Monkey Abroad

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living in china

Living in China vs. Thailand: Which is Better for Westerners?

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Let’s be honest. As a westerner, living in China vs. Thailand is an unfair fight. Thailand will win any day of the week because it’s geared toward outsiders and China is geared toward the Chinese. But before you totally discount China as a viable living alternative, you should consider a few things.

Historical Relations

Thailand and the USA have been allies for 180 years. Relations between Thailand and western society are stronger than in China, largely due to that fact that China is a historically isolated country with far less dependence on tourism. From 1949 to 1974, China closed its doors completely to all foreign visitors. But now fast-forward four decades, and today, China is the third most visited country in the world.

living in china

Religion

Buddhism, the official religion of Thailand, is a compassionate and tolerant religion. This reflects on Thai culture, so Thai people are very respectful of the values and religious beliefs of others.

China has no official religion, and while religious tolerance is protected under its constitution, the country doesn’t seem as keen to the idea of religion or worship as its overwhelmingly Buddhist counterpart. In other words, China generally thinks that a successful politician shouldn’t rely on prayer.

living in china

Pollution

Do I even need to talk about this one? Everyone with access to the internet knows that China’s economic dependence on coal factories has effectively bent the atmosphere over. Living in Beijing is like living inside of a steam sauna, but without all the exfoliating benefits. Plus, everybody in China smokes.

Thailand is far less polluted than China, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its own garbage. The cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where most western expats dwell, aren’t exactly meccas for clean freaks.

Bottom line: If you want to live in a big city, you’re going to be dealing with pollution in either country. But if you choose to live in a smaller rural town in Thailand or China, you’ll escape the treachery of smoggy air and trash-littered streets.

living in china

Bathrooms

China easily wins this one. While it’s bathrooms are usually stinky and dirty, at least they’re everywhere. If at any point you need to go to the bathroom while you’re out in China, you’ll quickly spot a sign with that familiar stickman and stickwoman.

Thailand is seriously lacking in toilet terms. If you’re walking the streets of Thailand and nature suddenly calls, good luck my friend. You’ll be squeezing your legs together for miles before you find a place to urinate in privacy.

“It takes a brave man to fart in Asia.” -Joko, a friend living in Thailand. Check out Joko’s blog, Leaving Amerika.

You drastically increase your odds of sharting when you east Asian street food, so it’s wise to be near a bathroom. Now that I’m living in China, it’s safe to say that the PRC sympathizes with our western intestinal disposition more than Thailand.

living in china

Communication

Thailand wins this one due to its overwhelming saturation with western tourists and expats. You could honestly get away with living in Bangkok and never learning a word of Thai. That would be undiplomatic and uncool, and I don’t recommend you do that. All I’m saying is that it’s possible.

Hop into a taxi in Bangkok, Thailand, and you’ll often get to where you want to go just by speaking English. Taxis in China are so learn to speak Chinese. Or have the address written down in Chinese from a friend.

To show respect, Thai people wai each other. If you plan to plan to live in Thailand, you should learn how to wai properly. Chinese people simply shake hands just like we do in the west.

living in china

Safety

I feel safer in Asia than I do in the USA. Thailand and China are both safe countries, but I think I’m gonna lean more toward China on this one. I never once had a serious encounter that had me scared or worried in either country. Just avoid the common tourist traps like the cab driver that doesn’t run the meter, or tea shop scams.

In bigger cities in either country, you’re more likely to run across scammers and pickpockets. I let my guard down in Beijing and got scammed by two friendly little Chinese women. People like this exist everywhere, so just be vigilant.

living in china

Economic Advantages

China wins by a landslide. In today’s global economy, China is a dynamo. Because of the rapid growth taking place now in China, having a working knowledge of Chinese language and business culture could be a huge advantage in coming years.

Since reopening its doors to outsiders four decades ago, China has risen to become the third most popular country for tourists to visit. And as the world leader in both population size and global exports, China’s potential as a global superpower grows stronger every year.

