Thailand - People Page 1
This isn't really about the demographic makeup of Thais because you can find that information elsewhere. It's more about the character of the people.
Demographically, Thais are what you would expect due to the location and history of the country. Being located on an important trade route between India and China, some Thais look Chinese and some look Indian. In addition, the Northeasterners have a distinct 'Laos' look and there is also a uniquely Thai look, which is quite different from that of other Southeast Asians.
I have read on more than one occasion that Thais are regarded as the most attractive people in Asia. Not all Thais, of course, but with their high cheek bones and very fine bone structure there are some very attractive people in the country.
In the last 50 or so years, many Westerners have also started new lives in Thailand and as a result there are now a lot of 'Eurasian' Thais. When watching Thai TV at times, it seems that every Thai superstar (daa-raa) has a Thai mother and European, North American or Australian father. They are known as 'look-kreung' in Thai (half children).
There is no doubt that some very nice things start to happen when you mix up the gene pool. So much influence from so many other countries during the course of Thailand's history is probably the reason why the Thai are generally a very attractive race.
After a vacation in Thailand most foreign tourists can't stop going on about how 'nice' Thais are. All Thais. The staff at their five star resort in Phuket fussed over them continually and nothing was too much trouble. Everyone was so 'nice'. I have stayed at good hotels in tourist resorts and can understand exactly why they have this view. But it isn't quite the whole story.
Now, on to character.
Yes, there are some wonderful people in Thailand and I am fortunate enough to know quite a few. They would never dream of harming another sentient being in any way. They are kind, generous, and give of their time willingly. I try to surround myself with Thais like this.
On the other hand, evil exists in Thailand as it does everywhere else and some news stories are quite shocking. The railway worker who raped and murdered a young teenage girl on a train before callously throwing her lifeless body out of the train window is pure evil.
His motive was sexual gratification, but the lust for money is another big motivating factor for evil Thais. Foreigners have been murdered for their money by their Thai wives and the women's accomplice Thai boyfriends.
You shouldn't be afraid to visit Thailand, but going there with the attitude that all Thais are good people is not advisable. You need to be on your guard and if you have a sixth sense about people, pay attention to it.
In between the two extremes of very good people and very bad people there are quite a few Thais who probably wouldn't go as far as murdering someone, but they think nothing of stealing from others and many make a living out of cheating and scamming other people.
Youngsters in Songkhla who wanted their photo taken
They scam other Thais, but unfortunately foreigners make for much easier targets because they can't read Thais the same as Thai people can. And, naturally, the Thais who make a living scamming foreigners go to the places in Thailand where there are lots of foreigners.
One of the biggest problems for me writing here is over generalising about 'Thais' (inferring all Thais) when they are all so different.
Most of us can 'read' other people who are the same as us, but that ability is diminished with foreigners. Always remember that there are bad Thais in Thailand and never let that famous Thai smile deceive you. Someone once told me that there are many different types of Thai smile, but only one is good.
At the same time, don't be too defensive or wary. I have seen backpackers brushing aside Thais who genuinely wanted to help them because they have had their noses stuck in the Lonely Planet 'Hazards and Dangers' section for too long and now they don't trust anyone.
Shaped By Our Environment
We are all shaped by the environment in which we live. If you get the chance to visit Singapore it's worth taking a look around the Chinatown Heritage Centre. Old photographs and personal accounts give a graphic description of the lives of the Chinese immigrants who moved to Singapore in search of a better life.
They came from abject poverty and endured terrible conditions on long boat journeys that lasted several weeks. The ships they travelled on were so crowded there wasn't enough room to lie down and diseases flourished on board.
Those who died on the journey (and there were many) were just thrown overboard. Upon getting to Singapore, it didn't get a lot better for the newly-arrived immigrants, many of whom were treated like slaves and lived in tiny, overcrowded cubicles (replicas of which can be seen at the Heritage Centre).
In order just to survive they developed an incredibly strong work ethic and it is the same with many Chinese around the world.
