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  • Living in Thailand Blog December 2015

 

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Living In Thailand Blog

Thursday 31st December 2015

Dear blog readers (if there are any left). As 2015 draws to a close I'd like to apologise and thank you for your patience and perseverance in looking at my inconsistent and erratic blog posts this year. My blogging has always been like this, to a certain extent, but it has been particularly bad in 2015.

2014 started in difficult circumstances with a new baby who went straight into intensive care. While trying to take care of him and his mother, our daughter was neglected and the problem she had been treated for since birth relapsed. The baby got better, but then we started all over again with his older sister. She's fine again now.

Having got through 2014, I was hoping that 2015 would be a lot better. I was born in the Chinese year of the rat and my wife had told me that 2014 would be difficult because it was the year of the horse. Rats and horses don't get along, apparently. She was born in the year of the dog and predicted that in 2015 she would have lots of problems with people close to her.

It didn't turn out to be lots of people, but just one. Me. Every few weeks she went into a massive sulk and at times it seemed that she was creating problems between us just so that her horoscope prediction would be true.

Our life at home is extremely busy with two kids, however, when we are getting along and working as a team it is quite manageable. When we aren't getting along and aren't working as a team it's an awful lot of work. On top of this, our youngest is now almost two and becoming a real handful. Once we pack him off to Kindergarten in around 16 months' time it will be better, but at the moment it is still busy.

We have just returned from Phuket, where I met up with my family. In all honesty, my parents are too old and frail to be doing long haul travel, but they made the trip. I expect this will be the last opportunity they have of seeing their three sons and three grandchildren all together. My brother who lives in London was also there. We stayed at my youngest brother's place in Phuket. He works in Singapore and commutes between Singapore and Phuket every week.

 

My brother's place in Phuket

My brother's place in Phuket

 

My brother's place in Phuket

My brother's place in Phuket

 

I was anxious before we went. Long road journeys on the second-most dangerous roads in the world with my children in the car aren't things I look forward to, and with some recent burglaries in the neighbourhood I wasn't happy about leaving the house unoccupied. However, none of us can stay at home all the time.

My brother has a nice set up. His house is at the north end of the island in a very secluded spot and if driving there from elsewhere in Thailand or travelling from Phuket airport there is no traffic. It is a very different story if you drive down to the southern part of Phuket. The traffic is absolutely horrendous, as I found out on Boxing Day when my wife insisted on going to Cape Phromthep to see the sunset.

Phuket was heaving with tourists. Since I have been in Thailand I have read various reports about certain events that were predicted to kill the tourist industry. I've even said it myself a few times. After some raids by immigration police in Pattaya last week I saw that a few farangs had left similar comments on Thai on-line news sites. This view is complete nonsense.

Before I went to Phuket I was speaking to a local here who was telling me that hotels in Krabi were also completely booked for Christmas and New Year. Thailand's tourist industry is virtually indestructible. It doesn't matter if the problem is a huge natural disaster such as a tsunami, a major political issue, an economic crash, tourists being murdered, horrendous road crashes, or airports being barricaded by angry protesters. Foreign tourists will always keep coming to Thailand.

Life for most people is dreary, boring and mundane and they need to escape. Western foreigners want sea and sunshine when they go into vacation mode, and Thailand has these things in abundance. Other destinations also have lots of sea and sunshine, but there are added ingredients in Thailand and that's why the country becomes so addictive for many foreigners.

The lack of law enforcement that I talk about often is actually a big draw. I saw an enormous number of motorbikes in Phuket and very few people wearing crash helmets, including a very high percentage of foreigners.

With laws so strictly enforced back home it can all seem a bit 'nanny state' and people want the freedom to do what they want to do. Thailand offers this freedom. As I followed some helmetless foreign motorcyclists along the coast road between Phromthep Cape and Naiharn Beach, how much freedom could they have wanted with a view of the sea and the sea breeze in their faces?

Phuket is one of the most expensive places in Thailand, but it is still possible to live cheaply and a huge attraction for many foreign men is the availability of so many young, attractive girls ... even if they are prostitutes.

I think that Thailand received 28 million visitors this year and any predictions you may hear or read about the demise of the Thai tourist industry are grossly over exaggerated.

Foreigners want what I have described above, but also they want a decent level of infrastructure, which Thailand also has. Neighbouring Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam don't have the infrastructure and even though development has started in Burma, it will be years until Burma is at the same level.

Elsewhere in the region, the Philippines doesn't have the infrastructure and in Muslim countries such as Indonesian and Malaysia there are limitations on how much fun tourists can have. Indeed, I saw a lot of Malaysians on the road driving into Thailand for Christmas and the New Year. Singapore is a completely different place altogether - the odd man out in Southeast Asia.

Thailand has a unique selection of benefits it can offer foreigners and this is why I chose not to leave Thailand in the past even when I became very disillusioned with the country. It's far from perfect, but it is still better than most other places.

