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  • Living in Thailand Blog August 2017

 

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Living In Thailand Blog

Tuesday 22nd August 2017

Compared to Western countries, some things in Thailand are very cheap but certain things are very expensive. A few years ago there was a big correction in the price of used cars, but used cars are still very expensive. Before the correction they were insanely expensive. Incidentally, the correction came about as a result of the discount scheme for first-time buyers launched by the Yingluck government. Those people who had never owned a car before could buy a new 1.2L eco-car (Honda Brio, Nissan March, Suzuki Swift, etc) and get a discount of Bt100,000.

Thais are extremely status conscious and a car is the ultimate status symbol in Thailand, therefore many people took out loans to buy new eco-cars. At the school where I taught most of the Thai teachers used to ride motorbikes, but then everyone bought cars. A lot of Thais who had rushed into car buying then realised they couldn't afford it and consequently a lot of used cars went up for sale. With so much supply and limited demand, prices fell.

While in the UK I drove my father's car. It's almost 10 years old, but the mileage is less than 10,000 and it's almost like a new car. He follows the service schedule and it's still in very good condition. His previous car was exactly the same, but when he decided to replace it he couldn't even give it away. It seems that any car in the UK over seven years old (apart from specialist cars, obviously) is only worth scrap value. Ford UK is now offering owners of cars over seven years £2,000 if they buy a new Ford.

Ford announces £2,000 scrappage scheme for pre-2010 cars

When my wife was pregnant with our daughter I was forced into a position where I needed a car. I looked at new cars, but wanted an SUV and didn't want to pay out over Bt1 million for a new one. I saw some used ones for about Bt580,000, whereas similar used cars in the UK would have been Bt50,000 to Bt100,000. However, prices in other countries are irrelevant if you live in Thailand.

My wife's brother deals in used cars and found the same model for Bt480,000. It was still vastly overpriced, but cheaper than buying from a dealer. His mate was supposed to have inspected it, but as soon as I got it I started to find problems and in the first year I used the Bt100,000 I had supposedly saved to pay for repairs.

When buying and selling used cars, Thais don't worry about service histories. When I asked the question, I got one of those 'stupid farang' looks. My wife told me that Thais normally service their cars for the first two years, but then don't bother. I looked in the service book and it was exactly what she had said. There were stamps for the first two years and nothing after that. They never want to spend any money and will only do what it takes to keep the car going. The various oil leaks and non-functioning locks and other non-functioning parts in my car weren't stopping the car from being driven, so had been ignored.

My car is now 14 years old and I recently saw exactly the same model being sold with an asking price of Bt170,000. Knowing how Thais maintain their vehicles, it probably has a lot of problems that need addressing and this price is ridiculous, but as I said above, used car prices in Thailand are still way too high.

I'm not sure why. One reason is that used car dealers, such as my brother-in-law, were raking in a fortune a few years ago. He was making Bt100,000 profit on every car he sold. Other members of the family were using his business as an investment device. They gave him money to buy cars, which he then sold at a huge profit and they got some of the profit. Maybe another reason is the Thai obsession with money and material things, especially cars. They worship cars so much that they don't seem to be able to accept that these four-wheeled deities can actually depreciate in value.

One farang told me that used cars are expensive because servicing is cheap. Strange logic. It also depends where you get your car serviced and which make it is. There are lots of backstreet garages and labour is cheap. If you drice a Toyota, Honda or Isuzu there are also cheap parts for sale in Thailand. I use the main dealer and have to pay for original Ford parts, which aren't cheap. In fact, I pay a lot more in Thailand for the same parts compared to Western countries.

The other thing I was wondering about was how the broken love affair with diesels in Europe is going to affect Thailand. Some German cities are planning to ban diesels in the future and other cities will probably follow suit. Also, it seems that many European car manufacturers will stop producing diesels. Americans never had much of a love affair with diesels in the first place. Thais love pickup trucks and these are all powered by rattly old diesel engines.

I guess it won't make much difference because the diesel engines in Thailand come from Japan and even if there is no market in Japan, manufacturers will continue making diesel engines for the Thai market. The German cities planning to ban diesels are doing so because of air pollution, but this is something else that won't matter to Thais.

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Sunday 20th August 2017

I took my kids swimming yesterday, but there was quite an ugly scene taking place when we arrived and I'm sorry to say that it involved a farang. The place where we go swimming is quite hidden away and very few local Thais know about it, let alone foreigners. Unfortunately, this particular farang had found it.

The pool is in a beautiful complex with landscaped grounds, ponds, a gym, basketball courts, tennis courts, badminton courts, and an exercise gym. It has the appearance of a private club, however, it is open to the public. The one proviso is that you need to become a member first. I did this for me and my family some years ago. I don't think that it cost anything but, if I remember correctly, I had to fill in some forms and provide a medical certificate.

