The longer you stay in Thailand, the cheaper you get. It’s just one of those things that happen. When I arrived here four years, eight months and 27 days ago (not that I’m counting), I had zero income but spent money like Imelda Marcos in a shoe shop. Now that I earn a UK-level salary in a developing nation, my wallet gets less action than a Bangladeshi tourist visiting Rainbow 4.
This transformation happens, I believe, because after a while one realises just how little most Thais earn and spend. In a nation where the average monthly salary is about 10,000 baht and where many people work long hours in factories for half that sum, it just seems morally wrong to spend as much as a Thai’s weekly food bill on, for example, a barfine.
The locals are constantly amazed that I splurge 11,000 baht a month to rent an apartment, even though that is much less than many farangs lay out for accommodation that Thais could get for a quarter of the price. They cannot understand why anyone would eat overpriced food in British pubs when good Thai meals can be had for 30 baht. They are bewildered that we even get inside taxis where the driver won’t use the meter. As for tipping the driver, most Thais would rather gargle with rat poison.
Faced with this cultural thriftiness, most expats eventually go native – some more than others. Take Douglas, for example. As a Scotsman, he was already genetically programmed to be as tight as a duck’s arse, but even his friends were surprised when he stopped going to Cheap Charlie’s in Sukhumvit Soi 11 because he reckoned it was “too expensive” after its beer prices rose to 70 baht. He regularly arrives at bars just before happy hour ends to order six beers at the discounted price. He even gets away with this trick at the posh Huntsman pub in the basement of The Landmark.
When I asked him if he was ever embarrassed by being so cheap, he replied: “My money is as good as anyone else’s. If a bar or a girl doesn’t want it, I will spend it elsewhere. These Isaan gogo dancers asking customers for 3,000 or 4,000 baht make me laugh. Most of them had never seen a 1,000-baht note until they came to Bangkok.”
I spent a week in Koh Samui in the company of a man so cheap that he made Douglas seem like the last of the big spenders. Steve was from Wigan in northern England, where they are careful with their brass. It became apparent that he wasn’t the most romantic of souls when he explained his policy towards the Isaan ambassadors populating Lamai’s many bars.
“I have three golden rules – I never pay barfines, I only go short time because I don’t like waking up with them, and I never give them more than 500 baht,” he announced defiantly as we chatted in the Red Fox Bar, one of the few bars in the area without entertainment providers, providing you discount English landlord Alan.
While I have always approved of budget-conscious partying, it struck me that Steve’s hardline approach would ensure him of celibacy in more expensive Bangkok, but perhaps he would have a chance in Samui in low season when even I can have the allure of Brad Pitt as I wander round bars devoid of customers.
Steve decided to demonstrate his bargaining powers at the plaza of 12 bars within spitting distance of the Red Fox on Walking Street. He was soon approached by a Buriram native and, after the usual formalities, he told her his golden rules and asked if she was up for some action.
“If you don’t pay the barfine of 300 baht, I will have to pay it, so I will be getting only 200 baht,” she protested.
“Not my problem,” Steve replied, folding his arms across his chest.
Being a lazy type and not really wanting to walk back to his room for some mattress gymnastics, he then took the negotiations down another level by pointing at the toilet at the vacant next-door bar. “We could go there,” he suggested. “You won’t really be leaving the bar, so I cannot see why you would have to pay the barfine. I will give you 500. It’s up to you whether you pay the barfine.”
Remarkably, she agreed. They marched off to do the deed in the less than romantic setting of a shithouse. About 20 minutes later, they emerged looking rather dishevelled. There was a spontaneous round of applause from the other bargirls.
Steve decided to reward his girl with a drink, but even then there was a catch. “This drink is for me – it’s not a lady-drink,” he shouted to the cashier as he ordered a Spy wine cooler. When he was served, he handed the bottle to the girl, thus saving the 40-baht lady-drink surcharge.
I asked him if everyone from Wigan was so cheap. “We like to get value for money,” he said. “I had a mate come here on holiday once who went with a girl and only gave her 60 baht to fill up her motorbike. And I forgot to tell you – that girl I just went with wanted me to buy a condom for 10 baht, but I made her get it.”
I felt proud to be British.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been edited from its original format due to the fact that the original poster was so cheap he wouldn’t splurge on paragraphs and they had to be added to make the article readable.]