There is some serious money in Phuket. My brother has a full-time maid, gardeners and people to service the pool. He just spent Bt200,000 on a solar water heating system and Bt300,000 for a new speedboat engine. However, he is still relatively poor in Phuket. His neighbour, a guy he works with in Singapore, earns more money and his neighbour's old boss earned millions by selling a Forex broking company. With some of the money he opened an exclusive hotel in Phuket that the Kardashian's stayed at recently. I was invited to brunch at the hotel on the 27th, but that was the day I travelled home.

I saw that Phuket has just been named 'City of Gastronomy'. On previous visits my brother has taken me to some very nice restaurants, which normally are way beyond my means.

I also saw that Brad Pitt and family were vacationing in Phuket. If you earn megabucks it is a great place. If you are a normal person, I think it is average to grotty. Patong is still a dump and I haven't been there for years on my visits to Phuket. Even while living on the island, my brother doesn't go. He has a few single friends who turn up occasionally and want to visit the girlie bars, but normally he avoids the place.

There are still undesirable foreigners in Thailand, but their numbers are diminishing. As Thailand gets more expensive and as immigration gets tougher they go to live elsewhere.

What do I mean by undesirable foreigners? It's difficult to describe, but they are often older men with weathered skin who look extremely suspicious and also look at other foreigners in an extremely suspicious manner. Many have been in Thailand for years, arriving before tourism in Thailand really took off, and they look at other foreigners with contempt, suspicion and envy. They think they know 'everything' because they have been in the country for so long, but actually they know very little. It is unlikely they have visas and many probably no longer have valid passports.

I hadn't actually bumped into foreigners like this for a long time, but I did on Christmas Day. My mother fell over and a big gash appeared on her leg. We went to the hospital to get it stitched up.

While waiting outside an ambulance drew up and a foreigner was brought in on a stretcher with a neck brace. As I looked at him I received a cold, contemptuous look back. He was accompanied by five police officers who didn't let him out of their sight while he was being treated. I don't know what he had done, but for so many police to be there it couldn't have been a trivial matter.

The drive to Phuket was better than previous years, but still a bit hairy at times. The journey from Trang to Phuket used to be on single lane roads, however, during the last few years there has been a massive road widening scheme through Trang, Krabi and Phang Nga.

Thais drive their vehicles as fast as the vehicles will go. They overtake as many vehicles as they can and where they can't physically overtake, they will drive as close to the vehicle in front as possible. This can be quite unsettling at high speed.

Where the road is now multiple lanes it is possible to just drive at a comfortable speed in the left lane and let the idiots go past, but because the road widening isn't finished yet there are still some sections of single lane roads and this is where it gets scary.

If the road is on an uphill incline with large trucks in front the going gets slow and there can be a queue of eight or nine vehicle. For a driver with a brain the only option is to wait until there is a safe overtaking spot. This doesn't apply to Thais who will blindly overtake a line of slow moving traffic with no idea of what is coming the other way and no guarantee that they are going to be able to get back onto the correct side of the road.

I am constantly amazed at the things that Thai drivers do. It's also quite frightening to be driving along and coming face to face with a pickup truck travelling a high speed on your side of the road.

Some stretches of road had a long section of central reservation and it wasn't possible for vehicles to turn right out of a side road because they couldn't get across the central reservation. In any other country the vehicle would be forced to turn left and do a U-turn as soon as possible.

But not in Thailand. They simply turn right and drive along the emergency lane on the wrong side of the road with the hazard warning lights blinking. Amazing Thailand.

Another problem is motorbikes ... and there are a lot of these on Thai roads. Most bikes can't reach 100km/h, but when they want to turn right they just drift across the road in front of faster moving traffic. Mirrors on Thai motorbikes are only used for checking make-up and squeezing spots. They are never used to look for vehicles approaching from behind, as this video shows. Be sure to continue watching the video after the two bikes collide because it gets better.

There is a fascination with speed in Thailand and some really obnoxious behaviour on Thai roads. I was caught in traffic at one point and had a guy driving a Farmhouse bread delivery truck behind me. He was desperate to get past, but I couldn't go anywhere because of the traffic in front. Nonetheless, this didn't stop him flashing me and turning on his indicator to tell me to pull over. What did he expect me to do?

Another guy in an eco-car wouldn't get off my tail and I couldn't pull over because there was traffic in the slow lane. When I did have an opportunity to pull in he just followed me into the left lane. He didn't want to go past, or his car didn't have the power to go past. He just wanted to stay attached to my bumper, maybe just to prove that his little eco-car could keep up with a car that had a 3.0 litre V6 engine. I don't know why Thai drivers do the things they do, but when you see what they do it comes as no surprise that there are so many road fatalities in Thailand.

Renting a car in Thailand is a great idea because it allows you to see so much more of the country than you would normally see, however, if you are going to drive in Thailand you have to know about the things that Thai drivers do. If you simply assume that driving in Thailand is the same as the driving in a civilised country you will have problems.

I had an unexpected treat today when my wife suddenly announced that she was taking the two children to her mother's house. This happens very rarely and I was able to write this.

I will genuinely try to make an effort in 2016 to write more regularly and more often, but I can't promise anything. I've received some e-mails from a few of you recently and it's great for me to hear about you.

Thank you and very best wishes for 2016!

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Monday 21st December 2015

When on Earth will it start to get better? Will it ever get better? Is Thailand disappointed with being ranked 2nd and now going after 1st place?

