People Move to Thailand to Escape Dissatisfaction and Not Just to Have Sex

Expats in Thailand are All Sex Mad

I suppose it is understandable that male expats in Thailand tend to be viewed cynically by people in the west. The media has done a superb job of hammering home the message that men go to Thailand to have sex, so those of us who decide to live here must have it particularly bad. The harshest critics must find it amazing that any of us have time to email friends and family back at home with all the sex that must be going on – never mind how we find time to update a blog.

 Downtown Pattaya at night

I’m not going to claim that all the men who end up in Thailand have come to be celibate Buddhist monks (although some do, and that was sort of my original intention). There are certainly individuals who do fit the stereotype of the sex tourist, but these make up on a tiny minority of the expat community. In my experience the “sexpats” usually don’t last very long because their appetites mean that they burn out – they learn the hard way that you can’t bonk your way to a happy life. The claim that only sex addicts would go to live in Thailand is about as reasonable as saying that only drunks would go to live in Ireland, but it is difficult to get people to see beyond the media stereotype – why should they?

Desperation Drives People to Thailand

I don’t mind that people who don’t know me might assume that I’m some type of sexual reprobate because I live in Thailand. I’ve certainly done my fair share of jumping to conclusions about people based on limited information and stereotypes. The people who matter to me know the truth, so it’s no big deal and I’m not going to whine about the injustice of it all. I will say this though; the vast majority of expats that I know have not ended up living here because of sex. They mostly came because they were unhappy with life back in the west, and Thailand seemed to offer an escape from this. I’m not just talking here about people who were suffering from the Monday morning blues. I’m talking about real and persistent unhappiness that drains all the good out of life. Who knows? Maybe some of these guys might have decided on a more final escape from their miserable existence if they didn’t have Thailand to pin their hopes on. I’ve certainly had emails from people who sounded that desperate.

It was desperation that fueled my decision to move to Thailand back in 2001. I sort of ended up living here by accident really. At that time I was like a dog with shit on its fur who kept moving from place to place in the hope of escaping the smell – not realizing that I was taking the shitty smell with me. I came on holiday from Saudi Arabia where I was working as a nurse. I’d taken the job in Riyadh because a country where alcohol was illegal seemed like good choice for a nervous drunk. I’d hoped that living in the Kingdom of Sand would solve my alcoholism, but things only got worse during my stay there. I strongly suspected that if I returned I’d wind up dead, so as the end of my holiday drew near I began to panic. I decided that if I was going to drink myself to death, I might as well do it somewhere nice like Thailand. I also held onto a tiny bit of optimism that staying here would somehow save me. Maybe I would become a monk and dedicate the rest of my life to meditation.

My state of desperation was more extreme than most, but I’ve heard similar stories from other expats. For some it was just a general sense of dissatisfaction with their life that pulled them to Thailand. It is so easy to feel like a failure in the west and even the winners can end up feeling dissatisfied with their achievements – there is always this push for more, more, more, bigger, brighter, better. I suspect the recent financial woes have only increased these feelings of dissatisfaction with life. There is also the fact that divorce rates are sky rocketing and getting old can be a terribly lonely business – apparently men are far more likely to end up alone than women. It is hardly any surprise that people would fall in love with a culture where dying alone at home without anyone noticing for weeks is almost unheard of.

Thailand is No Magic Solution

The desperation that drove me to Thailand almost killed me. I ended up living in a village in the middle of nowhere, and by that time I’d completely lost hope that this change of scenery could save me. At the end of my drinking I might as well have been sitting in a bus shelter in Brixton for all the good the Thai culture was doing me. I somehow managed to extract myself from this mess, but there are plenty of expats who never manage this. The reality is that the solution that places like Thailand offer to the desperate only works when we face our problems – it doesn’t work if we come to escape them.

Most expats don’t move to Thailand for sex; they come for a fresh start. The ones who end up being successful are the ones who make it work for them. I’m talking here about people who gave up a possible future of loneliness and depression and created a new reality for themselves. Those of us who come to Thailand hoping that the country will somehow fix us are almost doomed to failure – we have to make it work. The irony is that by making this new future in Thailand we come to the realization that this is something we could have done anywhere; maybe even back at home.

I doubt that my description of desperate people ending up in Thailand is much fairer than the idea that we are all sex addicts. I’m sure that there are plenty of highly functioning expats who live here as well – they just don’t hang around in my circles. I’m just trying to show that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about expats in Thailand, and maybe a better understanding of what drives people to move to the other side of the world will be beneficial somehow.

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8 thoughts on “People Move to Thailand to Escape Dissatisfaction and Not Just to Have Sex

  1. Very well said, Paul. I used to get annoyed by the ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink attitude’ when I told people I lived in Thailand. It doesn’t bother me so much now because, as you rightly say, ‘most expats don’t move to Thailand for sex; they come for a fresh start’.

    Enjoyed reading this. Good to see a realistic perspective rather than the usual nonsense written about Thailand and the expat population.

    1. Thanks Roy, unfortunately I don’t see any way that these stereotypes will disappear anytime soon. The reality is that stories of the depravity of male visitors to Thailand are more titillating than stories of people looking for a fresh start.

  2. I think you’re spot on, Paul. For both men AND women – though for women I think that most come to Thailand with their husbands who got a job.

    I came to Thailand on my own accord though, and it was out of a deep dissatisfaction of my own. I had landed the job I’d wanted back in the USA, and after about a year, I thought, “So this is it? this is what my life is going to be from now on?” It was horrible; a lofty goal was met only to find out that the victory was hollow.

    I tried saving enough money to travel the world for a year, but my roommate suggested living in one place for a year instead, so I took his advice to heart and chose Thailand. This, along with job dissatisfaction and being single with no decent prospects brought me to Thailand.

    It is certainly not as drastic as other stories, but in my world it was enough.

    And I like your fairness in this post. It is very easy to stereotype male visitors and expats and too often I jump on board as with the recent video clip that was out about Rosetta Stone. Many who come to Thailand out of desperateness tend not to solve their problems and I think that might be why they come across as miserable losers to many.

    1. Thanks Amy, I agree that many of us who come out of desperation don’t find what we are looking for in Thailand. I think a move to a new country gives people the freedom to reinvent themselves in a positive way, but the same freedom can be used to have a complete meltdown.

  3. Hi Paul. This is just a collection of random thoughts. You know it’s interesting, for quite some time I have felt that popular perceptions of Thailand and western expats there have changed significantly (for the positive) since the days when I lived there (mid 1990s). Then just a few months ago that controversial Saturday Night Live Rosetta stone skit was aired. I was actually watching SNL with my (Thai) wife when that came on. Needless to say, she wasn’t very pleased.

    I do agree wholeheartedly that the sexpat or sex tourist segment is a tiny minority. In my experience, it does (or at least did) seem however as if there are a larger group of male expats who – even if they don’t engage in the sex industry per se, are still enamored with the very non-PC, western male fantasy version of Thailand that focuses on womanizing and booze more generally. And then there was an even larger group who just seem to casually skirt around that scene since it’s such a big part of the male expat experience. In other words, actual sexpats might be a few, but in my experience it seems like the majority of western male expats have at least “visited” that world to some extent.

    It does seem to me that of the long-term male expats I have known who have really indulged in that scene, many end up becoming pretty miserable or bitter in the end. The whole exotic Thailand sex fantasy aspect of it only gets one so far, particularly if that lifestyle is being pursued to fill some deeper personal unhappiness or void. That, or they just get bored with it, or the boozing and womanizing wear them down health wise or financially. Just an observation.
    Beyond all the sex stuff, I do think it’s interesting how a lot of expats or visitors do seem to maintain some sort of fantasy-like conception of Thailand as being a quick or easy fix to some personal void. I would include myself in that category as well. For a long time I used to wonder if living in Thailand permanently would be a good move for me and my wife. When I lived there for a few years in my early 20s, I had a fabulous experience. Ever since then I have wondered if I could recapture that happiness if I moved back.

    My wife and I frequently visit Thailand. The last time we were there, just last January, I remember thinking to myself that really, I probably would have a very hard time living there now, mainly because of day to day difficulties (traffic, heat, infrastructure issues, etc). I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that living in Thailand can be a very good, but only if it’s the right fit for your frame of mind, and where you are in your life. For me, it was a great place for me to spend a few years when I was a young man in my 20s. Now that I’m pushing 40 and at a completely different place in my life, it probably wouldn’t be a good fit for me at all. In a way I’m sort of glad I came to that realization, as it forced me to directly address the fantasy I had in my own mind about returning to live there.

    1. Hi Tan, I guess the majority of expats do at least flirt with that scene when they first arrive. I also agree that there is a real “lad” culture among many expats where getting drunk and acting like a stud (albeit the paying kind) is considered normal. As you say, the people who stay trapped in that type of life tend to become disillusioned – these are the guys with the haunted look in their eyes 🙂 When I first came to Thailand I did go to plenty of girly bars, but drinking alcohol was always my number one priority.

  4. Hi all, enjoy these refreshing reflections. I have to say, many points are pertinent…even recognise some of them in myself.
    I came to Thailand last year for a month, travelled about 4000 miles trying to capture what the country stood for. I hadn’t by the time I had to leave, so I decided to come back for a longer look. I have my daughter working out here, which I find very sobering. She has been out here over a year…quite integrated.

    One point that I feel uncomfortable with is the ‘ease’ with which we Europeans dismiss to the point of despising the hard working Thais; generally they work harder for less than I have ever seen in other countries, bar a few. I admire them, support when I can and will live here a bit longer because my journey here is nowhere near complete.

    Keep the reflections coming, beats any book I have read on the Thai way!


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