Living In Thailand Blog
Tuesday 11th April 2017
An assortment of topics today. Firstly, weather.
This has been the wettest, coolest April I have ever known in Thailand. April is usually the hottest month of the year and it can be unbearable. Normally, the A/C units run a lot at this time of year and I have to give my garden a lot of water. This month, we haven't used A/C at all and I haven't had to water my garden for weeks.
A storm came in at the end of March and was supposed to leave by the 4th, but the forecast was extended to the 6th. It still hasn't gone. Last night, the 10th, there was another big electrical storm with lots of thunder and lightning. I love it! It's great sitting indoors when the weather is foul outside and the cooler temperatures, especially at night, are very welcome.
I am fairly confident that I have solved the rat problem that I described recently. The noise I kept hearing was, I believe, a solitary animal. We had the same problem when a solitary rat found out how to get into my wife's car through the engine bay. The same creature kept going back every day.
The false ceiling downstairs has no access doors, just small circular cutouts for the downlights. Therefore, without cutting an opening in the ceiling I had no way to install traps. I was reluctant to do it, but I put down some rat poison. I haven't heard the rat for over a week and conclude that it must have eaten the poison.
One of my concerns about using poison was that the rat would die in the house and create a bad smell. However, several Thais have told me that this doesn't happen. The poison doesn't kill the rat instantly. It makes the rat feel thirsty and when the rat goes outside again to drink water it then dies. It's a relief, but with so many rats in Thailand I know it will only be a question of time before I have another problem. I see rats every day, they are everywhere.
The glue traps I placed in the storm drains were not successful. Maybe, I used the wrong bait? I used peanut butter, which the rats eat, but they seem to prefer fish or fried chicken. I have read that large rats can escape from these traps. One of my neighbours uses them and I know that he has caught some smaller rats.
About to visit a street restaurant to see if there is any food
A very common sight in Thailand
My repaired computer has been fine since the shop changed some components. A working computer, no rats scurrying around in the house, and cooler weather are all things to be pleased about.
Why does the character of Thais change so much whenever they drive? I've been doing the morning school run this week, which is something that my wife normally does. The driving standards are so unbelievable bad that it has to be seen to be believed.
This morning, while driving along a one-way street, a motorbike suddenly appeared out of nowhere driving the wrong way and the driver tried to get through the small gap between my car and a row of parked cars. I've just had the bodywork done, so wasn't very happy. I let him know I wasn't very happy and received the usual volley of verbal abuse. Immediately afterwards I stopped at two sets of traffic lights while drivers who were behind me blatantly ran the lights.
On Thai TV news yesterday there was some CCTV footage of a nasty accident caused by a pickup truck that ran red lights and hit a motorbike at high speed. They don't just run amber lights, they run lights five seconds or more after the lights have turned red. This is very common.
Many Thais have an attitude that they can do whatever they want and woe betide anyone who questions their actions. This is something I noticed with Thais as soon as I started living in Thailand, but for a long time I didn't know why. Thailand translates as 'Land of the free' and I thought it might be something to do with the fact that Thais believed they had the freedom to do anything.
Now I believe it is connected with the cultural concept of greng jai. Being greng jai towards other people is an important part of Thai cultural behaviour and it involves having extreme reluctance to impose on others. The problem is that it has gone further than that and, together with a desire to avoid confrontation, it means that Thais won't interfere with anyone - even if other people are committing crimes or breaking laws.
I have read comments by expats in Thailand saying that if Thais witness people stealing a motorbike they won't do anything. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, this is true.
Thais obviously understand their own cultural behaviour and those Thais without any form of social conscience know that if they do something that is clearly wrong, then no one will challenge them or say anything because of greng jai and a desire to avoid confrontation. When someone, such as an inferior farang, does question their actions they become extreme aggressive.
When I do the school run parking is a nightmare because there are so many cars at the school and so few spaces. One parent just parked on the road where parking is forbidden because it was convenient. Of course, with one lane completely out of action it only made the traffic situation worse. This type of unsocial parking is extremely common in Thailand and Thai drivers are incredibly selfish.
I couldn't proceed because the parked car had blocked the lane, so attempted to pull out into the other lane. The guy behind me driving a big Isuzu pickup truck did his best to prevent me from getting out. This is also extremely common in Thailand - no one ever gives way to anyone else or lets anyone else out. It's always a case of 'me first' and **** everyone else.
What is strange is that when I meet parents inside the school the level of politeness can be overbearing. They walk around like Cheshire cats with big grins on their faces wai'ing to everyone and being extremely polite. Yet, as soon as they get into their cars outside the school everything changes and they can become quite nasty. It's really strange. It's probably true to say that people from all countries change when they are driving, but the difference in behaviour in Thailand seems to be a lot more extreme. I wrote about it here:
Retiring in Thailand on US$500 per month.
Sorry if this is overkill, but I have currently got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the websites that peddle this lie. Anyway, let's get away from being emotional and subjective. We shall apply some objectivity and do some simple maths.
At current exchange rates US$500 is worth about Bt17,320. The first thing that comes to mind when I see this figure is the number of foreign English teachers working in provincial Thailand who earn Bt30,000 per month and bitch like hell that it isn't adequate. They say that Bt30,000 isn't sufficient to live in Thailand, which is a little different to the websites claiming that you can live well in Thailand on Bt17,000 per month.
You also need to remember that exchange rates change (in some cases dramatically) and if your income is from abroad this can have a serious impact on the amount of Baht you get. Being a post-Brexit Brit, I know this only too well from bitter experience. When I moved to Thailand in late 2003 each one of my UK pounds was worth almost Bt75. Now, I get about Bt42 if I am lucky. Americans earning dollars while living in Thailand are fine at the moment, but everything in life is cyclical and nothing is ever permanent.
To start off with you will need somewhere to stay. I have seen apartment buildings offering rooms for less than Bt2,000 per month, but you really wouldn't want to stay in one of these places. They are basic in every sense and the bathroom will consist of a concrete slab with a large plastic barrel in one corner. The barrel is filled with cold water and to wash you splash water over yourself with a small plastic bowl. You needn't worry about being lonely because there will be plenty of cockroaches, mosquitoes and possibly rats to keep you company. If you decide to retire in Thailand, it's for a better life isn't it? Not a worse one.
