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  • Living in Thailand Blog April 2014

 

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Living In Thailand Blog

Tuesday 29th April 2014

Pink Scoopy I - Click for larger image "And I'm going insane. And I'm laughing at the frozen rain." - Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

Thailand is an insane country in which to live and if you take it too seriously you can end up jumping off a tall building in Pattaya. Every year, quite a few foreigners living in Thailand perform the infamous Pattaya Death Leap.

You can't afford to take Thailand seriously and it is vital to have a sense of humour. I was therefore quite concerned to receive a link to the following article, which claims that Brits lose their sense of humour at 52. I'm 53.

Brits' sense of humour fails at the age of 52, study finds

I actually laugh quite a lot in Thailand, but what concerns me a little is that I laugh at things that other people don't seem to find funny. I laugh at absurd and clueless behaviour, and there is so much absurd and clueless behaviour in Thailand that I always find myself laughing.

Staying dry - Click for larger image Southern Thailand never sees frozen rain so I can't laugh at that, but I do laugh at other obscure things.

Thais trying to stay dry in normal rain while riding motorbikes makes me laugh, as does seeing someone wearing not only a Harley Davidson T-shirt, but also a Harley Davidson half-helmet, and then getting on a pink (yes, pink) Honda Scoopy I.

When I see a Toyota Vios, which is a grannies' shopping car anywhere else, plastered in TRD (Toyota Racing Development) stickers, with a huge spoiler, fake Brembo brakes, and with four huge exhaust pipes sticking out the back - three of which aren't connected to anything and one that is connected to a skinny litle pipe that goes to the exhaust manifold, it makes me laugh.

Five or six people riding on a small motorbike makes me laugh. It makes me laugh when someone tells me that he or she can't speak a single English sentence after studying the language for 15 years. People carrying chickens while driving pickup trucks makes me laugh. There's so much in Thailand that I find amusing.

Chicken - Click for larger image I'll probably get into trouble for this, but huge guys wearing dresses and with their massive feet crammed into the largest size women's shoes they can find makes me at least grin a little, especially when they insist on mincing around all the time and repeatedly using the word, "Ka."

What I generally don't find funny is anything that is intended to be funny. I can't think of anything more 'unfunny' than what is served up on Thai TV purportedly as comedy. Thais find it hilarious, but I find it asinine. Then again, I was the only one laughing at the pink Scoopy I. Maybe it is me who has the problem?

Perhaps it is too late and I have already gone insane?

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Monday 28th April 2014

I've never been so busy - or so tired - in my life. My day begins now at 5:30am when the alarm goes off and I start getting ready to take my daughter to school. The objective is to try to leave the house before 7am, which isn't an easy task with a tired, grumpy, uncooperative three year-old. She doesn't like getting up early in the morning any more than her father does.

It seems like every single child in town is driven to school and the morning rush hour traffic - not to mention parking around the school - is terrible. It's best to leave before 7am to try to get ahead of the morning rush hour traffic.

While she is at school I have been trying to do some research about Thai traditional medicine. The reference material I have is all in Thai. It's good translation practice, but it takes a long time. As soon as I get home I go into my family support role and do whatever my boss tells me to do.

Today wasn't a good day. While eating breakfast this morning I felt something crunching in my mouth, despite only eating a soft sausage and fried eggs. It was a tooth that had broken. I have an appointment on Wednesday to get it fixed. The good news is that Thailand is a great place to be when you have dental problems.

On the way home from school the Next Base in-car DVD player that mounts to the back of the driver's seat so that my daughter can watch DVDs fell apart. I did my best to put it together, but now it doesn't work.

When I got home the fishpond pump had also bitten the dust. There have been lots of brief power cuts recently, and I am sure that it is these that kill my fish pond pumps. I had to go out this afternoon to get a new one and then install it. It never stops.

I'm just writing this to try to explain why sometimes my updates here aren't very frequent.

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Wednesday 23rd April 2014

After over 10 years of living in Thailand I have gradually acclimatised to the heat and I really like never having to deal with cold weather. However, there are certain times of the year when it gets a little too hot.

It is brutally hot at the moment. I am not usually a slave to air conditioning, but for the last week I have remained largely in air conditioned rooms and I've been sleeping with the A/C on. In some parts of the world, such as deserts, it is hot in the daytime, but cools down significantly at night. Here it doesn't, and the nights are also very hot.

