Life in ThailandThai ways of living - be it countryside or city - have their own distinct styles, rhythms and habits. The kingdom, and especially Bangkok, is also home to an interesting variety of locals and expatriates. Learn about the views and lives of local and expatriate communities, in addition to helpful tips for those exploring and living a Life in Thailand.
“Toughness, patience, and endurance – these are typical Korean characteristics,” said Jeon Yong Chang, president of the Korean Association in Thailand, during my recent visit to the group's headquarters in downtown Bangkok.
It's estimated that about 30,000 Koreans study or work in Thailand. They're largely attracted by the weather, which is far better than Korea, Thai cuisine, the country's overall convenience and facilities, and, above all, the open-mindedness of the Thai people.
A home from home
Living in a foreign country is not easy for anyone, even if you're from a culture where you're brought up to be tough. Koreans created the association mainly to help nationals living in Thailand sort out everyday problems, particularly those relating to language, as well as to bridge the gap between Korean expatriates and Thailand's government departments, and create an environment where Koreans can join together and feel as comfortable as they would in their motherland.
The Korean Association in Thailand is a non-profit organization supported by each and every Korean national, along with business sectors. Korean businesses, such as small industries, factories, restaurants, or travel agencies, for example, vote through their representatives to elect the president of the association.
The association organizes activities three times a year so Korean can meet together and catch up. Some activities are entertainment-oriented, such as concerts featuring Korean artists, orchestras, or even karaoke contests. Other activities might have a sporting focus, such as a baseball or football competition or a visit to a golf club.
Twenty-five-year-old Ji Sun Ho has lived in Bangkok now for 10 years. She says that Korean men are particularly keen on golf. Fortunately, Thailand is a haven for golf fans since the country boasts so many affordable yet high-quality courses. So golf courses are another popular place for Koreans to hang out.
The association, along with its members and volunteers, also get involved in charity-related activities, such as raising funds for local orphans, the elderly, or poor communities.
Places of worship
Koreans can meet up with fellow Koreans at numerous places of worship across the capital. There are two Korean temples located in Bangkok – Hun Ma Um Sangon on Ekkamai Soi 5, and Neung In Sagnon on Chidlom Road – as well as thirteen Christian churches. The most popular church among the city's Korean community is the Korean Union Church near Ratchadapisek Road. It is estimated that on a typical Sunday, a church in Bangkok can reunite up to 150-200 Korean expats.
Korean Union Church is particularly popular among children and young people since it is the only church that organizes specific activities for them. Most of the building's four floors are dedicated to children's activities, with each floor representing a 'zone'. On the first and second floors, children can learn about the bible and sing hymns. The room at the top of the building – labeled Y.C.G. – is specially reserved for 'Young Christian Generations' (Y.C.G.)
Tae Sun Sim, a teacher at the church, said the church is like a home for the children since they're able to meet and discuss their problems with each other, like brothers and sisters might do. Moreover, children who come to Thailand alone are well looked after by older residents.
When Sunday morning religious activities come to a close, the youngsters head for the church's canteen on the second floor of the building to have lunch together. After lunch they retreat to the Y.C.G. room, where they can study the bible and sing hymns together.
Ji Sun Ho said that most young Koreans in Bangkok study at the Assumption University of Thailand (Abac). In terms of foreign students, Koreans form the largest group at Abac and the youngsters studying there tend to join the university's Korean club. Older students tend to encourage the younger ones to go to church so the Y.C.G. is almost like a small federation for young Koreans living in the capital.
Other smaller entities have helped to build a significant Korean community in Bangkok. A private broadcasting server was established so that television programs can be transmitted direct from Korea.
In terms of business, executives from large Korean companies and entrepreneurs keep in touch with each other in case that they need each other's help or support. The association provides basic information on doing business in Thailand should Korean companies show an interest in expanding into the kingdom. In return, the companies provide support to the association.
The association produces Hello Thailand magazine every two months so that members can keep up to date with all the latest developments in Thailand and within the community.
A town in town
Bangkok has its own 'Korean Town', which is located at Sukhumvit Plaza on Sukhumvit Soi 12, almost opposite Asoke Road. Here you'll find lots of Korean restaurants and karaoke shops. There are also several Korean travel agencies located along Rama III Road, while Korean students tend to hang out after class around Abac on Ramkhamhaeng Road.
And while Bangkok's Korean community seems to be growing stronger, ties between Thais and Koreans seem to be getting closer.
Hong Ji Hee, managing director of Korea Thailand Communication Center (KTCC) and PR director of the Korean Association, said that young Thais are becoming increasingly interested in Korean culture. Apparently more than 60 local boys and girls recently visited an exhibition organized by KTCC in a single day, she said. Thais seem to becoming more interested in Korean food, while travel to Korea is also becoming more popular.
Hong Ji Hee proudly declared that she is proud of Korea's relationship with Thailand, the country where she now lives. She said Thailand is Koreans number one tourist destinations. In terms of statistics on visitors to Thailand, Koreans are the second biggest group after Chinese tourists.
“Every Korean expatriate sees Thailand as one of the world's most pleasant places to live, and is filled with interesting cultural heritage,” she said. “We sincerely hope that Thai people will like our culture, too.”