Thailand is a big, colourful country with close to double the population of neighbouring Malaysia. I used the adjective “colourful” because I feel Thailand isn’t only rich in its culture and diversity, but the people here, as I’ve witnessed, are relatively bolder and more open-minded – at least compared to its Muslim-majority neighbour, Malaysia – when it comes to ideas, fashion, as well as sex and sexuality, among others.
Having been in Thailand for two years now, I’ve learned a great deal about the people here, their mentality, their habits, and how they carry themselves. As a Malaysian, although some people may say I look no different from any Thai man in terms of appearance, I know very well that there’s definitely a gap when it comes to our lifestyles and mindsets.
So in this post I will take you through the ten common characteristics I’ve learned about a typical Somchai while in Thailand. The women’s version will come in the next post.
It is, however, worth noting that even within Thailand itself, the people, their lifestyles, and their cultures can be quite diversified. For instance, people in my region speak the Tai (Southern Thai) dialect and are known to be loud, fast talkers; on the other hand, people from the North, living in a cool climate and speaking the Neua dialect, tend to be more calm, more gentle, and softer-spoken.
Also, people in the center and Northeastern (Isaan) regions, respectively exhibiting different social, cultural, and financial identities, too possess different lifestyles and thinkings.
Nevertheless, for a Malaysian like me, I can tell very well what is “Thainess” and what isn’t. Of course, what I’m going to list down below are only based on generalisation, and since Thai men aged between 25 and 54 make up close to half the total male population in 2016 (stunning figure!), perhaps it’s sensible to say that much of my observation on the common characteristics a typical Thai guy possesses, came from this age group.
1. Thai guys tend to cheat
While my Thai, male counterparts are definitely a bunch of cool people, unfortunately they’re known to be jao chu or what could be translated as “philanderers” and “Casanova’s.”
My girlfriend likes to tease, “Statistically there are more women than men in Thailand. After taking away those who’re already married and those who’re homosexuals, you can imagine how many guys Thai women are left with.”
Guys are “blessed” with more options when it comes to choosing ladies. As such, Thai men tend to cheat – at least according to popular opinions here, and a good number of women actually don’t mind being a second girlfriend or a mia noi (‘minor wife’ or ‘mistress’).
And this, of course, brings us to the next point.
2. The gik culture
In Thailand, many a times having a faen (‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’) apparently isn’t enough. Many people – men and women alike – actually have a gik, which means someone they’re in a casual relationship with, on top of a faen.
There may also be people who don’t find themselves wanting to commit to any serious relationship, thus they prefer to just have a gik to be in a romantic and/or sexual relationship with. A gik is more or less treated like a faen, except that there is a promise of a future with the latter rather than with the former.
3. Most Thai guys have tattoos
While many Thais have the popular Sak Yant worn on their bodies, others have tattoos depicting a slew of other things ranging from roses to human portraits. Sak Yant is a kind of traditional Thai tattoo which has been around for as long as 2,000 years and often comes with geometrical, animal and deity designs, as well as Buddhist” psalms written in Thai or Khmer script.
I’ve realised that the locals here actually favour Sak Yant and animals as their tattoo subjects over motifs, as they believe the former two will bring them magic power and protection. This is the complete opposite of people from my home state over the Borneo island, who mostly opt for tribal and floral patterns.
4. Mai bpen rai… stay sabai-sabai
Most Thai men live by their signature sabai-sabai (‘relaxed’) and mai bpen rai (‘it’s okay’) attitude. Most of them are easy-going and not too calculative. They know how to make jokes and aren’t too serious about everything, as long as they can make ends meet, drink a couple of beers sometimes, perhaps have a gik or two to spend happy times with.
4. The Saiyor dance
Many Thai young men (women alike) are into the Saiyor dance style, which oftentimes involves dramatic yet funny gestures and movements.
Well, I used to hate it. But I hate to admit I’m now digging it.
5. Drinking as a pastime
By that, I don’t mean to say Thai men are alcoholic, or that people of other nationalities like myself don’t drink. Except I feel that the Thais, especially guys, generally consume more alcohol and are better drinkers than, say, its neighboring West Malaysian counterparts, majority of whom are Muslims.
