Living abroad and moving to Asia
The Philippines vs Thailand
When considering a location in Asia to earn their Expat title, many narrow down their choices to either moving to Thailand or moving to the Philippines. There are countless articles from Expats living in each location that will swear that their choice was the best.
Trying to compare the Philippines vs Thailand is like trying to compare a fight between Filipino, Manny Pacquiao (Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao) a world champion boxer and now a senator from the Philippines with the now famous actor from Thailand, Tony Jaa (Muay Thai Actor) as seen in movies like Ong-bak and Furious 7.
Why do I compare these two places with a Muay Thai Kickboxer and a traditional stand-up Boxer? First, I have an interest in combat sports (having taught martial arts my whole life) and I have run martial art camps in both the Philippines and Thailand. It’s something I understand and can relate too.
More importantly is how they are so different and yet can also be seen in a similar light. This is the same between Thailand and the Philippines. It comes down to a personal choice and taking into some individual based considerations that I will explain in this article.
Some people like to watch live boxing, some people like to see kicks and some people prefer to watch movies. Individual interests matter far more than a pros and cons list.
If you were to take away the feet and force a Kickboxer to go toe-to-toe in the ring while limited to following very specific rules, then you may see a boxing champion stomp all over a kickboxer. But when you open up the options and start to allow kicks, an open arena, and some fancier moves, you discover that one might dominate the other in many respects.
So perspective, context, and specific environments can make up the experience here.
One could argue that a boxing champion (in his element) would knock out almost any martial arts Actor that doesn’t have a traditional boxing background. This one-big-truth is akin to how the Philippines is well versed in the English language. For anyone that lives there, this could be a one-punch knockout in every case when comparing it to other places to live.
Having lived in both countries, I have a few thoughts on the matter, and because these locations are so different, my articles are not going to be as biased. However, I do choose an overall winner for me personally and I explain why in this article.
I lived in Thailand before moving to the Philippines.
Since I had already been in Thailand prior to heading to Manila on a whim, I was in a bit of a comparison mode when I traveled. It must be noted that I have lived in different places most of my life. I lived in Europe, and all over the USA before moving to Thailand. So I am not just speaking from a one-move experience.
I see many places as home now and they all are amazing in their own right. I have moved from Asia back to Europe and back to Asia and back to the States. In the end, I have come to learn that after a life of moving (not traveling but actually living in these places) that each location has its value based on the fulfillment and ability to function we relate to in each location.
I now teach this concept of living and what I have learned along the way in my own workshops.
This is more about how you feel in that country or new location. This can be more related to your friends, family and significant other but also closely related to the location itself.
Where you live does matter when it comes to happiness and if you don’t love the rain, you might be a bit of an unhappy camper in Amsterdam or London. But if you absolutely love the architecture and that you can walk through a city and feel its history - these places could be a dream come true.
When I lived in Amsterdam, I used to love just walking around the city and being a part of the movement. An activity I enjoyed was taking up a spot outside the train station (with my hot chocolate) just to people watch. I have never walked as much in a country as I have when I lived in the Netherlands. Because Holland is so tiny, it was easy to get friends together for activities.
It comes down to what joys you have when living in a specific location.
This is about having the ability to accomplish your goals and meet your needs. It is about being able to take action on your own ideas wherever you live.
If you need the internet to work, then being in a village with no WIFI on the top of a beautiful mountain in Mae Hong Son, Thailand may not work for you. At the same time, if you need to network or focus on business, Singapore would be a much better island than Koh Samui Thailand.
Both fulfillment and function make a big difference in the long run. The goal would be to find a location that offers these according to you and your needs. Not according to another person's needs or reasons. Simple pros and cons list between countries might not help you determine your needs.
Learn by doing
Having lived a few years in Thailand, I was curious about what I had read about the Philippines and wanted to see for myself. I was actually in California, then flew to Arizona to consider franchising a business concept and from there I flew back to LA and then to Taipei and finally off to the Philippines.
After some time living in the Philippines that included:
Joining with the Rotary club
Renting a large 4 bedroom house
Starting a web management business
Teaching martial arts
Meeting and making new friends
Becoming a Tito (or Uncle to some great kids)
I was contemplating life back in Thailand and decided I would make a top ten list of the reasons that I thought Thailand was better. I ended up with a list of more than 20 items by comparison.
However, after looking at it from a different perspective, there are many things that the Philippines offers that far outweigh some of the points I listed about Thailand. Meaning, when you look at a Pros and Cons list just by the numbers it makes sense, but what if some of the items in the list had more value?
Remember the boxing analogy. This is to say that each item in a list would also need a value placed on it. And this value is purely dependent on YOU.
If you made a list and chose a winner purely by the numbers, it might look like this:
Item number 1
A good Sandwich:
It has bread
It has lettuce
It has pickle
It has tomatoes
It has a sauce
It has sliced meat
Item number 2
A good Steak
It is just the one item (that being itself) on the list.
In the comparison lists above, one area of focus (the sandwich) has many items while the other has just one. But would you rather have a sandwich or a good steak?
Or perhaps choosing a mate:
Significant other 1:
Has the perfect shape
Maintains their position night and day
Never wavers in thought
Always looks ahead
Significant other 2:
Is simply a Human
One might opt for the first option until they realize that it is a statue.
If you were choosing which was better just based on a list (like a pros and cons list) it doesn’t really make sense unless it makes sense to you.
I did this with a list between Thailand and the Philippines. My list for Thailand was much larger than the Philippines as explained. I won’t give you my complete list (but you are welcome to try to get it from me) but I will discuss a few of the points.