The procedure was quite painless and they then gave us membership cards. That was quite a long time ago and I've never had to renew our membership. They know us now and for a long time we haven't even needed to show our membership cards because they know we are members.

 

Our regular swimming pool

Our regular swimming pool

 

Mr Angry Farang showed up yesterday for the first time and wanted to use the pool straight away. They tried to explain the membership rule, but he took no notice and I believe he actually got into the pool. A Thai guy in uniform had appeared and was trying to calm him down, but he was furious. The woman he really had it in for was the one who collects the money because it was her that refused him entry on the basis that he wasn't a member. It wasn't her fault; all she was doing was following the rules.

The problem was explained to us when we arrived, but I didn't want to get involved by explaining it to him. He was quite big and not a very pleasant looking person. He spoke a few words of Thai very badly and the other reason I didn't want to intervene was in case he understood already. On a few occasions I have had farangs make unsolicited translations for me when my Thai is far better than theirs and I certainly don't need anyone to translate. I find it patronising and presumptuous, and it annoys me. There was so much anger yesterday that I didn't want to do anything that might have inflamed the situation.

I asked the woman if she thought he understood the membership rule. She believed he understood, but was making out that he didn't understand because it was more convenient not to understand. He was cursing in English, but this probably didn't mean much to the Thais who were present. He then started ranting on a mobile phone, but I don't know to who he was ranting. Eventually, he gave up and left. The woman told me that the security guards had been given instructions never to let him back in again.

When I first moved to Thailand there were lots of farangs in the country like him. Those were the days when immigration may as well have been non-existent and foreigners lived permanently in Thailand illegally or by making a trip to the nearest border once a month and getting a free 30 day stamp. The first big crackdown came in 2006 and since then a lot of the derelict farangs have disappeared. I was told yesterday that he was drunk and he had the very ruddy complexion associated with alcoholism.

These types of people are normally bitter, twisted and aggressive and they are disliked by Thais and farangs alike. I ran into quite a few during my early years in Thailand and they are quite obnoxious. Their first line is normally, "I've lived here for 20/30/40 years," as if that gives them some credibility, but when you start digging a little deeper you discover that they have minimal Thai language skills amd actually know very little about Thailand.

My behaviour isn't always exemplary and in the past I have become angry at Thais who have no power to change anything and are only following rules. In most cases, this has to do with the system of dual pricing in Thailand, which I think is racist and totally wrong. I know that ranting never achieves anything in Thailand, but sometimes it feels good just to vent some frustration.

However, in situations such as the one the farang was in yesterday you just have to accept that there is a rule and that everyone has to follow it - Thais and farangs alike. There was absolutely no doubt yesterday over who was in the wrong.

Most Thais dislike confrontation intensely. When we left, about 90 minutes after arriving, the woman was still shaking. She told me that she had been working there for seven years and had never experienced anything like this before.

Angry Thais don't rant like this and when a farang starts ranting at a Thai they don't know what to do. They act in a similar way to ostriches and metaphorically buried their heads in the sand. They will avoid all contact and not listen to anything you say. They treat you as if you have become invisible.

If you genuinely feel that you have been treated unjustly and want something done in Thailand, it is pointless ranting at a person low down in the hierarchy who deals with customers. You need to talk to the person at the top of the hierarchy, or at least to a person further up in the hierarchy, and you need to speak very politely and softly without any anger. I have done this and I have had varying degrees of success. Ranting at an underling may get rid of some frustration, but you won't actually achieve anything.

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Thursday 17th August 2017

Every month a different kind of tropical fruit comes into season in Thailand and suddenly you see people selling this month's fruit everywhere. Many don't bother with shops. Rural fruit growers simply load up their pickup trucks, drive into the nearest town, park, and sell from the street. Their produce is really fresh and it is normally sold below supermarket prices.

I love most of the tropical fruit in Thailand, with one notable exception. It's been durian season for a while now and on several occasions as I have been wandering around my nostrils have suddenly been filled with the characteristic stench of freshly cut durian.

Many Thais love it, including my wife. I have banned it from the house and consequently she keeps disappearing into our neighbour's house for clandestine durian gorging sessions.

Most hotels display signs to tell guests that eating durian in the rooms is forbidden. At some hotels I have had to sign a form promising that I won't smoke or eat durian in the room, otherwise I will be fined Bt2,000. Yes, the smell really is that bad.

Some Westerners eat it, but most (like me) refrain. People tell me that it tastes good if you can get past the smell, but I simply can't get past the smell. Not only is the raw fruit sold, but you can also buy durian flavoured cakes, pastries and ice cream. Mmm, I'm salivating just at the thought of such tasty morsels.

Apparently, eating durian increases your body temperature quite dramatically and eating it in conjunction with alcohol can be dangerous. I have also been told that eating mangosteen (a Thai fruit that I do enjoy) helps to lower your body temperature if you have overdone the durian feast. I don't know if any of this is true (and I can't find a way to verify it), but this is what Thais tell me.