Malaysian Chinese tourists killed in Chiang Mai accident

Over a dozen Malaysians killed in bus crash in Chiang Mai

Apparently, the driver of the bus had just hit a pickup truck and tried to flee the scene - a very common strategy in Thailand. He attempted to escape and the truck pursued him. Travelling at high speed, he then ran off the road killing 13 tourists.

After Thailand was rated as having the second most deadly roads in the world, Prayut said that he would start looking at the problem. So far, I have seen zero evidence that anything is being done. Many drivers still drive on public Thai roads as is they are competing at Le Mans, and there is still a complete lack of any deterrents - both human and electronic.

The Bangkok Post describes him as a 'rogue' driver, but this isn't an isolated incident. The worst culprits for dangerous driving on Thai roads are often drivers of passenger vehicles. Minivan drivers in Thailand are notoriously aggressive and the speed at which drivers of some large tour buses drive is terrifying.

Something needs to be done, but I've been saying that for 12 years. Nothing has been done so far and I have very little confidence that anything will be done.

It could be me and my family next. This is why I get so upset about this particular social problem in Thailand. I don't care how Thais carry on if it doesn't affect me and I don't presume to meddle in their affairs because it isn't my country, but this affects everyone who uses Thai roads and the situation is insane.

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Friday 18th December 2015

Wildlife can be a problem in Thailand.

I talked to a neighbour yesterday who was trying to fix a cockroach problem. In the three years we have lived in this house cockroaches haven't been a problem, but the house that we used to rent had a major infestation. The large, brown cockroaches that are common in this part of the world are disgusting. I suspect that sooner or later they will find their way to my house.

I have heard rats scurrying around in the loft space and they have chewed some items that I had previously stored up there. When we first came to this house I assumed that I could use the loft space for storage, but rats are a problem.

Mosquitoes are a big problem. After dusk there are a lot of regular mosquitoes and during the daytime there are lots of stripy mosquitoes that transmit Dengue fever. I simply cannot rid my kitchen of ants. On several occasions I have followed their trails to see where they come from and have tried to deal with the problem at source. Yet, they still come.

I have heard about a couple of neighbours whose houses have been attacked by termites. They are completely invisible until one day you open a cupboard and find them inside. By that stage they have normally done quite a lot of damage and they are difficult to eradicate.

I spoke about snakes recently, which are a completely different kind of problem, especially when they are highly venomous, such as the monocled cobras that we have around here.

What can you do?

I have a contract with a pest control company who treat the ground around the house and spray the area outside the house to keep termites and other insects away. I have bought traps and poison for the rats. I had insect screens fitted to the house to keep mosquitoes out, but this doesn't stop the children being bitten when they play outside. My male cat has caught a few rats and we are vigilant regarding snakes.

Thais are always extolling the virtues of herbal and natural medicine (except when they are ill in which case they want a large bag of Western medicine) and I have been told there are plants that help to deter mosquitoes and snakes.

We have a small herb garden and some of the plants we grow (those that are commonly used in Thai cooking, such as lemongrass) are supposed to keep mosquitoes away, however, they don't seem to be that effective.

When the problem of snakes in the neighbourhood first arose, my wife told me that snakes didn't like certain plants and that we should get some. I assumed the plants emitted a certain smell that snakes didn't like. She came home last week with a snake repellent plant and after seeing it I don't think it has anything to do with scent.

These plants actually look like snakes and the theory seems to be that they resemble a creature that snakes themselves are afraid of. The problem in Thailand is that there is always a thin line between scientific truth and yet another piece of Thai folklore based on superstition and ancient beliefs.

 

Snake repellent plant

Snake repellent plant

 

I really don't know whether these plants genuinely repel snakes, or not, but it doesn't matter that much. If it works it will be a bonus and, if not, we won't be any worse off than before. I should try to obtain a few more.

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Wednesday 16th December 2015

If you have a bad headache, or you are female and have period pains, you go to the pharmacy for some medicine and you are desperate for something to make you feel better. So desperate, that the price of the medicine is of no consequence.

You see some generic painkillers, but just next to the generic stuff is medicine that is specifically made for your problem. You know this because it says so on the box. It's more expensive, but what the heck. If it was made to treat a specific problem, as the box implies, it must be better, mustn't it?

Now, what if you were to find out later that the active ingredients in both the generic and specific medicine are exactly the same? You could have bought the generic painkiller for a lot cheaper and it would have had the same effect. You could have saved even more money buy buying an unbranded version from a supermarket and it would still have had the same ingredients.

Would you feel cheated? Technically, the manufacturer didn't do anything wrong. He just sold one product as generic and wrote a specific ailment on the other box while selling it at a higher price. But would you feel cheated and misled? I certainly would.

I have always put a lot of faith in the Nurofen brand and I introduced it to my wife. I find it very effective for headaches and aches and pains in general. However, the Australian government has just revealed that the manufacturer of Nurofen was doing exactly this.

A little while ago the Volkswagen scandal was revealed. People who care about the environment want cars with low emissions. However, the clever engineers at Volkswagen wrote software so that VW cars could detect when they were being tested for emissions and change the engine characteristics to produce fewer emissions.

