Living In Thailand Blog
Friday 29th January 2016
ลูกเทพ - look-tep
I often think that I am living in the weirdest, most superstitious, most eccentric country on Earth (probably because I am). In previous posts I have written about how superstitious Thais are and how they get obsessed with crazes, such as the Jatukham Ramathep amulet craze of a few years ago.
The latest superstitious craze concerns so-called 'angel dolls' (look-tep ; look = child/offspring, tep = god, deity, divinity, divine being, angel). They are quite large dolls and have become popular with Thais, notably some celebrities, who carry them around everywhere in the belief that they will bring good fortune.
The dolls are quite expensive, but buying a doll is only the start. People are dressing them in expensive clothes, and adorning them with jewellery and watches. They take them to restaurants and actually order food for the dolls. Some people even buy air tickets for their dolls. Air passengers are required to show some form of ID - a national ID card or passport - so I don't know how that works for doll passengers. Perhaps there are now special ID cards for dolls?
There has been quite a stir in the airline industry regarding angel dolls and if the doll doesn't have a reserved seat, it is classed as luggage and must be stored accordingly under the seat or in the overhead compartment. Dolls must be X-Rayed at airports to ensure that their owners haven't used them to conceal a bag of yaa-baa tablets.
Many 'Buddhist' monks in Thailand are heavily into superstitious practices, which have absolutely no place in Buddhism, and have been performing blessing ceremonies on the dolls - for a fee, of course.
Woman receiving lustral water blessing
Wherever there are stupid people, there are also opportunistic people who devise ways of making money from stupidity. Some enterprising people have set up beauty salons and even educational courses solely for dolls. I was thinking of putting a sign outside my house offering to teach dolls English for Bt2,000 per hour, but I would probably have a few problems with immigration. It wouldn't be all that different to teaching high school students.
I wrote about crazes in Thailand a little while ago and was wondering what the next craze would be. Apparently, this is it.
Whenever I hear about this kind of thing I find myself shaking my head in disbelief. There was quite a long news article on Thai TV this morning about this phenomenon, which I watched with my wife, and even she was saying that many Thais are crazy.
I started to tell her the suicide/lottery ticket anecdote, but I didn't get to the punchline. As soon as I mentioned that Thais wanted to know numbers related to the suicide victim she knew exactly why. She's Thai and therefore, of course, she knows exactly how Thais think.
She told me that all current lottery tickets containing numbers that are somehow related to the Thai soap opera actor who recently died of Dengue fever are sold out.
The Tourist Authority of Thailand boasts 'Amazing Thailand' in its promotional material and yes, some aspects of Thailand really are amazing. Incredible.
Thursday 28th January 2016
There are some English words and phrases that all Thais seem to know. The Thai phrase above is 'dtaam' (follow), 'jai' (heart/mind). It literally means 'follow your heart', or, roughly translated, "Do what you have/want to do."
My Thai/English dictionary defines it as: to go along with, as you like, to give in to, to please, indulge. Whenever I have heard Thais say this in English, they always say, "Up to you." It's an English phrase that all Thais seem to know.
In his book, Tom Tuohy talks about the lack of responsibility in Thailand, which is very accurate, but he also says that Thais use, "Up to you," simply because they don't want the responsibility of making a decision in case it turns out to be the wrong decision. I don't agree with this, but I do agree about the lack of responsibility and will write more about this in another post.
Whenever my wife says, "dtaam jai," it isn't a good sign. It normally happens after I don't agree with something she has suggested. As soon as this happens, her mood is broken and she won't want to do anything that I want to do. "Dtaam jai," = "Do whatever you want. I'm no longer interested because you don't want to do what I want to do."
If I suggest anything she will go along with it, but she will make sure that she doesn't enjoy it. I have learned my lesson and it's no fun doing anything with somebody who wears a miserable face all day, so now I will normally go along with her suggestion to keep the peace.
To foreigners who don't know Thailand, Thai women may seem meek, mild-mannered, subservient, submissive, demure, etc, but I can assure you that once you get involved with one she will know exactly how to get her own way. They are not at all how they appear to the uninitiated, and they are certainly not to be messed with.
If you are interested in books about Thai cultural behaviour, this one is quite good. It's not perfect - there is too much about teaching English and much of the book consists of unrelated blog posts, which don't fit together properly in a book format.
Some of the other books I have about Thailand are very academic and quite difficult to read. This one is very easy to read and the author injects some humour whenever he can.
Most of what he says I am aware of already, but he has given me a few things to think about and I liked some of the anecdotes. For example, his anecdote about the superstitious nature of Thais.
Thais are probably the most superstitious people on the planet and many superstitious practices are related to lottery numbers. Last year a monk was arrested for grave robbing and desecrating corpses. The reason, of course, was so that he could obtain winning lottery numbers.
The book relates an anecdote about a gathering of people on the street after someone had leapt off a tall building. This method of suicide is very popular in Thailand.
Foreigners at the scene of the incident were genuinely concerned about why the person had jumped, they felt pity for the family, and wondered if anything could have been done to prevent it.
A Thai woman at the scene was more interested in the victim's age, the number of her room, the number of the floor she jumped from, etc. The reason, of course, was to use these numbers to buy lottery tickets. Once you have lived in Thailand for a while, things like this no longer surprise you.
Selecting winning lottery numbers in Thailand
In other countries lotteries are purely a game of chance and the numbers are completely random. But not in Thailand. In Thailand, it is a fact that people are surrounded by winning lottery numbers all the time and it is simply a case of being able to use superstitious beliefs and magical powers to find them.
If I had to guess which month it is based purely on observing the weather, I would say October or November. There was really heavy rain at 6:30am this morning and the weather patterns are typical for the rainy season. Skies are grey and the rain is persistent throughout the day. It doesn't really stop, but just varies in intensity from drizzle to heavy showers.
The real rainy season was very dry at the end of last year and January is normally hot and dry. It's weird. My wife was telling me how cold it is in other parts of Thailand. In Bangkok it was a body-numbing 17°C.
The Eastern United States is suffering from a big blizzard and I heard a report last week that somewhere in China it is minus 42°C. People there would regard 17°C as positively balmy, but not in Thailand.
My wife told me that Thais feel cold whenever it gets below 30°C. That is an exaggeration, but I have noticed that when it gets to around 25°C (which is very rare here) she starts to get uncomfortable.
As I write, at around 09:30, it feels about as cool as it ever gets here. The thermometer in my office is showing 27.7°C.
