Let’s start by saying that I tried very hard to make a list of 10 things, but I couldn’t find so many. And that's the reason for the weird number 8.
1- Road safety : there’s none, unfortunately. Thais drive super fast or super slow, and are often distracted and careless behind the wheel.
It’s common to see an entire family squeezed on a motorbike: father, mother and two or three young kids, and nobody’s wearing a helmet. People travel as passengers in the trunk of pick up trucks, or transport their forniture or live stocks without any safety precaution.
Roads are poorly lit at night, and wild life and street dogs are abundant, which adds to the dangers of driving in the Kingdom. Thailand has one of the world’s deadliest rate of road accidents, and the number has been decreasing in the past year only because of Covid restrictions: lockdowns meant less people on the road, therefore the dropping in deadly accidents.
2- Bureaucracy: applying for a visa, renewing a visa, getting a Thai ID or a driving license can be a very painful and long process in Thailand.
The rules are endless, and more often than not different from one province to the other, sometimes from one office to the other or depending on the employee you have to deal with.
The more you try to comply to the rules, the more the rules get confused or absurd. It’s the price to pay to live in paradise, I guess.
What I learnt from dealing with Thai bureaucracy is: dress neatly, be polite, never rise your voice, and always be prepared for the worst.
3- Traffic. When I was working in Bangkok, it took me 2 to 3 hours to travel from my house in On Nut to Minburi, less than 15 km apart, every day. 2 to 3 hours per way.
I had to wake up at 4.45 every morning and get on the bus by 5.30 if I wanted to reach my work place by 7:30.
The same in the late afternoon, with a commuting that required the combination of a songthaew, a bus, a ferry-boat, another songthaew and a 15 minute walk past construction sites and underpasses per trip.
Traffic in Bangkok is madness, despite the improvement that is coming with the building of more BTS and MRT lines. And it’s not only Bangkok: try driving in Phuket and Nakhon or even in Ao Nang at peak hour in high season, and you’ll see.
No surprise that in 2016 Thailand ranked first as the world’s most congested country for traffic!
l4- Fish sauce. I don’t eat fish nor seafood so I’m already suspicious of anything from the sea coming in my plate. However, the reason I don’t like fish sauce -nam pla in Thai language- is not as noble as you may think, but purely “olfactory”: fish sauce smells terrible.
If you only eat at restaurants or take away food, you might not have noticed it, but try to pour it into a hot pan, like Thais do for most of their recipes, and smell the air.
To me that smell is way worst than Durian. Of course I eat fish sauce (it would be a hard life trying to survive in Thailand avoiding it at all cost, since it is actually used in most Thai soups, noodles, curries, stir-frays dishes even when it’s not listed on the menu), but only when it’s already cooked and mixed with the other ingredients, and only if it’s in reasonable amount.
But what is fish sauce? The basic ingredients are fish, water and salt. The fish is usually anchovies, but it can also be shrimp or mackerel.
The fermentation process for a good fish sauce can last two years. To me it tastes extremely fishy and salty, but sometimes it’s diluted with lime juice and other ingredients that balance the flavour.
Surprisingly, Thailand is not the leading consumer of fish sauce in the world: the first place goes to Vietnam, with Phu Quoc Island being one of the main producers of fish sauce in all Asia.
5- Snakes, snakes, and more snakes. There are over 200 species of reptiles in Thailand, many poisonous, and they don’t live only in the jungle, as you may think.
Have a look at social media platforms like Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and TikTok: it’ full of videos of snakes trespassing into properties, in Bangkok almost as often as in smaller cities and country villages.
Humans invaded their space, cutting trees and building villages and cities where it used to be forest, so snakes now live among us. You can see them crossing the road (or smashed on the road after being hit by vehicles), inside shops and restaurants, at the beach, in the water.
And you hear scary stories from friends, like the guy who was showering inside his bathroom when he realised that, in a corner, a few feet away, a king cobra was staring at him. Some other friends had their dog killed by Malayan pit vipers or banded kraits or cobras in their garden.