I just ordered some stuff through Amazon UK and I was told that everything I ordered qualified for free postage. Just as I was about to pay I saw that a UKP 4.95 postal charge had been added. Why, when everything qualified for free postage? I had to manually tick the box for free postage, but had I overlooked this I would have paid Amazon more money than I needed to? Is this a deliberate ploy?

When I reserve air tickets on-line, Nok Air include an allowance for additional luggage that I don't want and insurance that I don't want. I then have to remember to unclick these things. Is this a deliberate ploy?

While out shopping I find that I am constantly doing mental arithmetic. It would make sense that buying items in larger quantities would be cheaper - and I'm sure that manufacturers want us all to thing that way - but when I do the sums I find that often the opposite is true. It seems like deliberate deception.

 

Warning for tourists in Bangkok

Warning for tourists in Bangkok

 

Thailand has something of a reputation for cheating and scamming. It's true, especially where there are lots of naive tourists, but the practice certainly isn't restricted to Thailand and it isn't restricted to dodgy tuk-tuk drivers. It seems that the bigger the business, the bigger the scams, and Western corporations and governments are probably the most deceptive of all. Did they ever find any WMD's in Iraq?

I was brought up to have a sense of what is right and what isn't, and this kind of thing really saddens me. It's a very deceptive and dishonest world that we live in.


On the subject of being cheated, there were occasions in England when Autumn would arrive and I felt that I had been cheated out of a summer. This year in Thailand, I feel that I have been cheated out of a rainy season.

In the south of Thailand the rainy season is between October and December, but so far this year there has been hardly any rain. There have been a few storms, but the intensity and persistency has been nothing compared with normal rainy season weather.

The weather in Thailand is too hot for me most of the year, but the coolness brought about by storms during the rainy season gives some respite. Also, there is something comforting about being indoors - or even in the car - when a fierce storm is raging outside.

In our old house I was always worried about flooding during the rainy season, but now I can relax as we no longer live in a flood zone. I enjoy the rainy season and to have had hardly any rain this year is quite disappointing. Also, I am concerned that there may be water shortages next year.

It's half way through December and the temperature has already started to hit the mid 30's indoors in the shade. Our air-conditioners have been running and it feels as if the rainy season has ended before it has begun.


There were many reasons why I left the UK and one not insignificant reason was to get away from the annual circus everyone engages in, commonly known as Christmas. I started to hate Christmas years ago. I detested the drunkenness, the consumerism, the crowds and, not least, when your personal life isn't where you quite want it to be, Christmas can be a miserable time of the year.

After I arrived in Thailand I loved being in a place where Christmas didn't really exist. Thais put up lights and decorations, mainly to entice shoppers into their department stores, but there is no real concept of Christmas, as you would expect in a country where most people are Buddhist.

Since having kids, Christmas has returned to my life, but firstly it's of my own doing and secondly, there is none of the grief that is associated with Christmas in the UK. Let me explain.

My daughter has to do school work and at the age of four she doesn't want to do it and doesn't understand why she has to do it. To encourage her, we can either using the carrot or stick approach. My wife takes the stick approach and she can be quite brutal with a ruler. This seems to be the approach that many Thais take. I don't like this approach at all and prefer the carrot approach - the carrot being presents at Christmas. Therefore, it is me who has built up Christmas in order to encourage her to do her work.

We went shopping again yesterday and it was quite pleasurable, if shopping can ever be described as pleasurable. Christmas in Thailand starts in late November, compared to August in the UK, and even 10 days before Christmas the shopping centres are still relatively empty during the week. They are packed at weekends, but that is the case every weekend.

Traffic was light, parking was easy, and at Central Festival we were able to browse in a comfortable, refined atmosphere where there was no need to fight with crowds of Christmas shoppers. The store also offers a free gift wrapping service. They wrap gifts expertly, thus removing one more chore once we get home.

Christmas in Thailand is just about perfect, with exactly the right balance. Christmas doesn't start several months ahead of the event, it isn't tacky, and it isn't given to excess. It's kind of ironic that it should be this way in a non-Christian country and Christmas has been absolutely ruined in so many Christian countries.


A few comments regarding immigration:

  1. I was running around like a maniac last week, as usual, and forgot all about my 90 day reporting at Thai immigration. When I got to immigration on Monday it was six days overdue. I had heard previously that up to a week wasn't a problem, but I had never left it that late before. Anyway, I can confirm that it wasn't a problem.

    I have got to know the immigration guy on the front desk quite well. He just said, "Mai bpen rai," and told me that up to eight days wasn't a problem. After that they can fine you and I think the fine is the same as the visa overstay fine, ie, Bt500 per day. If you are a couple of weeks late it can start to get quite expensive.

  2. I understand that the proposals by Thai immigration to ban foreigners from entering the country if they overstay their visas will take effect next year. I'm not sure, but I think that an overstay of less than a year will result in a one year ban and that an overstay of more than a year will result in a 10 year ban.

