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  • Living in Thailand Blog April 2008


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Living In Thailand Blog


Tuesday 29th April 2008

The Nation has gone sex mad today by reporting that Thai children enjoy watching sexual assault scenes on TV; 70% of Thai women cannot achieve orgasm; and (from a few days ago) giving advice to female university students on how to improve their grades.

Wow. The Ministry of Culture will not be at all happy.

This will not surprise anyone who understands how Thaksin operates. Eriksson to be sacked by Man City. Perhaps now, Man City fans will be starting to get a better picture of the constantly smiling man who owns their football club. Smiles can be deceptive, especially from Thais, and especially from this particular Thai.

The old argument about foreign superstores operating in Thailand has surfaced once again, this time with a Thai journalist being sued by Tesco Lotus for making defamatory comments.

I thought we were supposed to be living in a free market economy so I can't really see the problem. What surprised me about this latest story though, was to hear accusations of tax evasion.

This seems a little hypocritical. I wonder if Kamol Kamoltrakul has ever heard of Ample Rich and Win Mark because the owner of these two offshore holding companies is an expert on the subject of tax evasion.

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Sunday 27th April 2008

I have been very busy recently so haven't had much of a chance to post anything here.

When I first came to Thailand, I had no plans to work. When I did start working, it was only part-time (and that was how I wanted to keep things) but I now find myself working six days a week.

Thais don't like to turn down business, which is understandable, but sometimes they get themselves into trouble by promising to deliver something they can't - such as delivering an English course when they don't have a teacher. Anyway, this busy period should only be temporary while I am helping someone out.

I found myself on another cat rescue mission a few days ago. Thailand can be a tough country for people who are sensitive about the plight of animals because there are young, abandoned animals everywhere. This is something I still find difficult to deal with.

While out on my terrace, I saw a kid of about four or five throwing a kitten around. He'd hold it up above his head and then throw it on the ground, repeating this over and over again. I tried to speak to him but he either didn't understand my Thai (most Thais don't) or just chose to defy me.

His next trick was to put the cat in a plastic bag and spin the bag around, thereby sealing it. That was enough. I snapped and went down to prevent him suffocating the poor animal. I gave him a severe talking to and managed to restrain myself from putting the plastic bag over his head.

The kitten was in a bad way; just an emaciated furry bag of bones with an injured back leg. It looked to be about a month old and I don't know how it had managed to survive up to then but somehow it had. It didn't even have the energy to stand up. It was a very pretty cat though with a tortoiseshell coat and a sweet nature. Despite all its suffering, it started purring as soon as I picked it up.

I bought some food, which it gobbled up, and I asked one of the security guards to feed it when I wasn't around. However, when I went back later, the security guard wasn't around and I figured that the apartment car park wasn't the best place for a young cat to be.

I'm just not in a position to take care of a cat at the moment and pets are banned from my apartment building anyway. I therefore followed standard Thai procedure for abandoned animals and took it to a temple; the same temple I like to visit myself.

There are lots of hairless 'temple dogs' (maa wut) at the temple but they leave the cats alone. The cat wasn't impressed with the other cats and they weren't impressed with it. If it is to survive though, it will stand a better chance there, where there are few vehicles and monks to provide food, than it would in the car park of my apartment building.

I went back this morning to check up and it is still doing fine. It seems to have accepted the other cats and they have accepted it. My only worry is that the other, larger cats will get all the food that the monks dish out. However, this one must start to learn to fend for itself sooner or later.

I have faced the dilemma of rescuing cats in Thailand before and I'm sure this won't be the last time. I'm also sure that many other Westerners living in Thailand have helped abandoned cats and dogs. The soi dog rescue operation in Bangkok was started by foreigners.

The Thais have a different attitude to animals. Animals are allowed to breed unchecked but also allowed to die quite easily as well. This cat has cost me quite a lot of time in the last few days and I don't think many Thais would have done what I did.

For Westerners who are soft with animals, a first-time visit to Thailand can be quite tough. The temples are a sanctuary though and if an abandoned animal is lucky, this is where it will end up. The monks won't fuss over them but they will give out food.

