Are you thinking about moving to Thailand from USA? As a native New Yorker (who also lived in Los Angeles) now living in Thailand for a majority of the year, I wanted to share some things that the average American will STOP and START doing once they live in Thailand. This guide should help make your transition a bit smoother.
You will STOP using napkins at restaurants and START using toilet paper or tissues
One of the things that stood out to me in Thailand was the presence of tissues or toilet paper on a restaurant table. Typically in the US, we use tissues to blow our noses and toilet paper to wipe our asses. But in Thailand, especially local restaurants, you’ll be given tissues or toilet paper, usually stored in a colorful plastic container. Don’t bother asking your server for “napkins.” This isn’t a common word in Thailand. Instead, you’ll start asking for “tissues.”
Generally the tissues and toilet paper you’re given are single-ply (probably because it’s cheaper), meaning they are not as effective as standard napkins. The paper here will often stick to your fingers requiring you to go to the bathroom to wash your hands at the end of the meal.
The more upscale restaurants will however offer standard napkins.
You will STOP using toilet paper to wipe your ass when you shit and you will START using a water gun
When you first use the bathroom in Thailand, it might be a confusing experience. Sometimes there’s no toilet paper but right next to the toilet is a handheld water gun. But sometimes there is toilet paper but a sign that says “please don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet.” So what gives?
In Thailand, after you poop, you use the water gun to spray your ass clean, and then you use toilet paper (if available) to dry your butt. You then throw the damp (but clean) toilet paper into the trash bin, NOT into the toilet. It’s a happy medium between Japan’s super advanced toilets and USA’s very outdated bathroom experience.
I personally prefer Thailand’s bathroom experience over America’s. My ass has never felt cleaner. And that’s a sentence I never expected to say.
You will STOP making physical contact when you say hi or bye to someone and START bowing
In America we’re pretty comfortable with invading personal space. I’ve had so many bodies press up on me during rush hour on the trains in NYC that we were essentially grinding to the rhythm of the night. Also, shaking hands with someone you’re meeting for the first time or giving hugs goodbye to someone you just met are pretty common social behaviors.
In Thailand, people put their hands together and say “sawasdee” without making any physical contact with the other person. This is called a wai. Sure close friends and family members will hug, but in general when you meet people here, bowing while saying the Thai greeting is the polite thing to do.
You will STOP checking the weather and START checking air quality
I used to open my weather app every day in New York City where the weather fluctuates wildly and the best defense against being too cold or too hot is a good offense. I never checked the weather in Los Angeles because it was always “72 and sunny.” Not sure why more East Coasters don’t move to the West Coast. It’s sooo much better. Sorry that I’m a traitor!
In Thailand, you know it’s going to be hot every day. You also know rainy season lasts August – October (varying by region). And when it does rain, it usually POURS, and then goes away. The weather in Thailand is extremely predictable which gives you one less thing to think about it.
Also, rain in Thailand is typically a welcomed event as it helps to decrease the humidity, decrease pollution and gives you an opportunity to sleep in or do something indoors like hang out at a mall. In NYC, rain and snow seemingly cripple the city and always feel like a nuisance. In LA, snow doesn’t exist (for the most part), and rain turns every driver into an incompetent timid mess. “OMFG why is water coming down from the air???”
In Thailand, instead of checking the weather, you will start checking air quality. During specific times of the year, air pollution in cities like Bangkok And Chiang Mai can reach extremely dangerous levels to the point where people have been reported to cough up blood. This is due to traffic exhaust, factory pollution and agricultural burning. But don’t worry – you can always leave the heavily air-polluted areas for a few weeks then go back when they’ve decreased.
You will STOP saying “bless you” when someone sneezes and START expecting nobody to say it when you sneeze
Being an American, it just feels polite to say “bless you” after somebody sneezes. It also feels like a nice courtesy when someone nearby, even a stranger, says “bless you” when you sneeze. In Thailand, this isn’t part of the culture. Typically your sneezes are met with silence which just feels weird and possibly even rude at first. But it’s not.
Just don’t forget to reincorporate “bless you” back into your vocabulary once you’re back stateside.
You will STOP tipping 20% and START tipping less than 10%
I’ve always been a good tipper in NYC averaging around 20%. I just feel guilty and cheap giving anything less in expensive cities like New York City and Los Angeles.
In Thailand however, the service industry generally look at tips as a nice gesture and not an expectation. This is very refreshing as Thai service providers will never stick their hand out expecting a tip. Instead, when you tip them, they bow with their hands pressed together, smile and say “thank you” in Thai. Sometimes they genuinely seemed surprise to get a tip because many other countries do not tip as part of the culture. It’s a pleasure to tip in Thailand as they are extremely grateful (versus American service providers where even a 25% tip will barely get you a smile).
