Dave and Phil's Marriages
By David (from the USA)
Dave and Phil are both in relationships with Thai women. As his friend updated Dave on Phil's new lady 'Fon', all Dave could think about was how Phil could have been so dumb to have gotten himself into this situation; especially when he had talked to Phil about these exact types of issues shortly after they met eight months ago. It seems like Phil either did not pay attention to what Dave had previously told him or he really believed that his girl was 'different'. One way or another it looked like this relationship was in the process of becoming a train-wreck.
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Phil had recently retired form the U.S. Army and had the opportunity to
have travelled all over the world during his career, but he was always
drawn to Asia after spending time in Japan, Korea, the Philippines and
Singapore. A few years ago he made a 1-week visit to Thailand, spending
the entire time in Pattaya, which is paradise for men attracted to
beautiful Thai women. While he briefly considered moving to the
Philippines, he ultimately chose Pattaya due to the better
infrastructure and perceived safety.
Phil and Dave met shortly
after Phil moved into Dave’s building and became acquainted; as all of
the “Yanks” in the building always spoke with each other. Phil enjoyed a
multitude of dating experiences with the thousands of Thai women in
Pattaya in the first 4-5 months he was living in Thailand. One day Dave
was sitting at the café at the pool working on his laptop and drinking
coffee, when Phil showed up and asked if he could sit down and speak
with him about Thai women, Thai culture and relationships. Phil had
become involved with a Thai girl and had been talking with the other
guys in the building who cautioned him to “run, it will never work out”.
A couple of the guys in the building suggested to Phil that he should
speak to Dave, because he has had a good experience with his Thai wife
of 5 years and they had two kids together. He might have a different
perspective on it, because it worked out good for him.
Two Thai Women; Fon and Muk
Phil sat down, ordered a coffee, and gave Dave the overview of his situation. He had met an older 41-year-old woman from Korat, called Fon, and had been seeing her every weekend for the past couple of months. Phil would catch the bus to Korat, to see his girl on a Friday morning and return on the following Monday morning. She had a very good job, due to her university education, which only gave her Saturday and Sunday off. She was divorced from a Thai man and had two children with him, one girl 15 years old and a boy of 18. The girl was still in school; the boy had finished but was not working. Phil shared with Dave that she had a single-family house, as well as a condo in town, but that she was considering buying additional property out near where her parents’ village was located. When Phil was in town they spent a lot of time going out and seeing all of her family and friends. Of course Phil paid for everything while he was there!
Phil told Dave that they were talking about getting married and wanted to know about Dave’s experience with his Thai wife, Thai women in general, and how Dave handled ongoing financial demands from his wife’s family and how they worked out their monthly finances. While he was also interested in the actual process of getting married in Thailand, he was particularly interested in a couple of unique Thai marriage traditions including the Khong Man gift and sin sod.
Dave began telling Phil about his wife Muk, who was from a small village between Surin and Buriram along the Cambodian border. Muk’s background was somewhat similar to many Thai children in that she never knew her father and was raised by her grandparents, as her mother worked in Bangkok and really did not show much interest in her when she was growing up. Once both of her grandparents passed away, Muk was left with no immediate family, which set the stage for a series of events that broke many Thai wedding customs, when she and Dave were married 5 years ago.
Although still on speaking terms with her mom, Muk remembered her situation growing up and realized that her immediate family was going to be Dave and their first child, who she was pregnant with. Muk called he mom to tell her about Dave and their marriage plans and how Thai wedding traditions were not going to be followed. Since there was no immediate family, Dave and Muk had their marriage registered at the local Amphur (council) avoiding the expense of a large traditional village Buddhist wedding ceremony which, in any case is not legal until it is registered at the Amphur. Next, since Dave gave Muk an engagement ring form the United States, which she loved; there was no need for the Khong Man gift, which is the traditional present of 24 carat gold jewelry that signifies that an engagement is official. The most significant marriage tradition broken was the giving of sin sod, which is the tradition in Thailand where the groom gives the bride’s family a cash gift on the day of the wedding, which can involve a significant amount of money.
Phil listened closely as Dave finished up his story by adding that Muk, in follow up calls with her mom, also told her that money was not going to be sent to her on an ongoing basis. Since those initial uncomfortable conversations, Muk and her mom have grown somewhat closer and to her mom’s credit, has been a terrific grandmother. She has also never asked for anything! Dave shared with Phil that the parents of Thai women are often the biggest cultural obstacle in the way of a successful relationship between a westerner and a Thai girl! Dave also shared with Phil that he gives Muk money once a month to maintain the house and pay for what is needed, but Muk contributes as well with her part time work, while concentrating on taking care of the kids when they are not in school. Muk is looking forward to returning to full time work as soon as their younger son starts school, so she can contribute more and have her own money.