I will be going back to make further checks and if it can survive the first few months of its life, it should stand a decent chance of living a normal life span.

As an aside, the head monk has taken quite a shine to me (I remind him of his son, apparently) and wants me to ordain (bpai boowut). He mentions this every time he sees me. Most Buddhist Thai men ordain but many only spend a short time in the temple. I told him I would think about it. I think it would be a good thing but I also think I would find living the life of a monk extremely tough going - even if only for a few days.

(Photos taken with my phone so low quality, I'm afraid.)

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Wednesday 23rd April 2008

As far as finances are concerned, it's not the best of times right now for Brits to be in Thailand. The Thai Baht has been strong for a long time now while the pound continues to weaken significantly against other currencies.

I've been living mainly off my Thai earnings since around May last year but made a Bt10,000 ATM withdrawal from my UK account a few days ago. I was charged £166.45 at a rate of 60.078 Baht to the pound. The last time I did this - in January - the figures were £160.13 at a rate of 62.449 Baht to the pound.

When I first arrived in the country to live towards the end of 2003, Bt10,000 was about £150. The rate started to improve though and by December 2004, Bt10,000 from the ATM was only costing me £135.73 at a rate of 73.676 Baht to the pound - more than £30 cheaper than now.

It's a big difference and will no doubt be affecting lots of Brits resident in Thailand who are living off an income from the UK. It also means that those applying for retirement visas will need to stump up some more money in order to be able to show Bt800,000 in a Thai bank account.

There was an article in The Nation a few months ago predicting that the Baht would soon start to weaken and advising cash-rich Thais what they should be doing with their money while the Baht is so strong. It hasn't happened yet.

Unfortunately, there are no signs that the UK economy is set to get any better any time soon so this could continue to be a problem. One thing it has done has effectively increased the value of any money earned in Thailand. I haven't had any pay rises but with the pound-baht exchange rate continuing to fall, my Thai Baht salary is worth a lot more to me now than it used to be.

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Tuesday 22nd April 2008

I'm afraid that today's subject is a hoary old chestnut but the repetition in my blog entries only reflects the general repetitiveness of life in Thailand. At first it seems like such a mysterious and exotic country but after a few years you notice that the same old things keep coming around again and again with alarming regularity.

I was taken on a brief tour of a dental laboratory today which I found interesting and quite nostalgic. Many years ago I studied mechanical engineering and some of the instruments and machine tools I saw today were exactly the same as I used to work with.

However, there was one piece of equipment I wasn't familiar with; a device to measure colour. Its purpose in the lab is to match the colour of composite fillings and other tooth restorations with that of natural teeth.

The next piece of information I was given wasn't at all necessary because I had guessed already.

When Thai students use the lab for their research they use this machine to measure the colour of their skin. Of course they do; what else would they use it for? This started a conversation that I have had repeatedly ever since I arrived in Thailand.

As it turned out, the two women I was with both have young daughters who, they told me, are teased relentlessly at school for being 'black' - as the Thais put it. They aren't 'black' - they are just the colour of normal Thais. Because of this constant teasing, their kids want the 'magic' skin whitening lotions that are advertised on Thai TV every five minutes.

Both women have tried to talk common sense into their children but at that age the influence of their friends at school is far more important than what their parents tell them. This is universal.

It's such a shame and it's one of the things I would like to see change in Thailand but the cosmetics companies make a killing based on this insecurity and do everything they can to perpetuate the ridiculous notion that dark skin is bad and light skin is good. 'Dark' and 'light' are my adjectives; the Thais simply use black and white.

I am planning to write a little more about the hierarchical structure of Thai society some time in the future and why it is that many young people lack confidence. When you throw insecurities about skin colour into the mix, it only makes the situation worse for some of them.

If a Thai girl with normal brown skin can be convinced (or can convince others) that the colour of her skin is 'honey', that is acceptable, but if she (or others) think she is 'black', that isn't good. It's crazy. It can result in feelings of inferiority and/or the overuse of whitening lotions by some girls which turns their faces a deathly shade of grey.