I recently had a 1,600 baht restaurant bill ($53 USD) and the New Yorker in me wanted to tip my server 320 baht. The Thai friend I was eating with looked at my tip and said “that’s too much! you’re going to ruin the prices for everyone because you’re basically saying that their prices are too cheap!” and actually took back 280 baht off the table. They said “40 baht is enough – it’s the gesture.” I snuck 100 baht back onto the table before I left as I felt bad leaving a $1.33 tip. I think tipping 10% for exemplary service is good. Also, the more upscale restaurants tend to include a 10% service charge on the bill so you aren’t expected to leave anything extra.
I would suggest tipping at least 100 baht per 1 hour massage. They work hard and the massages here are already so cheap (200-400 baht per hour or $7 to $13 USD).
You will STOP eating sandwiches and START eating more rice and noodles
After living in Thailand for almost a year, I almost forgot what a sandwich is. Sure – sometimes after a night of drinking I’ll crave McDonald’s (is a burger considered a sandwich?), but forget ordering bacon egg and cheeses. Even Subway, a personal cheap eats favorite of mine in New York City is a place I never frequent in Thailand even though it exists here.
Instead, you’ll find yourself surrounded by endless rice and noodle-based dishes. So while you won’t have a carb shortage, you just won’t be getting your carbs from bread or toast anymore.
You will STOP celebrating Taco Tuesday and START eating street food daily
As everyone’s favorite Mexican Jew, I celebrated Taco Tuesday every week back in New York City and Los Angeles (moreso in LA because the Mexican food there is simply superior). Margaritas, tequila shots, guacamole, OMG. Of course you can find taco restaurants in Thailand (I haven’t found any outstanding ones yet), but Mexican food simply isn’t as readily available or as delicious.
One of the reasons I always look forward to my US trips is the tacos! But also because it’s a quick trip to Mexico. And if you’re curious about the best tacos I’ve had in the world, here’s my list.
Most of your meals will be at local street food places. Don’t worry about getting food poisoning – while it does happen, it’s only happened twice to me in over a year here, and it was never from street food!
You will STOP playing beer pong and START playing pool
Throughout college and in my 20s, I spent more hours playing beer pong than any other activity at a bar. Now that I am a mature 36 year old, I started playing darts in NYC. I’m not very good but few things feel better in life than consecutive bullseyes (which I’ve done a few times).
During my first 6 months in Thailand in 2018, I avoided playing pool because I generally don’t enjoy doing things I suck at. But this time around I said fuck it and started to play. And boy is it fun! I suck but I am starting to understand strategies and my accuracy is beginning to improve. I guess the lesson learned is that if you practice doing something, you won’t suck eventually.
Playing pool while having a few drinks with friends is such a relaxing and fun way to spend an evening here in Thailand. And it’s a fantastic way to network with locals and foreigners alike. Sharpen your pool game before visiting Thailand and it’ll make the transition that much easier.
And if anyone knows the girl in the middle above, I would love to make her my next ex-girlfriend.
You will STOP going to Duane Reade/CVS/Walgreens and START going to 7Eleven
I’ve always had a personal connection to 7Eleven because I share the same birthday as this iconic convenience store (July 11th). In New York City and in the US in general, 7Eleven doesn’t have the same clout as it does in Asia, especially Southeast Asia, and ESPECIALLY Thailand. Ask any local where you can get something and the answer is almost always “7Eleven.”
7Eleven is to Thailand as Starbucks is to New York City. You’ll find one everywhere. Many of them also have cafes that serve delicious coffee. Plus, what’s crazy about 7Eleven in Thailand is that it’s one of the best places for delicious and healthy cheap eats. They sell microwavable grilled chicken packets for 40 baht ($1.33 USD) that pack 20+ grams of protein against 90 calories. When it’s late at night and I need a healthy snack, this has become my go-to.
You will STOP seeing a doctor for your prescriptions and START self-medicating
Getting your prescriptions refilled in the US is kind of a pain in the ass. As someone who has hypertension (and sometimes gout), if I don’t have anymore refills on file, I’m required to see a doctor to get a prescription or ask a doctor friend to call it in for me. In Thailand you can just walk into a pharmacy and ask for what you want. Plus, even without insurance, drugs are extremely affordable here. However, I’ve noticed that Thai pharmacists tend to prescribe antibiotics for everything which can create antibiotic resistance so I would recommend seeing an actual doctor if you’re sick (but if you know what drugs you need and you’ve been on them for a long time, then it’s so much more convenient here). 100 mg of losartan potassium please!
I love walking into a Thai pharmacy and proclaiming “Doctor! I need drugs” which is something you really can’t do in America and expect the pharmacist to just hand you drugs.
In general, healthcare across the board is significantly more affordable than the US. And don’t let the fearmongers scare you that the Thailand healthcare system is worse then the US – it’s arguably better. Stop drinking the kool-aid and get your ass out here and start drinking Chang Beer!
You will STOP using Amazon.com and START using Amazon Cafe
There’s a cafe chain in Thailand called Amazon Cafe. At first I thought Amazon.com was getting into the brick & mortar coffee game but I was mistaken. They are a completely separate businesses (which should have been obvious to me from the start).
Amazon Cafe makes delicious coffee and they’re almost always located within gas stations (and of course across the country but they seem to have a stronghold on gas stations*). I’m a huge fan of the jungle like-color scheme and fun engaging logo. My only issue with them is that they don’t offer any healthy foods – just cakes and desserts.
*I Googled Amazon Cafe and it turns out they’re owned by PTT Public Company Limited which is a Thai State-Owned oil and gas company so there you go. That’s why they have a gas station stronghold.
You will STOP using Amazon.com and START using other delivery services (or not)
When I moved to Thailand a year ago it was a huge adjustment not having access to Amazon.com. That shit is a first world blessing. Amazon Prime? A godsend! I would order everything from Amazon.com, from furniture to toothpaste. And the best part was that it would arrive in 1-2 days.
When you get to Thailand, you can’t rely on Amazon.com anymore. Instead, you resort back to in-person shopping for most of the things you need. While delivery services similar to Amazon.com do exist here, you often have to be home to meet the delivery person which is very inconvenient.
What I found most interesting is that when I returned to the US, my Amazon.com loyalty disappeared. I simply got used to not using Amazon.com. I’m pretty sure my last order was sometime in 2018. Never would have seen that coming! Neither would Jeff Bezos!
You will STOP using Uber or Lyft and START using Grab
Uber used to exist in Thailand, but Grab bought them out and now Grab dominates the Asian and Thai markets. I still find myself saying “I’ll order an Uber ” out of habit but that’s changing too.
Grab is great because the prices are so cheap here (most of my rides are around 100 baht or $3 USD). But what really makes Grab superior to Uber is that instead of focusing on ridiculous transportation options like helicopters (which really don’t save you any time since you still have to get to the helipads lol), they have motorbikes. For anyone that’s been to Southeast Asia, they know that motorbikes are the most efficient and economical way to travel. Not only are they more fuel-efficient, but they can weave in and out of traffic saving you valuable time during rush hour. Plus, the cool breeze from a motorbike often brings welcomed relief from the Thailand heat which does bring a smile to my face.
You will STOP hearing American English accents and START hearing more “foreign” English accents
One of the biggest surprises to me about spending a majority of the year in Thailand is how infrequently I meet fellow Americans (relative to Europeans or Australians). But this likely because of a few reasons:
- There are no direct flights from USA to Thailand
- The total travel time is around 24 hours, at least
- Thailand is literally on the opposite side of the world making timezones extremely inconvenient
- And the most important one : Americans generally only get 2 weeks of vacation (whereas European Union citizens by law get 4) so spending 2 of your days traveling is 20% of your annual vacation days. This is so sad and pathetic that it makes me fucking sick to my stomach and it should make you feel the same way too. Apparently corporate greed is more important than worker personal fulfillment. The irony is workers are more productive when asked to work less. LOL!
Not being constantly surrounded by moral grandstanding, virtue signaling and language policing is very refreshing.
Whenever I find myself hearing an American accent, I get super excited. Not only am I able to reassert social norms like saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, I get to talk about American current events and pop culture with someone who knows and cares about them. But at the same time, not being constantly surrounded by moral grandstanding, virtue signaling and language policing (you’re either this or that, you’re either Democrat or Republican, you’re either pro-Trump or anti-Trump, you’re either pro-life or pro-choice) is very refreshing. Stay woke!
You will STOP using Seamless or GrubHub and START using FoodPanda
The only time you’ll use the word seamless in Thailand is when you talk about what a “seamless” transition you made after reading my blog. Seamless and GrubHub do not exist in Thailand. Get ready to use FoodPanda! Not only is the panda great, but the name is superior to “Seamless” or “GrubHub” (which isn’t too bad of a name).
