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Living In Thailand Blog

Thursday 19th April 2018

I've attempted to read Pepys' diary in the past, but have always given up. There are little gems of information, but a lot of his day-to-day accounts are quite boring. This time I'm making more progress.

Some behavioral aspects of life in Restoration England are similar to today - a love of alcohol, for example, with Samuel burying his bottles of wine in a pit to protect them from the great fire of 1666. There was vanity and a great love of clothes, and also a love of gossip.

Other aspects are very different, for example, medicine. Blood letting was still in vogue and the diary mentions that King Charles II has just had some blood let. Women in labour relied on the assistance of 'wise women' rather than properly trained doctors and midwives.

Samuel suffered from a huge bladder stone, which needed removing. These were the days of barber surgeons, no anesthetic, and crude surgical instruments. The pain was intense and even if the surgery was successful there was a high risk of dying afterwards from infection. Pepys survived and duly celebrated his survival every year.

Many people contracted smallpox and if they survived were left with deeply pockmarked skin. The Great Plague of 1665 was devastating, but its cause wasn't known at the time.

How far we have come in medical science, sanitation, communications, transport, etc, but in many ways we haven't progressed. War and conflict everywhere around the world, sex scandals, lies, corruption, the misuse of data, the abuse of power, greed, etc. It seems that technology will always advance and knowledge will always increase, but human nature will always stay basically the same.

I was surprised to come across a mention of Thailand (Syam) in Pepys' diary, but there was no reason to be surprised.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to trade with Asian countries after Pope Alexander VI divided the New World into two and 'gave' half each to Portugal and Spain. The Portuguese started trading in Asia in the 15th century. In the late part of the 16th century, the Dutch also began some trade routes. At the time the Dutch were a major world power (and in the 1970's they had an amazing national football team), but - as Buddhism reminds us - nothing in life is ever permanent.

The British soon got a taste for exotic spices and goods from the 'East Indys', but had to go through a middle man to acquire them. On the last day of the year 1600 Queen Elizabeth I issued a royal charter to the newly formed British East India Company to trade in the Indies; the Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602; and other European countries began forays into the Southeast Asia region.

Competition in trade led to a series of long-running conflicts and wars between the English and the Dutch, which Pepys also refers to.

Seeing as how Ayuthaya was Thailand's capital at the time it is not surprising that European countries established trading posts in the capital. What is maybe more interesting is that Pattani was also a very important centre of trade at that time.

Pattani is one of the three Muslim majority provinces in Thailand's deep south that is now off-limits to most foreign travellers because of a long-running insurgency, but a few hundred years ago Pattani was a major trade entrepot in the Southeast Asia region.

The European trading companies set up large warehouses that were called godowns, a word I believe that is derived from the Malay 'gudang' for warehouse.

The Thai word for warehouse is:

โกดัง

This word sounds like 'godung' in English and is an illustration of how different languages use borrowed words.

By the time that Pepys started his diary in 1660, therefore, trade between Europe and Southeast Asia was already well established. In a high position as an administrator for the navy, Pepys obviously had a lot of contact with seafaring people and would have heard first-hand accounts of their journeys in the Far East. I therefore shouldn't have been surprised that he mentions Syam.

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Tuesday 17th April 2018

I have never enjoyed the Songkran festival in Thailand and this year was no exception. This post has nothing to do with water splashing, which is easily avoided by staying indoors. Every year at Songkran I make sure there is food in the house and just stay indoors. My reasons go much deeper than throwing water around.

People who go to live in foreign countries refer to 'culture shock' or a culture 'gap'. I think that a lot of people underestimate what this really means. Often, when I read something about Thai culture, the articles are extremely superficial - the naming of a few Thai festivals and customs. They don't explain anything.

The culture gap is actually a completely different way of thinking based on the local value and belief systems. In most cases, these are completely different to the value and belief systems in Western countries.

As I've stated before, I will never be able to assimilate fully in Thailand because I will never be able to accept the Thai value and belief systems. As I've seen with my own kids, who are going through the Thai education system, these values are programmed into children at a very young age. When we get to a certain age, we can't simply reprogramme the way we think. There are many examples, but today I will give just two.

Firstly, in a country that is predominantly Buddhist (even though it is highly debatable whether the belief system that most Thais actually follow has anything to do with Buddhism) there is a belief in reincarnation.

Essentially, this means that death isn't as final as it might be considered by people who don't believe in reincarnation. It is simply one stage in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

Although I use many tenets of Buddhism in my own thinking, I have never quite gotten my head around reincarnation. Nonetheless, whether you agree or not with the theory of reincarnation, I am quite certain it should not be used to justify a casual attitude to death. In Thailand, however, I observe extremely casual attitudes to death. At certain times of the year this is highlighted even more, and Songkran is one of those times of year.

If a major tragedy occurs in a Western country causing a large loss of life, steps will normally be taken to ensure that the tragedy doesn't happen again. In the UK football stadiums were completely redesigned following the Hillsborough football stadium disaster.

