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.
Standard Of Living
"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
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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. This is
slowly changing, however.
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, fall on a
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