There are several misconceptions or strange ideas which you will come across all the time when you are in Thailand.
Generally the only Thais who don’t have those misconceptions are the ones who have traveled or lived outside of Thailand, and to a lesser degree those who work in the tourism industry and have had a lot of contact with non-Thais, or Thais who are married to foreigners and who know how much, or how little money their spouse has.
1. All foreigners are rich
The biggest misconception is that all foreigners are rich. If you are white and from a western country, you must be rich.
This is all-pervasive in Thailand. I have Thai acquaintances who will absolutely not believe me when I tell them that I am not rich.
Some of them have a lot more money than I do. They own businesses, land, and houses. But still, in their minds I must be rich simply because I come from the western world.
It happens frequently that my Thai wife is asked by someone if we want to buy their house or land. The assumption is that obviously I have the money to do that. And the second assumption is that I should buy my wife a house – it’s kind of my moral duty to her.
2. In western countries the government just hands out money to people
This misconception comes from the fact that tens of thousands of westerners retire in Thailand. The Thais notice that they have money to spend although they are not working.
Their conclusion is that their government just pays them. What they generally don’t realize is that those people worked their entire lives and paid money into retirement funds or funded their social security through their taxes.
Although they are just getting the money back that they paid into the system during their entire working lives, in the Thai’s minds, they are getting free money from the government.
They also don’t realize that many foreigners retire in Thailand because they cannot afford to do so in their home countries. Those retirees can afford a decent lifestyle in Thailand, but back home they would be poor.
What contributes to this misconception is that there is no social security or public pension program in Thailand, unless you have worked for a government agency. For everyone else the family (mostly the children) is the fall-back option for surviving in old age.
3. Foreigners come from cold countries
I have often had conversations with Thais who assume that Thailand is a hot country, and that western countries are cold countries.
They are astounded when I tell them that there are plenty of places in the US which are very hot, and even hotter than Thailand.
Most Thais have never traveled outside of their own country and have a very limited understanding of life and climate in other countries.
While they are right about most European countries, they have never heard about the hot climate in the southern US.
4. Foreigners should pay more because they are rich
Two tier pricing for attractions:
There are many places in Thailand where foreigners pay many times as much as the Thais. One example is the National Park system.
This still doesn’t seem like a huge amount to tourists, but it is a big annoyance to expats who have lived in Thailand for many years, and who see this as an unfair double standard.
The short term tourists often argue that they don’t mind paying more in order to support the ‘poor’ Thais. However this is not a good argument. If Thais are actually poor, they rarely visit national parks.
I have often seen western backpackers or expats show up at the entrance on their old scooters, whereas next to them was a Thai family in a brand new and very expensive SUV.
They clearly had more money than many of the western tourists who had saved money for a once-in-a-lifetime
In the eyes of the Thais this is perfectly justifiable. It never occurs to them how they would feel if they would travel abroad and had to pay a lot more than the locals.
The rich foreigners are here – let’s raise prices quickly:
The same two-tier pricing structure goes for many other attractions. Actually I have often seen that as soon as a particular place becomes more popular and attracts more tourists, suddenly the place was declared a national park and the fees were raised substantially.
Or if it’s not a national park, suddenly a sign appears with one price for
In the Thai’s mind, this is a perfectly good business policy, however if you live in Thailand, this is very annoying and discriminatory in the eyes of the expat community.
However it could be worse. At least the transportation prices are fixed in Thailand and are the same for locals and foreigners. I have seen countries like Nepal or Myanmar where domestic airline tickets cost several times as much for foreigners than for locals.
Grab a foreign husband and milk him for all he is worth:
Tens of thousands of Thai women are married to western men or are in a relationship with one. The western man is often regarded as a walking ATM machine, or as the goose that lays the golden eggs.
The western men are often under immense pressure to pay not only for their wife, but for her entire family. Actually the family often pushes the woman to ask for money from her husband regularly.
This has strained or broken many cross-cultural relationships between Thai women and western men. The underlying idea is again that the foreigner is rich, and that it is therefore justifiable to exploit him as much as possible.
This is of course not the case in all relationships, but in a high percentage of them.
5. Only Thais are good at Thai Massage
Thai Massage is very much part of Thai culture, and there are tens of thousands of Thais offering massage all over the country.
In the last 20 years tens of thousands of westerners have traveled to Thailand to learn Thai Massage, and many of them have become very skilled at it. The popularity of Thai Massage has gone global.
However if a foreigner tells a Thai person that he or she is a Thai Massage therapist or teacher, they will get an incredulous look as if this could not possibly be true or real.
The fact is that it is possible to get just as good a Thai Massage education in the western world as you can get in Thailand. However in the Thai’s mind this could not possibly be true.
So here you have it – some strange concepts that the Thais typically have about foreigners. However please understand that I am not writing this to criticize the Thais, but to help you understand cultural differences and different attitudes.
It is better to be aware of these concepts rather than get upset about them when you are suddenly confronted with them.
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for over two decades.
He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage since 1999, he is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.