With incidents such as the Grenfell Tower disaster enquiries take place to find the cause and new regulations and laws are introduced to try to prevent a repeat of the disaster.

The one notable exception in the Western world is the United States and its response to mass shootings, but this is a unique case and one that I don't want to go into here.

In Thailand during the New Year and Songkran festivals, Thais refer to the '7 dangerous days' because they know that whenever these festivals are celebrated there will be a huge death toll on the roads. It is totally predictable.

During the first five days of this Songkran holiday 323 people were killed and 3,140 others were injured in 3,001 crashes. Most were caused by drunk driving.

Exactly the same thing happens every year. Next year will be the same, and the year after that, and the year after that, ad infinitum. I find it extremely disturbing that nothing ever changes and that this can only be because there is a lack of will to change anything. It seems to me that even if you are a devout Buddhist with a strong belief in reincarnation this casual attitude to death should not exist, but it does. It terrifies me.

That example was a part of the belief system. Now on to a part of the value system, which also gave me some grief over the weekend, this time with my wife.

On Sunday my wife decided to cook lunch - chicken and cashew nuts, which is a dish that I quite enjoy. She went to the local fresh market in the morning to buy the ingredients.

She started cooking shortly after midday and just as she had almost finished - at around 12:45 - her phone rang.

Her family (I will talk more about her definition of her family in a moment) had gone to a seafood restaurant about 45 minutes from where we live and at the last moment had decided to invite her.

My wife doesn't seem to regard me and our children as her family - I'm not quite sure where we fit into her life. Whenever she refers to her family she means her parents and siblings.

In her value system these people are the most important people in her life. The unrepayable debt to a person's mother for nurturing them and bringing them into the world is something else that gets programmed into Thais at a very young age.

After the phone call she called me with the 'good' news. I gave her a very muted response and said that she had cooked lunch already, we'll go next time. I was quite looking forward to my chicken and cashew nuts. This answer was not the one she wanted to hear and she was thinking very differently.

She wanted to abandon the meal that she had almost finished cooking there and then and rush off to meet her family. I didn't want to go for several reasons. I didn't want to go out on the roads with so many drunk and crazy Thai drivers out and about, I didn't want to eat seafood, and I didn't want to spend a lot of money. I was also looking forward to the lunch she had prepared.

Neither did my daughter want to go and my son, who has a cold, was in a deep sleep therefore it would have meant having to wake him up.

I also thought it was disrespectful of them to only call her after they had arrived at the restaurant, as if inviting her was simply an afterthought. Had they told us the previous day, or even in the morning, we could have gone.

There were lots of reasons for not going, but having known her for about 10 years I knew that there would be a big problem if we didn't go. Begrudgingly, I told her to get ready and to wake up our four year-old. We would go.

She obviously sensed my displeasure (I can never conceal my true feelings) and then announced that we wouldn't go, but - as I knew it would - this left her in one of her huge sulks. And all of this bad feeling was simply because she places more value on her parents and siblings than she does on anything or anyone else - including her husband and children. This is part of the Thai value system.

This wasn't the first time something like this has happened. A while ago we decided to go out for lunch and were in the car on the way to the restaurant. Again, her phone rang and after the phone call she asked me if we could go to the restaurant another day.

I asked why. Her mother had called to say she had cooked the white rice noodles that Thais called Kanom Jeen. Because of my wife's loyalty to her mother, going to eat at her mother's house then became the most important thing in her life and screw me and the kids.

If I arrange to meet someone, but then get a phone call with a 'better offer' I don't just cancel the first arrangement, but she thinks differently if it involves 'her family'.

Her mother also treats her like a personal taxi service. I am often left looking after the children while she takes her mother to the bank/market/hospital/clinic/etc. Her mother has money and taxis are cheap and plentiful, but me wife's taxi service is completely free and more convenient ... for her mother. There were reasons why I bought my wife a car. Providing a personal taxi service for her mother wasn't one of them, but this isn't how her mother thinks.

I'm certainly not saying that my wife should ignore her family, but there are frequently times when it goes too far. However, if I say anything I know that it will cause a big problem between me and her.

My wife's not a bad person, but she is Thai through and through and she has been indoctrinated with Thai values and beliefs since the day she was born. The programming was so effective that it won't allow to think any differently.

Just a couple of small examples today, but as a foreigner living in Thailand I come across lots of issues that are caused by differences in the way I think compared to how Thais think because my value and belief systems are very different. This colossal difference in the way of thinking should never be underestimated.

 

The Thai wai

The Thai wai

 

When you open the 'Culture' section of your Thailand guide book and read about how Thais wai instead of shaking hands, eat with spoons and forks instead of knives and forks, and give you big warnings about pointing your feet at anyone or touching someone's head, these things are all superficial.