    I don't know what will happen about small, maybe accidental, overstays but this concerns me slightly. I have a family that I support in Thailand. If I absent-mindedly forget to extend my visa by a day or two will I be deported and banned from entering the country for a year?

    I understand the problem with a small number of people, but when you start applying blanket fixes that affect everyone it can punish people who don't really deserve to be punished.

    I'm also not sure how the new regulations will affect those foreigners who live completely under the radar in Thailand and probably don't even have valid passports, let alone visas. They never leave the country and therefore have no contact with immigration.

    If immigration really want to rid the country of undesirable foreigners they will need to start doing spot checks and/or advising owners of apartment buildings to inform them of all the foreigners staying at their apartments so they can check for valid visas.

    For the first six months that I lived in Thailand I always carried a photocopy of my passport with me wherever I went. However, no one ever checked and that is still the case after 12 years. I've even been on buses near the Burmese border when immigration have boarded the bus to check passports and visas. They weren't interested in checking the paperwork of farangs, but were only interested to see if any Burmese were entering the country illegally.

  3. After I was granted a visa extension last time, immigration told me that they were going to visit my house. They phoned one morning and said they were coming. We cancelled plans to go out and stayed in all day. They never came and, several weeks later, they still haven't come.

    I have heard about quite a few foreigners experiencing additional problems with immigration this year. There are more requirements and the big thing this year seems to be proving that where you claim you live is where you really live.

    These things always happen for a reason. What started this seems to have been the Bangkok bombing and the fact that the perpetrators had been living in Thailand for a while. I suspect that the police were probably following a lead and obtained information about someone's address from immigration, only to find that the address was false. The Thais obviously don't want this to happen again.

    Thais must be registered in a house registration document. It is a blue book, known as a 'tabian baan'. Foreigners can't be registered in the same book, unless they are permanent residents, but there is a yellow version of the 'tabian baan' that foreigners can own.

    This is an official document and its importance is recognised by Thais. If you have a yellow 'tabian baan' it is a very convincing proof of address. A friend of mine got one a few months ago and the process was quite laborious.

    However, when I spoke to my Thai lawyer friend who does the official translation for any documents I need, he told me that it was relatively straightforward and offered to help. My plan is to go and see him in the new year about getting a yellow 'tabian baan'.

    It doesn't need to be renewed every year and when dealing with Thai bureaucracy it is a useful document to have.

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Tuesday 15th December 2015

Some years ago, my brother, aged around 24 and between jobs, decided to spend some time in Australia and hook up with some Aussies who he had previously played cricket with in the UK. He travelled with a friend, but his plans were almost thwarted before he arrived. They stopped off in Thailand and had such a great time that they didn't want to leave. Thailand has this effect on many people.

 

Perfect Thailand?

Perfect Thailand?

 

After I decided that I no longer wanted to remain in the UK, my decision on where to go was very easy. Without any doubt in my mind it was going to be Thailand, even though my only previous experience of Thailand was as a tourist, and tourists know nothing about the country.

There's actually a strange phenomenon among some tourists in that they believe they know a lot when they actually know nothing. I was exactly the same. After about three visits to Thailand I was beginning to think I was some kind of an expert, but I couldn't speak, read or write a word of Thai, I understood nothing about Thai cultural behaviour, and I had only ever been to tourist areas. What a fool.

I still see it on Internet forums about Thailand. People who have been to Thailand a few times want to be the forum experts and feel obliged to answer every question. On occasions I have provided some answers, only to be shot down by the forum expert living 6,000 miles away who visits Thailand once a year and thinks he or she knows Thailand a lot better than I do.

Since living in Thailand I have met a number of people who were passing through, or who had planned to do a little English teaching, and they end up staying. It's an easy lifestyle, there are no winters to contend with, and if you are male you will be the target of many Thai females whose only hope of getting a better life will be to enter into a relationship with a foreigner.

If the girl doesn't already have children, she will want some. I have yet to meet a Thai girl who doesn't want children. It's a strong part of the culture and whereas foreigners might have pension schemes to look forward to in old age, for most Thais their pension schemes are their children. Furthermore, if a Thai girl enters into a relationship with a foreigner and wants to cement that relationship so that it will be difficult for the foreigner to escape, children are a very useful device.

Just recently I heard from a young American who I worked with a few years ago. Like many, he only planned to pass through Thailand and had no permanent plans. After he stopped working in the south he moved north. He met a girl and now he is responsible for a wife and a son. This is a common story.

If you stay in Thailand for an extended period two things happen. Firstly, it becomes more difficult to return home. On a practical level, your job skills fade and it becomes more difficult to go back and enter the job market. On an emotional level, for many people anyway, the prospect of your old way of life isn't very appealing. Secondly, events unfold - such as marriage and children - that trap you permanently in Thailand.

It takes a very long time to understand Thailand. Thais are very careful about presenting a good image of the country and they won't tell foreigners anything bad about Thailand, which is regarded as betrayal. If you haven't seen them before, Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram's 'Cultural Mandates' make for quite an interesting read and a lot of these attitudes still exist.

After I arrived in Thailand to live permanently, I read everything about the country I could lay my hands on, I studied the language, and I observed Thai behaviour like a hawk. Even so, it took about four years before I'd even scratched the surface. After 12 years, I still learn about Thailand and the Thais almost every day.