It's now almost 5pm, just after the hottest part of the day, and the temperature in the shade outside is 37.1°C - or 98.78°F in old money. In direct sunlight it is well over 40°C.

I guess that we are fortunate in the south, where the temperature is more moderate all year round compared to central and northern Thailand. Even in Bangkok, the temperature can drop into the teens in the cool season and reach 40°C in the hot season. Southern Thailand never, or very rarely, gets as hot or as cold as that.

My car A/C fan has been running at 3 recently, whereas it normally runs on 1 and occasionally on 2.

The extreme heat affects me in different ways. It drains me of energy very quickly and makes working outside difficult. I was doing some work in the garden recently and the sweat running into my eyes really stung.

My skin also reacts badly in extreme heat. It makes me itchy, which I guess could be a heat rash, and at the moment I have several little hard lumps on various parts of my body, which are also itchy. I'm not sure whether they are ant bites or maybe blocked pores where the sweat can't escape. If they don't disappear in a day or two, I will see a doctor.

A degree or two can make all the difference. I can tolerate - even enjoy - the heat up to a certain level, but once that level is exceeded I begin to suffer. That level, for me personally, seems to be about 35°C. It's also quite a humid heat. Hot weather is a bit more tolerable in places where the humidity is low.

Even so, I don't think it's the worst I have experienced. I worked in Saudi Arabia many years ago and the daytime temperatures there were well into the 40's, however, it wasn't too humid.

Probably the worst I have experienced was in North America. Charlotte, North Carolina, where I did several working assignments was very hot and very humid. I also spent a very uncomfortable summer vacation one year in Toronto, Canada. Canada may be more infamous for its cold winters, but the summers can get very hot and very humid.

Unfortunately, it will be several months yet before the temperatures in southern Thailand start to get comfortable again.

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Monday 21st April 2014

Vehicle inspection centre - Click for larger image I had to renew my car road tax today. Previously I have always gone with the wife and have let her deal with all the documentation. Today I went alone. It was all straightforward and I guess the whole thing was completed in just over an hour.

The first port of call was at a vehicle inspection centre for the Thai equivalent of the UK MOT, which (for those not familiar with the UK) is an annual assessment of vehicle condition and road worthiness.

If your vehicle is more than a few years old in the UK there are normally a few things that fail the MOT and repairs are often required. The test in Thailand is a lot less stringent. They have the equipment, but don't tend to do many tests.

In previous years all they have done is test the braking efficiency on a rolling road. Today, I saw them checking lights and indicators on another vehicle and they actually checked my exhaust emissions, which is something they have never done before.

I presented the inspection centre with my vehicle registration, which they returned to me along with a document certifying that my vehicle was road worthy. This service cost just Bt200.

The next thing I needed to do was renew my mandatory government insurance, known in Thai as Por Ror Bor. This can be purchased at many places and you can actually purchase it at the vehicle inspection centre. It was Bt600 for my car and it just covers Third Party costs in the event of an accident. Every vehicle in Thailand requires this type of insurance, whether you have optional private insurance or not.

Finally, I had to pay my road tax at the local tax office. You need to present the documents I just mentioned, along with the Por Ror Bor, and a fee of Bt3,884. I think it is less for smaller vehicles. I'm now all set for another year.

Regarding additional car costs, I also have optional fully comprehensive insurance to cover the cost of repairs to my own car in the event of an accident because this isn't covered by the Por Ror Bor. The current policy cost me Bt10,466. The insurance for my wife's little Honda Brio was more expensive, but I have accrued some no-claims bonus.

The price of fuel fluctuates. I use Gasohol 95, which is a mixture of 10% ethanol and 95 octane petrol. The current price is around Bt40 a litre. I am quite fond of my car, but its fuel consumption is not its best point.

Lots of Thais opt for LPG conversions, but engines run hotter and valves don't get lubricated. My local Ford dealer doesn't recommend LPG conversions and told me that if you have a conversion you should limit your mileage while running on LPG. The tanks take up space and they can also explode. This is something that I have given some thought to, but I decided against the idea.

My car has cost me a lot in repairs. Thais seem to get their vehicles serviced for the first couple of years and then they just get repairs done and don't bother with regular servicing. Strangely, a full service history doesn't seem important in Thailand when selling or buying a used car. I asked, but got a strange look.

My car was sourced through my wife's brother who deals in used cars. I put a lot of trust in his judgement when he said he had found me a cheap car. Yes, it was cheaper than similar cars for sale at the time, but in the long run it has cost me a lot of money in repairs. I am loathe to sell it now because I have spent so much money getting everything put right.