Perhaps the higher prices of alcoholic beverages in Malaysia being another reason – while Malaysians are better known for their lim teh (‘Teh Tarik‘) culture, the Thais prefer to gin lao (‘drink alcohol’).
Occasionally sitting in a group and being indulged in some chit-chat and cups over cups of whisky diluted with ice, water, and soda because that’s cheaper than beer, is something many Thai men enjoy as a pastime.
6. The military sentiments
Many Thai men, especially those from the Southern region, are staunch supporters of the Thai army. A lot of them actually approve of the Thai army taking control of the government and intervening in the Thai politics. They feel it’s okay to mix politics with military sentiments.
In Thailand, it’s mandatory for all male citizens, with the exception of Buddhist monks, the disabled, and transgenders, to serve in the military for two years upon hitting 21 years of age.
Due to this, many Thai men above the age of 21 may have had experience serving in the military. This is on top of various efforts made towards instilling in the citizens, a sense of love and respect for the Thai army. As a result, many Thai men feel a sense of pride the army gave them.
7. Gays and kathoeys
The gay and katheoy (‘transgender women’) scene in Thailand is, well, both obvious and overwhelming – especially for someone like me who comes from a place that isn’t too tolerant towards this group.
While I’ve noticed that Thai men do sometimes make fun of the gay and transgender community, the abuse is, for the most part, probably more verbal than physical or violent. Some people see the transgender women, who often like flaunting their flamboyant looks and dramatic gestures, as an entertainment rather than something to frown upon.
Thai men at large are somewhat still rather tolerant and not as judgmental towards this community, at least compared to neighbouring Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia. In the Bangkok metropolitan area and also other bigger cities, it’s common to see men holding hands in public, or for a man to get some stares from other men.
8. Thai men are an innovative and creative bunch
Thailand is a country with double the population of neighbouring Malaysia and, like China, things are very fluid given the competition. In my eyes, the Thai youths, especially those in the central region, are a highly creative, flexible, and dynamic bunch – in fact more so than their Malaysian counterparts, most of whom remain in the comfort zone due to the country’s small population, its government’s protracted affirmative action policy towards a certain group, and thus a lack of competition.
On top of that, poverty in Thailand remains high at 10.9%, which means about 7.5 million of some 68 million Thais live below the national poverty line. This is in contrast to the poverty rate in Malaysia, which comes in at only 0.6%.
People want to survive whatever the circumstances are. Perhaps due to these factors, when it comes to trade and business, people tend to get creative and innovative in order to get their ideas sold and things done.
9. Most Thai men look older than they are
If you come across any Thai man who looks older than you, chances are that he may be about the same age with, maybe even younger than you. This is especially true with men in the Southern and Northeast (Isaan) regions, who are generally less wealthy than their counterparts in Bangkok and other major cities across Thailand.
Due to the unsatisfactory socio-economic conditions in some places, many Thais from as young as teenagers may be forced to work in order to support their families. Some children may even be expected to help their parents out in activities related to household survival.
I know certain genes and diets are contributors to whether or not people look their age. But to put those aside, the generally more mature look of the Thai men could be a “manifestation” of their experiences in life, their lifestyles, and what they have been through since a younger age.
10. Thai men are friendly and generous
When people call Thailand the “Land of Smiles,” they mean business. The Thais are one of the friendliest bunch of people I’ve seen. Of course, there’s bound to be a handful of pricks around, as with anywhere else, but I can easily conclude that the friendliness of Thai men isn’t just an expectation – it’s a reality.
Even if some Thai men don’t smile at you, it doesn’t mean they are unfriendly. They may just be shy or not as expressive as their female counterparts. I’ve been in Thailand for close to two years now and also to a few other countries, so I know what spells friendly and what doesn’t.
Also, since coming to Thailand, I’ve lost count of the numbers of times I’ve been generously offered help without anyone wanting anything in return. I’ve recorded some of my experiences in this sense, on Facebook:
So the above are ten amazing things I’ve learned about Thai men. What about Thai women? Do check back for the next entry.