A reminder that despite the stories of bad Thais, the vast majority of Thais are nice people. Most wouldn't do anything to cause another person to suffer and the kindness of some Thais is immense.
I live in a provincial area of Thailand where there aren't many Westerners. Most Westerners are drawn to the well-known tourist resorts where they feel more comfortable. There are tourists here, but mainly ethnic Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore.
Accordingly, there isn't much good Western food on offer and the same applies to English books. The only books in English carried by many book stores are language books aimed at Thai students.
Other than that, there isn't much. Imported English books are expensive and books written in English by Thai authors (with long lists of academic titles after their names) are usually full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
I was thus delighted when I found a new book shop. The woman owner imports books from England by the container load - some are used and some are new, but are sold because a retailer overstocked.
She started off selling just children's books, which were great for my kids, but then introduced books for adults. I have always loved books and will always love books. I have bought books there and was browsing in the shop yesterday.
I have become very friendly with the owner and she always gives me huge discounts and throws in some free books as well. Yesterday, she saw me browsing and brought out some beautiful books that she had been saving for my children.
I am grateful to her just for opening the shop and making English books available to me, without all the big discounts and free books. Some Thais are so kind that it is quite overwhelming.
There are many social problems in Thailand, but the main two sources of problems are vehicles and money. Not only are vehicles driven dangerously in Thailand, but many drivers of passenger vehicles are not very nice people. The only arguments I ever seem to have in Thailand are with drivers of vehicles.
The desire to own a vehicle also gets Thais into a lot of debt. Cars are undoubtedly a big status symbol, but I admit that there are good reasons for getting one. Public transport is uncomfortable and drivers have no sense of responsibility for their passengers comfort or safety. Nonetheless, it seems crazy that so many Thais spend so much of their disposable income just on a car.
I've met Thais who spend about 90% of their income on car loan repayments and it is telling that there are big advertisements offering 0% interest on tyres. Not only can they barely afford their car payments, but if they need to replace tyres they have to take out another loan.
Money is another big, big problem in Thailand. Basically, 95% of Thais never have enough money and it is an obsession. I can understand why Thais lust after money so much because having some money in Thailand can make a huge difference to a person's living standards. But also, Thais have become very materialistic in the last 30 or 40 years and many things they lust after aren't necessary. Their behaviour is the very opposite of Buddhist teaching.
Whereas in many Western countries, people can increase their wealth through education, determination and hard work, that isn't necessarily the case in Thailand. Poor Thais generally stay poor and the only opportunity they have to get richer is through foreigners.
For foreigners it is a double-edged sword. When you see old, fat, repulsive farangs in Thailand with young, attractive Thai girls it isn't because the girls find the men attractive. The girls have families to support and this is the only way they can make enough money.
The problem with many Thais is that even when they find a way to get more money, their appetite is never satisfied. The lust for more money is like a disease. Thaksin had more money than he would ever need, but his lust for more and more money eventually meant that he had to flee the country.
Regardless what the girls say about love, foreigners meeting Thai girls should be in no doubt whatsoever as to why the girl shows an interest. I'm no different and if I didn't have any money I wouldn't be with my wife. People enter into marriage to make their lives better in some way, and for most Thais a better life equates directly to having more money. However, there are limits and when those limits are exceeded it is time to move on.
It is very unfortunate that there is a perception among Thais that all foreigners have endless supplies of cash. They don't seem to realise that foreigners save up for vacations and that during the vacations they want enough money to enjoy themselves fully without penny-pinching. This free spending while on vacation behaviour no doubt gives Thais the impression that we are all filthy rich. For the first few years of my marriage I spent way beyond my means and it has been a struggle getting my wife to understand that my income does actually have limits.
Thailand has been a favourite tourist vacation for a long time and much has been written about the country, therefore this will come as no surprise to most foreigners. What may come as a surprise is that Thais who manage to go overseas are treated the same way when they return to Thailand.
On my first visit to Thailand I met a Thai guy who had moved to the States, but was back in Thailand for a vacation. We are still friends and still keep in touch. He is by no means rich, but whenever he visits his family in Thailand he is expected to be the benevolent godfather.
A friend of mine in Thailand gives a lot of help to Thai university students. She mentors them, acts as an adviser on many issues, and even helps them financially if they have problems. She helped one girl get on to an MA programme in Spain, but the girl is now back because her father is dying from cancer.
She isn't rich, either, and her studies abroad are no doubt very expensive. However, because she has been abroad her relatives now believe she is rich. When she goes shopping and is about to pay, relatives put their grocries with hers assuming that she will pay for their shopping too. If she wants to go out to eat, seven other people will want to go and they will expect her to pay.
When I first arrived in Thailand I invited a few girls to lunch, thinking that fried rice shouldn't cost too much. They would explain that because they are good, respectable Thai girls they can't go alone and will need a chaperone. That wasn't a problem.
However, when I met the girl for lunch I would find that she was with six or seven friends. They would want to eat somewhere expensive, instead of being satisfied with rice or noodles, and, of course, I was expected to pay.
On another occasion I asked a girl for lunch. She didn't need any chaperones and we went to a regular restaurant selling Thai food. I thought at first that she was different. When the meal arrived she was served with a huge plate of gigantic shrimp that cost about Bt700. The restaurant was noisy and I didn't hear her order this when we were ordering the food.
Not all Thai girls are like this, but many are. Foreigners in Thailand are just seen as an easy source of money and money is worshipped more than anything in Thailand.
As I said above, if it wasn't for this then Western men wouldn't get the opportunity to meet young, attractive Thai girls. Having a little money can open up opportunities that you would never have in your own country, but you need to make sure that there is a balance otherwise you will be bled dry.
And don't forget that this behaviour isn't reserved exclusively for foreigners. Thais who have been abroad get treated in exactly the same.
Thursday 27th January 2016
Most foreigners in Thailand probably skip through the Thai channels when they are channel surfing, but there are far more insights into Thai behaviour in the Thai language news compared to the English language news. I watched a little this morning.
The first item was about after sales service. This is something that is non-existent if you buy anything from traditional markets or street vendors. If you have a problem they won't refund your money or replace the defective goods.
Department and chain stores are better, but generally they will only replace something within seven days of purchase even if the guarantee is one year. After seven days they will offer to repair the item.
I might not use anything for the first seven days after I buy it and even if I do and something goes wrong on the 8th day I want a replacement, not a repair. However, this isn't how it is in Thailand. As soon as you buy anything, it is then extremely difficult to get it replaced or to get a refund.
