West-to-East Migrants in Thailand

One of the things that I am slowly beginninig to understand as I travel through the small bits of thailand that I have time for is the longstanding presence of western falang here and the complexity of the relationships that have grown in the forty or so years since western tourists first started coming to this country, falling in love with it and attempting in many different ways to stay on.

The west-to-east migrant experience also known as the expat culture is something that hasn’t really been all that salient to me. I’ve generally dismissed WtE migrants as unjustly wealthy migrants who have it easy in the east. Thus most of my interest has been in the other direction but in Thailand, there are so many different types of WtE migrants that I’ve started to see a little beyond the masses of tourists and notice that things aren’t really all that easy for the ones that have decided to commit and stay on.

The most successful it seems to me are those who have married Thai people for love and have now small families. You can see them happily riding scooters in the local style, 3 or 4 to a bike, the children sandwiched between the adults. Most of the couples at least from looking around the street seem to be much older white men with young thai women and the disparity in some of the couples are problematic especially when the age gap is great but I am conscious that I am viewing this from my particular cultural bias.

The next lot of people who stay on are those who have established a business partnership with a thai person. I met a genial Australian man in Chiang Mai who has been in Thailand for two and a bit years and while he seemed happy enough, it didn’t take long before he started aluding to business troubles with his thai partner. It seems to me that the service market here is saturated. The competition is certainly fierce and the rate of development phenomenal. I haven’t done any research but I would see investing in the tourist industry to be highly risky.

The last group I’ve seen are those who return year after year, renewing their visa and staying as long as they can each time, making as many border visa runs as possible before going home. You can see them sometimes hanging out in old run-down guesthouses that have little or no advertising and they’re mainly men in their fifties and sixties who had started coming to Thailand in their twenties and then simply got stuck doing the same thing.

I can’t think of anything sadder than that, unable or unwilling to wed or work and now with country they cannot live in and a home that will not accept them.

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