The guy in the photo was very proud of the durian he was selling. He told me that he grew it all himself and didn't use any chemicals.

 

Fresh durian for sale

Fresh durian for sale

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Wednesday 16th August 2017

The BBC published an article about Reverse Culture Shock - something I have written about in this blog previously.

I felt really uncomfortable going back to the UK recently and even before I made the trip I felt a lot of anxiety. Going back to the UK meant having no place of my own to stay, no car of my own, no mobile phone, and I couldn't even withdraw cash from an ATM because I had forgotten my PIN. I am used to having all these things in Thailand. I honestly felt like a foreigner going back to my country of birth.

I was aware that the UK had changed a lot and I wasn't sure if I could still get around easily. The sky high prices of everything also made me feel very uncomfortable. If I need to make a long taxi journey in Thailand or stay in a hotel I know that it won't cost much, but that isn't the case in the UK. If I had to leave Thailand, the last place I would want to live is in the UK.

If I had to go back to the UK I think the only way I could survive is by seeking out the local Thai community. I am so used to living alongside Thais now that it would seem very strange if I didn't. I met a farang father at my kids' school recently and he told me that he had to return to the States once a year to survive. He didn't seem to enjoy life in Thailand and missed not having anyone to talk to.

I have always felt very differently and my attitude has always been that if you want to speak to people in Thailand just learn to speak Thai. However, there are many expats in Thailand who have no interest whatsoever in learning the local language.

I have also spoken to Thais who have spent several years abroad either working or studying and they too describe the symptoms of reverse culture shock when they return to Thailand. While living abroad they get used to people waiting in line and obeying traffic laws, etc, and it is quite a shock returning to Thailand where these things don't happen.

Culture shock is spoken about often, but reverse culture shock doesn't get a lot of press.

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Monday 14th August 2017

I didn't vote in the UK Brexit referendum, but had I voted it would have been for the UK to leave. I don't like the idea of Members of the European Parliament being unelected, unaccountable, and basically riding a non-stop gravy train at the expense of tax payers.

Furthermore, I don't like the profligacy and the way that EU funds have been spent on huge vanity projects that do not benefit the majority of people in the EU. The one thing that I never considered was immigration, despite this being the major issue for many voters. (Perhaps because for several years I too have been an immigrant?) I believe that most immigrants improve the countries where they settle and some countries, such as the US and Australia, consist almost entirely of immigrants with only a very few native people.

From an early age I loved being anywhere abroad and loved that feeling of everything being different, exotic and interesting. I always had a feeling that I would never live out the whole of my life in my country of birth. I couldn't be abroad all the time, so the next best thing was visiting ethnically diverse areas of my own country.

I worked in London for many years and during that time I often used my rail pass to go into London at weekends purely for enjoyment. I loved eating in Chinatown and visiting some of the many foreign restaurants run by people from different countries of the world.

For quite a while I worked in Aldgate, a district in East London which has always attracted immigrants. If you are in the area, the Dennis Severs' House is well worth a visit. Entering the house is like stepping back in time and preparing to meet a family of Huguenot silk weavers. At one time, because of religious persecution, there was a large community of French Huguenots in East London.

For a long time there was also a big Jewish presence in the area and when I first started working in the area, Blooms - a large, famous Kosher restaurant - was still doing business. The restaurant moved to another area of London, but I don't think it exists any more.

However, after that there were still bagel bakeries in the area and I often went for a salt beef sandwich or bagel for my lunch. If I ever get the chance to visit New York again, some of the famous Jewish delis that have been in business for years will be high on my list.

Nowadays, there are no Huguenots or Jews in East London, but there are many Bengalis. The Brick Lane area is full of Bangladeshi/Indian restaurants and if you have followed this blog you will know that I have fairly frequent cravings for this type of food ... as do many other Brits. Brick Lane is now a colourful area with some great food because of the immigrant population.

Even when I travel to other countries I find myself attracted to the small, ethnically diverse areas that exist in all big cities. In Bangkok there are Middle Eastern, Japanese, Chinese, Indian and other areas that I really enjoy visiting.

In some areas of provincial Thailand you will also find different ethnic communities and some are quite substantial. Where I live in Songkhla province there are quite a lot of Burmese construction workers, many of whom are ethnic Mons. Quite a few of the workers who have done work at my house have been ethnic Mon from Burma.

A few years ago the local Burmese Mon community acquired (or was given) some land at a local temple and they started to construct a scaled-down replica of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.

I took a look at the end of 2015 after construction had started and even in the early stages I could tell that it would end up being quite impressive. These days I never seem to have opportunities to do the things that I want to do, but this morning an opportunity arose unexpectedly and I went to take another look at the temple.

