I had a blast living in Thailand for three years. The year-round tropical weather, the flavorful food, the lax attitudes towards work, the accessible dating scene – they all make for a fun experience for a young white male in his twenties. But regardless of what you’ve heard, living in the Land of Smiles isn’t all fun and games. Thailand often makes you wanna pull your hair out due to frustration, and at other times it makes you feel like a third class citizen.
The country has a weird way of making many expats get stuck there forever, eventually to become hardcore burnouts who never stop complaining about the country. Like it or not, many of the things those burnouts complain about are very much true. Once the eager Thailand newbie finally takes those rose-colored glasses off, he can see the country is not quite as rosy or as smiley as he might have originally thought.
Now that I’m living nearly 3,000 miles away in eastern Japan, there are many things that I miss about Thailand… and just as many things that I do not. This article was written to shine a light on Thailand’s less than savory (and often overlooked) side. Here are the top ten things I absolutely do not miss about life in Thailand, in no particular order:
1. Slime Ball Foreigners
If you want to see the worst people from each country around the world, go to Thailand. There’s something about the country that attracts the worst of the worst of the world. The worst behaving Americans, the slimiest British, the rudest Chinese, the most hedonist Japanese, the loudest Saudis – you get my point. Living in Bangkok, which consistently ranks as one of the most visited cities in the world, I got tired of constantly running into tourists.
Tourists can be annoying in just about any country. But in Thailand, tourists – regardless of where they come from – often come across as absurdly culturally insensitive, loud, filthy with a low sense of personal hygiene, entitled, hedonistic, and a bunch of cheapskates. And it’s not just the tourists – many of the long-term expats are the same way.
When stepping foot from Thailand into one of its neighboring countries, one of the first things I always noticed was that the tourists in the new country were generally a much better lot of people than those back in Thailand. Perhaps the worst thing about Thailand being a magnet for the scum of the world is that as an expat living in the country, you often get lumped in together with all that slime. The local Thais often can’t tell who’s a tourist and who’s not, so they tend to assume the worst about all foreigners until they’ve proven otherwise.
Now of course I’m not saying every single foreigner in Thailand is a bottom feeder of society, but there sure are a disproportionately high amount of them in the country. And I for one want no affiliation with them.
2. In-Your-Face Gay and Ladyboy Culture
I know I risk sounding like a “homophobe” for listing this one, but so be it. I don’t really have a problem with who men prefer to have romantic/sexual relationships with, well at least not until I find myself in their homosexual crosshairs.
The Thais are so accepting and passive towards homosexuality and transgenders that these groups of people have complete freedom to flirt and make sexual passes at whomever they please with zero expectation of retribution. That said, it seemed like wherever I went in Bangkok, I got eye-fucked, catcalled at, and even occasionally groped by men. This all happened despite the fact that I have zero interest in men (or men dressed like women). But it doesn’t matter in Thailand whether you’re gay or not, as other gay men will spam you with their sexual passes nonstop. And if you ever use online dating in Thailand, be prepared to get accosted relentlessly by gays and ladyboys, regardless of what you list as your sexual orientation in your profile.
I remember one time I was leaving a hotel night club alone in the beach-side city of Hua Hin. As soon as I entered the hotel parking lot, 100% sober, a ladyboy sitting on a motorcycle walked up to me and started grabbing my crotch over and over again while saying “let me suck you.” I repeatedly said I’m not interested and tried to shoo her away, but she just wouldn’t let up. Ladyboys sometimes do this to distract you to try to steal your wallet or phone from your pockets, but I think this particular ladyboy genuinely just wanted to “suck” me. I eventually got on my own motorcycle and drove off as quickly as I could. To my surprise, the ladyboy also jumped on her motorcycle and followed me for about a kilometer down the road! Luckily, she eventually just gave up and turned back around. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all.
I personally believe the ladyboy’s behavior warrants a merciless punch to the face. People can be as gay as they want, but they absolutely must respect the limits of those who aren’t.
I can respect that the Thais are not homophobic culturally, but there’s got to be limits placed on sexual deviancy. Though in all fairness, this phenomenon is not unique to Thailand, rather it’s common all across Southeast Asia. There must be something in the water that makes men in the region more prone to being gay and transgender.
3. Crappy Sidewalks
It sounds a bit ridiculous to have sidewalks on a list like this, but Thailand has sure earned its place in the sidewalk hall of shame.
So many places in Thailand, especially Bangkok, are great places to see on foot. There’s a bustling street life, a vibrant nightlife, snacks to buy around every corner, millions of places of interest such as Buddhist temples to randomly stumble into, and so on.
But the problem is, so much of Thailand is a chore to walk through because of its poorly maintained sidewalks. Concrete breaking down and never repaired, food cart after food cart taking up space on an only two meter wide walkway, trash and other filth strewn about, no shade from the blazing hot sun, and millions of pedestrians all competing to use this same space to get to where they need to go. Walking on a Thai sidewalk is the ultimate test of one’s patience. Bangkok’s Silom Road is surely the worst of the worst.
The fact that Thailand and its cities are such great places to see by foot makes the general lack of care put into its sidewalks a crime to the country’s beauty. The country would go up a point or two in my book merely by getting its sidewalks in order. Move the food carts to open-air food courts like so many other Southeast Asian countries already have. Repair broken down sidewalks with some fresh concrete and widen them where possible. Build more overhead gutters and ceilings along the sidewalk the same way they have in Penang and Singapore. Have cleaning crews clean up the filth left along the sidewalks. Do anything, as anything done is better than the almost nothing that’s currently being done!
Having a pleasant walk in Thailand is a pipe dream, and that’s such a shame. The country could really learn a thing or two from China, where wide, walkable boulevards can be found in every major city.
4. The Thai Superiority Complex
The Chinese and Koreans may have a deep-rooted inferiority complex, but the Thais are the complete opposite. There’s only two nationalities of people the Thais don’t look down on – the Japanese and the Swiss. Everyone else is far inferior to the Thais, or at least that’s what they believe. Cambodians, Laotians, and Burmese are considered the worst of the worst, but even the majority of Westerners are seen as culture-less buffoons (because of number 1, perhaps?).
I believe the Japanese also have a strong superiority complex, but they’re far more skilled at masking their true feelings than the average Thai. It takes months to finally see through the Japanese charade, but a well-traveled person can probably see through the Thais’ within a matter of days. Just spend enough time in Thailand, especially Bangkok, and pay close attention to how you’re treated. Snotty customer service, being excluded from anything meaningful at work, always being a target for hustlers, and being on the receiving end of a lot of passive aggression just to name a few.
I’m a person who’s always culturally sensitive and treats people with respect wherever I go, but even I constantly felt contempt from so many of the locals during my three years in Bangkok. Being well-dressed and well-behaved can help ease a bit of the disrespect hurled your way, but nothing can completely eliminate it. Guilty until proven innocent best describes the Thai mentality towards most foreigners.
5. Thais Can’t Get Anything Done
Working in a Thai work environment for the first time, one needs to have rock bottom expectations. When I say the Thais can’t get much of anything accomplished, I’m not exaggerating. Now I can respect a society of people who prioritize pleasure over work, but sometimes work’s just gotta get done, and rarely does anything ever get done in Thailand. I personally would never put my faith in a Thai to take care of urgent matters on my behalf. Trust only yourself in the country.
Showing up 30 minutes late to important meetings, ATMs that always seem to be out of cash because no one ever refills them, restaurant orders that just never show up for whatever reason, having to leave the country entirely because the person who was handling your visa matters never pulled through – I could go on and on. Get ready to pull your hair out dealing with any work or business in Thailand, because seemingly no one in the country is willing to do anything that even remotely resembles labor. This phenomenon extends from the trenches of the bottom class, all the way up to the upper crust of society.
The Thai “mai pben rai” mentality towards everything really is a double-edged sword. It’s all fun and games ‘til one day it bites you in the ass.
6. Foreigner Tax
A common theme in developing countries across the world is overcharging “naïve” tourists for anything and everything. But what happens when you’re no longer a tourist in the country, rather a foreigner who lives, works, and pays taxes just like almost everyone else?
Well, in a country like Thailand you still continue to pay this foreigner tax, and there’s no limit to what will incur said tax. A bag of fruit, your apartment rent, your bar bill, a plate of food, random knick-knacks, a taxi ride – they’re all fair game. Even government-owned institutions like national parks and sacred temples have much higher admission prices for foreigners, sometimes tenfold. That’s right, even the Thai government is in on it!
