Living In Thailand Blog
Thursday 19th October 2017
I've just returned from a six day trip, five days of which were spent in Vietnam. It was a great trip. The Vietnamese people we met were amazing (with smiles that were genuine), and overall I came away very impressed. It was my first trip there and now, having been, I don't know why I didn't visit a long time ago.
I am also at a loss as to why I discounted Vietnam so quickly during the period when I was very disillusioned with Thailand and was considering somewhere else to live. It was probably because of my preconceived (but inaccurate) notions of what living in a communist country would be like.
It's an impressive country. When Burma started to change a few years ago I predicted that Burma had the potential to take away a huge chunk of Thailand's tourism industry. However, that hasn't happened and with the Rohingya crisis the world has now seen a very different side to Aung San Suu Kyi.
Having seen what I have just seen, I now believe that Vietnam is the biggest threat to Thailand's tourism revenue. On the coastal road from Da Nang to Hoi An there is a massive amount of construction taking place as huge hotels are being built, and the tourist infrastructure is growing incredibly quickly.
In addition, there is now a culture of service and hospitality, which - according to a Westerner I was speaking to who has long term experience of Vietnam - was completely lacking 25 years ago. Many of the Vietnamese I met also spoke very good English.
I have quite a lot to say and hundreds of photos to sift through and process. However, tomorrow is going to be another busy day with a broken car to sort out (yet again) and yet another trip to the local immigration office. I don't think I have ever spent as much time with Thai immigration as I have this year. I should probably post something about this as well.
The kids then have another week off school and it is never easy to sit down and work when they are around. However, I will try to get some updates done in the next week while my thoughts and views are still fresh.
Thursday 12th October 2017
There was a Swiss guy living here who was in a similar situation to me with a Thai wife and a mixed race daughter. However, unlike me, he was still working and spent six months in Thailand and six months in Switzerland.
This wasn't an ideal situation and I knew from my conversations with him that he wouldn't be able to live in Thailand full time. Foreigners differ quite a lot in this respect. I'm quite at home in Thailand and since I left the UK in 2003 I've never had any desire to return. When I was forced to return in July after my mother passed away I didn't enjoy it at all.
Other farangs aren't happy being in Thailand all the time and have to make frequent trips back to their mother country. There's another farang father at my kids' school who is like this. He's always moaning about the way things are in Thailand and goes back to the States fairly often for three months at a time. He said he would go crazy if he didn't.
Anyway, in May this year my Swiss friend packed his wife and daughter off to Switzerland to sample life in the land of watches, chocolate, fondue and super-efficiency. The plan was to give it a shot for a year and then to decide what to do long term.
I knew that his five year-old daughter wouldn't have any problems adapting, but I wasn't sure about his wife. My wife is always going on about wanting to travel abroad, but I know that she would miss a lot of things about Thailand and the Thai way of life.
But it seems that everything worked out because now his wife has returned temporarily with a view to selling their Thai house and moving to Switzerland permanently. They're nice people and I'm pleased about this because it is no fun being separated from your family for half the year.
His wife, like all Thais, is an avid Facebook user and while she was in Switzerland my wife kept an eye on her updates. Food is an obsession with Thais and many posts were about food. She could buy Thai food in Switzerland, but it was very expensive and she was experimenting with growing some of the herbs and plants that are used in Thai cooking.
She also posted some photos of the inside of a Swiss supermarket and I was surprised that I actually found these quite interesting. Yes, all your suspicions about me are probably true. I am a complete nerd. I've never been to Switzerland and when people travel to Switzerland they take photos of lakes, mountains and cuckoo clocks. Only a goofy person would take photos inside supermarkets and only other goofy people would look at them.
So, here are some photos of the inside of a Thai supermarket that I took recently for my goofy readers! They were taken in TOPS, which is probably the most upmarket food retail chain in Thailand. As you can see, the shelves are well stocked and there is lots of choice for certain items.
Naturally, the foodstuffs on sale are aimed primarily at locals and therefore you can buy a million different brands of rice or chili sauce, but if you want a simple jar of pickle you will probably find that they don't stock any.
There have been times when TOPS has featured English food or Indian food and for a short while there is lots of great choice, but these things are never permanent and eventually the good stuff disappears from the shelves. Also, imported food is very expensive. I've researched specific items in the past and exactly the same thing for sale in Thailand can be three times the price compared to the UK. Obviously, shipping and import duty is expensive.
TOPS supermarket, Thailand
TOPS supermarket, Thailand - what brand of chili sauce did you want?
TOPS supermarket, Thailand
The quality is exceptional in TOPS and it is just like a high quality supermarket in a Western country. Tesco Lotus and Big C are also big retailers in Thailand, but shopping at these places doesn't quite provide the same experience as shopping at TOPS. Carrefour, the French retailer, did have a presence in Thailand, but Big C took over and now the old Carrefour superstores are called Big C Extra.
There are also Makro cash-and-carry stores all over Thailand and these are very popular with small businesses and restaurants that buy food in bulk. We shop at Makro for certain items, but it is not a regular shopping venue. The fruit and vegetables are very good, and reasonably priced.
In addition, there are some smaller retail chains that come in useful at times. Near my home are branches of Vogue and K & K that are very convenient for certain items without having to travel too far.
Right at the other end of the retail shopping experience in Thailand are the fresh markets. These are the type of traditional markets that existed long before Western-style supermarkets arrived in Thailand and they still attract a lot of people.
In Hat Yai there is a large fresh market downtown and, in addition, there are smaller fresh markets in outlying areas. I don't mind the fruit and vegetables from these places, but visiting too many fresh markets when the temperature was 100°F was the reason why I stopped eating pork after I moved to Thailand. There is no refrigeration and what is difficult to describe in photos is the overwhelming smell and the swarms of flies.
Butcher shop at the fresh market
Pork for sale at the fresh market
Even if you aren't keen on what you see at the fresh market, bear in mind that this is where most restaurants buy their meat, fish and vegetables from.
One of the best overall aspects of living in Thailand is the huge range of choice that is available to you. If you want to rent somewhere to live you can find a room for Bt2,000 per month or you can rent a penthouse apartment in Bangkok for Bt250,000 per month.
Just need a room to stay for the night? There are lots of guesthouses for Bt300 per night or you can stay at one of the best hotels in the world.
If you need to see a doctor you can get medical service very cheaply through the public healthcare system or you can visit one of Thailand's many plush private hospitals.
It's the same with everything, including food shopping. If you need to keep costs down there are lots of places selling cheap food. However, if you want something better, there are branches of TOPS in many provincial towns and there are also places such as the Siam Paragon food hall in Bangkok.
In many developed countries the cheap choices aren't available and in many lesser developed countries the more upmarket choices aren't available. This doesn't apply to Thailand, where there is always lots of choice for all different tastes and all different budgets.
Saturday 7th October 2017
I spent all last week, from 7am until quite late at night, scanning old film negatives. There were almost 3,000, but sadly I realised that a lot are still in the UK. The negatives from trips to South Africa, Cuba, Egypt and several other places weren't there and must still be in the UK. I don't know whether I will ever see them again.
I will create mini-travelogues with the photos that I did recover and I have just completed the first one. It is of a trip I took to Bali with my brother in January 2003. More to follow when I have time.
Bear in mind these are old film photos that have been scanned in and the image quality doesn't compare to modern digital cameras.
Sunday 1st October 2017
The film negative scanner that I ordered at the beginning of August arrived last week and I have been spending all day, every day, scanning my old photos that date back to 1982.
I haven't finished yet and even when I finish the raw scanning I will need to do the photo editing to make the photos suitable for web browsing. After that I plan to make several photographic travelogues for the various places I have visited.
