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  • Living in Thailand Blog January 2018
 

 

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Living In Thailand Blog

 

Saturday 27th January 2018

When you've observed Thai news for long enough you realise that the same news articles keep repeating themselves over and over again. Every day there are horrific road accidents caused by reckless driving and various other examples of Thais behaving badly.

Another Thai news staple reported often is that of private developments being reclaimed by the government as a result of the developments being built illegally on government owned land. Sometimes the properties involved are houses, but more often that not they are hotels and resorts. As you would expect, they are built in attractive areas so that guests will want to stay there. Many is the time on Thai TV news that I have seen footage of bulldozers demolishing hotels and resorts in national parks.

Why does this happen? I surmise that it can only be for two reasons. Either the property developer knows it is illegal to build a property in a certain place, but hopes he won't be discovered or hopes that he will have made enough profit by the time he is discovered. The other reason is when documents are falsified and land is sold illegally without the buyer being aware.

I have heard and read quite a few stories of this sort of thing happening in Phuket. Phuket is very popular with foreigners and land prices tend to be very high, thus there are big profits to be made by unscrupulous Thais. It's also very concerning to read that lawyers are sometimes involved with the scam and will convince buyers that the land can be sold legally. You need to be extremely careful when buying property in Thailand.

My wife told me about something yesterday that quite shocked me. A few years ago we stayed at the Anantara Si Kao Resort in Trang and it has always been my intention to return. It occupies some land where it is completely on its own and the setting, overlooking the Andaman Sea with its own private beach, is perfect.

Everything about our stay was excellent - the accommodation, facilities, food, and service. In addition, it is only a 2.5 hour drive from our house and therefore very convenient. She told me that it is going to be demolished because it is on state land.

Anantara Si Kao Resort must leave after losing final legal battle to the state

 

Breakfast room, Sikao Anantara Hotel, Trang

Breakfast room, Sikao Anantara Hotel, Trang

 

I'm shocked because it is owned by the Anantara Group that manage 5 Star resorts all around the world, not a fly-by-night property developer trying to make an illegal quick buck. According to the report the land title deeds were illegally issued, but I don't know the details.

I have mixed feelings. Encroachment on state-owned land is a big problem in Thailand and when Bangkok had major flooding problems a few years ago, causing Don Meuang Airport to be closed, I read that some canals had been filled in illegally so that buildings and even a golf course could be built. Obviously, this kind of illegal activity can have serious consequences and certain areas simply need protection from development.

On the other hand, I will lose one of the places that I love to escape to for a few days whenever money and time permit. It was a perfect resort, but not for much longer.


My brother, who is also a Southeast Asia expat, read a book some years ago that contained several expat stories. There was one about a guy married to a Thai woman and one day she announced that she wanted to set up a confectionery (kanom) business. Thais use the generic word kanom for cakes, desserts and anything sweet.

I think that the vast majority of Western men who have Thai wives are very supportive of their spouses and he agreed. Of course, it was her idea but it was him who had to buy all the equipment. This is quite normal with a Thai wife.

Anyway, he bought all the gear and she proceeded to turn the house upside down making kanom. By all accounts, the house was a complete mess.

When she had finished and was ready to sell some of her handiwork he asked how much she would sell them for. I can't remember the details, but the prices were so low that she would never make any profit. All that expense, effort and mess for nothing.

Last week, my wife told me she had had an idea. She wanted to set up a laundry business washing and ironing clothes. Alarm bells inside my head started to ring immediately.

We already launder clothes every two days because she and the kids generate so much laundry. The last thing I need is to have her washing clothes multiple times each day and to have the house filled with strangers' clothes.

Were she to do it, she would do it at a loss as well. I have just bought a new washing machine, which cost me Bt16,000. The machine would probably last five years if running a full-time laundry business, but I know she wouldn't factor in any capital depreciation, which would be about Bt3,000 per year. She would probably also ignore the cost of laundry detergent and electricity.

Years ago I met a Thai girl who became a good friend. She - along with a friend - had rented a small house and turned it into a shop selling drinks. The two girls worked hard to decorate the shop, they bought all the ingredients, and they made tasty drinks. But they sold them at such low prices that the business cost them money. After a few months they closed the shop because it wasn't sustainable.

The main problem is that Thais have very set ideas about how much things should cost and if they think something is too expensive they won't buy it. This is why Thais always want to set up businesses in tourist resorts because most foreign tourists don't have the same ideas.

I met a Canadian guy some years ago living in rural Nakhon Sri Thammarat. He had been very wealthy in Canada, but divorced and his ex-wife walked away with a lot of money. He then had a vacation in Thailand, met a girl who was working as a maid at his hotel, and married her.

Unfortunately, she got cancer and had to make frequent visits to the PSU hospital in Hat Yai for treatment. This is where I met them.

He was a good businessman and wanted to help her family so one day sat them all down and asked for business ideas. If he liked an idea he would help set it up.

One relative suggested an ice delivery service and because Thailand is such a hot country this appeared to be a viable idea. However, as part of the deal he also wanted a brand new pickup truck to deliver the ice. It was at this stage that the idea was abandoned.

