Monthly Archives: November 2006

Thais are “Kreng Jai” people

In the past few months, I’ve been friends with this guy who is half Thai, half Caucasian-American. Apparently, Jay has very minimal knowledge of Thai language even though he was raised by a Thai mother along with several of half siblings, who are pure Thais, from his mother’s previous marriage. Apparently when Jay was little, it was that time when his mother wanted to learn English. So she never really spoke to him in her native tongue. Jay has mentioned to me he would like to learn Thai to get in touch with his Thai side. He has been frustrated since people around him tend to leave him out when they are chatting away in the language he knows only 10%. As bad as I am at teaching, I volunteer to teach anyway. Better than nothing, right?

The problem with Jay is that even people around him (who are Thais and yes, can speak Thai) refuse to talk to him in Thai simply because they know he can barely understand it. So they never bother. When they never bother, he never learns. Since he has already had some basic knowledge about the language, I told him that I will, from now on, speak to him in Thai, except when explanation needed for certain words.

Jay came up to me last week, asking what does “Kreng Jai” mean?

Me: “Um…what a good question Jay!”
Jay: “So………?”
Me: “What do you think?”
Jay: “My brother says I am too harsh of a person. I need to learn how to be ‘kreng
jai” to people. But heck, he speaks in English until saying kreng jai. When I ask,
he says he doesn’t know how to explain it.”
Me: “Er……..?”

The thing is that until today, I still struggle daily to explain what “Kreng Jai” really is even in Thai. What exactly do these two simple words really mean?

I told Jay that apparently, a lot of Thai are Kreng-Jai individuals. Personally, Thais feel Kreng-Jai too much. As much as Kreng Jai is a charming quality, at times, it can be very annoying. But hold on, that isn’t the point. What is Kreng-Jai by any means?

While we are chatting away about the words in a restaurant, waiting for other two Thai friends, we order a combo appetizer. The dish is too big that we cannot even finish half of it, so I figure I will leave some for those who are coming. One shows up, so I mention to her that she can have this stuff we get. Conversation goes:

Me: “Plenty of food here, why don’t you just eat this?”
Other: “That’s okay. I will order mine.”
Me: “If you don’t eat this, we are gonna throw them away anyway.”
Other: “Thanks! That’s okay.”

A few minutes later, the girl orders the same combo—I mean the same exact one. Jay asks why she didn’t have ours in the first place. She smiles, saying ‘that’s okay.’

By the time another friend shows up, we all have been talking about Jay’s mother who is in the process of filing a divorce with Jay’s dad. When the guy walks near the table, we suspect him overheard the conversation, and then he walks right to sit by the bar. Jay walks right up to him saying he can join us now. There is no secret or anything. The guy says, “oh! that’s okay. I don’t want to interrupt.”

After dinner while we are walking back to the parking lot, Jay mentions, “what’s up with all the Thai people being too polite…almost way too paranoid?” I look over Jay, pondering: “Now you know what Kreng Jai really means, eh?”

Monkey Buffet in Lopburi

A monkey enjoys fruits and vegetables during the Monkey Buffet Festival, in front of the Pra Prang Sam Yot temple in Lopburi province, 150km (94 miles) north of Bangkok, November 26, 2006. More than 2,000kg of fruits and vegetables were used during the annual festival to promote tourism. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Visit for the latest information and news about the Monkey Party next year.

Monkeys lick blocks of ice with fruits and vegetables during the Monkey Buffet Festival, in front of the Pra Prang Sam Yot temple in Lopburi province. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Owning a condo in Thailand


Many people ask me the advantages and disadvantages of buying property in Thailand. As I recently bought an apartment (or condominium as it is usually called here) in Bangkok I thought it might be useful for some if I shared my experience. As with many things in Thailand, that which seemed easy often became hard. That which seemed impossible usually became possible.

Why buy?

