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Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand

Tim Newton

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There will be bumps along the way between your visits to the beach, bar and immigration office (sometimes the bumps will be at the beach, bar and immigration office). Expat life is what you make of it here in the Land of Smiles. Moaning about it never helps but accepting the bumps is part of the adventure. Here are our Top Ten Hard Truths for expats in Thailand.

1. Visas can be a pain in the neck

You have plenty of options but the options never quite fit into your line of work or expectations. Between the Non-B visa, ‘Retirement’ visa, Education visa, Tourist visa, Elite visa and Smart visa, along with a few visa runs and trips to your local immigration office, you can usually fernangle a long-term stay in Thailand (yes, we know we used nick names for some of the visas).

One way or the other you will need to keep your paperwork up to date as the fines and penalties for over-stays and visa problems can be quite harsh and difficult to negotiate your way around these days. There’s plenty of good information on the net about visas but, despite what you read, interpretation may be different on the day you visit the local office and depending who you end up speaking too.

At the end of the day, ask yourself how difficult is it for Thai citizens to live in your country…

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

2. You call it corruption, they call it business

You are a guest in a foreign country. Thailand has a long history of independence and hasn’t been tainted with a lot of western influence. Unlike Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia. Philippines and India (just to list a few countries around Thailand), there has never been western colonisation of the Kingdom. Most Thais will be delighted to remind you of this proud fact. The down-side is that your perception of western efficiencies and customs are going to be challenged whenever you want to do just about anything.

There will be times when you will be asked, or invited, to put your hand in your pocket to get something happening – it could be a building project, a visa, getting your accounting done or getting a signature on a contract.

If you are running a business in Thailand you’ll be invited to ‘contribute’ more often than if you’re just living the single life here. Be shocked, be angry, be determined to point out your distaste about corruption – it’s not going to change a system and business culture that’s been in place for generations. It’s also unlikely to change much during your time in the Kingdom.

The laws and penalties are changing but the customs concerning corruption will take generations to catch up.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

Speaking of business…

3. Thais love paperwork

Thais and Thai bureaucracy loves paperwork. You will be bewildered by the amount of paperwork generated for the most simple tasks. We’ve decided that there must be a huge building somewhere in Thailand that just holds mountains of paperwork that will never, ever be seen again. Despite computers, modern banking and the concept of the ‘paperless office’, you will see paperwork generated at the expense of perfectly good trees in quantities difficult to fathom.

How about 32 A4 pages of paperwork for changing one brake disc on a 12 year old Honda Jazz? Watch in wonder as the photostat machines and bubble-jet printers churn out paper you probably can’t even read and get placed into files that will likely never be read by anyone else, ever.

The problems with completely useless paperwork extend from the 7 Eleven receipt to small businesses, keeping administrators employed who process and shuffle paperwork around as a daily chore.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

4. Business can be an adventure and very challenging

Despite a US NGO voting Thailand as one of the best places to start a business in Asia (try and hold back your laughter), starting a business in Thailand can be 1) challenging 2) an adventure 3) bewildering 4) perhaps impossible. Or all four at once.

It will also be expensive.

Free you mind of anything you’ve learned in the west about starting a business, jump onto Google and find a good local administration person or lawyer. Do it all yourself at your peril.

Just because the Thai GF can pour a beer or ‘knows someone’ is no guarantee that things will go smoothly. Running a Thai business never ever goes the way you plan. Ever. Between your visas, business registration, Labour Office, Department of this and that, accountants and your Thai staff, is a wall of red tape, twists, turns and WTFs that will test your resolve.

You will also be signing an astonishing amount of pieces of paper you don’t understand, hundreds and hundreds of times.

The effort is usually all worth it but you’ve been warned! Dot your ‘i’s and cross your ’t’s and check everything thoroughly before you sign a document. And then do it again.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

5. Two-tier pricing

Go to a small local restaurant in any holiday area and there will likely be several versions of the menu – one for locals and one for tourists – you’ve probably never noticed. Of course the menu for the tourists has the same food listed at higher prices.