If I was still single I wouldn't bother with car ownership. I would just rent one occasionally. Cars are a hassle and they also get expensive. In addition, roads are good places to avoid in Thailand for reasons I have stated repeatedly. With kids, however, they are a necessity and now I have no choice.

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Thursday 17th April 2014

Wrecked minivan - Click for larger image My wife was watching Thai TV news recently and the report said that Thailand's roads were the second deadliest in the world. She made a sarcastic comment that Thailand wanted to be first. With the Songkran festival approaching there was a good opportunity for Thais to go for that top spot. Songkran has just ended, and with it so have the lives of lots of Thais.

Songkran toll: 277 killed, 2,926 injured

This happens every single year without exception. The really tragic thing is that it will happen again next year, and the year after, and the year after, ad infinitum. This is one of the few certainties in life.

I went out to buy some food yesterday and while I was waiting for my order to be cooked I watched a bit of Thai TV news. It was surreal.

Various reports from all over the country showed wrecked vehicles on the roads and in ditches, and accident victims in hospital. This road carnage was interspersed with footage of Thais on motorbikes and in the back of pickup trucks cruising around throwing water at each other with inane grins on their faces. With many Thais, apparently, this particular 'joke' never gets old.

The TV news station displayed a graphic indicating that during Songkran approximately two people get killed on Thai roads every hour. It's unbelievable to observe how Thais carry on, despite the huge loss of life that takes place every year.

The missing Malaysian aircraft has been first page news for weeks, and now, with the ferry that sank in South Korea, it looks as if a similar number of people may have lost their lives in another major tragedy. These kind of incidents make for huge worldwide news.

On the other hand, when a similar number of people are killed each year on Thailand's roads during a festival it doesn't even get mentioned in the foreign press.

In a 'normal' week in Thailand the number of people killed on the roads is much higher than most other countries and much higher than is acceptable. During Songkran and New Year the number of road deaths soars. But no one cares and no one does anything.

Amazing Thailand.

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Tuesday 15th April 2014

Bird singing contest in southern Thailand - Click for larger image There's a big tradition in southern Thailand of keeping songbirds. The birds in question are Red-Whiskered Bulbuls (Pycnonotus jocosus) and they are entered in frequently held bird-singing contests that attract a lot of southern Thai men.

As is always the case in Thailand, the animals on display at events like this are only a secondary attraction. Gambling is the main attraction and lots of money changes hands.

As a result, birds with good singing voices can be worth quite a lot of money and they are even stolen. I was up in Nakhon Sri Thammarat a few years ago and got talking to a guy with a caged songbird who told me the bird was worth Bt10,000.

Yesterday, my wife's sister and her husband came to visit. I was a little surprised that he had brought a cage containing his prized songbird. Perhaps he couldn't bear to leave it alone at home for a few hours?

Both me and the wife had the same initial reaction. We have two very active cats with predatory instincts that are always catching large insects and small reptiles. Their greatest ambition in life is to catch a bird. They haven't been successful so far, but they get very excited when they see birds outside.

My two cats - Click for larger image We gave him several warnings, but he didn't seem unduly bothered and placed the cage on the wall in front of the house. A little later I heard my wife screaming because our male cat had found the cage. A caged bird sitting in his own hunting territory was a temptation that he simply couldn't resist.

We rushed out, but the cage had fallen to the ground. It was only made from wood and it broke so that the bird was able to escape. It flew at first into some nearby trees, but then left for the woods next door to our development. Bye bye bird.

My wife's brother-in-law tried to put on his best 'mai bpen rai' face, but obviously he was devastated. I felt really bad for him. He remained silent for the rest of the visit and then left with an empty cage.

My wife thought it was funny and told me that the bird had cost him Bt5,000. That's probably about half a month's salary to him.

I did feel sorry for him, but everyone knows what cats are like and to leave the cage where he did without constant supervision wasn't the brightest thing to do in the circumstances.

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Monday 14th April 2014

Khanom Beach, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Thailand - Click for larger image Everything continues to get more expensive in Thailand, but hotel prices are still a massive bargain compared to other countries. I can't think of any other country in the world, or any other capital city in the world, where hotels are as cheap. In addition, seasonal discounts in certain areas of the country reduce the prices even further.

The political problems at the moment have resulted in a drop in tourist numbers and this means that there are even more discounts being offered to try to lure tourists back. Now is probably a better time than ever to visit Thailand.

Bangkok tends to have a fairly constant tourist trade throughout the year and places like Hat Yai in the south don't really have high and low seasons because Malaysian and Singaporean tourists visit year-round. However, hotel prices in these places at any time of year are still very cheap compared with other countries.

The southern coastal resorts have high and low seasons. European and Russian tourists like to visit tropical Thailand during their own wintertime, and this also coincides with a time of the year in Thailand when it is dry and not too hot.

The high season, roughly between October and March, is when many tourists arrive. Everywhere gets crowded and hotel prices are at their highest. For Europeans, the prices will still be relatively low, but after you become accustomed to prices in Thailand (as I have) they can seem quite high.

I don't travel much these days because it is difficult (and to be honest, not much fun) with a young family. However, for the last couple of years we have taken a quick break during the low season. My strategy, in order to get the most enjoyment for the lowest cost, is to go during the low season and to go to places that don't attract a lot of foreign tourists.

My biggest nightmare would be going to Pattaya or Patong Beach in December. On the other hand, we have had great breaks in Trang in September and Nakhon Sri Thammarat in June.

Thailand is quite a big country and there are relatively few tourist resorts that are well known to foreigners. However, I repeatedly see farangs recommending these same old jaded places to other farangs. Presumably, they don't know of any other places so can only recommend the ones they know of.

Khanom Beach, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Thailand - Click for larger image Probably the worst travel experience I have ever had in Thailand was in Koh Lanta for New Year. Some on-line friends were going there and invited me along. I had already been living in Thailand for a number of years and was familiar with local prices.

As soon as I arived in Koh Lanta I knew that I was being ripped off for absolutely everything. Accommodation prices were absurd, purely because lots of farangs were in town and the local hotel owners knew that they would pay sky high prices.

I was forced into a position where I had to pay far too much for a grotty bungalow and I resented it. I went with my old girlfriend and as we entered the accommodation there was a very strong smell of air freshener. I found out why a little later.

There was a problem with the septic tank and the bathroom smelt like a sewer. The owners knew about this but instead of fixing it they just tried to disguise the smell.

I couldn't find any cheap local transport but lots of pickup truck owners had a sign saying 'Taxi'. Instead of being able to go anywhere for Bt10 or Bt20 you had to pay the locals a couple of hundred Baht for each journey.

I didn't find Lanta particularly attractive - neither the island or the sea. I absolutely hated it. I have never been back since and I have no desire to go back.

Let me contrast this with a break that we had a couple of years ago at the Anantara Si Kao Resort & Spa in Trang province. This was one of the best travel experiences I have ever had in Thailand.

The resort sits on a promontory and it is completely secluded. It's quiet, peaceful and there is a very safe environmemt for children. The facilities are great with a huge, attractive swimming pool and excellent food.

During the low season you can stay there for peanuts and when we went there were more staff than guests. It really was a special experience. I'd like to go again - and we have a window of opportunity next month - but I don't think the wife is very keen because it won't be much fun for her with a four month old baby.

Our break last year wasn't quite as successful. We decided to go to Khanom Beach in Nakhon Sri Thammarat province. Again, this location isn't that well known to Western tourists. The location was good, but the hotel was disappointing.

The Aava Resort and Spa sounded very impressive from on-line information and reviews, but we were not at all impressed. For the money we paid, there is a lot better accommodation available in Thailand.

My two pieces of advice to people wanting to get good value in Thailand are to go in the low season and to go to places that most other foreigners don't go to.

Are there any downsides to this approach?

Khanom Beach, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Thailand - Click for larger image The weather in Thailand starts to get very hot at around the end of the high season and this can be quite uncomfortable. Also, when you start to veer off the tourist trail a car starts to become quite essential and therefore car rental costs should also be taken into consideration.

For some people, a lack of other tourists may be a problem. It's a bonus for me, but if you are the type of person who feels comfortable with lots of foreigners around it may not be a good idea.

Language isn't really a problem. The Anantara is managed and owned by foreigners and the staff can speak English. The Aava is also owned by foreigners and language barriers aren't a problem. It's never a bad thing to have speaking and reading skills in Thailand, but it's not essential.

With regard to my own plans this low season, I'm still not sure whether we shall go anywhere or not. So far, my wife hasn't shown much enthusiasm but she may suddenly decide to go. We can drive to both of the aforementioned places from home in about three hours, therefore making a spur-of-the-moment decision shouldn't be a problem.