Thais generally accept how things are (they have no choice), but sometimes they get upset. There was a big story a few years ago about a woman who bought a Honda CRV in Bangkok. The car was a lemon and kept going wrong.
The dealer refused to change it (there don't appear to be any lemon laws in Thailand) and kept doing repairs. However, things kept going wrong. In the UK there are various acts of Parliament that give consumers protection, but there doesn't seem to be much protection in Thailand. In the end, the woman decided that the only way she was going to get anything done was to perform a publicity stunt.
She parked her Honda CRV in front of the dealer's showroom and proceeded to beat the crap out of the car with a hammer. I don't think they changed her car, but I think that Honda Thailand refunded her money.
There was a similar case on the news this morning after a guy bought a toilet bowl at the Pattaya branch of HomePro. The first one leaked, he got it changed, and the second one leaked. HomePro wouldn't change it so he marched back into the store with his toilet, set it on the ground, and smashed it to pieces with a hammer.
Naturally, this caused quite a scene, and the store manager changed his toilet but it shouldn't really require such drastic action to get a faulty item changed.
HomePro, my favourite shop in Thailand
HomePro is a my favourite shop, and also the shop in which I have spent most money. The last item I bought was an LED floodlight with a motion sensor and I took it back because the light stayed on all the time. They changed it and the sales assistant spent time telling me how to set it up.
Most things I have bought from HomePro haven't been a problem, but when I have had problems their after sales service has been fine.
I stopped buying things from small markets and shops after the zip broke on a small holdall I bought many years ago. The vendor had absolutely no interest in giving me a new one or refunding the money.
The best advice I can give is to buy from well known department stores. You may be surprised that their goods are often as cheap, or cheaper, than small shops and markets, and they give you a proper guarantee.
However, even with department stores you will sometimes have a problem. The other problem is that if they insist on repairing something it may take a long time to repair.
A DVD player that I bought at Powerbuy many years ago went wrong within the warranty period and they sent it to Bangkok to be repaired. I can't remember exactly how long the repair took, but I got it back two or three months later.
Thai news is never complete without some video footage of crazy driving and this morning we saw a guy in a pickup truck (it's always pickup trucks, isn't it?) overtaking in a stupid place on the wrong side of the road and hitting a motorbike coming the other way. He then just took off. A classic hit-and-run.
Had no one had a dashcam he would have got away with it, but the dashcam captured the collision on video. Not only did this story highlight again the reckless way in which many Thais drive, but it also demonstrated the lack of responsibility that many Thais have.
I plan to write about this later in detail, but there is never any responsibility shown. My car has been hit by motorcyclists a few times and as soon as they do it they roar off through the traffic. It has also been damaged in car parks, but in Thailand I would never expect someone to leave a note on the windscreen admitting to the damage.
In reports of traffic accidents, the phrase 'the driver fled the scene' appears often. Most Thais won't accept any form of responsibility and as soon as they cause a problem they 'flee the scene'. There are cultural reasons for this, which I will talk about later.
In another news item (in my home town) a burglar broke into a diamond shop. The owner, an ex-policeman, had a gun and shot him dead. If this happened in the screwed up, politically correct UK the owner of the shop would now be in trouble, but I think that Americans are allowed to use lethal force to protect their own homes, and so they should.
My reaction was that the burglar got what he deserved. Perhaps other thieves will now think again before attempting to break into someone's home or business premises and steal their possessions.
The recent burglaries in my housing development have caused me a lot of anxiety, but some of my neighbours, who are also friends, are paranoid. These are the friends who we travelled to Penang with.
They run a fairly successful graphic design business from home and use expensive Apple Macs with big screens. The hardware is expensive, but the information on their computers is actually worth far more. If they lose that information they can't do their business and then they won't have any income. I had a good chat to them about the importance of data backups. They do make backups, but probably not as often as they should.
Every night they take their computers to bed with them and, of course, they worry when they leave the house. I do too.
Burglary is a much underrated crime. My house in the UK was burgled many years ago and for a long time afterwards I didn't want to leave the unoccupied. It upsets some people so much that they are forced to move house. Psychologically, being burgled does a lot of damage.
I am all for shooting burglars and I wish that HomePro sold small guns with motion sensors instead of just flood lights. Such devices would no doubt help to keep burglars away. Several of my neighbours are in the police force or military and keep guns at home. I suspect that other people do too. If burglars want to continue stealing from people's homes and get shot I have absolutely no sympathy for them.
Tuesday 26th January 2016
Today was probably the last time that I will ever see my parents. My family is not big on emotion, especially my father, so we attempted to say a normal goodbye at the airport but everyone was fully aware of the reality of the situation.
Their health is such that they shouldn't have made this trip, but they did. Another trip to the Far East will be beyond them, and my financial and family situation is such that I won't be able to afford to go back to the UK before they pass on. Today was a difficult day.
This is the reality of leaving one life and starting another from scratch thousands of miles away. You can have anything, but you can't have everything. I've made this point before. You have to decide what is more important to you personally, and now my family in Thailand is more important than anything or anyone in the UK that I left behind.
Buddhist thinking also helps. Nothing in life is permanent and getting attached to anything that isn't permanent is not good. Life changes so don't cling on to things.
My parents are good. They have always wanted the best for their children without any selfish interest. They have never expected their children to take care of them in old age, but to do what makes them happy.
Am I strange, selfish or eccentric to have turned my back on my country of birth in order to go and live in a foreign land?
I picked up a book about expat life in Thailand on my trip to Bangkok recently - 'Watching The Thais' by Tom Tuohy. Books about Thailand written by foreigners can be very good or very bad. A few e-books I have downloaded for my Kindle have been embarrassingly bad.
This one seems to be made up from blog entries and it's quite good. The author makes many of the same observations that I have made over the years. Even so, I still found his views of interest. He is a teacher and talks a lot about teaching in Thailand, but that is something that I became quite bored with.
He mentions that while in Africa he got into conversation with an American woman and she commented that all travellers, by nature of the travelling they do, are eccentric to some extent.
They travel because they are different to 'normal' people and find that they can't fit in or function in a society where they are different, even if that country is their homeland.
I can relate to this, but does this mean I am eccentric? Here's just one example of how I found myself to be different in my home country.
The UK has a big drinking culture. When people socialise they drink, when they celebrate something they drink, when they achieve something at work they drink, when they are feeling low they drink. Nothing in life matters as long as they can go to the pub and get drunk.
I got fed up with this attitude and dependence on alcohol a long time ago. I find it a little strange how drugs are totally taboo, but how alcohol - which is just another drug - is perfectly acceptable to society. That attitude will probably change in the next 30 years, or so.
