Hangover from Hell: Hundreds of Westerners Living on the Streets of Thailand

Left penniless by Thai girlfriends, or wrestling with drinking or substance abuse problems, many have nowhere else to go

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Athit Perawongmetha / Getty Images

A man sleeps on the street in Bangkok, Thailand

A Thai charity has revealed that a growing number of Westerners — around 200 at present — are sleeping rough on the streets of the Southeast Asian nation, in areas from Chiang Mai to Phuket, many doing so as a result of alcoholism, drug use or having spent all their money on local women.

“We are starting to see more and more homeless foreigners, many of whom have separated from their Thai wives and now have no money,” said Natee Saravari, secretary-general of the Issarachon Foundation. “They walk or sit in shopping malls during the daytime and scavenge through garbage for food at night.”

The disclosure has to be put in the context of homelessness in Thailand in general. An estimated 30,000 homeless Thai nationals share the same streets, as well as an indeterminate number of Lao, Burmese and Cambodians. However, the conspicuousness of homeless Westerners — an extraordinary sight to Thais who generally presume that Western residents are relatively affluent — makes them an eye-catching subject for local media.

One man who is unsurprised by these developments is Paul Garrigan. The 44-year-old Irishman spent five years “drinking himself to death” in Thailand before quitting in 2006 and has since written a book about his experiences. “Some people come to Thailand and they already have a drink or drug problem but they have it under control in their own country,” he tells TIME, “but then the restrictions have gone and that addiction can blossom.”

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In addition, romantic complications, typically with “bar girls,” can prove wretchedly pivotal. On Aug. 25, the Bangkok Post published an interview with a 61-year-old American living on the streets of Pattaya, a seaside town with an infamous sex industry just south of Bangkok. Originally from North Carolina, Sylvester fell for a local bar girl in 2009 and spent all his savings buying a car and a truck in her name. Two years later, she left him penniless. “On the beach, I have friends who are homeless Thais,” he said. “We share food, cigarettes and some alcoholic drinks.”

A wealth of books has been written about the folly of tangling with bar girls but pitiful stories abound. “It’s the inability of the foreign guy to separate the truth from what they are being told,” says Rhys Bonney, a visa consultant based in the northern city of Chiang Mai, who is currently dealing with several clients in a similar financial situation to Sylvester.

Foreigners seeking a little companionship become easy prey, Bonney says. Unfamiliar with Thai bureaucracy, they get pressured into buying cars in their girlfriend’s name. “The reality is that there’s no difficulty to do it in their own [name],” he explains. Next they buy a house in her name with the proviso that they will share everything equally, but no legal documents are signed to that effect. “And when they’ve paid the money the girlfriend can just kick them out,” Bonney adds.

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Once that happens, the absence of any social safety net means escaping the streets can be very problematic. “If I was homeless in Thailand, I would probably still be on the streets,” adds Garrigan.

Some help is available, however. The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok “is definitely one of the busier posts out there” says spokesman Walter Braunohler, who, while unable to provide precise figures, tells TIME repatriation requests from destitute Americans is “more than a trickle.” Sending somebody home costs around $2,000, the majority spent on airfare but also on temporary lodging, meals, medical treatment and immigration fines. Friends and family back home are sounded out for a loan, but should none be forthcoming the government will stump up the cost to be repaid upon return. Other embassies work on a similar basis.

Ultimately though, while the sight of homeless Westerners is saddening, it must be remembered that far greater ills exist on Thailand’s mean streets. Alezandra Russell runs the charity Urban Light, which helps young male sex workers in Northern Thailand, many of them illegal immigrants fleeing Burma’s bloody civil conflicts.

“You will not find in any report the teen boy who sleeps in the flower market and is approached by a pimp every night,” she says, “or the boy who works in the red light district from a hill-tribe village and speaks only his native language.”

One person living without a home is a travesty, but at least Westerners in Thailand can be counted. For many of Thailand’s most vulnerable, says Russell, “There are no numbers.”

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35 comments
WhoKnows?
WhoKnows?

I saw the con part of this happening when I was stationed in Korea in the mid 70’s. I was fresh out of high school and cast into a place where anything went for a buck. The bar girls would prey on the young GI’s to squeeze as much money out of them as possible.

 First they would work you in the bar to buy them drinks, meals and the night with them. If you were an easy squeeze that came back to them later, they would start working you to move in with them and pay the rent and furnish the place. Once you were hooked they would hit you with some crazy debit that had to be paid off so they could get their freedom.

 I watched my best friend go through this step by step and at each step I cautioned him that he was being played. When he got to the final step I begged him not to take a loan out to free his girl but he took out a seven thousand dollar loan for her freedom. She dumped him the next week. It’s an amazing thing to watch a train wreck in slow motion.

 In all, I saw three people I knew go through this in the year I was there. They all thought it was love and would last forever. Wow, huh, some people are really good at conning others out of things. But truth be told, like someone else mentioned earlier in the comments, these were not the best looking guys who were with amazing looking girls who would not have given them the time of day state side.

TimFuller
TimFuller

So it's just like in America, except the girl has to rely on the state to give her the house when she dumps you no matter whose name is on it.

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

Thailand attracts homeless, criminals, and substance abusers from all of Europe: drugs and alcohol are cheap and plentiful, and the police underpaid, overworked and corrupt. Some countries even pay welfare to their dregs abroad, effectively exporting their social problems, and of course the addicts get a lot more booze or heroin for their euros in Thailand than in Germany.

Those are sad, but worse are the pedophiles, who pursue their perversion completely in the open. In Phuket I watched one British pedo try to pick up small girls on the way to school.

It's a lovely country and I found the people kind and warm, but the tourist industry in Thailand has some really dark and ugly sides to it.

john_rambo
john_rambo

I remember when Phuket was still a Shangri-La 27 years ago. Now its a dump attracting the same spotty expats who frequent Pattaya. Thai's will always screw over the farang if given the chance (especially the bar girls from Udon). They are a greedy culture. Beware the razor teeth behind the "smile". That said if you're hip to scams it can be a great place.

indiansbrowns1
indiansbrowns1

As an expat who lived both in Thailand and the Philippines....the difference is like night and day.  Thai women are notoiously  faithless, materialistic, and cold-hearted.    You won't find "100s" of western foreigners on Philippine streets because of their women's catholic upbringing, respect for elders, love for most things American, and above all.....family.  Their peers and culture would never sanction them abandoning a long time partner for no good reason.   On the other hand, Filipinas, often pressured by jobless boyfriends, are experts at SCAMMING lonely foreingers on-line or tourists on short term visits.

Pick your poison.


Afreedomfighter
Afreedomfighter

don't you ever go out and have a good time? i really feel sorry for folks that have to constantly criticize and judge others and leave no time for love and fun. loosen up, go forth and enjoy life and try to contribute something positive.

Openminded1
Openminded1

when moron men, who no women in the states would give the time of day to, go to places like Thailand to fine love they get what they deserve. they find a pretty Thai girl who they think loves them. How stupid and delusional are these men to believe that a beautiful women would have anything to do with them. they get depressed, broke, and addicted to drugs and become homeless morons without a country. Dumb asses.

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

I feel much less sympathy for someone who wasted away wealth than someone who has never seen wealth. 30,000 homeless Thais is a much sadder figure than 200 homeless westerners in Thailand. 

jimmac1256
jimmac1256

Stupid is stupid does.....this happens every where in the world...I have seen dirty old men give all their money away to some young hot stripper thinking they love them.

MikeMihata
MikeMihata

yes it's not only Thailand whre this happens, happens in the states I'm sure, but What John says is true next time you think of the girls as being victims of the sex trade also think about the men who were victims as he calls "cunning" women who were able to extract with their charm all the money from these men.

upena1
upena1

So, you took a BS article in the Bangkok Post and wrote another BS article with very few facts whatsoever.

JohnPrewett
JohnPrewett

   Next time you see story of predatory Western men coming to Thailand [where I've lived since 1998] and taking advantage of the poor oppressed women,... balance that against the stories of men who were taken advantage of by cunning women.   Decent people as well as rats come in all races and in both genders.    Anyone looking for poster boys of deadbeats/down and outs can find plenty on the streets of America,..and it is happening world over.

DanBruce
DanBruce

Maybe deadbeats living on the streets of Thailand will replace dead rock stars as the poster boys of drug use.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

I presume this is happening the world over .

mahadragon
mahadragon

@indiansbrowns1 Don't understand your comment. Aren't Filipina's females from the Phillipines? Am I missing something here? First you say Philippine women have a Catholic upbringing, respect for elders, and love for American things. Then you say Filipinas are experts at scamming foreigners.

