Is Thailand Really a Paradise?
If you read the tourist brochures, it sure looks like it.
However as a long time resident of Thailand my interest is different from typical tourist attractions like riding elephants, visiting lots of temples, looking at floating markets, doing jungle trekking, or getting a tan on the beaches.
What matters to me is this: How is the day-to-day quality of life and my regular interaction with the people here compared to what I would find in other countries. I can speak about other countries since I have lived in eight of them and have visited over 50 of them.
I am picking the USA for a comparison just because that’s where I am from, but the examples will apply equally well to most western countries.
After spending over a decade in Thailand, what is it that keeps me here, and if I were to leave Thailand, what would I be really missing here?
I came up with the following list. However I have to warn you. If you don’t have a sense of humor, you should stop reading right here. If you are the super serious type, you will just get upset reading this.
1. I would be missing my fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juices
I admit, I am addicted to them and I enjoy drinking them every day.
There is orange juice, pineapple juice, mango juice, carrot juice and a whole range of other juices and combinations of them.
A small bottle costs US $ 0.75. I want to make it clear that this is not available everywhere in Thailand. But where I live, in Chiang Mai, it is.
It is 100% juice without any water or sugar mixed in. The best place is Kun Kae’s juice bar on Soi 7, Moon Muang. You might just spot me there.
While other people might be drug addicts or alcoholics, I am a juice addict and I admit it. If it gets too bad, I will start a 12 step program for health nuts here in Chiang Mai.
2. I would be missing the smiles of the Thais
So many times I went out just walking around my neighborhood. Without fail I meet all kinds of people who will flash me a smile, especially if I make eye contact with them. I always feel better after my walk.
Here in Thailand I can smile at an attractive young woman whom I have never seen before, and she will smile back without thinking anything.
If I do the same thing in the USA, for example, I can get all kinds of strange reactions. The woman might be thinking “Why is this guy smiling at me, what does he want from me? I don’t know him”.
Or she might nervously finger the pepper spray in her purse, trying to decide if I am just hitting on her, or if I might be something worse like a serial sex offender, or a convicted rapist who just escaped from jail.
Or if it happens at a place where we both work, she might sue me for sexual harassment. Six months jail for inappropriate smiling plus a $100,000 fine for psychological issues due to potentially damaging consequences of wrongful smiling.
Ok, ok, I am exaggerating, I know. I will probably get some irate comments about this, but I figure it is better to be controversial than boring. Still the truth is that here in Thailand no woman will ever think anything like that if I smile at her. This is just heart warming and a wonderful characteristic of the Thais. It is medicine for the heart.
3. I would be missing the traffic
‘What, are you going completely insane now? Everybody knows that the traffic in Thailand is crazy.’ I beg to differ!
In most western countries there is a cop lurking around every other corner trying to clock you for going 1/10th of a mile past the speed limit.
And if there is no cop around, there are those radar robot cameras which get you.
If you do get stopped by the cop, there is no way that you can have a conversation with him or her.
Their vocabulary is limited to about three sentences: “Drivers license and registration”, “Step out of the car”, “Put your hands on the wheel where I can see them”.
Any attempt to initiate a conversation is met by a repetition of those three sentences, by silence, or by a stern expression that foreshadows dire consequences for you.
Here in Thailand generally nobody knows what the speed limit is, and I have never seen a radar gun in over a decade. I know they do exist in some places, but apparently not in Chiang Mai, where I live. I have also hardly ever seen a speed limit posted. Consequently I don’t know what the speed limits are either.
If you do get stopped by a cop for some infraction, you can actually talk to them. If the cop is male, and you are an attractive woman, you can tell them you were in a rush to visit your dying mother in the hospital, and chances are he will just let you go.
Or you can tell the cop you are in a real hurry and ask if you can pay the fine right on the spot. Often the cop will greatly discount the fine based on your cock and bull story how poor you are, and then he will slip the money into his pocket where it will safely stay to support his meager salary. Some people call this corruption. Others call it a convenient arrangement which benefits both parties.
But be advised: This does not always work. Some cops actually insist on doing it the legal way – don’t ask me why. But even then you still have a chance to negotiate the amount of the fine once you are in the police station (which is where you have to go to pay it). It is all a little more flexible in Thailand.
Another advantage of driving in Thailand is that if you ride a motorbike (very common here, although they are mostly small scooters), you can weasel your way through all the cars to the red light, and you are the first to go. That will get you a ticket in most places in the US.
My point is, why drive a motorbike if you have to sit behind the cars and wait for the light to cycle from green to red several times before you finally reach the intersection.
