Expat · Thailand

What brought you to Thailand?

Family temple in LamphunIt’s the most common question: What brings you to Thailand? Why are you here? How long have you been here? How long do you plan on being here? What visa are you on? How did you do it?

Recently, I was asked, why do I live in Chiang Mai. And I’ve been wondering what is drawing people to come here, as it seems Chiang Mai is growing by leaps and bounds, and clowns. Why here?

VW-busI have a few ideas on why folks are leaving their passport country. In light of the dark times our economy is quick-sanding in, I’m not surprised people are heat seeking a better existence, a place where their dollars can stretch out, maybe even have a coconut or two.

But Chiang Mai seems very far for people who have what appears to be no ties to this SE Asian country. On the extreme, there are apparently growing numbers of homeless farangs here.

And then there are those 20-somethings or recent graduates who stay for a year or two through Princeton in Asia or a similar program. Talking with a PIA fellow, I was surprised by how many are in Thailand alone.

I suppose a lot of it has to do with good ‘ol fashioned ‘word of mouth’. Although a quick search produced this list of top ten reasons.

It should be noted that the above list was written in 2009. Things are not as cheap as they were. And if you are living on a Thai salary, then guess what, things aren’t so cheap, cheap, cheap! When I moved out with my then boyfriend, he had the foresight to stop converting things from USD to Thai Baht. I have to agree.

I liken it to thinking in Thai or thinking like a Thai. You’re in Thailand after all. I actually get annoyed at the “everything is so cheap” mentality. (See the news on the rich are getting richer and everyone else is getting poorer.) It seems like a good way to blow your budget and/or forget how “the other half lives”. Now, I’m all for a great deal, a good find, but there is no need to constantly announce it, shout it, and share it to the world. It’s a wee bit insulting. And so not Thai. And everything is relative, If you are an English teacher here, “cheap” also describes your salary, in which case, nothing else is “cheap” anymore.

Look at it this way, whenever you go around saying “this is so easy,” for example, riding a motorbike, it might not be so easy for someone else. Without meaning to, you’ve just made the other person feel small and silly. Something to think about.

songkran-class
A great summer term class 🙂

But let’s return to the reasons why folks are attracted to The Land of Smiles. I wanted to know, so I asked a few fine folks to share their stories. I hope you will, too. Cheers!

Amy Tanathorn, USA:
Why did I come to Thailand? In the late 90s I had achieved my career goal, which was to work for a start-up or major internet company during the dot-com boom in the San Francisco Bay Area. One day as I was commuting home to SF, I thought, “Is this all there is? Is this what I can expect for the rest of my life?” The answer loomed like a dark cloud over my future.

It was a good job and all – highest I was ever paid before. I had also just gotten bitten by the travel bug and had gone to India and then to Egypt the year before. I decided I wanted to travel around the world for a year.

But it was hard to save that kind of money and I wanted out NOW. And my roommate suggested I live in ONE place for awhile and really get to know that country. So I took a TEFL course in San Francisco after work and after 6 months, I was certified. A month later I quit my job and had a one-way ticket to Bangkok with a 5-week trip to Nepal first.

I’d always been attracted to Asia, especially SouthEast Asia. Blogs weren’t around then, but there were some websites I found and I read about living in Thailand. I looked at books about Thailand.  I was very attracted to the general exotic-ness of it all: beaches, tropical landscape, traditional architecture, performing arts, Buddhism and of course the food. Thailand is all of that and of course a lot more. I shed my newbie naivety as the reality of the living there set in, but the newness was fresh every day and I was enchanted.

Paul Garrigan, Ireland:
I’d been working in Saudi Arabia as a nurse, and I came to South East Asia for a three-week holiday. I’d done a quick tour of Vietnam and Laos, and I wanted to spend my last few days in Thailand on a nice beach – I ended up on Koh Chang.

A couple of days before I was due to return to Riyadh, I realized that this was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I’d been drinking, and this made me a bit reckless. I went back to my room, ripped up my return flight ticket, and flung the pieces into the sea. When I sobered up, I felt worried and anxious but also incredibly excited – I knew there was no going back.

I only meant to stay in Thailand for a few months, but my enthusiasm for alcohol meant my dreams of slowly making my way around the world never got off the ground. My drinking got out of control, and I became convinced that becoming a Buddhist monk would be the answer to my mantras – instead I fell in love with a beautiful woman. I moved to rural Thailand where for four years I taught in a local school while also serving as the village drunk.

I quit alcohol in 2006 and became a freelance blogger. I discovered that I didn’t need beer-googles to enjoy my life in Thailand. I go married and my son was born in 2007 – he is the greatest thing to ever happen to me. I now live in Rayong and most days I feel incredibly lucky to have so many good things in my life.

Eric Kuns, USA:
The first time I came to Thailand was around 10 years ago, it was to see another culture, expand my horizons, and travel someplace far off. I hadn’t been to Asia before, so it was novel, exciting, and a little intimidating. I didn’t know at the time that it was flooded with tourists and I didn’t need to know any Thai, so I taught myself basic Thai before I came out. The reason I got interested in Thailand at all was because a company I worked for had a free gym, and within the gym were kickboxing lessons. I ended up practicing the sport and going to a lot of matches, where I was exposed to the Thai music they use for fights. This alone made me want to visit Thailand.

I took a 3-week trip to Thailand and enjoyed it, especially in the ways it was different from America. When I got back to New York I noticed that people were honking like lunatics and people were barreling into me on the sidewalk. I didn’t get that in Thailand. A friend had an idea to move to Thailand and teach English, and I got infected with that idea (he never followed through).

I decided to move to Thailand after living in NY, and USA started getting depressing following 9/11 and the Bush legacy. I was fed up. I came with wholesome ideals and dreamed of living someplace like Chiang Rai, and having a small house, a bicycle, and a dog. I imagined teaching would be stress free, and my lifestyle would be relaxed. I thought I’d learn the language more and work on my art in my new-found boundless free time.

Justin Noppe, South Africa:
I moved here from a nice job teaching English in London, great salary and all our friends, all for the purpose of creating. Suffice it to say that any old city would have done the job I had in mind, but through the persistence of a fiancee I moved here. Very exciting. Chiang Mai is an opportunity for growth in a professional, academic and financial capacity as I attempt to study a masters degree, develop English learning materials, study Thai and market my online English courses. As I said previously, exciting stuff. There is definitely something about this place.

Bri Shay, South Africa:
The first time I moved to Thailand was based on nothing more than the will of the universe, or whichever greater power you choose to believe in. It was time for me to get out of the desk job in London and finally pursue my goal of becoming an ESL teacher (the reason I moved to London in the first place). When I looked at my options and saw ‘Thailand’ on the screen, something inside of me (my trustworthy intuition) said, “THAT’S where you need to be!” So, I listened. And I’m so glad I did. Once I made the decision, everything just fell into place.

I left Thailand for just over nine months to be with my fiancé in London but with visa restrictions, including that I could only be in the UK 6 months, I was unable to work…or do anything really… . Although we lived comfortably, we were in a house share (all we could afford on one salary) and I was starting to feel very unfulfilled and missed being in the classroom. We decided to head back to Thailand as it was much easier to live comfortably on one salary …and the only person I have to share my bathroom with now is my fiancé.

Shannon Frandsen, USA
It’s sort of a long story, but the shortest answer I could give is that we were living for 4 years in India – we grew weary of Mumbai and needed to move to a place in Asia where we could at least sort of get by speaking English. It had to be Asia because my husband’s business runs here. We were choosing between Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand. Singapore was too expensive, although it would be a nice and easy place to live in. Hong Kong – we were afraid of being in a shoebox apartment for an insanely high cost. And then there was Bangkok- it fit the budget, met our needs, and we love it now! 🙂

So, what’s your story? I’d love to hear from you.


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3 thoughts on “What brought you to Thailand?

  1. I think it’s a good mix of everything that made me decide to move to Thailand (and Bangkok in particular). The weather, the optimism and charisma of the people, the diverse food (and the fact that you can also get your western food in the supermarkets or in restaurants) the beautiful nature (i.e. beach at Hua Hin or Pattaya just a 2 or 3 hours from BKK making it the perfect weekend trip) the culture that has so much to learn about especially as I started picking up the Thai language I started to understand the Thai way of thinking, the cheap and almost western standard health care and then obviously for all single men: The beautiful Thai girls. It’s the combination of all these things that made me fall in love with Thailand.

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