I was unhappy at work and unhappy about the amount of time I spent at work. As a gift to employees my employer would sometimes arrange for everyone to go out and get drunk. Great. The next day at work was even worse with a hangover to contend with, and getting drunk didn't address the root cause of the problem, but this is what 'normal' Brits (unlike me) want.
If I parents noticed me looking down in the dumps they would suggest going to the pub with my friends. Real issues were never addressed, they were just patched up temporarily by getting drunk.
In Thailand I stopped drinking because I socialised almost exclusively with females and Thai females don't normally drink alcohol. There was no longer any peer pressure so it was easy to stop and I didn't miss it when I stopped. To have stopped drinking in the UK would have been seen to be strange and when you are different it is difficult to fit in, however, I never regarded myself as strange or eccentric simply for not believing that alcohol was always the solution regardless of the problem.
That was just one example, but there were others.
I don't regard starting a new life as a weakness, but a strength. Henry David Thoreau said, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I believe this and have seen it for myself. But what is more difficult? Simply living an unfulfilled, unsatisfying, desperate life until you die or having the awareness that life isn't going anywhere and having the courage to do something about it? The easiest option is always just to stay where you are.
There are, without doubt, some strange and eccentric people who go to live abroad and also some bad people who go abroad to get away from their home countries for various reasons. However, there are also those who, for whatever reason, simply don't fit in or don't like the way things are in their home countries.
By writing this today I am attempting to justify why I left everything in my home country behind, including my parents who are now elderly and in poor health. There is no need to justify it to myself or to anyone else, but lots of emotions have been brought to the surface today and it helps me to put my thoughts into words even if those words are rambling and incoherent.
I honestly don't think that many people who go to live in Thailand think very far ahead. They visit the country, have a good time, don't want to go home, and then end up living in Thailand, not thinking about the future. I was the same and when I first left the UK I thought I might return after a year.
That was over 12 years ago and instead of being single, carefree, childless and with fairly active parents, I have a wife and two kids, who I am responsible for, and two frail, elderly parents living 6,000 miles away. I can't take care off all of them because it is physically impossible.
At the moment there are a lot of things I want to write about, including Thai attitudes towards taking care of elderly parents and some other subjects in Tom Tuohy's book. Hopefully, in the next few weeks I will have the time to sit down and write.
The rainy season in the deep south (October, November, December) is officially over now and it was the driest rainy season I have ever known. Usually, from the beginning of January until mid-April it is very hot and dry. Summer storms often arrive around the same time as the Songkran festival in mid-April to break the drought.
However, this year is different. There were some storms last week, and quite a lot of rain last night and this morning. It's unusual to have so much rain in January, as if the usual weather pattern is behind schedule. Strange weather patterns seem to be the case in many countries this year.
I am really enjoying the current rain and cooler (not cold) temperatures. I am also hoping that this late rain will help to fill reservoirs so that we don't suffer from water shortages later in the year. It also saves me from having to water the garden.
While in the car with my wife the other day she told me to pull over and park so that she could buy some food. Had I parked where she told me (directly in front of the food stall), other cars wouldn't have been able to pass. I therefore refused and parked so that I wasn't blocking the road, but she was then forced to walk about 20 yards. Thais don't like walking anywhere.
I find it strange why she, and other Thais, find it acceptable to park somewhere that is convenient for them, so they don't have to walk, but not convenient for other people. She is a very inoffensive person and wouldn't normally do anything to inconvenience anyone else, but with parking it is different. Why is this? I don't know.
The entrance to our housing development is quite wide and most of the time when I leave I turn right. I turn on my indicator and wait for a break in the traffic. It's a busy road and sometimes I have to wait a while.
If another person wants to do the same thing, instead of waiting behind me they draw up alongside so that they can get out before me. I then can't see the traffic. Thais will not normally wait for a safe break in the traffic both ways. They just pull out and then try to merge in with the traffic.
This infuriates me, but it happens all the time. I discussed it with my wife and I told her that it is no different to waiting in line at the Post Office when another person jumps the queue. They arrive after you, but they want to get ahead of you. She just didn't see it the same way, but I don't know why. To me it's the same thing.
They wouldn't find it acceptable in a Post Office or at the supermarket checkout, but why do they think it is perfectly acceptable to jump queues when in a vehicle? I don't know.
Her brother once gave me a lift in his pickup truck. He wanted to do a U-turn and there were already several cars waiting to do a U-turn. Instead of joining the queue, he just drove around the outside of the queue and pushed in at the front to get ahead of the cars already waiting.
This is something that happens to me a lot when I am waiting to do a U-turn. When he did it I was quite embarrassed, but he seemed to think it was perfectly natural and perfectly acceptable. Again, he is normally a very inoffensive and considerate person.
There's no real concept of waiting your turn or giving way in Thailand. There is a big 'me first' attitude and everyone tries to get ahead of everyone else.
When I observe this type of behaviour in Thailand I always like to try to understand why Thais act the way they do. Thais love vehicles, but private transportation for the masses is a relatively recent thing. I've spoken to Thais my parents' age and they have told me that when they were young there were no trucks, cars or motorbikes.
Car ownership has seen exponential growth in recent years and now many Thais own cars, but there isn't a long-standing car culture in Thailand. Another problem is that Thais have started to own cars at a stage late in car development.
Brits started to own cars when most cars couldn't exceed the speed limit on a British motorway. When the M1 motorway opened only a few cars, such as E-Type Jaguars could exceed 70mph. My father owned Morris Minors and Ford Anglias, etc, that couldn't reach 70mph.
The new cars that Thais buy, even 1.2 litre eco-cars, handle well and are capable of fairly high speeds and rapid acceleration. Thais have never been through the learning curve of old cars, but you actually develop a lot of driving skills from driving old jalopies.
Before cars there wasn't a culture of horse drawn vehicles in Thailand. In Asian cities, Chinese coolies pulled rickshaws for passengers wanting to travel short distances and there were lots of waterways.
Thais taking to the water
Lots of cities have been dubbed 'Venice of the East', including Bangkok and Ayuthaya, and many people used to travel around Thailand in boats before there were cars. Of course, boats can't brake to give way to other boats. When two or more boats come together they just have to merge while trying to avoid a collision. This is exactly what happens on Thai roads and while talking to another farang some years ago about driving in Thailand he made the comment that roads in Thailand are more like rivers. This is possibly why Thais have no concept of stopping and giving way.