Then go to any national park in Thailand and the entry price can be as much as 1000% higher for ‘farang’ and tourists. It’s just a fact of life, much-debated, and you probably just need to accept it. If you do confront a two-tier pricing issue from time to time get out your Work Permit or local drivers licence and the higher price is usually waived. But not always. Or start crying, that sometimes works too.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

6. Bar girls don’t love you

The 20-something bar girl with the short skirt and fetching smile probably doesn’t love you.

Whilst many westerners seem to gravitate to Thailand to indulge in the local pleasures of the flesh, a long term relationship and partner may take more time to cultivate than a round of expensive drinks and some small talk with a bar girl whose vocabulary will likely range between the cost of drinks and routine pleasantries… Ka. You’ll have better luck on Tinder or, heaven forbid, taking a lady out on a date and actually getting to know her.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

7. But that’s not how I did it last time!

Immigration rules, negotiating with police, business rules, road rule enforcement. The way you tackle some of these day-to-day little ‘impediments’ should be treated as a single adventure and not to be referred to in the future as the-way-things-are-done. Whilst Thailand has well-described rules, regulation and laws relating to just about everything, they are often applied and enforced in a way that may appear unfair or inconsistent. Or not at all.

The way police negotiate who was responsible at an accident may be different every time. It used to be folk lore that if there’s any issue to be sorted out between a Thai and a foreigner, the Thai will always come out ahead.

From personal experience I would say that’s no longer the case but always be prepared to ‘wing it’ in any given situation. If there are going to be police or the law involved best to get someone speaking Thai, the local Tourist Police or someone in-the-know to help you wade through potential problems. If it’s a serious matter, don’t say anything or give anyone anything until you’ve contacted your embassy or local consulate.

The 24 hour phone number for Tourist Police around Thailand is 1155.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

8. Don’t lose your cool

Stamp your feet, raise your voice, point at the absurdity of the situation over and over. I can guarantee it will make absolutely no change to the final outcome. Losing your cool will simply not help any situation and will likely inflame it further, to your detriment.

Ask for the manager, describe your point-of-view in exquisite detail on a sheet of paper, get out the finger puppets or turn to Google Translate – go for it. But do it quietly, with a smile.

Never lose your temper and try not to raise your voice because it’s just not the Thai way.

1) They will smile in silence whilst you point out that their website said something completely different

2) They will go and discuss the matter with other staff and come back to you with precisely the same answer they gave you in the first place

3) They will listen to your rant and think you are completely insane without actually saying so

4) They will simply walk away whilst you are just getting warmed up

5) They will get angry… you NEVER want that to happen, you’ll come off second best every time.

Jai yen.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

9. The road toll in Thailand is appalling

Despite their generally affable nature, great food and endless smiles, Thais don’t do the driving thing well. And it’s dangerous. Thailand has been listed amongst the top 10 most dangerous places to drive in the world for the last decade. Currently Number 4 as reported by the WHO, 2019.

If you are in a car your chances improve a lot. If you’re older or female, the odds improve further in your favour. If you are on a motorbike but wear a helmet, you’ve also improved your chances of surviving Thailand’s roads. If you’re older than 24 you’re already 50% less likely to have a fatal motorbike accident.

Christmas/New Year and Songkran (Thai new year in the middle of April) are the times of the year when Thais wipe themselves off their roads in astonishing numbers and all the police checkpoints, Government media releases and changes to laws do little to curb the carnage.

The biggest contributor to this national disgrace is drunk driving with speeding coming a close second. Despite almost draconian laws on alcohol advertising, the message about drink driving simply isn’t sinking in. Attitudes and a commitment to enforcement is slowly changing but it’s a long-tough road ahead for the people of Thailand to tackle their shameful road toll.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

10. Queues (or ‘lines’ if you’re American)

Queues and waiting in line are just a part of modern Thai life. Whether it’s waiting in the Immigration queue at the airport or your local office, at the local convenience store or at a public hospital, your wait is just a function of all the other systems that lead to inefficiencies and delays.