I've travelled a bit but can't recall coming across anything like this before. We all know that some Westerners like to maintain a 'perma-tan' but even before a greater awareness of skin cancer emerged, it was only a very small minority. This is not the case in Thailand where many people are sensitive about their skin colour, especially young, impressionable girls.

Perhaps in countries such as Brazil where there are very dark people of African origin living alongside blue-eyed blondes it's the same but I've never been there so don't know.

A few years ago I mentioned to a student of mine that skin colour was a Thai obsession. She told me the fact that Thais can speak so openly about the subject (which they do) means it isn't an obsession and that it is only a problem in countries where people are afraid to talk about the subject.

However, I didn't entirely agree with her logic even though I think I understood the point she was trying to make.

It can actually be quite difficult to find skin products in Thailand that don't have whitening agents. The general obsession is such that manufacturers need to include whitening agents in their products just to remain competitive in the marketplace. Some of the underarm deodorants I have bought have even included a 'whitening' ingredient.

Is this a big deal or not?

The place I went to for dinner tonight has a number of dark-skinned young serving staff. They are true southern Thais which accounts for their skin colour. Not only is the climate hot but Thailand has long been a crossroads between the great civilisations of China and India.

Many Thais have clearly Chinese features from this great melting pot but down in the south, especially, there are a lot of people with very Indian-like features. The first time I ever visited Phattalung province I was struck by how Indian-looking many people were.

Anyway, one of the girls who was serving tonight has that awful ashen look as a result of using whitening lotion on her face - just her face. She can only have done this because her natural skin colour concerns her and it can only concern her because of the messages that are constantly sent out from cosmetics manufacturers in the form of TV and magazine advertising.

It's the kind of thing you expect from whacky black pop singers with too much time and money, but not from ordinary Thais and my feeling is that it just isn't healthy. It's not healthy for their skin on their state of mind.

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Sunday 20th April 2008

Do Thais have more problems with their sexuality compared to people in other countries or is just that in a more tolerant society they feel more at ease about expressing themselves, whereas foreigners tend to hide their true feelings for fear of being persecuted and ridiculed?

I don't know the answer and the reference books I usually use about Thai culture and society don't cover the subject.

Thailand's boys who want to be girls are world famous. Most Brits - and British tabloid newspapers, in particular - find it impossible to mention Thailand without mentioning something about ladyboys. It's a standard part of British humour.

I complained about Songkran being one joke that lasts all day but British humour consists of single jokes that last indefinitely, especially if the joke involves racial stereotypes. Germans steal sunbeds and the French are cheese-eating surrender monkeys, while Thailand consists of only ladyboys and prostitutes who tell customers insincerely, "Love you long time."

Very funny. Ha ha.

However, the jokes are not completely unfounded because there do seem to be a lot of people in the country with gender confusion. Further, they are often to be found in great numbers at the major tourist hotspots (the only places most foreigners go to when they visit Thailand) so this only reinforces the stereotype.

Perhaps less well known outside of Thailand than the boys who want to be girls, are the girls who want to be boys. The Thais call them 'toms' from the English 'tomboy'. They are maybe not quite as prolific as the ladyboys but nonetheless, there are still a lot of them.

I can spot ladyboys immediately; not just from their physical appearance but from their exaggerated mannerisms and the constant look of dissatisfaction they wear on their faces. They are normally drama queens who like to hog centre stage and are therefore very conspicuous.

The 'toms' are quite different, seeming to have little confidence and preferring to blend into the background. They do their best to disguise their feminine features with short hair and boy's clothes. They either flatten their chests or wear baggy tops but either way, their breasts aren't noticeable.

They don't have any facial hair but neither do many Thai males. As a result of all this, I have terrible problems sometimes trying to figure out if it is a 'tom' or a genuine boy. In the past I have found myself in awkward situations with 'tom' students who I didn't know whether to address as he or she in the third-person.

As I said, I have no answers, but it is just another example of how open and tolerant Thai society is. I actually feel sorry for people who have problems with their sexuality because rarely do I see any signs from them of true happiness. It seems to be a constant struggle for them to find the happiness in life that we all seek.