The cheapest type of place I would consider living in will cost around Bt4,500 per month in the provinces (more in Bangkok). When I was a single man I paid Bt6,500 to get a room in which I felt comfortable. That's just the room. I rented a fridge for Bt500 per month and my water and electricity bills were additional expenses. Water was always cheap - around Bt100 per month. Electricity varied depending on how much I used the A/C. I never used the A/C much and rarely paid more than Bt500, but if you can't take the heat and need to use a lot of A/C the bill can be in excess of Bt1,000. Some places include Wi-Fi. My old place didn't and this cost me another Bt500 per month.
Let's be generous and say Bt5,000 for your room plus utility bills. That will leave Bt12,320, which works out at around Bt400 per day for everything else. Mmmm. Already, the calculations aren't looking very good.
On these websites I keep reading about the fabulous meals you can get in Thailand for a single US dollar, which is around Bt35. Indeed, you can get meals from street vendors and food stalls for that amount but, believe me, they aren't fabulous and you wouldn't want to eat this type of food three times a day every day.
For many farangs in Thailand, visits to McDonalds or to the local expat pub selling Western food will be irresistible and one visit can could easily break your daily budget, especially if you are partial to a beer to wash down your food (as many expats in Thailand are).
Again, let's take the brightest view and imagine that you eat three Thai meals a day for Bt100. That will leave you with Bt300 for everything else. There are many necessities in life that need to be paid for with this money. Clothes, haircuts, toiletries, and more. Eventually, regardless of how healthy you are, you will become sick and at other times you will develop problems with your teeth. These things are often cheaper in Thailand compared to Western countries, but they aren't free.
Certain types of medicine can be expensive, as can hospital bills. A tooth problem involving root canal treatment and a new crown can cost about the same as your monthly budget.
I wouldn't expect you to stay at home all day and transport is another expense. You can probably buy a cheap, used motorbike for around Bt5,000 and petrol is quite cheap. Sawng-thaews are fixed price and quite cheap. The days of Bt10 motorbike taxi and tuk-tuk rides disappeared long ago and are now at least Bt40 and often a lot more for foreigners.
Many foreigners, myself included, enjoy the cheap massages in Thailand, but 'cheap' is a relative term. They may be cheap compared to having a Thai massage in London, but if you are trying to exist on a budget of Bt400 per day you can't really justify going for massages.
When I was a single man I went for lots of massages and the standard price was Bt240. If I bought a voucher or went to certain places it was Bt200. I always tipped the girls Bt100. The standard price now, where I live, is Bt300. Therefore, including a tip for the girl, one massage would be the same as your daily budget.
Visiting attractions will use a large chunk of your budget, especially with the widespread practice of dual pricing in which foreigners are charged much higher prices than Thais.
If you are a single man/woman desirous of some female/male company, there won't be many Thais who are interested when they discover how little your disposable income is. And if you want some temporary paid male or female companionship (I don't need to explain) each session will cost you several days' budget.
And don't forget Thai immigration. As a retiree you will be expected to have a retirement visa, which must be renewed every year. The financial requirement for this visa - and you need an official letter from your Embassy to state this - is to have Bt800,000 on deposit in a Thai bank account or to have an income of Bt65,000 per month.
There are a couple of ways to avoid this. The first is to overstay, but this is not recommended. If you are caught there will be a big fine, possible imprisonment, you will be deported and not allowed back into Thailand for a long time.
The second way is to attempt to do monthly border runs and fill your passport up with 30 day stamps. This was very common before 2006, but since then there have been several crackdowns on border runners. It is a loophole that some foreigners exploit, but Thai immigration don't like it and it is possible that on a border run you will not be allowed back into the country. And even if you can get away with border runs it will cost you each time you go. And even if you are allowed to do back-to-back border runs for a long time you will quickly fill up your passport and need another. I think my last UK passport replacement in Thailand cost around Bt9,000. Oops, there goes another month's budget.
Some years ago I remember reading a comment on-line by someone living in Bangkok who stated that you need to have an income of Bt100,000 per month to live a decent life in Bangkok. That's not quite true and most people can live well for less than that. However, going to the other extreme and claiming that someone can retire and have a great life in Thailand on Bt17,000 per month is simply ridiculous.
Yes, you can find very cheap rented rooms and yes, you can find very cheap food , but but but ... that isn't how it works in reality. Some days I don't spend anything. I could multiply zero by 31 and claim that you can live in Thailand for free, but of course you can't. If you are seriously thinking about retiring to Thailand you need to be realistic. You need to look at the long term view, you need to be completely honest with yourself about the lifestyle you want, and you need to take every potential expense into account. The fact that you can rent cheap rooms and buy cheap meals in Thailand means nothing.
And yes, most Thais earn very small salaries and survive, but it is completely different for the following reasons.
Firstly, poor Thais can live very cheaply, but the vast majority of foreigners would not want to live like poor Thais. Secondly, as a foreigner in Thailand you will be subject to expenses that poor Thais aren't subject to. Thirdly, even poor Thais will have a support network in the form of family and friends if they get sick or have an emergency situation. You, most likely, won't. Many Thais on low salaries stay with family members and have no accommodation costs. Others share with lots of friends or colleagues to divide the cost.
As I said yesterday, I don't want to put a damper on anyone's dream. It just bugs me when people set up websites primarily to make money for themselves and make misleading claims in order to attract visitors to their sites.
Monday 10th April 2017
I was very fortunate to be born where and when I was. Upon reaching school leaving age in the UK in the mid 70's, lots of great jobs were available with the world's leading companies and the economy was booking. Salaries were good, as were benefits and the biggest benefit of all, which I didn't think much about at the time (being so young), was the final salary pension plan that many companies offered. Unless you really screwed up badly, jobs were for life and this security provided a lot of comfort when taking out 25 year mortgages on houses. It wasn't necessary to get a degree unless you wanted to do a very specific job, and if you decided to go to university you could get government grants and study basically for free.