From what I have said so far, we have a situation in which many foreigners are drawn to a country they know nothing about, and in which they can become easily trapped without a convenient way to leave. This isn't ideal.

I should also add that foreigners who decide to live permanently in Thailand are always kept on the outside of society. People I know who lived in the UK and emigrated to places such as Canada and Australia went through a formal immigration process. They became citizens of their adopted countries and obtained all the rights that natural citizens have.

The vast majority of foreigners in Thailand live in the country on one-year visas and there is never any guarantee that a visa will be renewed. New requirements seem to be put in place every year and the immigration authorities actually seem to discourage long-term foreign residents from seeking permanent residency.

There is no welfare state in Thailand. Thais themselves get very little assistance from the government - some medical benefits and a very low old age pension - but foreigners get nothing. Once you make the move to Thailand, you are very much on your own and you can very easily find yourself responsible for taking care of a wife and children in addition to yourself.

Jobwise, there are few opportunities. A few foreigners I know have married into fairly wealthy families and their wives have set up businesses that they become involved with. They do OK, but this isn't typical. Most foreigners - myself included - marry girls from poor families and it is the foreigner who is expected to provided for his Thai family.

The obvious job for a foreigner in Thailand is teaching English. In provincial Thailand the average salary is around Bt30,000. In Bangkok it is more. Thais are obsessed with paper qualifications and all teaching jobs will now require a degree. Thai university lecturers always had to have Master's degrees and a few years ago they were told they needed to study for PhD's. Of course, they expect foreigners to be the same and the highest paid teaching jobs in Thailand will want foreigners with PhD's.

The old question about whether Thailand is a cheap country or not continues to go round and round. Yes, it is possible to rent a room for Bt1,500 a month, yes, it is possible to buy a meal for Bt30 and, yes, many Thais earn less than Bt10,000 a month and survive. However, let's be real.

When I was living by myself it was difficult to spend less than Bt30,000 per month. I stayed in a decent place, but didn't drink alcohol and lived a fairly modest life. One month I did my best to spend as little as possible and came in at around Bt20,000. It was the most miserable month I had spent in Thailand.

Now, with a wife, two kids and two cats, Bt60,000 a month seems to be about the minimum. That's with no mortgage, no rent, no loan repayments, or debt of any kind. This year we haven't travelled anywhere, apart from Bangkok where my daughter sees a doctor twice a year. Last month it was almost Bt100,000.

Last month's additional outgoings were an air-conditioner and my daughter's school fees. This month, Christmas presents have cost me quite a lot and the annual bill for my Internet connection is due. Every month, there are additional costs on top of the regular costs and prices continue to increase in Thailand all the time.

So, you can end up in a country that you know nothing about and in which you acquire additional responsibilities very easily. If you have no income from abroad, you then find that your earning power doesn't really cover your living expenses. It can be a problem.

I know foreign teachers who went down this exact path and they ended up returning home where they could earn more money. The same thing also happened to a dive master I met several years ago. He was a very pleasant lad from the UK and was living the perfect life.

All he did was accompany paying guests on liveaboard excursions, which is the best form of diving. He worked in one of the most beautiful parts of the Andaman Sea and didn't have to do any boring Open Water courses with new divers. It was an idyllic lifestyle for a single person, but nothing lasts forever.

He met a Thai girl, children arrived, and in addition to his salary not being enough to support a family, his job lifestyle wasn't compatible with having a family. He too returned to the UK and rainy Manchester must have been quite a shock to the system after the Similan Islands.

When I log off from my e-mail system, Yahoo tells me what searches are trending in the UK. At the moment a lot of Brits are interested in vacations in Thailand. I lived in the UK for 43 years and I know what it's like to live there. I know how tourists perceive Thailand, I understand how wonderful it feels to be in Thailand as a tourist, and I fully understand why many people consider making a permanent move. It's all very understandable.

I don't wish to be a party pooper and this isn't boasting about how I have been so successful in Thailand because I haven't. At times it has been a struggle, at times I've been lucky, at times I have wanted to leave Thailand, but I have managed to survive ... thus far. We should never forget that nothing in life is permanent and that anything can change at any time.

Twelve years ago, selling an average house in the UK and living off the interest in Thailand would have been a very viable option. If you sold the house and put, for example, 200,000 UKP in the bank at a time when interest rates for savers was around 5% that would have given you an income of 10,000 UKP.

With an exchange rate of around Bt70 to the pound, that would have worked out at about Bt58,000 per month. It wasn't a fortune, but it was enough to live on.

However, after interest rates went down to nothing and the exchange rate crashed after the Global Financial Crisis, anyone who had followed this path would have had a lot of financial problems. Nothing in life stays the same and things change without any warning.

Older foreigners who own property and have pension schemes probably don't need to worry too much, however, I am constantly amazed at how many young foreigners start new lives in Thailand. Salaries are so low that there is seldom any money left over to invest in property or pensions.

Do they not worry about the future or are they prepared to work until the grave? Perhaps they come from wealthy families and will inherit money eventually.

