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A History of Expats in Thailand

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  • A History of Expats in Thailand

    Welcome to Bangkok SignThere were quite a few Westerners residing in Bangkok prior to the Japanese occupation of the Kingdom during World War II. The British expats had the most impact on Thai society before and after the war. They established the British Chamber of Commerce in 1946. English taught to Thais was British English and many children of the royal family were educated abroad in England. There influence continues to this day as more and more British expats are relocating to Thailand for work or retirement.


    Americans arrived in great numbers in the 1960's and Thailand allowed the American military to set up several military bases. One of the largest bases was in Korat, Thailand and it's presence can still be seen in the city. There is a VFW, scores of retired American servicemen and the city seems to be the home of a higher percentage of English speakers than in Bangkok. Thais are still telling plenty of stories about the time when the US Military was stationed in their city and speak fondly of that era. Besides the US troops stationed around Thailand during the Vietnam War, thousands more US troops made the famous Rest and Relaxation (R and R) trips to Thailand. They visited Bangkok and Pattaya and other cities to get some relief from the stress of battle they were fighting in Vietnam.

    At this time there are just over 100 US troops stationed in Thailand which pales in comparison to the thousands of US troops that had boots on the ground during the Vietnam War. These American servicemen work at the US Embassy, the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences and the Utapao - Pattaya International Airport. To this day, it is reported that there are over 500 Vietnam Veterans living in Thailand. Many of these men have Thai wives and families and have opted for the simple, stress free, and inexpensive life style that Thailand has to offer.

    Since the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Western men have made the choice to live their lives in Thailand. They ended up in the Kingdom by vacationing in Thailand, teaching English, or working for international companies that have an office here. Most admit to falling in love with the country almost immediately with few rarely desiring to move back to their home countries.

    Over the years, being an expat living in Thailand has changed from Thai folks staring at you and calling out " look farang" (white foreigner in Thai) to Westerners barely being noticed in the crowd. For the most part, Bangkok used to be where expats resided, but now in nearly every city and small village a group of expats can be found living their lives. In every province, there can most certainly be found at least one, and probably more, Western restaurants set up and run by a foreigner. Often times, a whole village will have a multitude of Westerners living in it and the Thais have grown to accept their presence.

    With the influx of Western expats over the last few decades, a large Western influence has come to Thailand. The country has seen MTV come (and go) to Thai TV, multiple Starbucks Coffee shops, McDonald's, Burger King, several supermarkets that cater to Westerner's palates and other Western oriented businesses. This has caused Thais to be somewhat more open to Western food, products as well as Western thoughts on life. As living costs rise in the Western World, there will certainly be an increase in expats deciding to relocate their lives to Thailand.
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