Let’s start by asking why anyone would want to buy property in Thailand. The biggest reason is cost. Property remains relatively cheap by Western standards. I bought a 160 square meter condo for a little under 400,000 Swiss Francs (Switzerland being my main country of residence). For an equivalent property in the center of Geneva I figure I would have paid about 2 million Swiss Francs.

The capital value of most developments has been rising steadily since the 1998 economic crisis. This won’t go on forever, and there are too many condos under construction now, but there does appear to be limited capital risk. However, do not expect to make a fast buck return and there are some quite nasty taxes to be paid if you buy and sell quickly.

However, rental yields on newer developments are around 8%, not bad compared to investment returns elsewhere.

New condo developments do not appear to be significantly more expensive than older buildings. The priciest area is Silom, at about 100,000 baht per square meter for the best developments. My place is close to Suhkumvit and Asok and cost 75,000 per square meter. You can get much cheaper if you live in areas such as Sathorn, primarily because they are less accessible to public transport. Buying a new development makes a lot of sense, not least because it is only in the last year or so that developers have finally begun to understand the importance of good architecture.

I personally hate renting. It is money thrown in the waste basket and I want to feel I am in my own home, with my own decor and furniture. This is an admittedly emotional opinion but you spend a lot of time in your home, so to have it feel like a home is important.


The biggest risk would appear to be currency. It would appear to be a fair bet that there will be some form of Asian currency crisis within the next ten or so years. Any such crisis could significantly reduce the transfer capital value of your property. If you are not prepared to keep your property for a long time you should probably not accept the currency risk.

The second big risk is government regulation. Thai government policy is hard to understand at the best of times and there is always a chance that regulations could be introduced that are prejudicial to foreigners.

The third risk is oversupply. There are a lot of new developments around and many more under construction. Most experts do not expect a market slump but the possibility does exist.

The rules
Foreigners may not buy land in Thailand. There are some perfectly legal ways to circumvent this issue but your risk level does rise as a consequence. No such problems exist for condo developments, so long as at least 51% of any development is Thai owned. Simplifying somewhat, if there are 100 equally sized and priced units in a building, foreigners can legally own 49 of those units.

You can buy freehold or leasehold. Most leased properties are property of the Crown. Most realtors and lawyers will recommend you to stick to freehold.

Typically you will pay a 10% deposit when contracts are signed. Increasingly, the deposit being asked for is 20%. If you are investing in a “yet to be completed” development financing can be complicated. You will pay a deposit and then further deposits at set periods of time. There is a fair element of risk involved here. You are effectively financing the cash flow of the project and, if there are not enough buyers, a project could run out of money. Don’t expect much legal protection. Thai law is very biased to the Thais.

I would advise most people to invest only in a completed development, even if it costs you more.

It is possible to raise debt, though not easily in Thailand itself. However most of the banks have branches in Singapore that can arrange loans for you. Typical rates are in the region of 6%, not very competitive when set against a rental yield of 8%.

There are also various taxes to be paid at the time of purchase. Your realtor will usually handle all of this for you. Most people do not engage the services of a lawyer. I am not sure how wise this is but there is no doubt that realtor services are much more extensive than in most other countries.


Some things to watch out for
Everything will take much longer than you think. Nothing in Thailand runs on time but construction appears to be among the worst offenders. I signed a contract on December 12, was assured a December 31 completion and finally got possession on March 10.

Condos are sold in very different stage of development. Some are sold bare shell, meaning you have to install everything: kitchen, bathroom, flooring and so on. Some are sold fully furnished. Make sure you are clear as to what is best for you. I would advise not buying fully furnished. Do you really want someone else choosing your decor for you? Do you really want to have the same furniture and layout as everyone else?

Expect many things not to work. My aircon is still not right now. The door to my shower has fallen off twice in 2 weeks. The slate around my bathroom sink collapsed last weekend. The shower has flooded. The toilets don’t flush properly. I have now declared my bathroom an official “danger zone”. The electrical wiring works but it is eccentrically laid out, and I am being kind when I use the word “eccentric”. The general finish is average at best. Thai craftsmanship is really not of the highest quality.

