Oof. A lot has happened between when I first published this post and now, and I am definitely not with the same person. While I should update the post, let’s be honest, I’m not getting around to it anytime soon, and there are still a lot of relevant points. so, enjoy.
There’s a stereotype in Thailand of the older, often balding, white guy paired with a younger, skinnier, more attractive Thai girl. And it’s true of dating in Thailand. Regardless of the…validity (?) or reason behind these relationships, it’s apparent to anyone who has landed in the Bangkok airport that there are a whole lotta white guys with Thai women and…zero white women with Thai guys.
Before I left home, friends teased me asking if I thought I would find a Thai boyfriend, get married and never come back. I said no. Not because I had anything against Thai guys (I didn’t even know any), I just didn’t think that was going to happen.
Fast forward a year and a half, and I’m not getting married or never coming home, but I may or may not have found a certain someone. And, by that I mean, I have a Thai boyfriend. In fact, he’s someone I mentioned briefly back in a May post on Wanderlust and Lipstick… That tattoo artist… Yep.
I’ve actually had people in the past couple months when they found out I was dating a Thai guy ask me, “How did that happen?”. Word for word. That’s not normally something you ask someone when you hear they’re in a relationship. I’m usually a pretty decent person, so I don’t think it was questioning how I could get a boyfriend, and it wasn’t meant rudely, though it sounds kind of harsh. It’s just that, really, you rarely, rarely see it.
The only (few) couples that I’ve met or heard about with a white girl and Thai guy (sorry, is the term ‘white girl’ wrong? It’s just that here, we’re not considered European, or Australian, or American, or whatever, but farang or ‘white foreigner’), the guy is either a musician, a bartender or a tattoo artist. Why? My belief is that these are the few guys who are able, willing and used to talking with Western women. I (still!) don’t have any Thai friends even after living in Thailand, working in Thai schools and being able to speak a bit of Thai. It’s frustrating and hard to understand or explain – I usually feel very welcome here and people are polite. But that’s as far as it goes. (I once sent a message to a fellow teacher, who was my age and who had spoken to me several times at school, if she would like to get coffee sometime. I wrote it in Thai then again in English saying that I hoped I had said everything correctly the first time. She responded with, “Yes, you were correct. Good job.” Nothing about meeting up. ??!?!) If it that’s difficult to make friends, how in the world am I supposed have a relationship with someone?
I don’t know if it’s an intimidation thing, a money thing, a language thing…I’m assuming a combination of all three. Whereas in the Western male/Thai female relationships it’s often assumed that the man has more money and is the care taker, maybe it’s more confused with Western female/Thai male. The guys who work in the bars and the tattoo shops and as musicians, depending on where they’re located, have more interaction with Westerners in general (I hate that label, like we’re an entirely different type of people) and have better English skills. Saving face is a huge deal in Thailand and there’s a fear, like with any foreign language, about speaking English and looking stupid if speaking incorrectly.
The Western women are with the bartenders/musicians/tattoo artists because they acknowledge us. I’m sure there are plenty more foreigners living in Thailand or traveling through that would LOVE to meet a Thai guy and have some sort of relationship, but someone needs to. make. a. move.
Somehow I managed to cross this invisible cultural barrier and have found myself now helping in a tattoo shop. With my Thai boyfriend. Who would have guessed?
Live or spent time in Thailand? What’s your take on this?
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
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I’ve not been to Thailand yet (it’s still on my bucket list) but I love your insight on the whole dating a Thai thing. It looks like being a ‘white’ women in this country is not an easy thing! But I guess there is a thing in common with all the relationships: you never know where and when you will meet the special someone! I’m looking forward to more personal stories on what have you learnt thanks to your bf… and lucky you that he cooks!
I still haven’t wrapped my head around all of the social structures and nuances here…everyday I (still) make a mistake or learn something new. The whole thing is definitely an experience!
Hey Alana, firstly congratulations. Secondly, is this so surprising? I’ve been in thailand since may 2011 (exactly as long as you have) and know personally eight white women (and one guy) of my age or close to my age some of whom are dating most of whom are married to thai men.
See, I’ve met…3…women dating Thai guys and that’s it. Like, I said though, I also still haven’t manage to make any good friends who are Thai, so maybe my social life here as been more limited than I think? I don’t know. I wish it was different. Regardless, there are still way, way more white men with Thai women.
