Hafiz Sujad, One-on-one: My life as a foreigner in Thailand

He's not in the top league in Thailand, nor is he getting paid much more than he was back home, but Hafiz is determined to make the most of his opportunity in Thai League 2 as he told FourFourTwo in an in-depth interview...

Apartment complex Key Chaengwattana is only 5.8 kilometres away from Thai League 2 club Big Bang Chula United’s (BBCU) training ground at Nonthaburi Youth Centre Stadium.

By most Singaporeans’ reckoning, that sort of distance should be covered in about a 15-minute drive.

Only this isn’t Singapore and, as Lions midfielder Hafiz Sujad found out, normal circumstances in the city-state don't apply to life in Thailand, where he is currently plying his trade.

FourFourTwo Thailand managed to catch the BBCU left-back for a 30-minute chat and he provided a refreshing take on what it's like to be a foreigner playing in Thailand...

FFT: Why did you take up the offer to come to Thailand?

Hafiz: I have been looking to play overseas for a while now. Although BBCU is still in League 2, it’s something different.

As we all know in Thailand, the pace is faster, so I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and test myself, see where I stand (and) hopefully from here I can build up my CV.

Some players may think I should not be doing this, why do I have to go for trials in other nations, especially since I am a national player and I am putting myself down.

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Hafiz is thankful he managed to snag a move to Thailand. Photo: BBCU

But for me, after the recent Suzuki Cup, Singapore didn’t do so well and we didn't get through to the next round to give scouts more opportunities to gauge us.

I played like only 30 minutes because of my red card [in the opening game] so I thought I had no chance to move overseas since coaches from other nations wouldn’t be able to watch me.

But thankfully this opportunity came. It’s something new and something different but I want to take it and see where I can build from here.

FFT: Were BBCU your preferred choice? We understand top-tier club Sisaket were also interested?

Hafiz: I was supposed to go to BBCU, Sisaket and after that I was supposed to go to Air Force, if I'm not wrong, for trials.

I was in Bangkok then, I told my agent 'why not let me stay for a few more days and give it a try with BBCU?' as and Sisaket had some problems, and Air Force too, they also had to postpone their trials. But for me, I am just thankful for this opportunity.

I could earn more back home but I can’t buy the experience I am getting here

My salary right now is not too low, but it’s not that high too, I'm just thankful for what I'm receiving here.

Like I said, this is an opportunity that might not happen again — of course if the salary was too low I would not have come, because I've got a family and wife to take care of.

But the salary for me is comparable to what I earned in Singapore. I could earn more back home, but I can’t buy the experience I am getting here.

FFT: How’s life in Thailand so far?

Hafiz: It’s been good so far. I have been here for holidays so it’s not something new. But to stay and play here as a foreigner, it’s a first for me.

Overall, the people are very nice and friendly so it’s very easy for me and my wife to adapt to life here.

Even before I signed my contract, my agent took me to near my new place, introduced me to all the halal food; it was really much easier for me to adapt here.

I haven’t tried much Thai food because I try to eat halal-certified food. It’s not that difficult to get them here, just that the shops tend to close early.

But I cook every night, with my wife who moved here just to be with me. I owe her a lot for being my moral support. We only got married before moving here and we didn’t even get to go on our honeymoon then.

I thought we had time but BBCU started pre-season already and I had to come here. I told her I needed to do this and there will be some sacrifices, which she accepted and has been very supportive.

Hafiz is settling in fine at Bangkok

FFT: What else has been new for you?

Hafiz: There are certain small things, such as stray dogs appearing at our training ground! But the traffic is something new for me. Sometimes you take around one hour in the jam despite travelling a short distance!

In Singapore, I had a motorcycle so it was easy to travel and reach my training venues within 20 minutes. But here, traffic can become very hectic and dangerous, so I drive instead.

My home is nearby the training ground, but even then it can take 20 minutes to reach. Sometimes it takes at least 45 minutes though, so I have to go out early here.