Thailand is a terrible country to be an employee. Wages are a complete joke and employees are expected to put in a lot of hours. It is for this reason that all Thais want to have their own business, but unfortunate many don't have any business acumen.

They don't consider all the costs and overheads involved and some get so excited about having their own business they run it even though it costs them money. This doesn't last for long, of course, and sooner or later the business folds. Local businesses where I live, including restaurants, coffee shops and others open and close all the time.

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Sunday 21st January 2018

A state of emergency has been declared in Jamaica because of an increase in the number of shooting incidents and tourists have been warned to stay inside their resorts, which can't be a lot of fun when you are on vacation. Reading the news report was quite frightening.

I did a search for the most violent countries in the world and was quite surprised to find Thailand at number 19, just behind Jamaica at number 18. I was further surprised to find that I live in one of the four most dangerous provinces in Thailand!

The 20 most dangerous countries in the world

The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also advises against all but essential travel to the same provinces (Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla) on the Thai-Malaysia border.

It just goes to show that you can't believe everything you read.

Although the underlying problem goes back a very long time, this current phase of Muslim insurgency goes back to January 2004. I started my new life in Thailand a couple of months before that. Many people have been killed and there have been terrorist incidents fairly close to where I live, but not for a long time and the threat has never really concerned me.

I find it very strange to read that I live in a dangerous place when that isn't how I see it at all. Despite being nearby, I have never made it down into the three southernmost provinces. This is mainly due to my wife, who refuses to go, but I would have no objections. Many Thais have told me that the Betong district of Yala province is very scenic and I would love to take a drive down there sometime.

I have spoken to many people who come from Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat and they tell me that it isn't really a problem. Terrorist attacks tend to be indiscriminate without targeting specific people and the risk is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that is a risk you face anywhere you go.

As I wrote about yesterday, the thing that most frightens me in Thailand is driving on the same roads as Thai drivers but that applies to the whole country, not just the southernmost provinces.

I have visited three other countries on the list. South Africa (17) was spectacularly beautiful with a perfect climate, the most amazing wildlife, and the food and wine was some of the best I have ever had. However, because of the country's reputation I was never able to fully relax and constantly looked over my shoulder.

Every house and building looked like a fortified prison and one white South African called me an idiot for taking a stroll along the cliff tops at Hermanus by myself. Despite all this, I didn't have any problems.

When I went to the Philippines (11) my main vacation was on the island of Boracay, but I stayed in Manila a few days first to have a look around the capital. After checking into my hotel and showering I started to make my way out of the hotel for an evening stroll. The doorman stopped me and asked where I was going.

When I told him he advised me that it wasn't safe and that I'd be better off staying in the hotel. I began exploring Manila the next day and it certainly had an 'edge' that I have never experienced in Bangkok. There were armed security guards outside virtually every shop and business.

Filipinos are more proficient in English than Thais and I was constantly approached by people on the street trying to engage me in conversation. They asked where I came from and, by sheer coincidence, they all had a friend living in the same place. I was very wary of being scammed and cut short the conversations.

Before I went to Manila I had hoped it would be similar to Bangkok, but it wasn't. It wasn't as much fun, it didn't have the exoticness of Thailand, and my sixth sense was always warning me of problems.

I visited Egypt (7) just after the Luxor massacre in 1997. In 1996 I got a PADI diving certificate and booked a trip to Hurghada on the Red Sea coast. It was a strange time because of recent events. The majority of tourists had stopped visiting the area and locals couldn't be more welcoming to those who did visit.

I got a very cheap package deal and stayed at a fabulous hotel for very little money. The diving was good, there were no crowds of tourists, I felt safe and had a great time.

These lists are based on overall statistics, but they can be very misleading. Entire countries are classified as either being dangerous or not, but I'd probably feel safer visiting some areas of Colombia (1) than visiting certain areas of London on a Saturday night.

Personal safety relies very much on an individual's ability to sense and avoid potential problems, in addition to using some good old-fashioned common sense. Although I was surprised to find Thailand on the list of dangerous countries, it isn't a totally safe country either. However, many incidents I have read about involving foreigners are caused by stupidity. Foreign tourists do things in Thailand that Thais would never do.

As I have mentioned many times, the roads are very dangerous so you need to be very careful especially when riding motorbikes. I've also written before about the way some foreign females walk around busy areas dressed in beachwear, or even less than that. Thailand is actually a very conservative country away from the tourist resorts and this can send out the wrong messages to Thai men.

I've read about scantily clad foreign females visiting secluded beaches by themselves after dark and being sexually assaulted. There are certain things you just don't do. The owners of your guest house or the staff at your hotel may be very friendly and you've read that Thailand is the Land of Smiles, but there are also plenty of decidedly unpleasant Thais in the country as well.

A lot of young foreigners also get into trouble at full-moon parties. Drugs are really not a good idea in Thailand. Foreigners get arrested for drug offenses and the penalties are severe. I have also read stories of foreigners drowning after deciding to go for a swim while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. There are strong currents in many areas of Thailand and drowning accounts for the lives of foreign tourists every year.