Thailand may be the world’s leading exporter of rice (golf clap, everybody), but the global economic advantages of understanding Thai business culture and language are trumped by that of China.

living in china

Food

Don’t get me started on this one. If you’re interested in learning my opinion about which country’s food is better, read the full story here. This is a very sensitive subject for me as I love both Thai and Chinese food dearly so don’t ever ask me to pick one over the other. Ever.

living in china

Living in China vs. Thailand: Conclusion

For westerners, living in Thailand is a better option than living China. With a characteristically friendly culture that embraces tourists and expats, Thailand wins my overall vote… Today.

China just needs time. It’s a rapidly developing country that’ll look very different five, ten, twenty years down the road. China’s modernization is transforming an ancient culture into an urban jungle right before our eyes, so there’s no telling what it’ll be like for westerners decades from now.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!

13 Comments

  1. I enjoy reading about your adventures and input on Asia!! After reading your blog, I really want to go to Thailand for a Tesl certificate after I graduate college. First I had wanted to go to Playa del Carmen, but I think my mind is made up and I’m going with Thailand 🙂

  2. Food is only a close call if your comparing the best of Thai with the best of Chinese. Problem is its very hard to get consistently good/clean food in China. In my travels to Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok I’ve never had a bad food experience. Thai food is generally better tasting and a LOT cheaper than most Chinese food. This general rule applies all the way from the street food to the top tier restaurants. I’ve spent half of the last 9 years living in China – not far from where you were in Rizhao actually. I’m in Linyi – awful place (polluted, dirty, bugger all in the way of nightlife or good food) but hey, it pays the rent…

    • Tony,
      I understand where you’re coming from. Thai flavors are more complex, and the condiments are better. And you’ve lived in China for almost 5 years? Wow. It certainly pays the bills, but I don’t think I’ll remain in China after my teaching contract ends. Best of luck in Linyi.

  3. Hi, Kevin:
    Your Dad and I spent the day together and took the TRE downtown to visit the Dallas Holocaust Museum, which was very interesting despite being somewhat depressing.
    I’m happy to see how much you are enjoying international travel. Most of mine was thanks to Uncle Sam, wasn’t always fun, and was sometimes life threatening.
    I enjoyed your accounts about your adventures; you have a knack for humorous and informative writing.
    Best regards,
    Joel Gartenberg

  4. Great Blog/Article! Love it! There are tricks around finding restrooms in Thailand. Any office buildings, hospitals, shopping malls, schools, you name it. Especially as a westerner, simply walk in and people will let you use the restroom. That’s how locals do it. Cleanliness? Thailand wins by a mile…even the Thai squatters vs Chinese squatters, I’d pick Thai any day.

    I understand how you would call a tie on food and I’m not even naming Hong Kong food. I spent 3 months in Shanghai and a few weeks in Beijing, I’d have to say I was able to find great food there. However, if you are talking about having food on the go, food court, street food, I would say it’s much safer to get food in Thailand.

    Safe Travels!

  5. I’m with Jason. Thai toilets win the cleanliness contest. Trains are interesting though as I was surprised to see the tracks going by through the hole..hmmm. The food is all awesome – both countries. The only food safety concerns, in my opinion, are related to the soil and water pollution in China. The food is growing in soil contaminated with and watered by rivers contaminated with horrific heavy metals. I would visit either country again in a heartbeat but I would not live in China; at least most parts of the country.

  6. Hello, hello, in Thailand the women kill you, in China the pollution kill you. Your choice. Old men will be push down the apartment buildings. Young men will be stab by her thai boyfriend who is living on her money which you gave her.
    In thailand no blow job, in china you get one in sleezy barber shops, the curtains are drawn while your hair is washed another lady will blow you, double action. Again your choice thailand or china?

  7. May I ask what having your teaching certificates helped you earn per month as a teacher in
    thailand?

  8. Good article. After 8 years in Thailand (fluent Thai speaker) I’m making the move to Xian. Learn Mandarin and save $$. My only concern is I like jogging – just not in smog 555.

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