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Saturday 19th April 2008

There was no afternoon storm today and by mid-afternoon the heat was unbearable. I was asked by a Canadian guy recently why I live in a tropical country if I don't like the heat. It's an easy question to answer.

Nowhere is perfect. There are many thing I don't like about the UK, including the long, depressing winters there. It's not so much the dampness or the cold, but the fact the days are so short in the winter months.

Canada, where he lives, is well known for its cold winters but on a trip to Toronto during the summer a few years ago, the heat and humidity was worse than Bangkok.

I like many things about Thailand but for a few months of the year the weather is too hot for me. Even then, it's not too bad except that I can't spend as much time outside as I would like to.

The Thais don't like the hot season either and complain continually. During the rest of the year, the girls working in salons and massage shops sit outside trying to get customers in but at this time of year, the pavements are empty as they sit inside in the air-conditioning.

The final set of official accident figures are in for Songkran this year. During the so-called 'seven dangerous days', there were 368 deaths and 4,803 injuries. Over 80% of accidents involved motorbikes and over 40% were related to drunk driving.

The Thais might want to think about renaming this period the 'seven very dangerous days' and refer to the rest of the year as the '358 dangerous days'.

I would also be interested in seeing the demographic statistics but these are never given. No doubt a few innocent females and old people got wiped out in the carnage but I strongly suspect that most victims were young males.

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Friday 18th April 2008

There has been a dramatic change in the weather in southern Thailand in the last couple of days and it is remarkably consistent from year to year.

The heat starts to build from early February and peaks around Songkran in mid-April with little rain. At around Songkran, the mornings are still roasting hot but big storms start to occur in the afternoon from about 2pm to 3pm.

The sky turns black as lightning streaks across the sky and enormous thunder claps come out of the heavens. It's quite a show of nature and I love it provided I am indoors. If you get caught in the rain it isn't quite as much fun because with so much water coming from the sky, you get soaked to the skin in seconds.

The other pleasant aspect of these storms are the refreshing breezes that accompany them.

Today's subject is noise.

The tourist brochures may give the impression that the loudest sounds you will ever hear in Thailand are the rustle of palm trees in the breeze, the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore, and the occasional thud of a coconut falling to the ground but that wouldn't exactly be accurate. Personally speaking, noise is one of the worst aspects of living in Thailand.

Natural sounds are fantastic. The storm beating down now - along with the thunder claps - sound like music to my ears, as do the songs of the wild birds tethered to trees with pieces of string just outside my window.

It's the man-made sounds that are a problem.

Construction work seems to be never-ending and just as one 18 month construction project finishes, another starts. The only good thing about constant banging sounds for 10 hours each and every day is that the brain starts to filter them out so, after a while, they disappear - well, almost.

A popular way of advertising in Thailand is for pickup trucks with huge loudspeakers on the back to creep around the roads blasting out music and adverts. This is done to advertise goods and services, as well as being a method used by politicians at election time.

Near to where I am is an army base and low-flying helicopters buzz overhead. They don't fly over that often but when they do, they make a hell of a noise.

More frequent are the road racers. Many young Thai males amuse themselves by racing vehicles on the streets - either motorbikes or cars. Their vehicles normally have modified exhaust systems which make a terrible din.

Even a motorbike with a tiny 125cc engine can sound like a jet fighter in Thailand. If they drive cars, they normally install huge sound systems along with modified exhausts. Evening is the worst time for road racers.

This is nothing new. When John Laird wrote his book 'Money Politics, Globalisation, and Crisis' in 2000, he devoted an entire chapter to the problem, titled 'Go Fast, Make a Big Noise'.

Another group of young lads who live about 100 yards away do dirt racing with proper trail bikes. It's a legitimate enough hobby but when they tune their bikes up, they rev them constantly. All I hear for hours is, "vroom vroom vroom," and it goes on and on and on.

Up until fairly recently, there was a music bar about half a kilometre away with just fields in between the bar and my apartment building. The house band would do their thing every night until about 1am and naturally - as is the Thai way - their amps (Spinal Tap style) would be set to 11 with all the bar doors and windows open.

This went on for a couple of years before the bar was demolished one day - much to my relief. I think there are laws about this kind of thing in Thailand where the bars are supposed to have sound insulation but I have already discussed Thai attitudes to law.

