What attracts so many Westerners to Thailand, a country so foreign to their own cultures?
As I drive around Hua Hin, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other parts of Thailand, I see so many Westerners (Expats Living In Thailand) going about their daily lives, trying to complete mundane tasks or every day chores, completely at home in a culture so different to that of their home countries. It makes me wonder, “why do these individuals choose to live here?” Thailand and most of Asia is so foreign to the West that it makes me wonder how a family like ours can be so content living in a land where we don’t speak the language fluently or understand the culture on a fundamental level.
The infrastructure in Thailand is not great. The roads are generally pot-hole ridden (but improving every day) and there are packs of mostly harmless dogs roaming or lying in the streets covered in mange, fleas and ticks (and a myriad of other nasty things). From time to time, we see large snakes crossing the road or lumbering elephants walking alongside cars and trucks, and more often than not, a slow moving herd of cows causes a traffic jam for 3 or 4 minutes a few times daily. None of this bothers me a bit.
Living in Thailand compared to the USA
In contrast, everything bothered me when I lived in the US. I used to get furious with idiotic American drivers who drove too fast on the highway, or motorists trying to cut into a long line at a traffic light. Until you experience driving in Thailand, you have no idea what bad motor skills are like. There is practically no enforced speed limit; there is no such thing as politely waiting your turn in a queue, traffic or otherwise.
Thailand is considered the second most deadly place in the world to be in a vehicle. Don’t get me wrong, driving here can be exasperating, but I don’t have the rage and impatience that I had back in the US. In fact, I’m constantly amazed at the calm and cordialness that Thai drivers exhibit, even while performing the most incredulous (and stupid) stunts on the highway.
In the US, I would be hyper critical of mediocre restaurant service. In Thailand, the average table service is so bad it’s comical. I often have to ask for silverware, along with every little item that should accompany the food (like plates…). Even at a “nice” restaurant, it is common for each guests’ entree to be staggered by 10 minutes or more–and it’s always the children’s meal that arrives last. The bill seems to be an afterthought for all waitstaff in all restaurants, who disappear when it’s time to pay and then take half a century to return with your change. But for some reason, I have so much more patience for the poor service than I ever did back home in the US.
I never really understood why “things” bothered me so much when I lived in the USA.
Was it because I had a higher expectation of how a country and its people should operate and act? Perhaps I was bored with the daily grind and generally dissatisfied with my life in the US? I think that being subjected to daily stresses in the US took a bigger toll on my life than I realized. This stress manifested itself in impatience and frustration in the rest of my life and daily activities. Thailand–for us and for other expats that we’ve spoken with–has less consistent, daily stresses compared to other Western countries.
I have a good friend from the UK who moved to Thailand 28 years ago. He told me that when he first moved here, he thought he could bring Western “know-how” to Thailand and change Thailand for the better. He said he failed miserably. Then he said that in order to succeed, he realized that he could not change Thailand; he had to adapt and change himself instead. And 28 years later there is no other place he would rather live. This is coming from a man who has the means to live in luxury anywhere on the planet, yet he chooses to live in Thailand.
After living in Thailand for nearly 9 years, I believe the real reason I like living here is something the USA lost long ago: freedom. The word “Thai” can mean several things. In Thailand, the word “Thai” stands for living free, or Land of the Free. If you break the Thai society into its basic elements, most people live a simple and free life. Yes, there are rules to this society—both spoken and unspoken—but the overarching philosophy here is that you are free to do as you please, as long as it doesn’t hurt or interfere with other people’s freedom.
My life in Thailand is far more simple, free and enjoyable than it was in the USA. I have a very nice home that is paid for. I have little to no debt. I work when I feel like working. I play when I feel like playing. I can spend time with my family and watch my daughter grow up. I spend time with my wife and daughter every day because I can afford to meet our basic needs and more. Thailand is a wonderful place to live, not just because you can live well on a smaller budget (see our post: The Cost Of Living In Thailand), but because you can stop running the rat race and enjoy life and appreciate what it really means to live.
This brings us back to the question, “Why choose Thailand?” Why are there so many expats living in Thailand? Obviously, the answer will be different for each person, but I believe the overarching theme is that people are searching for a life with more freedom: freedom from debt; freedom to be who they are with less judgement; freedom to travel and live a life of relative luxury; freedom from the cold and freezing weather of their home countries. In my humble opinion, a life with more freedom is a better life indeed.