It has come along quite a long way, but it still isn't complete. A couple of men there who were taking donations told me that it would be finished in 2018, but didn't say which month. There are quite a few temples in Hat Yai, but nothing really spectacular as there are in other parts of Thailand.

When this one is finished I have a feeling that it is going to be quite impressive.

 

The Shwedagon Pagoda replica at Klong Hair temple in Hat Yai

The Shwedagon Pagoda replica at Klong Hair temple in Hat Yai

 

The Shwedagon Pagoda replica at Klong Hair temple in Hat Yai

The Shwedagon Pagoda replica at Klong Hair temple in Hat Yai

 

The Shwedagon Pagoda replica at Klong Hair temple in Hat Yai

The Shwedagon Pagoda replica at Klong Hair temple in Hat Yai

 

The Shwedagon Pagoda replica at Klong Hair temple in Hat Yai

The Shwedagon Pagoda replica at Klong Hair temple in Hat Yai

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Sunday 13th August 2017

The Problems With Thai Girls

Just a few thoughts after yet another difficult week with my Thai wife. I think that Thai females are fantastic, but they aren't always the easiest people to live with, mainly because of cultural reasons.

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Wednesday 9th August 2017

I can only talk about aspects of Thailand in which I have experience. The sex scene, for example, isn't one of my areas of expertise. Occasionally, I receive e-mails from both men and women asking how to find the services of male prostitutes in Thailand, but I don't have a clue. My last Pattaya bargirl experience was 30 years ago and is now just a faded memory.

I have received e-mails asking how to get into the Pattaya bar business, but this - again - is something that I know absolutely nothing about.

There are a few subjects that I feel qualified to talk about and one is the Thai healthcare system. I have been visiting Thai doctors and dentists myself since 2003, and since my children were born it seems that I am hardly ever away from Thai hospitals and clinics.

My daughter was born with a foot problem that is still ongoing and the accumulated time she has spent at Thai hospitals runs into months. My son was born with pneumonia and his first three weeks of life was spent in a Thai intensive care unit.

Even children born without any problems tend to get sick quite a lot in the first few years of life while their immune systems are developing. My lad started running a fever a few days ago and was coughing and throwing up at night. My wife and I had another sleepless night last night and I have spent most of today in a local hospital. My wife and son are still there as he was admitted.

I continue to be highly impressed with the medical services on offer in Thailand. I have said this many times, but today I thought I would back up my statement with some of the reasons why.

Firstly, it is the sheer number of hospitals and other medical facilities in Thailand. If you look on a map of Bangkok, or just keep your eyes open while driving through Bangkok, you will see dozens of hospitals. Some are private, some are public, and there are several for particular organisations. The military services and police all have their own hospitals.

In Hat Yai, which is just a provincial town, there are two large public hospitals and four private hospitals. There are also some military hospitals, which I think the public can use, but people don't generally use these places.

In addition, there are dozens - maybe hundreds (this is no exaggeration) of private clinics run by doctors out of hours. Many doctors have to do this because their basic wages are so low, but it is great for the local population to have so many medical facilities.

My daughter was born in a public hospital and my son goes for asthma check-ups at a public hospital, but we generally use the services of private hospitals.

The next positive point is that access to the private hospital system is affordable for most people. While I was working in the UK I had private medical insurance, but insurance is quite expensive as are the prices at private hospitals.

To see a doctor at a private hospital in Thailand as an outpatient and get normal medication normally costs between Bt1,000 and Bt2,000. I used to have OPD insurance, but stopped because it wasn't cost-effective. I don't see doctors that often and it is cheaper just to pay myself when I see one.

I take out IPD insurance for me family and the cost is reasonable. This year it cost Bt9,068 for my three year-old. As kids get older than become more resistant to disease and insurance premiums go down. My six year-old daughter's policy was only Bt7,097. My wife's policy was Bt6,777 and as I am now closer to 60 than 50 my policy was Bt13,789.

I don't think any of us has been admitted for more than two nights and the insurance covers a two night admission with all medical fees. I actually think that it is very good value, even if only one member of my family is admitted once a year - and some years it has been a lot more than that.

Furthermore, it gives me peace of mind and it means that by paying up front in the form of an insurance premium I don't have any nasty financial surprises in the case of an unscheduled hospital admission.

Next, I never have to wait. As I stated when writing about the UK, I heard about several people in the UK having to wait several months to see a specialist doctor. In Thailand, even if the problem isn't an emergency, I have always found that it is always easy to see an appropriate doctor very quickly.

Next, the service is excellent from the moment you walk through the door. The private hospitals employ lots of meet-and-greet staff and even before you meet any of the nursing staff it is a good experience. By the time you get to the nursing staff the service continues to be good.

I am not totally unbiased and have to admit to having a real thing about Thai nurses. Before I was married I dabbled with a few Thai nurses and if I hadn't married a teacher I would probably have married a nurse. The only problem is that have to work different shifts and they seem to spend all their time at work.

