Thais Abroad: From Surin, Thailand to Akureyri, Iceland

Today’s guest on Thai women living abroad was born in the province of Surin in the north – east  region of Thailand. She later married and moved abroad to live permanently in Iceland. Nowadays her home is in   Akureyri , northern  Iceland with her husband.  I wanted to know how a lady from the heat of the north – east of Thailand adapts to life and the bitter cold of northern Iceland. Khun  Nangfar gives us her insights and experiences about life in Iceland.

Introducing Khun Nangfar

All photographs courtesy of Khun  Nangfar

How did you come to live in Iceland? What first took you there?  Where do you live in Iceland and how long have you lived there?

I Came to live in Iceland because my boyfriend at the time and now husband,  was too lazy to fly from Iceland to Thailand….. laughter. Actually, it’s a very  long haul, which includes two connecting flights. Normally,  he flew to Thailand every other month because he was always concerned about me. He didn’t want to let me out of his sight. In the end we decided to get married and I moved to live with him in Iceland. I live in the city of Akureyri which is northern Iceland. It takes about 5 hours by car from here to the capital city of Reykjavík.

Could you tell us about where you were born and raised in Thailand, and what life was like there as a child growing up?

I am from Isaan, the northeast of Thailand. I was born and raised in Surin. I have a younger sister who is 3 years younger than me. I am the eldest.  The family of my Father work in the Government service. My mother’s, the farming industry. They were  rice farmers and had a pig farm. I am a kid from the rural area. Our situation  was moderate, not too good, and not too bad.

Life as a child involved studying firstly at a school close to my father’s home. My parents wanted me to move and study at a school in the town and for my younger sister to study at the same school also. I had to wake up at 5 am every day and travel to school. When aged 13  and at grade 7, I moved back to study in a school near home. This was fine as I rode a bicycle to school every day. At age 16  and at grade 10, I went to study in the town because I was able to take an entrance exam. My parents took me, I was very happy because I succeeded in the test by a fluke really. This mean’t that I was able to study in the school of my province. I left for school 5 am every morning and did not return home until 7 pm. 

When considering university, I chose to study at a university near home. I didn’t want to go and study anywhere far away. I wanted to be near home in order to be able to help at home during the weekends. I like the farming industry and enrolled at the Royal Surin. I chose to study plant science. On graduation of studies I took an entrance exam to work in the civil service. The problem was that the place of work was in Bangkok. The problem was that I didn’t really like Bangkok much. I didn’t like the constant traffic jams, the crowds of people or the pollution, so I chose not to go to work there. I decided to stay and help work at home, which I did  for approximately 3 years. I met my husband on the internet, we communicated together for 4 years before finally getting married.

What work do you now do in Iceland and what other work have you done? 

Now, I don’t go out to work. I stay at home and do the house work. When I have free time I like to practice baking cookies and I also have my Icelandic language learning. I study the Icelandic language on Monday’s, Tuesday’s and  Wednesday’s. I want to become strong in the language first and then gradually search for work to do. Another thing is that finding work in the city that I live is somewhat difficult. The people here don’t really speak English. Before I came to Iceland I used to help the folks at home on the farm.

Can you speak Icelandic? Is the language and communication a problem? Do you find Icelandic difficult to learn? Do you speak any other languages?

Now, as a result of studying,  I have started to speak Icelandic a bit. I can speak and use vocabulary, but as of yet, I’m still not really able to construct it all into sentences. I think that it will probably take about 5-6 years before good communication, and a lifetime to understand completely. The Icelandic language is a very difficult language to learn , because it includes different situations regarding gender.

On the first day that I went to study, I was very confused. When I’m at home, my husband taught me only easy sentences like …. thank you, yes and no. This was not enough to to go and study with the teacher, they teach you to speak consonants.  After about one week I was able to start speaking a bit.

Aside from Thai language, I can also speak Cambodian. I can speak Cambodian, because my home in Surin is near to Cambodia. I can also communicate in English to a moderate standard as I studied in school. The problem is that I haven’t used it for 3-4 years and forgot everything when I first come to meet my husband. To start with we used hand language and then communicated from the dictionary. This was quite difficult as my husband didn’t understand some words, because his English is not that good.

Did you find it difficult adapting to life in Iceland? What did you find were the most difficult things to adapt to.?