China had a nasty habit of overcharging foreigners too, but in China I found the foreigner tax easily predictable. Anything with an unset price was fair game. But in Thailand, even the things that tended to have a set price were fair game. It didn’t matter if it was over just a few measly baht, there was always a chance I’d get overcharged. The rule was simple: if you think you might be overcharged, then you probably will. Trust your instincts.
Having to constantly be on guard against unscrupulous people in every single business transaction got tiring. I just wanted to pay what all the other locals were paying and be on my merry way. Yet time and time again I caught vendors and sellers playing games with me. Sure, a few baht here and there doesn’t affect me all that much, but it’s the principle of it all that got to me.
One of the biggest reliefs moving from developing Thailand to developed Japan was being able to let my guard down and not always have to assume the worst about every situation that involves money, no matter how big or small. I don’t believe locals are entitled to more of my money simply because I committed the terrible sin of being a foreigner in their country.
7. Extreme Class Consciousness
You might have heard somewhere that Thai society is governed by an unofficial caste system. Well you heard right. While it may not be as deep as it is in countries like India, it’s still very important for every Thai to know their place in society. I can respect that.
But just like in every other rising Asian nation with a massive gap between the rich and the poor, Thailand is one where people have an overwhelming need to show all those around them when they’ve “made it.” This phenomenon was also very prevalent in China, and unfortunately in this regard, I went from bad to worse when moving from China to Thailand.
Treating those “below” them like dirt, only traveling to developed countries with successful economies, spamming social media to show everyone their latest costly purchase (Louis Vuitton purses, expensive jewelry, etc.), countless European luxury cars going up and down every street in Bangkok, looking down their noses at bicycle riders, always having to be seen at the latest “hip” spot like some narcissistic Hollywood celebrity – welcome to Thailand. I find all this flashy behavior shallow and obnoxious.
It’s as if the entire society is still stuck in high school, where being the most popular kid in school is of utmost priority. Traveling to Asian countries with a healthy-sized middle class – such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan – is like a breath of fresh air when coming directly from Thailand.
8. Thai Police
There’s no police force I hate more in this world than that of Thailand. Police tend to be scummy and overzealous the world over, but Thai police are some of the most scheming, corrupt, and up-to-no-good I have ever been witness to. If you’re an obvious foreigner in the country, it’s only a matter of time before you have your first encounter with the Thai police. Multiply that by ten if you happen to get around the country by driving your own car or motorcycle. Oh, the stories I have heard!
Thai police love to entrap and shake down foreigners, particularly Westerners, as we’re seen as easy and defenseless targets. Even I, a person who is mindful of the law everywhere I go, once had to pay tens of thousands of baht to “bail” myself out of a sticky situation where I agreed to fix another foreigner’s broken laptop in exchange for cash. But the police who arrested me had no interest in preserving the jobs in their country for their fellow Thais. No, rather they saw the situation as an opportunity to fatten their pockets by taking advantage of a foreigner who was oblivious he had even done anything illegal.
In China I never once had an unsolicited encounter with the police. Hell, I didn’t even know who the police were or when they actually did anything. Yet when I lived in Bangkok, I knew within months that the police were not there to “protect and serve” as is the police motto back in the States. No, Thai police are a group of people who always have their cross-hairs pointed at the defenseless and unsuspecting. They even made international headlines for their random body searches of foreigners who committed the heinous crime of walking down Sukhumvit Road, the busiest road in the entire country.
9. Over Dolled-up Women
Thai society is a vain one, and expectations of women’s appearances are very high. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Besides, I like beautiful women just as much as the next guy. But so many Thai women don’t seem to know where to draw the line between beautiful and ridiculous. They go WAY overboard with their make-up, dye their hair way too frequently, wear flashy jewelry, overdress when it’s completely uncalled for, wear reptilian-looking colored contact lenses, wear braces on their teeth as some kind of fashion statement, and now the ever-growing trend of getting tacky tattoos is becoming mainstream.
Thai girls overdue it so much that it’s hard to tell who’s a girl and who’s actually a ladyboy. I often wonder who is hiding underneath all the make-up, hair dye, clothes, and tattoos. Chances are they’re far more beautiful than the person I see on the surface, but sadly I’ll never get a chance to see.
I used to work in a prestigious high school in central Bangkok that attracted young girls from upper-middle class families from all over the country. Most of my students were girls about 16 or 17 years-old. Girls were not allowed to wear jewelry, make-up, have visible tattoos, or dye their hair while enrolled at my school. Expectedly, they had to wear modest dresses as part of their school uniform. Every day I was amazed at how naturally gorgeous so many of the girls were. They didn’t need all the excess make-up, hair dye, or trendy clothes to look good. Many of them could easily have grown up to be models. No joke! But without fail, as soon as they graduated from my high school and went on to university, they’d reverse all their natural good girl beauty and make themselves up to look like bitchy tramps.
If you’re a sucker for naturally good-looking, girl-next-door type women who capitalize on their natural beauty, I’m afraid to say that they’re becoming less and less common in Thailand with each passing year. Their slutty fake-looking Barbie doll sisters are replacing them one by one.
I’m not saying a little make-up or getting dressed up is a bad thing, but it has to be done in moderation, and moderation in their looks seems to be a foreign concept to countless Thai women. Apparently it hasn’t always been this way, but by the time I rolled into the country, I had already missed the gravy train of abundant natural Southeast Asian beauties. I can only dream of what the golden years must’ve been like.
10. Piss-poor Communication
This one and number five go hand in hand. Trying to communicate effectively and clearly with the average Thai will make you want to bang your head against a wall. This is no more obvious than in the Thai workplace. And this one can’t be blamed on an English-Thai language barrier, because the truth is that Thais are just as shitty communicators with one another as they are with foreigners.
Just take a look around at some of Thailand’s cities, particularly Bangkok – the entire city is laid out in a very mish-mashed and illogical way. There are multiple reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest reason is the inability of different government departments to communicate well with one another to accomplish a mutual goal, i.e. building a city. If Thai government departments can’t even communicate effectively with one another, then how could I have any hope in the country’s citizens?
On ground level, this poor communication means you’ll often find yourself confused, bewildered, and frustrated. I can’t count how many times I showed up to teach a class at my Thai high school, only for no students to ever show up. What was going on? Was I in the wrong classroom? Was school let out early? No, rather the students usually had some other obligation to attend to, yet nobody ever bothered to let me know. As a foreigner working in a Thai institution, I was at the bottom of the social totem pole, so I was barely even an afterthought in the chain of information flow.
And try getting answers from a Thai person. It simply can’t be done. Thais don’t know anything because other Thais also don’t know anything. When a Thai does happen to stumble across some important information, they often horde it for themselves to gain leverage over others. Information is valuable in Thailand. Part of poor Thai communication is a cultural thing, but part of it is also out of carelessness and stupidity. It’s also one of the effects of Thais’ infamous procrastination.
Seeing the way Thais communicate, it’s no wonder the country is still in developing mode.
Thailand is popular choice for Westerners wanting their first taste of Asia and the experience of life in a foreign country. It’s a fun and vibrant country, so it comes as no surprise to me that so many foreigners want to call Thailand their new home. But because Thailand is such a mainstream travel destination, its flaws are often swept under the rug by people who want to keep everything politically correct. But just because everybody raves about a place doesn’t mean it’s without its flaws. Living three years in the country will make all of its flaws crystal clear to anyone with a working pair of eyes.
While Thailand may indeed be an exciting place to live, it’s still a country riddled with problem after problem. And having left Thailand in spring 2015, I don’t miss the country’s unsavory side on bit. Slimeball foreigners everywhere, women without a sense of moderation in their looks, lazy ass locals with zero work ethic, aggressive gays and ladyboys, crooked cops looking to shakedown unsuspecting foreigners – these are things I can live without.
Nevertheless, Bangkok is a city I consider my third hometown (after Little Rock and Dalian, of course), and chances are I’ll be making regular trips there until the day I die. Hell, I even have a long trip there planned for 2017. I’ll do my best to soak up the city’s positive aspects while greatly avoiding its negative ones.
Just have fun if you ever find yourself in Thailand. But for heaven’s sake, please don’t get stuck there and join the ranks of the thousands of other Thailand burnouts. There are plenty of other countries in Asia that are just as good as, if not better than, Thailand!