ChrisMcCoy
ChrisMcCoy

@Openminded1 Is that anything like moron women going on "Eat, Pray, Love" vacations in the belief they are going to meet their dream man in Asia? They spend thousands to to live a fantasy in a book. Most are fat, or old, but there they are.

My point being BOTH sexes do stupid things for love and affection. Don't criticize unless you are in their shoes. It is far too easy to manipulate a lonely person, regardless of their gonads. 

Afreedomfighter
Afreedomfighter

Closedminded. don't you ever go out and have a good time? i really feel sorry for folks that have to constantly criticize and judge others and leave no time for love and fun. loosen up, go forth and enjoy life and try to contribute something positive.

jack_sprat
jack_sprat

@Openminded1 That's it, pile on. After all, there's no chance whatsoever that any of these men might be actual human beings, is there? No, of course not, they deserve only your contempt. Losers, each of whom surely merits their wretchedness. They certainly couldn't be worth any of the tender sentiments to which even the meanest woman is entitled as a birth right.

CobaltBomb
CobaltBomb

@jimmac1256 And what about the lonely ones? Have you seen any of them through your myopic, unempathetic eyes?

jack_sprat
jack_sprat

@jimmac1256 Well, buck up. Lots of dirty old women are getting in their innings these days. No doubt you'll have similarly harsh words for them. (In a pig's eye!)

mahadragon
mahadragon

@MikeMihata Your comment is pure B.S. It takes 2 to tango. You call these women "cunning"? These guys go to the red light districts to pick up women. Of course they are desperate and the men know it. It doesn't take long to figure out the woman you are sleeping with is honest or not.

TimFuller
TimFuller

@DanBruce Exactly.  Just look at how down in the gutter all those Rolling Stones are these days.  It's gotten so bad they can only fill half the stadiums in the world when they tour now.  Enjoy.

TimFuller
TimFuller

@mahadragon @indiansbrowns1 Being Catholic and scamming people are not mutually exclusive.  I'd posit that a predilection towards one leads directly to the other.  Enjoy.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Afreedomfighter You are new to posting here so i will enlighten you. I am the guy who has said what you posted to me to over 100 posters on here maybe even more since i have over almost 4000 post. I agree and as a retired man I have plenty of fun 2 cruises a year I live 32 floors up over looking Miami beach my wife and I are in to fine wines and dining and average 3 vaations a year for a 63 year old not bad. what you see that I post here is messing with bleeding heart liberals that is also fun because they and maybe you I do not know are easy and weak. but thanks for the concern but not needed.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@jack_sprat @Openminded1 the are humans, delusional,naive, and hopeful. but they lack common sense and did not most likely research very well into the conditions and circumstances of previous men who ventured out into the same world looking for love and ending up homeless without a country so to speak. Maybe some one like you should get involved and communicate with the American embassy in Thailand and get to help get these dummy Americans out of there. You feel strong about helping and having empathy for them put up or shut up.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@jack_sprat @jimmac1256  Jack sounds like you have had personal experience with women screwing over you. I guess you were naive too and a bit dumb thinking you can find love with a women so far out of your league. that is called one of two things delusional or stupid, maybe both. good luck in the future with that. My recommendation for a guy like you his pay for the Occasional hooker and that way you will not go broke and have to pawn the computer you are using.

jimmac1256
jimmac1256

@jack_sprat @jimmac1256 Jack is that you laying on the park bench ?

I can't help you got suckered  by some ho..I know a lot of cougars  who think having some young stud on their arm spending their money  makes them younger.....They are FOOLS also...

mahadragon
mahadragon

@MikeMihata If anyone is "cunning" it's the western men who take advantage of these poor uneducated women in Thailand. The shoe is on the other foot.

TimFuller
TimFuller

@Openminded1 @cbinmd @Afreedomfighter Your thousands of posts do not impress me one iota.  You should see my Twitter output.  Hell, I've got nearly as many excellent blog entries as you have in wine-addled comments. Enjoy.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@cbinmd @Openminded1 @Afreedomfighter this is not english class dumbo and I am way past you in years and experience, not to mention a BA in criminal justice. I type at 125 words a minute moron, I do not proof read nor do i worry about syntax or punctuation at this speed. you try it at this speed . You understood what i said and i have over 4600 post on here that everyone understood. You just keep on correcting yourself son leave the adult matters to adults.