The Expats’ Love-Hate Relationship with Thailand – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Wouldn't it be nice if we foreigners could be as mellow as Buddha?

Living as an expat in Thailand makes you schizophrenic. Really it does. As an expat living in Thailand, I’ve met many other expats living here and they all say the same thing. When you live in Thailand, one minute you love it, the next you hate it, but there are few times where your emotions are in between. Thailand is a country that elicits incredibly strong emotional responses, from extreme adoration to unbelievable disgust.

This is why, when you meet a fellow expat one day he’s happy as a clam, settling in at his new job in Thailand and planning on a three-day weekend to Koh Samui. When you meet him three days later, he’s talking about the price of plane fares back to his home country and wondering how long it’ll take him to sell his stuff before he leaves. I kid you not.

If Thailand is a country that makes you think your head isn’t screwed on properly, what is it about the place that causes so many farangs (Thai for westerner) to want to machine gun every Thai they meet one day and then marry their Thai lover the next? And, even with all the ‘love it/hate it’ emotions, why do many expats still stay? It’s all in the Thai people, the incredible food, the beautiful beaches and jungle, the fluidity of a country rapidly changing, and the intense, mind-fogging heat you think can’t get any hotter. Then it does.

What Makes Expats Hate Thailand

For the expat living in Thailand, half the time we feel like our heads are going to explode and, sometimes, it’s amazing to me that mine doesn’t.

Things Aren’t Reliable – Living and working in Thailand as an expat is frustrating as so many things simply don’t work. This morning, I spent four hours on and off the telephone with a woman from my cable company as the connection has been down since yesterday. Although a lovely woman, she couldn’t organize a picnic, which is par for the course with Thai customer service. On top of that, photo copiers don’t work (the ‘technician’ will come and fix it and it’ll break again an hour after he leaves), the work permit you were supposed to get last week still isn’t ready, and did I mention the the repairman who’s supposed to fix my air conditioner hasn’t come yet even though he promised a week ago?

Thai Immigration Rules Change Monthly – I’ve been in Thailand a decadeĀ  and, during that time, there’s hardly a month goes by where immigration rules haven’t changed, again. You just get used to the latest rules, you think all your paperwork is in order, you’re following the law and things look fine. Then, the law changes and, all of a sudden, you’re outside it. Thai bureaucracy, it’s a thing of beauty to behold.

Traffic in Thailand – In many places in Thailand, what would be a 10 minute trip in any other country in the world takes two hours in Thailand. Why? Because Thailand has some of the world’s worst traffic jams. That’s why you see tourists all over Bangkok taking photos of the impossibly long lines of traffic, stretching as far away as the horizon, with no end in sight. And that’s before rush hour!

The Heat, the Heat, the Heat – If you haven’t spent any time in Thailand, it’s hard to describe how oppressive the heat is. The Thais joke there are three seasons – hot, hotter and hottest – and that’s about true. Every day, you get up and it’s already 90 degrees before breakfast. You walk down the soi on your way to work and, fifty feet into it, you already need a change of shirt. The heat makes you wilt like a lily. You want to either collapse in a puddle of your own sweat, a-la-wicked-witch-of-the-west, or spend your entire existence in air conditioning because you can’t stand one more second of steaming, heavy, humid, hotness.

What Makes Expats Love Thailand

During the other 50% of the time, many expats in Thailand adore it so much, they never plan on leaving.

The Thai People – You hear people say “the nicest people in the world” and, for the Thais, that’s the absolute truth. I’ve never met a group of people who are as kind, loving, caring, helpful, happy and just downright fun to be around. The Thais make Thailand a beautiful place, and without them “the Land of Smiles” would not be.

Thai Food – Where else in the world can you buy the freshest, spiciest, healthiest and most delicious food on any street in the country for a $1? Where else can you eat spicy papaya salad, steaming fresh boiled crabs, enormous fried fish in chili sauce, chicken green curry served on fragrant rice, or chicken in a soup of coconut milk and bamboo shoots? Thais love food, and it’s literally everywhere your eyes rest and at prices you’ll never find in any western country.

The Shopping – As a professed shop-a-holic, and one who has been to more than 40 countries, I declare Thailand to be the world’s capital for shopping. Seriously. Stalls overflowing with colorful Thai silk, handcarved vases, delicate handmade jewelry, leather handcrafted bags and belts, clothing of every style and color, electronics, perfume, DVDs, CDs – you name it, it’s on a stall in Thailand and at a price you rub your eyes in disbelief at.

The Relaxed Atmosphere – Thais live by the law of “Mai bpen lai”, which in Thai means “Never mind. Don’t worry” and they don’t.

Thais don’t worry about anything. They don’t get bent out of shape. They don’t lose their cool. They don’t shout. Being stuck in traffic on the bus is a good excuse to have a sleep. Trapped at the mall, because it’s raining cats and dogs outside? An excuse to go and get a good meal. Thais don’t let anything worry them and, when you’ve lived in Thailand long enough, you find yourself not worrying either.

As an expat who, some days wakes up thinking “If I don’t get out of Thailand, I’m going to murder someone” and, on other days, is planning my retirement in Chiang Mai, I completely understand and sympathize with any western expat who thinks they’re going crazy. Thailand does that to you. It makes you doubt your sanity and every decision you’ve ever made, and has you absolutely convinced Thailand is the worst, then the best, country in the world – in the space of two minutes.

So, if you’re an expat in Thailand and feel like your soul is coming unglued, believe me, it might be. But, my advice? Relax. Mai bpen lai. Because, give it a few minutes and things will be completely different. Besides, no other country in the world will give you this extreme of an experience while, at the same time, surrounding you with beautiful places, lovely people and the most amazing food on the planet. Thailand. Sure, it makes you schizophrenic. But whoever said that was a bad thing?


Photo copyright – Buddha statue, copyright travelmeasia, Creative Commons