This experience has evoked multiple emotions.
Several people who were part of my life are no longer part of my life, either because of death or choice. Next month marks the 30th anniversary of my first trip to Thailand and the friend I travelled with (photo below) lost the battle to cancer a few years ago.
The photos have brought back some good memories, but my overall emotion is of sadness. The sadness of a lost world that we will never see again.
I was born, raised, and worked for several years in London. I also used to use my train pass to go into London on weekends purely for fun. I loved London, but many of the aspects I loved about London have now gone.
Around the Charing Cross Road there used to be many small, independent bookshops that specialised in one subject. There also used to be small, independent restaurants that were quite run down, but they were full of character and you could fill your stomach cheaply. However, sharp rent increases and the way that society has changed in general due to technology means that many have now gone.
Nowadays, it is almost impossible to describe what it was like to visit Thailand in 1987. And it isn't just the fact that so many destinations in Thailand that are now overrun with tourists were completely deserted 30 years ago.
It's the fact that nowadays people generally know far, far more about North Korea than they did about Thailand in 1987, and North Korea is the most secretive, concealed country in the world. And it's not just Thailand. It's everywhere.
These days, everyone and their dog has been to Thailand and tens (probably hundreds) of thousands of foreigners live in Thailand permanently. There are a million blogs, YouTube videos, photos and websites about Thailand. This is why I now struggle to find the motivation to do anything here.
Back then, no one I knew had been to Thailand and High Street travel agents weren't able to help me with my travel arrangements. I had to use a specialist travel service because Thailand was regarded as being a 'frontier' destination. I had one guide book and those were days when Lonely Planet guides were actually useful.
I'm not a technophobe or a Luddite. The Internet has given as a great deal and I wouldn't be able to live in Thailand so easily without the Internet, but it has also taken away a lot in life.
I will be visiting Hoi An in Vietnam this month and after watching some YouTube videos I'm sure that when I get there it will feel as if I have been there already. There used to be immense pleasure in going somewhere that was completely new, unknown and mysterious, but that simply doesn't exist today.
There also used to be pleasure in going to a place where very few foreigners had been, but that no longer exists either.
Of course, these are just the rantings and reminiscences of an old man and we can't turn the clock back, of course, but it still makes me quite sad. This is another reason why, in the last 15 years, I have lost the sense of wanderlust that used to be such a big part of my life.
I will post more photos later, but here is just one of Samui Island in 1987. At that time, as I remember, some Brits knew about Bangkok and Phuket (which they thought was pronounced Fuckit because of the unnecessary 'h' in the transliteration), but no one had heard of Samui apart from a few backpackers.
There was no airport, no hotels, and no electricity. However, there were coconut palms everywhere. The only accommodation options were like the one in the photo - small huts on the beach that cost about Bt100 per night.
Each bungalow operation had a generator and each hut had one or two electric lights. The power went off frequently and during one power cut I asked my friend, John, if I could borrow his flashlight.
What I didn't realise was that after it went dark all the cockroaches that had been hiding in various nooks and crevices in my bungalow came out to play. As soon as I turned on the flashlight I realised that I had been sharing my accommodation with a large family of gigantic cockroaches.
A beach bungalow on Koh Samui in 1987
Samui was actually far too quiet for me in 1987 and I became quite bored. We then moved on to Pattaya, which was an entirely different proposition. I'd never had so much fun in my life. I enjoyed Pattaya immensely in 1987, but when I went back the next time in 1992 I found it quite miserable. "Everyone has gone to Phuket," I kept being told.
I too went to Phuket and remember saying to myself in 1992, "This is paradise." I returned again in 1996 and it too had changed enormously. Unfortunately, I didn't find that the changes had been for the better and after 1996 I had no desire to go back to Phuket. This became a theme with the various places I went to afterwards in Thailand.
But I'm ranting and reminiscing again. More old photos later.
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. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
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. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand