Hype, swipe and gripe: Sparking some love with Tinder in Bangkok

For the past year, one topic has seemed on the tip of every tongue and swiping finger – Tinder.

Tindering is casual and can happen anywhere and at any time. I’ve had a friend meet a guy in the middle of Songkran water-fighting on Silom Road, and another randomly announce mid-shopping date that we needed to pause by a bar in the Chatuchak Weekend Market while she met “some guy from Tinder.” He was gone within 10 minutes. I guess they weren’t into each other.

“Tinder is a game-changer for single, foreign women in Bangkok,” a female friend recently declared over dinner.

From across the table, the reply came swiftly.

“Are you kidding? It’s full of prostitutes and ladyboys,” a guy at the table groaned.

This intrigued me. If it’s a game-changer for chicks, how can it not be for dudes?

Neither of my dinnermates would go on record for this story, same for most people I approached. Though everyone uses it, it’s still stigmatized as “that hook-up app.”

A few intrepid souls did dish on their experiences with app-sourced romance. Here’s what they said about Tindering in Krung Thep:


Kate is in a committed relationship … with Tinder

Kate Jacobsen is an English teacher who has been using the app for about six months. “I lived in Bangkok before, left for a bit and, when I came back, a lot of the people I knew no longer lived here,” she said. “I needed a new network. I was newly divorced and had two friends that met the loves of their lives on it, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ I love to socialize and I’m motivated to find someone I can date.”

While her friends have had happy endings, she’s still waiting for her ideal match.

Out of the 130 matches she’s made, she’s met about 40 of them.

“I’ve been on an average of two dates a week, every week, for 20 weeks and most of them were really sexually forward despite my profile specifically reading “No ONS [One Night Stands].”

“It got so bad that I stopped meeting them in the evening. The last one I met at night was an Australian vacationer in a bar. I got there and he said, “So, my hotel room’s around the corner, want to go play around for a while?’ I said, “I’ve only just met you” and he said, “Well, I don’t want to twist your arm but I’ve only got two more nights here. I need to pull and I’ve got a better chance of that happening if you’re not around. So, see ya.”

Kate had better luck with a French guy that she saw a handful of times before he went down to the islands to do a diving course. “I was supposed to go down there to visit him but, two days before I was set to leave he called me and said, ‘My arm has swollen to twice its size. I think I have elephantiasis from when I was in Bali. I have to go home to get treatment.’ So, there went that one…” she trailed off.

Despite her experiences being less than ideal, she said that the the possibility of finding love at the next swipe makes the app “as addictive as smoking.”

Jamie finds differing relationship goals

Jamie McKendrick, a Scotsman on an extended backpacking trip around Asia and early-convert to Tinder, has used the app on and off since its introduction in 2012.

“I think there’s been something lost in translation when the western app came to Asia. In Britain, it’s primarily a hook-up thing. It is what it is. You look at a picture and you like them or you don’t – it’s simple. Here it seems to be everything from a friend finding app to women trying to find a husband.

“I’m not using it much in Bangkok anymore. The girls are too serious. If you say something the least bit naughty, they jump in with ‘Oh, that’s not what I’m here for! I just want to make friends,’ or they message first and say, ‘Hey want to meet up and have some fun?’ That’s when you know: That’s not a woman!”

He found female users in Vietnam to be far more laid-back about meetups…and hook-ups. “In Vietnam, the girls are supposed to be more well-behaved than they are expected to be here. So, there you get girls using it as a sneaky way to do something they aren’t allowed to do.

“I met a girl there that turned up after just about 10 minutes of chatting and said, ‘I always wanted to try sleeping with a white man.’ After doing the deed she disappeared only to message later, ‘I’ve actually got a boyfriend, but I always wanted to try that. Thanks,” he said with a laugh.

Jamie’s advice to Tinderers in Bangkok is, “If you’re into ladyboys, download it. If you’re into girls, don’t bother!” He far prefers picking up girls on the BTS or in front of random 7-Elevens.


Chatchan is thoroughly disappointed

Chatchan Tasanasiri is one of those Thais raised abroad who feels caught between cultures. He started using Tinder a few months ago because, he said, work was keeping him too busy to go out and meet women.