 

A lovely Thai nurse

A lovely Thai nurse

 

We saw a doctor today that we haven't seen before, so at first I was a bit hesitant. However, in the same way that I can quickly assess the ability of Thai tradesmen when they do jobs in my house, I do the same with doctors. Within a few minutes today she gave me a lot of confidence in her ability and knowledge.

You might notice that when I talk about members of the Thai healthcare system I mostly use the pronoun 'she'. I don't think I have ever been treated by a male dentist in Thailand and all the female dentists I have seen have been excellent. I have never met a male Thai nurse and many doctors are female.

In Thailand you never hear any feminist bleating about sexual inequality. People just get on with their jobs and achieve their positions based on merit. This isn't the case in every profession in Thailand, but career progression in the Thai health system appears to be quite fair. There is no doubt that a lot of females work and study very hard and subsequently they reach high positions in the medical profession.

The diagnosis today was excellent and I really liked the way that she covered all bases. When children have high fevers in Thailand the doctor also has to consider things like dengue fever in addition to other possibilities, which wouldn't be the case in many Western countries.

She arranged for a blood test to check for infections, including dengue and she arranged for a chest X-Ray to check for a chest infection. No dengue was detected, but she detected a bacterial infection and antibiotics were given to counter this.

Nursing care is a bit different in Thailand compared to what I was used to in the UK. Simply put, inpatients in Thailand are never by themselves. Thais think it is the height of cruelty to allow someone to be in hospital by themselves and therefore there are always relatives sleeping in the rooms as well.

I have found that Thai nurses will bring in medicine, but leave it for the relatives to administer. My son was given some medicine via a nebuliser today, which I administered and I also gave him medicine to reduce his fever. It's not a problem and, of course, the nurses do the more complicated procedures.

Many Westerners have come to the same conclusions as me and Thailand's health tourism sector has grown steadily, but this isn't always the case.

A friend of a friend contracted food poisoning in Thailand some years ago (which is fairly common) and because of his distrust of Thai doctors tried to get back to the States. He didn't make it. As I said above, not only are Thai doctors very competent but they are also very familiar with the types of disease that are contracted in Thailand whereas Western doctors might not be. If you become ill in Thailand the best thing you can do, in my humble opinion, is to see a Thai doctor.

I said previously that my aim here was to present a balanced view of Thailand, therefore I need also to state the negatives concerning the Thai healthcare system. Except that, based on my own experience, there are very few.

While making my way up to Hua Hin by road many years ago my ear became blocked and I couldn't hear anything on one side. I went to a hospital in Chumpon and the doctor diagnosed a perforated eardrum. This quite concerned me so I ended my trip and went home. Back in Hat Yai I went to a local ear doctor and he removed some earwax. My eardrum was fine and it was just a bad diagnosis.

We went to a different private hospital today because my insurance company is no longer talking to our regular private hospital. Obviously, a private hospital is a business - not a charitable or non-profit organisation - but it seems that our old hospital was taking a few too many liberties and trying to make a lot more profit than is generally acceptable. My insurance company there got a little upset and stopped doing business directly with them.

The hospital we went to today has improved a lot in recent years. When my daughter was a baby we went there in the early hours one morning because she had been crying all night and obviously had a problem. They told us that there were no pediatricians available and to come back in the morning. I wasn't impressed and didn't go back. We had to go back today because of the insurance problem with the other hospital, but it was a much better experience.

Some years ago a farang expat in Thailand sent an article to a British national newspaper describing how bad the Thai healthcare system was and how he had almost been killed in a Thai hospital. It was wrong of him to do so and it was equally wrong of the newspaper to publish the article without doing some more investigation of their own.

He may have had a genuinely bad experience, I'm not sure, but this type of thing certainly isn't typical. Apart from one bad diagnosis, my overall experience with the Thai healthcare system has been excellent and - as a patient and as a father of two children - I have had a lot of experience of the system.

I have said many times that the worst aspect of living in Thailand is driving and the dangerous situation on Thai roads. One of the very best aspects of living in Thailand is having access to a first-class, easily accessible and affordable healthcare system.

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Tuesday 8th August 2017

A year or two after I moved to Thailand and started to write about Hat Yai I began receiving e-mails from a man in South Africa who was looking to do the same thing as me and move to Thailand. He ended up living close to where I live and I see him and his wife occasionally - normally in supermarkets on shopping trips. Last week I bumped into him again in Big C.

Unlike me, he returns to his home country once a year and whenever I see him he moans like hell about the problems in South Africa - the high levels of corruption and the influence that the Gupta family has over the government, the weakness of the Rand, and the ongoing violence that only seems to get worse, etc.

I visited South Africa in 2000 and was bowled over by the country. For someone like me who enjoys nature and seeing animals in their natural environment there is probably no better place on the planet. The climate is almost perfect and much of the country is stunningly beautiful. I rented a car to drive along the Garden Route, took some trips into the wine regions around Cape Town, and another down to the Cape of Good Hope. The scenery and wildlife were simply amazing.

