The rate of marriages between Western men and Thai women registered in Bangkok’s Bangrak district has increased by 10% every year for the past 25 years, reaching half of all registered marriages in 2006, media reports say.
The number of Western-Thai alliances is even more pronounced in north-eastern Thailand, or Isaan, the country’s poorest region.
According to a 2004 study conducted by the National Economic and Development Board, more than 15 000 Thai women chose to marry Western men, meaning one-third of north-eastern families had a female member married to a Western husband.
The average age of these women was 35, while the average age of their husbands – who usually hailed from Scandinavia – or other European countries – was 50, a 2006 national study showed. More than 70% of the women were previously married to a Thai man.
The study also showed the average income of the husband was 60 000 baht ($1 800) a month, or seven times the national average monthly salary.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that the main motivating factor for the Thai women who decide to look for a western husband is financial security,” said Jim Spellman, who runs the knowphuket.com website and is married to a Thai woman.
“This is especially so for those from poor rural areas.”
Once a popular recreation spot for American soldiers during the Vietnam War, Isaan is no stranger to “farangs” or foreigners, but only recently have Thai-Western alliances become accepted.
“Thai society now has more tolerance toward mixed marriage due to globalisation,” said Chintana Monthienvichienchai, a dean at St. John’s University in Bangkok.
“Older generations in the remote villages now accept the “koey farang”, or foreign sons-in-law, wholeheartedly.”
One reason behind this may be the fact that while a good man is hard to find, a Thai man is even harder to find.
Thai women outnumber men by 1 million, and the “gender gap” increases each year, the Bangkok Post newspaper said in a report.
Another reason is the promise of more wealth. According to national figures, women married to foreign men send remittances of an estimated 1.5 billion baht ($43 million) a year to their families in the northeast.
Website simply-thai.com advises Western men: “The first sign that things are getting serious is when she asks you to visit her village.” Other useful titbits range from what to bring on such a trip – mosquito repellent, toilet paper, bottled water – to paying a dowry, and keeping it modest.
The 2007 book “Foreign Boyfriend, Foreign Husband” sought to teach Thai women how to catch and keep a Western man with advice such as always look good and do all the housework.
On the flip side, the Pattaya Daily Mail published a guide for Thai women on how to tell your “farang” husband you want a divorce. Tip number one? Find out why you want a divorce.