“I haven’t had much luck with Tinder. I haven’t gotten many matches,” he said. “I went on one date with a Thai girl, and it didn’t work out. She was too Thai, and I’m what they call a banana – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.”

Technology hasn’t solved that dilemma for him.

“Thais expect me to be Thai, but I act and sound like a Caucasian because I didn’t grow up here. It’s confusing for people. It works against me for dating.”

“Tinder is getting more popular here, but it still seems to be – like so many things – primarily a tool for Western men to find Asian women,” he conceded. He never hears Thai friends mention it, who seem to prefer more localized dating apps such as Paktor.


Maleeya finds satisfaction

Maleeya Jotisakulratana is a Thai author who met her boyfriend through Tinder.

She joined a year ago when she was fresh off of a breakup. “My sister came home with it and said that all of her friends were playing and it was fun.

“I signed up with my siblings and we were all playing with the app together. It had a silly quality to it. We were making jokes about us being desperate and comparing using the app to sending our photos into Lung Nuwad [Uncle Mustache],” she said, referencing a classic Thai newspaper column where the lovelorn could send a kindly newspaper matchmaker their photo and description in hopes of being featured and attracting a husband or wife.

She didn’t take it too seriously and had some concern that she might be recognized as she has a somewhat high-profile in Bangkok.

“It was so unlike real life, you have a chance to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with finality to every person you see. It’s a virtual world where you get to pick and you get to know immediately who picks you too. It’s fun.”

She found the app populated with foreigners and Thais that had lived abroad (she went to school in London). She started out only swiping right (for like) on foreigners.

“I saw so many friends on it, and even my own family members. It shows you the things and friends you have in common. When I saw that the guys were fans of my author page I felt so strange — like a university teacher might feel if they saw their own student on a dating site. I tended not to choose those guys, Thai society is just too small,” she said.

Maleeya only went out with one guy she matched with on Tinder, who is now her boyfriend. “When I saw him, we had many mutual friends, including my own brother who said he was a nice guy. He’s not my usual type. He looks just like me. Why would I want something that I already have?!” she laughed. But, despite any doubt, they are now happily together.

“Most people that I know just want to try it but aren’t looking for a relationship. I did chat with one other guy through it. We would talk all night. Then he said, ‘I have something to confess. That’s not me in the profile pictures. He sent me his real picture and…he wasn’t my type,” she giggled.

Since she started dating her boyfriend, she uninstalled the app but her friends continue to entertain her with their wild Tinder tales, including meetups with famous European footballers and former porn stars.

“I think it’s useful. It connects the demand to the supply directly. You don’t have to play a game: ‘Does he like me? Is he looking for someone? I mean, he’s there. He’s obviously looking,’” she said.

Surprisingly, she’s not at all shy about telling people she met her boyfriend through Tinder, maybe in part to lift the taboo of the app, as if to say, “Hey, good-looking, well-connected people use this too.”


Dan takes it slow and easy

American Dan Grossberg joined Tinder a few months after arriving in Bangkok for his job with an NGO.

“I got on it to meet people, to see what’s up,” he said. “Everyone was talking about it so I thought I’d give it a try.”

He’s had a few successful meetups with foreign and Thai women, dated two people he met through the app and made a few friends.

“Some people think of it like ‘I’m just gonna hook up with everyone I meet’ and that’s fine but I’m more interested in meeting people that I might be able to see again as friends or otherwise,” he said. It’s for that reason that he skips meetups with backpackers and other travelers.

Despite the bad rap the app sometimes gets, Dan considers it less sleazy than a bar hook-up because, “you get to know each other better before you even think about meeting. You swipe right on someone because of their looks but messaging each other lets you know really quickly if you have things in common,” he said.

It’s freeing too, in his opinion, to have a space where you can say whatever you want and not worry about what the other person thinks of it. If they don’t think it’s funny, they can just stop talking to you. “You can just be yourself with no repercussions because you haven’t invested much.”

After getting to know someone via messaging, he’ll suggest meeting for something low-key. “It’s super casual. It’s more like ‘Let’s grab a drink’ and ‘Maybe you can come out with my friends some time’ than it is ‘let’s go on a date.’”

I spoke to one more guy who says he’s all but given up on Tinder, but had one wry observation to offer.

“Women are on it because they are too picky,” longtime expat Bruce Scott said. “Men are on there because they aren’t picky enough.”

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