The food in South Africa was some of the best I have tasted, the wine was excellent, and my UK pounds went a long way, thus making everything seem like a bit of a bargain.

As a tourist I wasn't bothered by politics or corruption, in fact, these things normally have an adverse affect on the local currency and make things cheaper for tourists. The threat of violence was a huge issue and I don't think I would have had the confidence to visit South Africa had I not met and befriended some South Africans a few years previously. I actually met them in Thailand while vacationing in Phuket in 1996.

I stayed with my friends in Johannesburg and their house was like a fortress. A 15 foot wall surrounded the property and they had a contract with a private security company, as many South Africans do. All of the doors and windows in the house were heavily secured and at night there was an additional iron gate inside the house upstairs that was used to secure the bedrooms. My friend kept guns in the house and also owned two large alsatian dogs.

It amused me while we on vacation in Thailand together that he couldn't break the habits that were so ingrained as a result of growing up in South Africa. When we went anywhere by car he would automatically lock the car door as soon as he got in, which is entirely unnecessary in Thailand.

The thing that confused me most about South Africa was knowing which places were safe and which weren't. While in Hermanus I took a walk along the cliff tops and encountered a white South African who told me I was a complete idiot for walking in this area alone. It seemed safe enough to me, but the locals knew that it wasn't. I constantly found myself looking over my shoulder and even though places seemed safe enough I found that I could never relax because of South Africa's reputation for violent crime.

The point that I try to make with this site is that no single country is ever perfect. South Africa is a good example. There is good and bad everywhere and based on your individual value system, some countries will suit you while others won't.

If you are completely passionate about big game animals then South Africa might be the perfect place to live, however, if your priority in life is personal safety then somewhere else might be more suitable.

The friend I stayed with in South Africa moved away eventually and his career then went through the stratosphere. He became the CEO for Mercedes Benz in Canada, but then moved on to become the CEO for Delta's cargo division. The language institute that I used to work for now almost exclusively employs South Africa teachers. Lots of white South Africans have left the country.

South Africans who move to Thailand know that Thailand isn't perfect, but they have weighed up the pros and cons of living in South Africa or Thailand, and they have chosen to live in Thailand.

I recently described my impressions of the UK after making a brief visit last month and highlighted some of the good and bad points. For some people the UK is still a great place to live, but I decided that for me, personally, Thailand gives me a better life.

This site/blog isn't really intended for tourists. Tourists may be able to get something from it, but the average tourist sees such a superficial version of Thailand that they won't be able to relate to much of what I have to say. Thailand - to use a hackneyed old cliche - is like an onion and it takes a long time to peel away the layers to see what is underneath. I didn't start seeing the real Thailand until about four years after I had moved to the country and I'm still learning 14 years later.

This site is really intended for people who are considering moving to Thailand. This is a huge decision and requires a lot of thought. You need to be able to weigh up the pros and cons of living in Thailand and the only way you can do that is if you are made aware of the pros and cons in the first place. Unfortunately, few resources give a balanced view and provide the necessary information.

Sex is still a big factor among foreign men looking to move Thailand and there are plenty of websites about this subject, but not much else. And believe me, if you come to Thailand to live there is a whole lot more to be aware of other than the prices that prostitutes charge their clients.

There are also a number of personal websites that have been set up primarily to generate an income and most portray an unrealistic version of the country as a perfect tropical paradise where you can live for $400 per month. Selling this unattainable dream, no doubt, helps to generate an income for the owner of the website.

At the other extreme there are a lot of bitter, twisted and cynical farangs in Thailand who have nothing good to say about the country at all. I won't name any names but I have corresponded with a few individuals like this, and certain forums are full of negativity.

Neither extreme provides a balanced view from which someone can make any informed decisions. Every individual has biases, myself included, but I do try to keep a balanced view by giving examples of good and bad.

After weighing up the pros and cons of various countries, Thailand actually comes out quite strongly compared to many others. The violent crime that blights South Africa, South America, and many other countries is low. It exists, of course, but the risk of becoming a victim is not that high.

And anyway, countries that are very safe tend to be quite boring. Singapore is very safe, but lots of Singaporeans visit Thailand regularly because they enjoy the lifestyle and their money goes a LOT further because Singapore is so expensive.

Compared to many countries the cost of living is a lot lower in Thailand, but Thailand is developed enough to have a lot to offer if you have money - unlike many undeveloped countries, which just don't have the infrastructure. The Thai health system is excellent, the IT infrastructure is quite good, and you can buy virtually anything. If you are on a budget you can have a good life in Thailand, but if you have money you can have a fabulous life.