There are many potential dangers but if you exercise common sense and stay away from potentially risky places, situations and people you should be fine.

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Saturday 20th January 2018

On Tuesday I wasn't the only foreigner enjoying a day out in pretty Phattalung province. At least one other foreigner was doing the same. The difference was that I managed to arrive home safely, whereas he didn't. He was killed around the same time as I started my journey home.

Malaysian superbiker killed in accident in southern Thailand

On New Year's Eve a few weeks ago the same fate befell a young Singaporean girl who was also killed on a motorbike in Phattalung.

Horror New Year's Eve motorcycle crash in Thailand claims second Singaporean

I saw one horrendous accident on the way back in which a car had been almost bent in half and there was a motorbike underneath the car. The people in the car may have got out alive, but it is unlikely the motorcyclist survived.

Because of the way Thais drive it means that a very high road accident rate is inevitable, and because they drive at such high speeds it often means that road accidents are fatal.

I didn't mention anything about driving on Tuesday because I've been writing about the appalling driving standards in Thailand for years. I get bored with it and so do readers of this blog. I get bored because despite Thailand having the second highest road fatality rate in the world, nothing ever changes.

Route 41 is the main artery through the Southern Thai peninsula. It is an extremely busy road. Lots of goods within Thailand are transported by road and there are also large trucks - some carrying containers - going down into, and coming up from, Singapore and Malaysia.

Most of the road is two-lane and many sections are badly pot-holed. This isn't too bad in a car, but not ideal if you are on two wheels.

In an ideal world I would like to set my cruise control to around 90kmh, stay in the left lane and relax, but this isn't possible. There are lots of slow moving, large trucks in the left hand and you need to overtake frequently. You also have to be constantly aware of Thais pulling out in front of you suddenly from side roads.

As soon as you venture into the fast lane you encounter Thais driving at insanely high speed. They also drive very aggressively. They approach you from behind at very high speed before undertaking on the inside and then cutting back in to the space you were keeping in front of you to maintain a safe braking distance. This constant weaving in and out of lanes at high speed is very common in Thailand.

As far as I am aware there isn't a single speed camera on this road and the police aren't interested in speeding or dangerous drivers. There were a few police check points where I had to drive slowly and the police were inspecting random vehicles. According to my wife, they check for illegal contraband. They have no interest in the way that people actually drive.

I have 40 years' defensive driving experience and about 10 years' experience of driving in Thailand and I use all of this experience every time I drive just to keep me and my family safe. I know exactly how Thais drive, know what to expect and, using this knowledge, I try my best to minimise the risk of being involved in an accident.

I certainly wouldn't want to discourage people from driving in Thailand because there is a lot of great scenery and driving yourself gives you access to places you wouldn't normally see.

However, you must understand that Thais have their own 'style' of driving and you must always expect the unexpected. A few years ago I went to pick up some German friends in Trang. On the way back we were waiting at traffic lights and we watched as a Thai driver went through a set of red lights, went along the wrong side of the road several hundred yards, and then turned around to go in the opposite direction. I didn't actually pay much attention because I see this type of thing every day and it has become 'normal'.

My friend's comment was, "If you did that in Germany, you would be thrown in jail." His comment hit the nail on the head. Things that Thai drivers do habitually on Thai roads would be regarded as serious traffic offenses in other countries, but in Thailand nothing happens to them. Basically, Thai drivers do whatever they want.

Thais change considerably when they drive. I wrote a piece elsewhere called 'Nice People, Ugly Drivers'. After driving in Thailand for many years I have found that drivers who drive certain types of vehicle need to be treated with extreme caution.

When we visited the farm in Phattalung on Tuesday I saw several such vehicles in the car park, but the people I spoke to inside were fine. In person Thais are normally quite friendly, but once they get behind the wheel of a big pickup truck - or even a little Toyota Vios - many become very aggressive. In Vietnam the driving standards were even worse than Thailand, but what I didn't sense was the aggression that is so common in Thailand.

As I've mentioned before, there are many positive aspects to living in Thailand but the one thing I will never be able to accept is the way that Thais drive.

As I said above, don't be put off from driving because it's a great way to see the country. However, always expect the unexpected and just because there are traffic laws in your own country that are enforced and followed, never expect this to happen in Thailand.

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Thursday 18th January 2018

A little while ago two American tourists were arrested after exposing their backsides at one of Thailand's most sacred temples.

'Traveling Butts' instagrammers arrested in Thailand over nude photo at historic temple

Now I am seeing lots of reports of Western tourists vandalising various locations in Thailand by spraying graffiti.

Tourist vandalism sparks outrage in Thailand

Apparently, Western tourists do these things for 'fun'. Ha ha. "Dropping our trousers at that temple was fun, wasn't it? Let's post the photos on Instagram, upload the video to YouTube, and find another highly sensitive place to vandalise with this can of spray paint."

When the mooning story appeared I said that Thailand should follow Singapore's leading in dealing with the culprits. The same applies with graffiti. In the past foreigners have thought it was good fun to leave their graffiti tags in Singapore.