It might be well argued that it’s not only Thailand where queues have become a part of life but in Thailand many situations seem quite easy to fix, at least to the person waiting in line (who usually has plenty of time to contemplate solutions).

Even though Immigration queues have improved over the past 12 months, you can still be waiting for an hour to get through immigration at any Thai airport if you arrive just after 5 Chinese or Russian charter flights. But it’s usually managed with a smile once you get your moment in front of the camera for your photo and fingerprint ID.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

So what can you do with many of these challenges? In most cases, keep smiling, take a deep breath and remember why you came to live in Thailand in the first place. Despite the thousand and one little annoyances and inconsistencies, it’s still a wonderful place to live.

A few days on the ThaiVisa forum would make you think that all expats ever do is whinge and complain about life in the Land of Smiles. It’s a bad example of expat life and most of us find our way through these challenges with a bit of patience, grace, a good book or a smartphone with a full charge.

We are, after all, guests in the Kingdom of Thailand and it’s up to us to find a way around THEIR systems, as best we can.

There is an airport nearby, in most cases, with multiple flights out of the country if you’re truly aggrieved by any situation. Get some good local friends around you, do some research before you embark on any new task and keep an eye on your rear-view mirror.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    airbagwill

    Friday, February 2, 2018 at 10:58 am

    A cliche-ridden article shallow, that has a few good soundbites (I like the expression – “2. YOU CALL IT CORRUPTION. THEY CALL IT BUSINESS.”), but basically it says nothing new or in a new way. – a case of the “bleedin’ obvious” for the most part.
    The paragraph on “driving” is of course completely misinformed, and I guess that may be on a par with the premises for his other observations?

    apart from a few people being able to say “I told you so” – when in actual fact all they mean is “I agree” I don’t see the article brings anything new to the debate.

  2. Avatar

    codered911

    Friday, February 2, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Firstly, I would say thank you posting this article.
    For guys already or thinking about reside in Thailand may find it useful/informative…more or less…
    This my few cents worth of thoughts…
    1) For getting your visa I have not had any issues since the beginning..thought I’m a newbie…
    is about trying to get things right the first time…i.e. getting the right forms to fill and have all relevant documents copied and ready…etc
    is about trial and error…learn as you go…
    you may have to go back and forth though you have already make enquiry the first time. you may not get your answer 100%
    Most of all be polite and friendly…smile keep your cool as it’s been said “jai yen yen”
    2) As for driving my personal experiences here is…drive with all your senses alert always 100%
    I called it defensive driving. Try not or not at all sound your horn though you have the right of way.
    3) I guess as the saying goes…learn…think and live like the locals…try not to bring your own culture or habits…
    Cheers!!!

  3. Avatar

    rehana webster

    Monday, September 7, 2020 at 9:10 am

    great article. thanks.

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Read more headlines, reports & breaking news in Thailand. Or catch up on your Thailand news.

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 450 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now the General Manager and writer for The Thaiger. He's reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue.

Northern Thailand

Son lights himself on fire after asking mom for lottery money

The Thaiger

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Son lights himself on fire after asking mom for lottery money | The Thaiger

A woman’s 32 year old son, in northern Thailand’s Phrae Province, is in critical condition from lighting himself on fire after falsely believing that his mother had won the lottery and would not share her winnings with him.

Police at Denchai Police Station were alerted of a man who burned himself in Ban Mai Jua, Denchai District and notified a rescue team at Somdej Phra Yupparat Hospital. 60 year old Pen, the auntie of the man, who is only identified as Tossapon, says she was having breakfast when she heard an argument.

When she looked out the window, she saw Tossapon on fire and wrapped in a blanket. She says he ran to a water hose and put the fire out, but not before almost catching his house on fire. Officials arrived and found that several items in Tossapon’s bedroom had been on fire, along with pieces of the blanket scattered throughout the house. They also found burnt pants and a pillow.

