A Thai researcher unearths a community in the North eastern Thailand where a large proportion of marriages between Thai women and foreigners involve Swiss men.
Most move back to Switzerland, although some remain in Thailand, particularly in Isaan, Northeast Thailand. It has
emerged that the Thai women are so impressed with Swiss men, respecting them and giving them responsibilities within
the marriage, that they are recommending others to marry men from Switzerland and have also begun questioning the old
Thai customs and why Thai wives cannot be treated the same way in Thailand. What is also surprising is that the local
village leaders are broadly supportive of the trend.
Thai Women in Northeast marry Swiss men
Many thousands of Thai women in Isaan, northeast Thailand, are electing to marry foreigners, becoming what is
known as a 'phanrayaa farang' or 'foreigner's wife'. Although these foreigners are of many nationalities, a large
community has built up in one part of North east Thailand of Thai women with Swiss husbands.
In Nort, a village in east Thailand, 84 women have married Swiss men, a phenomenon researched by Dr. Rattana
Toaskul Boonmathya, an anthropologist from the Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development at Mahidol
In fact, a study recently carried out by the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) has
established that 15,284 women from 17 northeast provinces have married western men, and that women from as many as
one-third of families in some villages are married to foreigners.
Dr. Ratana frequently flies to the northeastern provinces, and was intrigued to notice that around a third of
passengers on her flights consisted of Thai women and western men. On investigating further, she has discovered that
a new Thai wife will frequently leave her homeland to live in the west with her husband.
However, due to the close bond that Thai women have with their families, they tended to travel back to their home
towns and villages as often as they could, both to maintain contact and to provide financial help where needed. In
order to investigate this further, Dr. Ratana decided to focus on one specific village during her research: Baan
Jaan, because of the large numbers of phanrayaa farang originating from there.
In her preliminary report, "Women, Transnational Migration and Cross-cultural Marriages: Experiences of
'Phanrayaa-farang' for Rural Northeastern Thailand", Dr. Ratana notes that Thai wives living abroad retain a close
bond with their family in Thailand, supporting them economically whenever possible.
Being a Thai wife in Switzerland
Many young Thai women have an idealized view of marrying a foreigner and of living in a fairy tale world far
divorced from her current situation. The reality is something different, and many find initial difficulties. Leaving
their family behind can be a serious wrench, and they face differences in culture and language difficulties,
particularly in Switzerland where Thais, even those that have learned English, find difficulty with French and
Foreign customs, standards of behavior, attitudes and religion are often initially problematic, and the first
three months are the most difficult for young Thai brides to get through. Some find it difficult to communicate with
their husbands, and most have to attend language classes.
Dr. Rattana observes that through 'transnational migratory experiences' such Thai women have benefitted from being
exposed to a different set of values and cultural attitudes and practices in respect of marriage and the gender roles
played by each partner. A cross-cultural marriage has opened their eyes and led them to question the norms of their
It has come as revelation to many of them that they have control over their own bodies and their role in marriage,
and that they are able to make decisions for themselves. Finding themselves respected rather than 'used' and that
they are able to make their own decisions in their marriage come to many as 'a miracle'.
Why Thai women often marry foreigners
There are several reasons for Thai women to marry foreigners, one significant reason being connected with Thai
culture. In Thailand, women are expected to remain chaste until married, which is why few Thai men will marry a widow
or divorcee, and prostitutes generally have no options in marriage. They tend to live with their boyfriends, if they
have one, and are looked down upon by other Thai women.
Westerners have no such qualms, and while most may hesitate before marrying a street girl, they have no cultural
reasons for not doing so, and unlike if she remained in Thailand, nobody back home need ever know her background.
For divorcees, western men are often their only option to finding a happy marriage, and widows also have little
option but to marry a foreigner if she wants to contribute to looking after her parents. This is a social obligation
in Thailand, and some women will marry a rich westerner with this as her prime motive. Not all Thai marriages are
born of love, although a loving relationship frequently develops over time.
One woman interviewed by Dr. Ratana was Nang. Now aged 59, Nang had been married to a Thai man with whom she had
two daughters. They divorced and Nang had to travel to Pattaya to work, where she met a Swiss man. They married 22
years ago, and both live in Switzerland. Nang started up a small Thai grocery store and then a Thai restaurant, and
she now frequently visits her homeland and helps out financially. Most of her female relatives have now also married
Nang is typical of most Thai women in overcoming the various difficulties originally encountered on leaving her
home country for the first time to live among foreigners. She learned that she was able to do things like start up
her own business and make decisions within the marriage. She also maintained a strong bond with her family, which
she still does.
Money not always an issue
Although many Thai women marry westerners for the money, this is not always the case. The example of Nang, where
she was a divorcee who would have found it difficult to remarry a decent man in Thailand, is a case in point.
Another reason is that as more Thais marry foreigners , the women are seeing that westerners tend not to drink and
gamble as much as young Thai men, and also appear to treat their women better. Tales of responsibilities within the
marriage and of the respect many western men show to their wife are also powerful attractors for young Thai women to
They are now questioning the role played by women in Thai-Thai marriages, and the fact that their premarital
sexual history seems irrelevant to western men. They are noticing that many westerners are marrying divorcees and
offering them respect, and not just them, but also any children they are bringing into the marriage from their former
Thai husbands. This is opening their eyes and leading them to question the customs of their own country.
They not only hear this from the tales of women who have moved to the country of their husband, but also see it in
those that decide to remain in Thailand, as many western men do. Westerners find their money goes further in
Thailand, and that they can live in relative luxury with their new Thai wife.
Dr. Angsika Kusalasaya, a lovely Thai dentist, has been married to a German for 13 years. She introduces a touch
of reality into the potential fairytale dreaming of young Thai girls. The wise advice she gives is that nothing is
ever clear-cut, and Thai women should be prepared to encounter difficulties or problems with a western marriage just
as they have when marrying a Thai man.
Do not be misled by the dream, but try to learn to speak English and take time before agreeing to marry. Make sure
that the man, western or not, is suitable for you and that he would make a good husband. She mentions the Buddhist
concept of "living every minute with a conscious mind". So be aware of your own decisions and why you are making