Two German tourists sentenced to be CANED and jailed for nine months for graffiti in Singapore

Being caned in Singapore isn't like being caned at school.

Teen-Ager Caned in Singapore Tells of the Blood and the Scars

Thailand is far too lenient and unless the Thais get serious this completely unacceptable behaviour will only continue.

My Thai friend is back in Thailand. I met him in 1987 in Pattaya, when Pattaya was a very different place to the place it is now. Before that he worked for the US airforce at U-Tapao air base and when the Americans went home one of the officers sponsored him for US citizenship. He has lived in the States (Ventura CA, Reno NV) longer than he lived in Thailand and is really more American than Thai.

He's now at retirement age and can't decide where to retire. His family want him back in Thailand, but Thailand has changed so much since he left that it feels strange to him and he feels more comfortable in the States. When I last spoke to him he said he had decided on the States, but he may change his mind yet again.

At the moment he is hosting an American friend and they are in Pattaya. He sent me a few photos and I have to laugh. In each photo his friend is surrounded by either ladyboys or bar girls. He is going to be yet another tourist who returns home from Thailand believing that 90% of all Thai females are prostitutes and half the men are ladyboys.

 

Katoeys are us, Pattaya - the view that most tourists get of Thailand

Katoeys are us, Pattaya - the view that most tourists get of Thailand

 

Tourists only ever seem to visit a handful of locations in Thailand, all well-known tourist resorts and all offering basically the same things. That's fine, but I wish they didn't think these places were representative of the rest of Thailand because they aren't. At all.

It would be like having a two week vacation at Disney World and the Epcot Center and returning home thinking that most Americans walk around wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Pattaya is no more than a Thai version of Disneyland, but aimed more at the fantasies of (mainly male) adults rather than children.

Thailand has the strangest effect on tourists and I have witnessed it many times. It's certainly a very different country to Western countries, but they seem to regard it as some kind of fantasy land where anything goes and they can do whatever they want.

Many behave really stupidly in a way that can be very dangerous and quite a few each year make the trip home in a box. I don't really care what they do to themselves, but I do object to the things they do that affect other people. Not only do they insult the native Thais, but they really piss off and embarrass the expat community.

Thais regard most farangs in the tourist resorts as being quite strange and, as a result of living a fairly normal life well away from the tourist resorts, so do I.

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Tuesday 16th January 2018

It was Children's Day on Saturday and (just like Songkran) it has become a day that I have started to dread. I don't begrudge my children anything, but going out to do children's activities on a day of the year when every other child in Thailand is being taken out to do activities isn't my idea of fun. It just means massive traffic jams and huge queues everywhere.

As it turned out, we didn't go anywhere. The kids had no enthusiasm to go anywhere (like their father) and their mother was in one of her funny moods. Thais have extremely fixed views about most things, for example, on Children's Day you MUST take your children somewhere. Conversely, I have always tried to avoid doing things on days when everyone else is doing things and I try to arrange my schedule to avoid crowds.

Anyway, I think my wife felt guilty about the lack of activity on Saturday and as today was yet another holiday - this time for Teachers' Day - we took the opportunity to have a day out and went to the neighbouring province of Phattalung.

 

Naa Po Gair farm, Phattalung province

Naa Po Gair farm, Phattalung province

 

The province I am most familiar with in Thailand is Songkhla and second on the list is probably Phattalung. It's fairly close to where I live and I have been many times since arriving in Thailand in 2003. It isn't a province that Western tourists favour. On one trip to Thale Noi I saw a group of middle-aged farang tourists doing an 'Unseen Thailand' tour, but apart from that, I can probably count the number of farangs I have seen in Phattalung on one hand. I saw none today.

It's actually a beautiful province, but there are none of the tacky T-shirt shops, massage shops, tattoo parlours, Go-Go bars, beer bars, prostitutes, etc, that draw so many Western tourists to Thailand. There seems to have been a campaign to develop the tourist industry at Thale Noi but, from what I can ascertain, this has been aimed mainly at Thais.

Last year a new attraction opened in Phattalung and it seems to be modelled on a traditional Thai farm. The buildings are built on stilts over a rice field, there are elevated walkways, and they have a few water buffalo. It's not that big, but it makes for a pleasant visit. There is no entrance fee (not even a special entrance fee for Westerners as exists almost everywhere else in Thailand) and the food prices inside are very cheap.

 

Naa Po Gair farm, Phattalung province

Naa Po Gair farm, Phattalung province

 

After this we drove to Thale Noi, where I haven't been for a while. It was quite disappointing. Lots of new brick buildings are being built to replace the old shops and this seems to be part of the ongoing development.

There were also several large floating diggers and other machinery in the water removing lots of lotus flowers. The flowers will grow back, but it's looking a bit of a mess right now and whereas there are normally lots of birds around the visitor centre I saw very few today.

 

Thale Noi, Phattalung province

Thale Noi, Phattalung province

 

Our final stop was at a coffee shop, behind which there are quite spectacular views of the large limestone karst (Thais refer to is as Ok Thalu mountain) near Phattalung main town.

 

View from Kanam coffee shop, Phattalung province

View from Kanam coffee shop, Phattalung province

 

Phattalung has quite a lot of cows, including some dairy cows and Phattalung milk is quite famous around these parts. The kids like it and there are a few places in Hat Yai that sell it. The plan today was to buy some Phattalung milk in Phattalung, but we weren't sure where to buy it and we were getting tired so we gave that part of the plan a miss.

 

Gone fishing, Phattalung province

Gone fishing, Phattalung province

 

I've written a few travelogues about various places in Thailand and I need to do one about Phattalung, but time is always my enemy. The jobs that need doing inside my home and in my garden keep mounting up and I need to start spending a lot less time on-line so that I can get them done.

I started my garden renovation months ago and it still isn't finished. The fact that it is looking such a mess has started to irritate me and I need to finish the work. There is also painting to be done outside, a leaky roof to fix, and a suspended ceiling to repair because I broke it while messing around with buckets in the loft because of the leaky roof. This isn't a complaint; there wouldn't be anything worse for me than having nothing to do an getting bored.

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Friday 12th January 2018

A couple of Internet articles about Thailand/Asia have caught my attention recently and I've been meaning to respond, but haven't had time (the usual problem).

I've just put a response together for one of them. Nothing is ever final on my site and I will probably make some changes, but here is my first effort.

Are All White Males In Asia Losers?

If you have any comments, let me know.

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Thursday 11th January 2018

I was in Bangkok at the weekend, my first trip to Bangkok this year. I had to go to Bangkok eight times last year and I'm hoping that this year it won't be anywhere near that amount. Once or twice a year is quite enough.

My relationship with Bangkok, the same as my relationship with Thailand in general, is ambivalent. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I hate it. Many factors contribute to my feelings at any particular time. This latest trip didn't get off to the greatest of starts and even before I had entered the airport I started to get irritated.

There was a short queue at the airport as people were putting their luggage through the X-Ray machine. I waited and just as I was about to put my bag on the machine a Thai woman came out of nowhere and pushed in front of me. I wasn't in a hurry, but this happens so often in Thailand that it really annoys me.

If I'm waiting to order food, or waiting to pay in 7-Eleven, or waiting at red traffic lights, Thais see nothing in wrong in simply heading straight to the front of the queue and pushing in front of everyone waiting in line. It is totally unacceptable. I made my feelings known to her in Thai and she ran off to push in front of people queuing at the other scanner.

Irritation number 2. I had booked my ticket on-line a few months ago and reserved seats as far forward as I could. However, this information had been lost and I was put at the back of the plane.

I've always used Nok Air for domestic flights in Thailand because the airline always seemed to be a cut above the rest of the other budget airlines, but now it is no different. They used to give me regular free upgrades to the premium seats, but that no longer happens. The policy now is to treat passengers in the premium seats a lot better, in an effort to encourage other people to pay more for premium seats. They also used to hand out small snacks, but that is no longer the case.

When I went into the departure lounge I had to go through more security while, at the same time, trying to prevent my trousers falling down because now it is necessary to remove belts in addition to other items.

I just had hand luggage because it was only a one night stay and was expecting to go straight through. But no. The efficient lady operating the X-Ray scanner had spotted something dangerous and ordered me to unzip my bag.

The offending article was a brand new, unused tube of toothpaste. This was summarily opened and the entire contents squeezed out into a garbage bin in front of my eyes. I had no idea it was so dangerous and I am very grateful to the security staff for preventing what could have been a nasty incident while brushing my teeth. The hotel offered no complimentary toothpaste and I was forced to use my daughter's delicious Barbie toothpaste.

Here's a tip for people arriving at Don Meuang airport in Bangkok who need to get a taxi to their hotel or other destination. The arrivals hall is on floor 1 and this is where you officially get a taxi. However, there is often a long queue and that means waiting. You also have to pay a surcharge if you get a taxi at the official taxi stand.

If you take the lift to the departures area on floor 3, lots of people arrive at the airport by taxi and as soon as they are dropped off there are lots of empty taxis. You almost never have to wait and you don't have to pay a surcharge.

I decided to stay at a hotel where I had never stayed before, but near Victory Monument where I usually stay because it is convenient for the hospital where my daughter has her appointments. The Sukosol Hotel was comfortable, but quite expensive and probably not worth the money.

Bangkok is like a different country compared to provincial Thailand and different parts of Bangkok are completely different in nature. This has always been the case, but with every year that passes the differences become more marked.

What I always loved about Asia compared to the Western world was the street life and the way that everything was so open. There were little streets everywhere with shop houses and you could see the families who lived in these places going about their everyday lives just behind their businesses.

These places still exist in Bangkok, but huge swathes of the city have been taken over by enormous shopping malls and high rise condo buildings. The elevated highways and railway lines have added enormous amounts of concrete to the city and it's a horrible feeling walking between huge buildings surrounded by so much concrete with no signs of any street life. The traffic noise and pollution is also unbearable.

For the first several hours of this trip I hated Bangkok and thought to myself what a low quality of life residents of Bangkok must have.

My neighbours are in Bangkok at the moment. He works full time as a soldier at the army headquarters in Bangkok and she was visiting her husband. They arrived at the hotel on Sunday night to take me and my daughter out for dinner. It turned out to be a far more enjoyable experience than I had anticipated.

There are very few parts of Bangkok I enjoy visiting these, but one is the Rattanakosin Island area near the river. Some time ago a Bangkok taxi driver told me there was a building restriction height in this area - four storeys, I think - and you certainly don't see all the malls and condos that blight the rest of Bangkok. There are some fantastic temples, lots of old buildings, and it's still an interesting place to visit.

We ate on Phra Athit Road at a little place called Karim. My neighbour is Muslim (her husband converted from Buddhism when they married) and this place serves Malaysian/Indian food. It's the kind of place that I love. Inside it looks as if the building hasn't been touched for 100 years, but the food is good and cheap, and there is always a queue of people waiting for a table. In this area there are several good little restaurants like this offering all different kinds of food.

I didn't realise until they told me, but Meghan Markle used to like visiting Bangkok (visiting now won't be so easy) and she has a favourite restaurant. It's an unassuming little place, but now it has become well known because of her and lots of people go there. We drove past, but it was closed.

The highlight was seeing the royal crematorium structure at Sanam Luang, which will be dismantled soon. It is quite spectacular, especially at night when I saw it. Normally I have a camera with me all the time, but I wasn't expecting this tour around Bangkok and I had left my camera in the hotel. I was extremely disappointed.

So, Bangkok still has some great places to visit, but they are gradually diminishing and with millions of tourists visiting Bangkok every year, every interesting place you go to is overrun with tourists. It's a crazy place. If you have never been I would still recommend going, but I have seen many parts of Bangkok now and only visit when I need to. I no longer have any desire to visit Bangkok unless it is necessary.

I mentioned that we stayed close to Victory Monument and for a long time this never meant much to me, apart from denoting a specific area of Bangkok. What was the victory?

 

Victory Monument, Bangkok

Victory Monument, Bangkok

 

France colonised the region known as Indochina (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam) in the latter part of the 19th century. The British had already colonised other parts of Southeast Asia - Burma, Malaya and Singapore - earlier on.

Thailand remained independent and although the Thais were worried that Thailand might suffer the same fate, the British and French regarded it as a convenient buffer state keeping the two old adversaries apart. Nonetheless, Thailand was persuaded to enter into trade agreements with European colonists and ceded lots of land to both the British and French. Understandably, this upset many Thais.

During World War 2 Germany invaded France in May 1940 and despite the Allies believing that the French army was strong, the country fell in six weeks. France was weakened considerably and was dealt another blow in September of the same year when Japan invaded French Indochina.

With France in such a weak position and with Plaek Phibunsongkhram (known as Phibun, his name Plaek means 'strange' in Thai) having aligned Thailand with the Japanese, Thailand saw this as a good opportunity to reclaim some of the land that had been ceded to France. This resulted in the Franco-Thai war with Thailand fighting against French forces in Indochina.

There was no clear outcome, but Japan, being in a position of strength, persuaded France to return some of the ceded territory and thus Thailand regarded it as a victory. The extreme nationalist, Phibun, wanted to celebrate this 'victory' and ordered the building of the monument, which was erected in a matter of months. Ironically, when the war ended in 1945 and Japan had been defeated, the disputed territories once again went back to France.

After WW2 France then decided that it would try to regain its old colonies in Indochina and this resulted in the First Indochina War in 1946. This didn't end until France was completely humiliated in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, causing the French commander, Charles Piroth, to commit suicide.

Not long after that the Second Indochina War (Vietnam War) began with the United States' engagement in Indochina to stop the spread of communism and this went on for 20 years until Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces in 1975. What a civilised world we live in.

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Friday 5th January 2018

Our bathroom is full of my wife's skin whitening products and every container of shower gel or deodorant she buys is claimed to have an added skin whitening ingredient. She's certainly not alone and the amount of money that Thai females spend on skin whitening products must run into billions of Baht every year.

 

An Asian obsession

An Asian obsession

 

It's a real obsession, and not just in Thailand. Many Asian and African countries are the same. It's all to do with perceived status. People who work in agriculture have dark skin because they are exposed to the sun and therefore (in their view) dark skin equates to low status. Interestingly, before the industrial revolution when many Brits worked in agriculture the same attitudes existed.

Later, when most people worked indoors and had pasty white skin the trend reversed and people with dark skin were regarded as having a high status because it showed they were wealthy enough to travel abroad and acquire sun tans. Human beings are the most stupid animals on the planet.

I shouldn't really make criticisms. If my wife was fair a Thai man would have married her long before we met. She's quite dark and many Thai men are only interested in fair skinned girls. Most farangs married to Thai females are married to the dark skinned variety.

Thais notice this, obviously, and I have heard the expression, "farang chawp dum dum," many times. The direct translation doesn't make a lot of sense, but the meaning is that Western men like dark skinned females. There is an element of truth in this and I do think that many Western men like the dark skinned, exotic 'island girl' look, but the main reason is that Thai men snap up the fair skinned girls very quickly and most of the remaining females tend to have dark skin.