Another theory I have is that Thai society has a very strictly defined societal hierarchy. Initially it's defined by age and children are taught to be very deferential to adults. This starts at a very early age. They have to wai (press the palms of their hands together) and bow their heads respectfully. I have seen teachers push my daughter's head down further because she isn't being deferential enough.
As they grow older the hierarchical rules get more complicated, but they are well known to Thais. Age still plays a part, but so does profession, job title, academic qualifications, wealth, surname, family connections, etc. All Thais are very familiar with the rules of social hierarchy and know exactly where they are placed in the hierarchy and who they need to show deference to.
This hierarchy doesn't exist on the road and Thais enjoy the anonymity given to them by dark tinted windows and not having to be deferential to anyone. From outside their cars, no one can see who is inside. Interestingly, I have noticed that quite a few expensive Benz cars don't have the dark-tinted windows. Thais driving expensive status symbols want to be seen, but those in regular cars don't.
The rules of the road have nothing to do with anyone's social status and nothing to do with traffic laws. Right of way is determined by size of vehicle and who drives more aggressively. I'm sure this is why there are so many pickup trucks in Thailand and why many Thais drive so aggressively.
I theorise that those Thais low down in the social hierarchy get fed up with always having to be deferential in normal life, but when they are anonymous in a big pickup truck with tinted windows they enjoy it because they can then make other people deferential to them by driving in an aggressive and intimidating manner.
There is absolutely no doubt that many Thais undergo huge personality changes as soon as they are in control of a vehicle. Thais who are normally quite pleasant in regular life become quite unpleasant when they are driving. There have to be reasons for this change and these are just some theories that I have.
Monday 25th January 2016
When buying fuel I normally wait until my fuel tank is almost empty and then get it filled to the top. I record how many miles since the last fill, how much fuel, price, and reset the odometer. This way I keep track of the price of fuel and also my fuel consumption.
I have noticed that many Thais don't do this. Sawng-thaew drivers will just add Bt200 of fuel when they get low and my wife will do the same thing. She is the same with grocery shopping. My view is that if I buy a lot of something it will save me time because I won't need to go shopping again for a long time. She will just buy what is required for our immediate needs and keep her spending to a minimum. In 7-Eleven I see many Thais who top up their phones with just Bt20. I would never bother with such a small amount, but they do.
Waiting behind a tractor to fill my car up with fuel
Anyway, I digress. For a long time, it cost well over Bt2,000 to fill my tank. On 27th April 2014 I was paying Bt41.74 per litre. For a long time I would automatically get two Bt1,000 notes from my wallet and pay the rest with money from my pocket, knowing that it would always be over Bt2,000.
Towards the end of 2014 the price started dropping ... and dropping ... and dropping. In February 2015 it started to go up again, but then in August 2015 it started dropping again. Instead of Bt2,000+ being the norm to fill my tank, recently it has been costing around Bt1,100 or Bt1,200.
I filled the tank again this morning and it was the cheapest tank fill I have ever done in Thailand - just Bt1,040 (Bt23.47 per litre). If it continues at the same rate I will be getting change from Bt1,000 before very long.
As I alluded to a few days ago, I suspect that many Thais will think this is fantastic news. The cost of living in Thailand keeps rising and any commodity that is going down in price has to be a good thing (especially fuel as Thais love their cars, trucks and motorbikes so much), doesn't it?
I, too, like paying almost half as much to fill my tank as I was paying less than two years ago. However, it concerns me at the same time. Low prices must mean low demand because of decreased industrial output. That, in turn, means fewer jobs and less money in the economy. I'm not an economist, but I just don't feel very confident about 2016 at the moment.
After New York and parts of the eastern United States were shut down due to a huge blizzard, parts of Asia are now getting very cold. But not in southern Thailand, where it is still very hot.
In Bangkok recently the daytime temperatures were about the same as in the south, but it was noticeably cooler overnight and in the mornings and evenings. Southern Thailand stays hot around the clock and night time is particularly unpleasant without air-conditioning.
I was told this is why strawberries can't be grown in the south because, apparently, they need to be cool at night. My wife would love to grow strawberries, but her suggestion that I should buy an air-conditioner to grow them is one that I won't be taking up.
Sunday 24th January 2016
My parents have been here for a few days and it has been very difficult finding the time to do any website updates - even more difficult than usual.
They are really too old to be doing long haul travel, but this is the probably the last opportunity they will have to see their grandchildren together. On previous visits they have coped with the heat and humidity, but not this time. I took them to a local floating market yesterday and we had to come straight back home as my father looked on the verge of collapsing. He will be 80 this year and their health has deteriorated rapidly in recent years. They hate the very cold weather, but very hot weather can be just as harsh in a different kind of way.
My local floating market
They've given me a few updates about the UK and the country seems to have changed beyond recognition compared to 2003 when I left. The huge wave of immigrants has changed many aspects of the country (the house next door to where they live is rented out by a large group of noisy Poles) and the impression I get is that standards of politeness and behaviour in general have declined a lot.
Having been away from the UK for so long, the view I have is based on how it was when I left and there is also an element of seeing the UK though rose-tinted spectacles. However, the view I have now after these latest updates looks a lot bleaker.
They have a lot of problems around their house with inconsiderate neighbours, which didn't exist when I was in the UK. They would like to move house, but can't afford it. Their house is worth quite a lot, but it will be expensive to buy another house and moving house isn't cheap in the UK with stamp duty at 3% and estate agents fees.
I have never regretted leaving the UK and the latest updates I have heard actually make me feel quite glad that I did. If you are very rich the UK still offers a lot, but for the average person I don't think life is that good and even now when I think of ordinary life in the UK I start to feel very bored. If I had to leave Thailand, the UK is probably the last place on my list where I would choose to live.
Of course, this has made me feel a lot better about Thailand. Only this morning my mother was saying how she wished her house was as quiet as mine. My housing development is very quiet with no through traffic and many neighbours who aren't around very much.
I have criticised Thais in the past for having a very narrow view of the world. Very few have been outside of Thailand and they have no sources of reference; nothing to compare Thailand against.
However, having lived in Thailand for over 12 years with just a few very quick trips to Malaysia and Singapore, I too have become the same. I have been to many countries outside of Thailand, but making comparisons now based on my memories from so long ago is no longer valid. I criticise some aspects of Thailand, but nowadays it seems that places such as the UK are no better. Thailand's really not such a bad place ... if only the Thais would do something to make their roads safer.