Even when I was still working, the world started to change. My company no longer offered permanent positions to new hires, but gave them short-term contracts. Guaranteed final salary pension schemes started to terrify accounting departments and became a thing of the past. Companies introduced pension schemes that absolved them of any financial liability and even tried to convince old employees who had final salary schemes to convert.
As globalisation took hold, more and more jobs started to be outsourced to places like India and cheap goods manufactured abroad meant that manufacturing jobs started to diminish in the developed world. Everything went downhill very quickly starting in the early 90's and apart from a tiny minority of individuals who have become extraordinarily rich, life has gotten worse for most people.
For ordinary Thais it is a little different. They haven't experienced life getting worse, because for the vast majority of ordinary Thais it was never very good in the first place. It is natural for us all to want the best life possible and, following on from my last post, there will always be people who try to exploit this fact by selling impossible dreams and making their money by deceiving others.
I just watched the movie 'Snowden', Oliver Stone's offering about the life of Edward Snowden. Snowden had a great life materially, lived in fabulous locations, and made a lot of money doing the type of computer work that he enjoyed and was very good at. However, what he was doing played on his conscience so much that he felt he had no choice but to inform others what was happening, even though he knew he would lose absolutely everything.
Some people are like this, but others aren't. The expat who was gunned down in Pattaya recently - and who was obviously making a ton of money - was involved in boiler room scams, in which innocent people are conned out of large amounts of money by high pressure selling techniques. To some people, feathering their own nests is the only thing that is important and they have no conscience regarding how their actions affect other people.
My previous Thai girlfriend, and also some other Thais I know, got involved with pyramid selling - a term that the pyramid selling companies hate people to use. They prefer terms such as Multi Level Marketing, which sounds a lot more legitimate. This is a big industry in Thailand.
She worked her socks off for a while trying to hawk very expensive products and most of the products she sold were to friends and relatives, who bought them because were trying to help her out. She made very little money because most of the profit went to people who were higher up in the pyramid. The people doing this are not described as sales reps, but as Independent Business Owners who are running their own businesses. This has great appeal to Thais because Thailand is not a good country to be an employee and everyone wants to be a business owner.
She attended meetings all the time and the company wheeled in big shots from Bangkok who had made millions in the programme and drove BMWs. As they entered the room they were greeted with rapturous applause from all the newbie wannabees.
Part of the dream she was sold was that one day she could retire and live on a passive income from people who were lower in the pyramid than she was. It is very unusual for Thais to receive pensions and many have to work until they are ready for the grave, unless they have children to support them. This part of the dream was therefore very appealing.
She did this for quite a long time and believed all the lies, despite my warnings and concerns. Eventually, she realised that it wasn't going anywhere and went back to her old job working in a beauty salon. The salary was lousy and there were no benefits, apart from free beauty treatments and haircuts, but it was realistic work and not a pipe dream. It happens to Westerners too.
Just recently - I'm not sure why - I have stumbled across a number of websites created by so-called 'Digital Nomads'. Thailand, apparently, is the global hub for this type of venture with Bangkok and Chiang Mai being big centres for digital nomads.
When I first heard this term some years ago, I imagined that the people involved were technical wizards (like Edward Snowden) who were developing fancy smartphone apps or clever interactive websites. With only the need for a laptop computer and an Internet connection they could do this anywhere they wanted to live.
No doubt, there are some clever people like this, but that isn't the case for most of the websites I have seen. It seems the way that most try to earn enough money for their digital nomad lifestyle is by writing e-book guides about the location where they live or giving advice to other people about how to become a digital nomad. They also use affiliate schemes to try to sell various things that will earn them a little commission. Anyone can do this and it takes very little technical skill.
The Internet is becoming saturated with these websites and there must be countless numbers of individually written e-book guides on living in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, as well as how to become a successful digital nomad.
Over the years I have read many pieces of advice on business, and one piece of advice is never to do the same thing as everyone else. I've seen this with Thais whenever there is a craze for something. The first people to get involved do well, but those who follow never succeed. The same thing is now happening with digital nomads.
A few people have done, and continue to do, well. I won't name any sites, but there is no doubt that some sites have become very well known and earn the owners a decent income. As for the others, I don't think so. I have never thought of myself as a digital nomad, but I have lived in Thailand since 2003 and have been running a website about Thailand since 2004 so I have a little experience of the subject. It was possible to do quite well a few years ago, but now the landscape has changed. Perhaps the book 'The 4-Hour Work Week' was the catalyst? After this book, everyone wanted to live the dream and the market became over saturated.
I suspect that a lot of potential digital nomads arrive in Thailand with some money, but find they get through it quite quickly without developing any new streams of income and then just go home.
I'm also not sure how they manage to stay in Thailand. Doing this kind of thing isn't regarded as 'work' by Thai immigration so they can't get work visas. Most seem to be in their 20's and 30's, so can't get retirement visas, and I doubt that many have Thai spouses so they can't get marriage visas. In recent years, the Thai immigration authorities have clamped down on the amount of time that foreigners can stay in the country on tourist visas.
Apart from the problems with immigration and the difficulty of generating an on-line income these days, there are other factors that aren't usually spoken about. When people are chasing dreams they want to believe that their dreams are possible and close their ears to the truth.
If you put the term 'digital nomad' into a search engine you will get a list of sites claiming to be able to turn you into a successful digital nomad. Of course, it goes without saying that you will have to buy the authors e-book before this happens. Everyone wants to sell you something so everyone pushes the dream and tries to convince you that it can really happen.
I've seen so many snake-oil websites like this, but today I found a site that is a lot more truthful. The author writes from personal experience, but when he submitted an article about the digital nomad lifestyle to a major publisher they hated it because it was too gloomy. This is what happens. The truth is too gloomy to publish and doesn't attract readers, so to get round this just don't tell the truth. Keep peddling the half-truths, lies and dreams because these things sell.
As a digital nomad, obsessed with making a living on-line, he talks about the effects it has emotionally and the social sacrifices that need to be made. He says that one person broke down in tears after seeing a family out riding their bikes. There was a sudden realisation that with this kind of nomadic existence he would never have the security and comfort of a family life.
I had a similar experience. Shortly before getting to the age where I could claim my company pension I imagined that I would embark on a nomadic lifestyle, but not digital. I had plans to maintain a small base in Thailand, but to travel constantly around the region. I had always loved travel and photography and imagined that it would be a blast. But something inside me had changed.
I remember going on a trip alone and it feeling very different. Normally, I would check into a hotel as quickly as possible and then hit the streets to explore, explore, explore. I always loved doing this and it excited me. However, this time I just felt lonely and it all seemed so empty and meaningless. Shortly afterwards I met the girl who is now my wife and we had two kids. Suddenly, there was a new, very different chapter in my life.
At times with the children I find it very frustrating that I can't do the things that I used to be able to do, but there is no way now that I would be without my family. Even at those times now when they aren't here for half a day I start to feel restless.
There's no perfect life because as I have said before, "We can have anything, but we can't have everything." This has nothing to do with money, but it is because certain things are simply incompatible. You can't have a free, independent, nomadic lifestyle and have a stable family life at the same time. The two things aren't compatible. You can have anything you want, but you have to choose what it is you want because you can't have everything.
The Dark Side of the Digital Nomad - by Mark Manson
The author's other articles are also good. I have bookmarked the site and will be reading more.
It's a tough world. The global economy changed for good in 2008 and won't return to how it was previously. The world's wealth is the same as before, but the way it is distributed is very different and a lot more uneven. Many people now live in the so-called 'gig economy' working as independent contractors with no long term job security and none of the benefits of being a permanent employee.
For an older person with a small income, the prospect of retiring to sunny Thailand and leading a very comfortable life for US$500 per month, or so, must be very appealing. Likewise, many younger people dream of exciting, nomadic lifestyles that allow them to see the world while earning a decent living on-line.
I don't want to put a damper on people's dreams, but there is a lot of information out there that is only there to try to turn someone else's dream into reality at your expense. If you think you can go to Thailand and make money by writing yet another e-book about living in Bangkok or how to become a successful digital nomad the reality is that you will probably fail. It may have been possible 10 (or even 5) years ago, but that time has now passed. As with pyramid selling, those who get in first can do well but those who follow don't stand much of a chance. If you really want to succeed try to think of something that hasn't been done yet and be a leader, not a follower.
Saturday 8th April 2017
Unfortunately, we live in a world full of trickery, chicanery, duplicity, deceit and general dishonesty. The BBC just published the following article, but most people will be aware of the problem anyway. European consumer protection authorities identified 235 websites that were misleading people, but the problem is far more extensive than that.
The good thing about Europe is that regulatory bodies are at least looking out for this kind of thing and that on-line companies must correct the problems, otherwise they can be subject to legal proceedings. This doesn't seem to apply to certain other regions of the world.
Just recently my wife went to Bangkok with her family. It was her decision and she paid, therefore we needed to get the best deals possible on hotels and flights. Normally, I just use Nok Air for domestic flights in Thailand and book hotels through Agoda. However, we spent several hours checking prices to see if there were any better deals.
We had seen advertisements for cheap hotels and flights and so it seemed worthwhile investigating. In the end, we went full circle and booked the flight with Nok Air and the hotel with Agoda. Had I done this straight away it would have saved a lot of time. What were the problems we encountered?
With budget airlines the promotional deals advertised were no longer available and those that were left were only for certain destinations on certain dates that were of no use to us.
As was the case in the UK several years ago when budget airlines were advertising flights to European destinations for a single UK pound, that kind of thing still happens in Thailand. Airlines advertise cheap fares, but they don't tell you that the advertised price doesn't include various airport and government taxes, which bump up the price considerably.
Also, airlines add extra charges for insurance and additional baggage allowance when these things may not be required. With Nok I am usually able to uncheck the boxes and remove these unnecessary items. With other budget airlines I couldn't do this. Nok provides snacks on its flight, but other budget carriers don't. It's not a big deal on a flight that takes just over an hour, but it adds to the cost if you want something to eat or drink. It quickly became apparent that the promotional prices I had seen advertised were nowhere near the final bottom-line price.
The budget arm of Thai Airways, Thai Smile, is regarded as a premium airline compared to other budget airline, but they don't have lots of hidden charges and actually their fares aren't that much more expensive. The perception is that budget airlines are a lot cheaper, but that isn't always the case.
Regarding hotels, the on-line travel agents (OTAs) advertise 'Prices Starting From ...' and then quote a very low price, but if you select a hotel where you actually want to stay the price is a lot higher. With some cheaper deals breakfast isn't included or it is not possible to get a refund if you cancel. There were huge differences with room rates between various OTAs for exactly the same room in exactly the same hotel on exactly the same dates.
Then, of course, there are the added charges. When I was researching hotels Agoda had the best deals by far, but Agoda is also guilty of adding 10% tax and 7% service charge on top of the advertised prices. The price advertised is never the price that you actually pay and this is misleading.
The OTAs also make a big play on people's anxiety of the fear of missing out. When you look at any hotel you will see that 'x' number of people are currently looking at the hotel, that a room has just been booked, and that there are only a limited number of rooms left. It appears that all the rooms will be booked very soon, but that is exactly what they want you to think. Book now before you miss out.
It may be the case that the number of rooms available to any one company is limited, but it isn't true for the hotel overall and to say, for example, that only two rooms are left is misleading. The idea is just to make people think that if they don't act quickly and book a room they will miss out. This fear of missing out is a powerful emotion and one that is exploited by many retail companies and advertisers.
I have also seen lots of very misleading information about individual hotels on OTA websites. If I was looking at hotels in a location I wasn't familiar with I wouldn't know any better, but where I live I know the hotels very well and I know that some are miles from anywhere but the blurb says they are conveniently situated for shopping, etc. This information simply isn't true.