Early Europeans and other peoples from temperate climates faced different problems. Harsh winters where little food can be harvested for several months each year developed an ability to plan ahead. People really did have to make hay when the sun shone in order to survive the winter months ahead.
Thailand, on the other hand, has never had any such issues. It is an amazingly fertile land with an overabundance of land crops (I have never seen so much fruit or as many rice fields in my life) and equally well-stocked seas. The hot, year-round tropical climate is lacking of any harsh winters, thus providing food throughout the year.
For the Thai there has never been any great need to work particularly hard to survive or to think very far ahead. Consequently, many are lazy and many don't tend to think about the future.
I'm sure that if the same people had been born in a harsh environment they would have been very hard-working and industrious but because there is no need in Thailand to work hard to survive, most are very laid back and many don't seem to be able to think very far ahead.
It should come as no surprise to anyone as to why the Chinese have been so successful in Thailand and why it is that most business in Thailand is Chinese-owned.
Not only has the physical environment shaped the way Thais behave, but so too has the social environment. For starters, Thailand has a strict social hierarchy that must be followed. Thailand is also an intensely inequitable and unfair country in which a small minority have everything, but the vast majority have almost nothing.
Not only do many people have nothing, but because of the way that Thai society is structured, they have no opportunities in life to better themselves even if they are clever and hard-working.
The environment doesn't nurture and develop creative skills, but because different relationships play such a big part in Thailand, Thais are very perceptive and good at reading other people. I have often been shocked at how Thai friends can almost read my thoughts.
Unfortunately, with no opportunities in life, some Thais have turned to using their skills of perception to cheat and scam foreigners. Poor girls with only the minimum amount of formal education somehow manage to tap into the psyche of intelligent, successful foreign men and then con them out of large amounts of money.
Thailand has always been and will always be a country that draws and fascinates foreigners, but it is a country in which foreigners need to be very careful.
The Privileged Elite Versus The Common Man
I came across a fascinating article from 1965 written by Sulak Sivaraksa, Thailand's foremost and most controversial social critic. I found it fascinating not only because it was written by a Thai (Thais do not generally criticise anything about their own country but instead just keep their mouths shut and look the other way), but also because much is still exactly the same now, over 50 years later.
The book is called 'Siam in Crisis' and was published in 1980 although some chapters were written much earlier. Here are some extracts:
"Thai society has always been divided into two groups: the Privileged Elite and the Common Man. The former are not necessarily members of the royalty or noblemen, though many of course are. The Privileged Elite may be further subdivided into classes whose privileges are determined by their respective levels.
If a man has a large car with a special emblem attached to the front, or has a soldier as his driver, he can turn left or right contrary to a traffic policeman's orders. Furthermore, if the policeman has any flair he will show his respect by saluting the car and its occupant, further impressing the Privileged Man with his own power and reinforcing his faith in the propriety and cleverness of his subordinates.
If a man belongs to a somewhat lower class and has to drive his own car, but has epaulettes on his sleeve or at least leaves a military hat strategically on the back shelf of his car, he may also break traffic regulations at will.
The Common Man has to take the bus to work. While he is hanging out the doorway, the ticket collector feels free to shout at him unceasingly, for the collector knows full well that no Privileged Man would ever be travelling by bus.
When the Common Man wants to cross the street as a pedestrian, he must often do so at a crosswalk where all the paint has long since faded away. But he must never criticise this as a fault of government authorities, nor blame the administration for the plethora of potholed roads all over the city. Flooded roads are also supposed to be graciously accepted as small inconveniences which the Common Man must learn to tolerate.
Even though a Common Man may have enough money to take a taxi to work, how the taxi driver acts towards his passenger - over whom for the moment he has power is informative. The Common Men who drive their own cars to work (without benefit of military identification) encounter the power of traffic policemen, who consider themselves Privileged Men when facing a Common Man.
They can issue a summons, a fine or a scolding - whatever they like - and if the Common Man has the audacity to bring the matter to the attention of a senior police official, the official without exception supports his bureaucratic subordinate.
How many people dare go to the police station to file a complaint? Is there a single Thai citizen who likes or respects the police? We only "like" a particular policeman who can reverse a decision or exert on our behalf.
The Common Man also cannot avoid frequent contact with district and municipal officials. Every Thai has an aversion to going to such offices, not only because it is a waste of time but because he knows that he will be ill-treated by the clerk, who is poorly paid and looks on the Common Man as a supplementary source of income.
The Privileged Man, on the contrary, would never have had to go to such an office in the first place. He would either have had someone go for him, or he would simply have telephoned to settle the matter quickly. Wealthy people in Siam can use money to obtain all manner of favours from officials.
In every government office the Common Man who comes for assistance is disdained as an inferior being. Officials do not want to waste their time with him. This situation prevails throughout Siam because the administrative branch of government controls nearly all political power, forcing the Common Man to deal constantly with bureaucratic officials in all aspects of his daily life.
If you are engaged in commerce, you must pay a special "tax." When you go to the post office, no matter whether you need stamps, a money order or whatever, you must wait in long lines as if you were begging. When you receive an imported item at the Customs House, not only do you have to wait but you also have to pay additional bribes according to the personal whims of the customs officer.
In depositing or withdrawing money at a government bank, even if it is your own savings account, the process is still made inconvenient and time consuming. If the government were to open public services to free competition, it is unlikely whether a single facility would continue to exist.
When the Common Man becomes ill, those who devote themselves to caring for others have an opportunity to display their power. The ordinary, poor patient eats dirty meals in the public hospital and receives medical treatment reluctantly at best. However, if the Common Man visits the same doctor after office hours at a private clinic he will be received differently.
None of these matters are of any particular concern to the Privileged Man. If he is sick, he can ask for a special room and his doctor will be most attentive. He does not have to pay taxes, or go to the post office.
If he travels by train, a special compartment will be provided. Consequently, it is extremely difficult for the Privileged Man to really understand the plight of the Common Man.
All Thais aspire to become Privileged Men, even if only on a temporary basis. When we visit a government office, if we happen to know someone or drop the name of a senior official at an appropriate time, we become a temporary Privileged Man.
By doing so, we can cut ahead of the queue or obtain special services. In a hospital, a sick bed can be arranged even if officially there "no beds available." Meals are more hygienic and nutritious, visitors can come at any time, and all the staff will say "Sir" to you.
In Siam not a solitary Common Man is satisfied with public services. Even in funeral services at the monastery, the monks will not speak politely to the sponsor if the deceased was a Common Man.
All this is so discouraging at first glance, but if one thinks a bit further he may feel more in sympathy with the agents of the Privileged Elite: the ticket collector, the traffic policeman, district clerk, hospital admissions clerk and monk.
Their work is monotonous and they are only carrying out their duties as a matter of routine, seeing their jobs only in terms of money (or as steps to other, better paying jobs). Thus their hearts are not in their work.
It is not their fault, but the fault of top administrative officials who permit these people to wield far too much power over the Common Man. In the eyes of top officials this is necessary, for lower officials must be given certain privileges and a modicum of power to keep them so satisfied.
No matter where one goes in Siam, he will find only these two classes of persons. Only in highly progressive countries are civil servants and lords subject to the power of others. Where absolute administrative power continues to prevail, as in Siam, low ranking officials can exercise power over the rest of us. And so the system of patrons and clients goes on indefinitely."
When the red shirt riots erupted in Bangkok in 2010 many farangs whose only experience of Thailand was a two-week beach holiday in Phuket were astonished. How could something like this possibly happen in such a peaceful, laid-back country?
All the answers are in the article above. What is maybe surprising is that despite getting such a bad deal for such a long time, so many poor Thais seem remarkably contented. This is down to various aspects of Thai culture and Buddhist beliefs.
However, all it ever needed to create immense dissatisfaction among Thailand's poor was for one man to start stirring things up.
This is exactly what happened when Thaksin arrived on the political scene. The poor in Thailand represent a majority, and this was the majority Thaksin needed so that he could establish a power base among the electorate and then set about his own agenda.
It was all very predictable and in order to prevent more problems in the future it is extremely important that the government starts to put in place measures to make Thai society a little fairer.
For as long as Thai society continues to be divided into the Privileged Elite and the Common Man, there will always be problems.
As of September 2010 - after months of bloody battles on the streets of Bangkok earlier in the year - the bitter divides between rich and poor in Thailand are showing no signs of getting any better. The rich continue to get richer, while the poor continue to get poorer.
The Nation points out that 5.4 million Thais live below the poverty line; and even more shocking than this statistic is that the 'poverty line' is set at an unbelievable Bt1,134 per year.
Farang tourists visiting Thailand would think nothing of spending this amount on one meal.
The wealth gap also continues to have clear geographic lines, with Bangkok and the south being generally more affluent, while the north and northeast (Isaan) regions continue to be the most impoverished.
At this rate, it will only be a matter of time before riots erupt in Bangkok yet again.
The BBC published an article: Thai crisis exposes class struggle.
Annoyed at this, The Nation responded with: It is a fallacy to analyse present troubles as based on class system and cited the fact that the King's mother was a commoner (she was originally a nurse when she met the King's father who was a doctor). The Nation goes on to explain how men from fairly ordinary backgrounds have become Thai Prime Ministers.
Technically, it is possible for anyone born in America to become President but it sure helps if they come from an extremely wealthy family and if their father or husband has already served as President. This is the same as Thailand.
Class these days - more often than not - means social status, and social status is based on wealth. In Thaksin's autobiography he tried to make out he came from a very poor background and earned his success as a result of hard work. This couldn't be further from the truth.
He was born into a wealthy, well-connected Chiang Mai family and then married into more wealth. His initial attempts at business were a failure but he got his first big break through his wife's family's police connections.
As is the case in America, it may be 'technically' possible for a very poor Thai person to work their way up in society but this is almost impossible in real terms.
Thais are terribly elitist and the first thing they look at is a person's education. Education isn't cheap for many people in Thailand. Poor Thais can't afford a decent education and do just the minimum six years. However, rich Thais educate their offspring for many years and even though their kids may not be very bright, by the time they reach 30 they will have a string of degrees. If people can afford an education in Thailand it is guaranteed that they won't fail no matter how dense they are.
If people can't afford an education in Thailand, then their opportunities in life stop right there. To flip burgers in MacDonalds needs a Bachelor's degree and any decent job will require a Master's Degree at least. Qualifications in Thailand have little to do with intelligence or ability but more to do with who can afford to be educated.
The people cited by The Nation who have risen to the top based on merit may not have come from very important family backgrounds but they at least came from middle class families who could afford to pay for their education.
There may not be a class system as such but a child from a poor family in rural Isaan who has a brilliant mind is going to struggle to reach his or her potential in Thailand.
By contrast, spoilt kids from wealthy families who spend the first 30 years of their lives being educated are going to end up with good jobs.
Thais also have other prejudices apart from education. Is it a coincidence that girls with good jobs seem to have fairer skin and are taller than girls with menial jobs? Skin colour and appearance play a big part.
So, there is no class system if you compare Thailand to certain other countries but for The Nation to suggest that any Thai can rise to the top of society by hard work alone is complete rubbish. Money is everything in Thailand, and people who come from poor backgrounds have no chance at all.
The wealth gap continues to get bigger in Thailand. As I write, the economy is booming and property is being built everywhere. People are making money, but only wealthy people who own businesses and property or can afford to buy and sell property for profit. The poor remain poor as the rich get richer.
Unfortunately, the people in Thailand who have the ability to make society fairer for all are the very people in whose self interest it is not to change anything. And therein lies the biggest problem of all.
Thailand In The Late 17th Century
Nicolas Gervaise, a Frenchman, went to Siam as a missionary in 1683 and wrote a fascinating account of the country as described in the book The Natural and Political History of the Kingdom of Siam. Here are a few extracts from the book regarding the Siamese people at that time and some other observations that I found interesting. Details of the book can be found in the bibliography section of this site.
(Character) The spirit of servility with which they are born and in which care is taken that they should be brought up, damps their courage and makes them so timid that they tremble at the sight of the smallest danger they encounter. Perhaps it is this natural timidity which makes them so loyal to their king and so respectful that they dare not even look at him when he speaks to them.
There is nothing objectionable in their disposition that might offend, nor is there anything that might attract us. They consider anger and drunkenness to be vices unworthy of a well-bred person, yet they do not scruple to practise a measure of dissimulation, and those to whom they show the most affection are often those for whom in their hearts they feel the most contempt and dislike.
If they are not dangerous enemies, neither are they friends on whom one can place much reliance on from whom one can expect great services, for they generally only take trouble over what concerns them personally, and the indolence to which they are born makes them prefer the obscurity of a soft, tranquil and solitary life to all the riches and honours that they could acquire by working.
If they were a little more industrious, they would be capable of achieving much, for, although their facial expressions seem gloomy and stupid and does not at first give a very good impression of their spirit, it is nevertheless true to say that they are not lacking in this respect.
The Siamese are not by nature very industrious people and we have already remarked how most of them prefer the leisure of a life of idleness to any of the honours, pleasures or material benefits they could gain by working.
(Gambling) They have an even greater passion for gambling than for watching shows. It sometimes happens that, having lost all their possessions, they gamble away their wives and children, and when these in turn have been lost, they stake and lose themselves and give themselves up in good faith to those to whom they have pledged their freedom.
(Teeth) One thing that the Siamese ladies cannot endure about us is the whiteness of our teeth, because they believe that the devil has white teeth, and that it is shameful for a human being to have teeth like a beast's. Therefore, as soon as the boys and girls reach the age of fourteen or fifteen, they start trying to make their teeth black and shiny. They do this in the following manner: the person whom they have chosen to render them this service makes them lie down on their back and keeps them in this position for the three days that the operation lasts. First, he cleans the teeth with lemon juice and then, having rubbed them with a certain fluid which makes them red, he adds a layer of burnt coconut, which blackens them.
(Food) There are no people more frugal than the Siamese. The common people only drink water and are content to eat rice, which they cook, some fruit and a little fish dried in the sun, of which they frequently do not eat their fill.
Even beef is very inexpensive, but one should eat it sparingly and in much smaller quantities than any other meat because it often causes certain intestinal disorders commonly known as mort de chien (cholera). The patient runs the risk of dying from this disease within twenty-four hours, unless he allows the sole of his foot to be burned with a red-hot iron, which invariably cures it.
But there is no good meat that their stupid cooks do not spoil with the sauce that they make. They mix with all their stews a certain paste made of rotten prawns, called capy in Thai, or commonly balachan, which has such a pungent smell that it nauseates anyone not accustomed to it.
(Social hierarchy) There is no good citizen who will willingly suffer a foreigner, whoever he may be, to take precedence over him or to be seated above him. For this reason, when they walk in the streets, they will always walk in single file and never side by side. But it is necessary to take care not to cross a bridge when there are people in balons (small boats) passing beneath, for it shows a lack of respect to cross at the same time as they are underneath. They are so scrupulous in this respect that they prefer to wait for a long time until there is nobody on the bridge rather than expose themselves to the shame of passing under the feet of others.
This is the reason that their houses never have more than one storey and that they never allow their menservants to live over their masters, as they do in Europe, since the highest apartment in any dwelling is considered to be the most honourable. The same pride which creates in them false ideas of grandeur and eminence makes them insist that their servants perform tasks that are not at all customary in France. A menial dare not speak to his master without first bowing low before him and he will always remain on his knees, leaning on his heels, with his eyes lowered and his hands joined, until he has received his orders.
(The judicial system) Nor can I vouch for the results of another test that is more commonly used by them, in which they throw both the accused and the accuser into the river. The one who can remain longer at the bottom without drowning is deemed to be innocent, while the first to come to the surface is considered guilty and punished wither by being left before an elephant, which will lift him up with its trunk and, having tossed him up in the air one or more times, will trample him underfoot and finally kill him by kneeling on him until he bursts, or by having his head cut off, or by being cut into pieces, according to the nature of the crime he has committed.
Those who are convicted of stealing anything that is devoted to the service of the king or to the decoration of a pagoda are bound to a large pole and roasted alive over a slow fire. This is also the torture meted out to monks who have been caught in flagrante delicto with a person of the opposite sex. For thefts of less consequence, the thieves are discharged having had the ends of their fingers cut off.
(Foreigners in Thailand) There are other foreigners who have also taken refuge in this kingdom, having fled from their own country, either for fear of punishment for the crimes they have committed or because of the ungrateful and sterile soil of their homeland.
The Malays are also established there in great numbers than is thought desirable, because they are Muslims and recognised as the wickedest people to be found in the Indies, so that every crime committed there is attributed to them and they are often found guilty, for they have a savage and cruel nature. When they think it is safe, they have no scruples about killing a man in cold blood and slitting open his stomach to remove the spleen, this they then sell for as much as fifty écus to the Moors, who use it as a remedy for a certain disease to which they are especially prone. Today, it is still thought desirable that they should all be exterminated and the kingdom thus purged of them.
Thais strive to present a perfect image of Thailand to the outside world and deliberately conceal anything that may harm the country's reputation. This has been done extremely effectively and many of the 20+ million tourists who visit Thailand each year go home thinking that it is a perfect country.
It isn't a perfect country and there are many negative aspects. I think it is important for those people thinking about going to live in Thailand to understand all aspects of the country. However, by doing this I may come across as being too negative. This is not my intention and I would like to think that I give a balanced view.
There are a lot of bad things about Thailand and a lot of bad Thais, but there are far more good Thais than bad ones.
Since living in Thailand I have met a lot of good people and been on the receiving ends of many acts of exceptional kindness. Most Thais are genuinely kind and genuinely helpful.
What is unfortunate is that 20 acts of kindness may be forgotten quite quickly, but one bad incident will linger in the memory for a long time.
There is a lot of greed in Thailand, which sometimes I can understand. If you have a reasonable income in Thailand, life is good. However, if you are poor, life is extremely harsh. There is a degree of welfare, for example free or reduced price health care, but not a welfare system as exists in other countries.
Money can make a huge difference to your quality of life in Thailand and if you don't have money the state isn't going to give you any. For many poor Thais the only opportunity for getting a better life is to marry a foreigner. This is why finding foreign husbands for poor Thai girls has been turned into an industry in regions like Isaan.
The thing I can't understand about Thais is that when they have enough money, their greed for more money is insatiable. This also goes against the religion they purport to follow and the theory of Sufficiency Economy.
Thaksin Shinawatra was a classic example. He was already a very wealthy man before he became Prime Minister and had he actually done what he promised to do he would have gone down in history as Thailand's best ever Prime Minister. But no matter how much money he made, it was never enough. He already had more than he could ever spend, but he wanted more and more. In the end he fled the country and can never return to his mother country without the fear of a jail sentence.
In late 2014 or early 2015 a huge corruption case was unearthed. Some people who were quite high in Thai society had been using their influence and authority to extort massive amounts of money.
They had so much money that they had to install huge underground vaults in their houses to store the cash and items they had purchased.
Thai government officials, including police and soldiers, are paid very small salaries and because of this I can understand why there is so much corruption in Thailand. Thailand is no longer a cheap country and I struggle on an income that just a few years ago I thought would keep me in luxury.
I understand why a lowly paid official earning Bt10,000 a month would enter into corrupt practices because it is the only way these days to make ends meet.
What I can't understand is when immensely wealthy Thais will stop at nothing to get more money.
I hate to say it, but I even see this kind of thing with my wife. She is from a poor family and her teacher's salary was about Bt8,000 when I met her. She rode a motorbike and live in a room at her sister's grotty house.
She now lives in the kind of house that only doctors and successful business people live in. She has her own car, I give her an allowance, and she doesn't need to work.
The upgraded lifestyle I have given her is something she could never have dreamed of before she met me. However, instead of being eternally grateful for what she has now, she takes most of it for granted and keeps asking for more.
Thais seem to think that they are some kind of a special race and that they deserve special lives. They have some very strange attitudes.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand