Why Thailand Is A Third World Country

I’m aware that Thailand likes to think of itself as a developed country and dislikes being considered a third world country. No one likes being thought of in that way. Nonetheless, there are some very pointed reasons as to why Thailand is still a third world country, no matter how serious of efforts they have made in overcoming that status in recent years. Of course, I say this not to ridicule Thailand, but rather to at least comment on the factors that make a country third world for the rest of us to ponder rather seriously about.

For one, nations that cannot keep their utilities up to date are third world countries. For example, a couple of days ago we lost power for a few hours, and there has been no water at all this morning. Nations that can’t keep their utilities going strong for villages close to major cities, especially under normal circumstances like today, don’t get the right to consider themselves developed countries. It may not seem fair, but people in developed countries take electricity, running water, and internet for granted these days. Having one’s internet slow down is a first world problem. Not having any running water to flush the toilet or take a shower is a third world problem. By that standard Thailand is still a third world country, sadly.

Another issue is that first world countries have better infrastructures than third world countries. Utilities, of course, are a part of a nation’s infrastructure, but not the only part. If a nation’s logistics systems are dependent on one port, or if their transportation networks depend on a single hub, that nation is clearly third world and undeveloped. First world nations have a variety of backup systems that can pick up the slack and have much more developed infrastructures and logistics systems. Third world countries depend on one central point–usually a capital (but not always) for access.

Nonetheless, we have to be careful to judge on a scale that allows us to see Thailand as fairly high on the third world scale. For example, Thailand is clearly less third world than Ghana or Burma or Laos. In fact, Thailand is probably only a little bit of work from moving out of the third world altogether, if it can develop some alternate entries for logistics and tighten up its infrastructure a bit. But, the point remains that Thailand does need work, which it may not be particularly interested in hearing as it seeks to build massive factories and projects in its neighboring and still less developed countries.

Of course, it is also worthwhile to remember that the same problem could affect other nations that consider themselves first world. If utilities and infrastructure collapse in a more developed country, then it too will see itself slide into the third world. We must be careful not to only point the finger at others but also examine ourselves. If we eat our seed corn and do not provide for the future, we too will see ourselves in the same situation, high and dry without the utilities and amenities we take for granted in our own lives. We cannot take these things for granted.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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70 Responses to Why Thailand Is A Third World Country

  1. iremdemir says:

    I didn’t know that Thailand was doing that much bad.But I still think that its a way more improved than African countries.You have seen both Africa and Thailand, you know better than I do.

  2. Whataloadifrubbish says:

    Your opinion is just that – an opinion. Dont try to speak on behalf of others

  3. Sinit says:

    I agree Thailand is definitely not a first world country. We still have a long way to go yet. Still, don’t you think Thailand is much better off (in terms of technology, facilities etc. and even poverty) than many countries that are considered to be third world now?

    Shouldn’t Thailand be considered a second world country?

    • Sinit, I thought about that. After all, my life here in the area of Chiang Mai is pretty civilized. Even though I live in a small village, it is close enough to the city that my life is definitely at least second world, as is the life of the majority of the town dwellers around me. If one judged by cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, or the tourist attractions like Ko Samui and Phuket and Mae Hong Son, Thailand would be at least a second world nation. But there is the matter of Thailand’s poorer areas in the north and northeast of the country to consider. Some development of those areas would be required for Thailand to reach second world, though I do not think it is far from the level of second world nations like a Bulgaria or Greece or Chile, for example, and is certainly far above some of the third world countries I have visited like Ghana.

      • Sinit says:

        I see I still have a lot to learn. I did a bit of research and found China listed as second world, but that might have a lot to do with its history? Having visited China, I fail to see how the problem of Thailand’s poorer areas can be seen as worse off than the so-called Middle Kingdom’s …?

      • It is true that China’s lows are not that much better, if at all, than Thailand, but neither are Thailand’s highs (including its export economy) as high as China’s either, even with the fraud in China’s economic calculations. I do not think it would take that much to make Thailand a second world nation in the eyes of the world–some constitutional changes would help, a greater societal interest in education, along with some greater distribution of economic development to the Isan and hill tribes areas, but with sufficient political will these problems would not be too difficult to solve.

      • Sinit says:

        Thanks for the reply!

      • You’re very welcome :).

  4. Thai says:

    I can’t believe that you people believe everything you read!!! Do you know the true meaning of third world country? Sonic guy it has nothing to do with wealth of a country. Saudi Arabia is a 3rd world country and is a very wealthy country. 3rd world country has to do with the cold war. It simply states whether the country is a capitalist, social list, or neither. Talking about Thailand. Do you know? Thailand is the only south east Asian country to have never been occupied or taken over by another country??? There has been many fights for china etc. to try and rule Thailand. Has never happened! Will not ever happen! So sonic guy shut your mouth before you speak. So you live in Thailand and you don’t own nothing. You can’t ever own property in Thailand. You have to be a Thai citizen. So after you dump all your money there your land goes back to the government unless it is in your Thai wife’s name. Yeah Thailand has poor people. So does the USA. Remember in the US there is only 1% considered rich. There are more people on welfare than there are people starving in Thailand. I say they are smarter because before they spend Thai money to create all the glamor us American want they let us build it and take it back from them after it is built.

    • You don’t really know what you’re talking about. It is true that Thailand was never a colony, unlike the rest of Southeast Asia, but they were “occupied” by Japan during WWII, unless you are willing to concede that Thailand was a Nazi/Fascist state during that period of history. And there are different conceptions of the third world–one of them is based on the Cold War, as you state, but another is based on economic development. It is not the wealthy of the richest that makes a nation first world, but the standard of living of the common, ordinary person. If Thailand truly aspires to be a developed nation, it is going to need to increase the standard of living of its Isan-Thai and northern Thai (Shan) populations. Until it does that, all of the wealth in Bangkok won’t make Thailand first world in the eyes of geographers or public opinion. Your move, Thai.

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  6. eddie says:

    dont let 1 city like Bangkok sway your opinion that Thailand is an advanced society. Their gov’t is highly corrupt, education system is lacking. ZERO social welfare system or health care anything that remotely helps it’s citizens are mainly funded by NGOs.

    Simply step out side of the 3 major cities, Ayuttaya, Bangkok or Changmai and you’ll quickly see how Third world this country really is. Police do not police, no one obey’s traffic regulations, people litter, little no roads or pavements anywhere outside Bangkok. Not to mention every year their are protests with citizens end up being shot before or after an election.

    Bangkok itself is 2nd world, the you gotta look at the whole country not just one city or two you’ve visited.

    • I can’t agree with you more. That’s why I said that Thailand was a third world society. I spent most of my time there (I have since returned to the United States) in a small village with inconsistent electricity and little indoor plumbing. It reminded me of Ghana, and no one denies that Ghana is third world. Of course the glitz and glamor of some of the big cities is better, but the level of development within a society is not based on how the wealthiest live, it’s how the population as a whole lives. And by that standard, Thailand is definitely third world.

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  8. Dennis says:

    Thanks for the article. Couldn’t agree with you more on this. I’ve seen a lot of what you’ve seen in the poorer, less developed provinces and I can say, Thailand is definitely a third world. That “THAI” guy obviously has never seen any of the real poverty here and the corruption with the government and law enforcement. Either that or chooses to ignore it and his patriotism for Thailand has blinded him from reality and has set him in denial.I’m very proud to be Thai too and I love our kings but I’m not going around saying it’s the best country in the world simply because of the fact that It’s never been colonized by any other country.I was born and raised in Texas (American citizen but Thai heritage though) and I can tell you that the poorest areas I’ve been to while living there, especially around Dallas, seemed like gated, luxurious neighborhoods compared to the slums and less-developed areas in Thailand. Articles like yours definitely help drive a “nail of truth” into some ignorant and misinformed skulls. You’ve experienced something before you wrote about it and shared to the world and I agree with every word you’ve written since I’ve experienced some similar things also while here in Thailand. A lot of work still needs to be done to improve Thailand’s status in the world and it needs to start with the corrupt government. Thanks again for the article and Keep it up. Sawadee kup.

