As Thailand's emerges from the aftermath of the 2014 coup, western men continue to find Bangkok a unique playground but things are changing.
Friday night in a western bar in Bangkok
It's an upmarket hotel in the centre of Bangkok on a Friday night. In the bar before the revelry begins, most customers are likely to see the face of Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on the TV conducting his weekly brief to the
While Thailand looks like it may not return to democracy in short order, most observers agree that the atmosphere in the country is quite good. The Thai government points to regular surveys showing people are satisfied with the current
administration resulting from the coup which ended a number of years of political turmoil and street protests in 2014. This is interesting and noteworthy because in the interim period, Thailand has suffered economic head winds illustrated by reports
of increased household debt and a reduction in export earnings.
Cleaner look to Bangkok's streets since the 2014 coup
This is acknowledged by the government which is committed to fighting corruption. 'There is a general feeling that the country, at the moment, is more at ease with itself and while many Thais may be adjusting their belts somewhat, you could
say that things are more harmonious,' says James Morris, a writer and commentator who opts to live in Bangkok. One of the more notable changes since the new regime came into place is that many of Bangkok's streets have cleaned up their act
with the new government prohibiting street vendors crowding public pavements during daylight hours. 'It might sound like a small thing but to many visitors to Bangkok or expats, it does seem and feel like in the country at the moment there is room
to breathe,' says Morris.
1960s decor and iconic atmosphere in western style bar
The decor is what people now in western countries call 'retro' accept this bar is the real deal. It's been upgraded every year but it was built in 1980's to cater for wealthier western tourists but has a distinctly 1960s air. Now it is a regular nightlife
haunt for the growing number of western expat men living in Thailand and their wives or girlfriends. It is also a popular haunt with the growing number of affluent younger and middle aged men who now have made Thailand a second home.
It could be part of a set for the highly successful US hit series 'Mad Men' which recently finished its run on American TV screens. The show highlighted to exploits of men and women in the 1960s America working in the advertising industry.
The show, surprisingly, found resonance with many younger western men, who are increasingly looking to 'retro' style and fashion. Some are also beginning to question what has been defined as the 'political correctness' in western culture and
society. What seems to increasingly surprise many western pundits is that this movement is coming from a growing section of the younger generation who are beginning to question the status quo.
Rudi, one of the European men in Thailand
Rudi is an Austrian man from Vienna and has just bought a new condominium in Bangkok with his brother. He is only twenty nine years old, his brother is thirty two. Rudi is one of the younger generations who increasingly question the agenda of
western society. The two Austrian brothers work in the software business in Vienna but Bangkok is where they increasingly like to spend their free time. 'Well, for a start, it is cheaper to live here you know and the money, it has more value in
Bangkok,' Rudi tells us. Increasing numbers of western men are opting not only out of marriage in western countries but also out of long term relationships altogether. 'Yes, it is this way now,' says Rudi. 'In Austria you can have this wife and then it is
downhill for the man.' When Rudi's French long term French girlfriend left him three years ago he decided to try the Thai option. 'I talked to my uncle, who comes here all take time and he told me that European men in Thailand, with some money,
can enjoy the good life and yes it is true,' says Rudi. 'No money, no honey, right,' he laughs to the roar of the music of the live band.
Western men dancing provocatively on a Bangkok dance floor
While we talk, three men are dancing provocatively at the end of the dance floor. One is wearing short pants with an expensive blazer while the others are wearing chinos and expensive shirts. Looking around the bar I see that probably 70% of
the men are middle aged or older western men. They are also some young types like Rudi and some Chinese and Thai men also. Most of the western men are accompanied by attractive looking, younger Thai women. The band is a popular one
and three Thai women front it. The theme is Motown in America in the 1960's except it is 2015 in Bangkok.
Tourism in Thailand, the Thai economy and younger western men
Recent figures released by the Thai Tourism Authority show visitor numbers of Thailand has picked up in the aftermath of the 2014 coup and there has been a noticeable increase in younger visitors to Thailand. The figures released by the
authority show tourism spending an annual 57 billion baht and spending average of 17 days in Thailand. Research has also revealed visitor from the UK represent the second biggest for Thailand's tourism chiefs. However tourism in Thailand only
contributes 7-10% of GDP and in other areas, the Thai economy faces headwinds with an ageing workforce and a loss of competitiveness to other Asian countries.