Knowing what you Value most will help you to determine what location might also suit your needs.
A word of warning that should make you take heed and also keep your cool.
Places like Thailand and the Philippines are often in the news and red flags go up on travel sites when Americans, Canadians, Europeans or Australians and the like consider traveling to Thailand or the Philippines, not to mention moving there.
I was in Thailand when the airport was taken over and when the political parties shut down the main district of Bangkok and I was there when the military took over and put it into a coo. I never felt threatened in any of these periods. It was annoying at times because I like using Lumpini park to practice martial arts or go to see a movie in the Paragon or Central World.
The news will make it seem as if the entire country is under turmoil. There were periods where I was living in Pai above Chiang Mai and I never noticed any changes. Or when I was living on the island of Koh Samui and it seemed more like its own country. So you have to take the news with a grain of salt but at the same time, you must be careful and smart too.
If you were to focus your attention on the dangerous locations in America or narrow down your news to what is happening in the worse parts of New York and Los Angeles, you might have some red flags there too.
I lean towards Thailand
For me, the sum of Thailand's parts outweigh the benefits of the Philippines larger pros (like language). This is specific to when it comes to moving and living in a new country in Asia. For others, the Philippines meets more of their Values and so it becomes the country of choice for them.
I love spending time in both places but for my overall needs, Thailand serves for a better location. And, of course, the most popular question to this choice is WHY.
In other articles, I talk in more detail about the very specific items on my list and why I feel they either outweigh the other or come close to a tie. More specifically these articles are about possible debates between Thailand and the Philippines on the following topics:
In this article, I am focused on the overall sum of why I choose Thailand over the Philippines to meet my personal needs.
Why I choose Thailand overall
Remember, I talked about considering the value of each location and what that means to you. If you were to put a value of 1-5 stars for each item, that would help with the math. For me it looked something like this:
Thailand: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Philippines: 2 Stars ⭐⭐
Thailand: 2 Stars ⭐⭐
Philippines: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Thailand: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Philippines: 3 Stars ⭐⭐⭐
Thailand: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Philippines: 3 Stars ⭐⭐⭐
This adds up to Thailand having 17 and the Philippines following with 13
Obviously, I am roughly estimating the stars based on my interests and viewpoints. The idea is to share the overall idea and not nitpick over too many specifics.
To sum up, for me:
The food is better in Thailand and meals are easily accessible even on the street. Although there is a language barrier, it isn’t a deal breaker for me as the Asian culture makes up for it (the Philippines doesn’t feel like Asia) and adds that extra spice. Finally, financially, Thailand is the breadwinner and at the end of your month, you can still afford some Pad Thai.
To see why I value each one of these, please refer to the individual articles on each topic.
Also, keep in mind that any location you choose must meet your need for fulfillment and function. Thailand was always easier for me to meet my more personal needs regarding these two key factors:
Thailand always felt easy to manage. This is especially true when coming from America. For many, it could be the opposite but for me, it just seems like the easiest place to show up at with almost no plan needed.
When I want a beach break in Thailand, it is easy to fly or drive over to an island
I chose Koh Samui Island mainly because it has an airport. However, Samui is much busier now than it was 5 years ago. Back then, you had to wait a few minutes to see a car and now you have to wait a few minutes to not see a car (some may say hours). Many travelers have now discovered Samui (there will be a new location coming soon to replace it).
I choose quieter parts of the islands to reach maximum fulfillment. The idea of living near the beach and have a blue sky is always a great way to improve your daily outlook and escape the hustle and bustle of life.
Thailand has many islands to escape too and even Phuket is one big island and a great place to start for many just entering Thailand. This is because it has a real International Airport and allows you to skip going through the airport in Bangkok.
Why Koh Samui island serves my needs too
Having an airport that is close by means it is always only a hop skip and a jump to get to the city. This is important to me when I want to base my mobile office or program in a new location and still be able to stay on top of things. It is a fast airport to get in and out of, just remember that it is an outdoor airport (like many in Hawaii) so it gets rather hot, so dress accordingly.
When comparing airport travel in the Philippines (specifically Manila), my experiences were more challenging getting through the traffic. Also, it’s a poorly rated airport on a global scale. My students also had more issues with their electronics (traveling with a PS4) in the Philippines.
I didn’t find too many issues myself with the airport other than it didn’t always seem to be very close unless I was staying in Manila.
As I may need to fly to Singapore, Malaysia, Bangkok or even London and Amsterdam quite often, having an airport that doesn’t feel far away serves many of my needs on the function list. I was even surprised at how easy it was to fly to Hong Kong too.
Big City Needs and why I like easy access to places like Bangkok
I also enjoy the bigger cities and Bangkok never fails as I can find a decent serviced apartment that is close to the sky train. I can find what I need in Bangkok if I need to go shopping. This includes clothing, food, and often electronics. In the Philippines, all of these items are more costly and often harder to find.
My usual travel and a mini-retirement pattern are to spend 3-6 months on the islands and then 3-6 months in a city.
There are many other smaller issues that make up a pros list but they are not what qualifies a location as they are not based on the fulfillment and function list. The list must bring you to the conclusion of these two questions:
Does it feel good to be here?
Can I get my sh*t done here too?
Okay, as I already mentioned, check out the other articles for more specifics on why I feel that one location may outperform another.
I hope this article in itself helps you find a location that continues to serve you best in terms of function and fulfillment.
When you take on a new location with these two quantifiers combined, it will add up to more HAPPINESS regardless of where you live.