In the meantime you are sitting on your bike, sweating bullets in the humid tropical climate. There has to be some advantage for riding that bike! Here in Thailand I get around on a bike at least twice as fast as those cars because I can pass them on the right, on the left, or over the top or under them, any way possible.
Another great point about traffic in Thailand is that generally nobody gets mad at you if you do something stupid or illegal like parking in the middle of the street, driving a one way street in the wrong direction, or cutting someone off.
They can’t get mad at you because sooner or later they will do the same thing themselves. Try this in the US, and you will get yelled at, shown the finger or worse, besides getting the cops called on you.
4. I would be missing the street food
No, it does not make you sick in the vast majority of cases. Thailand is quite a clean country, as a matter of fact.
People take at least two showers a day and nobody smells bad. There is food to be had everywhere, almost on every block.
It might be a market, a street vendor, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, or a fruit stall on a motorcycle side car.
It is so convenient and cheap. Wherever you go, you are never far from food. Even along the roads outside the cities you often see roadside stands with coconuts, fruits, sweets, corn on the cob and other snacks.
5. I would be missing the prices
Here in Thailand I can go to a local restaurant and eat a Pad Thai (noodle dish) for about one dollar.
In the US the same dish would cost me at least ten times as much in a Thai restaurant.
Just the gratuity that is customary and expected in the US costs more than the entire dish in Thailand.
But – before you get too excited, not everything is that much cheaper in Thailand. For example, cars or some electronics can cost quite a bit more than in the western world. Gasoline is not cheaper either.
6. I would be missing the massage
By far one of my greatest pleasures here in Thailand is going to one of the numerous massage establishments and being treated to a wonderful Thai Massage or foot massage. It rarely sets me back more than US$ 5-10 per hour.
Wherever you go, at the mall, in a busy market, during a festival, on the sidewalk, in the temple grounds, in a hotel, in the park – a massage shop is never far away.
It might be a hole-in-the-wall place, a few recliners set up on a sidewalk, a rickety bamboo platform, a fancy spa or anything in between.
Massage is not a luxury in Thailand like in western countries where you have to budget for it.
Here you can simply walk into any massage shop and just treat yourself out of the spur of the moment without having to worry if your budget can afford it.
Since most massage in Thailand is done fully dressed, there is not much privacy required, and often you can see the massages happening right in plain view of everyone. It is a real treat to enjoy a foot massage in a comfortable recliner while you watch the world go by in front of your eyes.
7. I would be missing the relaxed atmosphere
In Thailand people are rarely in a great hurry and everybody somehow finds time to talk to you.
In all my years in Thailand I have never once heard anyone say something along the lines of “I am busy”, “Time is money”, or “Don’t waste my time”. Somehow people always have time to talk to you.
8. I would be missing the slower pace of life
Many people might have to work a lot here as well to make ends meet, but there is no western style ‘rat race’ here.
People don’t brag about working 80 hours a week, they don’t pride themselves of being a type A workaholic, and they don’t compete with their buddies by listing the number of heart attacks they’ve had.
The pace of life in Thailand is slower and better for your physical and emotional health. You just don’t feel the type of pressure that is so common in the western world.
How about a list of not-so-good things?
Do I have a list of things I would not be missing if I left Thailand? Sure I do, but it is much shorter, and besides, I could come up with such a negative list for every country I have ever been to. No place is perfect. So why should I focus my energy on what I don’t like? For me, the positive far outweighs the negative in Thailand, and tens of thousands of expats agree with me.
For those who are looking for the flawless and perfect paradise that is advertised in the tourist brochures, you forgot to read the fine print: This place is currently located on another planet and is easily accessible in your next incarnation. In the meantime, Thailand is a pretty good choice.
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for over a decade. He is happily married to his Thai wife.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Patience and Indifference in Thailand
Simple Pleasure in Thailand
11 Reasons Why Nomadic Matt Loves Thailand
==> If you liked this article, please share it and tell us
your opinion by leaving a comment below.
26 thoughts on “If I Left Thailand, What Would I Be Missing?”
Its great to read your such insightful positive comments about the beautiful land of smiles. I have been there many time and I enjoy the place. I also have many positive experiences. Its always a good approach to life to see the glass as half full.
However I feel a bit uneasy about the focus on being positive that becomes like a denial of there being any negative aspects to Thailand. We do know that there are things that happen beneath the surface for which we can do little but feel true compassion for the people effected. Pollution, weather, environmental damage, people trafficking, drugs, sex slavery etc.
And beyond all that our personal joy for the incredible gift of being on this planet depends not on our geographical location, wealth etc. Its out surrender to accepting what is and giving what we can.
Graham, sure, all those things that you mentioned are going on in Thailand as well as in many other countries. My feeling is that all negative aspects are sufficiently covered by plenty of media outlets, and I don’t see it as my job to chime in on that frequency as well. Tell me the country where pollution, drugs, environmental damage and sexual abuse are not an issue, and I will move there.
We all have to make choices. Some people focus on positive events to add to the positive balance sheet of the world, and some people focus on negative events, and generally attract more of those to them. I prefer to be part of the first group.
There is no perfect place that I am aware of on this planet. It is always a compromise wherever you are. However some places just resonate more with us than others. It sounds like an oversimplification to state that “it is our surrender to accepting what is” what matters. The beauty of this world is that we all make different choices, and have different preferences. That’s why some people prefer to be dentists and others prefer to be engineers, and we need both of them.
There are some things in life that we might just to have accepts, like death and taxes, but choosing a particular country to live is not one of them, at least not for those of us fortunate enough to be able to live where they want. This is our expression of free choice, and mine has been Thailand. For me this is a vastly superior choice, it fits me better than many other places. I expressed some of my reasons in this article.
I see no reason to write about the problems which Thailand has, since they are fairly typical of many countries. If any of my readers want to know more about the negative aspects, they can google them, no problem. As for me, I am not denying negative aspects, I just choose not to focus on them. And I trust that my readers are smart enough to know that not everything is perfect in Thailand or any other country.
I am happy that you have found your peace in Thailand. It’s a great place and as a Westerner one can live a relatively privileged life. Its great that you can enjoy it and feel so blessed in your life. If I come to Chiangmai again it may be good to meet.
When you come here, I’d be happy to meet you:)
I might add the comment. Thailand is not the only asian country of smiles. I find your discription almost a carbon copy to the Philippines. Talk about a warm fiendly country to visit. Everybody smiles at you. THe police are the same. I say if you can drive in the Philippines you can drve any where in the world. I have been to many parts of Asia. But like any country you can find fault. You neglected to mention, and I felt you were being a bit one sided.. America is still a land of oportunity. THere is never a problem for a woman working beyond 45 years of age in America. But in Thailand, Philippines and other asian counties ther is. Much harder for a woman than a man at that age to find steady work. If you are going to say the down sides to America, besure you to the same for THailand. It also has its dark side. Land of pedifiles, a world wide repretation for that. Its a beautiful paradise, but its not all milk and honey.
With all u can say.. America is still the best game in town, and Philippine women are the most popular brides around the world. Try and be more fair in your comparisons. All countries have good an bad.
Edwin, you are correct that it is more difficult for older women to get a job in Thailand than it is in the US. And of course Thailand has its dark sides like all countries do. But please understand that this article was not meant to be a balanced comparison between Thailand and the US, but a listing of things I would miss in Thailand if I left here. I used some tongue in cheek examples which were meant to be humorous, not serious accusations of the US. I mentioned right in the beginning of the article that you need to have a sense of humor when reading this article. It was not meant to be a serious study of differences at all, just a light hearted story listing some of the things I like in Thailand. You are taking it the wrong way, my friend!
I enjoyed the story Shama and do hope to get to visit at some point. I might add that my wife has a mental picture of the negative there and a place that is unsafe. I have told her I want to go and do a training in Chaingmai. At this point she doesn’t want to come with me. It is my hope that stories like this will open her eyes to the positive aspects of Thailand and make her want to come too.
The truth is that Thailand is quite a safe place compared to many other countries. There is crime, but it generally does not affect tourists. When there is an incident, the media plays it up for all that it’s worth, but all the expats I have ever talked to here mention that one of the big reasons for living here is that you feel quite safe here.
Haha! Great article, Shama. I think it’s worth spending time focusing on the positive wherever you live.
I am glad you are taking my article for what it is, a little positivity added to the balance sheet of the world of news reporting.
Amen to that. Your post is light hearted and ment to be so. Many countries have unsafe repretations. Certain cities and areas of cities in the USA, have unsafe repretations. But in contrast, Thailand, or Asian in general and the Americas , the rest of the world all have many beautiful places, and experiences to enjoy.
As a example, just emagine, living in Mexico City,a modern city, and being able to take a 20 minute walk to a Mayan Pyrimid, from your home.