My first piece of advice would be to find out as much about Thailand before you go to live there. I didn't and many aspects of Thai cultural behaviour came as a big shock later. There are some aspects of Thai cultural behaviour that will be completely oblivious to tourists, but they will quite possibly drive you crazy if you live in Thailand.

The only way to do this effectively is to live and work in Thailand with Thais. A year teaching English is a good eye-opener. Working in the recreational diving industry may be a fun lifestyle, but your colleagues and customers will be foreigners, thus you won't discover much about Thailand.

Be aware that lots of poor Thai females with no opportunities in life will have their own agendas involving available foreign males. You may arrive in Thailand young, single and carefree, but this can change very quickly. I discovered this when my first Thai girlfriend lied about birth control and then announced that she was pregnant. This was in my first year and my life now might be very different if it wasn't for a slippery bathroom floor at her grandmother's house.

In Thailand, thinking about the future isn't encouraged, but do try to think about the future a little. If you are in your 20's or 30's 'the future' is a long time. Think about visas and think about income. As I said above, Thailand is no longer a cheap country in which to live.

I had grown to hate my job in the UK (basically because technology had made my original job extinct and I my new job was something that I didn't want to do). I hated the working environment so much that I knew I had to get out otherwise I would have some kind of breakdown. If not for this, it would have been better to have worked for a few more years, to have saved a little more money, and to have topped up my pension pot a little more.

I received an e-mail a week or two ago from a lad in the UK who, like me, had accepted a severance package and quit his job. He too had been bitten by the Thailand bug and was planning to go to Thailand. He had been reading some stuff I had written elsewhere on this site and I could sense the excitement in his e-mail.

It is exciting to be starting a new life, especially in a country where you have experienced good times as a tourist. However, in this exciting stage there are so many things that get overlooked.

I understand that none of us know what the future will hold and that with any decision in life there is an element of risk. Whatever you decide to change in life, there is always a risk that it won't work out. But, you can do things to mitigate risk and if you aren't sure at first it is never a good idea to burn too many bridges.

Various things happen to foreigners who go to live in Thailand. Some thrive, prosper and do very well. Some survive and although their lives are probably better than they would have been at home, they never look completely satisfied or fulfilled. Some end up returning home after a few years because they simply can't earn enough money in Thailand to survive. Some end up throwing themselves off tall buildings in Pattaya.

There's a saying that we only regret the things in life that we didn't do, not the things that we did. It's not exactly true, but there is a lot of truth in this saying.

In many people's eyes, I led a comfortable life in the UK. I had a detached house in a good area, nice cars, good vacations, and money was never really an issue. However, the pressure and unsatisfactoriness at work and the loneliness of being single and unable to find a partner I was happy with made everything irrelevant.

I had been bitten by the Thailand bug and vacations were never enough. I had to find a way to live in Thailand, if for no other reason than to get it out of my system, and knew that I would deeply regret not giving it a shot. When I went to Thailand I left enough of my old life behind so that if it didn't work I could return after a year.

A year passed and then 12. Time goes quickly, especially as you get older. My commitments, responsibility and general situation now mean that it will be very difficult to return. As a result of planning and luck, life is OK. I can survive reasonably well and take care of my family without needing to work. It's not perfect and if I had my time over again I would change quite a few things, but of course I can't.

If the bug has bitten, give it a shot and don't regret not doing so later in life. But be very careful. Thailand is nothing like it appears to be on the surface and neither are the Thais. It's a deeply concealed society where so many truths are hidden from view that the reality is impossible to see until you have lived in Thailand for many years.

Learn as much as you can, try to mitigate as many risks as possible, think ahead a little, try not to burn all your bridges, and try to maintain an insurance policy. I currently have two insurance policies - my occupational pension and my UK property. My UK property provides a nice rental income, but if disaster strikes the money I get from selling it will keep me for the rest of my days. This isn't what I want - ideally when I sell my house the money will be used to give my kids a decent start in life - but it's there just in case. When I hit 67, perish the thought, I should also be entitled to a UK state pension.

Everything I have bought in Thailand - house, cars - is in my wife's name and therefore at risk, but my incomes and property abroad are mine. I've heard too many stories about foreigners handing over everything to their Thai partners, only to be kicked out later. Besides, even if my wife did decide to do a dirty on me - which I don't think she will - the money will only end up going to my children and that's what I want anyway.

Most foreigners who go to live in Thailand are men. Be extremely careful of Thai females. They're certainly not all heartless gold diggers with claws of steel, but many have an agenda and that agenda is all about money and taking care of their own families. The only way they can get access to money is through foreign men, but what happens to the man if he loses all his money is of no concern to them at all. Their thinking is that if he was stupid enough to hand it all over it's his own fault.

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Sunday 13th December 2015

When I first came to live in Thailand it seemed that every single household had an electrified tennis racket with which to swat mosquitoes. They were being used and sold everywhere and they seemed like a good idea. There are swarms of mosquitoes everywhere in Thailand and besides being a constant source of irritation, some of the diseases they transmit can be dangerous. These devices didn't use any nasty chemicals and were friendly to the environment.