    • You’re very welcome. Contrary to the belief of some, I’m not hostile towards the Thais at all, and I loved the friendliness and eagerness of the Thai people I taught to learn English and to better themselves. That said, Thailand has some major problems with corruption and maldevelopment, and living in a little village outside of Chiang Mai and traveling to refugee camps and other areas in the north of the country was very eye-opening. I hope that the people of Thailand (like yourself) may be encouraged to help better your country and make it the best it can be for everyone, so that those outside of the elites may enjoy the hope of decent living conditions, a good education, and the honor and respect of others. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words; I appreciate them.

    • Dave says:

      It’s refreshing to see a Thai person looking at their country objectively and not being blinded by national pride. If the government can get over its attitude that the world needs to let Thailand play by its own rules, they’d be on the right track. This really came to light at the end of last year with the futsal stadium embarrassment and the police’s inconsiderate response to the rape of a tourist in Krabi.

      I’ve spent a lot of time in Thailand on my travels, but the more I learn about the country, the less I feel I could settle down there unless there are some big changes. I’m not talking about home comforts, but the widespread greed and corruption. I feel so sad for the young women who feel they have to whore themselves to dirty old tourists for a good life, but the country drives them to it.

      • I’m not Thai myself, though I did live in Thailand when I wrote this blog entry. Many of the Thai people who have read this have been blinded to the serious flaws of their culture (corruption is a big problem), but some people are aware of the widespread and top-down nature of the problems that Thailand faces. Thanks for appreciating the blog entry :).

  9. lynn says:

    Hello! I like how upfront you are. I am thinking of moving to Thailand, do you have an email? I’d like to talk more privately if that ok.

  10. Jangle23 says:

    None of you seem to have the slightest clue as to what first, second, or third world means. You say Thailand is third world but can seem second world? You really don’t know how silly that sounds?
    http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/third_world_countries.htm

    • Jangle23 says:

      And before I get a “second definition” retort. Using third world to mean poor or underdeveloped is incorrect, but well known so usable to an extent. But second world is almost never used anymore, and especially not to indicate a country that simply “ranks” between first and third world. It’s an antiquated Cold War expression. Retire it.

      • You seem to be a bit bossy on someone else’s territory, and that’s not something I appreciate. As I used the term, there would be four worlds of economic development, where first world would be highly developed, second world would be high moderate development (like Chile or the new European Union countries of Eastern Europe), while third world would be low moderate and forth world would be poorly developed nations (like most of Africa, Laos, and so on). There are parts of Thailand that appear to be first or second world, but it is the inequality and lack of development (moral and economic) over the country as a whole that leads to its designation as a third world country. You seem to anticipate that you are going to get a retort for your message, and you assume correctly. You don’t get to decide what definitions are legitimate. You just have to work with what is–and your narrow definition of three worlds assuming a Cold War perspective is incorrect. Please retire your definition, as well as your attitude.

    • You appear not to have a clue either (see your second comment), but thanks for the link :).

  11. Jay says:

    I am an Australian living in Thailand. Australia is considered a developed 1st world county however as I sit here and type this on my phone in a French cafe in a Bangkok I am surrounded by Thai people using thier MacBooks, iPads and smartphones… Many obviously are students and others are just regular Thais enjoying a coffee… Litterally everyone in here is playing with there technology to an extent that I never saw back in Australia. You will see the same thing on the sky train or most places you go around Bangkok. I have traveled the world and Bangkok is certainly one of the most dynamic and cosmopolitan cities I have seen. I see more expensive sports cars on the road here (and with the tax they cost a lot more here than most other places). Also the development in this city is overwhelming… You literally can’t turn around with out seeing a new hotel, condo or shopping mall going up in this city… Now having said all that obviously there is a lot of poverty and a standard of living that exists that is well below that of what I am used to… However, a lot of what we consider as third world conditions when referring to the rice farmers and people from regional areas is in fact just a more traditional why of living… I am not going to deny that there is some extream poverty and third world conditions that exist in Thailand however I think you need to look at the country as a whole and consider the extream wealth and extream poverty to really understand that it is a country of extream classes where first, second and third world conditions exist together in one amazing country… This is just my own personal opinion from my own obsivation and experiences.