More freedom in Thailand than Europe even under martial law
Back to Rudi, the Austrian who has just bought an apartment in Bangkok at the hotel bar with its 60s and 70s night. 'I mean look here around with you, this is the best kind of music,' says Rudi referring to the 60s and 70s theme that the whole
pub is decked out in. 'This is what I'm thinking, in the 60s and 70s the West had the most freedom and now there is not so much,' says Rudi. Rudi feels that while it is possible to earn more money in Europe, it is more fun to spend it here and to live
in Bangkok. In Vienna where he is based and has another apartment and business, there are disturbing trends. 'Yes we must take seriously this migrant problem and the feeling that something is not right about Europe just now, I do not explain this
but in Thailand I feel more freedom, I even come during the coup last year.'
Bangkok property - price increases but is it a good bet?
Rudi, with his brother, has purchased a condominium in Thailand for 85,000 euros and considers this a very good investment. Figures show that prices of condominiums in 2014 increased by 14% and in spite of the coup and economic
headwinds there has been a mini boom in property particularly centred in Bangkok.
But James Morris, the writer in Bangkok, is not as bullish as other expats in Bangkok. 'I think it would be a foolhardy person to play up the idea of speculating on property in Thailand or even in Bangkok. In fact, I think the figures for 2014 overall
show that the level of property sales for the year contracting. But there is always demand in Bangkok, best bet is to purchase what suits for your own personal requirements and go ahead and enjoy it, get value from it.'
Morris does point out that despite changing foreign ownership laws, which in many respects limit and even prohibit foreigners owning property in Thailand that overall, careful investment by foreigners in Thailand can be an astute investment if
considered carefully and cautiously.
Trend for young western men to buy property in Bangkok and Thailand
There is a definite trend among younger Europeans visit Thailand on a regular basis and it is now an established norm for many younger western men. Many western men now want to establish a base in Thailand with investments in key urban
centres especially Bangkok and its metropolis. 'I have noticed this personally with men from richer Scandinavian countries, Norway for instance and Denmark. Many of these flexible expat men in Bangkok that I have spoke to refer to the less
stressful culture in Thailand and I suppose that this could mean the more claustrophobic culture and society as it appears to some living in Europe. This is what people often call the Scandinavian model where you have this strong super state
which regulates not only the economy but many other areas of life. Thailand is certainly not like this,' says Morris. 'But I am minded to think of all the younger Thai women who are voting with their feet and moving to Scandinavia in large numbers,
so this is really a matter of personal perception. But that's what it's all about in the final analysis. On the other hand many of these younger European men want to live in Bangkok on semi permanent basis, this is the new trend and these european
men see to have money.'
Symbiosis between western men and Thai women
It again reflects the strange symbiosis involved in relationships between Thai women and western men that continue to grow after ten years of continuous expansion. It would be true to say that one of the attractions of living in Europe for Thai
women from less well off or poorer backgrounds from the north east of Thailand is the social support structure that super state society that Scandinavian countries provide. Many Thai women now aspire to live in Scandinavia. Another notable trend
is that marriage between Thai women and Scandinavian men is now increasingly occurring among younger men from the Nordic countries. The economics of richer societies, where the economy is more highly geared, results in higher costs of
living and taxes. This often calls for both parties in the relationships to work. This may be the tension that many western men refer to. For some, the economics of less developed societies are more attractive, this is why increasing numbers of
western men opt to live in Thailand on a permanent and what is a growing trend, semi permanent basis.
Thailand offers more freedom to an Austrian entrepreneur
Rudi is a graphic designer and digital animator from Vienna. 'Yes this is how it works, there are many young Europeans, maybe I am still young, you see, I think who can find the freedom to spend some time in Thailand and this is because I am
a partner of my business and I am able to have access to financial capital, my brother is the same also, although he is with his girlfriend. She comes to Bangkok also. Why not? It's more fun for western girls too!' In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests
that many modern western women find Bangkok and Thailand an uncomfortable place to live because of the 'patriarchal' culture and in particular the western expat lifestyle which some have labelled 'sexpat'. In spite of this however, the numbers
of young western women who arrive each year in Thailand is increasing along with tourism numbers.
Why more western men are coming to live in Bangkok
From Rudi's observation the following are key factors in allowing this new phenomenon of young western men establishing homes and lifestyles in Bangkok and Thailand:
- Air travel is so much cheaper: There are now more and more options. The range of flights between Europe and Bangkok offers lower prices and flexibility. Bangkok and Thailand are now coming to be seen as a playground for western men
and sometimes even women from Europe.
- Availability of capital and income in western countries: Despite the economic crisis, the number of younger and middle aged western men who have access to capital or free capital is growing. 'I haven't seen research on this but it does appear
that in the internet age, there are more younger and middle aged western men with this sort of financial freedom,' says James Morris. 'Of course you must add to this the growing number of middle aged and older western men who are retiring to
Thailand often with nest eggs and stronger pensions.'