 

Mosquito zapper

Mosquito zapper

 

I bought one and it was great fun while, at the same time, it reduced the number of mosquitoes. However, as time passed I saw fewer and fewer of these swatting devices. I still see someone using one now occasionally, but it is fairly rare, and they aren't nearly as popular as they were in 2003.

I have come to the conclusion that I arrived in the middle of a craze and that as the craze died out so did the use of mosquito swatters. Subsequently, I was to witness several other crazes. Incidentally, Thais don't use the word craze and they don't appear to have a Thai word for the phenomenon. My wife uses the English word 'fever'.

The next craze - and the biggest and craziest craze I have witnessed in Thailand - was Jatukham Ramathep fever. This was insane and it started a few years after I arrived.

Amulets are big business in Thailand and they are taken very seriously. They are far too precious to be 'owned' by a normal person and therefore can't be bought or sold like other goods or commodities. Shops that 'sell' amulets display signs to the effect that they 'rent' amulets.

 

Amulets for rent

Amulets for rent

 

Amulets are believed to contain sacred magic (saksit) power and will protect the owner wearer of the amulet because they can't have owners.

Some Thai men walk around with a constant stoop because they have 2kg of amulets hanging around their necks. You will also see amulets adorning the dashboards of vehicles. With so much saksit power on board Thai men can drive as fast and recklessly as they wish, confident in the knowledge that they will be protected from death or serious injury.

Different amulets from different sources have varying amounts of magic power and the most powerful amulets will exchange hands for ridiculous sums of money.

The Jatukham Ramathep amulet craze started in Nakhon Sri Thammarat and for a period (while the craze was in full swing) they were regarded as the most powerful amulets. There are lots of guns and lots of shootings in Thailand (especially in Nakhon Sri Thammarat, which has a somewhat violent reputation) and stories were being circulated of these amulets creating Star Trek type deflector shields that were capable of stopping bullets.

I had been to Nakhon Sri Thammarat previously and, being a sleepy little provincial town, it was always easy to find a hotel room. During the craze at its height every hotel room in town was booked. New issues of an amulet created a stampede mentality and one poor woman was knocked over in such a stampede and trampled to death.

 

Newly opened amulet shop

Newly opened amulet shop

 

In Hat Yai vacant shops were being rented and reopened solely to sell Jatukham amulets and existing businesses added a line of amulets to their normal stock. If I went into a pharmacy to get some medicine there would be a selection of amulets next to the pregnancy testing kits and condoms. No doubt, the amulets had enough power to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the ability to detect whether a girl was pregnant or not.

After a while, of course, the craze died out as they always do. And by the way, amulets have nothing to do with Buddhism whatseover, as is the case with all superstitious practices in Thailand. Animism, yes, Buddhism, no.

Next came coloured T-shirts and although I forget the exact sequence there have been Big Eye and genuine hair extension crazes. It always disturbs me to see young Thai females wearing cosmetic contact lenses and it has also been known to cause panic attacks among young children.

After living in Thailand for about a year, I almost lost an eye after contracting a fungal infection through a soft contact lens. I wore contact lenses to correct my vision. It horrified me that young girls were putting their eyesight at risk when they had no vision problems, but the people making a profit by selling cosmetic contact lenses weren't going to highlight the risks.

 

The Big Eye contact lens craze

The Big Eye contact lens craze

 

The hair extension craze lasted quite a while and, again, new shops were opening just to sell hair extensions. Poor girls in China were growing their hair long and then selling it to make extensions. The extensions were woven into existing hair and looked quite natural. I saw a salon offering these extensions the other day, but now they are quite rare. At the height of the craze they were everywhere.

Crazes also apply to food. When I first arrived in Hat Yai there were only a few coffee shops that sold cakes and pastries as well. A big coffee shop craze followed and they are now everywhere. It was the same with Japanese food. At first there was only the Fuji chain and a couple of small restaurants. Now, they too, are everywhere.

Also, when I first arrived, there weren't that many bicycle shops. However, at the moment there are bicycle shops everywhere. Prayut started to push cycling, some bicycle lanes have been constructed in various parts of the country, and this year has seen two major cycling events - 'Bike for Mum' and 'Bike for Dad'.

 

Bike lane in Songkhla

Bike lane in Songkhla

 

In all senses of the word, this craze is a lot healthier than previous crazes and I hope that it lasts. Also, with more cyclists on the roads it may encourage the Thais to actually start looking at road safety.

If you want to make a lot of money in Thailand you have to somehow start a craze and be the person supplying whatever the craze involves. At the height of the Jatukham Amulet craze a senior dentist made the point to me that these things cost pennies to make, yet were selling (sorry, being rented out) for thousands of Baht. Someone was making a lot of money.

I went to buy some food this morning and saw lots of Lycra-clad cyclists on their fancy machines. My guess is that eventually it will return to normal and just the hardcore cyclists will remain.

Thais tend to get bored quite quickly and they love novelty. This also includes people. As a new and unknown foreigner in Thailand you receive lots of attention, but once you become familiar the attention soon fades.

Cycling is the latest craze, but sooner or later it will be displaced with yet another 'fever'.

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Blog entries 1st to 9th December 2015

 

 

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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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