The real culture gap is caused by the huge differences in values and beliefs and you don't really become aware of these until you have lived in Thailand for quite a long time, and lived closely with Thais.

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Thursday 12th April 2018

The beginning of the year in Thailand used to be in April, but it changed to 1st January in 1941 while Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram was running the country. This was a period of extreme nationalism, social reform and modernisation. Plaek (which means 'strange') introduced the Thai Cultural Mandates, which instructed Thais how to dress, when to eat, how to behave, etc.

I guess that the reason for changing the New Year date was part of the modernisation process and coming into line with the rest of the world to show that Thailand was a civilised country.

Thais now celebrate New Year at the same time as the Western world. They then celebrate the Chinese New Year later in January or February. Muslim Thais celebrate the Islamic New Year and all Thais celebrate the traditional Thai New Year, known as Songkran. Thais like holidays.

There was quite a complicated formula for calculating the date of Songkran, but now it is simply fixed on 13th April. Many businesses closes between 13th and 15th April.

Songkran is also known as the water festival and water plays a big part. The general idea is that water is used symbolically to wash away sin so that people can start afresh at the start of the year. When I worked at a university dental faculty the staff would wash a Buddha image at Songkran. The hands of elderly people are also washed. These rituals are very polite, respectful and pleasant.

 

Washing a Buddha image at Songkran

Washing a Buddha image at Songkran

 

At some stage, unfortunately, (I don't know when or why) the whole thing degenerated into a countrywide water fight. Many Thais now go into the streets with powerful water guns and proceed to dowse everyone they meet.

Gangs of people ride in the back of pickup trucks with large barrels of iced water and throw it liberally over everyone they pass on the street.

There is a huge amount of drunkenness, including drunk driving (the already out of control road death toll in Thailand will go sky high during the next few days), and a tradition of smearing white paste on to other people's faces. Some males use Songkran as an opportunity to grope any strange females they meet on the street.

The following chart with statistics from 2015 is from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Thailand has the second most dangerous roads in the world after Libya

Thailand has the second most dangerous roads in the world after Libya, yet nothing ever gets done to address the problem.

My four year-old son thinks throwing water is fun, but my seven year-old daughter is already getting bored with the antics. I also started to tire of this kind of behaviour at around the age of seven.

Unfortunately, that isn't the case for a lot of Thais, and also foreigners. Malaysians and Singaporeans travel to southern Thailand to engage in water fights and the Khaosan Road backpacker area sees thousands of farang kee nok carrying large water guns and acting like children.

In life, I don't particularly care what other people do as long as their behaviour doesn't adversely affect other people or the environment. However, there is behaviour in Thailand that does affect other people and the environment.

If Thai males want to race their pickup trucks that's fine, but go and do it on a race track or abandoned airfield. Don't do it on public roads where it puts the lives of my family and other people at risk.

With Songkran, all I ask for is the option not to participate. It's not a lot to ask for, is it? If people want to squirt water at each other all, that's fine, but let them do it in a place where there are only other like-minded people and allow those who don't want to play to carry on with their lives as normal.

The biggest problem with Songkran is that there is no option not to participate. On Songkran day I can't go outside with any important paperwork or electronic devices because they will be destroyed by water. It's a wasted day. There need to be more signs like this one.

 

Water splashing prohibited in the royal area of Bangkok

Water splashing prohibited in the royal area of Bangkok

 

The one thing in my favour is that in southern Thailand it only lasts one day. In northern Thailand squirting water at people is regarded as so much fun that it lasts a week. Unbelievable.

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Wednesday 11th April 2018

No updates recently because I haven't got a lot to write about at the moment.

This website has been in a rut for quite a while now. Visitor numbers have remained fairly static for a long time and all the site ever seems to attract are sex tourists, mainly - but not exclusively - from Singapore and Malaysia.

The site has around 550 pages on a variety of different subjects. However, one solitary page in which I included some information about the prostitution scene in Hat Yai, consistently receives almost 22% of my total page hits. Yes, almost 22% of visitors to this site are interested in less than 0.2% the total content. It's a crazy statistic, but it tells me a lot about how many foreigners view Thailand and what interests them about the country. How sad.

This puts me in a bit of a quandary. I don't know much about the subject that most people are interested in and have no great desire to find out more. Besides, several expats in Thailand have created websites and YouTube channels dedicated to the subject.

Many people running websites will do whatever it takes to get more traffic, but I'm not going to create content that I don't want to write about just to get visitors. At the same time, I don't feel particularly motivated to write about things that interest me but interest no one else.

This leaves me with the things that I enjoy doing personally, and during the last few weeks I've been getting back into photography and also updating my photography pages. My wife has been taking the children to summer camp and I've been spending quite a lot of time taking photographs and updating the relevant web pages.

While looking at a forum posting on a photography website, I was reminded of something that I have said before but it's worth bringing up again.

The forum member remarked that Canon UK had raised their prices and he gave the price for a flash unit in the UK that he was interested in buying. I can't remember the exact prices, but I looked up the price for the same unit on a Thai on-line shop that I have used in the past and the difference was significant - almost half the price.

At the moment the pound to Baht exchange rate is very low because of Brexit, although during the last week it has been improving slightly. If it ever returns to Bt50 for £1, then the Thai price for that particular flash unit would actually be less than half price compared to the UK.

There's no such thing as 'free', as my blog readers know already, but if you need or want to buy certain things, the money you can save in Thailand could allow you to have quite a cheap vacation. Of course, this depends entirely on the things that you need or want to buy, and it also depends on where you live.

For example, if you are interested in buying camera gear you can save money in Thailand if you live in the UK where camera gear is expensive, but not if you live in the States where it is relatively cheap.

Dentistry and scheduled medical procedures are other potential areas where it is possible to save money in Thailand. Obviously, if your appendix ruptures you can't jump on a plane and go to Bangkok, but if you have a non-urgent problem for which a procedure can be scheduled you may be able to get the procedure done in Thailand a lot cheaper.

Foreigners need not be concerned about medical facilities in Thailand. I read one account by an American who imagined that there would be chickens running around in Thai hospitals. The top private hospitals in Thailand resemble plush hotels, they have access to all the latest equipment, and the doctors and nurses are very competent in their work.

Many Thai doctors and dentist go to work or study abroad at some time during their career, many of their text books are written in English, and thus they are normally quite proficient in English. Some, for example the doctor my daughter sees in Bangkok, are perfectly fluent in English and other languages. My daughter's doctor speaks Thai, English, Chinese and Japanese fluently. He's also the top doctor in Thailand in his chosen field of medical specialisation.

Medical tourism is a fast growing sector and something that Thailand wants to promote. Thais understand that to compete globally the facilities need to be of an international standard, and they are. Even some of the public hospitals are very good, and actually the main public hospital where I live (because it is a university teaching hospital) has better laboratory facilities than any of the private hospitals.

The doctor my daughter sees works in two private hospitals and one public hospital in Bangkok. We choose to see him in the public hospital because it is cheaper to see him there and the treatment is exactly the same. The new wing in the public hospital where he works is the same standard as a private hospital and because the hospital is public the consultation fee is just Bt50 each time. If she needs X-Rays or plaster casts I have to pay extra, but the doctor's consultation fee is almost nothing.

Public hospitals in Thailand have no restrictions on who they treat and foreigners are quite welcome to use public hospitals, but waiting times can be long and there are language barriers if you don't speak or read Thai. The language barrier is probably the main reason why most foreigners in Thailand tend to go to private hospitals.

A good compromise would be to use one of the lesser-known private hospitals. Private hospitals such as Bumrungrad and the Bangkok Hospital are very good, but these are very well known and the most expensive. There are lots of other private hospitals that maybe aren't quite as plush or well known, but they are cheaper.

In the UK I went to a private dental clinic and paid top prices to be treated by the top dentist at the clinic. When I arrived in Thailand my teeth were so sensitive that the first time I went for a check up I almost jumped out of the chair every time the dentist touched a tooth.

After having my teeth taken care of by Thai dentists since 2003 my teeth have never been in better shape. I can very easily find things to criticise about Thailand, but I have lots of praise for Thai doctors, dentists and nurses.

Price comparisons are difficult because there are many factors involved and prices will always vary on a case-by-case basis. A quick Internet search tells me that dental implants will cost between £700 to £2,900 in the UK and between $1,500 and $6,000 in the US.

Obviously, Brits having work done under the National Health Service (NHS) pay less, but there are often very long waiting times - maybe several years.

When I made enquiries about dental implants in Thailand some years ago, the price was around Bt30,000 per implant, which was less than £600 at the time. The price may have increased now, but it may actually be cheaper.

The senior dentist I spoke to at the time told me that most of the cost was for the actual titanium implant, which was imported. Everything that gets imported into Thailand is expensive. However, Thai dentists were working on making their own implants in Thailand which would bring the cost down significantly.

It is possible that if you need a hip or knee replacement, the cost saving in Thailand may be significant compared to your home country. Another quick Internet search tells me that if you don't have insurance a hip replacement in the US will cost around $40,000. There are various prices on-line for the cost in Thailand, but all are less than $20,000.

I should clarify that I am not a doctor and none of this should be construed as advice. There is no black and white, every individual case is different, and if you were to consider going abroad for a medical procedure you need to do thorough research.

To summarise, if you want to buy some items of camera equipment (or anything else that is cheaper in Thailand compared to your home country) the cost savings could offset the cost of a vacation in Thailand to make it quite a cheap trip. Airfares are not expensive these days and Thailand has lots of cheap hotels.

If you elect to have certain expensive dental or medical procedures done in Thailand, the cost savings could pay for your entire trip and save you money.

It's worth thinking about. Before I moved to Thailand I would never have considered this, but with the experience I have now of living in Thailand I can see that there are ways to save money in Thailand that previously I wasn't aware of.

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Friday 6th April 2018

There's nothing Thais like more than a good craze, and since I have been in Thailand there have been quite a few. Here are just a few examples.

I hadn't been in Thailand long when I experienced my first major Thai craze - the Jatukham Ramathep amulet craze, which I think started in 2006 although it could have been earlier. This was massive.

These amulets come from Nakhon Sri Thammarat and there were some pretty amazing stories of the power of Jatukham Ramathep amulets. A man even claimed his life had been saved when the amulet he was wearing deflected a bullet that had been fired at him.

I've been to Nakhon Sri Thammarat quite a few times and it is a sleepy little place, but during the craze it was impossible to get a hotel room. One poor woman was even trampled to death when some new amulets were issued and the crowd she was in stampeded.

Of course, the laws of supply and demand came into effect and amulets started trading for lots of money. New shops opened purely to sell amulets, and existing shops added a line of amulets to their stock. I remember going into a pharmacy and next to the headache tablets and condoms was a display full of amulets.

As always happens with crazes in Thailand, interest gradually fizzled out, the shops closed, and a little while later no one ever mentioned Jatukham amulets again.

A little later there was a real-hair hair-extension craze. I think that most of these extensions came from China, where girls were being paid money to sell their hair.

Again, new shops opened just to sell (and fit) hair extensions and every Thai female wanted one. And once again, the craze soon fizzled out and the shops closed.

A few years ago there was a massive cycling craze. Everywhere you went there were Lycra-clad Thais on exotic looking bicycles and bicycle shops opening everywhere. A few still exist, but many have already closed. I still see hardened cyclists on the roads, but most Thais have now given up cycling.

Around the same time there was an Anello backpack craze and every Thai female wanted an Anello bag - my wife has several. The market was flooded with Anello bags, and of course there were lots of fake ones as well.

It suddenly dawned on me that this latest Thai soap opera isn't simply a TV programme, it is the latest Thai craze. I don't watch TV, but whenever I walk past the TV, regardless of the time of day, I see characters from the soap opera talking about the show, or behind-the-scenes views of the show, or out-takes from the show.

Earlier this week the cast were granted an audience with the Prime Minister, which was televised. The show is set in Ayuthaya during the period when Ayuthaya was the capital and now Thais are flocking to Ayuthaya. When I visited Ayuthaya there were very few people, but that isn't the case at the moment.

This current craze also includes Thais wearing traditional Thai clothes from that period and when Thais visit Ayuthaya they dress up in traditional clothes for their selfies. My wife also told me that many Thais are now dressing in traditional clothes for their National ID card pictures.

I quite like this idea, actually. I have bemoaned the fact that as Thailand has developed it has become more and more like a Western country. A whole nation dressed in traditional clothes would be a great sight. However, if Thais insist on wearing traditional clothing they need to ensure they are technically correct.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

The following image is part of the front cover from the book 'Twentieth Century Impressions Of Siam' and although it isn't from quite the correct period it can be used for guidance.

This is a very interesting book with lots of photos of Thailand and personal accounts from foreigners living in Thailand at the turn of the 20th century.

 

Twentieth Century Impressions Of Siam

Twentieth Century Impressions Of Siam

 

Of course, in a year's time the current soap opera 'Buppesannivas' will be long forgotten, as will the craze for dressing in traditional costume. I wonder what the next Thai craze will be?

Thailand certainly isn't unique in experiencing crazes, but it seems to happen far more regularly than in other countries. The herd behaviour that is so common in Thailand seems strange to me because it is so contrary to my own way of thinking.

If everyone else has something, or wants something, that is reason enough for me not to want it. My choice of car in Thailand followed this logic, even though maintenance is expensive. It would have been far more sensible to have bought a Toyota Vios or a pickup truck, but I didn't want a car that everyone else has in Thailand.

If I hear that a certain destination is popular and everyone is going there the last thing on my mind is to go there too. There will be crowds, traffic jams, and high prices, which are all things that I dislike, and therefore I stay away.

My interests come from within and I don't rely on other people, TV shows, or anything else to tell me what I should be interested in. Maybe it's a result of the education system that encourages memorisation and being told what to think as opposed to learning how to think for oneself.


Every week I hear about the death of someone who has been a part of my life in some way or other. This is obviously because of my age. My contemporaries are approaching 60, those of the generation above me are significantly older, and once people get to around 60 they become vulnerable to all kinds of health issues.

The latest death I hear about may be a relative, a close friend, an acquaintance, an ex-colleague, or just a well-known person who was familiar to people of my generation growing up where I did. Yesterday, a well-known UK darts player and TV celebrity keeled over suddenly after suffering a heart attack. He was 60.

When the death of a well-known person is reported it has now become standard practice these days to include some Twitter tweets from other well-known people to record what they have to say.

I find it very odd and entirely inappropriate that so many of these tweets use exclamation marks. Is it just me? For example, "I just heard that xxxxxx died. He was a good friend and I will miss him dearly!" Even Trump, the best-known tweeter of all, uses entirely inappropriate exclamation marks a lot of the time.

Well, to me they seem entirely inappropriate, but I must be wrong because the practice continues and I haven't heard any criticism or complaints from anywhere else. It must be my poor knowledge of the English language and grammar.


A flight from Singapore to my local airport didn't reach its destination yesterday because a man decided to make a bomb threat. It was a false alarm, of course. Airport security is one of the reasons why I try to avoid flying these days. My brand new, highly dangerous tube of toothpaste was squeezed into a bin in January at Hat Yai airport and I would imagine that the possibility of someone smuggling anything dangerous on to a plane these days is extremely low.

Scoot flight returns to Singapore after alleged bomb threat; man arrested

The plane returned to Singapore after airforce jets were scrambled to escort it back. I don't know why this happened, but it must have given the Singapore airforce pilots something to do.

When I was spending a lot of time in Singapore I saw (and heard) lots of airforce fighter jets flying over the island. Singapore is a rich country and can afford lots on defence, but I always felt a sense of paranoia.

At one stage, I'm not sure if it is still the case, every new apartment in Singapore had to have its own bomb shelter. Not just one communal room in the apartment building, but a separate bomb shelter in every apartment unit. The expats I knew in Singapore had turned their bomb shelters into wine cellars or storage rooms.

The man was 41, apparently, but the reports don't give any details about his motivation or mental health status. Singapore has one of the toughest justice systems in the world and he could face a very big fine or ten years in prison. Foreign graffiti 'artists' may get away with their vandalism in Thailand, but if they get caught in Singapore they will most likely end up with very sore backsides.

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Thursday 5th April 2018

It's not just Thailand.

Previously I wrote about how several destinations in Thailand were virtually untouched in the 1980's and 1990's, but how a huge influx of tourists in the last 20 years has had a devastating effect on certain places.

Some (in fact, many) of these destinations are quite small and they simply don't have the infrastructure to deal with mass tourism. Phi Phi island is one such example and the Thai authorities have had to close Maya Bay temporarily so that the environment can recover.

In 1996 I did a scuba diving course in the UK. It wasn't much fun. The pool and theory work was done in Northampton and I went down to Chesil Beach in Dorset to do the four open-water dives that I needed for my certificate.

The water was freezing, the visibility was awful, and there was nothing to see below the water apart from supermarket trolleys. I wore a 10mm wetsuit, meaning that where it overlapped I was underneath 20mm of neoprene and all this rubber was so buoyant that I needed to wear a huge amount of weight to actually get under the water. The equipment was so heavy that when I came back to the beach I barely had the strength to stand up.

After completion of the course I booked a trip to Thailand so that I could do some proper diving. What a difference. The warm sea meant that only a shortie wetsuit was required and I never felt cold. The diving was easy and the marine life incredible.

I did most of my diving around Phuket before the people at the dive shop informed me that a liveaboard boat going out to the Similan islands had a couple of spare places. I went with my dive buddy, an American who I am still in touch with, and we had a great time.

 

Visiting the Similan Islands, Thailand in 1996

Visiting the Similan Islands, Thailand in 1996

 

Visiting the Similan Islands, Thailand in 1996

Visiting the Similan Islands, Thailand in 1996

 

In 1996 very few people went out to the Similan islands. The boat left Phuket in the evening and arrived the next morning. As the sun rose and everything became visible I will never forget how beautiful everything looked.

After that, lots of speedboat tours started taking tourists on daytrips to the Similans and yet another special place in Thailand was taken over by mass tourism.

On that same trip in 1996 I was talking to a Dutch guy at the dive shop and despite the beauty of the undersea world in the Andaman Sea he kept going on about a place I had never heard of in the Philippines called Boracay island.

If it was even better than I had just seen, and according to him it was, it must be marvellous. His comments intrigued me and the following year, in 1997, I booked a flight to Manila with a plan to head down to Boracay.

It was another Southeast Asian destination that was almost untouched at the time. There weren't many tourists, the accommodation options were all very basic, and it was very laid back. I found a dive shop, which was run by a British guy with mainly British staff, and whereas in Thailand I had always dived with a group of people there were so few divers in Boracay that it was just me and the shop's divemaster - an English girl.

It was a good trip, but I found that the Philippines was no substitute for Thailand. A lot more English was spoken and thus it didn't feel as exotic as Thailand. The food wasn't as good and whereas I always felt fairly safe in Bangkok, Manila put my sixth sense on full alert whenever I ventured outside of my hotel.

When I went to Boracay very few people outside of the Philippines had heard of it (including me), but since then I have seen it mentioned a lot and it is now a mainstream destination. The small bungalows have now been replaced with lots of hotels, which is exactly what happed to Samui island after I visited in 1987. Last year Boracay attracted almost two million tourists. When I went in 1997 the number for that year was probably in the thousands.

 

Boracay in 1997

Boracay in 1997

 

My apologies for the small image and wonky horizon, but this almost empty beach will give you an idea of how few tourists visited Boracay in 1997. If I ever get hold of the original negatives I will post some better photos of the Philippines.

Boracay island is small and it doesn't have the infrastructure to support so many tourists. Sewage and waste water can't be processed properly and is being discharged into the sea. There is no facility to deal with all the garbage that is generated by so many tourists and there is now a mountain of trash on the island.

I read today that to avoid an environmental disaster the Philippine authorities will be closing Boracay to tourists for six months, presumably while they clean it up.

The Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who isn't exactly shy about upsetting anyone (he called Barack Obama a 'son of a whore'), has threatened to close the island permanently if it isn't cleaned up.

Philippines to temporarily close popular tourist island Boracay

What I find most concerning is how quickly this problem has started to happen, and it is happening in lots of places. These little islands have been in existence hundreds of thousands of years without any environmental problems, and yet all the issues have only really started in the last 20 years.

I've written a little about my trip to the Philippines, but unfortunately when I retrieved several thousand film negatives from the UK last year the ones from this trip weren't there. The only photos I have are small images that I scanned in years ago.

Philippines Trip 1997

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Monday 2nd April 2018

A response I received from a reader living in Indonesia after writing about the Phi Phi island tourist invasion over the last 20 years.

 

"The one good thing about tourist hotspots is exactly that. The vast majority of tourists go to them. Whilst we might lament a few nice spots being overrun, it's good in a way. It leaves virtually the other 95% of Thailand tourist free.

It's the same here in Bali where I live. I went into Denpasar City for my weekly fish head soup breakfast. Now, this place is only a few kilometres from the tourist hotspots of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak and Sanur. Yet, not a foreign face to be seen around. In fact the locals still treat me as a bit of a novelty.

Aside from a handful of tourist places the majority of Bali is tourist free with vast areas of this small island untouched. Thank god for the sheep like behaviour of the tourist hordes!"

 

This is totally true and something that I have mentioned before. Backpackers blindly follow the banana pancake trail through Southeast Asia and tourists in general have very little imagination when visiting the region. They always go to the same old places.

I can understand this mentality to a certain degree. Places become tourist hotspots in the first place because they are attractive to tourists and the things these places offer may not exist elsewhere.

When I went to Hoi An last year it was to see the old town, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Hoi An was swarming with tourists, but if you want to see the old town you have no choice. Phi Phi island is one of the most attractive islands in Thailand and the attraction to tourists is obvious.

Also, tourist hotspots have lots of tourist infrastructure and the locals working there will speak other languages. I am very comfortable with written and spoken Thai, but in Vietnam I was reminded how disconcerting it is when you can't understand or read anything.

However, there comes a time when the balance is tipped. Unsustainable tourism can start to damage the environment and when there are so many tourists it can actually start to obscure the attractions they visit. This has already happened in certain parts of Thailand and this is why the authorities have closed Maya beach.

It's a personal choice, of course, but my choice has always been to avoid places with excessive numbers of tourists.


After several years living in Thailand certain things that struck me as very strange when I first arrived now seem normal because they are so commonplace. This is a little worrying.

For example, when I drive and oncoming traffic passes me on both sides I don't really think anything of it any more because this is normal for Thailand.

My wife entered our lad in a kids' fashion show over the weekend. This type of thing is exceptionally popular in Thailand and yesterday I found myself being barged out of the way by normally very polite little Thai women who wanted to get photos of their offspring.

Thai mothers dress and make up their little daughters the same way as adults - bright red lipstick, lots of face make up, high-heeled shoes, etc. I'm used to it now and Thais see absolutely nothing wrong with it - they simply see it as being cute - but when I first saw this overt sexualisation of very young girls I found it quite disturbing.

 

Kids' fashion show

Kids' fashion show

 

Kids' fashion show

Kids' fashion show

 

Of course, now that I have a daughter my wife does the same thing with her at times. I can't say that I'm completely comfortable with it, but there's nothing I can do. If you live in Thailand you have to accept the way that Thais do things. When in Rome ...


I had a long love affair with the United States in the late 1980's and 1990's and spent a lot of time across the pond, but as a young kid growing up in East London I remember being terrified about the crime rate, especially the murder rate, in places such as Harlem.

How things change.

London murder rate overtakes New York's

In a previous post I mentioned how Thailand appears in the list of the world's 20 most dangerous countries, and how I live in a region of Thailand that is regarded as being the most dangerous in the country.

I also said that I feel far safer here than I would in many parts of the UK. There are now parts of London, Birmingham, Manchester, etc, where I would never tread foot.

Despite this, the UK doesn't appear in lists of the most dangerous countries in the world and this why you shouldn't pay too much attention to such lists.

I hear very little, if any, good news from the UK these days. High street retailers and restaurant chains are having an extremely difficult time and many shops and restaurants have closed. Poverty is becoming a problem for many and there are malnourished children in the UK whose main reason for going to school is to eat.

The EU continues to punish the UK for having the audacity for wanting to leave and wants to set an example to other member states, just in case any other countries think about following suit.

The pound to Baht exchange rate actually jumped to over Bt44 last week, but now it has fallen again. I certainly wouldn't want to be living in the UK now, and even as a British expat life isn't great because of the weakness of the pound. We are getting close to two years since the Brexit referendum and I still can't see a light at the end of the tunnel.


This is the time of the year when the weather starts to change in southern Thailand. Normally, from January to the beginning of April it is very hot and dry. Around this time of year the sky starts to cloud over in the afternoon and it becomes very humid, as well as still being very hot.

Sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn't. It rained yesterday and when it does the rain lowers the temperature and the humidity. It feels great. However, when it doesn't rain the high temperature and humidity levels feel quite uncomfortable. Our electricity bill was quite high last month because the A/C units got used a lot more than usual.


Most Thais have a very unhealthy obsession with watching television. My wife is no exception. When I am left alone in the house I try to find something useful to do. When she is left alone in the house she watches TV. From what I have observed over many years living in Thailand, she is not alone and this is quite usual behaviour.

I could understand if any of the programmes were interesting or educational, but they are the complete opposite. Daytime TV reminds me of some kids' shows that I watched when I was about 5, but all the kids are at school and these shows are for adults to watch. The intellectual level of Thai TV programming is so low that I find it rather concerning.

The programmes that Thais refer to as soap operas are extremely popular and the nation is completely gripped at the moment with the latest Thai soap opera, which has been rated as the most popular show ever in the entire history of Thai soap operas.

The soap operas I am familiar with in the UK, such as Coronation Street and Eastenders, run permanently over many years. Thai 'soap operas' don't. They are shown twice a week and last a month or two. They are more like mini-series rather than soap operas.

This latest one is set during the Ayuthaya period in the reign of King Narai. By sheer coincidence the book I am currently reading about 17th century London is set in exactly the same period. It's a very interesting, factual book about everyday life for Londoners at that time. A TV series about actual life in 17th century Thailand could be very interesting, but anything factual would just bore Thais.

There is a very fixed formula for Thai soap operas and apart from the fact that the actors are dressed in traditional clothes for this particular soap opera, it follows the usual formula.

There is the handsome hero, the beautiful heroine, the strict but kind patriarch, the stern but caring matriarch, the scheming villain, the evil temptresses, lots of high drama, "comical" moments, lots of romantic scenes with the hero and heroine gazing lovingly into each others' eyes, etc.

And, of course, no Thai soap opera would be complete with ghosts, supernatural events and monks with special powers to defeat the evil.

The protaganists in these shows always lead extremely privileged lives and there are always maids and servants running around after them. In contemporary soap opears they all drive top of the range Mercedes Benz cars and live in houses costing hundreds of millions of Baht.

I've often thought that a realistic soap opera set in Bangkok following the lives of motorcycle taxi drivers and other normal Thais would be interesting, but this isn't what the Thai audience wants. I guess that for many it would be too close to their own lives and what they really want is escapism. They want to see beautiful people with infinite wealth leading lives that they will never lead in order to escape the drudgery of normal life.

The musical score is extremely important to emphasise the mood of each scene and Thais use Looney Tunes sound effects to highlight the, ahem, 'humorous' moments. In any 10 minute segment in any Thai soap opera you will witness the full range of human emotion.

The female lead in this latest show is played by an actress named Bella (Ranee Campen). She is half Thai and half English - a look kreung (half child) as the Thais say. My wife always tells me if Thai actors are look kreung and it seems that most of the popular ones are.

Another actor in the show is called Louis Scott, which doesn't sound very Thai to me. He's half Thai/half Scottish. Yaya is half Thai/half Norwegian. Nadech is half Thai/half Austrian. Chompoo (who has now disappeared from our screens apart from when she is showing off her twin boys) is half Thai-Lao/half English. And many more, whose names I have forgotten or never knew in the first place.

 

The latest soap opera craze in Thailand

The latest soap opera craze in Thailand

 

If you want to take a look, just search on YouTube for 'Buppesannivas'. As is usually the case, this transliteration is diabolical and if you pronounce it as you read it Thais will laugh at you.

For example, the last syllable 'vas' is more like 'waat'. There is no 'v' sound in Thailand - it is a 'w' sound, the vowel is a long 'aa' not a short 'a' and when a Thai 's' consonant appears at the end of a syllable it becomes a 't'.

I came across this kind of ridiculous translation all the time when I first started learning Thai and it was extremely frustrating. This was one of my major motivations for learning to read Thai. Once you can read Thai you no longer have to suffer this nonsense.

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Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.

Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.

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Images of Thailand