When booking accommodation in Thailand it often pays to go through an agent. The standard walk in rates can be quite, although you can probably negotiate a discount during low season. The rates available through on-line travel agents are often a lot lower.

 


Almost without exception, every country in the world seems to measure its progress by looking at its GDP output. It's the same in Thailand, and this was especially the case when Thaksin was running the country. In a world of finite resources we all want to keep on producing more and more, but surely we all realise that this is unsustainable?

As well as the damage to the environment there is the human cost with more pressure on everyone to work harder all the time just to survive. Many people these days are constantly tired and stressed, and the lack of any job security also causes anxiety.

I became tired of this many years ago and decided to try to escape. I chose Thailand because it was a country I had always enjoyed visiting as a tourist and I believed that 'Buddhist' Thais had healthier attitudes towards money and materialism. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Is there anywhere in the world that really is different?

There was a report on Channel News Asia about Bhutan this morning and apparently it is the only country in the world where the country's progress is measured in terms of its citizens' level of happiness. It appears that the Bhutanese truly live by Buddhist principles, which isn't the case in other Buddhist countries.

Perhaps 'big' countries around the world could learn a lesson from little Bhutan?

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Sunday 13th April 2014

Kids at Songkran - Click for larger image This is my three year-old playing with water. However, I expect that next year she will probably find it too childish.

As usual, I am remaining firmly esconced at home for the duration of the Songkran festival. We went shopping yesterday and I made sure that there was enough food in the house to make journeys outside unnecessary while the aquatic anarchy is taking place.

I wouldn't mind if it was possible to opt out of the juvenile antics, but it isn't. Everyone outside is considered fair game and Thais get very upset if someone shows anger at being pelted with ice-cold water.

Some years ago I felt slightly guilty about being a sourpuss and remaining holed up in my rented room, so I ventured outside. At the time, I was wearing a contact lens to correct irregular astigmatism in one eye as a result of a fungal infection I contracted in Thailand. I was also wearing glasses for myopia.

My little adventure started off without incident, but then I went to the central tourist district where a bunch of Chinese Malaysian men offloaded their water guns at point blank range in my face. This caused problems with my vision and I had to return home. It doesn't matter if you are carrying an expensive camera or have contact lenses or glasses. There will always be an idiot with a large water gun waiting to saturate you.

On that occasion, I should add, many local Thais seemed a lot more sensitive and there was a kind of questioning look on their faces before they squirted. If they detected that people weren't happy, they didn't fire. However, other Thais didn't care and Malaysian tourists were the worst offenders of all.

I would imagine that the entire country of Malaysia is closed at the moment because everyone from Malaysia is in southern Thailand. I was downtown on Friday and there were dozens of tour buses arriving from Malaysia.

The local economy here relies very heavily on Malaysian tourists and the local municipality and tourist organisation do as much as they can to attract tourists for New Year and Thai festivals.

Attitudes towards Songkran divide Thais just as much as they divide foreigners. Songkran is like Christmas in the UK and Thanksgiving in the States. It's a time when families get together and many Thais travel to their ancestral homes. The roads are very busy and it is probably the most dangerous time of year to travel on roads that are already very dangerous. This is another reason why I choose to stay at home at this time of year.

It is a time when respectable females definitely don't go outside. Apart from being squirted with water, they also run the risk of being groped by drunken males who regard Songkran as a free pass to do whatever they want.

It seems to be popular with girls who aren't so respectable, those under the age of seven, those with a very low IQ, and those whose lives are very unexciting.

The one saving grace in southern Thailand is that the water squirting 'only' goes on for one day. As if one whole day of acting like a little child isn't enough, it lasts for a whole week in northern Thailand.

This is how polite, respectable Thais celebrate Songkran - Click for larger image I don't believe that it has always been this way. I used to work at the local university among polite, educated, respectable, middle-class Thais. When they celebrated Songkran they did it in the traditional way with a lot of dignity and respect. They took it in turns to bathe a Buddha image and then they very respectfully bathed the hands of older people.

It's not quite the same out on the streets of Thailand where you will find Somchai crawling around in his big pickup truck with 20 kids and huge plastic containers of iced water in the back as the kids throw water on to everyone they pass.

Sorry to sound so miserable when so many other people are obviously having so much fun, but this kind of thing really bores me and I find it completely unacceptable that those people not wanting to participate in the infantile shenanigans are unable to go about their business without being drenched.

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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. 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.

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