    • To be certain, Thailand has areas that are well developed, as you mention, but the level of development for a nation as a whole is not determined by its wealthy (and often corrupt) elites, but by the standard of living of the common people at large. If Thailand wants to be thought of as a more developed country, its riches and resources need to be enjoyed by the people at large, especially in peripheral areas like the North, Northeast, and Deep South.

      • A random person. says:

        Sure,If their government can stop focusing on modernizing and prioritizing Bangkok too much that is.And for the Deep South,Before they start doing an area sweep,They should invest more into their military first.Most of it are still in the Soviet-era.But it’s a good place for criminals to slack their arses off.The bribes are cheap,Not as cheap as Laos and other more undeveloped country though.20 Baht is enough for you to get rid of a cop in Thailand.Besides,The cops don’t usually give much f**ks about criminals,If it’s not under the military junta that is.

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  14. humanvoice says:

    A developed nation is defined by things like accessibility to healthcare, education and fair employment. In developed nations the government takes care of its people and does things that advance the country as a whole.
    The number of modern shopping malls, luxury cars and smartphones does NOT determine how advanced a society is. It merely shows that that are a lot of wealthy people (among many poor people) and also people who live on credit (don’t forget that debt plays a huge role in these countries).
    A lot of the things you see in Thailand are a facade that deceives you from reality. Society in Bangkok might seem to be modern in many ways, but behind the looks there is a lot of ancient thinking. It is a very classist and xenophobic society in many ways and there is absolutely no consideration for the poor and not so well-off. Even if people are smart and gifted, they have usually no chance to step high in the career-ladder since it is all about having the right connections – elite helps elite!
    This inequality is a defining quality of third-world country and inequality is what you see in Thailand at every corner. The rich life comfortable lives on the cost of the poor in here to a level that is unseen in America or Europe.
    And by the way, if you think that all these people that walk around like hi-so are so advanced, you might wanna strike some of them up in a conversation (if you are lucky they will talk to you, mostly they don’t want) and figure out how advanced their knowledge of the world is. You might be surprised how little most of them know. Of course there are also some extremely smart and educated people in here, but they are not the norm and of all the hi-so looking people they are just a small minority.

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  18. Chris says:

    Interesting, a friend of mine is a wealthy lawyer from Bangkok. We were both studying in Melbourne Australia and this topic came up, it didn’t matter what statistic I used he absolutely insisted that the living standards of the average person was on par or higher than the average Australian. He was deeply sincere in his belief that poverty does not exist in Thailand. He would say that water is free, and food is cheap so no one goes hungry. I have never really fully reconciled his comments, are the wealthy people from Bangkok really this out of touch?

    • I think so; I mean, if you are wealthy enough, you might never see a poor person except for your maid or some waiter or waitress. On the other hand, if you live in a small village, it’s rather hard to escape the poverty of the nation.

  19. Steve Chan says:

    How about “second world”?

    It’s ridiculous to put Thailand in the same category as the undeveloped countries such as those in Africa.

    To be frank, I’d rather live in Thailand than in Chi-na (much more polluted and unsafe in so many areas).

    Thailand to me is a land of extremes. You can find some very sophisticated areas and facilities (such as the BTS, shopping malls, posh restaurants) while other areas can be extremely impoverished and spartan. And positive changes have been taking place.

    • Perhaps positive changes have been taking place, but even so, I would consider many of the nations in Africa you cite as 4th world (along with Burma/Myanmar and Laos), so it is the impoverished areas you speak of that keep Thailand from being on the level, say, of 2nd world Eastern Europe.

  20. winslodj says:

    I have spent the last 6 years in a 3rd world country. I go to Thailand for great medical care, the mental break of a country with a more stable infrastructure, and for many needs that my 3rd world country does not have. Thailand is not first world, but it is a wonderful country and far from what a 3rd world country truly is.