The stray dogs that are everywhere sometimes decide they want to bark and howl all night. Again, it's not every night but some nights it can be really bad.

In addition to the sounds outside, I have been suffering from sounds inside my building this year. As I reported in January, there was a robbery and attempted rape in the next room to me right at the beginning of the year.

Subsequently, the girl moved to a room on a higher floor and the new people are the neighbours from hell. A multitude of people appear to live in the room at different times. I don't know what is going on.

There are Thais, Malaysians, Westerners and mixed race kids with American accents. One girl who stays there is apparently a coyote dancer. After she arrives home in the morning between 2am and 3am, she plays music, slams doors, showers, and speaks very loudly on the phone.

The young mixed race brats play in the room by yelling and throwing a ball repeatedly at the wall. The older kid had some American teenage friends over for Songkran and they were left to their own devices without any adult supervision.

There was a trail of mud and water from the front entrance to their room as a result of playing with water and they spoke the same way I have heard many American teenagers speak. Every sentence was punctuated with the word 'like' along with lots of profanity. That kind of gutter language isn't really what I want to listen to while I'm in my room.

Later that night, one of them went out on to the terrace where he declared, "I am the king of the world," several times at the top of his voice.

I also have new neighbours on the other side - a Thai family with three kids. They are about 10 to 12, I would guess, two girls and one fat elephant boy. They also scream and yell and it sounds as if the elephant boy uses the bed as a trampoline.

The occupants of either room do not know how to close a door without slamming it, apparently.

For over two years, I didn't hear a peep out of my neighbours but that has all changed now. I had a word with reception but they just aren't interested. They sympathise but won't do anything. I have therefore had to take matters into my own hands but when people have no respect for others, it's difficult.

After putting up with loud banging noises against my wall for two hours yesterday, I knocked on the room next door. A mixed race kid of about eight years old answered the door. I told him I was trying to work and asked him to be quiet.

If that had happened to me at that age, I would have been terrified of an angry adult. However, I couldn't believe the cheek of the little brat. At eight years old, he just looked up at the ceiling and said, "I wonder who that can be." Obviously a liar as well as an obnoxious little toe rag.

Apartment living in Thailand has its advantages but noisy neighbours can be a real problem. In a previous place, I had noisy Thais on one side and a farang sexpat on the other who was out at the bars every night and returned in the early hours with different bar girls.

Last night, there were no loud noises from my neighbours and no dogs howling. Instead, I was woken by an SMS at 4:06am from a young Thai girl I know. She's a sweet girl and desperate to learn how to speak English well. She is now studying in Bangkok.

Her message told me she has insomnia and can't sleep. She wanted to know how I was and what I was doing. What did she think I was doing at 4am? Hardly being able to believe this, I ignored her message and tried to get back to sleep.

I like to try to understand behaviour in Thailand that seems strange to me but some things just baffle me. If I can't sleep at 4am, I might read or work on my computer. The last thing I would think of doing is sending out messages to people I know telling them about my problem.

I also can't understand how people living in apartment buildings can have so little respect for their neighbours but I have realised there are many things in this world that I will never understand.

I have given my own biased farang perspective but how do the Thais react to the constant battering of their eardrums?

The first thing you notice is the most amazing tolerance. At times recently there has been a lot of noise in my building at around 3am and because of the design of the building, it would have been impossible for the noise not to have affected other people.

However, when I complained to reception, I was told I was the only person to have done so. This is Thailand though and what you see on the surface is rarely how things really are.

After yet another night of ruined sleep a few weeks ago, I was feeling very tired the next day and finding it difficult to teach so I mentioned the problem to a few of my students.

The response was a familiar one. When I complain to Thais about something I don't like, I often find that they feel the same way. Whether it is overcrowded minivans, teenage motorbike racers, greedy taxi drivers, etc., etc., they feel exactly the same way.

The difference though is that they never say or do anything. I can't do anything but I don't hold back with regard to making my feelings known.

They don't say anything for a number of reasons - and for this, I turned to Mulder again. Certain basic attitudes are instilled in Thais at a young age, for example, greng-jai (combining inhibition and consideration); greng-glua (awe, respectfulness, fear); khaorop and napthu (to esteem and to respect).

Mulder also points out that for Thais it is advisable to avoid risk and to recognise that other people are vulnerable and may seek revenge for infractions against their egos. This is all about loss of face and the fact that Thais can be very vengeful.

Thais are taught to toe the line, to let sleeping dogs lie, to show respect, to be willing to accommodate others, and to keep the social process pleasant and non-controversial. To do otherwise could potentially be dangerous.

My students also told me about an incident that had only just happened a little way from where we all work. A rubber tapper who had to wake up very early every morning had got tired of loud music from a house nearby.

The problem went on and one night there was a party at the house with more loud music. He went to the house with a gun and shot eight people dead.

This is the danger with a culture of non-confrontation where it is difficult for people to let off steam. They bottle up problems and when the red mist finally descends, it isn't a pretty sight.

Just as they view skin colour as being either black or white with nothing in between, the Thais are black and white in other matters. They are either the most tolerant people on earth or going around shooting people dead.

I have recommended Niels Mulder's 'Inside Thai Society' book several times but it is due for another plug. It's not a very big book; in fact it's quite small but it is the most amazingly accurate view of Thai society you will ever read.

The first time I read it, I found it interesting but that was all. However, the longer I am in Thailand and the more I experience, the more I realise what an amazingly perceptive mind Mulder has. To describe what he does with so much accuracy and with so few words ... well, just read it.

I've listed details of books I own and have read about Thailand here.

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Thursday 17th April 2008

In this year's race to see which province can claim the most Songkran road deaths, the more northerly provinces are leading the way with Phitsanulok (15) followed closely by Chiang Mai (14). (Come on Chiang Mai; you can do it.) Chiang Rai has had the most injuries and accidents but a disappointingly low death count so needs to try harder. With one day to go, it will be a close finish this year.

The official figures, so far, stand at 324 dead and 4,484 injured in 3,955 accidents which is quite impressive for just six days. A fellow expat was telling me only deaths that actually take place on the road are counted and that if a victim is taken to hospital and dies there, it doesn't count.

As usual, all medals in this competition will be awarded posthumously. If it wasn't so desperately tragic, it would be funny.

The sooner the big search engine companies get their semantic search algorithms sorted out, the better. Search engine results, and the way that search engines ranks pages, aren't very clever at the moment and semantic search is supposed to be the next big thing in the Internet evolution.

I actually find it quite insulting when people arrive on my pages after searching for 'perverts guide to thailand' (well done someone in Ireland); or 'thailand sex guide' (general); or 'very young thai girls' or 'thai girls under 15' (normally searches from Malaysia or Singapore).

Not only do I not want them visiting my site but they aren't going to find what they are looking for here. It's also another reason why I tend to be wary of foreigners in Thailand because of the single item agenda many of them arrive with.

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Wednesday 16th April 2008

Thai Buddhist temple - Click for larger image While sitting in the grounds of my favourite temple a couple of days ago in the search for some inner peace and tranquility, I heard the incessant calling of what sounded like quite a large bird.

I looked but was unable to see what was making the noise. Then, all of a sudden, it flew into view as it perched in a nearby tree. Considering how loud the noise was it was making, I was quite surprised to see such a small bird.

My Thailand bird guides tell me it is a Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala). The unusual name is apparently because the incessant, noisy call resembles a coppersmith beating a sheet of copper.

One of the delights of being in a tropical country is occasionally seeing brilliant flashes of colour as exotic birds swoop past. Outside the local Tesco Lotus supermarket, I often see White-throated Kingfishers (Halcyon smyrnensis) perched on the overhead electricity cables. They really are magnificent birds.

Coppersmith Barbet - Click for larger image Photographing them is so difficult though. I can never get close enough before they fly off and whichever lens I have with me, it is never long enough.

Oft times, the bird barely covers the centre focus point in the viewfinder and by the time I have cropped the original image there are never enough pixels left for a sharp photo.

