Living Like a Thai: The Wrap Up


Living like a Thai

The goal, if anyone can remember back that far, was to live for the whole month of June on only 200 baht a day in Pattaya, Thailand. Obviously I didn’t make my goal as the experiment shut down on June 23rd when my tonsils decided to attack again…and they are still attacking.

Even though I didn’t make it all the way to the finish line I did learn a bit about myself and living more cheaply in Pattaya if not Thailand.

The impetus for this experiment came from a post that Martyn at Beyond the Mango Juice wrote back in March of 2010 entitled Red Red Whine. In this post Martyn wrote about the average Thai’s daily wage and what it could buy. At the end of his post Martyn issued this challenge:

I would like some of my fellow Thai bloggers to pick up the ‘One70 Baht Challenge’ and give it a go for one day. It just might make an interesting blog post for one or two of you. Here’s the rules and what your 170 baht must cover.

  • All alcoholic and soft drinks must be paid for from the daily allowance. An early morning tea or coffee is the exception.
  • Cigarettes or tobacco.
  • All food consumed during the day.
  • No usage of your own car, truck or motorbike. Travel must be paid for on public and private transport, or by your own devices.
  • Entertainment, newspaper etc.

Good luck and please let me know how you get on.

I took up the challenge, not for a day but for a month. I did adjust the 170 baht daily allowance to 200 baht due to inflation and living in the tourist town of Pattaya.

Another impetus for trying this experiment was to curb some of my lazier ways and get back to eating and shopping in the Thai markets instead of the convenient 7/11′s , expat pubs and supermarkets which are generally more expensive.

I was quite surprised to see so many people get behind this experiment and urge me on, it made for some really good comments and discussions that provided good information for all. I was also surprised at the amount of e-mails and comments I received  against the experiment. Many of the more negative comments pointed out that I am not Thai, I am not really living like a Thai etc. The e-mails and comments that bothered me were the ones that claimed I was making fun of Thai’s or belittling Thai’s which is absolute nonsense.

From the very beginning I was very clear about my intentions regarding the experiment and why I was doing it, it was more to understand my spending habits than actually re-creating the day to day life of an average Thai. It was never my intention to make fun of Thai’s or treat them in any way disrespectful, consciously or sub consciously. After reviewing everything I had written for the month I think I am safe in saying that the only one I made fun of, belittled or disrespected was myself…and I enjoyed it.

The one thing I think I observed through all the comments and e-mails is the fact I don’t think many readers realize that most of my friends in Thailand are indeed Thai and come from every walk of life. Some are in the nightlife industry, sure,  but others are taxi drivers, hotel workers, business owners and security guards. We go out to eat, we stay in to eat, we have a drink together, we share stories and I daily share smiles with many of them. I treat all of them with the utmost respect because that is how they treat me.

What I Thought I learned Living Like a Thai

Incredibly I really did learn quite a bit about myself and my lazy ass spending habits. After being here a few months I started falling into the same old patterns. When I first arrived I cooked at least a few times a week but I got away from that and into prepackaged food from 7/11 or eating at expat joints.

While Ramen noodles are good to have around for a quick snack when you don’t want to go out they aren’t a good source of anything but a full stomach.

I’m not one to eat vegetables normally but for some reason in Thai food I will eat just about anything thrown in. I had forgotten my love for Chinese kale, Cauliflower, pak choy and red peppers. Buying these things and rice at any Thai market is generally very cheap and makes for a great meal…add in some chicken or pork and you are golden.

Cleaning and hygiene products… definitely a product of my western upbringing I have always bought the name brands but during this month of living cheaply I found many comparible Thai brands that are just as good and much cheaper. The biggest problem for an expat living in Thailand that is stuck on a certain brand from home is the hefty import taxes that raise the prices dramatically.

While all of these things are good to know it’s nothing new or earth shattering…anyone that has been to Thailand or lives here knows these things, you just have to stick to them and not get lazy with the conveniences that may be around.

What I really Learned

The biggest thing I learned this month had nothing to do with food, cleaning products or budgets…The biggest thing I learned is that I am part of a community, and believe it or not I forgot that during the whole month.

As I have been out and about over the last few days I have re-connected with a lot of people I saw little of this month. They all asked where I had been and how I was and it was then that I realized just how badly I failed the experiment. I took on the challenge with my American mind that always tells me if you don’t have money you don’t go out. Sure, I went for morning walks and such but I stayed in a lot more than normal and shut out a small community that I had become part of.

As I walked home from a check up at the clinic this afternoon I noticed my friend Tok was at work, he’s a security guard at one of the condo’s near me. We met about 8 months ago, in the early days it was just a hello or how are you today and we built on a friendship from there. Now we regularly chat and play Makruk together ( Thai Chess ), and I lose every time. Further up the road on my way home I noticed another friend having dinner at the roadside restaurant and popped in to have a bite and a talk about his family and the fact that low season is really bad.

Other friends have wondered where I was and several have scolded me for not letting them know I am sick so they can check in on me and take care if needed, both male and female, young and old.

The Take Away

Anyone can live cheaply in Thailand it only takes the will to do so…to truly live like a Thai you have to embrace the community around you, make friends and join in.  In good times and bad they are there to support you even if it’s just a smile.



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15 Comment(s)

  1. Your conclusion is apt and for me and is really the beauty of this experiment. Realising that you are part of a community and have strong bonds with locals as well as expats is really a truer Thai experience as to really sample a nation is to become friends with the locals.

    I for one have enjoyed your experiement. Now just get better and start spending more time out with the people you care about.

    colin | Jun 29, 2011 | Reply

  2. Talen, Love the conclusion and take-away too.

    Enjoy your time and adventures in the Land of Smiles.