Adjusting was reasonably difficult, especially to  the weather conditions because it’s so cold here. Even during the summer period it only reaches a maximum of  just 15 degrees. Wherever I go here, most of the time I must wear thick layers of clothes. This includes gloves, scarf, jacket, hat, long trousers, socks etc, you must completely dress to the nines. It’s different from Thailand where we put only a pair of short trousers on to walk around.

The subject of language is difficult to adapt to, as there are different languages. The subject that’s difficult to adapt to the most is probably the food, this is a big subject for me. Mostly, the people here eat bread, they don’t really eat rice. I like to eat Thai food so much, but the place where I live, doesn’t really have the Thai food that I like to eat. Sometimes, I have to go to the capital city of Reykavic to buy the food I want. The trouble is though, Reykavic is situated a long way from where I live. Here, they eat only lamb meat and this causes me to put on several kilos of weight. At this time I miss Thai food immensely, but I must continually adapt. Anything that they do, I act in accordance with.

Is there a big Thai community in your area? Are you in contact with many Thai women as friends and do they tend to stick together? Do they all seem to adapt well to life in Iceland. 

There are not really a lot of Thai people here. The city where I live has approximately 40 people and we see each other sometimes in the supermarket. If we meet, we smile at each other, but we don’t go and greet each other. This is due to having already greeted each other when we first met on the first occasion. I’m really pleased when meeting Thai people and I rush to chat with them, but they don’t really respond, they are quiet. Now, I don’t greet anyone at all. I do understand it though as they are probably scared to trust us, because they have only just met us. I know 8 Thai people here and they have a good lifestyle. Some of them work and some are house wives that stay home and look after the children. They say that they live better here than in Thailand because the monthly income is better here. Further more, the works not heavy because there’s machinery for everything. They also have money that they can send home to parents, brothers and sisters in Thailand.

This is a massive generalisation, but what are the people from Iceland like? What do they enjoy doing and what are the personalities and character traits of the Icelandic people? 

Icelandic people enjoy eating sheep. The sheep here don’t smell the same as elsewhere…. They eat it every week, it’s the principal food, along with fish. There are so many delicious types of fish here. People from Iceland like to light candles when eating at home to create an atmosphere. In the summer time, Icelandic people like to go touring with their families. They will drive and tour together using a house trailer. Some people have a summer house outside the city that they rest up in during the summer period. Icelandic people enjoy reading books as well. Each house will have many books, they are like book worms.

Icelandic men are mostly tall with beard’s and moustache’s, but very warm and charming. They love their families and are good at many things, including embroidery and Knitting. When you go to the shops, you  will often meet men that are choosing knitting filaments to buy , that’s normal here. They also cook food very well, it tastes really terrific. You will also find them taking care of the house, moping the floor, washing clothes, washing plates and helping the wife.

Icelandic women are mostly tall, thin and lovely. They don’t smile easily, but they are not arrogant.

Teenagers here, when they have free time will meet up together, go shopping, swimming and browse books. They all have their main jobs, but will often work extra  part time jobs in order to  find money for holidays in foreign countries.

A middle aged person just works all the time, there’s not much free time. It’s all work. When you reach 60 years old, you don’t have to work. Then, they will make a date to drink tea and coffee together, select things to buy to decorate the house and  bake cakes.

For those of middle age, they often have a specific day during the week when they meet up together. Men will meet up for a get together as will women, but it won’t be the same day. Icelandic families are similar to Thai families in that they like to help each other. They take care of each other, go everywhere together and love to take care of the dog.

What is the cost of living like in Iceland ? Which in your opinion are the expensive things and which are the things of good value? Could you give me three things of each, please?

The cost of living in Iceland is expensive. In here anything is expensive because they have to import almost everything.

3 things that I think are expensive….

1) Clothes are very expensive. Clothes are more expensive  than any thing else and are totally all brand names.  Lots of people here try to order online because it’s cheaper. Some people even go shopping in nearby countries because it’s much cheaper.

2 ) Regarding the subject of food and eating, if you go to a restaurant it’s really expensive. The price is excessive and twice as much as if you buy the ingredients and make it yourself at home.

3) The price to have your hair done, have your nails done, visit a beautician or visit a spa is very expensive. You’ve got to have money to visit these places often.  The majority of people will buy product and do themselves, or they will let a member of family or a friend cut their hair,  do their nails or dye their hair.

Reasonably Priced

1)I think electrical appliances are not really that expensive. There are several brands to choose from and that’s the reason they are reasonably priced.

2) The price of cars are reasonable, in Thailand they are more expensive than here.

3) Fruits like apples, kiwi’s and pears, are not really expensive.

Could you give me three things that in your opinion are great about living in Iceland? Could you then give me three things that are not so good about living in Iceland?

The good things about life in Iceland

1) Safety: There aren’t any criminals or thieves due to all families earning a regular income. You don’t normally hear much about accidents either. There are very few accidents. If there are accidents, then it’s generally down to heavy snow fall. Things like driving the car and sliding down or across the road, but usually nothing series.

2) Deal with business promptly: Things are really near and there’s  no need to drive very far to complete the tasks. It all takes less time as well, due to less people, and not having to wait a long time in a queue.

3) Peaceful: There’s no pollution, no traffic jams, you feel fresh and invigorated the same as when  I stay home in Surin.

The not so good things

1) In the first place, the expensive cost of living and I mean everything is expensive. However, income here is fairly good. If you work one hour you get the equivalent of 400 baht, but the downside is that the tax is also heavy.

2) For things like going to the hospital, clinic or having your hair done, you must make an appointment first. If you don’t make an appointment, you cannot go.

3) The cold weather: It’s cold throughout the whole year, even in the summer. Some years, snow falls all the year through. During the winter, you don’t see the sun at all, and you must take vitamin supplements.

What would you say were the main problems in a Thai woman / Icelandic man romantic relationship? Are there any similar problems or misunderstandings that relationships have? I’m talking more to do with cultural differences really.

Romance for Thai people: Ever since small my father, mother, and grandparents taught us not to do anything obvious. By this I mean  like kissing, cuddling or holding hands in public. They said it’s not good if anybody see’s you, other people will speak bad of you, but this is different from Iceland. In Iceland they will cuddle and kiss anywhere at all. It’s normal. There isn’t anyone that stares at you or thinks something about you.

When Thai people are angry with somebody or not satisfied with something, they will not express their feelings. They tend to  keep everything inside. With Icelandic people, whatever the problem is, they will certainly tell you if they are not satisfied.

When Icelandic people eat, they like to light candles and create a romantic atmosphere. They like to buy gifts to surprise each other often, but Thai people do it very infrequently. As for telling each other that they love each other, then I think this subject is about the same for Icelandic and Thai people. Some people don’t like to say I love you, but will show their love by their actions.

Another thing is talking straight or saying exactly what you want. In Thailand, if a couple go shopping together, the man will often ask the woman if there’s anything she wants. Mostly, you will hear the reply of ” no ” from the woman. It’s all quite confusing as she really mean’t ” yes ” that she did want something. Here in Iceland, it doesn’t work that way. If they say no, then they mean no. If they say yes, then they mean yes.

Do you still have family living in Thailand and do you miss them? Do you manage to get back to Thailand for a visit now and again? Which are your favourite places to visit in Thailand?

I still have family that live in Thailand. I have my father, mother and younger sister, I miss everybody, but I manage to chat with them every day through a chat app…. line video call. Sometimes we see each other face to face on video and it makes us feel good. It makes us feel that we are not far away from each other at all, it gives us moral support when strength is in short supply. I’ve never been far from home at any period of time, I’ve only stayed home and studied non stop since a child.

It’s not really easy at all to be so far away from the family in Thailand, but now I have another family here in Iceland. The family here in Iceland are very good to me. They welcomed me, and they take care of me so well. I miss Thailand though, I miss Thai food like papaya salad, grilled chicken, and the spicy Thai-style salad cold – laab, banana curry and many other dishes. That barely scratches the surface. I miss the hot weather, the breeze, sunshine. Staying in Iceland, you don’t really see the sun at all.

Places that I like to visit in Thailand: I like to go for a stroll around the rice field and smell the aroma of the grass. To take the dog out for a walk. I like to go shopping whilst exposed to the air-conditioning and I like to go and eat a buffet with my family. I miss home so much.

In general, have you ever felt unsafe living in Iceland?

Living in Iceland, I never feel unsafe at all, no matter where I go. When I cross the road,  the cars will stop automatically. no need to fear colliding with vehicles, because they drive slow here.  Regarding thieves and bandits, there aren’t any. People here have discipline and order.

What are your favourite places to visit in Iceland and is Iceland beautiful?