It is the same with many websites about Thailand - probably elsewhere too, but I am not as familiar with other countries as I am with Thailand. There are some websites claiming that Westerners can retire to Thailand for a ridiculously low amount of money each month, but this isn't true and there is so much information that they omit to tell you.
Why does this happen and what can you do? It's all about money, of course, and in a highly competitive world with a tough economy businesses do whatever it takes to get business, even if it means misleading people.
Many websites are driven by money and use another piece of psychology, as opposed to exploiting the fear of missing out. Thais appreciate smooth interaction and non-confrontation with other people and to facilitate this they use a technique known as poot ao jai. This basically means saying things purely to please others, with little regard for the truth. People are more likely to pay money and cooperate if they are told what they want to hear.
This is one of the many aspects of Thai cultural behaviour that makes Thailand such a great place for a vacation. The Thais always seem so pleasant and always say nice things. It's not quite the same if you live in Thailand. When a plumber tells you that he will arrive at 9am the next morning because this is what you want to hear, but doesn't bother turning up and you waste time waiting around for him you start to realise that there are a few problems with Thai cultural behaviour.
If you dream of retiring in the tropics but don't have much money, websites that tell you it is possible to live in Thailand for peanuts will be much more appealing than websites that tell the truth. Thus, they will get more traffic and potentially generate more income.
I don't always know how to get the best deal and it's not easy if you don't have experience. I have booked so many flights and hotels in Thailand that I know my preferred companies and stick with them, but if I was travelling in another part of the world it wouldn't be the same. Sometimes, there is no alternative apart from doing lots of research.
On-line reviews can help, but they can also be confusing. I stayed at what I thought was a fabulous hotel in Krabi last year, but some other people who stayed there gave it terrible views. We all have different ideas, opinions and priorities, therefore, what is perfect for one person will be terrible for someone else.
I always look out for balanced views and opinions. When I read websites about Thailand that portray the country as a 'perfect paradise', where nothing is wrong and absolutely everything is dirt cheap it simply means the author has never been to Thailand, walks around Thailand with his eyes closed, or has a personal agenda that doesn't involve telling the truth.
It's a great country and I'd much rather be in Thailand than a lot of other countries, including my country of birth, but perfect it isn't ... and it isn't cheap if you want the kind of lifestyle that most foreigners who live in Thailand desire.
Thursday 6th April 2017
In most countries there are laws that have been in existence a long time and from time to time new laws are introduced. For example, after the introduction of mobile phone technology it became apparent that using a mobile phone while driving could be dangerous, thus a law was introduced to ban the use of mobile phones while driving. Exactly the same happens in Thailand, except there are a few differences.
The problem in Thailand is what happens after laws are introduced. Whereas in most countries laws are followed and enforced, that isn't what happens in the Land of Smiles. Laws are simply ignored by most of the public and not enforced by the police. Every now and again a directive comes down from the government that laws will be enforced and that is what has just happened. I'm wondering how permanent this latest directive will be because I have seen this type of thing before and it is only ever temporary.
This chicken is breaking the law by not wearing a seatbelt
Prime Minister Prayut has just stated that all passengers in vehicles must wear seat belts and that people should not ride in the open cargo area of pickup trucks. These laws are in place for a good reason and the Prime Minister is right to enforce them. Passengers in cars not wearing seat belts can be catapulted through the windscreen in the event of a collision and if you are sitting in the back of a pickup truck when it overturns (as happens often in Thailand) you will probably die.
One problem is that most Thais don't see it this way. They don't regard the law as being something that will make them safer, but simply as something that infringes upon their personal liberty. As such, laws just get ignored. It is very common to see motorcyclists not wearing helmets and, whereas most Thai drivers drive too fast, whenever I am held up by a slow vehicle it is normally because the driver is heavily engaged using a mobile phone.
Thais on their way to work
My kids have always sat in car seats and now that my daughter has outgrown a car seat I have trained her always to wear a seatbelt. Like most foreigners, whenever she sits in a car she automatically puts on her belt. This astounded one of her teachers who gave her a ride because Thai kids never put on their belts. They haven't been taught to wear belts because their parents consider it unnecessary and child car seats are very rare.
Small children in cars in Thailand sit on the lap of an unrestrained adult or are left unrestrained to crawl around the inside of the vehicle. Either way, if the vehicle is involved in a collision the child will be thrown violently forward. This happened to one of the kids who live next door to me because the person who takes them to school never insists on passengers wearing seatbelts.
The seatbelt law is going to be difficult to enforce (in the same way that the mobile phone law is difficult to enforce) because the majority of vehicles in Thailand have heavily tinted glass that prevents occupants inside being seen from the outside. If the police set up checkpoints, drivers of cars will just put on their belts temporarily to avoid being fined and then take them off again. Many motorcyclists carry their crash helmets in baskets and only wear them if the police are around.
A classy Thai woman in the back of a pickup truck
Conversely, the law banning people from riding in the back of pickup trucks will be easy to enforce. This interests me because so many Thais travel around this way it is going to affect a LOT of people. I have seen upwards of 20 people in the back of some trucks and this is how low-paid construction workers are taken to work. Will this law really be enforced and, if so, for how long? We will see.
Travelling in the back of pickup trucks is very popular with Thai Muslims
The Songkran festival will take place next week and this is when tens of thousands of kids roam around the streets in the back of pickup trucks hurling icy water at passers by. Obviously, this law would have put an end to this activity so the Prime Minister has postponed enforcement of the law until after Songkran.
The annual Songkran water war
Compared to other countries, attitudes toward law are quite different in Thailand. Laws can be postponed, ignored, or used selectively. In most other countries the law is above everything (and everybody) else, but not in Thailand.
In the northeast Isaan region, the poorest region of Thailand many farmers use their agricultural vehicles on the roads for personal transportation. These vehicles aren't roadworthy, but the law is ignored. If the law was enforced than these people wouldn't have any way to get around.