The other good thing about Thailand is that once you have worked out the bad points, you can then find ways to avoid them. This is probably the reason why I go on about the dangerous roads so much. I avoid many potential problem areas (and people) in Thailand, but avoiding reckless drivers on Thai roads is impossible because we all have to share the same roads. One day I will just accept this and shut up because it is beyond my power to change anything.

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Monday 7th August 2017

With so much dust flying around the house recently while our parquet flooring upstairs was being ripped out and replaced with tiles, I knew that my air-conditioners were probably filthy inside and needed cleaning.

The shop I used last year, which advertises itself as the cheapest in town, charges Bt800 to clean each unit. While out and about last week I called into another shop and asked how much they charge. The answer was Bt500. With six units in the house, paying Bt1,800 less represents a worthwhile saving so I booked a service.

I was impressed initially when the technician showed up on time when the shop said he would. This is quite rare in Thailand. He had an assistant with him and I wasn't busy so had time to observe what they were doing.

They were good. They had all the right equipment, did a thorough job, kept everything clean, and even after watching the main technician for just two minutes I knew that he knew what he was doing. Again, this isn't always the case when a tradesman comes to your house in Thailand.

I told him that whenever the A/C unit in my office is taken apart, cleaned, and put back together again there is always a water leak. He took it apart, cleaned it, put it back together again and ... sure enough ... after it had been running for 10 minutes water started to drip on the floor.

Seeing that he was a competent A/C technician, I asked his to investigate why. The reason didn't make me very happy.

A/C units take water out of the air to reduce humidity and this water is then drained away. He told me that the drain pipe is usually installed on the right, but on this unit it is installed on the left.

Furthermore, it employs a connection that uses a key and a slot, but the connection had been installed 180° out of line so that the key and slot didn't line up. This was the reason for the leak and every time it had leaked in the past the A/C man had just wrapped up the connection with PVC tape.

I really hate this kind of thing. My view is that if you are going to do a job, just do it right in the first place and then there won't be further problems. Anyway, my latest A/C technician is coming back today to re-install the unit properly.

This is not the first problem I have had with the original A/C installation. Just after the units were first installed we found tram lines scratched into the floor tiles downstairs where the installers had dragged the heavy compressor units across the tiles.

I find it completely unbelievable that anyone would drag heavy, metallic objects across high gloss floor tiles, but after living in Thailand for several years you get used to this kind of thing. Fortunately, one of the housing development cleaning staff had some magic medicine that removed the scratches without having to replace the tiles.

A little later I found an A/C leak outside. Further investigation showed that it was yet another connection that had been made with PVC tape. Some Thai tradesmen wouldn't be able to operate without ample supplies of PVC tape.

I went to a local hardware store and bought a few bits to make the connection properly.

 

The original 'professional' installation using PVC tape

The original 'professional' installation using PVC tape

 

My 'amateur' repair

My 'amateur' repair

 

My brother has a large villa in Phuket with a swimming pool and pays a 'professional' pool maintenance company to keep it clean and well maintained. There was a problem in the room where the pumps and filters are stored and he found that his 'professional' maintenance men had 'fixed' a problem using twigs from his garden. When you pay a professional company for professional services you expect a little more than this.

It's not that Thai tradesmen can't do jobs properly - many do - but a lot suffer from the condition that I have described as the path of least of resistance (basically, laziness).

When they come up against a problem they will look for the simplest and quickest possible solution. What's easiest? Going to a hardware shop and buying some components to do a job properly, or using some twigs from the garden or wrapping a connector with PVC tape? Yep, you guessed.

They don't care about long term repairs because the 'fix' only has to last until they receive their money and walk out of the door. There doesn't appear to be any regulation in Thailand and it seems that anyone can set up a repair business even if they aren't qualified to do the work and are technically incompetent.

It's annoying, but what can you do? Well, actually you can do something.

I started using the services of Thai tradesmen when we first moved into our rented house. Some were very good, come were mediocre, and some were a nightmare, but when another job needed doing I could never remember who the good ones were.

I then started compiling a list whenever I had a good experience with a tradesmen so that if I have a plumbing, electrical or A/C problem I know who to contact. Such a list takes a while to compile, but it is worth it in the end.

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Friday 4th August 2017

Thailand sits at an interesting crossroads geographically. Early European traders (first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and English, followed by others) set up operations in Thailand not so much to do business in Thailand, but because they believed Thailand's location and its relationship with other Asian countries would help them do business in China and Japan.

There is a lot of Western influence in Thailand, but also a huge Chinese influence. The assimilation of Chinese immigrants into Thailand has been seamless with a lot of intermarriage and the newcomers taking Thai names. As I recall in England, UK citizens of Chinese ethnicity retained their original names and there weren't too many called John Smith but all ethnic-Chinese in Thailand will have Thai names.

My daughter has started learning Chinese at school and I can now sympathise with Thai parents who want to help their kids with English, but who have no ability in English. My knowledge of Chinese is zero, just slightly below most Thais' knowledge of English, and I can't even help her count to ten.

