If like me you have spent any time on the many farang based forums and you happen to end up in the often depressing topic area called “Farang/Thai Relationships” then I hope my post will do something to add some reality and positive words to the subject.
I met Gaun my Thai wife a few years ago in 2012 when I was holidaying in Phuket. We were married in a civil ceremony early 2014, which I wrote about HERE, formally married in our hometown on Si Bun Ruang, which you can read about HERE and have been happily living together since I moved to Thailand in June 2013.
So what’s it like living with a Thai lady? By this I don’t mean to suggest that there’s anything weird or worryingly different in having a Thai partner over say an Australian or English one. This is not a living with an alien story! What I do believe however is that each nationality has its own “flavour” and it’s those differences between cultures that make a mixed partnership both especially interesting and rewarding but also in some cases especially challenging.
Before I launch into this post I had better set some parameters. Firstly I don’t set myself up to be an expert on anything least of all farang/Thai relationships. However I have been successfully (well she SEEMS happy and I certainly am!) living with a Thai lady for over three years, which gives me a little credibility to share some aspects of what I have observed.
I won’t bore you with specifics about my relationship and I will keep the comments pretty general however they are obviously based on my personal experiences, which may not be representative of the “normal” situation (whatever that is) between a farang and Thai partner. The photos are more personal so it’s a bit of a Gaun and Tony post in that way but I preferred to share these rather than come up with some generic pictures from the internet.
My life with a Thai wife is also based around living with an Isaan rural woman not a HiSo (Thai high society) mover and shaker, which I am sure involves a different set of priorities, although I suspect there are common themes running through all levels of society here.
So let’s get started:
Are you hungry?
Thailand as a nation is obsessed with food and in my mind that’s not a bad thing. One of the most often asked questions I will get from Gaun is “are you hungry?” and this can happen at any time during the day.
Thais eat when they feel like it and if you have ever visited the country you will know that you are never more than 50 meters from a stall or shop serving food! Although the standard three meals a day are consumed the ability to snack is a national pastime with a couple of satay sticks here or a little bag of something else there.
I hasten to add that the dish above was being consumed by the workers building our house and isn’t on my expanded menu since moving to Thailand. If it moves or grows most likely it will be eaten in some form. I am told the ants have a sour flavour in case you were wondering however ant eggs are very sweet 🙂
I don’t have a large appetite here, maybe a combination of the fact that I don’t do much physical work, or anything else come to that, and the tropical climate. I mostly don’t have lunch, which worries Gaun who isn’t happy unless I am eating something. “Are you hungry?” will be asked, I will say “no” and then a plate of fresh sweet pappaya or mango in season will appear with a yogurt or homemade ice cream. The wok is fired up and crumbed prawns or chicken will arrive usually in quantities to feed a small family. The decision to go with a simple breakfast rather than something cooked is met with a look of disappointment! All in all it is the one area I feel that I let Gaun down 🙂 She should have married a big eater. Sorry Gaun.
I guess coming from my background of relative affluence where a meal on the table was never in doubt it is hard to imagine living a life where the provision of food was not just a question of dropping into the supermarket. The historical background of Isaan is generally one of a poor rural population with the next meal being whatever is growing in the fields or the roadside. It is why the foraging state of mind still exists here even today and you’ll see motorbikes pulled over on the side of the road with a fishing line dropped into the local rice field water supply or something being picked from a tree.
You or I would stop in the countryside and look around at the scenery and just see vegetation. Gaun will won’t see the view but point out a whole meal growing around her. It is a natural built-in aspect to her and many other Thais, especially those coming from a rural background.
I joked about everything moving or growing being eaten but I am guessing that this once again has a basis in the past where a field rat, pond snails, ants and lizards all looked pretty attractive as additions to the cooking pot.
Rice is of course absolutely essential to all meals here. “Kin Khaw” is the call to a meal and it literally means come and “eat rice”. Gaun firmly believes that if she doesn’t have a decent intake of rice, especially sticky rice an Isaan staple food, that she will get ill.
Just on the subject of food I built a large pantry in our new house, which in Australia (and after 18 months of living in the house here too) would be filled with all the extras we consider essential to cooking; sauces, spices and tins and packets of stuff. Gaun like all Thais doesn’t bother with the accessories when it comes to cooking. Everyday Thai food is all about super fresh ingredients and very simple tastes. It is a clean, uncomplicated cooking style – largely wok based of course, although there is a lot of soups and raw vegetables consumed too. Gauns entire range of cooking ingredients would fit into a small drawer!
HINT: If you are living with a Thai be prepared to have a lot of life revolve around food. You can’t separate the two.
Another area that may catch you out is how involved a Thai person will be to family. This is a more complex area than the connections a western person may have to the wider family group.
Gaun has a 16 year old daughter called Peng. When Gaun was away working in the South of the country for three years and only coming home for a week at Songkran, Thai New Year, responsibility for looking after Peng passed to Yuan, Gaun’s younger sister and the family here in Si Bun Ruang.
One time after a visit to the family home and we were returning to Chiang Mai I asked Gaun whether she was sad to be leaving Peng. “No” was the answer “Why I be sad? Peng with family”. This isn’t unusual in any way. There are many, many situations in the village where children are being brought up by members of the extended family while parents are away earning an income elsewhere and sometimes this is overseas in places like Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
In Australia and probably other countries I know that there is an increased demand on grandparents to become involved yet again in the raising of children. However this is mostly an after school type of situation. If children were left semi-permanently in their care it would be seen as an abandonment and no doubt require counselling in later life! Thais seem to have a much broader acceptance of the community aspect raising of children.
In a country where there is a very limited old age pension scheme, Gaun’s mama gets 800 THB a month or about A$32.00, which even in Thailand is a pretty limited income, there is an ongoing commitment by the family group to support older members. There is still a custom in place which has the younger daughter of the family staying at home to look after her mother and father in old age. The recompense is that they get will often inherit the family home when the parents die.
The working members of the family will send money home and local family members will provide assistance on a regular basis. This in-build superannuation system is where many farang lose it when it comes to paying what’s called Sin Sod, or a dowry in our language. I had a farang tell me recently that there was NO WAY he was “buying” his maybe wife to be! This shows a complete lack of understanding of the Thai way of doing things.
Sin Sod is paid to the mother/father of the bride in recompense for the ongoing financial obligations she/he would have had to support them being transferred to the husband and the husband’s family on marriage. The loss of “superannuation income” is made up by the payment by the husband of Sin Sod. Non-payment of Sin Sod on marriage is a loss of face for the whole family as the village will be asking how much Sin Sod has been paid. Not to pay is to publicly say that you don’t think your wife is worth anything. Not a good way to get started in your new married life. Get over it and pay up is my advice but up to you.
Watching the play of relationships in Gaun’s family is like any other. Gaun is one of seven so there are a confusing number of relatives to remember. However some are known and form part of the inner circle and others that are less involved. Brother number 3, Gaun numbers them not just me so I think she can’t keep track of them either, arrives with some of his family for Songkran. Gaun hardly speaks to him. With her younger sister Yuan contact was made every day by phone when we were living in Chiang Mai and we visit the farm most mornings for a coffee now that we live here.
To finish off I will give you another quick illustration of how important the Thais see the family unit to be and the obligations that flow from that. When we built our new house in Isaan I incorporated a large bedroom that would be Peng’s room day to day and also act as a guest room when we had visitors.
The room isn’t being used because the family have decided that Peng still needs to sleep at the family home to look after mama. The two sisters who also have houses in the compound sleep at the farm at night and their offspring have moved out of the village. Peng has totally accepted her obligations even though by her standards there is a luxury bedroom with flatscreen TV and air con on offer. Try that one on with a Western kid of 16!
HINT: If you are getting into a serious relationship with a Thai you need to take the family into account. They are a strong aspect in your new partner’s life and one you will either have to accept and work with or find some sort of compromise. I have read about farang who have banned the family from making contact for whatever reason, and you get bad associations here as everywhere, but the cost to the relationship may exact a high price.
The Wild Thai Girl
We Western males have a very limited knowledge of the average Thai woman and what we do know is often based on girly images of Thailand holiday party spots like Pattaya and Patong in Phuket.
If you come to Thailand with the expectation that Thai women in general are anything like these images you will be in for a shock. Thailand is still a very conservative society in a way we lost decades ago. Even with these girls pictured above if you met them outside of work you might be surprised to see how modestly they act and dress – not always of course.
You are looking at a country that, unless things have changed recently, a kiss between two Thai people on TV had yet to be seen! “Normal” Thai ladies in the very short dresses they enjoy wearing especially in the hot season will often have shorts underneath as per Catholic schoolgirls – the latter so I have been told 🙂 Gaun refuses to go out in a dress unless she has jean cutoffs underneath and she is a lot less conservative than some.
If you are dating a Thai girl don’t be surprised if a female chaperone joins you on the first few outings. A bit different from a Pattaya girl who is more interested in the contents of your wallet than ensuring you keep your distance.
A beach swim for ordinary Thais will often be done in full everyday clothing. Google “Thai girl at the beach” and you’ll find lots of photos, usually published by guys, of scantily clad Thai girls. The real view is most likely to be somewhat different.
Tattoos are widely seen on girls once again in Pattaya and Patong. However you’ll find that when these ladies travel home for holidays, and a lot of them come from Isaan, the long shirts and jeans go on and the tatts aren’t on public view. The whole dress sense will be toned down too. Short dresses and tank tops are around but not in the same numbers as you’ll see in the beach towns of the South.
HINT: I am not saying that you will end up with a staid and boring partner if you get together with a Thai partner, Gaun is a whole lot of fun, but you do need to be aware that there can be an element of the old fashion in your Thai girl.
The Thai Housewife
Now this may be a very individual observation but I will make it anyway. At the risk of upsetting female readers I have to admit that I have never been so well looked after since I moved out of the family home, and that was a while ago! Gaun has no mixed feelings about what role she plays in the relationship. She cooks, cleans, washes, irons and thoroughly spoils me.
Now I have spent many years as a batchelor and also had a couple of wives who were busy business people and I picked up on a lot of the housework, so it’s not that I’m not capable or willing. Gaun just takes on that role and expects to do it. She is horrified if I try to do anything in her “domain”.
All of this done with huge good humour, impressive efficiency and part of an everyday process without any feeling that there is a “debt” being accumulated that needs to be repaid at some stage.
Now both Gaun and I have the luxury of not having to work for a living, and I thank the taxpayers of Australia for my super pension every day, so the dynamics might be different if we or she had jobs.
In Isaan I have met some impressive female characters in the village that have a real grounded presence and seem to have that confidence that can come from a life of successfully coping with a pretty demanding life. These are not rollover, weak women taking on an inferior position in life. Gaun’s mama lost her husband early in life and was left with seven kids and a farm to run. She keeps an eye on Gaun to make sure I am well fed 🙂 but that background shows through in my eyes anyway.
HINT: If you do meet a Thai lady for a long term relationship you might find that you have a partner willing to take on the more traditional role of homemaker that we seemed to have largely lost in the West as a result of all sorts of role conflicts and stresses. You might also find yourself with a strong individual who doesn’t see herself as being in a lesser role just because she does the cooking!
Now here is a topic where the full range of options are on the table and there is no “standard”. For the readers of Thai relationship forums let me tell you that there is definitely an alternative to the money hungry wife stories you will see being posted by angry guys.
Gaun is one of the most frugal people I have ever met. She has no interest in acquiring things or spending money for the sake of it. She was amazed and shocked at the amount of money going out on the house building project – I had my moments too! I almost have to force her to buy new clothing and she will never buy label or anything outside her normal range of spending.
Before I came to Thailand the first time I read about Thai girls obsession with gold jewelry both for its value and as a social statement. I remember “testing” Gaun at one of the many gold stores outside a Tesco Lotus supermarket in Phuket very early on in our time together. I went over to “look at” what they had for sale, an invitation if ever there was for Gaun to join me to spend my money. She never moved from the shopping trolley outside leaving me alone in the shop. She has never varied from that attitude ever in the time we have been together.
HINT: I don’t write these words to brag about how lucky I am. I am here to tell you that there will be all sorts of reactions from a Thai partner to the perceived wealth offered by a farang. Like any relationship it is up to you to use good sense in choosing who you want to spend extended time with and on what that relationship is based.
Updated: 9 June 2016:
I thought I would add to this topic by broadening it to include the attitudes of your partner’s family to the addition of a farang into their lives. I have read so many variations to this discussion but in general the relationship between a farang and the extended Thai family seems to fall into three categories:
- They see you as an open wallet and will try (through your girlfriend – not directly with you) to have you pick up the tab for just about anything they can think of. I have an Australian friend locally and his wife’s family got him to spend 600,000 THB (about A$24,000) on her mother’s funeral. They contributed nothing. He also supports them in so many other ways. I also have an English friend here and his wife’s younger brother expected her to finance his drug and gambling habits (my friend put a stop to that). It can be a constant outpouring of funds if you let it. It doesn’t have to be this way.
- The middle ground is less intrusive financially but still an expectation of the farang picking up the bill all the time. If you travel around Thailand you will often come across situations where you’ll see one farang and a pickup full of Thais especially where food is involved. Everyone gets involved, even people you don’t know and guess who pays. The stories of Thai family members cleaning out a farang’s fridge are pretty common too.
- The third option is the one I am so lucky to have with Gaun’s family. This is a hardworking group of the nicest people who have given me more than I could ever repay in money through their support and friendship. They have never asked me for money and accepted me into the family the first time I met them. They seemed to feel that if I was OK as far as Gaun was concerned then I was OK by them.
I was motivated to write this after two examples of how things CAN be when I took my brother and sister-in-law for a day out visiting a stunning wat in the hills of Isaan that you can read about HERE. On the way there we stopped at some roadside stalls selling mushrooms at 100 baht a bag. Yuna and Lud bought a bag and there was never any suggestion that I do it for them. Secondly after we had explored the wat we had lunch at a restaurant which was expensive by the standards of a couple of Isaan farmers. The bill came to 400 baht and Yuan and Lud had the money out for their share when the bill came. Needless to say I paid but there was no expectation that I would.
Updated 26 Mar 2017:
Another few more recent illustrations just to further reinforce this theme.
- I recently took Yuan and Lud, two of my in-laws, to Phuket for a holiday to give them a break from their work on the farm. I was planning to pay for everything as it was my suggestion and they have very little excess money. However before we left they came over to our home and gave me 10,000 baht from the money they had just received from selling their sugar crop to put towards the holiday. This represented a fair chunk of the money they got from a once a year bonus and they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Now I will make sure that this money is returned to them over time in various forms but what a generous gesture. You can read about this great time away where Yuan and Lud swam in the sea for the first time in two posts HERE and HERE.
- We recently had a lunch at our place with family and friends before a local village celebration. I was once again prepared to pay for everything and had bought all the food. However Yuan went out and bought all the beer. A very different story from the money grabbing one so often hears.
- Because we have an electric gate on our property the guy who delivers the electricity bill can’t get in so he just goes to Gaun’s mama’s house around the corner and she pays for us. The last time I repaid her I gave her little extra just to round up the amount. The next day I get 23 baht back being the difference between the bill and what I had given her!
- It is my stepdaughter’s 17th birthday this week and Peng had requested a guitar as her family present, a gift I was happy and expecting to provide money for as Gaun doesn’t have her own regular income. However I was very surprised to find that Gaun had already given Peng the 3,000 baht she needed for the purchase taken from a very small amount Gaun had received as her share of the sugar crop this year.
AND as the ultimate illustration that not all Thai ladies are money grabbers let me finish with this story. We are about to buy a new Nissan NP300 Sportech pickup, which we are collecting this week as shown below.
I am providing most of the money but topping it up with a small bank loan. The problem with not buying the truck outright is that if you are 60 years or over then the car can not be registered in your name but has to be in the name of your Thai partner – a very Thai oddity. Although many farang would have a stroke at hearing this, although it wasn’t my preferred position, I trust Gaun and that’s how it would end up.
However during the discussions with the bank representative, all in Thai of course so I had no idea what was going on, Gaun pushed this point and because I had a 2/3rds equity in the Nissan they agreed that the truck could be in my name only. So for all those skeptics out there here’s a situation where a Thai woman could have had a one million baht asset in their name but instead they didn’t take that easy option. The bank could have made the offer to put it in my name, Gaun could have not told me and I would be none the wiser. Am I lucky – certainly yes, but it isn’t just me. Read the comments from others and there are totally “normal” trusting and successful relationships out there. Poor choices makes for a poor outcome in any society.
Some Thai families have a very superficial understanding of us farang and the illusion that we are all fabulously wealthy and keen to throw our money around is a widespread one. When you first meet your potential new family with your potential new partner there can be an equal expectation on your part that you make a good impression and pay for everything. There could be a bit of ego mixed in there too in that you can be a small bigshot in the eyes of a rural Isaan family when back home your status and income aren’t anything special. I would suggest you go slowly and set the tone for the future. Like any group of people who are uneducated on a subject it is up to you to broaden your new family’s experience.
That doesn’t mean you have to become a total scrooge and refuse to pay for anything. It is a question of balance. A buffet feast for your arrival with some drinks is fine. Maybe taking over the repayments on the family pickup isn’t. If ten people want to join you on an outing fine but let them know that they will have to pay for food and drink or you will thrown in some and they pick up the rest. Once you are seen as easy pickings then the scene is set for the longer term accessibility to your bank account. You are the one in control. If you let it get out of control don’t whinge about it later.
If you feel the need to cling to your Thai partner by “buying” her family then I would suggest you are in for a rough ride. It is one of the reasons why many farang abandon houses built in the village and head back to the less financially demanding centres such as Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok. Thier partners are often left behind too. Even in our small town there are several homes now owned by the ex-Thai ladies of farang men.
I have been incredibly lucky with my Thai family as I keep saying and haven’t had to “re-educate” them as they have never had that expectation. I can only give you hope through this blog by example and show you that there can be an alternative to the sad stories we read in the forums of farang being taken for an expensive ride by their partners ably assisted by their extended family.
Another aspect that may have all sorts of variations. In my experience of relationships I have never had one that had such a close involvement between two people. It is a good thing I really enjoy being with Gaun because her company is a given on any activity outside the everyday. A walk to the local shop to buy a beer will come with the expectation that I will have a companion just in case I get lost! I can count on one hand the number of times I have taken a car trip without Gaun along.
Thais are extremely sociable and doing things alone are to be avoided at all times. Back to food as an example. You will almost NEVER see a Thai eating on their own. It is a group activity combined with lots of chat and laughter.
Although this all sounds very claustrophobic in a Western relationship sense I have never found it to be a problem. It comes back to choosing a compatible partner. I really enjoy Gaun’s company and she is a very easy person to be around. I also have a lot of time on my own if I want when at home. I have been writing this post on and off for a lot of the day and Gaun has been doing her own thing, mostly in the garden.
HINT: Be prepared to see more of your Thai partner than you may be used to in a Western relationship.
Now this topic will be VERY general 🙂 and brief.
All I wanted to say, following on from the previous heading of “The Wild Thai Girl”, is that Thais are very reserved in all the public physical aspects we consider normal in a loving relationship.
Touching, kissing and even holding hands are not generally acceptable displays of emotion in public. I was with a farang who was doing all of the above during a meal with my Thai family. They were far too polite to say anything but they weren’t comfortable with it and I could see that they just put it down to farang ignorance.
I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and whether it all gets a lot more touchy feely then but suspect that it doesn’t.
HINT: Maybe keep your passion for when you close the front door. The Thais will probably think better of you for it and you are a guest in their country after all.
Updated 23 November 2015 – Directions
I have read about farang reporting on the problems they have getting navigational directions from Thais. I think there is a lot of truth to this observation in my experience with Gaun.
Firstly you need to find out and keep in mind the educational level of your Thai partner. You may discover that if you are with someone from a rural background, often from Isaan, then they may well have left school early to help out on the farm or other jobs to raise money and that reading and writing may not come easily. For example Gaun was never a good student and played up in school much preferring to have fun rather than learn. “Suban Vansutha” (Suban is Gaun’s real first name. Gaun is her nickname. Thais are usually known by the nickname never the real name) was evidently a regular outcry in Gaun’s classroom!
Gaun’s dad died when she was five and her mum never remarried so with seven kids to look after she was probably relieved, as was Gaun’s teacher, to have sister number two (Yurt) find Gaun a position working in a supermarket for a Chinese family in Udon Thani at the age of twelve. This was a job she would hold for fourteen years. Out of interest she was paid 400 THB a month wages (A$16.00) in her first year. Yurt is still with the same Chinese family in Udon as a cook (she makes the best spring rolls).
Gaun is very bright even though uneducated and she now regrets that she didn’t listen more to her teacher. It’s a story we have all heard before. Mind you Gaun is passionate at learning English and has self-taught to a decent conversational level far above most Thais, even professional people.
When it came to navigating around Thailand I had an educated westerner’s expectation that Gaun could quickly glance at a street sign and let me know if it was the one I wanted. Sometimes she can but at other times she needs to work it out. The problem is compounded of course by the ad hoc nature of Thai signage, which even if in English can often be more confusing than helpful. Maps can be equally challenging for Gaun to read although she does understand how to use one.
I don’t know if this is a general Thai thing but Gaun can also be reluctant to ask for directions. She is better here in Isaan on home territory than say Chiang Mai where there are all those strange Northern Thai types. Mind you having asked for directions the outcome can be equally uncertain. We had to upgrade Gaun’s phone the other day and she seemed to get very detailed instructions on how to find the main AIS office in Nong Bua Lamphu complete with lots of arm waving and hand directions. When I asked where the shop was she told me it was “near Lake”. We did find it but only by looking!
To save stress on both of us I now do as much research as possible when aiming for a destination rather than rely on my in-car Thai navigator 🙂 I don’t need to advise you to treat the maps on sites like Trip Advisor with suspicion until you have double checked in reality on Google maps and preferably used the street view to confirm you are going where you wanted.
I am sure I have missed all sorts of things I could write about and this is a topic I revisit and update from time to time. I hope I haven’t made it too self absorbed and there are some aspects in the post that you might relate to if already in a Thai relationship. If you are looking to establish one I would advise you to have a think about some of the hints I have shared see if they are relevant in your situation.
I have recently published a compilation of all of the comments this post has received. It is in a more readable format and most of them are an inspiration to the positive in farang/Thai relationships. It can all go bad as with any partnership but that is not a given as you might think reading some of the sad online stories. You can find that post HERE.
Thanks for reading.