At the hospital, officials met 64 year old Sila, the mother of Tossapon, waiting for her son in front of the Emergency Room. Sila told police her son is a “psychiatric patient” because he used to use meth, or “yabba” in Thai. She says his addiction left him with long-term damages and says her son often falsely believes his mother won the lottery, to which she tells him she lost the lottery ticket.

Sila says she tells him it is not true, but this time Tossapon asked for proof and continued questioning her the next day. The mother says she described her love for her son, which upset him, leading him to wrap himself in a blanket and set himself on fire.

“Son, 99% of the love that I have for you has been changed to hate, the remaining 1% is technically loved because of the word ‘son’.”

SOURCE: Thai Residents

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Thailand

Why Thailand celebrates the New Year not once, not twice, but 3 times

Maya Taylor

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Why Thailand celebrates the New Year not once, not twice, but 3 times | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Amazing Thailand

While the year just gone may be referred to as 2020 by most of us (with perhaps a few expletives thrown in, given the year it was), we are currently in the year 2563 in Thailand. As everyone who lives here knows, Thailand uses the Buddhist calendar, as well as the Western, or Gregorian, calendar, adding to our eternal confusion when wading through Thai documentation.

While the Gregorian calendar, also sometimes called the Christian calendar, is based around the birth of Jesus, the Buddhist one begins with the birth of Buddha, currently 2563 years ago. However, as can be seen below, the date in Thailand is usually written by combining the Gregorian date and month with the Buddhist year. The quickest way to work out what the year equates to in the Gregorian calendar, is to subtract 543 from the Thai year.

Why Thailand celebrates the New Year not once, not twice, but 3 times | News by The Thaiger

A lot of superstition governs the Buddhist calendar, with certain days having special meanings and considered more auspicious than others. Thais take these very seriously, particularly when choosing when to hold a wedding or funeral ceremony. Even when to buy a car or to propose marriage. The calendar is less frequently used by the younger generation, who tend to rely more on the Gregorian one.

Meanwhile, when it comes to celebrating the arrival of a new year, Thailand does so 3 times. The Buddhist New Year, the Chinese New Year, and the Western New Year, are all celebrated in some or all parts of the Kingdom.

The Buddhist New Year
This celebration is also known as Songkran, or Thai New Year, and is celebrated in April, when the weather is usually at its hottest. Traditionally, Buddhists celebrate Songkran by performing a ceremony in which they pour water over statues of Buddha, as well as on each other. This represents a period of cleansing, in which bad fortune and sins are washed away.

However, the original water ceremony has also evolved into large-scale water fights and street parties involving super-soakers and buckets of water (often, ice cold). It’s a bit of a mega-party that, in pre-Covid times, was a huge tourist draw. Although the water throwing only lasts a day in most places, it can continue for several days in some, even up to a week in places like Chiang Mai.

The Western New Year
In Thailand, despite the Buddhist New Year being marked in April, the official start of the year, particularly for international businesses, is still January 1. This is a public holiday and the evening before is the scene of glittering New Year’s Eve festivities, just like Western countries. While celebrations this year may have been somewhat muted due to the ever-present awareness of Covid-19, in more normal times, you can expect parties, live music, and fireworks a-plenty. By the way, Happy New Year!

The Chinese New Year
According to Wikipedia, up to 16% of Thailand’s population is considered ethnic Chinese, with the Kingdom having the largest overseas Chinese community in the world outside mainland China. This group also has their own calendar, with a noisy, firecracker-dominated celebration to welcome the Chinese New Year in late January or early February. The festivities culminate in the “lion dance”, involving 2 people in a large, colourful lion costume, performing dance moves.

There’s no doubt about it, the Thais love an excuse to party. And celebrating a new year, not once, not twice, but on 3 separate occasions, is one way to guarantee some fun. Let’s hope that the first of those celebrations, which took place last night, heralds the arrival of a more positive period for all!

