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Five very different aspects of Thailand


Some short extracts from Thailand Take Two

They show both faces of The Land of Smiles – a Thailand that is neither a perfect paradise on earth nor a dangerous den of dishonesty and deviousness. Thais tend to avoid arguments and adopt a hassle-free lifestyle. Shouting and criticising is not in their nature. The Thais have a strong community spirit. You will see their eagerness to help others. I shall share with you some stories of the Thai family circle and demonstrate what really influences the Thais in their daily lives.

There is also a strong class structure and we will illustrate some of the “unwritten” rules of hierarchy that are second nature to a Thai. Every man, woman, and child knows his or her place in society. It is a stabilising factor. There are accepted and unchangeable conventions to establish the pecking order. The ideas of respect for elders and betters, and the noblesse oblige concept are absolute in Thailand.

Here are five extracts from Thailand Take Two


A farang goes into a Ferrari dealership and looks at the top of the range model. He’s dressed in jeans and an open T-shirt. He’s virtually ignored by the salesman who is neither treating him seriously nor answering his questions about the car. He walks out of the showroom and jumps into his Porsche; the salesman is kicking himself because he has lost commission on a potential sale. It would have been better to have listened to the customer and established a rapport with him.

This well-known story may well be fictional but it illustrates how Thais can misjudge a farang (white foreigner) because they do not understand that a Westerner does not always parade his wealth for all to see. To many Thais, it seems logical that if you have money or position, you make sure other people know it.


You may notice class distinctions as you travel through Thailand. Northerners, those from the province of Isaan, and the hill-tribes are often looked down on by the richer city dwellers of Bangkok.

There are divisions based on hierarchy on the island of Phuket between the chao lay (sea gypsies, from chao person, talay sea) and local landowners. The sea gypsies regard themselves as Thai as they have lived in these coastal regions for over 300 years. They have their own language, etiquettes, and they subscribe to the animist religion. They do not readily join in with other Thais.

As they have no legal papers to the land they occupy, there are continuing problems with developers who want to build profitable tourist facilities. The government tries to find compromising solutions but can do little to solve the basic problem of there being such wide class differences between the chao lay and the property developers

On the Queen’s birthday, also Mothers’ day in Thailand, I was helping in a community project, planting trees as part of the village’s celebrations. Well over half the community got together; which is typical in this country. Everyone knew me and we joked and worked alongside one another. We lunched and drank together. We were all on first name terms. No khun, no farang.

Loudspeaker systems are used extensively to communicate in Thai villages, so I was not surprised later that evening to hear the puyaibaan, the village headman, thanking everyone for their efforts. Then I heard my name mentioned in dispatches. “Farang Matt” was being singled out as the only farang who had helped. It was not ill mannered. It was not impolite. It was the easiest way to tell the few people who had not been at the planting, the names of those who had attended. It was probably also his clever way of getting more people to be involved in future village projects. He was also following the Thai trait of putting a positive spin on events. He was emphasising those who came and not those who did not. Thais talk of half-full bottles and not half-empty bottles.

   Colonel Jaran: What are you doing, soldier?

Bancha: Breaking eggs so that I can make omelettes for the men, sir.

Colonel Jaran: I realise that, soldier. Even so, you are breaking them two at a time.

Bancha: That’s quicker, sir.

Colonel Jaran: What if one of them is bad?

Bancha: A bad egg, sir? In the Thai army, sir?

An amusing anecdote but an unusual one. As much as they love making jokes, Thais would not normally say anything like that to a superior. They are far too conscious of a person’s position and any possible loss of face or respect.

But, as we see when we meet Bancha later, after he leaves the army and returns to the building trade, he can be a rather untypical Thai.

 The wearing of the right school tie and dating the chairman’s daughter affects job prospects as much here as in western societies. At one promotion interview in Bangkok, which lasted just a few minutes, the only question asked was “Who is your boss?”

Suda: Good morning, (Sawatdee ka.)

Interviewer: Please sit down.

Suda: Thank you, (Kawpkhun ka.)

Interviewer: Who is your boss?

Suda: Khun Manat, ka.

Interviewer: Good. I know him.

She got the job. Other interviewees, some of whom had travelled overnight at their own expense, received more taxing and relevant questioning. Nevertheless, they faced an overnight return journey with no promotion offers in their pockets


Integrating and being more at ease with Thais can be achieved by understanding and accommodating some of the Thai ways that we may find unusual and frustrating. Going along with their formal and informal rules of hierarchy is crucial. The Thais will appreciate your fitting in to their culture and you will get more out of your stay in this country; however long, however short.

A Thai does not think in a western way and his sense of station in life is overriding in all he does. He accepts his lot with a cheerfulness and relaxed attitude that is the fundamental Thai quality of mai bpen rai, which we look at in the next chapter.

 Thailand Take Two can be obtained from:

 APPLE  iTunes  


  KOBO   Links to all titles  

  BARNES & NOBLE   Links to all titles   


Matt Owens Rees can be reached on and his blog is at




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