Having relocated to Thailand, I probably observe China's progress more now than I would have done if I was still in the UK. It has been fascinating and if Western countries aren't afraid of what's happening in China then they probably need to observe a little closer because they should be afraid. Very afraid.

Last week I mentioned that Amazon were trying to break into the Southeast Asian market, a market in which Lazada (owned by Alibaba) already has a strong presence. I've just completed my first transaction with Lazada and it was quite impressive.

Initially, there was a problem with my order so I sent an e-mail to their service centre expecting to receive an automated reply at first and then having to wait several days for an answer. Instead, a real human-being replied in minutes explaining the problem.

The item I ordered was offered at a good price and it arrived well ahead of the anticipated delivery date. It was well packaged, well constructed and - of course - made in China. It was delivered not by the Thai postal service, but by Lazada's own delivery organisation and I received a phone call because I wasn't at home at the time.

My favourite shop in Thailand, and the one where I spend most money, is HomePro. I'm not interested in cars or clothes, etc, and like to invest in my home and family. Most of the goods I buy from HomePro are made in China. They are a good price and perfectly good quality for the money. The instructions for assembling flat-pack furniture may be highly confusing, but that is a minor criticism.

I am old enough to remember when cheap Japanese electronics and cars were regarded as something of a joke, but that changed many years ago. With the exception of LG TVs from South Korea, most electronic goods and camera equipment that I buy are Japanese brands. They may not necessarily be manufactured or assembled in Japan, but goods made and assembled in other countries using Japanese levels of Quality Control are just as good. In recent years China has taken a lot of manufacturing and assembly business from other countries because the quality is just as good and labour is a lot cheaper.

If you're in Thailand and want to buy a car that won't keep breaking down all the time you buy a Toyota or a Honda. If you're an idiot, like me, you buy a Ford and then spend a fortune getting it repaired every month.

A few years ago, Chinese-made goods may have been regarded as something of a joke, but that is no longer the case. Huawei mobile phones, for example, have an excellent reputation and it may not be long before they catch up with and overtake Apple and Samsung.

What has interested me in recent years is how China has now started to move away from the cheap labour economic model. When Lee Kuan Yew started Singapore's development from Third World to First he was also keen to stay away from this model and his strategy to invest in high tech, high value industry has served Singapore well for many years.

A few stories have caught my eye regarding China's ongoing development in recent years. China now has the world's fastest supercomputers and these run on Chinese designed and made processors.

China's aircraft industry is becoming more developed and although it is still probably some way behind Boeing and Airbus at the moment, it won't take the Chinese long to catch up and overtake more established companies. And they will do some at much lower prices.

What's more is that Chinese-made aircraft no longer have to rely on engines from the UK and US. China now makes its own jet engines. Again, the technology is behind now, but it will catch up. As well as losing the Chinese market, foreign manufacturers will also lose out when China starts to capture other markets.

A few years ago on a trip to Penang in Malaysia we came back using the second bridge, which is 24km long and the section over water is 16.9km. It is an impressive piece of engineering and the main contractor was the China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. Funding for the bridge also came from China.

 

The Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, Penang, Malaysia

The Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, Penang, Malaysia

 

Even longer and more impressive is the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge, which is due to open later this year.

China has built the world's largest radio telescope and there was a story last week about how China is set to launch an 'unhackable' internet network.

This story states that China is now taking the lead in technology. With the exception of the US military, Western countries won't invest unless there is a market, but China will invest knowing that once the technology is available it will create a new market and then it will be the market leader.

When I was complaining to my father about the high cost of living in the UK his reply was that everyone needs to charge high prices because everything is so expensive. He's right, of course. With a high income/high cost of living model this is how it works. People can survive within the model, but they can't be competitive with goods and services when competing in a globalised world against countries such as China.

Singapore has the same high income/(very) high cost of living model and Malaysia is striving to have a high income economy by 2020. Everyone wants a higher salary, but then the cost of everything will go up and it becomes self-defeating. It then also becomes difficult to compete against low income countries.

When I quit my job and moved to Thailand I experienced a big drop in income, but because the cost of living is so much lower in Thailand I actually have a higher standard of living on a lower income. Of course, travelling abroad in most countries is now prohibitively expensive, but I lost my sense of wanderlust long ago and it no longer matters to me.

At a country level I don't think there will be problems when incomes rise, but as more companies are forced to outsource their work to lower income countries then I think that the already huge wealth gap in high income countries will continue to increase.

China is probably unstoppable. The Chinese obviously have the technical nous to compete with any technology in the West, there is a huge pool of cheap labour, and - although it may not be the most desirable form of government - the Chinese government seems to make the right decisions and isn't saddled with continuous political squabbling, as is the case with Western 'democratic' governments.

Maybe I should sign up for some Chinese lessons as well, and not only so that I can help my kids with their homework.

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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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