Friday 22nd January 2016
I've used the term 'Red Mist' quite often to describe acts of violence in Thailand. This is one aspect of living in Thailand that greatly concerns me.
Over the years I have read about several disputes between Thais that end up with one of the parties in the dispute being murdered. Thais don't seem to be able to resolve disputes in a civilised way. If something irritates them, they won't confront the issue and try to settle the manner in an amicable way.
Most don't like confrontation, they are respectful to feelings of greng jai, and they are also very aware that any form of confrontation could be potentially fatal. If they have an issue with anyone else, they won't say anything and they try to ignore it.
I didn't like the confrontational nature of the UK and the way in which people would start shouting, arguing and fighting every time they didn't like something. In many respects I much prefer the Thai way, however, it means that there is no safety valve.
If people are constantly irritated and have no way to get a problem off their chests it is like a pressure cooker with no safety valve. If the pressure gets too high and there is no safety valve the pressure cooker will blow up.
This latest fatal shooting involved a long-running parking dispute. A small problem never got nipped in the bud and was allowed to fester and grow. One day, one of the people involved got so wound up that the 'red mist' descended and he lost control of his actions. Three people were then shot dead.
Guns are easily available in Thailand and wherever mentally unbalanced people can get hold of guns easily there are problems with people being shot and killed.
This is why I have had to adapt my behaviour when driving. Anyone who has been taught how to drive properly will naturally get angry at the way Thais drive, but to do so could spark a 'red mist' moment and then anything could happen - including being shot.
Anti road rage sign in Thailand
One of the reader comments in the article I linked to was very accurate. It mentions 'hotheads with fragile egos'. Foreigners equate the mind with the brain/head, but Thais talk about hearts. Instead of 'hothead' they say 'jai rawn', which is more like hot heart/mind. A big, big problem on Thai roads is that there are so many people who are 'jai rawn'. On some overhead bridges on Thai roads I have seen messages to drivers, written in Thai, reminding them not to be 'jai rawn' while driving.
And 'fragile egos' are another big problem. If reading about Thai cultural behaviour you will read a lot about 'face' and the problems with Thais 'losing face'. The concept of 'losing face' is well known to Westerners, but many acts of violence in Thailand have nothing to do with people losing face. The real problem is huge and fragile egos and the problems that result when a huge, fragile ego is infracted.
I've been reading this week about how a lot of people are predicting that the economic problems in 2016 will be far worse than those in 2008. Already, the year has got off to a very shaky start with huge falls on stock markets, and stock markets in China being suspended. Oil prices continue to drop and some people are predicting that the price of a barrel of oil could drop to $10 this year. Drivers may be happy, but this isn't a good sign.
When I was heavily invested in the stock market and the GFC hit in 2008 it was a very stressful time. People who are currently invested in stock markets are also experiencing a lot of stress, including some Thais.
Interest rates are already down to almost 0% and huge amounts of money have been pumped into world economies to buoy things up for a while. Now, unlike 2008, interest rates can't be lowered any more and the cracks can't continue to be wallpapered over by printing yet more fiat money.
A friend in the UK sent me an e-mail a few days ago about the Balkan Dry Index and how it acts as a bellwether for the economy. The implication was that most people have never heard of this index. I already knew about the Balkan Dry Index because a reader of this blog told me about it last year. There are also some other current indicators that signal major economic problems in the near future.
Most normal Thais seem oblivious. I regard my wife as a 'normal Thai' and she hasn't got a clue (or any interest) about world economies or the Balkan Dry Index. Her world doesn't extend beyond Thai soap operas, shopping, and other events in Thailand.
However, the current economic woes are filtering through into Thailand in such a way that normal Thais are beginning to become aware. Phase 2 of my housing development has 150 houses and many aren't sold yet because banks aren't approving mortgages.
I've just heard that one of my neighbours cannot keep up with mortgage repayments and is in a hurry to sell the house. However, I think that it will take a very long time to sell unless it is sold at a very low price, and Thais never want to sell at a very low price. Regardless of the state of the economy they always want to make a big profit.
The first high-rise condo building in Hat Yai was completed just as the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 broke. The condo units were all priced at pre-crash rates, yet after a major financial crisis and a devaluation of the Baht the prices weren't lowered. Of course, condos weren't sold and this remained the case for several years afterwards.
It seems to be a mixture of stubbornness and refusing to accept the new reality, or maybe they assume that things will recover. Shortly after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis it became painfully obvious that the world would never be the same as before.
Apparently, my neighbour's mortgage repayments are Bt50,000 per month. Most Thais use credit to buy their vehicles and other items, and along with food and other essential items their outgoings are probably around Bt100,000 per month. This is a huge amount in Thailand. When my wife's teacher friend found a job that paid the huge sum of Bt15,000 per month all her old colleagues thought it was a fortune. Very few Thai households have a monthly income of Bt100,000, or anything near that amount.
Up until a few days ago, nothing I had read about the economy has mentioned Thailand specifically. I read the other day that the economic woes in Malaysia are predicted to continue and that Singapore could come unstuck. There has been a big, long boom in Singapore and it is time for a correction. Also Singapore's port business will suffer as a result of a lot fewer ships moving around the globe.
A few days ago, I did stumble across a piece that mentioned Thailand specifically.
This was taken from:
Emerging economies like Brazil, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey, rather than China, will be the real sources of concern in 2016, argues U.C. Berkeley's Barry Eichengreen. With their high levels of short-term debt, these countries are vulnerable to currency crisis, "potentially leading to economic collapse."
It's impossible to predict the economy, but at the moment I am feeling quite pessimistic and I think that a lot of Thais will start to face difficulties.
As in other countries, Thais have taken advantage of low interest rates and been on a buying spree funded by credit. Yingluck's government actively encouraged this and introduced incentives for those who had never owned a car to buy an eco-car. In status conscious Thailand a car is the ultimate status symbol and many bought subsidised cars (mostly through finance companies).
Of all the eco-cars, Thais particularly liked the Suzuki Swift and at the height of the incentive programme there was almost a one year waiting list for a new 1.2 litre Suzuki Swift. I know because my wife made enquiries before I bought her a Honda Brio.
Manufacturers building cars outside of the programme offered 0% interest credit and other goodies when someone bought a car. At one point, if you bought a new Ford Fiesta you received a free motorbike and smartphone as well.
Many Thais are up to their ears in debt. While the economy has been fairly good and there has been a housing boom they have survived, but any downtown will cause them problems. In terms of grasping and attachment to the material world, many Thais are perhaps the worst Buddhists you will ever find. They are extremely materialistic.