Thanks for the article, although I have not been to Thailand I can image how comfortable you feel when you are surrounded by smiling faces. This is the most important thing for me to feel comfortable. I live in Moscow, unfortunately people rarely smile at each other here, especially in public transport, they either don’t notice you at all or even look at you with hostility, which is very depressing. So friendly faces everywhere is already a good reason to visit Thailand, to say nothing of other wonderful advantages including my favourite Thai massage (by the way it’s becoming very popular in Moscow)and a great oppportunity to meet you. I’m looking forward to visiting Thailand to enjoy every bit of what you have mentioned.
I am sure you would really enjoy it here Lidia. I have been to Moskow, and certainly nobody smiled at me.
Thai Massage is becoming popular all over the world now. I think it must be one of the fastest growing massage modalities, or maybe THE fastest one.
I am looking forward to meeting you in Thailand then:)
Shama….that beautiful and lustrous smile is your wife’s!!!! that doesn’t count my friend. You are taking that one with you if you leave…..
Very true, she is my wife, and I hope this smile will stay with me for the rest of my life! But although I can take her smile with me, I’d still be missing the smiles of all the other Thais:)
While in the process of being grateful about where we all are in life, I thought I might as well tell you about the divine little place I live in. Its a small little village of 5000 people blessed with wonderful tall forests and dramatic coastline with superb beaches. I have not locked the front door for 12 years and there has been no thefts. The environment is clean and at night the stars shine so brightly as the air is so clean. Its a lovely little community of people with a fair alternative fringe. There are lots of arts activities and events throughout the year.
It cant be compared to Chaingmai because it great in a very different way. Yet I find it refreshing to travel to Asia periodically to appreciate its environment as a contrast to where I live. I am happy here and yes I could be happy in Thailand. The art of happiness lies in appreciating what we have and finding the peace within.
Soo….where is this place?? Can’t wait to find out!!
I live on the South Coast of Western Australia. Its great and I love it here. And its not for everyone. Some people like the buzz of a bigger city. In the winter it gets a bit cold and I like to go to see some of the smiles in Thailand. It all depends on one’s taste.
The internet has given the everyday peoples around the world a venue to meet.
That is where I met my Philippina wife. I love the simplicity of life,
I found when I visited the Philippines. I think thats a trait common
through out Asia.
If you ever have been to Hong Kong. Like Singapore, its a crossroads
of asia. From a mans view, you can appreciate the buffet of asian beauty that passes before your eyes. Not met as a chovanistic remark,
but as a compliment to asian women, no matter from what country they
are from. Honk Kong is a place to see the differences they have between them. Do not get me wrong, I love american and women with european back grounds, I just think there is something uniquely special
about Asian women. Hmmm… I might be wrong , but isn’t the most recent Miss America a Philippina?
On another comment. I myself prefer rural or country living, to the big city. Been there done that.
I am enjoying this thread Shamma Kern.
Edwin, I agree with you on your observation that there is something special about Asian women which Western men find attractive. Although such a statement tends to elicit irate comments by western women, there is no need for that. Seeing something unique in Asian women does not mean that there is something wrong with western women. It is just an appreciation of some unique characteristics of Asians and their cultural background, it is not a value judgment or a condemnation of westerners.
I am glad you are enjoying the topic.
Nice piece! Touched my heart and traveling Spirit. Traveled a lot when I was youger and its hard to say where I enjoyed the most, but Thailand definately has the Best Massages!
Bali, Fiji are also very nice. I would haave added The Offerings to the list of things I would miss!
You got that right, that Thailand has the best massage. I have tried it in many southeast Asian countries, and nothing comes close. You can get good massage in Bali as well, but it costs a lot more than in Thailand.
Agree with shama on the piece, and what’s with the haters, geeze?
The piece was entitled what would i be missing if i left thailand, NOT a comparative analysis of the good and bad within the country.
Those that don’t appreciate certain things about thailand can always send their own post in. No foul.
As has been reiterated before, peace and happiness comes from what you make of the situation you’re in. It is what it is.
P.S. ain’t in great living in a non-pc country, where you can smile at a hot chick and not be looking down the barrel of a lawsuit? Sabai dee khrap!
Sometimes people point out that I neglect to talk about the bad things in Thailand. But that’s the difference between reading the news and my blog. The news media thrives on all the bad stuff that is going on, and I thrive more on the good stuff that is going on. It’s all a matter of what you want to focus on. That doesn’t mean that I am not aware of problems in Thailand, I just don’t feel that I need to keep pointing them out. I gladly leave that to the news media.
Thailand is really a paradise for tourists. You mentioned very good points about Thailand. I love street food of Thailand and I am agree with the fact that Thai people are very good they welcome every visitor with a smile and they have time to talk with you. No one can erase the memory of Thailand tour.