When I came to Thailand, I was pretty unprepared for life here. The period between I’m-going-to-Thailand! and arriving was about 2 months and the only preparation I remember doing was looking online for a place to live. I had lived in Fiji in high school, so I knew what it was like to live overseas, but I had never been to Thailand–I’d never even been to Asia–so quite a few things were a big surprise to me. I hope this list of the biggest everyday life differences between the US and Thailand helps make a few things a little less of a surprise.
The first rule of living in Thailand? Don’t drink the water. From what I’ve read, it’s not the water that’s bad but the pipes, but whatever the problem is, we don’t drink the water (we do use it to rinse off our toothbrushes). Instead, we take our 4 6-liter water bottles to a water vending machine outside our condo and fill them up for 16 baht ($0.53) TOTAL. These machines are everywhere, and while I wish the bottle handles didn’t dig so much into my palms when we carry the water home, it’s at least some consistent exercise, right? For those who don’t like to visit the water machines, you can also have those huge bottles delivered to your home.
2 Hot water
Oh, hot water, how I have taken you for granted! In Thailand, it seems that only some (most?) hotels and the houses of the upper class are equipped with central water heaters. We live in a midrange condo, where we have a water heater in the shower (which we have to manually turn on and off) and that’s it. That means no hot water in the washer, no hot water in the kitchen sink and no hot water in the bathroom sink. Not being able to wash our clothes in hot water is the part that bugs me the most, but we do hang them out to dry in the sun, which I hope kills any remaining germs.
3 Air conditioning
I’ve lived in 4 hot states and 2 hot countries, but I’ve never thought too much about air conditioning. When we lived in Fiji, my parents installed doors in our living room to close it off and put in an air conditioning unit that we probably used less than 10 times because it was so expensive. Up until moving to Thailand, I thought Fiji was the hottest country on the planet, but after living in Thailand for 9 years, I can tell you it’s not.
Like central water heaters, central air is not common in Thailand, at least not in living spaces. Instead, rooms–like bedrooms, living rooms, hotel rooms and classrooms–have individual air conditioning units. We have only one, which is in our bedroom, meaning our condo can get a bit hot when we have friends over. Bigger condos and houses generally have units in every room. I’ve seen central air only in big offices, hospitals and churches.
4 Transferring money/paying
There are so many ways to transfer money in the US now, but in Thailand, we pretty much have only one way: we actually give people our bank account number! I felt a little bit funny about this at first because it didn’t seem safe, but that’s how everyone does it here.
When you buy something off of Instagram or Facebook, you first ask for what you want and then you’re given the shop’s bank name and account number. You then pay by transferring money and then have to send the screenshot of the transfer made from the app to the shop. It all feels a bit…personal. And I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to it.
5 The doctor and dentist
When you get sick in the US, you go to the doctor’s office (and wait forever), but in Thailand, you go to medical clinics or to the hospital (where you generally don’t wait so long). Medical clinics are everywhere, and though they’re cheaper than hospitals, they aren’t equipped with labs or equipment, so we stick with the hospital. Bangkok’s hospitals are pretty good and are affordable even without insurance (at least in our experience).
It’s the same with the dentist. Dental clinics are also everywhere and are cheaper than than the hospital dentists. We go to the dentist at the hospital just to be safe. What I like most about going to the dentist here is that we can go on the weekends.
Growing up, the only time I ever went to 7-11 or any other convenience store was when we stopped for gas, especially on road trips when I got some candy, which wasn’t very often. The role that 7-11 plays in the life of everyone who lives in Thailand cannot be overstated. 7-11, which is usually referred to only as 7, is EVERYWHERE in Thailand, around every corner. Except for work, I don’t go anywhere as often as I go to 7-11. Why? Well, milk and bread, of course. Oh, and then there’s sugar and salt and rice when we run out of it, and Schweppes manao (lime) soda and Nestle’s yogurt and lychee popsicle. And don’t forget, you can also pay your electric bill, your phone bill, you can even book a flight online and then pay your bill at…7!
I have never worked at a restaurant in the US, so I don’t know much about the rules they’re required to follow, but it’s pretty clear that Thailand doesn’t have the same rules. Outdoor restaurants (3 walls and a roof) are all over the place here. These shops — restaurant feels too fancy — generally serve rice and noodle dishes at an average price of 40-50 baht ($1.33-$1.66). There’s no air conditioning and you’re given a cup of ice — the bottles of water are already on the table. These shops, while usually old and not pretty, are my favorite place to eat in Thailand.
8 Eating with your friends
One thing I miss about the US is going to my friends’ houses, whether for a meal, for playing games, for watching football or for just hanging out. In Thailand, that doesn’t happen much. My guess is that, especially in Bangkok, people’s apartments/condos are often too small to have people over. I also think that meals, especially at outdoor restaurants, are so cheap here that it’s cheaper/easier/more convenient to meet your friends at a restaurant than to have them over.
9 Buying groceries
When I was teaching in Texas, I bought a cartload groceries at Walmart maybe once every two months (I didn’t eat very well). Now, Worchihan and I buy our much of our meat and all of our fruit and vegetables from our local market several times a week. The market is indoors and outdoors and is always open, which is especially good for Worchihan, who has just eaten dinner and has no more apples, which serve as his nightly dessert.
10 The mall
At US malls, you can do only one thing: shop. At malls in Singapore and Australia, you can also go grocery shopping. At Thai malls, not only can you buy groceries, but you can also go to the bank AND to the phone/internet shops. Imagine going to the bank at 7 PM on a Monday and on the weekends — it’s a thrill! Our malls are really a one-stop shop.
There are lots of differences between everyday life in the US and in Thailand, and these are just a few. I hope these help you if you’re thinking of moving to Thailand in the future.