Phil only had one follow up question and that was about sin sod; it was apparently already being discussed, including the amount. All Dave could tell him was to be careful on the amount paid, as her ex husband had already paid sin sod to her parents once before. Dave and Phil shook hands and went their separate ways.
Three months later and Phil and Fon were married in a big village wedding attended by several hundred people including a half a dozen Americans that Phil knows. He presented his bride with a traditional Khong Man gift and paid the family a significant amount of sin sod with the justification being she had graduated from a university in Bangkok, which places her in a higher social class. Needless to say, Phil paid for everything, which he resented and over the next few months other things began to occur that added to that resentment.
In an effort to keep peace with Fon, Phil never had a heart-to-heart talk with her about the money side of the relationship. Soon Phil, who is living off of his military pension and savings, was sending her 30,000 baht a month, while paying for his own apartment in Pattaya, which he needed to keep for at least another 6 months due to some commitments that he had. Often Dave would see Phil hanging around the building on the weekends unable to go to Korat due to a lack of money. Sometime Fon would call Phil about midway through the month looking for additional money. This really got under his skin as he was giving her 30,000 baht each month and it was still not enough money. He began to wonder how she survived before she met him! Of course it did not help the situation when he went there one weekend and found her son, who was still not working, riding around on a brand new 55,000 baht Honda Wave motorcycle. There was no doubt in Phil’s mind that he had paid for that motorcycle.
Phil also resented that he was the one doing most of the travelling back and forth from Pattaya to Korat; which was 5 plus hours by bus one-way. While the plan was for him to eventually move there permanently, it did not take too long for him to realize that he would be bored to death living in Korat full time. While a big city, Korat was not as Farang friendly as Pattaya, and all of his friends were in Pattaya.
The final two events that sealed Phil and Fon’s fate was her unwillingness to step away from her career to travel with Phil. Getting her an American visa would have been very easy and travel very cheap due to his being retired military. Before marrying her they discussed wanting to spend part of the year in Thailand, part of the year in Alaska, and part of the year on the gulf coast of Florida where Phil owned a home. This would no longer be possible if Fon insisted on staying in her job. The final event was Fon insisting that Phil keep his condo in Pattaya and come up to Korat once or twice a month!
Phil moved into another building in Pattaya and Dave has not seen him for a while, but he recently had coffee with a mutual friend who updated Dave on Phil’s situation. Apparently he is okay and is currently seeing a couple of other Thai women while he figures out what to do with his relationship with Fon, who he has not seen for a couple of months now although they talk every day on the phone. Phil wished he had followed Dave’s advice on the financial discussions with Fon as that was a big issue in their relationship and it caused Phil a lot of resentment. He also understands how Dave’s relationship with Muk can succeed, as she is only influenced by her immediate family, which is Dave and their two children.
Key Learning Points:
- Phil and Fon’s story is a classic example of the many doomed relationships between western men and Thai women. It is clear that Fon was only ever interested in the money that Phil could provide, and right from their initial meetings Fon stated that she was considering buying property closer to her family... I suspect that this was the whole purpose of meeting Phil i.e. to gain the necessary funds from him!
- It is equally clear that Phil is not suited to marriage. It is vitally important to really do some soul searching about what it is that you want before you plough headfirst into it. Phil appears to have fallen more for the charms of Pattaya, and the casual relationships with Thai women that abound there, rather than with traditional Thailand and family life. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, but it doesn’t fit with marriage.
- With regard to Dave and Muk I think that theirs is a much more unusual relationship in that it seems to be grounded on western values. I’ve advised previously that attempts to westernize Thai women are not recommended, but if Dave and Muk are happy then it shows that this is at least possible.
- Regardless of Dave and Muk’s success, I do feel that there are some signs that Dave does not truly understand Thai culture despite his experience. His advice to Phil that the Thai parents are the main obstacle to success with Thai women is nonsense. For sure they are the main obstacle to westernizing your girl, but that really should not be your goal. In the vast majority of successful marriages to Thai women, both parties make compromises and adopt certain aspects of each other’s culture. Respect and support for the Thai parents is the most important for us westerners, although I can see why that might not be appropriate in Dave and Muk’s case.