Long, fast lenses are expensive but apart from equipment, enormous patience is required for bird photography that I don't really have. I am patient in other matters but not when it comes to sitting in a field for half a day in tropical heat waiting for a bird to arrive.

It would be a lot easier if the Thais attached pieces of string to one leg of all wild birds and tethered them to trees. The string couldn't be too short, obviously, as that would be cruel. It should be long enough to let them fly around a bit, get food, and escape marauding cats but short enough so that I can get close enough to take photos.

What would also be useful is a bar code on the other leg for identification purposes.

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Tuesday 15th April 2008

Songkran decorated car - Click for larger image It's not only people that get the water and paste treatment at Songkran, as these photos show.

A few reminders from Sunday's fun-filled festivities. Businesses that do well after Songkran (apart from hospitals and morgues) are car washes and mobile phone repair services that can fix water-damaged phones.

So, a Lonely Planet author writes about a country without actually having visited that country, makes things up, accepts free services for writing favourable reviews, and then has sex with a waitress on the table before reviewing the restaurant she works in, where he comments, "the table service is friendly."

I realise this is an extreme case, and not typical (I hope), but I can't say I am all that surprised.

I have been critical of LP for a while now but that wasn't always the case. I used to be a big fan and back in my house in the UK I have several of their travel guides. The first thing I ever used to do when I got interested in visiting somewhere new was buy the Lonely Planet guide for that country ... and I believed every word. But that was before I moved to Thailand.

Songkran decorated pickup truck - Click for larger image When I arrived in Thailand to live, I acted just like a travel reviewer. I walked for hours every day finding out where things were; looking to see what was worth visiting and what wasn't; finding out where to buy different things; searching for the best places to eat, best places to stay, etc. It was a natural part of arriving somewhere new and wanting to explore.

What I realised though was that my findings were nothing like those given in the Lonely Planet guide for where I lived. The impression I got was that whoever had written that section had only stayed for about two or three days, had probably only stayed in one location very close to the train station, and hadn't ventured much further than about half a kilometre from that location.

The restaurant and accommodation recommendations appeared to be there just to fill a quota and not because there was anything particularly praiseworthy about the places recommended. It was the same for the shopping suggestions.

Accommodation suggestions comprised of the same hotels and tired old backpacker haunts that had been around for years with no mention of any of the several new places that had sprung up offering much better value. In a nutshell, it was rubbish.

I have no doubts that in those parts of Thailand where Lonely Planet writers live permanently, it is different. For example, I am sure that the Chiang Mai section, where Joe Cummins is a resident, is very good. However, for the rest of provincial Thailand it seems they just pack someone off for a few days to write a review when that person has no real idea of the place they are writing about.

The other thing that grates with me about Lonely Planet is the sub-culture that has grown up around it; the smug authoritativeness with which the guides are written, and the sneering attitude of a certain type of LP reader who looks down at other people.

Farang kee-nok, Bangkok - Click for larger image I've seen backpackers get off buses in Thailand with their LP guides in hand, only to rudely brush Thais aside who are trying to help them find accommodation. They then march off to find a crummy backpacker joint that has been recommended by LP for the last 20 years while missing out on the bunch of comfortable, new places that have just opened that the locals could have led them to.

Not all Thais who greet tourists at bus stations and boat jetties are trying to rip you off. There will always be a few unscrupulous people but others are just providing a service. They have lots of local knowledge and that knowledge is right up to date.

About 30 years ago - before the Internet, before many Thais spoke much English, and before there was much of a tourist infrastructure in Thailand - I could see a need for such a publication but not any more. So, do I have any use for Lonely Planet's Thailand guide these days? After what I have said, the answer may be surprising.

If I go to somewhere in Thailand where I haven't been before, the last thing I want is to end up in the same place as a load of ponytailed backpackers in baggy fisherman pants, indigo cotton farmer's shirts, and rubber flip-flops.

Knowing how religiously backpackers follow their little bible, I always take a quick look to make sure I avoid all the LP accommodation recommendations, thus avoiding backpackers and other undesirables. The answer, therefore, is that it does still serve a purpose.

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Blog entries 4th to 14th April 2008


Visit Thailand

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. 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 - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, 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.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand