Living with a Thai Woman
A real story of what can be…………
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 entitled “Farang/Thai Relationships” then I hope my post will do something to add some reality and positive words to the subject.
Building in Thailand eBook
When my wife and I bought some land in Isaan, which is a region in the north east of Thailand, and then started to build our house I started to record the daily events of construction life. For twenty six weeks I wrote a weekly blog update about all the aspects of the build and included as much detail as possible for others who might be thinking of going down the same path. I was surprised by the number of readers I attracted as a result of writing on this subject, many of whom followed the entire build from beginning to end.
Based on this continued interest I thought I would revisit my original words and bring them all together under the one heading in the form of an eBook. Included in this process has been some extensive updating and expansion of many of the original posts and the addition of the many COMMENTS, which are designed to expand your knowledge and save you time or money or both!
Read more HERE and find out how to obtain the eBook.
I am loving your book – just on my second read at the moment, to make sure that I didn’t miss anything first time around (which actually it turns out I did!).
Just a note of thanks at this point ……. I am a fairly methodical sort of bloke, but there are many issues which your book highlights which I just wouldn’t have thought about – or if I had, I may well have assumed they were “standard” building practice [U-bends, drain positioning, barge-board alignment] – if it hadn’t been for your excellent descriptions!! I will probably still “miss” something – that’s the nature of building/design – but thanks to you, it shouldn’t be anything too mission-critical.
The income from my eBook pays for the upkeep of this blog, which is otherwise commercially free unlike so many others.
November 2018 – Update
I have extensively rewritten this, the most popular of my blog posts, to include more of my insights of living with a Thai woman now that I have been doing so for over five years. I have also changed most of the photos and generally refreshed the look of this story. For the many of you who have read this post before, this is practically a new version and can be reread on that basis.
I believe this post is essential reading for anyone starting a relationship with a Thai person. There are many blogs out there that focus on the challenges of bargirl relationships, but few bloggers have the ability to take a broader and more useful view of the special aspects involved in any farang/Thai relationship. Even for those of you who are already in a relationship, I challenge you not to nod your head in recognition of some of the things I cover in this post.
I am not unrealistic about the crisis some people find themselves. Thai/western relationships can be good, bad or anything in between like ANY OTHER combination of nationalities. It just is that like all news situations people are more motivated to highlight the bad and dismiss the good. How many ‘good driving’ videos do you see on YouTube 🙂
My personal progression of relationship with a Thai lady looks like this. I met Gaun (my wife obviously) a few years ago in 2012 while she was working in a small Nan Harn resort and I was holidaying in Phuket. We decided to spend time together when I started to explore Thailand on my return for a seven month stay in mid-2013. I took early retirement aged 57 in late 2013 at a time we were living in Chiang Rai. We committed to the relationship in the form of a village marriage ceremony in March 2014, which I wrote about HERE, formally married in our hometown on Si Bun Ruang, which you can read about HERE and have been (very) happily living together ever since.
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, American or any other nationality. 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. My goal here is to explore some of the more obvious aspects that make a Thai relationship what it is – like it or not. The aspects I detail are very ingrained, certainly in my lady, and you either get frustrated and try to force change or do what I mostly do – relax (sabai, sabai) and let your relationship life flow around you.
And the final example on the left. Cheap to buy at garden centres and then take cuttings and you’ll never buy again.
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 five years, which gives me a little credibility to share some aspects of what I have observed. I write mostly as if all relationships are expat male/Thai woman because the vast majority are that combination. I tend to use ‘her’ and ‘she’ as a result. I don’t think the points I make would be different if the mix was different. Whether a Thai male or female is involved their priorities will be largely guided by the headings I write about below.
I won’t bore you with specifics about my relationship so I will keep the comments pretty general. However, they are obviously based on my personal experiences, which may or may not be representative of a “normal” relationship (whatever that might look like) between a farang and Thai partner. The photos are more personal, so it’s a bit of a Gaun and Tony fest in that way, but I preferred to share these rather than come up with some generic pictures from the internet.
Finally my life with Gaun is also based on an acceptance of her background, which has strong roots to a farming family and community in a small village set in rural Isaan, a region in the northeast. Gaun is obviously not a HiSo (high society) mover and shaker, which I am sure involves a different set of characteristics, although I suspect there are some common themes running through all levels of society here – certainly in Isaan if not elsewhere
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. If eating Thai isn’t on your list of things you enjoy about being in Thailand you are in the wrong place!
The most often asked question I will get from Gaun is “Are you hungry?” and this can happen at any time and sometimes at several times during the day. The subject of food is absolutely central to living here, not just as a way of maintaining energy, but almost as a religion. The ‘harvesting’ of food, its preparation and eating with others is a constant around which life revolves. Weddings, funerals, monk ordinations and any other social event has the sharing of food and drink in huge quantities as a statement of welcome and social standing. You will almost never see a Thai person eating alone. Food is to be enjoyed with friends, family or anyone else passing! I have seen solitary farang sitting in the corner of a cafe with only a book or iPad for company. This scenario rarely happens with Thai people who would prefer to invite the waitress to join them rather than eat alone 🙂
In my rural moo ban (village) location my wonderful Thai family (more on that aspect later) gather for a shared meal every evening. Whatever is cooked is placed on a wooden table and whoever is around sits down to take part. There’s no “well I cooked yesterday, so it’s your turn”, and no reconciliation of money spent takes place; it just seems to evolve organically and there’s always something available, with plenty of sticky rice of course the staple of Isaan meals.
Thais eat when they feel like it and to support this obsession food stalls are almost literally everywhere. If you have visited Thailand you will know that you are never more than 100 meters from a stall or shop serving food even in the most remote places 🙂 Even if there’s no fixed shop if you wait long enough a ‘foodmobile’ in the form of a saling (Isaan for a motorbike with sidecar) will pass you by.
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. Where I live in Isaan and probably elsewhere, there’s no formal variation in the breakfast, lunch and dinner styles unlike in the west. Where we will have toast and jam, cereal or bacon and eggs for breakfast a Thai person will eat whatever is to hand. Breakfast is just as likely to be a hot spicy papaya salad as it is for lunch or dinner. Don’t expect your Thai partner to switch to your way of eating and be prepared to make your own breakfast if you want to retain some farang habits! More on this later.
Seeing ants doesn’t have you reaching for the insect spray but rather the cooking pot!
I hasten to add that the dish shown above was being consumed by the workers building our house (2014/15) 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 🙂
Ant eggs being harvested to be sold in the local market. A delicacy here. A small plate will sell for 100 baht.
Now this is more like it for my western tastes. Duck in a lychee red sauce.
Or something a bit more Isan.
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 papaya 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.
A papaya salad is essential eating for an Isaan person and will be quickly whipped up at any time. Super hot, sour and nothing like the takeaway menu options you buy back ‘home’.
Chillies. Added in some form to most Isaan meals. Your partner will even enjoy green, sour, crunchy mangoes dipped in brown sugar and dried chillies, which may not be how you expected your mangos to arrive at the table!
If, as is most likely, your partner comes from a rural Isaan background you might be surprised at their interest in foraging for food or pointing out the eating potential of the oddest things when driving in the countryside. 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 a 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.
Additions to the dinner table for free. This lady is picking leaves that will be either eaten raw, usually sour or bitter, or added to a cooking pot for extra flavour. This photo was taken on the roadside close to our house in the village.
In season the countryside at night is alive with small lights as locals wear miner’s helmets to search for mushrooms. Roadside stalls and markets are full of these amazing coloured mushrooms, the like of which you won’t have seen back ‘home’ in your boring supermarket.
Gaun net fishing for dinner in the family farm pond. Happy she is getting something for free!
I make fun 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, which is an Isaan staple food, than she will get ill. The rice requirement no matter what the situation will be applied to our western meals too you will find. I might have made a cottage pie or any other meal with some potatoes involved and Gaun will ask if I want rice with that! “No Gaun. I have potato” “Yes, but not rice” is the reply. You can’t fight it so like everything just relax and go with the flow, without rice in this case 🙂
Rice growing on the family farm. This rice isn’t sold. It is grown purely for family consumption. I have only ever bought rice during the three months we lived in Chiang Rai, in my early days. Since then we have been supplied for free with family rice.
Just on the subject of food I built a large pantry in our new home, which after over three years of living there is now filled with all the extras I consider essential to cooking; sauces, spices and tins and packets of stuff. Gaun like all Thais doesn’t bother with these sort of flavour 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. Gaun’s entire range of cooking ingredients fits into a small pull-out drawer in our kitchen!
Gaun’s older sister Yurt, cooking up a massaman curry for me, which is totally non-Isaan. Don’t expect western Thai takeaway style food if you come to Isaan. Thai dishes are almost impossible to find outside the bigger urban centres.
Finally on this topic, you will find your Thai partner comes into one of three categories where it comes to their consumption of western food – (1) They won’t touch it (2) They will try a spoonful just to please you or select some dishes they enjoy, although it will never match up to Thai/Isaan food of course, or (3) they can eat Thai or (most) western with the normal likes and dislikes. Gaun falls into category (3) and is pretty relaxed about trying new tastes. She eats noodles but won’t touch spaghetti, while Peng, my stepdaughter, will eat both. Gaun enjoys roasts, lamb shanks, steaks and things like mashed potatoes. She can use a knife and fork, which a lot of Thais can’t. I also find that she has a unique view of western tastes, which even after five years of living with her has me shaking my head sometimes. Just recently she had six pieces of toast with mayonnaise and raspberry jam, which she described as a sweet and sour combination 🙂 You may find equally odd combinations being withdrawn from your fridge by your partner!
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 obsessed a Thai person will be to their family. This is one of THE big issues online so I thought it was worth a separate heading.
A Thai person’s relationship with family is perhaps more complex and stronger than the connections a westerner may have to their wider family group, although all family relationships tend to be complicated. It is sometimes written that Thais put family ahead of their husband and in many cases that may well be true. If you want to continue your relationship I suggest you never give your partner an ultimatum stating “It’s either me or your family” You might not get the response you were expecting or hoping for 🙂
The influence of family in your partner’s life is an aspect you do need to very much consider if you are intending your relationship to be long term. You can not separate them from the family or expect their loyalty to fade in time as they become consumed by the power of your obvious charms. If the ‘living together’ scenario involves moving to your partner’s village/town, and it often does, and setting up home there then DO give your assessment of her family and their general attitude towards you equal weight to your ‘living with this person long time’ assessment because you may be surprised at how involved family becomes in your everyday life. If you strongly feel that the family will cause problems between you and your partner then do everything possible NOT to live nearby. You may as well sort this out early in the relationship because it won’t go away and may become an increasing point of conflict as time goes long. There are many ex-farang houses sitting in Isaan that I am sure now have new owners, in particular the ex-girlfriends of farangs, because of family problems where the expat has fled to the south or beyond. I know of one local expat who actually bulldozed his house rather than leave it to his Isaan girlfriend! True.
Just to give you a taste of the strength of family ties. Gaun has a (now) 18 year old daughter called Peng. When Peng was younger and Gaun was away working in the South of the country for three years and only coming home a couple of times a year, responsibility for looking after Peng passed to Yuan, Gaun’s younger sister and the family here in Si Bun Ruang.
Gaun and Peng. They are best mates as well as being mum and daughter.
When I came onto the scene and after a visit to the family home driving back to Chiang Mai, our home base at the time, 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 raised by members of the extended family while their parents are earning an income elsewhere, which surprisingly often involves overseas places like Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, some European countries and a few Arab ones.
In Australia and probably other places there is an increased demand on grandparents to become involved yet again in the raising of children due to the financial pressures on their parents. However, this is mostly a part-time after school type of scenario. If children were left semi-permanently in their care as they are in Thailand, it would be seen as abandonment and no doubt require counselling in later life! Thais seem to have a much broader acceptance of the community aspect raising of children. Family and parents are interchangeable concepts.
This little guy is being looked after by his grandmother while the daughter and son-in-law are working permanently in Bangkok. Grandma lives across the road from our new house.
The first photo above is over three years old now and we have improved our entranceway. The little guy across the street still likes to come and try to visit though often chased by his grandma. Our monthly drinking water is being delivered here.
My point is that the broader family group is seen as an extension of the individual rather than the alternative in western society where individualism is given greater priority. When you ‘buy’ the Thai partner delight you need to be aware that she/he comes wrapped in a non-optional accessory pack called ‘family’.
Another aspect that has the potential to cause problems will be your partner’s belief that you will provide some degree of financial support to her family. In a country where there is a very small old age pension payment and low wages in general, those in the family group that have access to an income are expected to support the older generation financially, even if they aren’t living at home. Traditionally children are seen as the ‘superannuation pension’ by the parents in a country where income ends when you stop working. Large families such as Gaun’s, with seven kids, used to be the norm, not just to help work the farm but also on the principle that whatever job they had some money would flow back home.
As the latest addition to the family you may be seen as the jackpot of superannuation income and debt payment and all eyes will be on you. It is here that a sensible negotiated balance needs to be applied. You can take a western moral position that ‘I’m not paying freeloaders’, as many expats do, but my warning is that you WILL harm both your own standing in the family and more importantly also your girlfriend’s status. Her ability to attract a partner/husband that contributes to the family is central to her connection with and value to that group. You may have had a ‘win’ in your mind by closing the wallet but if that puts strain on your partner’s relationship with her family you may end up financially richer but girlfriend poorer in the longer term!
Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that you should pay off the family debts and buy new pickups for everyone. If that’s the demand that’s being put on you either by the family alone or by your girlfriend or both, then it is time to reassess the situation. I received a heartbreaking email from a reader not that long ago and I only include it because it can’t be traced to the sender and it may stand as a helpful warning to others:
Four months ago my Thai wife and I permanently separated, I got caught in a scam designed by my wife’s brother in law, to extract via my wife, all of my retirement superannuation.
My wife coerced me to send $40,000 to Thailand to pay off some of her debts, debts which she kept secret until after we were married. If I didn’t send the money each month she would threaten to leave me.
Thai relationships are the same as anywhere else. If you feel that access to your bank account is the main attraction to the relationship then pull out before it is too late. There is an abundant choice of single ladies available in Thailand and most are ‘normal’ people looking for a balance between financial security and a man they can spend comfortable time and share a future with. I am a living example of that philosophy as Gaun is the least demanding person financially and we have a very relaxed life together both as a couple and with our joint families.
A quick insight as to the importance of family financial support to give some context to what I have written so far on this subject. Gaun’s mama gets 800 THB a month or about A$32.00, which even in Thailand is a pretty limited income and not enough to live on. With no aged care facilities, or very limited if available, older members of the family are based at home. It is expected, although i am sure there are many exceptions as traditions break down, that the local family provide practical support on a day to day basis. Gaun’s mother is recovering from a minor stroke, which put her in hospital for a few days. All the immediate family took turns to keep her company, bringing extra food. Someone slept next to her bed every night. Members working elsewhere bussed in to see her.
Three generations – Gaun, Gaun’s mama and Peng.
Mama now recovering at home. The lady on the right is a neighbour. Her daughter, who is working in Bangkok, phoned to ask about mama. I think this is the first time mama has used a phone much to the amusement of all concerned. Yuan, Gauns’ younger sister and main carer, on the left.
Spot Duk Dik, the world’s scruffiest family dog, who is also keeping an eye on mama. The young girl is the granddaughter of the neighbour in the previous photo. She is the daughter of the lady who phoned mama from Bangkok, and is being raised by her grandma as are so many Isaan kids with parents working elsewhere. Mama looking very determined.
In a break with my desire for personal privacy I will share with you that I give 6,000 baht a month ($240) to Yuan and this was an amount Gaun asked I contribute very early in our relationship. This money is used to pay for all of the day to day expenses required by Gaun’s daughter Peng, which are controlled mostly by mama. I give Peng a monthly ‘fun’ allowance on top of this but that’s it. The family cover school fees, transport, phone costs, all clothes, medical, new reading glasses etc etc. I suspect there is money left over but that will be used by mama to help with her very minor expenses and if you think I am going to mess around with what is for me the perfect relationship, for a few baht you can think again. I write about the family demands on my money later so I will leave this aspect of it here.
Gaun and Peng.
Another big potential bump on the road to long term Thai/farang relationship success and where many farang lose it is 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 wife to be! He did actually end up paying a sort of Sin Sod, because he paid off the now wife’s pickup loan and debt on her university degree. Sin Sod by another name. His initial reaction shows a complete lack of understanding of the Thai way of doing things and even if you disagree with the concept you should have an understanding of the real reason behind it, rather than apply the bar-hugger philosophy spouted from the beachside forums.
Traditionally Sin Sod was paid to the mother/father of the bride to recompense them for the loss of the ongoing financial support they lost once the daughter’s technical obligation passed from family to her new husband and his family on marriage. The loss of this potential or actual “superannuation income” was intended to be made up by payment of Sin Sod by the husband. 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, which isn’t a good way to start in your new married life especially if you’re resident in the village.
Nowadays, as I have written, you may well find that there is still an expectation you support parents and family to some extent married or not. You aren’t alone in that as it applies equally to Thai males. For example in my case I did pay Sin Sod but I also hand over that 6,000 baht a month payment, although in my case it is mostly for costs I would cover otherwise (Peng’s expenses) and not totally a super pension for mama. Get over it and pay up is my advice but up to you.
Yes, I paid Sin Sod and it was the best “investment” I have made in my life.
Leaving aside the financial side of families, which is only a small but important part of the package, and moving onto more general observations. 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 in the early days. However, some are known and form part of the inner circle while there are 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.
Added 24 Aug 2019: WARNING: The stories of farang being ripped off by bad family members are true like this example told to me by a reader to beware:
Hello Tony thank you for you message on FB and your kind words and thoughts. I’m angry but I’m also a believer in Karma, “you reap what you sow”. Poor Xxx is devastated that her older brother could do this to her, she feels ashamed, foolish and anger. We’ve been married 13 years now so it’s not as if we are newbie’s to Thailand. She just wanted to help her desperate brother to assist him in building a new life, little did we suspect that all along it was an act in order to steal our lives. Many many relatives have been to visit us and express their condemnation of his ruthless actions. To be fair the bank have been very understanding, initially they wanted 803,000 Baht from us, this was the amount borrowed by him including interest for the full term of the loan. After taking my truck and selling it at auction they sent us an outstanding bill of 404,000 Baht, however they know the circumstances and very kindly knocked of the interest leaving us with an outstanding balance of 174,000 Baht. My plan was always to get back the lorry because it was in Xxx’s name if ever the worst came to the worst, sell it and clear any debt. So you can imagine our shock we two bailiffs came knocking on the door to take away my lovely pick up, rang him and asked him to return the lorry…….no it’s not yours it’s mine and you can’t have it back….two months prior he’d called to see Xxx, told her the tax and insurance were due but not to worry let him have the pink book (commercial vehicles have a pink registration book) and a signed copy of your ID card…….so unbeknown to her he did some with the photocopy ID and changed the pink book and the car into his own name, obviously not informing us and at the same time aware he wasn’t paying the loan and we would be liable. Then the first thing he did was take out a further loan for 500,000 against the lorry which was now in his name!! And then to add salt in the wounds he’s constantly posting pictures of him working in his lorry (although morally I still think of it as our lorry as my money paid for it) previously I’d lent the younger brother 560,000 Baht in an interest free loan and he repaid every penny. It’s almost like a perfect storm at the moment, this has happened to us, our income is down due to low Pound/high Baht and Immigration getting stricter. By posting on Facebook yesterday (and this has been weeks in the making so it wasn’t a random drunken decision) I want the world, as many of his friends are my friends to know exactly what he has done, yes and lose “face” risky but I don’t care after what he’s done to us and especially Xxx, also if there’s anyone person out there who takes note of our story and it helps them then job done. I do however have one ace up my sleeve something that only Xxx and I know about, when I first came to Thailand full-time the first investment I made was buying her her Mother’s house for 20,000 Baht, we have covertly had two offers both over 250,000 Baht……his mother is going to lose her home (we actually suspect she’s been feeding him information) and she will have to relocate the 100 Kms to live with him, we’ll use the money to pay of the debt thus ensuring our house will be passed on to our son. I also stopped paying her the 4000 Baht monthly allowance she used to receive from me. Sorry to bore you with such a long message and hey if you ever get round to writing a book about Thai life feel free to include our unfortunate experience. Thanks Tony…..Xxxx
I am pleased to report a happy conclusion to this terrible situation as reported:
Hello Tony, update from a family gathering last night…..it has being agreed that the outstanding debt will be paid in full to the bank next week by all the family (except us as we are deemed to have lost enough) clubbing together. Everyone present, with the exception of his mother) have agreed that he is expelled and is no longer considered part of the family, he’s hurt too many people with his lies and deceit over the years. I said to Xxx “does that mean he’ll be considered dead” her answer “No because in our culture the dead are held in high regard, respected and we think of them with great kindness……he does not deserve that respect and has simply ceased to exist”. Thought you’d appreciate an update, shows how a strong and good Isaan family come together, as you say it only takes one. Cheers Xxxx.
HINT: If you are getting into a serious relationship with a Thai person you definitely need to take the family into account as part of the package or regret it later. They are a strong influence over 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 Thai Wild Girl
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.
Fine in its place if that’s your thing but not surprisingly most Thai girls aren’t like this!
If you come to Thailand with the expectation that Thai women in general are anything like this image you will be in for a disappointment. An analogy is that if your impression of American women is based on Hooters then don’t be surprised to find that this is an aspect to life that isn’t the everyday You need to understand that like most Asian countries Thailand is still a very conservative society in a way we lost decades ago. Even with the girls pictured above if you met them outside of work you might be shocked 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! I wrote that three years ago and I suspect things may have loosened up since then but racy isn’t a word you’d use to describe the soapies on Thai TV! ‘Normal’ Thai women when they wear very short skirts, especially in the hot season, will in almost all cases have biking shorts underneath as per Catholic schoolgirls – the latter so I have been told Gaun refuses to go out in a dress unless she wears tights or has jean cutoffs underneath plus panties and she is a lot less conservative than some.
Gaun says this arrangement is for ‘saftey pussy’ so there you have the technical expression.
In Isaan you will come across many situation where a live music band has been hired to provide entertainment for some event. These almost always come with two or four dancing girls, some of whom are better at the moves than others. On first impression they may appear a bit risky in their outfits, exposing more skin than you’d think in conservative Isaan. Not so. In all situations I have seen, the girls are wearing a full skin coloured body suit, which must get very hot but retains modesty.
The costumes are usually involve more sequins than this but the bodysuit is always the same. This isn’t Pattaya, Patong or Nana Plaza!
If you are dating a non-bargirl don’t be surprised if a female chaperone joins you on the first few outings. A bit different from the Pattaya girl who may be 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 reality is most likely to be somewhat different
Tattoos are widely seen on girls once again in Pattaya, Patong and other farang hangouts. 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 bachelor 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”.
Gaun in my sister’s kitchen when we visited Australia in 2014.
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 in a mental ledger that needs to be repaid by me 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 superannuation pension every day, so the dynamics might be different if we or she had jobs.
A slight design fault with our outside Thai kitchen. The kitchen inside is lower!
For the many people who here dropped in to see us, about 80 so far, and our beautiful house and tropical garden In Isaan and have met Gaun, you will have found a confident, impressively happy person who takes immense care to ensure you are well looked after. This is caring from a position of self-confidence and a unselfish desire to please. Gaun is like many of the 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 weak women taking on an inferior position in life. Gaun’s mama is such an example. She lost her husband early in life, when Gaun was five years old, and was left with seven kids, sixteen buffalo and a farm to run. She never remarried.
Gaun’s mama. She expects Gaun to look after me but this isn’t required from a position of weakness. Does she look like a rollover?
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 I have already covered some of them under the “Family” heading. 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 after they have been ripped off in some way. Once again I am not presenting an unrealistic alternative of all sunshine, light and honesty. I am sure however that there are a majority of relationships out there based on the everyday give and take that you’ll find in all such partnerships worldwide. As I said at the beginning, I am only trying to balance the image of Thai women that is portrayed in some forums.
In my case I find Gaun to be 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 I was paying on our house building project in 2014/15 – 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 price range, which is usually under $10.00.
Before I came to Thailand for the first time in 2012 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 that holiday period. 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 the supermarket, which left me alone in the shop. She has never varied from that attitude in the time we have been together. In case you think I am a total tightwad since that time into our ‘real’ relationship gold has been added to Gaun’s small collection of jewelry but she rarely wears it and never day to day. Weddings and big Buddhist festivals are when it makes an appearance. Not all Thais are into making social statements by showing off an abundance of gold.
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, which expands on some words I wrote earlier. 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 that the farang will pick 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 financially through their support and friendship. They have never asked me for money and accepted me from the the first time they met me. They seemed to take the attitude that if I was OK as far as Gaun was concerned then I was OK by them. I am as close to them as my real family.
I was motivated to write the following entry after two examples of how things CAN be on an occasion 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.
Wat Pa Som Kaew.
On the way there we stopped at some roadside stalls selling mushrooms at 100 baht a bag. Yuan 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. Needless to say I paid but there was no expectation on the part of Gaun’s in-laws that I would. Now both of these examples may seem trivial but they reflect a mindset that is different from the one you are more likely to read about when researching this topic.
A few more illustrations just to further reinforce my point.
In 2017 I took Yuan and Lud, to Phuket for a holiday to give them a break from the neverending work they do on the family farm. I was planning to pay for everything as it was my suggestion we go and they have very little excess money. However, before we left Isaan 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 that money they received from a once a year bonus and they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Now I made sure that this money was returned to them in time through improvements at the farm but what a generous gesture. You can read about the great time we had in Phuket where Yuan and Lud swam in the sea for the first time in two posts I published HERE and HERE.
On the beach at Coral Island, Phuket. Neither of my in-laws had ever seen the beach before
One more minor example – 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 arranged all the food. However, Yuan then went out and bought all the beer. A very different story from the money grabbing farang hunters we so often hear about.
A lively crowd even before we got going with the festival.
And another – 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 got 23 baht back ($1.00) being the difference between the bill and what I had given her!
It was my stepdaughter’s 17th birthday last year 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 last year.
AND finally as the ultimate illustration that not all Thai ladies are money grabbers let me finish with this story. We bought a Nissan NP300 Sportech pickup in March last year – pictured below.
My family modelling themselves and the car.
Normally a car purchase is registered in the Thai person’s name, because that’s the expectation. However during the discussions with the bank representative, all in Thai of course so I had no idea what was going on, Gaun pushed the point that because I had a 2/3rds equity the car should be in my name only, which is how it ended. 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 passed that onto 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.
The core of my Thai family. Gaun, Peng, Yuan and Lud.
The reason for the high financial expectation Thais have of us is because many Thai families have a very superficial understanding of farang. The widespread fairy story illusion is that we are all fabulously wealthy and keen to throw our money around. When you first meet your potential new family with your potential new partner there can be an opposite illusion on your part that you need to make a good impression and pay for everything. There could be a bit of ego mixed in there too in that you can look like a big shot in the eyes of a rural Isaan family, when back home your status and income aren’t anything special. I would strongly suggest you go slowly and set the financial 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 with a good dose of reality.
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 baht 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 longer term.
Gaun on the right with her sister and best friend Yuan. Thais dressed of a formal occasion are such a beautiful sight.
I have been incredibly fortunate 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 and show you that there is 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.
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.
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.
Working at the farm with my best mate. Here we are at the end of the day sitting on our floating sala (hut) called Isaan Grace.
YoThais are extremely sociable and doing things alone is to be avoided at all times. 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 totally enjoy Gaun’s company and she is a very easy person to be around. To balance things up I also have a lot of time on my own if I want to when I am 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 which she enjoys so much.
Part of our extensive tropical gardens all of which is Gaun’s hard work. It is difficult to be inside when this sits outside to be enjoyed.
HINT: Be prepared to see more of your Thai partner than you may be used to in a Western relationship. Pick wisely.
Now this topic will be VERY general and brief. All I want 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. Don’t let yourself fall into that category and disrespect the standards of our hosts in their country.
Gaun’s sister and brother in law. Happily married for 25 years and this is as close as it gets. A moment purely for the camera. I have never seen them like this in any other situation. Taken at Yuan’s birthday.
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. Thais will probably think better of you for it and you are a guest in their country after all.
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 as a result of my experience with Gaun.
Firstly you need to discover 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 and the bamboo was used quite a bit to encourage her to focus!
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). I included a photo of Yurt above, if you remember.
Gaun is very bright even though she is uneducated and 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.
Gaun on a friend’s boat on Hong Kong harbour.
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.
Gaun at Singha Estate Chiang Rai. We found this place OK!
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 at one time 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 wedded in-car navigator 🙂 I am sure don’t need to tell you to treat the maps on sites like Trip Advisor with suspicion until you have double checked the reality on Google maps and preferably used the street view to confirm you are going where you wanted.
That topic winds up this updated post that I have very much enjoyed rewriting. I am sure I have missed all sorts of things I could cover and it is a topic I revisit and will 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.