In general, you’ll order less delivery because there are so many cheap eats options available everywhere in Thailand. Plus, why would you want to stay in your hotel room or apartment when there is so much to explore? Be free my sheeple!
You will STOP paying more than a few bucks for a cocktail and START thinking that $7USD+ is far too much to pay for a drink
Just last week I paid 2,400 baht for 19 cocktails and beers…that’s $80 USD. In New York City or Los Angeles, 19 cocktails will easily cost you $190-285 USD, and that’s without tax and tip!
One of the greatest things about leaving NYC/LA and living almost anywhere else in the world (with the exception of Iceland) is the cost of drinks. With a little searching, you can find $1-2 beers at a local spot. And that’s not even happy hour prices! I only drink vodka sodas (arguably the leanest and healthiest cocktail) and I generally pay anywhere between 100-150 baht ($3-5 USD).
Sometimes I find myself visiting fancy, upscale cocktail/mixology or rooftop bars where the prices “skyrocket” to 330-360 baht but this still only $11-12 USD. In many average New York City and Los Angeles bars, the average drink is going to cost you at minimum $10. Go to a fancy place and this can jump to $18. I paid $40 USD for 2 cocktails in Pegu Club just a few months ago – and the girl I was with said we had to chug them because she left her phone at the previous bar.
You will STOP drinking bottled juices and START drinking fresh smoothies
Remember when Naked Fruit Juice convinced everyone that they were “healthy”? Sure, they do have some nutrients, but the amount of calories and carbs from sugar inside of a Naked fruit juice almost neutralize the vitamins and minerals you get from them. Plus, they’ve removed almost all of the fiber. Or what about all of those fancy places to get fresh $12 juices in NYC/LA? The cost of these drinks prices most people out of the market.
Welcome to Thailand where you can find FRESH, no-sugar-added smoothies for as little as $1USD! You will start making fresh, healthier juices a normal part of your diet without breaking the bank. Nothing is more refreshing than a fresh coconut on the beaches of Thailand.
You will STOP petting every dog you see and START avoiding many dogs
In America, almost every dog is accustomed to interacting with people and trained to do so. It’s also illegal to walk a dog off-leash in public (with the exception of some dog parks). That’s why saying hi and petting every dog you see is a safe thing to do. Not in Thailand.
One of my biggest issues about Thailand is that the lack of spaying and neutering has created a street dog problem – not so much in urban Bangkok, but definitely in the beach towns and villages. If they could round up and sterilize every pet and make sterilization a mandatory of pet ownership, they could fix the street dog population within 10-15 years. But this of course costs money. Thankfully there are organizations like Soi Dog Foundation & Rescue P.A.W.S.
Many pet owners in Thailand allow their dogs to roam the streets where they procreate with other street dogs. You can tell which dogs are “somewhat owned” or previously owned because they have collars on. Yet once the dog outgrows its’ cuteness or becomes too expensive due to food costs or vet bills, the dogs are put onto the streets to fend for themselves.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever come across a territorial pack of five or more untrained dogs, but it’s actually a very frightening experience, even for a dog lover such as myself. So unlike in America where I love saying hi to every single dog I see, I find myself avoiding most of the dogs in Thailand. Here’s a guide from ThaiVisa on how to deal with street dogs.
At the same time, I haven’t had many negative experiences with street dogs in Thailand so I don’t want to make it seem like it’s a rampant problem. Just know that packs of dogs have attacked people before. Be aware of your surroundings and never run away as this could activate their chase instincts.
After spending the first 32 years of my life in New York City, followed by 3 years in Los Angeles, and now 1+ year in Thailand, I can confidently say that in terms of living and quality of life:
- Los Angeles
- New York City
What’s interesting however is that this order is the opposite for average earning potential. You can make the most money in NYC but have the poorest quality of life (relative to LA or Thailand), or you can live in Thailand and make the least money (relative to NYC or LA) but have the highest quality of life. Of course different careers are better suited for NYC for LA but I am making sweeping generalizations here or “painting with broad strokes.”
My suggestion is to live in NYC/LA in your 20s and stack chips, invest those chips and then move to Thailand when you feel like you’ve created enough of a safety net for yourself. $100k USD in the bank is more than enough to live comfortably in Thailand for 4-5 years and have a ridiculously high quality of life.
Remember – you can always make more money but you cannot create more time. And planning to retire when you’re 55+ isn’t a guaranteed plan. Enjoy it while you’re relatively young and healthy for a few years and you can always re-enter the workforce after tasting the good life while you’re physically and mentally abled!
Have you lived in Thailand before? What else did you STOP doing and START doing?
Be Free My Sheeple!