Moving to Thailand has changed my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined.
Almost all of my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive, though there’s a few things I could live without here.
One thing’s for sure though: while I have no present plans to move, if/when I do ever leave Thailand, there are several things I’ll never look at the same again. Below are just a few.
My wife and I were never really dog people, though unlike me, my wife did have a dog growing up.
Before moving to Thailand, I was ambivalent towards dogs. Now I’m afraid of them. Thailand has a serious wild dog problem.
Presumably because it’s a Buddhist country, Thailand doesn’t put down stray dogs, even the ones that harm innocent people. A year ago, my wife was bitten by a wild dog right outside our apartment complex, which required several rounds of rabies shots and lots of money.
When we voiced our frustration to our security guards, they pulled up their pants, showed us their dog bites (likely from the very same dog) and laughed at us. This is not normal.
In most developed countries (which Thailand is trying to be, I think), they would put a harmful dog down. But not in Thailand. As a result, Thailand is filled with wild, often dangerous dogs, particularly in the small towns.
Whenever we see a wild dog while we’re running, we have to stop, walk slowly past them, and hope they don’t come chasing after us. Many times they do, and on a recent trip to Fang, we were actually chased across a highway median by a wild dog. In light of the foregoing, we’ll forever be fearful of wild dogs — in Thailand or elsewhere.
Don’t get me wrong, many Thais are into their material possessions. Teaching at a private university, I see plenty of wealthy Thais who are probably as much invested in materialism as Americans, if not more.
But the difference between here and there is that, in Thailand, you can get whatever you want at whatever price point you want.
So while our students may opt for the latest iPhone straight from the Apple store in Siam Paragon, my wife and I will hop over to MBK or Pantip Plaza and buy a) a used version of an earlier iPhone or b) a knock off/copy.
The same can be said for clothes, electronics, furniture, you name it. My point is, although I’m admittedly biased because I sold almost all of my material possessions before moving to Thailand, if I ever replace them, I’ll never pay full value again.
Thailand has taught me not only that experiences are far more valuable than material possessions, but also, that there’s never a reason to pay full price for anything.
As a lawyer at a large firm in the U.S., my typical day was divided into ten minute increments. Literally every single working day — that’s how I was required to bill my clients. Consequently, nothing was more valuable to me than my time.
Fast forward three years of living in Thailand later, and I now look at time completely differently.
Generally speaking, things move slowly in Thailand. And it took me a long time to become comfortable with that. In my early days here, I would often lose patience very easily at time wasting, but I’ve become more accustomed to it now.
For example, where I would only take at most a 2 week vacation in the US every year, the thought of taking an overnight bus to Chiang Mai or Phuket or an all-day minivan/ferry combo to Koh Chang never would have crossed my mind. Now it’s a regular occurrence.
As I mentioned in my last article, the Thais have a different set of priorities than many other nationalities, notably Americans.
Whereas the latter tend to put their career and work above all else, for the Thais, work and education typically take a back seat to things like family, family business, personal health and even fun.
I can’t tell you the number of times my students have missed class because of any of the foregoing reasons. And the most remarkable part is that they often do it matter of factly — a complete contrast to when I was a student or lawyer and would never miss work barring an absolute emergency.
But for the Thais, “emergency” takes on a very loose meaning, as their priorities are already so different from the West.
Having experienced this firsthand, I’ll never look at work the same again. Life is simply too short.
As the old adage goes, nobody ever sat on their deathbed and said “I just wish I went into the office one more day.”
As indicated above, Americans typically take two weeks or less of vacation per year. In fact, we’re the only developed country in the world not to have a law requiring vacation time for employees. While most employers give two weeks, many do not. And even when they do, Americans often don’t take the fully allotted amount for fear of being looked down upon by their superiors and peers.
Thais, on the other hand, make vacation a part of their regular life.
Granted as a teacher I get far more vacation than most, even so, after living here no longer will vacations be a once or twice a year occasion to provide me the stamina to make it through the rest of the year. Instead, it will forever be a part of my regular life, no longer reserved for special occasions.