    Joe | Jun 29, 2011 | Reply

  3. I loved your piece! I looked forward to it every day!! But, I miss my brother very very much; and although I am so happy for you that you are happy; I’d give anything to give you a hug and just hang out. I miss that so much…… Love you, Tim and miss you more than you’ll ever know!! You are a terrific writer too; who knew!! lol Love, Sue

    Susan Buhite | Jun 29, 2011 | Reply

  4. I have to compliment you for reminding me that I can eat in my own neighbourhood, which is just what I’ve been doing for two weeks now. Good example today.

    Because of the high prices on the menu at the Sportsman on Washington Square, I decided to eat Thai food, which is always expensive on a farang menu but it is the cheapest option. (I did this because I wanted to see if it was any better.)

    I had khao phat krapao neua (spicy basil fried beef) with fried egg. At the Sportsman it was 120 baht (no price difference whether chicken, pork or prawns) plus (a ridiculous) 25 baht for the egg. 145 baht total.

    At my favourite eatery in the ‘hood, khao phat krapao gai or moo is 32 baht plus 8 for egg 40 baht.

    You’ve probably already guessed the cheap meal was better than the farang resto’s meal and by a good margin in IMO.

    I gotten lazy and stopped trying different local places. Your series helped me to revisit my own ‘hood. Which I think was one of your Living Like a Thai series lessons? ;-)

    Some of your other ideas for new series are very appealing — as long as I don’t have to do them because I’m a lazy bum.

    Chok dee krap!

    SiamRick | Jun 29, 2011 | Reply

  5. “The biggest thing I learned this month had nothing to do with food, cleaning products or budgets…The biggest thing I learned is that I am part of a community, and believe it or not I forgot that during the whole month”.

    Talen, I couldn’t help but think that your limited budget would have struggled even more if you’d followed the mindset of a Thai community.

    The Thai culture evolves around those with the most propping up those with not as much.

    Expats, even at the lower end, are labeled as by Thais as ‘endowed’.

    Sure, it’s swings and roundabouts but your budget didn’t have that much swing to it so broke at the first real hurdle.

    If you could have explained what you were up to then perhaps it would have worked. But you already tried explaining and failed.

    Greng jai aside, you not pitching in with your expected share could cause hurt feelings at some point.

    Actually, that’d be an interesting theory to suss if you do go after a next time…

    Catherine | Jun 30, 2011 | Reply

  6. “The biggest thing I learned is that I am part of a community, and believe it or not I forgot that during the whole month.”

    This is probably the most important thing that you could have learned because it seems that you forgot the most important aspect of Thai culture. In your experiment you attempted to do everything on your own, a typical Thai would never do that. Aside from the occasional snack, no Thai would ever eat alone.

    This cooking as a group and eating as a group is as social as much as anything. Although, as Catherine mentioned, you would likely be paying for everything as you would be perceived as the most well off. Even amongst Thai’s, the most successful would likely pay for most things. It all comes to the idea that you help me today while you have the means to do so, I will help you tomorrow when you are less fortunate.

    All in all, I think it was a nice little experiment. I don’t see why anyone would be up in arms against trying something like this. Sure, you are not actually Thai or living like a Thai, but it does give you a new perspective on what most Thai’s must go through.

    Phuket Travel | Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

  7. Talen it would seem you’ve learned a fair bit about yourself during your Living Like a Thai series, that’s a good thing as I know you’ll put those lessons learned into practice. You are definitely part of a community which missed you during your 23 days of frugality. You probably now need an extra hand to count your Thai friends on.

    Catherine makes a very valid point:

    ‘The Thai culture evolves around those with the most propping up those with not as much.’

    I too think you’d have fell flat on your face if you’d ventured out more during your experiment but you have to be accepted by a community to get culturally milked by it and you are part of many Thais everyday life. That’s good. How many expats can say that.

    Thanks for picking up my challenge and taking it to new heights.

    An excellent series.

    Martyn | Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

  8. Joe, Thanks. I don’t think a day has gone by since I moved here that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed myself.

    Talen | Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

  9. Sue, It’s very simple really…COME TO THAILAND and I’ll give you a hug :P Love and miss you too sis!

    Talen | Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

  10. Rick, I had to remind myself…no need to pay more for lesser quality. We should all strive to re-visit the hood :)

    Talen | Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

  11. Cat, My budget definitely didn’t have swing. And you could be right that the experiment may have ended even sooner but I should have made the effort. I know one thing for sure…I have eaten more free meals in Thailand in less than a year then in 45 years in America….kinda says something.

    Talen | Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

  12. Martyn, one more night out would have definitely done me in…I think the experiment would have fared much better in rural Thailand where the baht goes a little further and there aren’t as many things to garner my attention…

    Talen | Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

  13. When’s the movie? Just a few dramatic changes are needed. The name? ‘Bak Wan’.

    This is one thing I learned: When I tell the missus how beautiful she looks and tells me ‘sweet mouth’, I can now shoot out ‘bak wan’ back to her when she tells me how handsome I am! It’s the little things that count!

    Rambone | Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

  14. Rambone, Bak Wan is in my daily vocabulary to a few ladies…as for movies, I am in talks with Brad Pitt to star but I don’t think he likes my budget.

    Talen | Jul 7, 2011 | Reply

  15. Great experiment. I’ve noticed that I’ve been splurging on foreign food lately and I know it will be time to tighten the budget waistline so to speak. . .we take a lot for granted and I hope I never do.

    Cheers ;)

    Lani | Jul 18, 2011 | Reply

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