Given that I have an irrational, absolute repulsion of snakes, I chose the wrong country to settle down, guaranteed.
If, unlike me, you are fascinated by snakes, join an online communities such as the “All About Thailand Snakes” group on Facebook, there are several expert members who seem to now a lot about the snakes of Thailand.
6-The environmental abuse and waste: despite the recent campaigns and bans on plastic bags, Thais use an enormous amount of plastic.
Everything is wrapped in plastic, then packed in a second plastic bag, and if you buy a drink in a supermarket a plastic straw (often 2) is placed in your bag without you even asking for it.
Plus, it’s quite common to see families gathering for picnic at parks and beaches, then leaving all their garbage behind, or throwing it in a corner so that street dogs and various animals will have an easy job scattering everything around.
The result is that waste from plastic use (but not only plastic) is a serious problem in the country and a threat to the natural environment and fragile co-system.
Add that in some provinces, especially in the North, the air is so polluted at certain times of the year that people have to leave for other regions, or stay inside their homes all day with filtered air. Chiang Mai won the infamous award for most polluted city in the world. I mean, CHIANG MAI, MOST POLLUTED city in the world. That’s crazy!
7- Dual pricing standards for foreigners and Thais. This is something that affects many countries, but I experienced it in Thailand more than anywhere else.
As a faràng, the Thai word for foreigner, you are considered rich, privileged and somehow a villain, and they’ll make you pay for it. I would accept a slight difference, but in many places (the more touristic the place, the higher the dual pricing applied) it is more than 2 or 3 times the normal price, even if you explain that you live in the country, earn a Thai salary and pay tax.
I understand that Thailand having not experienced the multiculturalism of Europe and the US, it still has a “Thai way” of doing things, however it is sometimes sad and frustrating to be treated so differently when you have been living in the country for a long time, and you are trying your best to blend in and feel welcomed.
Speaking the local language can help, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t. But in a way, I always try to remind myself that this dual pricing policy is also connected with one of the characteristics which is so fascinating about Thailand: Thais feel a profound national pride, patriotism and self-identification with the flag and the country.
So, no matter what price you pay as a foreigner living in Thailand, you are and will always be perceived as an alien. Deal with it, or go home.
8-Animal exploitation: elephants, monkeys and other wild life are used as forced employment in palm and coconut plantation, trunk transportation and tourist attractions. Some live their whole life in chains and cages, some are beaten and mistreated, and even though things are changing, and several animal welfare associations and volunteers are fighting for the health and freedom of the animals, animal exploitation is still happening.
Around 6,500 elephants live in Thailand today, with around 2,500 of them being caught from the wild.
When you travel to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, or visit the tropical islands, choose your excursions and tours carefully, do inquire about how animals are treated, and never, ever go to an “Elephant park” or “Sanctuary” that offers elephant rides, or “boxing elephants, painter elephants”, “monkey dance” and so on.
These animals are not painters and dancers in nature, so how do you think they learnt those “funny” tricks? You can still have an opportunity to see elephants and monkeys, just visit a rehabilitation center or take part in an eco-tour that brings you to the jungle to observe them in the wild.
Although I have always hated animal parks, zoo or going to the Circus, I confess that on my first holidays in South East Asia in the Nineties I did ride elephants, and I even visited a Chiang Mai park where you can pet tiger cubs and giant, old tigers, and have your photo taken with them.
I didn’t know, or I didn’t want to know, how those places worked. I was young, stupid, naive. And I regret it. It was several years ago, animal exploitation wasn’t even in the news, but I did learn from my mistakes and I’m determined not to repeat them, and to help other travellers not to fall in the traps.
Animal abandonment, illegal hunting, animal fighting are another face of the same coin, all still happening in Thailand.
Cock fighting is still permitted under the recent "Prevention of Animal Cruelty and Provision of Animal Welfare Act" of 2014, and quite common in villages and during religious festivals.
Here’s a list of Animal welfare organisations operating in Thailand, have a look or contact them if you want to know more about their work, or even donate to the cause.
And here they are, my main reasons for not always liking Thailand. What about yours, if you do have any?