Thailand vs. the Latin Tropics

Good Morning,

Guess what? I am in Thailand. My family and I are on our annual family adventure; we found some cheap tickets earlier this year and just couldn’t pass up a chance to visit Asia again.

After visiting the region a few times, I have began to notice some trends, similarities, and differences when compared to the Latin Tropics and thought I would take this week to highlight some of them.

Asia and Thailand have significant advantages over the Latin Tropics, but with all advantages there is often a flip side that is not so pretty.

You know from reading my newsletter that my goal is not to convince you one way or the other, it is to try and present my perspective and hope that my observations will be helpful to you in making the best decision for yourself.

Same thing here in this week’s newsletter.

Thailand is awesome and for many a better choice than the Latin Tropics.

Pros: Thailand vs. The Latin Tropics


-Better organized (Less of a Mañana attitude)

-Easier to deal with government

-More diverse of a cultural experience

-Less division between expat and local culture

Cons: Thailand vs. The Latin Tropics

-More pollution

-More people

-Larger task to assimilate into local culture

-Less focused expat style communities. (This is not a con for some people.)

Details Details

Some of these need a little more explanation, so I get into the details below.

Let’s discuss culture and the expat life a little bit first.

Thailand is teeming with culture. Especially if you come from North America or Europe; it is a different lifestyle.

Obviously Thailand is very attractive to travelers since it has been luring people from all over the world for years and years. In fact Bangkok, Thailand is the 3rd most visited city in the world after London and Paris.

The cultural experience Thailand offers is an absolute positive, but it is also true that the lifestyle is quite different when compared to North America and Europe.

Thailand was never conquered, from a historical point of view the culture of Thailand has been set in stone for many, many years. With an uninterrupted history the culture has only grown stronger and has had to reset itself along the way like in Latin America. This means it is you as an expat that has to bend to the culture. Thailand, it will not accommodate you. Because of this it is more challenging to assimilate into Thai culture when compared to the Latin Tropics. There is simply a bigger gap and for some this will be too challenging, while for others the challenge is exactly what they are looking for in a new place to live.

In the Latin Tropics you don’t have to bend too much. In fact you will notice right away that it is often the culture you are familiar with that is shaping the towns all over the Latin Tropics.

What I mean is that Europeans and North Americans have significant influence on the local level and it is their tastes and desires that influence the feel and look of the environment, especially in expat-centric towns.

This can be a double-edged sword, on one hand expats have the ability to influence local culture in the Latin Tropics, but on the other hand this is often why people don’t like the Latin Tropics. They complain that the lifestyle is too similar to a regular town from back home. Obviously it is not the exact same, but it is close enough that people who really want a new lifestyle can be disappointed by the similar lifestyle that was just transplanted to a new location.

Outside all-inclusive resorts, I don’t see this being an issue in Thailand. Thailand is a rare jewel in terms of culture and it has endured the test of time; the downside of this is that it is not easily influenced and will not resonate with everyone.

Cultures Are More Separated in the Latin Tropics

The other observation I have made is that there is more separation between expats and locals in the Latin Tropics in terms of living.

I hesitated to use the word segregation, and did not because this point is really about cultural differences. The point I am making is not about race as much as it is about how one cultural sees things vs. another.

Look, expats have a different view of how to live than locals in most Latin American towns, and their lifestyle reflects these differences.

It is the same in North America in this regard. I remember going surfing in Santa Cruz, California at a beach there. Every time I went to that beach I would see surfers surfing and Mexican families fishing. This was not about segregation, it was a culturally different way of using the resource of the ocean.

I say this to make the point about expat towns in the Latin Tropics: there are two different cultures who look at the land and resources in different ways and this leads to separate manifestations of community. Expats have a distinctively recreational lifestyle and local Latinos live a more traditional way.

These ways of living feel different, offer different services, and cater to different needs.

In all the countries of the Latin Tropics there are beach towns where local Latinos go and do their thing, and there are other places that are more popular for expat tastes. These lifestyles are just different and it is interesting to me how the Latin American culture accommodates this and allows it to flourish.

When compared to Thailand, the expat lifestyle is also different, but much less influential in terms of the effect it has on expat communities.

Regional Tourism Is Completely Different

Another thing you rarely see is a beach town in Costa Rica, Panama, or any where in the Latin Tropics that is a popular beach town with say Venezuelans or Argentineans; you just don’t get much regional tourism in the Latin Tropics. It is not that it doesn’t happen at all, it is more that it doesn’t happen in large numbers and you are not likely to go to a hotel and meet a bunch of people from any regional countries.

In Thailand this is different, you definitely get regional tourism in expat areas. In many places you are just as likely to see European expats and other Asian tourists, from Japan or China, or whatever Asian country because regional tourism is part of Thailand. People from countries near Thailand trade there in great numbers and the market caters to their needs.

I make this point because it illustrates how influential North Americans and Europeans are in the Latin Tropics because that is mostly who the tourists are there. In Thailand many different countries are visiting but the effect is less focused because of the larger diversity of visitors.

Cost of Living

If price is your main motivator, then Asia and Thailand are hard to beat, period.

The prices for food, lodging, flights, trains, and taxis in Thailand are significantly cheaper and generally better than what you find in the Latin Tropics.

Price is important to me, but I don’t think it is nearly as important as a community that matches your tastes and interests.

Oh! The Humanity

The last part I wanted to address was the garbage, pollution, and crowding comparisons.

Supply and demand is no doubt functioning in high gear in Thailand.

With around 25 million visitors a year vs. 2 million a year in each of Costa Rica and Panama, tourism is simply a whole different kind of industry in Thailand. Things are cheaper and services are better because of the robust economic system in Thailand.

In the Latin Tropics most countries have a tiny population compared to Thailand and that manifests in totally different ways in terms of lifestyle and pricing. Services are often poor, there is not much competition, and things can take forever.

On par, the Latin Tropics are more expensive than Thailand. Ecuador is even more expensive, and it is generally the cheapest country to live in in my neck of the woods.

But there is a price to be paid when you are dealing with so many more people and it can be seen in the environment.

Pollution, garbage on the beach or the rivers, and diesel smog are part of the Latin Tropics, but in Thailand the increased level of humanity takes these issues to new and alarming highs.

Everywhere I have been in Thailand there are smelly rivers, garbage on the beach, and lower levels of local wildlife in general.

The Latin Tropics certainly has environmental issues, but you get the sense of just how new that part of world is vs. the ancient crowded areas of Thailand.

There is a palpable sense of how much pressure is put on an ecosystem in Thailand and Asia and as much as I notice this same thing in the Latin Tropics, it really is nothing when compared to here in Thailand.

You have no doubt noticed I didn’t make any comparisons to real estate prices. I have no intention of doing that because it would take me months to really get a sense of that so you will have to rely on another for that kind of data.

Ok, that is it for this week.

Have a great weekend.

Josh Linnes | Viva Tropical