Thai Wife Customs & Controversies

The defining issue that sets a Thai wife apart from her western counterpart usually comes down to the nature of her relationship with her parents.

As far as most Thai wives are concerned, respecting the wishes of their parents on any given subject is at the top of the priority list, easily outranking her husband’s wishes… and there sits the root of many a colourful argument!

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Her deference to her parents’ wishes runs against any notion of independence that you may feel, and you might not like it, but you should refrain from any kind of action to free her from this obedience to her parents.

It’s much better to work on your own integration into the family unit rather than trying to extricate your girl away from it.

Thai children are taught from an early age that their parents have sacrificed a great deal to bring them safely into the world, and that they owe them a huge debt of gratitude for this. There is a concept called 'ga tan yoo' that refers to this debt of gratitude.

I might be giving you the wrong impression about ga tan yoo by calling it a 'debt of gratitude'; a debt implies some sort of burden that needs to be borne to settle things, but this isn't how it is.

Honouring the ga tan yoo system is something that brings great delight to Thai children and, if they are in a position to help their parents out in some way, they will usually relish the opportunity.

Many of the strained Thai/Western relationships struggle because the western husband feels somewhat neglected and second best to the Thai parents. On the other side, the Thai wife feels somewhat unfairly impeded in trying to do right by her parents.

Ga tan yoo will test your patience to the limit at times but you are well advised to take it very seriously if you want your relationship to work.

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As always you’ll need calmness and understanding, these are two essential qualities that you will need in abundance if you are ever to successfully leap over all the extra hurdles that marriage to a Thai wife will throw at you.

That is not to say that success is all about letting your girl call all the shots... where’s the fun in that!

Thailand Mail Order Brides – A Warning

Before continuing I thought that a few words about Thailand mail order brides and the agencies that provide ‘introductions’ might be of some use.

Agencies that resemble mail order bride services are often thought of as being some sort of urban myth, but they do exist. Perhaps not in the sense that you look at some pictures, read a few profiles, pick your favourite and marry her, but website services are out there that are not too far away from this sort of thing.

My advice is to avoid them like the plague.

If you think that these services will at least provide some sort of effective vetting of the girls on their books then think again. There are plenty of cases of prostitutes registering with these companies either without the company’s knowledge, or worse, with the company knowing full-well that a sizable proportion of its clients are working-girls.

There was even a sting operation on one of these firms where a number of bar girls demonstrated, on camera, the ease with which they passed these vetting procedures and joined up with an agency.

Another important consideration that will help to put you off is the extortionate prices that are demanded by these agencies, it usually runs into thousands of dollars! Imagine that, thousands of dollars for a scam operation to set you up with a prostitute!

You really should stick to a tried and tested regular online dating site, just have a read of my Thai dating strategy and you’ll have all the knowledge that you need to find the good girls without paying a fortune to a bad dating agency.

Most Thai wedding ceremonies are conducted by Buddhist monks.

Finances – what costs does a Thai wife come with?

Settling down with your Thai wife can be an extremely cheap option, especially compared to married life in the west, but there are some unusual expenses that come with family life in Thailand that you don’t get back home. Some of them will trouble you on a personal level because your values aren’t the same as Thai values; the most obvious of these is the ‘dowry’ or ‘sin sot’.

Traditionally, a dowry is a sum of money that is paid to the parents of a Thai bride ahead of her marriage. It is handed over by the groom as a demonstration of his ability to take care of his bride.

It is also a measure of his gratitude to his bride's parents for raising her and taking care of her. There is also a supposed element of insurance in that the parents guarantee the virtue of the daughter and, if that virtue is false, the dowry should be returned to the groom!

All this is a little old fashioned and you should not feel pressured into paying any dowry that you are not comfortable with. Many modern Thai marriages have a display of cash that is symbolic of the dowry but, after the ceremony is complete, the cash is returned to the bride and groom.

That said, many Thai families, especially from rural areas, will expect a dowry to be paid as part of the marriage ritual. How much is appropriate is a little complex and depends on many factors e.g. how rich you are, the wealth/status of your girl's family, the extent of your girl's education, whether or not she has married before or has children already etc.

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In a nutshell, the average dowry seems to be something like 100,000 baht for a respectable girl that has never married before and has no children. If you met her in a bar in Pattaya, you should not pay anything at all... for obvious reasons!

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How much does a typical Thai wedding cost?

The majority of everyday Thai weddings between people of average income will be somewhere in the 200,000 to 300,000 baht range. As this is quite an expense for a large section of the Thai population, many Thai couples never actually get married in the formal sense and just live together as man and wife for their whole lives.

For a Westerner to marry a Thai girl, you can expect your girl to want a rather more expensive wedding than the sort of thing most Thais go for. This is because you will be seen as a rich foreigner (even if you are not rich), and anything less than a suitably expensive wedding will cause some loss of face for both you and your Thai wife.

‘Tong Mun’ is another custom, it refers to the gift of gold that a groom gives to his bride before they marry. The gold that you give should be 24 carat, and how much you give is up to you. Not all Thai marriages use the Tong Mun tradition these days and I know of many marriages between a Thai lady and Western man where no gold was given to the bride.

You probably won’t be thinking about divorce costs right now, most people don’t when they are tying the knot, but it is a good idea to think it through carefully.

If you live in Thailand you can register a prenuptial agreement and protect all of the belongings that were yours before you got married, as well as half of the assets accumulated during the term of the marriage.

A good way to properly protect your finances is to enter a prenuptial agreement, combined with a refusal to buy land (which your Thai wife would have to own for legal reasons) and simply rent all of the things that you need rather than buying them outright.

Condominiums are an exception, you can legally own a condo in your own name, and you can protect it with a prenuptial agreement.

The same goes for car ownership and other assets; if your in-laws need a new home, one can easily be rented – you don’t need to pump a big lump sum investment into the marriage and you shouldn’t be pressured into to do so if you have found a decent Thai wife.

I know that this is all negative advice but it always pays to be cautious.

The Thai marriage dowry is a controversial topic for many westerners.

Ongoing expenses you’ll need to think about

The financial obligations on a groom do not usually end with the wedding. Don’t forget that your Thai wife has her ga tan yoo. You are going to need to help your wife to give some money to her parents on an ongoing basis.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to send large amounts though. It does depend on individual circumstances, but whatever you send should be easily affordable to you and a decent Thai wife would not ask you for more than you can reasonably afford.

It is easy to see how a family-support system like this might develop. There is not much of a welfare state in Thailand, there’s very little that resembles any kind of retirement pension, and traditionally Thailand has been a poor country (meaning that most people are unable to make savings for retirement).

Free healthcare is not provided by the state and only the rich have private health insurance. In these circumstances, when the parents are too old to work and cannot support themselves anymore, the children step in. If you want a happy and contented Thai wife, you’ll need to take some time to discuss these things with her.

Don’t forget that all of this is proportionate to what you can afford, no one decent will expect you to stump up large monthly expenses if you don’t have the resources, but you’ll be held in very low regard if you live in the lap of luxury whilst your own in-laws are left to struggle in poverty.

Generosity is a big deal in Thailand, and that brings me to the final Thai custom that you’ll need to be aware of if you want you and your Thai wife to be regarded as good people with the community in which you live.

Nam Jai (generous heart)

A traditional Thai wife will automatically assume that you want to demonstrate your generosity as widely as possible and to as many people as possible. In doing so, you are showing your Nam Jai.

Don't be overly concerned by this, it is exactly the way that a respectable wealthy Thai person would want to be treated in order that he could demonstrate his generosity. In return you will gain face and status (I wrote about the importance of ‘face’ on my page about Thai girlfriends).

Thai people love to show their generosity by buying gifts for each other. If someone is known to be wealthy, his friends will make opportunities for him to demonstrate his Nam Jai!

Also, this generosity flows in both directions, only a fool would keep on giving and getting nothing in return. For example, if you need a favour doing you will find that there are people who are not just willing to go at great lengths to help you, they’ll be delighted at the opportunity!

In rural areas in particular, where everybody knows each other, the concept is still going strong. When one farmer needs to harvest his crops, everyone helps out. That farmer will then return the favour when someone else needs a helping hand.

It remains to be seen how these traditional values will stand up in the face of globalization and economic development. I suspect that as people become less reliant upon each other’s help, these traditional values will slowly be lost in time. They survive for the time being, and if you can feel that you can embrace them then you be rewarded with a sense of community like you’ve never experienced in the west.

If you feel that you can’t adopt the principles of nam jai and ga tan yoo, then it might be a sign that marriage to a Thai wife is perhaps not the best idea for you. It would certainly be difficult to fit into Thai society if you can’t adopt some of the local customs, so this is something to think about before getting seriously involved with any Thai woman.


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