Downsides and risks of living in Thailand

Last edited: June 27, 2019 at 06:37:30

Despite all its obvious advantages, Thailand does have some serious problems that can affect you, your well-being, your safety, your health or your investments. No matter how good life in here seems and how clean and glossy the underground in Bangkok or what someone tells you, never forget that Thailand is still a developing country. With that, come many issues and problems (or reversely, one could say because of these issues Thailand is still a developing country):

1. Low education levels

Despite what some people like to proclaim or what Thai people sincerely believe themselves, education levels in Thailand are very low. There are 'universities' in nearly every small town and nearly all young people you meet nowadays are studying or have got a degree from such a university, moreover Thai kids spend about the longest amount of time in school or in after-school tutoring while Thailand is proportionally one of the highest spending countries in the world on education, however the quality of education is very poor.
Try starting up a conversation with an average Business English student and you'll find out that the only language skill mastered is on paper. Even the top universities in Bangkok are probably just at an average Western European university level, although graduates from these constitute the very elite of Thailand.

Low education standards can affect you in many ways: it's harder to find local friends to have a good conversation (besides compliments on how good the food is), it's hard to find a partner to have a serious relationship with, it's hard to find good staff with knowledge and skills, and in daily life you may run into all kinds of problems, simply because locals haven't been educated.

Low education is a vicious circle because low quality teachers teach the next generation and ignorance is bliss. It is also a major factor in the political divide of the country, because with more education comes more equality and more opportunity for individual development.

Poor education in Thailand starts with the quality of the teachers

2. Lack of motivation

Thai people are happy and easily content, making them very relaxed and easy going. The most useful phrase in Thai is probably 'maipenrai', freely translated as 'never mind'. The flipside of this is that they are in general not very motivated to improve themselves or a situation. As a consequence, if you are in a situation that you want people to perform, you can have a hard job.

3. Low proficiency of English

On average, most Thai don't have a very high command of English. Reasons for this are a general lack of interest in the rest of the world and the fact that Thailand was never colonized. If you really want to get on with local friends, especially away from Bangkok, you really need to master some Thai, else you won't have much to exchange.
Young Thai are often able to converse in written English, but their spoken English is on average still rather poor.
Thailand's proficiency in English is especially low if you compare it with Malaysia, the Philippines or Myanmar.

4. Weak judicial system and high corruptability

You may think this is not going to affect your every day life in Thailand, but you'll be surprised it can. Buy a 'wrong" property, start up a business with the wrong Thai partner, be cheated by a 'friend' or abandoned by your Thai wife and you'll realize that in fact there is no real social justice in Thailand and usually the rich and well-connected win.
Much, if not most, of Thailand's judicial system was copied and imported from overseas by a small group of intellectuals just about a century ago, making it a system with many loopholes that doesn't really fit with Thai culture and didn't have the time to evolve over centuries in conjuction with changes in society like much of Western European law has.
Nearly everyone, including police, politicians, lawyers and judges are highly corruptable so if you're really in trouble, don't expect a fair treatment.

5. Low environmental awareness and standards

This is definitely going to affect your well-being directly. Fuels used in Thailand are of inferior quality because they are cheaper, while engines and exhaust pipes of cars aren't properly maintained causing a lot of (unnecessary) air pollution in most urban areas. Chiang Mai in fact, is always suffering from this smog although you notice it most during periods without rain.
Besides air pollution, a serious problem is the widespread use of pesticides in vegetables and fruits. Much of Thailands crops are not allowed to be exported to western countries because of this, and therefore consumed at home.
If you think you're eating healthy by being vegetarian, you may be wrong if your intake contains a lot of the wrong veggies.

Advertisement for pestice free vegetables means that a lot of other vegetables
are treated with pesticides and have residual pesticides when sold.

6. Cheating, lying and honesty

It's difficult to get hard facts on this, but it's fair to say that standards of honesty are 'different' from what you may be used to. You may notice that lying is widespread with young people nowadays, in fact if you tell the truth they may think you're lying if it sounds implausible. On a small scale, you may experience that a promise is broken easily with excuses, that an agreement is not honored, or that you have simply been cheated on. The damage, of course, is potentially larger the more you engage with Thai people and the more assets or money is involved. Read more about common scams in Thailand.

7. A farang will never integrate 100%

No matter how many years you have been living in Thailand, for locals you will always remain a foreigner or 'farang'. Of course, depending on your character and the way you interact with people, you can get great contacts and really enjoy living here, but there is a limit to real integration. That limit isn't as bad as in xenophobic countries such as Japan, but it isn't as good as more international multicultural places, such as Singapore and some consciously tolerant societies in the west.
It need not bother you, but then, it may, when people talk about you while you're standing next to them, or when you are still being taken advantage of.

8. Lack of depth in the Land of Comfort

Thailand is often referred to as 'the Land of Smiles', but in a way could be better described as 'the Land of Comfort', because that's what it is really all about in Thailand, for most Thai and many foreigners. The ultimate aim for most Thai is to be 'sabai', which could be superficially translated as 'happy' but in fact comes much closer to being comfortable. What Thai people want, is to be comfortable, with enough money for shopping, someone to take care of you, someone to love, your family taken care of, and without too much workload.
Thai culture does not breed deep feelings or a broad spectrum of feelings, everything is made simple and geared toward being 'sabai'. As a consequence, there is hardly any poetry in Thailand worth noticing, let alone alive poetry, there is no appreciation for deep heart-felt feelings, there are no (or very few) great actors or artist that are capable of conveying such a rich palet of feelings. This could explain one reason why Korean soap and movies are so popular in Thailand: because they themselves are not able to experience nor express such wide and deep feelings.
Some people, mostly foreigners wishing to 'defend' their Thai friends, may disagree with this point, but most Thai people agree or don't even know nor care what is, for example, poetry. It's true that there is true hardship in Thailand, but the human scale of emotions is very narrow and shallow in this country. Oversimplified, one could say that Thai people have 2 basic modes: ON being 'sabai', and OFF being 'mai sabai', and most other emotions are suppressed, quickly passed or not appreciated.
Living here, it means that you may experience a lack of passion and richness of emotions with Thai people, a lack of fine arts, a lack of contemporary culture, refiness of the human experience.
In fact, Thailand is one big Comfort Zone, and if you're fine with that, there's no problem, but if you are seeking a deeper experience of life, you may not find it here.

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mm Posted on June 26, 2022 at 16:24:33
An example of Farang who lived in Thailand for quite a long time but still know very little about Thailand because all they see is themselves and they think the world evolves around them. Very shallow
Chansiri Posted on April 27, 2022 at 19:36:35
คุณน่าจะอยู่จุดจุดเดียว เช่น กรุงเทพมหานคร แล้วคุณสรุปความเป็นประเทศไทยของเราได้อย่างไร
Rudy Hodges Posted on December 17, 2021 at 04:36:34
Moving to Thailand
Rika Posted on November 13, 2021 at 06:00:26
Easy to be happy is not less deeper than western definition of happiness. One example, Buddhism that they embrace is a profoundly deep wisdom and practice, arguibly involve much deeper thoughts than the current science. It is just different way & value sets to approach life but it is not less than your definition/perception how happiness should be. As well as knowing that you dont need to toil your self, that work-life balance is important is not a downside too. Your experience depends on what kind of people you met. Btw I am not Thai nor live in Thailand.
Ton Posted on March 24, 2019 at 02:29:20
Every word is true. I've been living here professionally for 10 years now and gone trough each and every situation you subscribe.

On top of all of this, once you have managed to get some knowledge into the Thai brains, they become 1 eye in the land of the blind and you are no longer needed.
i love this website Posted on March 14, 2017 at 08:57:26
i love this website
nemrut Posted on February 23, 2015 at 09:52:33
How is this different from Americans obsession with achieving happiness...two sides of the same coin with one being more extreme?