One of my first teaching jobs in Thailand was coaching two PhD students who had to defend their theses in English. One, a single male, gave me the list of specifications he was looking for in a wife. First on the list was white skin. To him, this was the most important quality of his future wife.

Nonetheless, despite being very familiar with Thai attitudes regarding skin colour, this article I just saw came as news to me. Whatever next?

Thai penis whitening trend raises eyebrows

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Thursday 4th January 2018

Some mornings I wake up feeling great, full of energy (both mental and physical), and ready to tackle the world. I can find the words and mental energy to do stuff on my website and I can intersperse mental tasks with physical ones. I can work like this all day and never feel tired. Not only do I not need to rest, I can't rest. If I sit down it starts to bother me that I'm wasting my time and not achieving anything, so I get back to my work. These are the kind of days I really enjoy.

On some other days I wake up not with a thumping headache, but with a dull feeling in my head that stays there all day and makes me feel lethargic. I don't have the energy or motivation to do anything and there seems to be nothing I can do to restore my energy levels. I hate these days. Not only does nothing get achieved, but I also start to suffer from guilt for not achieving anything. It's like a vicious circle and once this pattern sets in it can be difficult to break out of.

This seems to have become a bigger problem since I started living in Thailand, but there are reasons why and ways to increase the ratio of good days to bad days. Here's three that I have found help me. If you suffer from low energy and motivation occasionally, these things may help.

  1. Drink more fluid (not alcohol). Throughout our lives the percentage of water in our bodies varies, but in adulthood it is somewhere around 60%. Sufficient hydration is critical to our well being and even if our body fluid level drops by 1% it can start to have a negative effect on our mental mood and physical energy levels.

    If you move from a temperate to a tropical country you sweat a lot more and thus lose a lot more fluid than you normally would. This has to be replaced and therefore it is necessary to drink more, even if you don't feel that thirsty.

     

    Sachets of electrolyte powder

    Sachets of electrolyte powder

     

    In addition to water, our bodies also lose salt and other minerals through sweat. These can be replaced if you add some electrolyte solution to water. These are widely available in Thailand in small sachets and cost just a few Baht. Doctors will prescribe electrolyte solution after a bout of diarrhea, but it helps to drink it even if you don't have a dodgy tummy.

    Many foreigners in Thailand drink a lot of alcohol, but this exacerbates dehydration by decreasing the body's production of anti-diuretic hormone. The body then absorbs less water than it usually would and you become even more dehydrated. If you do drink alcohol, it is best to drink water afterwards to counter this effect.

    I wouldn't say that I didn't enjoy alcohol, but when I lived in the UK I drank because it was the cultural norm and because of peer pressure. When I moved to Thailand I associated mainly with Thai females, none of whom drank. There was no pressure to drink and I stopped drinking automatically without even thinking about it or making any big decisions to stop drinking. I save a lot of money and feel a lot healthier as a result.

  2. Do physical work or exercise. The one thing that is absolutely essential to maintaining high energy levels is getting a good night's sleep. Some nights I never seem to get fully asleep. I wake up frequently and even when I sleep it is only light sleep. This is why I got so annoyed when I lived in an apartment building and was being woken up by my inconsiderate neighbour every morning at 2am or 3am.

    Last night I slept really well and I think I know why. After several delays I have finally returned to working in my garden. The soil is bad and the builders dumped a huge amount of construction debris in the garden. Digging this out is very hard work, but the physical effort improves my quality of sleep enormously.

    When I first arrived in Thailand I was keen to get to know my surroundings and spent entire days just walking around. I was very tired after doing this, but slept well. Some physical work or exercise is essential for us all.

    After I got married and we had kids my lifestyle became a lot more sedentary because I had to stay at home a lot more. Also, because of our children, I had to buy a car and walked a lot less.

    I know for a fact that many foreigners in Thailand spend all day on their computers. They wake up in the morning, turn on their computers and only turn them off when it is bedtime. With so many mindless distractions on YouTube, social media sites, forums and the rest of the Internet, this is easy to do but it is extremely unhealthy. Reading this blog, of course, is a notable exception :)

    Some kind of physical exercise is essential. Swim, walk, cycle, go to the gym, whatever, but do something.

  3. Get up early. My kids have just had a break from school for a couple of weeks and we have all been waking up late. Now that they have returned to school I am forced to get up at 6am every morning again. To be honest, I hate having to wake up early but when I do I feel a lot better for it.

    After doing the school run I get back to the house at about 8am and I find that my energy levels are quite high. However, when I sleep late and wake up at 8am I often feel that my energy levels are low.

    Many foreigners in Thailand don't work and therefore they can wake up whenever they want. However, during those times in my life when going to bed late and waking up late became a pattern I found that my energy levels were very low. As the old saying goes, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." There is so much truth in so many old sayings.

Just a few ideas. These work for me, but everyone is different.

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Tuesday 2nd January 2018

Happy New Year!

Today I'll talk a little about Thai cultural behaviour, a subject that has fascinated me since I first arrived in Thailand. The more I learn, the more I realise how little I knew when I first came to Thailand.

My wife had already decided that we would go merit-making yesterday. The kids didn't want to go and I fancied a quiet day at home, but it was not to be. Merit making (tum buun) is a very important part of Thai culture and Thais like to make merit on high days and holidays.

Some of it I agree with, some of it I don't, and although Thais do have compassion for those people who are less well off than themselves, their acts of merit making aren't entirely selfless. Acts of merit are mainly carried out as a mechanism to receive good fortune in life - it's paying into the karma bank and hoping for a return on investment.

Many Thais head straight off to the nearest temple to give things to the resident monks. On a few occasions I have encountered some very arrogant monks and you see piles of food and other things that they have been given. I prefer giving to people who are genuinely in need and my wife feels the same way.

 

Thai nun

Thai nun

 

Near our children's school is a nun who lives in a mosquito-infested shack next to the school. She's in her 70's and previously a fortune teller told her when she was going to die, so she knows exactly how much longer she has to live.

When she was young she had an altercation with a train and lost a leg. She also has heart problems. A father of one of the students at the school is a heart doctor and helps her for free.

There is a temple just opposite, but the monks stopped helping her a while ago. I don't know why. She now goes to a temple further away where they do help her, but she has difficulty walking because of her leg and heart condition. She's very chatty and when I see her, which is quite often, we stop for a chat.

 

She only has one leg and she has heart problems

She only has one leg and she has heart problems

 

She's quite well known to parents whose children attend the school and my wife decided that she would be the recipient of our merit-making. We bought some rice and other basics and took them to her shack.

She then blessed us and my wife's final request was to ask for winning lottery numbers. In Thailand there is a very close connection between merit-making and lottery numbers. I told you it wasn't entirely selfless.

Next to where she lives is a small piece of unused land. It will be owned by someone, but I'm not sure who, and obviously the owner has no current plans for the land. However, other people do. Everywhere I go I see evidence of fly-tipping on pieces of land like this. People just pull up and dump their rubbish. It looks absolutely disgusting, but they just don't care. They have started to use this piece of ground to dump rubbish as well.

 

Illegal fly-tipping next to an image of the Buddha

Illegal fly-tipping next to an image of the Buddha

 

My wife and her sister disappeared to look for the nun because she wasn't at home when we arrived so I waited with the kids. As I was waiting a Thai man turned up on a motorbike with a sidecar full of rubbish and proceeded to dump it with the other rubbish.

I walked up to him and had a word but, as I expected, just received a volley of abuse. This is the normal reaction if you say anything to a Thai who is doing something wrong and/or illegal. It's exactly the same with Thai drivers who routinely break traffic laws. Many Thais have an attitude that they can do whatever they want, regardless of law and regardless of other people. They hate anyone telling them otherwise.

 

Illegal fly-tipper

Illegal fly-tipper

 

It's not just dumping rubbish, it's everything. If they want to play music loud in an apartment building or race vehicles around the streets or drive up one-way roads the wrong way or block pedestrian sidewalks, they just do it. They have the attitude that they are entitled to do whatever they want and they don't expect anyone to say anything.

And the surprising thing is that no one does say anything. When my wife returned and I told her what had happened she was shocked that I had actually said something to him. This is simply not done in Thailand. No matter how badly another person behaves, Thais will never say anything.

In the past my wife pleaded with me not to say anything to an obnoxious neighbour in our old house and when I was staying at apartment building and being woken up at 2am every morning by the girl next door the apartment management refused to say anything to her.

There are various reasons for this. Thais tend to avoid confrontation (apart from when they are driving) and will just let people do what they want to do. There is also an aspect of cultural behaviour known as greng jai. It is an extreme reluctance to impose on anyone, but the meaning has become warped and Thais won't interfere with anyone - even if they are committing criminal acts.

The other reason is more pragmatic. Thais tend to be extremely vindictive and if you tell anyone to stop doing something there will normally be reprisals. When I first started driving I became furious at some of their antics on the road and made my thoughts known. My wife ended up in tears. She had to explain to me that you never know who might have a gun. In Thailand this is very good advice because there are a lot of weapons and people will use them.

I had no idea that Thais were like this before I started living in Thailand and that probably applies to most other people who go to live in Thailand. When you do realise what they are like it comes as quite an unpleasant shock.

If you go to live in Thailand it's not all sunshine, sex, beer and cheap massages. There are also some quite unpleasant aspects of living in the country. Unfortunate, you can't do anything and just have to accept that you are a guest in the country and this is the way it is.

On the other hand, there are plenty of good things and it is a case of weighing up the pros and the cons. I just wish that more Thais would show a little more consideration towards other people, the law, and the environment. It would be a far better place for everyone if they did.

The local municipality puts a lot of effort into keeping the town looking reasonable and in this very same area I often see teams of municipality workers cutting grass and collecting rubbish. At the same time, irresponsible people turn up in pickup trucks or on motorbikes, dump loads of rubbish, and undo all their good work. It's very sad.

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Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.

If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.

I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.

If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.

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