SOURCE: Spirit of Thailand

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Events

WOW what a year! Thailand’s top news stories for 2020 as voted by YOU.

The Thaiger

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WOW what a year! Thailand’s top news stories for 2020 as voted by YOU. | The Thaiger

TOP 10 (non Covid) THAIGER STORIES FOR 2020

The Thaiger started 2020, as we all did, with high hopes and few clues that we were heading into a profound disruption for almost the entire year. Even as we were tapping away at the keyboards on January 1, 2020, there were stories emerging in Wuhan, China about a mysterious new respiratory disease that was starting to pop up at the provincial hospitals.

But, although Covid consumed much of our top stories in 2020, there were other stories of course as life continued to stumble along in Thailand. Here are the stories, from 1 – 10, and the number of people that read each story on thethaiger.com. We’ve also added the Top 10 Covid stories for the year as well, as voted by YOU, our readers.

Thai Army sniper goes on shooting rampage in Korat – up to 20 shot and killed – 124,342

February 8

“A police and army detachment is currently searching for an army sniper in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Korat city centre. The solider has shot dead at least 12 people late this afternoon. The city is in virtual lockdown as security officials are trying to clear the areas around the crime scene. The gunman was live-streaming the entire incident and taking selfies in front of the crime scene.

A police spokesman is advising the public to move away from the area, “stay indoor, and obey instructions from security officers”.

Thai PM announces Emergency Decree, comes into effect on March 26 – 72,587

March 25

Although Covid-related, it was also the most impactful story here in Thailand which would lead to the lockdowns, economic impact, border closures and, possibly, contributed to the protests as well. It was big news.

“Thai PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha told a news conference today that Thailand will be under emergency decree from this Thursday (March 26) until the end of April, 2020 to deal with the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak in the Kingdom.

The decree means the PM will have the executive power to declare further measures to contain the virus, including giving extra authority to officials and creating checkpoints to reduce people’s movements.”

Thailand loses US free trade benefits worth billions of baht – 66,267

April 26

“Thailand loses duty free access for 42.2 billion baht in exports to the US market from today, 6 months after Washington warned it would pull back on trade privileges unless the kingdom committed to labour rights reforms. Once trade preferences for Thai products are removed they are subject to tax of between 4% and 5%, making them more expensive in the lucrative US market.”

30 horses die in one day in Thailand’s Northeast – 58,853

March 27

“30 horses have mysteriously died in Thailand’s Northeast yesterday. The Thailand Equestrian Federation is urging horse fanciers not to transport any animals until a cause can be identified. It’s unlikely the situation has anything to do with the Covid-19 outbreak.

10 of the horses had sudden severe seizures before dying and the other 20 repeatedly bucked and jumped before collapsing, dead.”

Cambodia burns, Bangkok chokes, schools closed – 56,560

February 26

“Bangkok mums and dads will need to sort out what to do with the kids for the rest of the week after the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration closed public schools from today because of the excessive air pollution. Most of the smoke and haze is blowing in from Cambodia with light easterly winds.

All schools under the supervision of the BMA will close until Friday. Air quality in the capital has worsened over the past two days with Bangkok recurring the world’s 5th worst air pollution yesterday (today it is 10th). The forecast today is for light winds and poor air circulation which will compound the accumulation of PM2.5 dust and smoke particles.”

Man comes face to face with 5-metre king cobra while in bed – 52,003

February 22

“A man in the southern province of Trang got a shock when he lay down for a nap and found he was being watched by a 5-metre king cobra staring at him from the ceiling. The man’s home is on a rubber farm, where cobras and other venomous snakes are often found. The local rescue team, who reportedly specialise in capturing king cobras, received notification of an extremely long one at the man’s home.”