Having just come back to the US to visit my family and friends for the summer, I can’t help but compare the cost of everything to baht.
Thailand is one of the best, if not the best, value countries in the world.
From transportation to food to accommodation to clothes, in Thailand I spend a fraction of what I spend in the US, often for the same experience (a taxi ride, a meal, a hotel, an outfit).
While a few, mostly imported, products, will often cost the same or perhaps even a little more in Thailand, generally speaking, I spend about 3 times more in the US for roughly the same outcome. Sometimes, the tax and tip alone on a meal in the US will be more than the entire cost of the same meal in Thailand.
Consequently, regardless of whether my wife and I live here indefinitely, we’ve already told ourselves that we’ll return to Thailand towards the end of our lives to live out our retirement years, as we can retire here ten to twenty (if not more) years earlier than we’d be able to in our own country.
With more and more Westerners catching on to this idea, however, I hope there’s still room for us down the road.
Before I came to Thailand, dessert, to me, was exclusively an after dinner dish reserved largely for special occasions.
In Thailand, however, dessert is often a midday snack shared between two people — often young couples in love.
No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I can never get over the sight of seeing two young Thais sitting at one of Bangkok’s countless “dessert cafes” sharing or indulging in their own huge slice of cake and milkshake.
What amazes me most however is that it’s typically 3-4pm. Though I never have, I’ve always felt compelled to ask if this is their lunch, dinner or merely a 2,000 calorie midday snack.
I can only assume it’s the latter…
Resourcefulness and Entrepreneurialism
The Thais are some of the most resourceful people I’ve ever met.
In the US, you typically need to find an expert to fix something when it breaks, which will inevitably cost lots of money and take lots of time.
In Thailand, on the other hand, whatever your problem is, it can typically be solved fairly quickly and for very cheap. Whether it’s replacing the side mirror on a motorbike, rebooting a mobile phone, fixing a broken bus or minivan on the fly, or simply setting up and taking down their little market kiosk every single day, the Thais are extremely resourceful and efficient when they want to be.
They’re also very entrepreneurial. In my country, most people are very good at one thing. For example, I was an insurance coverage lawyer. That was my specialty, and with few exceptions, I rarely practiced law outside that domain.
Conversely, here it seems like most people have several skill sets. My students, for example, frequently have their own businesses on Facebook or Instagram, and often help their families run their family business. Many even have their own brick and mortar businesses, like a campus bar or restaurant.
They also often have many special talents they indulge on the side too, such as being a musician, Muay Thai fighter or model/actor.
When I was a student, schoolwork was my only concern. If I had to focus on anything else, I doubt I would have had the success I had early on in my law career. On the other hand, I’d likely have far more options down the road instead of just being an insurance law expert.
The Thais remind me of the Renaissance days, when rather than being an expert, most people were a jack of all trades.
Above all, the one thing I’ll never look at the same after moving to Thailand is life.
Like any place, Thailand has its flaws. But having visited approximately 50 countries, there is nowhere I’d rather call home right now than Thailand.
Between the people, the food, the culture, the beaches, the mountains, the cheap cost of living, and above all, the sanook, the Thais simply seem to enjoy life more than most other countries.
In my three years of living in Thailand, I can’t recall ever being accosted by a local. Compare that to the US, where in just the past few weeks, I’ve been flicked off or told to go “f” myself several or more times for a seemingly innocuous driving situation.
I can only assume these people are angry because they hate their lives — likely comprised of a job they hate which doesn’t pay enough to enjoy the things they need (or think they need) to be happy.
And that’s why, no matter where my life takes me, my experience in Thailand has taught me that there are more important things in life than work, and you also don’t need to have a ton of money in order to enjoy life’s greatest pleasures.
Rather, you just need a little perspective, a little patience, a little time, and most importantly, the ability and willingness to embrace sanook. The Thais have that in spades.
Now if only they solved that wild dog problem!
Facebook image is by Transformer18 and used under a CC BY 2.0 licence