I always joked that ‘the good Thai boys are only interested in dating the good Thai girls’ – there is such a strong stigma about dating a Wild Western Woman that most guys seemed to shy away from the idea. I lived in CM for almost 3 years and did my fair share of dating – and not *all* of them fell into the bartender/bar owner/tattoo artist/tour guide/musician group! -but all but one spoke decent+ English. I was in school when I first came, so I dated some students, too – and had the same problem you mentioned about really making friendships beyond a surface-level friendliness. I worked with Burma NGOs, and there are far more fahrang woman/burmese(or ethnic) man relationships – most that I knew of were long term, serious relationships, many married. I think there’s just as many social barriers as it is a language thing. But that was always the most insightful (and frustrating..and fun!) glimpse into cultural assumptions.
Ha – if I was a ‘Wild Western Woman’ I feel like I should be wearing cowboy boots and some leather fringe right now… I understand there are so many differences, but still have been surprised/annoyed/disappointed at the barriers, especially when I feel like I have tried and really wanted to cross those barriers. I had lived here for a year before I ever had a dinner in a Thai home – and now, six months later, it’s only happened….one more time? Thanks for your insight – it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who has felt a little cut off!
This is exciting alana! have fun and keep smiling! his shoulder is cute! ha!!
I’m a sucker for a cute shoulder… 😉
Great inisthg! That’s the answer we’ve been looking for.
I really enjoyed reading this Alana. The part that surprised me the most was that e-mail you wrote about getting a coffee. First, amazing you could write that….i still couldn’t do so in Korean haha. Second, how strange! I also have had trouble making any korean friends, but at the same time I understand because we really don’t have too much in common. Sometimes it seems Their interests are all so different than mine. Keep us posted about the boyfriend and cultural mishaps….I’m sure there will be some 🙂
Well, I can read Thai and know the words but couldn’t type on my com, so had to put them into a translating dictionary and copy/paste 🙂 I was pretty proud of myself though…and then a little let down by the response! True about the interests and having things in common – it can be a fine line between learning about another’s interests and even you don’t share them you want to know more and simply just not connecting before your tastes are so different.
Wow! Allow me to chime in please!
I’m pretty much Thai and have been dating farang girls most of my life. I just prefer their attitude over the jealous, gossipy, outrageous Thai girls. Stereotyping I know…
My last gf was a blonde american girl. At times we found it quirky to be in a relationship that was “against the grain”, but that’s what made it so much better.
Sometimes people would presume I was her ‘helper’ of some sort or a ‘translator’. That doesn’t do the ego any good. we get a lot of stares. and thai people (especially ladies) would make sure I know that I was “lucky” and that she is a beautiful girl and that they wish they could be in my position. blah.
I think the image has just been tarnished because of all the ‘sexpats’ that come here by the truckload. I’m not even talking about the old german/english dudes that end up in patpong/pattaya, but the frat boys/douchebags that come here after watching movies like the hangover 2.
anyway, i’ve randomly rambled.
The whole thing is just kind of odd isn’t it? I hear stereotypes from all sides about why Thai women like a Western man and not Thai men, why Western men like Thai women instead of Western women, and vice versa. It ultimately just comes down to person-to-person, but there’s also some truth to the stereotypes…everyone’s ideas seem to be contradicting each other which makes it confusing though. It’s also confusing and uncomfortable to me to be so aware that we’re supposedly so different or a type of novelty couple – I wouldn’t think that way at home, but here it’s kind of in your face!
Oh the things I miss when I’m away from the internet for a few months! I never did date while I lived in Japan, but I think that’s more of a personality thing. Though I’ve heard that a lot of Japanese men find western women intimidating. I kind of think that western women are used to chivalry and being shown a lot of affection, which can make them uncomfortable. Random thoughts from my observations. maybe?
” It’s just that here, we’re not considered European, or Australian, or American, or whatever, but farang or ‘white foreigner’), the guy is either a musician, a bartender or a tattoo artist. Why? My belief is that these are the few guys who are able, willing and used to talking with Western women. ”
I think it’s far more likely that it’s just that those are the kind of guys you are attracted to.
To put it mildly, most Thai guys are far more towards the “metro” side than guys you would be used to back home. The few that inspire western women are the ones working in classic bad boy jobs.
Mmm…maybe. I’m more ‘inspired’ though by someone I can actually communicate with though more than if he’s ‘metro’ or ‘bad boy’. I also don’t know if I buy that whole stereotype of the bad boy appeal…regardless the guys from these jobs are often more likely to be around and speak with Western women than others.
