This is based on my experiences of living and working in Thailand, and also of traveling a little as a tourist. Mostly though, I saw and heard what tourists wouldn’t, and almost none of it was good, so rather than try to make a balanced list of pros and cons – something I don’t think is even remotely possible – I’m just going to make a list of stuff that I hated.
That’s not to say that my experiences were wholly bad, but the redeemable parts of my time in Thailand usually had little or nothing to do with the country or its people. I’m sure that the below doesn’t apply to every Thai person, but this has been my experience of the majority of cases.
- In schools, teachers walk around with sticks that they use to beat children every day. The beatings begin in kindergarten, with children of 4 years old, and continue until graduation. Rulers and hands are also used, and of course there’s the endless screaming…
- Most apartments will not return your deposit at all, or will find a way to scam you out of a part of it. Common wisdom in Thailand is to assume that any deposit given on an apartment is lost money, and if you somehow recover it, to count it as a great bonus. Deposits are often between 1 and 2 months rent, so it’s significant. With all of the scams and thievery in Thailand, despite working here full-time for several months, I left this country with most of my savings depleted and significantly poorer than when I came in.
- Institutionalized racism and two-tier pricing for foreigners, here called “farangs”. If you’re a foreigner, expect to pay anywhere between double and 10 times the price that a local will have to pay. Many restaurants have two menus, with the English one having inflated prices. The government officially endorses this policy, with most tourist locations such as museums charging several times as much to foreigners. I paid 5-fold to get into a museum once, and it was a pretty sucky one at that.
Apartment buildings will also charge farangs more for renting the exact same room. So if you’re expecting to save money here, think again. Racism and discrimination is widespread here, but although every white person is treated as a bag of gold that needs to be shaken down, black and Filipino people here have it much, much worse. If you want to teach English, all you need is, as Thais say, a “white face”. It doesn’t matter if the black candidate for the job speaks better English than you. And when non-whites do get hired, they’ll be paid a third to a half less than their white colleagues.
- Thailand is the country of smiles the way America is the land of the free. The Thai smile is mostly fake and completely inappropriate. Thais will smile when they’re happy, angry, sad… it doesn’t matter what they’re feeling. This country is filled with the least emotionally healthy adults I’ve ever seen, and I’ve traveled quite a lot. In one case, I inquired about the photo of a young man on a wall, and the teacher, while laughing and smiling, told me that he was someone she knew, and that he had died because of a bomb explosion…
- Medical costs here are higher than in private hospitals and clinics in Europe. One night in a private hospital costs $550. Have fun trying to get your insurance to return that. Oh, and avoid the government ones, they’re more like a pre-morgue waiting area.
- I tried to buy some Bitcoins on a Hong Kong exchange. I went to Kasikorn bank where I have an account and asked for them to transfer $100. They said the fee for a $100 international transfer would be $37. Never in all my experience of travel has someone tried to charge me 37% for a transaction. Except governments of course.
- I once tried to send something by Thai post. When my co-workers found out, they were shocked. Apparently I should have somehow known that anything put into that system would be stolen. My boss told me that 10 million packages are stolen or lost by the Thai postal workers every year. When a postal worker is caught stealing, the punishment is that they’re “made to apologize”. Neither the stolen items nor their value (they are usually sold immediately) is returned, and the worker does not lose their job. The postal service is therefore filled with career thieves.
- In my time teaching English in Thailand, every single lesson on occupations involved a significant number of my students saying they wanted to be police officers. This is despite the common knowledge that all they do is arrest people and steal money. When I tried to elicit “What does a policeman do?” Nobody knew what to say, as the idea that police “help people” here is laughable. So they were acting with full knowledge of what they’re getting into. It’s pretty depressing to know how many of my students are planning to be career criminals with a badge.
- Many Thais are passive aggressive. They will avoid any direct confrontation and not tell you what’s happening, usually to act behind your back. Ask for feedback from an assistant during a lesson and they will say “everything is okay”, only to have a meeting of unresolved issues that have festered a month later. Oh, and though the Thais in the meeting are all English teachers, they’ll all speak in Thai for an hour so you can’t understand or respond to them. Enjoy hearing your name or “farang” but having no idea what they’re saying.
- Packs of wild dogs will run after you at night. Sometimes even during the day. Get a series of rabies shots before you come here. Camping out at night is dangerous.
- Mosquitoes carry dengue fever and malaria. Most people who’ve stayed here for longer than a year have had dengue, and it usually ends in a multi-day hospital stay. Make sure you have the insurance to cover it.
- Many agencies that place teachers with schools will be late on payments or not pay you the full amount.
- Everyone in Thailand is a matchmaker. In fact, half of them are matchmakers even if you’re already in a relationship. As a foreigner in Thailand, expect people to ask you if you have a girlfriend several times a day, and then run off looking for one for you if you don’t. They’ll take pictures, too.
When your students in college find out that you do have a girlfriend, the next question will be: “Do you want a mistress?” (in Thai, of course, their level of English cannot handle such sentences). In the school I worked at, I was told to avoid getting into an elevator with students because they will grope (sexually assault) you.
- There is no concept of privacy or boundaries of any sort. I learned quite quickly that within a few hours everyone will know everything you shared with a Thai person, no matter how private. The culture here lives on gossip and rumors. Thais will ask you the most personal questions, only to run off and tell everyone else minutes later. They’ll try and spy on you, too. If you want a private life, you’ll need to come up with a lot of elaborate lies, because simply keeping quiet is interpreted as a sign of great disrespect.
- The nationalism and religiosity makes me sick. Seriously. Every movie at a cinema, after 35 minutes of adverts, begins with a nationalistic song and a series of creepy pictures of the king, all of which are a good 20-30 years old… because pictures of an aged king just won’t do I guess. And everyone around you stands up on command like trained puppies, until the clip ends. In schools, the anthem plays in the morning and everyone must freeze… If you think nationalism in the West is bad, wait till you get to Thailand.
- The expat community is composed almost entirely of alcoholics. Being a teetotaler, this made my interaction with other foreign teachers and expats here a largely miserable experience. I thought college was bad, but it paled in comparison to the psychological dysfunction and alcoholism here.