As farang, it’s almost impossible to understand Thailand, the Thai market, Thai culture and the Thai way of thinking and doing things.
Even after five or ten years – just as you think you are starting to know Thailand – something happens to make you realize that you probably had it wrong all along.
But I’m going to have a go at writing something that’s different and useful to know.
Thailand has a population of over 60 million people, roughly the same size as the UK. But only a very small proportion have enough money to be consumers – the vast majority of Thais work (if at all) for a pittance by Western standards.
In the country, an income of 7,000 baht ($200 or £120) or more per month is considered to be quite decent! (Granted, most people survive by growing/raising their own food and there is a lot of ‘trade’ through barter that obviously involves no exchange of money…)
In most cities and towns, Thai workers earn around 7,000 – 9,000 baht per month. Some ‘office workers’ or families bring in 20,000 baht, which makes them eligible for a credit card – and if you have one then many shops allow you to pay off your purchase over 5-10 months at 0% interest. Any person earning over 50,000 baht is considered affluent in Thailand, and is eligible for gold cards and other privileged credit services.
Ironically, a qualified teacher having completed 3 years’ study starts with 10,000 baht and with several years’ experience can eventually earn 15,000 baht… while in the city, a young person can usually start on a salary of 15,000-20,000 baht per month.
What does it cost to live in Thailand?
Well, let’s start with how a single Thai person manages in Bangkok on a salary of, say, 7,000-9,000 baht.
A room somewhere along Lad Prao Road, or past On Nut towards Bang Na, or out towards Nonthaburi will cost around 1,500-2,500 baht, plus 300-400 baht for utilities, another 600 baht for internet and 200 baht for some kind of cable TV service (nearly every self-respecting city dweller will have internet and cable at home). Not to mention a reasonably smart phone (paid off over 10 months)…
Saying that, you can buy a decent phone for 700 baht and monthly usage might add up to another 300 baht.
Travel to work will invariably be on 8 baht or 12 baht buses or occasionally a 25 baht van plus a 20 baht motorbike ride – each way.
Food costs 30-50 baht for a meal cooked on the street.
So monthly living expenses for a typical Thai worker in Bangkok can easily add up to 10,000 baht or more. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it!
One way I suspect is by the notion that two can live as cheaply as one. Usually two girls will share a room (and a bed), thus halving their rent/utility/entertainment costs. And many Thais live with their families, until well into their 30’s, and contribute to the family income.
Some borrow. Often from loan sharks, because they are usually not eligible for retail finance due to their low incomes. Loan sharks tend to charge 15% per month as interest. So the (literally) poor, unsuspecting Thai worker finds him or herself paying off the loan, perhaps at 1,000-2,000 baht every month, indefinitely and sometimes even borrowing to pay the interest itself! It’s quite despicable, really.
Not surprisingly, many loan sharks are classed as ‘affluent’ and many are violent and have criminal connections.
Entrepreneurship (or just enterprising)?
Thailand is a nation of ‘entrepreneurs’. It’s almost impossible to make a decent living by working for someone else. Most Thais dream of having their own business and, in some way, many do.
But the ‘businesses’ are hardly entrepreneurial. They are mostly small self-employed outlets for small goods and services. Wherever you go, you will find people peddling their wares, either selling cooked food, fruits, clothes, tourist souvenirs, gadgets, bootlegged songs and movies, etc. etc. More enterprising individuals (or families) will have small shops, selling shoes, phones, pirated software, medicine, food, clothes, etc. Also the internet/game shops, hairdressers, nail painters, massage parlors and street stalls selling food of some kind or kitchen utensils or clothes. Yet often, you will find a string of identical shops selling the same thing right next to each other. Not to mention the motorbike and taxi drivers, who spend most of their day waiting or cruising around for fares.
You will also find three or four 7-11’s very close to each other on every street. (Although managers at 7-11 are usually ‘employed’ by the franchisor and don’t really ‘own’ the business.)
I did a beermat calculation the other day, to calculate how much a typical food vendor makes in a month.
A small grilled chicken stand, selling around 20 chickens and supplementary items a day – starting at around 10am and waiting around until 7pm – will make a profit of 1,000 baht. Working perhaps 25 (usually 30) days a month, that’s a pretty good income. And it’s tax free! Many Thais are enterprising in this way. Not all of them are as successful because it's not easy if you have overheads or are one of a dozen stalls selling the same product.
But it certainly beats working in a shop or factory and only making 9,000 baht a month for a 12-hour day with commuting.
Massage (‘special’ or ‘traditional’?)
to be continued…
Supermarkets and Shopping Centers (Central, Paragon and others)
to be continued…