Waitress has double lottery win – 50,489

March 19

“A waitress from Ban Sabah Village in Lampang rovince won 12 million baht in yesterday’s national lottery by pure luck, after she couldn’t a ticket with her license plate number. The woman says she initially knew the exact number that she wanted to buy, but as there were no tickets with the number, the vendor gave her two random tickets. She was shocked when she realised the big win, but insists she’ll continue living a normal lifestyle.”

Hungarian overstayer dies in Suvarnabhumi detention cell – 48,739

January 27

“A 60 year old Hungarian man has died in detention at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. Lazlo Balogh was awaiting deportation for overstaying his visa. Laszlo was handed over to the Suvarnabhumi airport police for repatriation on Saturday, January 25. He showed no unusual signs after being put in the detention cell and was sleeping normally on Saturday night, according to police.”

Thai man strikes it rich after finding whale vomit – 48,465

December 13

“A Thai man in Nakhon Si Thammarat is striking it rich after finding whale vomit on the local beach. Narit Suwansang thought his discovery was just a large rock, but had an inkling that it could be something more. US$4.2 million more, that is!”

Top 5 places to celebrate New Years Eve in Bangkok (2020)46,300

“It’s hard to imagine a more vibrant city anywhere in the world, with warm weather and an entire population ready to party, to celebrate your New Year on December 31. Bangkok will host New Years Eve parties on almost every corner but we’ve listed the Top 5 locations for you to see in 2020.”


TOP THAIGER VIDEOS FOR 2020

The most popular YouTube video produced by The Thaiger this year was a spontaneous “turn the camera on and film” look during a casual drive along Phuket’s west coast in October.

The second popular YouTube video produced by The Thaiger was a similar look at the seaside party town Pattaya. Again, it had been devastated by the lockdowns and travel restrictions, a situation that hasn’t improved leaving the city devoid of its usually high-season surge this year.


TOP 10 Covid THAIGER STORIES FOR 2020

In so many cases this year The Thaiger would publish a Covid story, and the Thai Government’s reactions to the situation, only to have the situation changed in coming days. Foreigners, eager to know what was going on and how the situation would affect them, were having to keep an open mind as the government prevaricated from one day to another. So, many of the stories, reported accurately at the time, were subject to changes and modification in the coming days. It was frustrating for The Thaiger and our readers.

Thailand Coronavirus (Covid-19) News Stories, Headlines and Breaking Articles – 278,000

This was our landing page where we collated, and still do, all the Covid-related content throughout the year, providing a valuable and accurate resource about this year’s major disruption. Hardly surprising that it was the most landed-0n page on thethaiger.com this year.

Number 1

Thailand’s international borders not re-opening for tourists until 2021 – TAT – 271,000

Thailand’s international borders not re-opening for tourists until 2021 – TAT

Number 2

Coronavirus – six new cases confirmed in Thailand – 159,000

Coronavirus – six new cases confirmed in Thailand

Number 3

UPDATE: Confusion over Thailand designating 11 destinations as ‘high risk’– 155,000

UPDATE: Confusion over Thailand designating 11 destinations as ‘high risk’

Number 4

Thailand increasingly blaming caucasians for coronavirus crisis – 154,000

Thailand increasingly blaming caucasians for coronavirus crisis

Number 5

Chinese keep arriving in Thailand, UK man spreads virus to 11 others – 153,000

Coronavirus UPDATE: Chinese keep arriving in Thailand, UK man spreads virus to 11 others

Number 6

Thai health minister has a slash at ‘dirty farang’ – 150,000

Thai health minister has a slash at ‘dirty farang’

Number 7

2,700+ infected, 80 dead, 8 cases in Thailand – 149,000

Coronavirus UPDATE: 2,700+ infected, 80 dead, 8 cases in Thailand

Number 8

July 1 will end all lockdowns in Thailand, including international travel – 145,000

July 1 will end all lockdowns in Thailand, including international travel

Number 9

Foreigners in Thailand worried about their security – 139,000

Foreigners in Thailand worried about their security

Number 10

South Korea issues travel advisory for Thailand – 37,000

South Korea issues travel advisory for Thailand

 

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