That’s true, but so are Macdonalds checkout operators and car hire desk clerks.
I liked your post! From my time spent in Thailand and everyone I came across, my conclusion is that Thailand is a very “closed” country. It has to do with the monarchy, history, and the way they are raised. There isn’t any hostility towards foreigners, just no or little curiosity. It is a tough place to make friends and date as far as locals go. And those bald dudes with the young thai girls? There usually isn’t much of a relationship there, more like a business partnership! Good luck with everything!
Thanks for reading, Kevin. You make a good point, people are almost always polite and helpful but there’s definitely a wall up . I think a lot of that has to do with language barriers and there are some pretty major cultural differences that create completely opposite ways of looking at things – sometimes it can be difficult to find understanding or common ground. These differences add to intrigue, but also can be frustrating at times!
Nice to read from another woman with a Thai boyfriend. I have been dating my thai gentleman for about two months now, so it’s a very new relationship, but we had been friends for about 4 months prior to that. you mention the whole bartender/tattoo artist thing as being a way for thai men to connect with western women, and I agree with you, that may be a factor. Though an often overlooked area in which MANY many thai men and western women meet (how I met my gentleman) is through muaythai gyms. a lot of foreign women come to train at gyms all over the country, and of course there are very few women and a ton of men in these communities at the gyms, so women are a hot commodity. the thai trainers are usually very used to dealing with foreigners in general at the gyms open to foreigners (some muaythai gyms take only thais though). some trainers/fighters are super sleazy and try to get with whatever new women walk through the door. other fighters/trainers are more “normal” in that they just go after the girls they actually get to know and end up liking. that was how it was for my fellow and me, as we knew each other about 5 months before either of us put the moves on the other.
i just wanted to know what language you conduct your relationship in? power and communication dynamics when a couple speaks different languages is pretty interesting. as for my relationship, we speak both english and thai. I try to speak thai to him, he tries to speak english to me, and we are both struggling, but i guess the good part is that our common languages suck equally, so we’re on a level playing field, ha ha. it makes it frustrating at times because communication can be difficult, but in other ways it’s something of a blessing. since it’s such a pain in the ass to argue or bicker, we end up fighting a lot less and just letting things go, and in general just taking a chill attitude to the whole thing.
Are you still dating your fellow? How’s it going?
Thanks for sharing, Lindsey – I don’t know anything about the muay thai scene, that’s interesting. We tend speak both Thai and English but lean more toward English…and still often have miscommunication issues, though they’re usually not too serious. Are you taking lessons?
Thanks for writing this, nice to hear about others in a thai-men-“white girl” (haha) relationship. I actually just ended my first relationship with a thai man, we were together for about 5 years, I’ve learned a lot but in the end I made a lot of thai friends (trust me it comes with time and language as well)….I learned the “the tricks of thai men” the hard way……but now I have a new thai boyfriend and he is completely different than the first….I can fluently speak thai now and have lived in thailand for about 5 years, if anyone wants to message me about anything,,,my facebook name is Holly Bucholtz
Thanks for reading, Holly!
Interesting read … just stumbled across the post … hope the relationship is still going well. 🙂 Think the Thai girl / farang woman is more common though than you’ve noticed (although, granted, nowhere near the same numbers as the other way round!) And maybe the bartender / tattoo artist / musician is, as you already pointed out, mainly in certain areas … perhaps places where have a lot more tourists? I don’t know! I know a few farang girls with Thai men, and have myself been in a relationship with a Thai guy for the past few years – married earlier on this year! 🙂 All the guys have varied professions. (My partner is in the military.) Totally get what you mean about friends though … I can probably count on one hand the number of Thais that I consider as true friends. It seems that many (that I’ve met anyhow) don’t actually want new friends – they like to to hang out with the people they’ve known forever and with family / extended family. x
Congratulations! Are you living in Thailand? In three years of living there I met only four foreign women dating Thai guys and heard of only a few more — considering how many expats there are in the country it seemed really disproportionate!
Alana, I LOVED reading this article. What a fabulous, valid and well rounded perspective you have. You shed light on something not normally talked about. Good luck to you and your relationship!
I’ll be following for more.
Thanks, Clare…it’s definitely a unique situation 🙂
Hi Alana, Thank you. 😀 Yes, we live in Thailand. 🙂 A couple of hours outside of Bangkok in central Thailand. (In a very sleepy town! 🙁 ) If you’re passing through this way let’s meet up! Happy holidays too!
That is a very interesting post and I have to say it’s very different from the “Thai Dating” articles all over the internet.
Thanks for sharing your experiences and the food looks great in the second photo:D
Ha! It is quite different from those articles…I haven’t opened that can of worms yet with sharing my opinion of them 😉 Thanks for reading!
I’m currently in a very similar situation… Im American and my boyfriend is Thai, and he is a tattoo artist as well… He drew a tattoo for me, which is how we met.
I was just wondering what city you live in? I live in Nonthaburi, close to Bangkok, and my boyfriend lives on Samed. I’ve noticed people in general are a lot more open closer to the coast/on islands.
Granted a lot of my friends are Thai guys who are bartenders or musicians or tattoo artists (I do sense a pattern!) but it is also the type of person who is drawn to that job that is more open to meeting people. You can’t be a shy bartender.
That being said, every single Thai guy I know outside of Bangkok wants to date a foreigner. Every single one. They just don’t like Thai women, and they keep getting their heart broken (because the farang will leave sooner or later) but they don’t want to change it.
I think the main reason Thai guys (away from the coast) are more withheld is because they tend to make long term bonds. Friends for life, family (obviously for life), and if they date someone, they want to know that if it works out, they can get married and have a family.
Foreign people will most likely leave. They stay for a year, then they go home. Sometimes they stay a little longer, but it is rare to find a foreigner here who is going to stay for the rest of their life, and I think that deters Thai men from wanting to become romantically involved.
I’m not sure what makes the island guys different about dating, but maybe they just aren’t as worried about the future… Or they know their girl might fall in love with the island and move there with them (like me, I move there in March!)
Either way, let me know if you are ever on Samed. My email is danaeneldon @ yahoo.com, I definitely wouldn’t mind getting coffee!
Thanks for reading and commenting, Danae, it’s always interesting to hear from others in similar situations!
This article made me laugh. I live in Chiang Mai and am married to a Karen man. When we are out together we get a few looks, but it’s always the old white man (married to the young Thai woman) who will stop in his tracks to stare at us. I just meet their gaze and give them a big smile because I think it is so ridiculous that they respond so strongly. Many of my husbands friends have Western wives. It all is much more complex than it appears.
Thanks for reading, Martha!
Hey there. I have only been to Thailand once or twice, a day or two. I live in New Zealand, am hungarian and I currently like a Thai guy, I’ve known him for almost half a year now and what do you know? He’s a bartender (and also works in a restaurant) and I have no idea how to proceed haha. I go to that bar every week because our group dances bachata and salsa there. Him and I hang out occasionally with other Thai people (his bosses and colleagues) when we have dinner or when we do karaoke. I feel like I get mixed signals from him half the time and have no idea what to do. He also happens to be moving soon (not too far). His boss knows I like him haha and is cheering for us xD but I mean half the time the guy I like does the cutest things, and then the next thing I know I get ignored, no idea what’s going on and half the time I wonder if I offended him somehow =.= he was born in Nz but I’ve got no idea what his views are when it comes to dating. Ideas?
Hi! Great piece as opposed to the hundreds of blogs about WM getting duped here. I’m actually Thai and dating a girl from Quebec..I think on the topic of dating Thai dudes really depends on where he’s from in general..if you’re talking about the more touristy areas, guys there tend to be better at communicating in English or at the very least they don’t shy away from it as opposed to your bangkokian white collar dude..but then there’s also your western-educated dude that is also kind of stuck up and would rather date Thai girls because of the social stigma surrounding it (i.e. the really negative stereotypes we get labeled with by really really insecure dudes here)..I mean who could blame them, I get weird and mean stares pretty much all the time from all parties..sometimes you can’t help but feel the awkwardness that comes with it..but I’ve been in this relationship for almost 3 years already so I guess I’ve learned to become more accustomed to it.
this is a great post! (I know it was written over a year ago) but I am kinda still in a similar relationship with a thai guy, and it is so difficult as I can also not live there full time. But after I’ve met him, I’ve met lots of girls with thaiboyfriends. Mostly in the same place though, koh chang is were it’s at haha. But anyway, thanks for sharing another side of the thai/farang relationship scale 🙂 xx
I always find it interesting to read or hear about other girls’ experiences dating Thai guys as well…it’s unique situation and nice to know others are experiencing similar things!
Glad that you have become one among us. And yes we do like western women but these western men searching for Thai women puts us in a dicey state of mind.
39 Comments on Going Against the Status Quo: Dating in Thailand