  21. winslodj says:

    I agree there are some things Thailand has in common with a 3rd world country, but still I think it is 2nd world. I am happy you are writing your opinions with the perspective of someone who has lived abroad and traveled. Thank you for sharing your opinion.

  22. WhateverNotMatter says:

    I just found your blog and read some entries about Thailand. Thank you for sharing them and providing a place for discussion on these issues, which Thai people hardly talk about.

    They misunderstand what (under)development actually is. I completely agree with humanvoice’s comment, but most of Thai people don’t seem to know that at all.

    I planned to do some research and write an article about underdevelopment in this country, although not in a formal or technical way, and I would like to have your opinions as a foreigner.

  23. Chris St John says:

    Sitting in the courtyard of my hotel in Chiang Mai thinking how best to describe Thailand. Most Thais have cell phones and seem to be well feed and happy. But there is still trash in the street and your shower at at anytime can change from hot to ice cold. Wow what a first world problem. Yet there is excitement in the air, of possibilities. The welcoming of internationals and absorbing the new customs they bring. Of keeping their culture close yet learning how to serve the best American breakfast. Thailand may not be close to a 1st world country, but as a selfish American I would not change a thing.

    • I was not very far from Chiang Mai for over a year, and would have stayed longer if I could have, and I would not disagree with you at all. It is not for us to change their country as it is.

  24. John says:

    I just returned from a 30 day trip to Thailand. I enjoyed my travels and the people of TL.
    I do not know the clear definition of “third world”, but TL needs substantial development in order to compare to European countries, the USA, Australia and New Zeeland.
    I found TL utilities, standards for restaurant/food hygiene, and general infrastructure to be lacking.
    Thailand is much more developed/advanced than most African countries.

    • That’s a very fair statement. I would consider Thailand to be a lower middle class nation in terms of its development, and most African nations to be less developed countries. Still, clear definition is often lacking in these matters.

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  26. Sezzy says:

    Hello! 😆
    I can’t help but think you (original blogger) may have expressed an opinion out of frustration of being out of power, perhaps?
    I am from Australia and it may not last for days but due to some extream weather conditions we experience times of discomfort that is unavoidable here too, so I am somewhat adaptable I suppose. 😉
    I have not done a great deal of travel but I have been to Thailand and am returning this year because I enjoyed it so much! Not so much Bangkok, simply because I grew up in a city (Sydney) and strongly dislike the energy of overcrowded society driven environments and now I live happily on tank water in the hinterlands of the South East QLD, I have lost electricity and run out of water but such is life, I don’t get bent out of shape I light some candles and wait for the sun to rise again, as it does.
    We are so glued to our creature comforts that we would not know how to live as earthlings without it, scary that.
    In Australia we are constantly exposed through the media of the extream poverty of other countries, I have worked with and supported many charities, homeless and animal welfare in my own country included and bar the tsunami disaster Thailand does not get the attention you would expect of a 3rd world country in need?
    Now I am first to admit I do not know the specific meaning to which classifies a country as 3rd world however my 1st world problem yesterday was that I did not have exess money for a massage yet if I were in Thailand I would be able to meet my creature comforts in a 5 star hotel on the beach followed by a cocktail in a swim up pool and that just simply does not seem 3rd world to me?
    On a happier vibe just want to give props to Phucket! The people are there are simply awesome, energy is buzzing with welcoming friendliness … And if chillin with some groovy locals in a bungalow with no utilities near a beach is 3rd world, sign me up! Haha 😄
    (Many people have moved from Australia to Thailand to live)
    Anyways Peace, Love & Mung beans all! And here’s to the wonderful freedom of speech, it is a luxury many do not have! ✌🌸✌🌸✌🌸

  27. Lancelot says:

    Barbados has not had water in the St Joseph and some highland areas for months , this makes it THIRD WORLD ! Power goes out fairly regularly and Internet and cell phones drop and slow frequently . Think Thailand is better than Barbados . I have now lived in both places and also Canada and Caracas and Caracas is the worst now .