Places that I like to visit in Iceland: Iceland has natural places to visit that are renowned…. such as waterfalls, glaciers, there are many water falls. In the summer I like to visit the water falls, it’s enormous and there’s a rainbow as well….so beautiful. In the winter, just sleep and remain at home. Look at the Northern lights from the bedroom. Iceland is beautiful because it still remains so natural. We don’t really have buildings, I like it here.

What are your passions in life. What are the things that you love to do when you have free time?

There are several things that I love, but what I love most is the family in Thailand. Now though, I love the family in Iceland as well. If you come here, you need to love here as well…. isn’t that right? If I didn’t love it here, then I would have fled and returned home to Thailand a long time ago.

The thing that I love to do in my free time: If summer time, I like to go to the summer house, visit the water falls, collect blueberries and just stroll around admiring the land. During the winter, I like to bake, I’m studying making cakes. I like to watch movies at home and go out for walks, if there’s no snow.

Some Thai women think that moving to  Europe / Iceland means a better life instantly. What advice would you give Thai women that were thinking of living in Europe / Iceland? What would you advise them to beware of? Could you give me 3 things for them to think about before moving overseas?

I’d like to say, that moving to Europe has both good and bad points. You must give it great thought.

Firstly, the good points

  • You get to meet new things that you’ve never encountered before, it gives us a wider perspective of the world.
  • If you have employment then you can earn well, because labour costs are more.
  • I’m lucky to meet a family that are good to me in every way

The points that are not so good

  • It’s cold
  • You have to rely on only yourself or your husband.
  • We can’t speak Icelandic and that makes it difficult. There are some countries where you can get away with speaking English, but not here. They don’t really understand English here, so communication and understanding is difficult.
  • The food is so different from Thai food.
  • It’s lonely sometimes. Come here and you miss Thailand and miss home a lot.
  • It’s a real problem if you marry, move to his country, and then meet a family that aren’t nice at all. You could find that your husband’s mother is a bully and causes you to work hard and constantly for her.

Therefore, before you come to spend your life in Europe, I’d like you to think about a few things first.

  • Beforehand, study all the information regarding the country you are moving to.
  • Study the character  of the  man that you are possibly going to be spending your life with.  What are his family like?
  • Perhaps it’s an idea to  make a visa,  and visit before moving there. Then you can get an idea of how he acts, how life might be together. You need to know that it’s not going to be a life of hardship with him.

Another thing, for those who would like a foreign partner.  Beforehand, chat together on a dating website and get to know each other as well as you possibly can. Afterwards, you can always close the account and correspond together yourselves. Don’t be naive though, don’t just trust anybody that you’ve not even met yet. Good luck and I send encouragement and morale support to everybody.



2 thoughts on “Thais Abroad: From Surin, Thailand to Akureyri, Iceland

  1. Hi everyone, I’m an Icelandic guy who likes Thailand and its culture. Thanks for this informative and helpful page! I would like to add some comments about my country that might be of interest to someone considering to live here.
    First of all my thanks to Khun Nangfar for her many kind words about my country.
    Her description is quite accurate except that she lives in the main northern town whereas the capital, Reykjavik in the south, is more multicultural and somewhat different. Notably it is not nearly as cold here because a branch of the warm Gulf Stream reaches the south coast and the snow seldom stays for more than a few days before it melts in the next rain. Another thing I would like to add, is that all houses in Iceland have good heating and insulation. Most houses are heated by the plentiful and cheap hot thermal water (volcanic origin), which is also why we have lots of open air swimming pools all over the country, open all year round. Most swimming pools even have some additional “hot-pots” with up to 47 C hot water. In Reykjavik you can buy cheap warm cloth in many second hand shops and outlets. So nobody really needs to feel cold here ever.

    Another difference from north to south is that almost everyone in the capital speaks English easily. There are many foreigners working here (especially in the construction and tourist industries) that don’t speak any Icelandic at all. In Reykjavik there are several Thai food restaurants, most of which are “take-away” and not so expensive. Also, most ingredients for preparing Thai food can be found in the capital (I know because I love to cook f.ex. Panang curry at home ;-). Well, right, lamb is the most common and appreciated meat. The Icelandic lamb is practically an “organic” game meat as it feeds free in the mountains on wild plants during summer. However, there is no shortage here of either of pork, chicken or beef. For sure, Iceland and Thailand are very different countries, but basically we humans are all the same; if we are open-minded we can adapt to each other ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

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