Costs will overrun. The annual maintenance charge for my condo is 35 baht/square meter. The building now wants to raise it to 50 baht.

No one will ever take responsibility for anything. I brought in an outside contractor to redesign my place. They did a great job but now, if anything goes wrong, the automatic response of the building is to claim that it is the responsibility of my contractor.

If someone tells you that a problem will be fixed on Thursday, expect it to be next Thursday, not the coming Thursday. If are you are not persistent, don’t expect it to get fixed at all.

The residents committee will usually turn out to be a joke with no one able to agree on anything and chaos the likely result.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that your building will be any different from another person’s building. The issues I raise are common to everyone.

So should you buy a condo in Thailand, or not? I can only say that I don’t regret doing so. I am quite happy to keep this place even if I return to Europe. I have a high quality place for a very affordable price. I am not wasting money on rent. Most important to me, I have a real home and that makes me much happier than would otherwise be the case. You cannot imagine the joy I derive from possessing a functioning, clean kitchen!


However, you have to understand that buying property here does carry risks and that you will, for sure, have problems. If you have cash to spare, buying a property here can be rewarding. If you are cash constrai

Thanks Giving

“That’ll be 15 baht ja,” said the merchant. “Ja” is an informal, common tongue addition to a sentence like “krub” and “ka”.

“Here you go, Pa (older-than-your-mom aunt),” I said as I handed the lady money for the sweets I bought.


“Kob khun, Pa”. I said thank you before I walked away.

Aunty Merchant nodded and gave me this look of pure confusion. Before I turned away, I read this off of her face…

“Why the heck did she thank me for?”

When I’m in Thailand, I would see the same expression from the waiters when I said thank you for bringing me my food and pouring me water, when the sales attendant at the mall showed me things, and as I walked pass the doormen who held the door open.

It’s like a shock to them, I guess. Thai people don’t thank them like that.

I’ve been taught all my life that there are people “beneath me”. The servants, the merchants, the waiters, the store clerks.

It is their job to serve you, I was told. You are their customers and you are of “higher class” than them, and therefore you treat them accordingly.

It doesn’t mean that I treat them like garbage or anything. But you don’t have to “wai” them or thank them. You are of higher stature.

The U.S. teaches me that everyone is human and you need to be polite to everyone, not just the people you know or respect.

I do say thanks to the Starbucks baristas, the guy who washes my car, and the parking attendants. I say thanks to people who hold the door open for me, to my bus driver when I get off the bus, and to the restaurant greeters on my way out.

I do appreciate what folks do for me and I thank them for it. I know what it’s like to have to have to earn your paycheck, after all.

I mean, growing up a middle class Thai young adult myself, getting a part time job working for money is just not a thing to do.

When I came to America, I did want to get a job because everyone around me seemed to have one. At first my folks thought I was crazy, but then the economy hit rock bottom, and my lowly job actually was helping my folks sending me only tuition and rent while I took care of my own expenses. (I know, I know. Other people had it a lot worse than me.)

Having worked with the masses, I have come to realize that first of all, these folks deserve respect. And that everyone, despite their jobs and their status, are all human and are deserved to be treated nicely.

One thing America has done to me, oddly enough, is making me super polite in Thai eyes.

So now when I come home, I thank people for all the little things they do for me. And my hands are “softer” too. It’s a Thai saying of Mue Onn, literally soft-flexible hands, means that you wai people easily. Apparently nowadays doesn’t matter who it is, if they are older than me, my hands instantly go up.

My behavior is a puzzle to my mom. She reminded me once or twice that I didn’t have to thank everybody or wai everyone. No, my mom is not being ridiculous or classist. It’s just the way the culture is.

Odd how a country with a culture that paying highest attention to respect, courtesy, and gratefulness wouldn’t say thanks to the working class.

