Entrusting Your Hair To A Thai Barber

Thais from a Farang point of view appear to be a very laid back and tolerant nation of people. Although many aspects of life are taken quite seriously, the defusing effects of Sanuk soon kick in and bring things back to natural balance.

One issue that I find Thais take quite seriously (and yet is still a Sanuk event) is personal hair care. In short, you won’t stay in business long as a hairdresser or barber in Thailand if you give lousy haircuts.

Irrespective if they are rich or poor, Thais pay great attention to personal hygiene, neatness of dress and above all a well-groomed hairstyle. As such Thai Cities, Towns and even some villages abound with hairdressing establishments. Hair Care even comes with its own traditions and superstitions such as Monday being a propitious time for a haircut whereas Wednesday is deemed to be unlucky for a cut.

mali in the chair

Another aspect is the scattering of cut hair over water for luck. It would be rare for me to visit Thailand without being instructed by a female member of the family for me to take a plastic bag full of their freshly cut hair out to the rice fields and scatter it over a river or canal.

hair on water

But next to the mechanics of hair care and lets start with the Ladies first. When Mali and our daughter Natalie visit the Kingdom several trips to the hairdresser are usually involved. Mali revels in this and will go to one hairdresser one day just to get her hair washed and visit another a few days later to have it styled and cut. When she has it done at the village hairdresser, she can also catch up with all the local gossip, who’s sleeping with who, the weather and listen to another opinion on Thaksin.

natalie at hairdresser

Through all the professionalism at the hairdresser “Thai Time” still reigns supreme and many hours can be whiled away in the hairdressers chair. My daughter had her hair straightened a few years ago, which involved a six hour process including a meal brought in from a local restaurant.

And now for the men. One aspect of male haircuts that I find endlessly fascinating is that more often than not is that you tend to end up with not the cut that you asked for but the one the Thai barber subtly believes you should have. As such at times I have emerged after 45 minutes with my hair much neater but still the same length. Other times the barber has whooped so much off that I have ended up looking like a mature aged schoolboy.

But I don’t want to sound like a whining Farang. For a relatively small outlay in Baht, you usually get a very meticulous haircut, your neck and shoulders massaged, the hair in your nose cut and sometimes your ears given a perfunctory cleanout. When I am standing at the cash register I think of how much a haircut in Australia costs (more than having the oil in your car changed).

Of course like a pub or a bar you sometimes find a hair cutting establishment that you keep gravitating back to. Mine is a barbershop in the Isaan town of Phimai. It can only be described as a real “Blokes Barbershop” – crud on the walls and ceiling, the obligatory “men’s magazine” calendar on the wall and the chairs a bit worse for wear.

My favourite anecdote of this shop (run by a two man partnership) was about 5 years ago. I had ridden into Phimai from the village for a haircut, but when I arrived at the shop I found the senior barber dead drunk and sleeping in the doorway of the shop. He wasn’t in any physical distress and had the contented look of a tomcat on his face.

I stepped gingerly around his body (careful not to step over it) and entered the shop. I was soon followed in by two more Thai males. One of them was smiling broadly while the other was poker faced (although I suspect not out of disgust but simply because he had seen it all before)

The person who seemed to be the most amused by it all was the junior barber who was left to shoulder the wheel that day. A few days later I was walking past the barbershop and I noticed that the formally prostrate barber up on his feet, bright eyed and bushy tailed as they say and giving superb haircuts.


14 responses to “Entrusting Your Hair To A Thai Barber

  1. Nice information!. This is pretty much describes how its in my place too. I get my hair cut at around half a dollar. Head & shoulder Oil massage means about 1 dollar. And all the superstitions… including Monday’s (or is it Tuesday?) off. My hair is pretty simple and I never tell any barber how to cut. Simply ‘Cut it medium, medium short, or short’. But I know everyone around me is getting that little extra clip here and there… even the labourers who have just sweated it out and are soon going to be back at it. Hair cuts are very important in this part of the world I guess… and especially among those who have little left of it… they are the most particular ones!

  2. Even lady farang visitors love having their hair done in Thailand -I spent Christmas with a party of “senior citizens” (I am just about one myself) in Chiang Mai in 1994, and the women for the most part were ecstatic about the care -and the cost- of their hair-do’s. Those that were not so were victims of what suits rather than what was asked for, I think, (or just plain miserable -we had one or two of those -and men also. )
    Fascinated to read about the superstition of scattering cut hair in a klong or river -anybody know anymore about the “rational” or origin of this?
    Must try a Thai haircut myself -but I tend to get “scalped” prior to travel especially, so as not to suffer in the heat. Very interesting read, as ever, Bill.

  3. Getting a hair cut in the Kingdom is always a complete delight!

    Often offered some type of drink during the process, as well as the head, neck and shoulder massage!

    Thanks for reminding me of one of the many little nicities missed…

  4. Will make sure to get a Thai haircut this summer!

  5. averagejoe

    was strolling down the street and peeked into this salon. the girls invited me in for a haircut but i told them i didn’t need one. they insisted. so i thought a shampoo (head massage) wouldn’t hurt. after a long head massage i was satisfied and was about to pay and leave. until a cute hairstylist came in and persuaded me to get a haircut. i agreed. we both had a friendly conversation. i finally glanced in the mirror to look at my hair, and o my!! she cut it so uneven and not how i wanted. so i asked her to shave my hair to 1 inch all around. i look like a just enlisted into the military! paid her 180 baht (tips included) and left! i learn a valuable lesson, i will not go to a cute girl to cut my hair anymore. i will go to a gay guy.

  6. Thats pretty cool. Here in Malaysia the normal hair cut is about RM18 which is equivalent to 180 Baht and the service isn’t really that good. You get a cut and a wash then dry only.

    When I visited Thailand I got the same service for a measly 50 Baht. Great value and the cut was also a much better one too.

  7. I am a hair stylist myself,and have worked in many a salons,charging varied prices from £45for a ladies cut and blow dry to cutting hair for a meal or somewhere to sleep for a night!I respect everyone who gives that little extra,iv been fortunate enough to exsperiance the joys of a Thai head massage and next time I visit the country I will go all out and have a hair cut!

  8. Good article … thanks for sharing

  9. I’ve shared you article on digg, well written

  10. Thanks for the info, I appreciate it.

  11. Farangs and other asian, India and Chinese immigrants is something Thai and Indonesian people put up with,
    with a fake smiles a lot of times. Many many or these asian immigrants from neighboring countries learned to speak Thai and will say that they are Thai because they know that Farangs can’t tell the difference. They can’t put up a No Farang, No Chinese sign but a lot would if they could.
    Chinese used to get beat up in the streets by Thais back in the day like German and Jews. Thai of original Malayan blood and Indonesian business men still hate Chinese and sometimes say it to their face. Chinese are called jeks like the n word for blacks in US.

  12. Sometimes i really am scared to cut my hair and go to a salon which I’m not used to.but its sometimes nice to try out those i haven’t experienced yet.

  13. i thought the first was the sickest