I also think that a lot of property developers and private speculators will face problems. The housing boom where I live has been enormous in recent years. In areas that were wasteland a few years ago, there are now houses and high rise condos. There were good profits to be made at the height of the boom and people were just buying up properties to sell later at a profit.
Thailand relies a lot on tourism and exports, but as foreign economies start to falter people will travel and buy less. In exactly the same way that foreign goods imported to Thailand are regarded as luxury items, so are Thai goods being exported to other countries.
A neighbour who has a share in a hotel in Koh Lanta was complaining bitterly about the low occupancy. A German restaurant owner here was telling me that there are far fewer tourists and that they are spending less. He also mentioned that Thai business owners aren't doing as well and have less money to spend eating out at restaurants such as his.
Thais like to jump on bandwagons. They did it with property and before that they did it with para rubber. At one point owners of para rubber plantations made good profits. When I worked at a government university hospital quite a few of the staff had rubber plantations and were getting a nice income.
The price per kg of raw rubber sheet is now around Bt36 and, once again, the government has stepped in to prop up the price and has offered farmers Bt45. I always think that messing with natural market forces is a dangerous game and the government should have learned a big lessons after the rice buying fiasco.
Drought is another problem in certain parts of the country and farmers in certain provinces have been advised to plant other crops other than rice because of water shortages. However, they seem very reluctant to do so. If they insist on planting rice and the rice dies due to lack of water they will face new hardships.
In the past I have been proven wrong many times about the economy in Thailand. Whatever problems 'Teflon Thailand' faces, the country has this almost uncanny knack of being able to survive and even prosper.
I hope that there aren't problems, but there are enough indicators at the moment to make me believe that this year will be quite difficult.
Wednesday 20th January 2016
The Internet is a fantastic source of information, but because of human nature we all tend to be more vocal when things go wrong rather than when they don't. I am just as guilty as anyone else. Some really good things happen in Thailand and I don't say anything, but when I have a problem I reach for my keyboard. A few nice things happened last week when I went to Bangkok.
The first few rows of seats on Nok Air flights are now regarded as premium seats and if you reserve one of these seats at the time of booking you have to pay extra. I didn't reserve seats when I booked my flights, but when checking in on the flight to Bangkok and the flight home I asked for a seat at the front of the plane because I was travelling with my four year-old daughter.
On both flights I was allocated premium seats at the front of the plane at no extra cost. On the flight I was also offered a free beverage, which only the passengers who have paid extra for premium seats are entitled to, even though I hadn't paid extra.
Soldiers at Hat Yai airport
At the airport there were a lot of soldiers. The military in Thailand performs a different function to the militaries in most other countries and the army is huge. They have their own planes to get around the country, but use commercial airports.
As I was waiting for my flight in the departure hall I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a soldier pointing under my chair. I looked and saw that some Bt100 notes had fallen out of my pocket. I had no idea and had he not told me I would have lost the money. I thanked him, of course.
I only used four taxis, but all three drivers were good people and took me to where I wanted to go without any funny business. Not once did a taxi driver refuse to take me where I wanted to go, which is very unusual.
Before the flight home we had some spare time so I took my daughter to Dusit zoo. The zoo operates a dual pricing system, as do most places in Thailand, but I told the woman (in Thai) that I lived in Thailand and that my daughter was a Thai citizen.
I had already started to retrieve my Thai driving licence and a copy of my daughter's birth certificate to prove this, but there was no need. Straight away, she only charged me the Thai price - just Bt100 - and said there was no charge for my daughter.
The Dusit area of Bangkok is the most attractive part of Bangkok and the zoo is very well kept. There seemed to be a lot more there than there was on my last visit.
If I had taken my daughter to London zoo it would have cost me £20.70 and my daughter £15.75. At current exchange rates that is almost Bt1,900. Taking her to Dusit zoo cost me just Bt100. The taxi fares in Bangkok were almost nothing. In London, taxis are so expensive that I wouldn't even consider travelling by taxi. This is just one of the reasons why I have never been interested in going back to the UK since I left in 2003 - there are many others.
Tuesday 19th January 2016
I wrote recently about problems with rechargeable batteries, and I have just suffered yet another rechargeable battery failure. Rechargeable batteries only last a few years, after which time they won't hold a charge. Many of the devices we use these days use rechargeable batteries and it annoys me that batteries either can't be replaced, or they are so expensive to replace that it is more cost effective just to buy a new item. This 'planned obsolescence' is good for sales.
The battery on my Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) just died. There's a light to indicate that the battery needs changing, but this didn't illuminate. There have been two power blips in the last few days and both times my computer died when the power went off. This is when I realised there was a problem. This hasn't been a problem for about 34 months after I first bought the UPS.
I called the manufacturer (Syndome in Bangkok) and asked about getting the battery replaced. Their response was that a new UPS was around Bt1,600 and to replace the battery was around Bt1,100. They recommended buying a new unit. I did (another Syndome, which cost Bt1,690), because these devices are essential in Thailand, but I will try to get the old one repaired and use it as a spare. A farang friend had the same problem a few months ago and got her UPS battery replaced for about Bt350.
UPS devices come in a variety of sizes and prices starting from about Bt1,300. I don't need a huge unit and I don't need unnecessary LED displays on the front. I just need something that will prevent my computer from turning off in the event of a short blip, and give me enough time to shut down my computer in a controlled fashion if the outage looks as if it will be a long one.
Long power outages are fairly rare here, but there are little blips all the time. If you don't have a desktop computer it isn't a problem. The only thing I need to do after a power blip is reset the oven clock. Laptops with working batteries have their own built-in UPS, so they aren't a problem.
However, desktops do not fare well with lots of short power outages. You lose data, you waste time waiting for the machine to boot up again, and if the hard disk is half way through a write operation it could spell disaster for your computer.
I never had a UPS in the UK and never really felt the need because power cuts were so rare, but it's different in Thailand. This also applies to certain other things. I never had a need for certain items in the UK, but they are very useful in Thailand.
I can't recall owning an ice box (Esky, in Australianese) in the UK, but I have one in Thailand and use it regularly. It's not used for keeping drinks cold when I go on picnics, but for grocery shopping trips. Thailand is so hot and the car gets so hot - even with air conditioning - that an ice box is essential for getting cold and frozen food home before it thaws, melts, or goes bad.
The Garmin GPS Navigator I bought shortly after I got my car was so useful that when its battery failed I bought another. They are now quite cheap. Direction signs in Thailand are very poor and if you can't read Thai that presents another problem. I used the GPS on my recent trip to Phuket and it had me turning down lots of little roads that weren't even signposted. It has been a real help and when my car started playing up a few years ago on the way to Phuket it directed me straight to the nearest service centre.
Garmin GPS Navigator
Another little item that has been really great is the Michelin tyre inflator that I bought several years ago. Under or over inflated tyres can be dangerous. The facilities at Thai petrol stations are often out of action, inaccurate, or there is a long queue of people waiting to check and inflate their tyres. Having a little device that enables me to check tyre pressures and accurately inflate tyres at home has been extremely useful.
Michelin pressure gauge and tyre inflator
I didn't use any of these items in the UK. I would probably have bought a GPS, but I left the country before they became widely available. Thailand is different to Western countries and thus certain items that didn't use to be very important suddenly become essential.
Another item that I now consider essential if you drive, but one that I haven't got yet, is a dashcam. Many Thais drive so badly and lie when they cause accidents that video evidence can be extremely useful. My brother actually bought me one for Christmas, but it doesn't work. It could be that it needs a faster memory card, but if not I will have to buy another.
These are becoming very popular in Thailand and prices are dropping. Most are from China and although they are very cheap I have concerns about quality and reliability. The better models are around Bt5,000, but the extra expense is probably worth it.
The Thai actor, Tridsadee 'Por' Sahawong, who was critically ill with Dengue hemorrhagic fever died yesterday. My wife (and I also suspect many other Thais) are now in a state of mourning. She reacted almost as if it was a death in her own family.
Thais are fanatical about their 'daa-raa' (superstars), but what has touched a nerve with this particularly death is that he was regarded as being a very kind (jai dee) person in life. He owned a lot of land, on which he allowed people to farm rice to make a living, and helped people (and animals) in other ways.
He died just before his 36th birthday and his passing at such a young age has shocked a lot of Thais. Very sad.
For Westerners of my own generation, there was more sad news with the death of Glenn Frey. The Eagles were another band that I grew up with. Squire, Bowie, Frey. Who next?
I remember being of an age when I didn't know anyone who had died. Sadly, that changes later in life and eventually you reach a stage where deaths of people you know, or knew, happen with alarming regularity. Whenever I receive an e-mail from an old colleague with another old colleague's name in the subject field, I don't even need to read the e-mail to know what it is about.
There is no point being morose. These events, as Buddhism tells us, are just reminders that nothing in life is ever permanent and that we always need to seize the moment and make the most of what we have today.
Monday 18th January 2016
As an adult I have never owned a train set and worn a conductor's hat while watching model trains whizz around the track. Neither have I ever frequented railway stations with a notebook and anorak jotting down the different kinds of locomotive I see. However, I have always quite enjoyed train travel.
On one trip to Colorado Springs, where I have family, I flew into Denver and took the Amtrak train to Glenwood Springs. It was very enjoyable, as was the time I completed my TEFL training in the Czech Republic and took the train from Brno to Passau to attend a friend's wedding.
On another trip to Colorado I boarded the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. Canada and the States (Colorado, in particular) still have a lot of magnificent railways that are still in use. A trip through the Canadian Rockies would be a real dream, but probably won't happen now. Luxury train travel is also off my list these days so there's no point dreaming about the Orient Express or South Africa's Blue Train. Those bridges were all burnt when my kids arrived.
Train travel in the UK is no longer very romantic, catering mainly to sour-faced commuters who live in the suburbs and work in the cities. On NHK World there have been a number of features about train journeys in Japan, which look great, but I am told that train travel, and travel in general, is quite expensive in Japan.
The good news is that train travel is cheap in Thailand, the rail network is fairly extensive, and many routes pass through pretty, tropical countryside.
Despite this, I haven't done a great many journeys by train since I have lived in Thailand. I took the train to Phattalung on one occasion and used the train for one of my trips to Nakhon Sri Thammarat. When I was single and travelling around Thailand I was more interested in the destination than the journey. Trains are quite slow so I opted for faster forms of transport. Since I have had a family, train travel hasn't really been practical, however, a train journey is looming in the near future.
My daughter has to have a blood test before her forthcoming operation and there will be a three day gap between these two events. Our current plans are to take the train from Bangkok to Hua Hin and have a break in Hua Hin during that time. It's a place that I almost got to a few years ago before a doctor in Chumphon misdiagnosed a problem with my ear and told me that I had a perforated eardrum. (The only time I have ever had a problem with a Thai doctor.) After that news I cut my travel plans short and aborted my trip, thus missing out on Hua Hin.
Bridge on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi
Another rail trip I would like to do is the journey from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi and the Bridge over the Buffalo River (I don't know how kwair managed to end up being transliterated to kwai, but that is also the case for many other badly transliterated words). This particular railway excursion is a bit of a tourist cliche, but it looks like good fun. My two kids both like trains and they have yet to travel on a train, which is another reason why I am keen to plan a few train trips.
Bridge on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi
Train travel in Thailand is cheap. When I went to Phattalung the fare was Bt18 at a time when the minivan fare was about Bt60. I travelled 3rd class to Nakhon Sri Thammarat. The carriages had hard, wooden seats and Mexican air-conditioning (windows open and ceiling fans), but it was good fun.
Other passengers are usually quite talkative on trains and there is a constant procession of food vendors walking through the carriages offering everything from fried chicken to fresh fruit.
It's also a lot safer than travelling by road in Thailand. Well, what isn't? Thai trains seem to derail more often than they should, but it's not that often. There also seems to be a problem with vehicles and trains colliding at level crossings, but this shouldn't affect occupants of the train - just the occupants of the car, truck or van.
If you are doing a long trip with all your luggage you need to keep an eye on your belongings at all times and it probably isn't a good idea to accept food and drinks from strangers.
Hat Yai Junction, Thailand
Regarding female safety, I don't think it will be a problem during the daytime, but there are quite a few overnight services and if a female is travelling alone in a sleeping compartment caution should be exercised. It is encouraging that female only carriages exist on certain lines.
Booking in advance makes sense if the journey is popular, such as the Bridge over the River Kwai excursion, or if you want a specific type of seat. There are quite a few websites that allow you to book on-line or you can book at a train station in Thailand. I was pleased to discover that I can use my local train station booking office to book seats in Bangkok.
As I mentioned above, train travel in Thailand is relatively slow and if simply getting to your destination as soon as possible is the most important thing, it probably makes sense to look at other forms of transport. However, if you have time for a relaxed journey and want to take in some beautiful scenery the train is a good option.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand