Spirit of Thailand

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Relationships in Thailand part 4

Why do many Thai women prefer a western man over a Thai man? What do the Thai men have to say about that? What is a second wife? Are women exploited in Thailand?

I have lived in Thailand for many years and I have never seen or heard of a case where Thai men are upset or jealous over relationships between Thai women and western men.

The reason is quite simple: They are not looking for the same kind of woman, and they understand or at least assume that the Thai woman is after the money of the foreigner which is a perfectly acceptable scenario in their mind.

Thais and westerners have different concepts of beauty

The Thai concept of beauty is not the same as the western one. If you go to any beach in Thailand, you will see lots of westerners roasting in the sun in an effort to show off a deep tan in their home country.

You can be sure about one thing – there is no Thai woman among them. Not only do they cover up as much as possible to avoid sun exposure, but they have a national obsession with whitening creams. Most Thai women try to look as light skinned as possible and they regularly apply those creams to help them with this task.

The drugstores are lined with whitening products. Thai women dread sun tans, and Thai men love the pale look. Dark skin color is seen as the sign of laborers, farm workers, and lower class people.

Tans are cool – but not for Thais

Here come the foreigners who are trying to look as dark as possible. They don’t equate the dark look with lower class people – just the opposite, a deep tan indicates that they have traveled to beautiful and exotic locations and have the money to do so. Their friends at home admire their tan and jealously inquire where they got all this great sun exposure.

Thai men and western men are not competing for the same women

Naturally those western men transfer their ideal of beauty to the Thai women. It just happens to be that the women from Isaan, the economically less developed part of Thailand, have darker skin. The westerners see them as beautiful whereas the Thai men see them as less desirable.

Many western men are in relationships or marriages with darker skinned Thai women. What a great arrangement – the Thais want the white looking women and the westerners like the dark women.

Alcohol, second wives and other extramarital affairs

Why do many Thai women prefer western men over Thai men? We already discussed the sociological and economical reasons in “Relationships in Thailand part3”.

There are two more reasons. One is excessive drinking which is a common problem among many Thai men. I have spoken to many Thai women about their relationship issues, and this was a recurring theme.

The second reason is that it is common for many Thai men to have second wives besides their first one. There is a name for this in the Thai language: mianoi – the little wife, or second wife.

Is this legal? No, it is not, you cannot legally marry a second wife, but many Thai men keep them anyway. It is part of Thai culture, as far as the man is concerned. The women don’t see it that way but there is not much they can do about it.

The first wife represents the outward social picture, she raises children and keeps the house. She does all the hard work. The second wife has a much easier job. She just has to be available for the pleasure of the man.

In  return she gets money, presents, jewelry, a car or motorbike, an apartment, an expensive mobile phone, all depending on what the man can afford. If the flow of goodies stops, there is no more relationship.

Many Thai women like the second wife concept since it involves less work than that of the first wife and it has good financial rewards.

If the Thai men do not want or cannot afford a second wife, they will still often have extramarital affairs – the Thai word for that is “gig”, meaning a sexual partner.

Many Thai women have complained to me that their spouse was a “butterfly”, the Thai way of saying that he was having affairs left and right.

Is the Thai system right or wrong, or just different?

Before you blame the Thai men for abusing and exploiting women, and for cheating on their partners, you need to remember that this system only works as long as the women willingly participate. Many Thai women actively look for opportunities to be second wives.

If that would not be the case, how could the Thai men find such partners? The first wives mostly object to the second wife and ‘gig’ system, so everything is kept as secret as possible. However everyone knows about it, and many Thais can list the second wives of well known personalities by name.

Conclusion and the all-important exceptions

Western men in general have less drinking problems than many of their Thai counterparts and they are mostly happy with one woman.

Many Thai women who have had relationships with men who were excessive drinkers and ‘butterflies’ turn to western men whom they see as more stable in this regard and often more financially secure. A bonus is that her social background and skin color is not an issue.

Of course not every Thai man is an excessive drinker and not every Thai man has second wives and girlfriends. There are many good and stable marriages. However the issues that I am pointing out  are very real and very much part of the fabric of relationship life in Thailand.

My purpose is not to pass judgment or to dictate what is right or wrong, but to shed light on the various aspects of life and relationships in Thailand. My readers can then make up their own minds. It is easy to judge people based on our own concepts. But it is also good to keep the native American saying in mind: “Before you judge a man, you should walk  a few miles in his mocassins”.

Click Here to read the next article in the relationship series

Previous articles in the relationship series:
Relationships in Thailand Part 1
Relationships in Thailand Part 2
Relationships in Thailand Part 3


shama 100pxThe author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for well over a decade. His wife is Thai and they have created a successful cross cultural relationship. You can reach Shama at shama@shamakern.com

4 thoughts on “Relationships in Thailand part 4”

  1. Shama well done…

    In thai society the gender rules are very strict, the social conduct and rules are very disciplinary this is also why many thai actually do suffer from high frustrations…but hard to detect as they don’t speak in public or outside family circles… Still I know from a Meditation Master that the level of frustrations are quite high. This is also the case in many constrianing asian societies where the social code is strict.

    WHen it comes to gender roles these codes also dictate part of the background of what your analysis is about Thai/Farang relationships and the spread of Third gender…
    Third gender (what you called the lady boys) are very commen in societies where the gender roles are strict and ruled, gender relations codified and dificuilt to maintain in such a changing world. India, Pakistan, Thailand and Korea have a lot of these third Gender and all the Pacific Islands (from Fiji to Samoa) where the third gender represent the tampon area the tampon group of the population necessary to keep the balance.

    FOr my part again As I am walking through the streets of my neighbourhood or urban Bkk life I wonder why do Thai Men not look at Western women!!! As simple as that!
    I know of 2 ladies one a very close friend and one a Meditation Master, former Zen nun and Master of Reiki and healer who is married with a Thai for the past 35 years… Speaks fluent Thai, teaches the Bodhidharma at University, read Pali text also but i guess she is not only an exception but an extreme rarity Unfortuntaly the husband died but the women is also one of the few foreigner who has not Thai citizenship… extremly rare circumstances.

    LOve to you and see you soon.

  2. I have observed that Thais are comfortable with their spouse living in another city for work during the week and they come home for weekends which seems to be very commonly accepted practice.
    However my assumption is that this lifestyle has to be a significant factor in cheating and divorce as its like living in a long distance relationship where deeper aspects of care, affection and love cannot flourish when living apart for most of the time. I find this concept fairly absurd and that it makes being married a very questionable or even pointless exercise.


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