Is Thailand a third world country? I will let you decide. I live in Chiang Mai which is the second most important city in Thailand after Bangkok.
My home is:
- 10 minutes from one of the biggest universities
- 10 minutes from an
olympicsize swimming pool
- 15 minutes from a gigantic super modern mall
- 15 minutes from a health food store
- 10 minutes from an organic produce market
- 15 minutes from a national park
- 15 minutes from 3 big computer and electronics centers
- 20 minutes from a modern international airport
- 15 minutes from several major hospitals
- 15 minutes from a western style supermarket
- 10 minutes from a zoo
Doesn’t sound very third world, does it? I am definitely not deprived of anything. People here drive late model cars, WIFI is everywhere, and I don’t know anyone who does not have a mobile phone (and that includes teenagers of all ages).
The ambiance in Thailand
The charm is that amongst all these modern amenities you find beautifully decorated and ornate temples, bustling markets which have not changed much in decades, barefoot monks collecting alms in the morning, and an unhurried lifestyle that makes you instantly feel at ease.
Everyone has time to talk to you, absent are the harried looking businessmen who are rushing about, clutching their briefcases while nervously looking at their watch. Instead people smile at you and nobody seems to be in a hurry.
If you leave the city you soon encounter small towns and villages which have retained much of the simplicity of rural life without having been bypassed by modern life.
Residents plant colorful trees, bushes and flowers in their gardens and along the road, they leisurely go about their business and always find time to chat and eat with their friends. Busy, colorful and noisy outdoor markets attract your senses in ways that you will never experience in the sterile environment of modern supermarkets.
The role of Buddhism and monks in Thailand
Religion is not separate from secular life, but Buddhism is not mandated or forced on anyone. Monks are seen everywhere and they are very much part of life in Thailand.
Most major decisions and most festivities and ceremonies involve the presence and the advice of monks, but there is no pressure or obligation to visit the temples.
Buddhism is more a lifestyle than a religion. The spiritual and the mundane interact daily and cannot be segregated as they are by law in many western countries.
Buddhism has given Thailand much of it’s greatest architecture, a lot of color and beauty, and much wisdom. It would never occur to any Buddhist to judge another religion or to attempt to convert anyone to Buddhism.
Temple activities are open to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike – there is no concept of non-believers or segregation of religions. Buddhism is very tolerant and accommodating.
The different areas of Thailand
Thailand’s south is the beach scene, whereas the north is characterized by scenic mountains, culture, and lots of great places to see.
Travel in Thailand is very easy and the infrastructure is mostly very good. There are some rural and remote areas which will remind you of third world images.
Overall it is fair to say that Thailand is not a third world country, but a developing, or second world nation.
Living in a vibrant city like Chiang Mai combines modern lifestyle and amenities with the ambiance of ancient culture and a relaxed and pleasant way of life.
Living in Thailand’s capital of Bangkok thrusts you into a more accelerated and westernized lifestyle which has lost some of its charms.
Living in the rural or more remote areas of Thailand can be very peaceful and beautiful although the tradeoff is less access to modern amenities, shopping, and facilities.
Rural huts and glitzy mega malls, bicycle rickshaws and BMWs all coexists in Thailand in an easy-going manner, creating interesting contrasts.
Chiang Mai, a holistic hot spot
Particularly Chiang Mai is one of the major holistic hubs in Southeast Asia.
There are countless massage shops, where you can get a one hour massage for $5-$8.
And there are lots of massage schools, yoga centers, meditation retreats, Qigong training, energy healing, and many others.
A more stress-free life in Thailand
One aspect which makes life in Thailand very pleasant is that the Thais are mostly very friendly and helpful. It is very rare to see Thais get angry, and with only
Most people feel instantly at ease in Thailand, and tens of thousands of westerners have succumbed to the charm of this country and have settled here for good.
Relationships in Thailand
Thailand is home to a huge amount of expats, many of whom are married to Thai spouses and have chosen to stay there permanently.
Cross-cultural relationship have their pros and cons. For more information about relationships in Thailand, please read this series on our site.
Cost of living in Thailand
One big reason why so many people choose to live in Thailand is that the cost of living is much lower than in western countries.
Housing, both renting and owning a home, are often a fraction of similar housing in the western world. Local Thai food is very cheap.
The northern part of the country, with Chiang Mai as a hub, is generally cheaper than the southern section.
Tens of thousands of retirees have found that they can afford a much better standard of living with their retirement funds in Thailand compared to their home country.
No country is perfect, and that includes Thailand. It does get quite hot during certain times of the year, and it can be quite humid, especially in the central and southern areas. So if you don’t handle hot tropical weather well, then Thailand might not be ideal for you.
A third factor is that the northern part of Thailand suffers from high air pollution during the months of March and April due to agricultural burning which can be a serious health hazard and causes many people who can afford it to leave during that time.
Thailand is a beautiful country. It has friendly people, a low cost of living, and good food. Bangkok is a major airline hub with excellent connections at good prices due to lots of competition.
Like everywhere in the world, there are some negative factors. However tens of thousands of expats agree that the positives outweigh the negatives by a large margin.
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Chiang Mai with his Thai wife for two decades. You can reach him at [email protected]