Successfully Living in Thailand

I think Thailand is beautiful. I come from a small landlocked town in the Midwest. There isn’t a whole lot of scenery. Thailand is kind of the opposite. I’ve traveled more since moving here than I ever did at home but it has been so worth it. I can go from rural areas to important ancient sites to beaches and cities. There is so much to see here that I do like to be a tourist of sorts on weekends and ask my students where fun places to go are. The language is not as hard as you would think to learn, and I’m getting the hang of it more and more. It helps when I am out and about. Here are some quick tips I have learned about living here successfully:

Be prepared to find that most things that go wrong—like a car accident—are going to be your fault. It is hard to argue with their logic: if you, the foreigner, had not been in their country, this bad thing would not have happened. That is true, regardless of whether the incident was your fault. Farang (foreigner) will basically be both your name and an insult. How you look and present yourself is exactly how you will be treated, so if you are a mess they are going to treat you accordingly.

If you like the more unsavory things in life, Thailand can be a dangerous playground. Best to just avoid that stuff altogether. It is much easier than you think to get into a lot of trouble here and not so easy to get out of it. Their judicial system is pretty different than at home and saying you didn’t know you were in the wrong will never earn you any points. You should definitely ask and educate yourself about cultural things here before you do something accidentally terrible. You may have a few days to be an idiot here if you’re on vacation but if you plan on staying, you should be smart about it. If you’re going to go to the red-light districts, do not overdo it. In general, it is best to have a budget and stick with it. Make sure you have income coming in you are staying. You can have fun just like anywhere else but you still need money to do things like eat and pay rent. There are a lot of Western people who end up homeless here because they fell into the gutter and couldn’t—or didn’t want to—get back out. It’s too expensive to go back so they are just stuck here.

Another tip about their culture is the huge amount of respect they pay to their leaders. Back home, I can basically say what I want about the President and it’s fine. People make whole careers out of being critical of politicians in the U.S. Here, however, you best not say anything negative about the monarchy. Even portraits or pictures need to be treated with the utmost respect. They take this very seriously and you do not want to be on the wrong side of that.

It’s kind of difficult to own anything here as a foreigner so I rent a place to live and many of my fellow expats do the same. If you do want to own something make sure you do it through legal channels and not through some friendly Thai person who wants to help you out. Many of the stories I have heard about situations like that do not end well.

I guess what I am trying to say is not to be an idiot. Be respectful of the people and culture here and you will be fine whether you are visiting or staying put for a while. Thailand is not a place that will conform to your beliefs, so the sooner you start conforming to theirs, the easier your stay will be.