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What is the standard of living in Thailand? The economy is more aptly divided into three segments catering to each of Thailand's economic groups. The living standard can be low or ultra high. There are those earning the minimum wage of around 200B a day. Then, there's the middle class earning 50,000B per month. Last is the hi so or hi-so who are mega rich guys.


Thailand's Standard Of Living
Which standard meets yours?


"Foreigners who've never been to Thailand before have this mistaken idea that Thais are slumming it.  Compared to many of their Southeast Asian neighbors,  the Thais are actually living like kings many tiers down from their own king."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic


The Thais aren't what you'd call the Thai-coons of Southeast Asia.  Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei have that distinction.   But Thailand does glower over Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Indonesia. 

Discussing Thailand's standard of living is tricky issue.   The uneducated who have jobs as maids, waitresses, cleaners can earn only 4,000B-8,000B.  Then there are Thais who earn 10x-20x that wage, and even some who earn a helluva lot more than well paid professionals in richer countries.  

When we recently came home with a new 50" plasma television set, our maid remarked that the television cost three times her monthly salary.  In the United States, an American version of our set would've been 20% cheaper and any maid in our employ would've been able to afford one.   A person would not need to be considered well off to own such a set -- or an iPod or a car.  Or any other beyond-the-basics gizmo.

Siam Paragon

Someone's got the right standard of living to be shopping here

Thailand differs from a Western country in that the lower end of the scale is set a lot lower.  Thailand doesn't have to import cheap labor from abroad.  It's already here and living at a standard the foreigner would recoil at.  The 2010 minimum daily wage rate in Bangkok is set at 206 baht, less than USD 6.  The rate sinks to as low as 151 baht a day in some Thai provinces.  Raising the minimum daily rate isn't the answer to better standards of living.  Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei have no minimum wage, and Singapore and Brunei are among the richest countries in the world. 

The Thai silver lining is that these lower-earning Thais still aren't what one thinks of as poor.  They can afford to put food on the table, buy basic clothes, make monthly payments on a motorbike (the main form of independent transport in Thailand), and possibly get a basic cellular phone model.  Anything outside these day-to-day basics, like the plasma TV, a kiteboard and kite, or a fancy night at an Italian bistro, is out. 

Judging from the number of swank shopping malls in Bangkok and beyond, there are plenty of Thais who can afford the better things in life.  Air conditioners, refrigerators, coffee makers, and laptop computers cost the same or more in Thailand than they do in the United States, yet shops continue to sell them.   Automobiles cost QUITE a bit more.  A car valued at USD 30,000 in the US can cost more than triple in Thailand. Despite this, there are no shortage of Thai-driven vehicles on the road.   No doubt helping the Thai consumer society along are credit card deals offering no-money down and 0% interest for a year on many high costs purchases.  Payment plans, open only to Thai citizens, are quite common.  A motorbike priced at about USD 1,500 can be paid off in 36, 48, 60, or 72 months, making such items attainable to the many.   

Even poor Thais are literate and reasonably healthy, which is more than can be said about poor Africans.   Thais can attend public schools at no cost and seek medical attention at basic clinics.  The infant mortality rate isn't on par with Western and East Asian industrialized nations, but it is better than Mexico and many Eastern European countries.   Violent crimes against foreigners are not common.


Three 'Economies,' Three Standards Of Living
There are three distinct economic groupings in Thailand, four if you count the economy geared to foreigners visiting or living in the country.  The first is economic activity designed to serve those earning 8,000B or under.  Thailand is not classified as a poor country because its economy effectively serves those in the poorest income bracket.  This group can afford to eat and obtain simple housing and clothing.  The most basic of rooms are available to this group, even in Bangkok, for 2,000B per month and food on the streets bought for as little as 10B or 15B.  The second economic grouping:  they have regular middle-class jobs of the same type you'd see in a Western country, only they earn less money.  With access to credit, however, they still have cars, nice-looking mobile phones, and computers.  They can frequent Thai-style bars and dine at Thai restaurants.   A Thai bargirl pulling a significant number of customers can earn enough money to rank in the higher end of this category, which goes some ways towards explaining why many a Thai girl finds this occupation enticing. 
Everyone is covered in Thailand

The last group is Thai high society, known as hi-so.  Hi-so is a label that gets abused in Thai tabloids. True Thai hi-so are a lot like the British aristocracy.  You're born into it or your family gradually joins its ranks as its wealth increases.  Many high profile Thais, like movie or pop stars, are referred to as hi-so by the press.  For the purposes of economics, the distinction between the two is irrelevant.   These ultra-rich Thais are the ones buying the sports cars you'll see on show at the shopping malls.  They'll have a few holiday condominiums scattered around the country. 

An interesting facet of living in Thailand as a foreigner is that a merely well-off Western expat can intersect the high-flying trajectories of the hi-so.  Each may send their children to the same expensive schools and dine at the same expensive restaurants. A Western thrill seeker could meet the child of a hi-so at chic and trendy and superexpensive club in Bangkok. Western economies have their hi-so groupings as well, usually determined solely by net worth and not upbringing, but over there, it's extremely unlikely that a well-paid professional is going to cross paths with a hi-so.   A Western hi-so might send his child to a very posh boarding school out of reach to those with merely upper middle-class purchasing power. 

The lower end of the standard of living scale in Thailand is set lower, but the higher end is set higher when you measure rich takings as a multiple of poor takings.   The economic winners here take more of the spoils.  In  a much bigger market like the U.S., there could be a larger number of economic champs in a market segment.   A beer brand, for example, could be a regional success and still make its founders decent coin, the way many craft breweries start out.  Such a success story wouldn't arise in Thailand.  A contender must be able to take on the reigning champ and offer his product throughout the country, which requires connections and likely some cash to begin with.  Witness Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi's victory with Chang over previous leader Singha in the Thai beer market.  Chang didn't emerge as a beer only available in Phuket that gradually expanded its markets throughout the lands.  Chang went nationwide from the get go.  As a result of Thailand's winner-take-all nationwide system, there is less choice and less competition in the domestic market.   Want a pizza from a chain?  It's either Pizza Company or Pizza Hut.  Coffee?  Black Canyon or Starbucks.

Standard of livingThe existence of three economies and, as a result, three different standards of living, help the visitor understand why things can be so cheap and so expensive in Thailand at the same time.  In a temporary discount booth at a shopping mall in my hometown in Thailand, I found a pair of plastic clogs on sale for USD 3. In the center of town is a dedicated Crocs shop selling the identical thing, with a Croc brand label on them, for USD 25. Plenty of Thais buy them at USD 25 -- those in the third economy. The first economy members get them for USD 3.

Bus transport is offered in third class, second class, first class, and VIP class, to cover members of all economies.  Thai prices, like the Thai standard of living, falls on a sliding scale.


 

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Voltaire Brown's Don't Travel Europe

 Coming up with a standard of living measurement in Thailand is difficult because the country seems to have more than one economy catering to different groups. The living standard falls on a sliding scale. Some earn the minimum wage, others are middle class, and the most elite are hi so or hi-so