When people from this region had big grievances with the government a few years ago they threatened to drive their vehicles to Bangkok and barricade roads, which would have caused huge disruptions. The government responded by saying they would be arrested because the vehicles are illegal. Laws in Thailand can be applied discriminately depending on the situation and the people involved.
My other concern is that the laws that will now be enforced are those that protect the safety of people who are in vehicles involved in collisions. It won't actually reduce the number of collisions and Thailand has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world.
I would like to see those laws enforced which would reduce the accident rate. The obvious one is speeding because there are is nothing to deter Thais from driving as fast as they want, but also running red lights (which is very common), weaving in and out of traffic at high speed, driving along roads the wrong way, and reckless driving in general. The laws are there already. All that needs to happen is for the laws to be enforced.
Wednesday 5th April 2017
Some years ago I read an article by the BBC's France correspondent describing how the French often complain of a malady known as 'heavy legs' ('jambes lourdes' in the local lingo). Apparently, it is very common and if you go into any pharmacy in France the pharmacist will be able to prescribe several different remedies for this condition.
Outside of France no one complains of having heavy legs (probably most people have never heard of the condition) and if you asked a pharmacist in any other country for a remedy for heavy legs the result would probably be a puzzled expression. There doesn't seem to be any agreement whether it is a genuine malady or a form of hypochondria - possibly a little of both. This affliction appears to be a uniquely French phenomenon. I have observed a similar phenomenon in Thailand.
I had to drop my car off for some work (again) this morning and in the service centre one of the female staff was wandering around complaining to all of her colleagues about having a stomach ache.
ปวดท้อง - bpoo-ut tong (stomach ache)
My wife constantly complains of having a stomach aches, as does every other Thai female I know, and my six year-old daughter now walks around occasionally with a pained expression on her face complaining of having a stomach ache. It appears to be a malady that affects only Thai females. If it occurred once a month I could understand, but the Thai girls complain far more frequently than that. I'm not exactly sure what is behind this but - as with most forms of Thai behaviour - I always have a number of theories.
Thais are seriously addicted to spicy food and find non-spicy food very bland. Chilies are very addictive and the more accustomed you become to eating spicy food, the spicier you want your food. My wife has frequent cravings for som-tum (the spicy papaya salad that is very popular in Thailand), even though she knows that after eating it she will be spending a lot of time in the bathroom. She likes the bplaa-raa fermented fish sauce version, which is the version most likely to cause stomach problems.
This happens with perfectly clean spicy food but there is also the problem of food hygiene in Thailand, which isn't always what it should be. About 13 years ago some researchers in Thailand went out to buy som-tum samples from various food carts and shops in Bangkok. These were then analysed in a laboratory. The Nation published the results.
In the survey 95% of the shrimp ingredients were artificially coloured and 67% of the prepared salads had foreign bodies in them. Fifteen per cent of the peanuts were contaminated with fungus. Twenty out of thirty samples of prepared som-tum had agents and microbes that could cause food poisoning.
Cooked Thai street food isn't normally a problem because it is cooked using such intense heat that all the microbes and other organisms get killed, however, som-tum is made from raw ingredients and that's why there is a 66% chance of eating something in som-tum that could cause food poisoning. In addition to flies constantly landing on the food, the som-tum vendors use the same mortar and pestle all day long without cleaning anything.
Another theory is that Thais complain of aches when there isn't really an ache. The everyday Thai expressions for needing to use the toilet involve the word 'ache' - 'bpoo-ut chee' (need to urinate) or 'bpoo-ut kee' (need to defecate). These aren't polite terms and therefore wouldn't be used when talking to a doctor, but they are the terms that Thais use all the time.
Thais also observe rigid meal times and if they don't have lunch at exactly 12 noon or don't have dinner at exactly 6pm they start to complain of stomach aches, rather than just being hungry. During my working life, and even now, if I am busy at noon I will simply have a late lunch and eat at 2pm or 3pm. My wife, on the other hand, starts to get very irritable if there is no sign of food by 12:05 or 18:05 and has to eat at those prescribed times. All Thais seem to be the same.
If we take our children to the hospital and haven't seen the doctor before noon we know that we will have to wait until at least 1pm because everyone stops work between noon and 1pm. Eveything in Thailand stops for the regulation noon to 1pm lunch break.
Puk Tiang - lunch break at a hospital
To summarise so far, a stomach ache could therefore be a genuine stomach ache caused by spicy and/or contaminated food, or it could be menstrual cramps, or it could be a need to use the toilet, or it could be a result of not eating exactly on time. But also, as is the case in France with heavy legs, I think there is an element of hypochondria because it is unnatural for people to have genuine stomach aches so frequently. And why does this problem only affect females in Thailand? I never hear Thai men constantly complaining of stomach aches and they eat the same food.
Thais also have a habit of repeating lots of things they hear from other people. I'm sure that my daughter doesn't suffer from genuine stomach aches, but because she hears the term so often from other Thai females she starts repeating the same thing.
Just as French pharmacies have lots of remedies for heavy legs, Thai pharmacies have lots of remedies for stomach aches. In addition to Western style medicine there are a number of stomach ache remedies based on traditional Thai and Chinese medicine.
Since living in Thailand I have had three or four cases of food poisoning and one very nasty case of bacterial gastroenteritis. At first I tried to treat it with Imodium, but the doctor told me this can be quite dangerous because blocking up your system can keep the bacteria inside the body. She recognised the symptoms very quickly, gave me some medicine, and I recovered very quickly.
I also experienced a very similar incident in Pattaya in 1987 on my first trip to Thailand. I hooked up with two local girls and we went out for lunch where the girls ordered crabs. I had severe stomach pains and diarrhea afterwards and felt very weak. One of the girls took me to see a doctor and the medicine that he gave me worked very quickly.
In 1996 I was in Thailand mainly for a scuba diving vacation and my dive buddy was an American guy, who I still keep in touch with. Several years later, a friend of his visited Thailand and contracted severe food poisoning. He tried to get home, but didn't make it and died.
Genuine stomach problems are common in Thailand and if you are affected just go to see a Thai doctor. The local doctors are very familiar with stomach problems and very good at treating them. However, I still haven't completely worked out why Thai females complain so frequently of stomach aches when I'm sure that they don't have real stomach aches.
Tuesday 4th April 2017
The weather in Bangkok was pleasant, but it is lousy in the south of Thailand right now. A storm came in last week and we have had several days of grey, wet, miserable weather. It's just like being in the UK, except that it's warm.
Last week my parents mooted the idea of a trip to Thailand this winter to see their grandchildren, but what might deter them (apart from their age and health) is airport security. On my trip to Bangkok at the weekend there were yet more security regulations in place compared to my last trip. Belts and watches now need to be removed and put through the X-Ray machine.
After putting my bag through the machine I then had to unpack it and put several items through the machine again individually while, at the same time, trying to prevent my trousers from falling down.
Obviously, I don't want to be on the same plane that some misguided zealot attempts to blow up, and I appreciate the authorities wanting to keep me safe. I also realise that the people doing the checks are just doing what they are told to do. Nonetheless, I find the whole thing quite tiresome.
There are a few other things I find irritating about airports. Thais seem to be programmed not to follow rules, regulations, laws or general requests. For several years now I have flown with young children and on a number of occasions I had to carry my daughter because she was in plaster casts and couldn't walk. It wasn't easy.
There are chairs at the airport reserved (supposedly) for old people, those with disabilities, and those with young children, but perfectly healthy, able-bodied Thais use these seats even if more needy people are standing nearby. The only seats they won't sit on are those reserved for monks - even if there are no monks. Presumably, they believe they will suffer bad luck if they sit on a chair reserved for a monk.
Many years ago I boarded a bus in Chumpon bound for Hat Yai, but there were no available seats. The journey was about seven hours. This is quite normal in Thailand. Just because you are sold a ticket doesn't guarantee there being a seat. I had to stand, but so too did a heavily pregnant woman. No one offered her their seat, but when a monk got on the bus people jumped up so that the monk could sit down.
The culture of merit-making is very powerful in Thailand, but I find that much of it is quite selfish. Many Thais will only make merit at temples using monks as intermediaries. In my view it would be more meritorious to offer your seat to a pregnant woman rather than a healthy monk, but this isn't how many Thais see it.
Making merit in Thailand
When it is time to board the plane there is always a call for those people with young children to board first, but this is another request that Thais completely ignore. As soon as the pre-boarding announcement is made, there is a scrum as everyone rushes to the gate to get on the plane first.
A similar thing happened after the plane landed. I had an aisle seat, my daughter was in the middle seat, and a Thai woman was in the window seat. As soon as the plane landed she tried to push her way past us to get out, but she couldn't go anywhere because the cabin crew hadn't yet opened the plane door. I asked her where she was going, "Bpai nai?"
Since my last visit to Don Mueang airport there has been a slight change with the procedure for getting a taxi. They now issue queue numbers as you arrive in the taxi departure area. I like this system because it is fair. Similar systems operate in Thai post offices and in a few other places. People are served in the order that they arrive.
I received ticket number 322 and when I looked at the board they were processing ticket 280. I sat down and waited my turn. When my number was called I went to counter number 1 as instructed, but just before I got there a Thai man appeared in front of me. He had ticket 350, but he had no intention of waiting. I was pleased when the person at the counter told him to sit down and wait. Often, queue jumpers in Thailand will just get served and no one will say anything because of the culture of non-confrontation.
There used to be a time in my life when arriving at an airport and anticipating going to somewhere interesting made me feel really excited. Nowadays, my mood changes (for the worse) as soon as I set foot in an airport. With all the security and the inconsiderate behaviour of other passengers it just makes me feel miserable.
This type of behaviour is one of the reasons why I get so wound up when driving in Thailand because exactly the same thing happens on Thai roads. There is no sense of fairness and no concept of waiting for other people who arrived earlier. Everyone just tries to get to the front of the queue by whatever means possible and they think nothing of pushing in front of other people. Perhaps it's just me. This probably upsets British people living in Thailand more than other nationalities because of the British sense of fair play and the British adherence to queueing etiquette. I should blame it on my parents for instilling in me a sense of fairness and common courtesy towards other people.
Monday 3rd April 2017
To say that I don't like Bangkok wouldn't be true. It is such a huge place with so much of everything imaginable, that it is impossible to dislike everything about the city. A fairer assessment would be to say that I have a tolerance level for Bangkok. Many years ago I realised that this was about four days. I always felt intensely excited about arriving in Bangkok and enjoyed my time there initially, but after about four days I needed to get out.
What has happened in the last few years is that my tolerance level has decreased. I have just returned from a completely wasted trip to Bangkok and I was ready to leave about four hours after arriving. This year I expect I will have to make another five or six trips to the Big Mango.
After arriving and checking into my hotel yesterday, the first stop was Pantip Plaza. I went by tuk-tuk. Last year I took my wife and kids on a tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok. It wasn't meant as a serious journey, but just as a novelty and a bit of fun. That has now changed. I travelled to Pantip Plaza by tuk-tuk for a good reason, and subsequently I took two more tuk-tuk rides.
The reason for choosing to travel by tuk-tuk is that the situation with Bangkok metered taxi drivers refusing fares has gone beyond a joke. On previous trips to Bangkok I found that I had to hail about five taxis before a driver would agree to take me to where I wanted to go and would agreed to use his meter. Yesterday, I got completely bored with taxi drivers refusing to use their meters and I resorted to using tuk-tuks.
Let me give you an example. The journey I make regularly from our usual hotel to the hospital costs around Bt55 by metered taxi. Whenever I asked a taxi driver this morning, they went through exactly the same routine. First, they would repeat the destination, do some quick mental arithmetic and then come up with a figure way higher than this, for example, Bt150 or Bt200.
When I suggested that the driver use his meter (after all, every taxi in Bangkok has a sign on the top that reads 'Taxi-Meter') there was a disgusted reaction as if I had just suggested to the driver that he perform a lewd sexual act. Many simply refuse to use their meters and if you don't accept the high quote they just drive off.