  28. Khun Greg says:

    I have been to Thailand every year for the last 6 years. I love the culture, and diversity there. I spend a lot of time in Bangkok, and believe that Bangkok will make most cites in the world look bad by comparison. The huge multi level malls, sky train, and very clean, and well maintained subway system far superior to the filthy rat infested one in New York city.

    It is all a matter of perspective.

    • While it is true that much does matter on perspective, there is an absolute reality underneath it. You may prefer Bangkok to New York, but the United States is first world and Thailand is third world, at least by the four world standard of economic development because of the overall picture. A person in small-town America, no matter how remote that town, likely lives a decent life. A person in small village Thailand, especially in the North and Northeast of the country, will likely live with great material and educational deprivation and backwardness. It is the rural people, those outside of the hustle and bustle, that determine the level of the country as a whole, not the potemkin capitals that nations show to the world as their public face.

  29. bob says:

    Historically speaking. Thailand is a first world country. The confusion of the terms 1st world , 2nd world, 3rd world country come from the cold war era where the western world backing the US were termed 1st world, those backing communism were termed 2nd world, everyone else who didn’t choose a side were termed third world.

    Though if it were a grading system I would say Thailand and Malaysia would be 2nd world.

    • This reply made me laugh. I think if we were grading it merely on Thailand’s treaty relationship with the US, they would be first world, but economically they are clearly not, outside of the Greater Bangkok area at least. As I commented in the post, I am looking at the four world economic level, where Thailand is lower middle-class, or third world out of four.

  30. Bill says:

    Seeing that I have spent years in Thailand and never and the problems that you’re having makes me think that you have never spent any time in Thailand. And thankfully, ignorant people like yourself are not the ones who make those destinations .

  31. cyclingian says:

    Good, well written blog. I’m an Australian who has been in Thailand for just over 1 yr and have spent all that time in the country areas. I haven’t been to Bangkok at all. Just a few comments. The amount of new cars here is staggering. The banks must be lending a lot of money out and the ordinary people must be carrying long term loans to afford it. Its lucky they have strong family bonds with extended families all living together so the ones earning can support the ones not earning, something we have, sadly, lost in the west. This makes the poverty much more hidden as its rare to see begging in the country areas. As a country of 70mil people I wouldn’t like to guess what percentige earn their living as labourers in the rice paddies but I would think it would be a lot of them. I noticed mechanised rice harvesters are coming into use now. As this increases it could cause a big problem for the poorest people to get employment so there may end up being a huge increase in people heading for the city to get work. With low education that wouldn’t be easy for them. One of the great things for Thailand though is that nearly everything you buy says made in Thailand on it so their economy and ability to employ people should remain strong. Australia was like that once and I can see Australia ending up being 3rd world in the future as our economy sinks.

    • That’s a concern I can definitely understand, and I can see why a lot of countries are pessimistic in the face of large amounts of debt and low amounts of social cohesion.

  32. Sean jackson says:

    There’s a bit of 3rd world in western countries.. i hear about no running water or electricity in some parts of thailand .lol but how can you say or deny the fact there is serious collateral (ie modern buildings, food everywhere, can eat at any given moment. vehicles are modern in good condition. tje weather in thailand is always good. imagine if wesyern countries had the same climate ?. Australia is a hot country . i bet they dont have electricity or running water where the remaining last few aboriginals survivors are in the bush?. is Australia a 3rd world country. Anyone who visits the council estates in the uk will see poverty on a grand scale.. is that not 3rd world?. why would you exspect the thais who govern there country to agree with white countries who decide who’s 3rd world & who ain’t?. maybe they should bring out a forth world category.. whst do i mean by that?. i would go as far to say that certain parts of all western countries are poor as shit compared to the aristocrats who govern .

    • I think the question is how large of a proportion of the country lives relatively well or not. Thailand simply has a large percentage of poor people in the North and Northeast that amount to a majority of the nation’s population. If even a sizable majority of people lived like those in Bangkok, we would not be having this conversation.

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