I also taught for a while at a very upscale 'privileged' school in a Bangkok suburb. It was surrounded in beautiful gardens, and the classrooms where in a traditional classical Thai architecture. This school was for students with  dysfunctional learning abilities. I was not completely qualified to teach there as I wasn't a psychologist, but since I was a native speaker with a teacher's certificate I was hired.  
If I wanted to,  I am sure I can return and get a job teaching English and even conversation, and private tutoring in Thailand whenever I wanted to. Each time I return to Thailand I always get the urge to stay there.


There are many intricate rules, some written, many are unwritten and even unspoken about Thai tradition, rules of behaviour, what to do and what not to do. Gestures, expressions and "ways of doing" and politeness which are acceptable in one culture might not work, or be an insult in another especially in Asia, and Thailand is no exception.  A smile or laughter in Thailand has many meanings and it doesn't always mean "happy". Saving "face" is very important in Thai culture. Being direct in any way is like a sharp pointed arrow, it shoots, punctures and hurts. Concern and respect for elders is very important. If someone is older than you are, your head can't be higher than hers/ his. The head is where the soul is, and one mustn't touch someone else's head, ( ie. we have a habit of touching the head of children in an endearing way when we meet them or greet them). Our feet and lower part of our body are not as pleasing as the upper part. We should n't put our feet up anywhere. I had a friend who, when doing his laundry, would not mix his socks and under shorts along with his shirts! He would even separate them when hanging his clothes to dry!  There is a concept called "greng jai", which is a concept Westerner's don't have, but is similar in a sense to "consideration", but this term doesn't exactly fit. Thai's have a joke, " Farang mai me greng jai"  (Westerners don't have greng jai).  I can't explain this concept thoroughly, but understand how to use it, as I have learned to master it to save face and to have things go smoothly.

EXPERIENCES ON TRANSPORT I enjoyed travelling on local transport, i.e the train, local buses ( air con and non air conditioned buses) as that is a great way to get to know local people and to interact with them. Some fun adventures would also occur on transport too! 
I would take the local "rot Tdoo" (mini bus ) which is a van shaped like a box, very often overflowing with people, and usually the driver has precarious driving skills ( once, near the end of the route, he allowed his 6 year old son take the wheel and drive the remaining part of the route by himself!). The fare for riding this would be just a few coins. Most of the time people stood as the seats were limited. When I had to stand, I would stand in front of a cute man who was seated. When the van popped over an uneven part of the street or a hole in the street, which caused the van to shake, mixing everyone and everything about, I would pretend to lose my grip and would "accidentally" fall into the cute man's lap. Both of us laughing, he would put his arms around my body to assist me, still both of us laughing. It was a fun way to flirt!

Like anywhere in the world, there are written and unwritten rules about courtesy and culture, and Thailand was no exception! There are unwritten rules that pregnant women, old people, and monks take priority for seats on public transport.


Food and sharing of food is part of Thai culture. Almost anywhere and any time one would be able to see some food being prepared, sold, shared and eaten. If some people were about to eat together and you happen to pass by them, the polite invitation of "geen kao" would be said to you. If you wanted to be polite back, accept a small token sample of what they were eating. Many times this rule included drinking too. I would encounter men drinking together in a small party as I walked in the street, and they would gesture for me to drink too. I stopped and had a small shot of whisky with them. They offered another but I made a  playful gesture like I was drunk which released me from the obligation from having a second shot.

At work many times lunch is served and the whole office comes together and eats together. The lunch served is almost always local food which I love!
If it is someone's birthday, everything stops in the office and a cake is cut and served, just another reason to have a party and socialising. Every town has a market to buy local food, noodle shops, outside vendors selling every kind of food which is fun to eat and the cost for eating at these places is very cheap! Out of all the years I lived and ate in Thailand I never once got sick from the food. Thai people have a serious sweet tooth and make absolutely wonderful desserts with coconut creme, as well as other inventions which contain fruit, rice, etc. An eating paradise!

Each region of the country has a very different style of food, which at times is completely different. Isan ( Northeast ) style being the more adventurous in culinary tastes. Bangkok has it's own specialties and also has a Chinese influence in local specialties as well. I know I will always enjoy the Thai eating style traditions and food!

I think it is a favourite past time, not only in Thailand but throughout the East and South East Asian countries to have a penchant for shopping. I personally dislike shopping, but my friends and I always found ourselves meeting at one of the ubiquitous shopping malls throughout Bangkok and in every major city. Most of the time we found ourselves going there to cool down and stay out of the elements of the South East Asian weather, albeit rain, 38 degree C ( 100 F )  temperatures and 99 % humidity, or a combination of all three. Having an ice cream and people watching is fun when you are with your friends. I however did enjoy shopping for fun foods at the huge grocery stores in the shopping mall. Their prices were at times higher than other stores, but had specialty foods which couldn't be found in other places.


This once lonely fishing town grew up to be Thailand's answer to Las Vegas, complete with the flashing lights, and even the illicit situations which both cities ( drugs, syndicate crime, murders, etc) which gives it a lassez fare atmosphere, including in anything dealing with sex, of any persuasion. One could find heterosexual "lady" bars, and a whole neighbourhood of gay entertainment called "Pattayaland" complete with gay hotels and restaurants.
There is a gay beach which is huge and is cordoned by a border of rainbow flags to alert others where they are entering. Many guys will be just wearing a thong or g-string as beach wear, and more than half of these were "boys for hire" if you will. Other guys will go around and hawk ready to order food, fruit, trinkets, as well as themselves! I had a fun 4 hand massage by some nice guys on that gay beach. If you wade into the sea and stand around for a while, you might be met by a new friend who comes up to you, will begin to initiate "activities" with you in the sea!


Rent in my experience could be very inexpensive, even in a major city like Bangkok! For the most part I stayed in our condo or in my friend's home ( she owns four!) but when I did have to rent, it was good value for money. 
Foreigners are not allowed under Thai law to own real estate like land or houses, but could own them together with the marriage of a Thai spouse. (afterwards, she/ he loses the opportunity to purchase more after they are married!) Foreigners could own outright a condominium though.

The Thai royal family is revered and highly respected in Thailand. It is illegal to mention anything derogatory, even in the smallest sense about the royal family as prison sentences are liberally given out for this, including foreigners.  No matter what one's opinion is, the best rule of thumb is to say nothing at all about them and don't even mention their name. Even if speaking about any of the Royal family in discretion among Thai friends, the atmosphere will feel very uncomfortable and they will say thing with unease or some "I love the King! He is my King! He is the King of Kings! I will always love my King! as if it is the appropriate thing which they were taught to legally say.

Bangkok. GrungThep Mahanakorn - "City of Angels"  is a huge metropolitan city which resembles Los Angeles with its sprawl, traffic, ozone and air quality, and population. It is a cosmopolitan city with modern areas which co-exist with ancient areas like Banglampoo, Pahurat or Chinatown. The very affluent areas might have a slum right on its border. Mosque, temple, and Church exist next to each other in harmony. 
When first arriving in Bangkok and wandering around for the first few days, feeling the combination of heat, humidity and smoke, and dust, breathing in the smoke, humidity and dust, one begins to wonder what made them come here. After really living in Bangkok, living with the local people, and experiencing Bangkok under the very thick veneer at the surface, one begins to understand, enjoy and find themselves being pulled back to that city and its ways, its sounds, aromas, tastes and senses, even if one left and has gone abroad again. Bangkok as well as other places in Thailand will always be in my heart.

I find myself very very lucky to have been introduced to Thailand and experienced Thai culture and way of life not through the tourist industry but through their eyes, held by their hands, and safely having a good experience and in happiness! 
The tourist industry in Thailand is huge and has it's claws in almost every aspect of the tourists life in Thailand. It is like a hoover vacuum cleaner with the turbo suck feature designed to make the tourist part with her/ his money in every way possible. Prices for foreigners are many times higher than the locals would pay, (would you believe, I lived in Thailand for 6 years and I never entered the Grand Palace? neither some of the other famous tourist "traps" .
 One should have good negotiating skills before agreeing to pay for anything which the price is not clearly posted on first, especially at places like "Pat Pong" which is a notorious area where one can go shopping as well as see dancing women sliding on a pole. 

If I had gone the other direction and arrived under the care of the tourist industry, my experience and my opinion of Thailand would probably be very different than the one I have now.
Thank God for my two angels, from the city of Angels! 


  1. Thanks. It brought back many memories. You and I both know it's no Shangri La, but I still miss it. Glad we met at that school.

  2. I love Thailand! And this is a very well written guidde-to! Thanks!

  3. Thailand is one of our favourite countries, the people, food and buzz of the country entices us back. Your story captures what Thailand is about. Thanks.