- Cost of living: 'It is like this, when I am in Vienna I can go out for the nightlife one maybe two nights and it is very expensive if you want to enjoy it and do the thing right, but in Bangkok, I can do this every night, I do not have to think, the cost is so
much lower,' says Rudi. The attraction to Thailand has become so much for Rudi that now he is scheduling more and more time working in Bangkok from his condominium although he has to keep it within limits. 'There is no question right now
that I could live and even want to live in Bangkok all the time. If it can be three or even four months each year, this is great.' Most expats and commentators suggest that the cost of living in Thailand is between 20 and 25% of the cost of living in
western countries although it can even be lower when compared to expensive countries and cities. And Scandinavia as well as Rudi's Austria and Vienna would be on this list.
- Social life and friends: Rudy tells us that the atmosphere in Bangkok is very friendly and that even his brother's British girlfriend enjoys visiting the city and has many Thai girlfriends. 'It is just when you see all these smiling faces, we can come
here and have millions of new friends and these are all such happy people, I think this is important also.'
- Property investment: Rudi's condominium increased in value in 2014 and is likely to do so in the future as property prices in Bangkok continue to grow over the long term. 'I think that is a very real prospect. The current Thai government since
2014 has been adopting a very cautious policy and I think that this is very sensible so even though prices may not rise spectacularly, it should be a good and consistent returns,' says James Morris.
- Different perspective: Rudi is involved in a creative business in Vienna and even though he has not yet found a regular Thai girlfriend or life partner, he has come to appreciate the different culture and believes that this takes time to absorb. He
suggests that on each trip to Bangkok where his stay can be between 1 to 3 weeks, he comes back to life in Austria with different perspective. 'I do not talk about the Buddhist thing and that stuff, it is just like when I am watching the TV about news
from Thailand or new from Europe here in Thailand, I can look at things in a different way.'
Living in Thailand and Bangkok, expat or sexpat?
As we look about the bar and see the different characters and the theme from the 60s and 70s, Rudi tells us that many of his friends at home in Austria and girlfriends in Austria would see the western men in this Bangkok bar as 'sexpats'.
'I get this, yes when I go home, I go to Bangkok often, I am now a sexpat you see, so sure when I come to Thailand I meet many beautiful and sexy Thai women. What is this? This is a good life. I see many of the men in this bar, I do not know all
of them but I do know some and they are such nice people, good men, they are respectable also but they know how to have fun.' As we speak, some of the older men from the UK are laughing and simulating exotic dance moves on the dance floor.
It is like a grey haired performance of Saturday Night Fever. 'This man here, he has a younger girlfriend, she is Thai, well she is a Thai woman. I know this man, he has lived here in Thailand nearly twenty five years. He is retired and he plays golf all
the time. He also finds money for charities here in Thailand. This man I see here now, he knows how to have fun, it is not so easy to enjoy a night like this for him in Europe anymore, he would be too old and not find so many girlfriends.'
Thailand, the land of the free for mad Europeans
A recent survey by ThaiLoveLines of 900 men from Europe found 71% agreed with the proposition that society and life in Thailand was more free. This is despite the fact that the country is living under martial law after the 2014 coup. It would be
true to say that Thailand is seen by many in liberal western society as politically incorrect.
During the recent launch of the new James Bond movie, Spectre, a group of expat foreigners living in Phuket attended their local cineplex dressed in tuxedos. The debate on western media on whether the James Bond franchise represents an
old fashioned, more politically incorrect version of manhood chimes perfectly with the activities of western men in Thailand. 'Do you know, this is very true, in fact Thailand is the perfect setting for a James Bond movie and I think it is this culture and
atmosphere also which attracts many western men to Thailand,' says James Morris. 'Unfortunately there is an element of danger in the mix also.'
To live in Bangkok in 2015 is akin to the West in the 1960s
Mr Morris also points out something else. 'I recently returned to the UK for personal reasons and some business and I noticed an acute difference between advertising on the TV in the UK and Thailand. I mean the whole culture and
atmosphere compared to advertising in Thailand. It's almost as if western society has grown up, it's advertising is a more sophisticated and serious, it is for a wealthier and more affluent market, sure, but it doesn't have the happiness and
cheerfulness you see on TV in Thailand. Here many Thai people, for the first time, are starting to live the western dream. Morris also thinks that it's not just about the level of economic development but also the political and cultural direction of the
two societies. In effect, what he is suggesting is that the Mad Men of the 1960s and 1970s have been silenced in western society and that they have somehow moved to Thailand.