Being so-called “Americanized” opens my eyes to see people on the same playing field as myself. I guess that is one of many things I am thankful for on this American holiday. 🙂

P.S. Funny how I opened Thai-Blogs up to see Richard has just posted an entry about Wai! That is purely unplanned, kids. But it goes to show how great minds think alike. 😉

The Thai Wai and Tourists

At school this week, we held our regular Thai Manners competition for the students. The students wore traditional Thai clothes and had to visit a number of different bases in order to show that they knew how to perform the proper respect in the correct manner. This reminded me of one of the most common questions that we get in our mailbox. That is the “Thai Wai”. How to use it and when to use it.

For those of you who don’t know yet, a Thai Wai is a prayer like gesture done by bringing your hands together at about nose level. Adults use it to greet each other and also to bid farewell. It shouldn’t be confused with the Western handshake. Personally I would only shake hands with someone I was meeting for the first time or that I haven’t seen for a long while. People “wai” each other on a daily basis. Children will “wai” their parents when they leave home to go to school. When they come home they will “wai” again. Adults arriving at work will “wai” their collegues and their bosses in the workplace.

The “wai” can also be used in other ways. For example, to say sorry. If you step on someone’s toes, you could “wai” them to ask forgiveness. You do that if you know you have done something really wrong. an alternative is to bow your head. Not as much as the Japanese do. It is more like a deep nod. Another use for the “wai” is to say “thank you”. If someone gave me a present or did a big favour that I was really grateful for, I would then “wai” them. An alternative is the bow for minor favours. For example, if you are waiting in your car to turn left and someone lets you out then you can give them a head bow. Actually, I call it the “chicken bow” as you move your head forward as you bow, much like a chicken does.

Another use of the “wai” is to show respect. If my students want to come back into the classroom after visiting the toilet, they will have to stand in the doorway, give a ‘wai” and ask permission to enter. If they want to excuse themselves, they have to do the same. Before exam time, my students like me to wish them good luck. This is a bit like giving them a blessing. To receive this they should give a “wai’ while I am blessing them. People also do this at the temple when speaking to a monk or listening to a sermon. When I have finished they will run their fingers through their hair in order to seal in the good luck.

As you have seen, there are different reasons for giving a “wai”. To make it more confusing, there are also different levels of the “wai”. You should also remember who has to “wai” first. For example, as a rule, we don’t “wai” the students at school. You certainly mustn’t “wai” a child first as this is considered bad luck for them. The only students I would “wai” are my ex-students who have come back to visit. If you want to “wai” back to a child, then you can just use the “receiving wai” which you can see in the top picture. For this you bring your hands to about chest level.

For every day “wais” I would suggest foreigners to use what I call the “lazy wai”. This is bringing your hands to your head so that the tip of your thumbs touch the base of your nose. You can use this “wai” with people of equal position or with service people. However, you should remember that you shouldn’t “wai” your servant first. To show the proper respect, you should allow them to “wai” you first. As a general rule, if an adult gives you a “wai” then please make sure you “wai” them back. However, you might see some people just giving the “chicken nod” to their servants in return.

For someone important (basically anyone older than you or your boss) you should give them the proper “wai”. To do this, bring your hands together in front of you to about chest level and then bow your head down to meet them. This is showing more respect. Women can do a little dip by bending their knees to show respect. The lower they dip the more respect they are showing. If you want to show a lot of respect, like to your mother on Mother’s Day, you can get on your knees and bow down right to her feet.

The final question is, should foreign tourists “wai” anyone? I would say that as a tourist they shouldn’t “wai” someone first. Unless of course you need to make a good impression with someone. Like I said before, if an adult “wais’ you first then you should “wai” them back. However, don’t do this back to the cashier at 7-Eleven or the supermarket. There is no need. Just smile and give the “chicken nod”. When you go to a restaurant, you will be greeted by the waitress. Again, you are only obliged to give a smile and nod. It is up to you if you want to “wai” them back. When you leave they will “wai” you again. Personally I would only “wai” them in return if we had some kind of friendly conversation during the meal.

If you decide to do a “wai” please do it in a graceful manner. It should always be done slowly and with feeling.