The tuk-tuk driver this morning quoted me Bt80. It was more expensive than the metered taxi fare, but a lot cheaper than what I was being quoted by rogue taxi drivers, and I needed to get to the hospital because my daughter had an appointment. I detected the tuk-tuk driver's southern Thai accent and discovered that he was from Nakhon Sri Thammarat, where my wife comes from. He was fine.
Not all taxi drivers are bad. From the hospital I went to MBK shopping centre and from there to the airport and both drivers were pleasant men. They just took me to where I wanted to go, turned on their meters and didn't act like idiots. They both received fairly generous tips.
I do have sympathy for the drivers. The starting fare is Bt35 and you can go a long before the fare increases. Even driving in provincial Thailand stresses me out and makes me very tired. The style of driving in Thailand means that you can't relax and that your concentration levels have to be high all the time. Driving a taxi in Bangkok on a 12 hour (or longer) shift can't be much fun. At all.
The driver who took me to the airport was from Isaan (as are many Bangkok taxi drivers). He has a wife and daughter at home and must miss them, but to get money he has to work in Bangkok. He has to rent a room and he rents his taxi. The taxi rental and LPG fuel costs him Bt900 per day. He therefore has to do a lot of fares just to cover his expenses before he makes any profit.
I sympathise with them, but their problem isn't my fault so don't make me suffer. Pounding the streets of Bangkok is very tiring and you reach a stage where you just want to go back to your hotel to relax. It can take a long time to find an available taxi, and then when you do find one the driver refuses to go or quotes you a sky-high price. I (and presumably many other people) just don't need this.
Previously, I had always considered tuk-tuk drivers to be the bad guys and taxi drivers to be the good guys, but that is no longer the case. There are good and bad with both, but nowadays there seem to be a lot more rogue taxi drivers in Bangkok.
Bangkok metered taxi
Bangkok unmetered tuk-tuk
Pantip Plaza reminds me of Sim Lim Square in Singapore. Both are large malls with many levels and hundreds of small shops inside. They both have a vast selection of electronic goods and it is possible to buy good products at cheap prices. But among the good stuff there are fakes, low quality items, and some decidedly unpleasant vendors.
It's like being in the ocean. There are attractive coral reefs and plenty of scrumptious looking seafood everywhere, but there are also sharks swimming around looking to pick off any weak or injured fish that they may find. In places like Pantip Plaza and Sim Lim Square the weak or injured fish are Westerners, especially those Westerners who look like naive tourists.
Chinese Singaporean vendors can be extremely aggressive and the aggression level in Thailand isn't as high, but the vendors can be very pushy. "Follow me, sir" was something I heard a lot but ignored, of course. Most of the people I encountered like this weren't Thai, but Indian or Arab. This behaviour isn't normal for Thais and I think it makes most Thais feel quite uncomfortable.
Last time I was at Pantip I bought some cables from a shop at the back of the mall that was selling cheap stuff, but they just didn't work. This time I went to a different shop and the Thai woman gave me the impression that she was fairly honest. On returning home, the stuff I bought seems fine and works as she described.
As I mentioned above, the hospital visit was a complete waste of time because the doctor didn't turn up. Apparently, the hospital sent a letter but we never changed our address at the hospital when we moved house and the letter didn't arrive. Previously, when they have changed the appointment details they telephoned my wife, but not this time. It was also money down the drain as each trip to Bangkok costs me at least Bt10,000 in airfares, hotel rooms and other expenses. I now have another appointment for next month and several more will follow.
As a single man I could probably live in Bangkok, but it would necessitate having a very comfortable apartment, spending a lot of time there, and choosing when and where I go out. With a young family I can't choose when and where I go out. This is dictated to me by the needs of my family. As such, life is busy enough already as it is and if I lived in Bangkok it would be even worse because every single journey would mean having to battle my way through Bangkok's notorious traffic jams.
At one stage in my life I could have lived in Bangkok, but not now. The flight takes just over an hour from where I am in the south, there are lots of flights, and there are frequent promotional fares. It suits me very much to live outside and to be able to get into Bangkok easily whenever the need arises.
Saturday 1st April 2017
Now that I have been in Thailand for almost 14 years, quite a few people I have got to know have subsequently died. I'm not an expert on Thai funeral rites, but there seems to be a fairly standard procedure.
After the person has died the body is prepared and taken to a local temple. Initially, the casket is open for family and close friends to pay their respects. After that it is closed while other acquaintances come to pay their respects. The body lies there for several days and the family of the deceased provide food and drinks for people who come to visit. Monks from the temple come to chant and this gives comfort to those grieving. That is where I went this evening for Pee Rai, our old cleaner. A cremation ceremony provides closure and this will occur on Monday. I have never attended a cremation ceremony.
Funerals I have attended in the past haven't really affected me, but I got quite choked up today. The photo of Pee Rai displayed near the coffin was exactly how I remembered her when we first met. She was in her early 40's then, full of life and perfectly healthy. She had a bubbly personality and was a little 'ting tong', which is quite an endearing characteristic. It has come as quite a shock that she is no longer here.
I sat and talked with her 78 year-old mother for quite a long time. I enjoy the company of Thais of her generation because they have a certain innocence that many younger, worldly-wise Thais don't seem to have. As a parent the feelings and unconditional love that you have for a child never change, regardless of whether the child is three or 48. No parent should have to experience the death of a child and I really felt for her. She has six children and Pee Rai was the fifth. Big families were perfectly normal in Thailand a short time ago. My wife is the youngest of eight. Many Thais now just opt for a single child or maybe two, but three of more children seems to be quite rare - at least it is where I am located in Thailand.
Pee Rai left a husband and three daughters. I have met the two younger daughters several times, but not the eldest. She has lived in another province for a long time, but came home when her Mum got very sick. They are all really nice people and to lose their mother at such a young age is very sad.
The casket at the temple
Mother and eldest daughter
How I remember her
Friends paying their respects
I'm just about to go to Bangkok for a quick trip. Back soon with, hopefully, some more upbeat things to talk about.
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