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  • Living in Thailand Blog July 2006


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Living In Thailand Blog



Monday 31st July 2006

The day I have been dreading. We get a taxi to the Thai Consulate and I am amazed that there is only one person already there. It is normally heaving with people. As usual, the Indian guy outside throws a visa application form in my direction which I duly fill out.

When 9am comes and he rolls up the shutters I am the first person at the window. Another person - a Filipina who is no doubt teaching English in Thailand - has turned up, bringing the total number to three and I still can't believe it is this quiet.

I hand in my application. In my bag I have photocopies of various documents but the conversation with the visa service guy from yesterday is still ringing in my ears and I attempt to apply with the minimum of supporting documentation.

I give him my new passport, work permit, visa application form, two photos, a letter from my employer giving the terms of my contract and 500 Ringgits. He starts looking and I wait anxiously.

Seeing that it is a new passport, he asks for my old one which I give to him. He then asks for photocopies of my work permit. At this point I grab all of the photocopies in my bag and hand them over.

The Thais like wads of paperwork. Shortly after I got to Thailand I applied for something and a copy of my passport was required. They copied every single page including the blank pages. What a waste of paper. In most Thai administrative buildings you will see lots of photocopiers and people will be employed full time just to operate them.

I take the view that only relevant information needs to be photocopied but this isn't the Thai view. You will also be asked to sign every photocopy. Any letters you present should be signed by as high an authority as possible (someone with a long title preferably) and covered with official looking rubber stamps.

The next sticking point is that he wants to see my full contract - which I don't have. Oh no .... could this be what I have been dreading? Instructions to go back to Thailand to get a copy of my contract and come back when I have it?

The letter I gave him contains all the information he should need. It's basically a summary of my full contract but, as I said before, what he should need is irrelevant. If he decides he needs something else and makes a stand then I am stuffed.

I am the first customer this week and perhaps he feels lenient towards me. He says it's OK this time but next time I will need to bring a copy of my contract. Overwhelmed with relief, I give a deep wai, thank him, apologise profusely and promise to pay for any veterinary bills his livestock-owning relatives in Thailand may incur in the future, i.e., sick buffalo insurance.

The 'Passage Thru India' restaurant in Penang, Malaysia - Click for larger image My application has been lodged and now I can relax. It feels good. We go off to Penang Hill to enjoy some cool weather. In the evening we eat a damn fine Indian meal at a restaurant called 'Passage thru India'.

It's just like Indian food back in the UK and is difficult to find in Thailand outside of Bangkok. I drink a very rare beer, a Kingfisher. It seems the right thing to do with an Indian meal and today I feel like celebrating.

It seems incredible that people should be so elated about something as mundane as getting a visa. When I got my new passport it was just something I needed and I didn't leave the British Embassy jumping for joy. However, upon getting their visas, I have seen people coming out of the Thai Consulate with huge grins beaming on their faces punching the air in elation.

Until you've actually experienced dealing with Thai immigration it's difficult to describe.

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Sunday 30th July 2006

Today is the day I have decided to go to Penang to get my new visa. Visa applications are only accepted between 9am and noon and there are no minivans that leave early enough to get there. It is therefore necessary to go the night before.

The visas take one day and can be collected the following afternoon between 2pm and 4pm so a two-night stop in Penang is required. Georgetown, the capital, has lots of cheap accommodation but this is comprised of rundown guest houses in a filthy area and not for me. I have stayed at the Cititel before and that's where I have booked to stay on this trip.

Some years ago I tried to save money on accommodation in KL and ended up in a disgusting place which made me feel physically ill - and didn't do too much for my emotional state either. I booked for four nights but checked out after one, unable to stay a minute more.

Going through Thai immigration, the minivan driver starts collecting money from the passengers who are now waiting for their Thailand exit stamps. He asks me for Bt10 and I ask him why, "Thum-mai?" He just walks off!

"Why?" is a question in Thailand that rarely gets an answer. If you ask why because you are puzzled about something that seems strange they often won't answer because 1) there is no reason or 2) they don't want to admit the reason.

It was unnecessary to ask why because I already knew the answer (tea money) but I was just interested what the response might have been. I must now go into the immigration office because my departure card is in my old passport which has now been cancelled and they need to put the details in my new passport.

While in there, a number of van drivers come in with lists of the passengers on board and loose change in their hands which gets passed over and put surreptitiously straight into a drawer. What surprises me is how easily people part with their money and I see this every time I'm at the border.

A big sign says that a charge will be made on public holidays but no charge is due the rest of the time. However, if someone asks for Bt20 or Bt10 they just hand it over.

This trip worries me. When I went to the British Embassy to get a new passport recently I had no concerns. The Embassy web site explains very clearly what is required and I knew I had everything. When Thais apply for visas to work or study abroad it is the same. The American Embassy also gives very clear guidelines to foreigners making visa applications.

This is not the case in Thailand. When you try to find information, all you find is various expat sites with varying theories about what is required. Some idiots will insist the secret is to wear shiny shoes and always speak very politely.

When dealing with Thai bureaucracy you are at the mercy of whoever you deal with. They can ask for whatever they want and be as pedantic as they wish. When I applied for my work permit I paid a Thai lawyer to help me and she had connections with the Department of Labour.

She gave me a list of all the documents I needed and I got them but at one stage in the process an immigration official asked for another letter from my employer which was really pointless. However, there was nothing I could do.

I jumped through the hoop, got the letter, and he was happy but really it was a waste of time. On another occasion an immigration official complained that the signatory on one of my letters wasn't a high enough authority within the university.

A couple of years ago I met an Englishman who had married a Thai girl and was trying to sort out various paperwork. Some bureaucrat complained about the rubber stamps on some of his documents - they were wrong or in the wrong place or something. It was really stupid but he also had to jump through the hoop.

The nightmare scenario for me after planning this trip, booking the hotel which is non-refundable, and making the journey is to get to the Thai Consulate only to be told that a comma is in the wrong place and I need to go back to get a new letter.

In Penang there are a lot of people offering Thai visa services. They are concentrated around the guest house area of Chulia Street. For 40 Ringgits they will help foreigners get the relevant paperwork together and make two trips to the Thai Consulate to apply for and collect visas.

Some people seem to like this arrangement because they don't need to leave the comfort of their luxurious 7 Ringgit a night Chulia Street dormitory. I don't. My passport and work permit are valuable documents to me; not just in monetary terms but in terms of the amount of effort that has been required to get them.

I don't feel happy just handing them over to someone I don't know. Two return taxi fares to the Consulate cost 48 Ringgits and for the sake of 8 Ringgits I would rather accompany my valuable documents.

There is potentially another issue with these visa services. What if you hand the guy your application and go off for the day. He goes to the Consulate and something is wrong or missing. If you were there you could probably take care of the problem but he can't.

When you see him later in the day he tells you that something else is required but now he will need to reapply tomorrow thus extending your stay in Penang for another day. Last year I almost got into a fight with the arrogant Chinese Malaysian van driver who insisted that I should let him handle my visa application.

I told him I'd rather do it myself and he started to act all hurt because he said I didn't trust him. That was partly true but I was also concerned about what I have just mentioned.

Just out of interest though, I played one of these guys along to see - in his opinion - what was needed for the one year non-B visa I was after. All he told me was the visa application form, two photos, my work permit and the 500 Ringgit fee. Simple, huh? If only ......

After checking into the hotel it is time to eat. I have two places in mind but both places appear to have been closed down. We end up at the E&O Hotel; one of the finest establishments in Penang. It is everything that a colonial hotel should be and not just a tourist trap as Raffles in Singapore is.

The bellboys wear long shirts, long socks and pith helmets. They really look the part. The hotel is gorgeous and looks very original. It is the kind of place where Somerset Maugham and the like would have holed themselves up for a few months to knock out a new novel.

On Sundays the hotel has an all you can eat buffet lunch. It's a sumptuous feast for the bargain price of 33 Ringgits. This is the great thing about Asia. Not only can you get meals just to fill your stomach for next to nothing but you can get wonderful food at prices it would cost just to fill your stomach in Britain.

The Eastern & Oriental hotel in Penang comes highly recommended, as does the fabulous Oriental in Bangkok.

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Saturday 29th July 2006

The aftermath of a road accident just outside my apartment building - Click for larger image Last night's road accident. Sorry about the grainy photo but it was taken in almost complete darkness at ISO 3200 and handheld.

Unless it's very hot, in which case I close my patio door and switch on the A/C, I stay in my room with the door open and only a fan to keep cool. This arrangement ensures that I get to hear the various sounds from outside. You may wonder what sounds are heard in a tropical country?

I'm not near the coast so can't hear the sea but if I'm lucky I hear that well-known tropical night serenade of cicadas and occasionally, if the weather is wet, bullfrogs. However, I'm not lucky very often.

Next door is a corrugated camp which houses a bunch of travelling construction workers and although they are nice people, they like to play their look-thung music very loud. They like to play it at around 5:30am before they start work.

A bit further away is a live music bar and this provides my evening 'entertainment'. It was built with glass doors and windows, presumably to satisfy the building regulations regarding sound insulation, but these are left wide open and at times the music is so loud that I may as well be in the bar.

The road on which I live joins two quite major roads and is therefore quite busy. It's far enough away for normal cars being driven normally not to be heard. This is Thailand though where normal is the exception.

The first thing young Thai boy-racers do to their cars and motorbikes is to change the exhaust system so that their vehicles make a lot of noise. Combined with the way they drive, this has the effect of making 125cc Honda Dreams sound as if they are competing in the Isle of Man TT.

Inevitably, their driving style results in another kind of sound. A fairly common sound in Thailand is that of a girl screaming followed, milliseconds later, by the sound of vehicles colliding. There was a motorbike accident last week just outside where I live and last night there was another scream and crunch in exactly the same place.

I guess that on average I witness some kind of a road accident about once a week. When I don't actually see one I either hear about an accident from someone I know or see the freshly painted white lines on the road which the police put down after attending accidents.

After hearing the crunch last night I went down to take a look and the first surprise was not to see a motorbike involved. Most road accidents in Thailand involve motorbikes and after hearing an accident I always expect to see a bike lying on the road with the rider lying close by.

The crunch last night involved a Honda saloon and a tuk-tuk. No one appeared to be hurt - which is rarely the case when motorbikes are involved - but there was a lot of anger. This is something else that surprises me; that people should get angry in Thailand when accidents happen.

Wherever there are vehicles, no matter how carefully they are driven, there will always be traffic accidents. When people drive like the Thais accidents are guaranteed - and lots of them. If you drive like a maniac though, there is hardly any justification getting angry when the inevitable happens. Is there?

They drive as if having an accident is of no real significance to them but actually the opposite is true most of the time. I recently heard of a girl earning about Bt8,000 a month who bought a car on finance. This means that virtually every Baht she earns goes towards paying for her car.

Many drive with no insurance, or with basic third-party insurance which doesn't cover their own vehicle, and car repairs aren't cheap. For commercial drivers, like the tuk-tuk driver involved in last night's accident, if their vehicle is off the road then they have lost their livelihood temporarily.

I know I bang on about this subject a lot but no matter how long I stay in Thailand I will never understand the utter stupidity that I see on the roads of Thailand every single day.

One of the major problems is that there is no law enforcement. I have never seen a speed camera and speed bumps are rare. The cops tend to set up road blocks occasionally where they systematically stop motorcyclists but they only check for crash helmets and licenses.

You see the Thais taking their crash helmets out of the front basket and putting them on to avoid a ticket. If they haven't got a helmet or a license they just do a U-turn to avoid the cops. I have seen lunatic driving with cops present but they don't do anything. The cops are also Thais and what would seem crazy to a foreigner is just normal to them so they take no action.

After almost being killed in Bangkok last week by an unlicensed taxi driver, the lunacy on Thailand's roads almost put me in an early grave. As a foreigner living in Thailand, nothing you can do can change the situation. All you can do is try to take measures to avoid being a victim yourself.

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Sunday 23rd July 2006

Not many updates recently but it's more a case of being busy than lazy. It's amazing how busy I am considering that my main job is only for six hours a week. The good news (for me) is that my employer has decided to continue my contract.

I returned to Bangkok to get my new passport last week. All I need to do now is make a trip to the nearest Thai consulate to get a new visa, get my work permit extended and then I can relax for a while.

There was a lot of uncertainty about my immediate future a few weeks ago and it feels good to know where I stand now. However, at the moment I actually feel quite guilty about having been so self-absorbed, especially in light of recent world events.

I wish I could ignore politics but having just viewed some photos of the smoke and rubble that used to be Beirut on the BBC web site, how can any human being ignore what is going on there with innocent people being killed and their homes destroyed by enormous Israeli airpower?

Bush and his poodle, Blair, are just ignoring it, of course, explaining that Israel has a a right to defend itself. Those two men, along with the rest of the American neo-conservatives, should all be charged with crimes against humanity for the acts of war they have carried out and for failing to act in situations such as this, not to mention Zimbabwe, Burma, the DR Congo and elsewhere where they have stood back and done nothing while innocent people have been killed and persecuted by evil regimes.

Yesterday, I spent quite a long time reading Wikipedia pages to try to understand the Middle East situation better. It's a complicated situation which goes back to biblical times but, be that as it may, nothing can justify the sickening destruction and murder that is taking place now.

Closer to this region, the death count continues to rise from the Javan tsunami and the situation in Burma just gets worse. My girlfriend spent a few days in Ranong last week where she said there were a lot more Burmese than usual.

She met and spoke to several very young Burmese children who were working in the fields trying to earn a few Baht so their families can survive instead of going to school getting the education that every child on the planet should be entitled to as a basic human right.

While on the subject of politics, the political situation in Thailand is still in limbo. The man who bought millions of votes from poor rural voters and then claimed he was democratically elected wrote a pathetic letter to George Bush bleating at how the opposition parties didn't like what he has done and how they are a threat to democracy. Most of what comes from his mouth simply beggars belief.

Just a few short years ago during Thaksin's 'War on Drugs' when extra-judicial killings turned the streets of Thailand into a bloodbath, foreign human rights organisations criticised Thaksin. His response was to tell them to keep their nose out of domestic issues in Thailand because they didn't understand Thailand.

Now that he has made a lot of enemies in Thailand he wants foreign countries to be his friends. This hypocrisy and willingness to say one thing but then do a 180 degree turn a little later are traits that Thaksin has become notorious for. This is one man you really don't want to buy a used car from.

It would appear that another election will be held in October but I can't see how anything has changed. There is no particular problem with the Thai political system or the Thai constitution. The only problem is with a very rich man who has used his wealth to destroy that system and constitution.

Until he goes, nothing will change but the trouble is that he just won't go. He made a comment recently that a very powerful, charismatic figure was out to get him but wouldn't say who. The person in question is widely thought to be Privy Councillor President, General Prem Tinsulanonda, an ex-Prime Minister and one of the most respected men in the country.

Prem recently made some comments that the army belongs to the country, not to the politicians. Various factions in the army are now divided and some unscheduled reorganisations took place recently to move key figures (who also happen to be old classmates of Thaksin) out of positions where they could present a danger.

The phrase 'military coup' - not an unknown phrase in Thai politics - keeps coming up and the situation could get very nasty. As I have said before, it doesn't matter how many elections Thaksin calls. He has the vote of the poor and they will continue to elect him into power but it doesn't make the situation right and it will not appease the educated middle classes who can see through the façade.

What is this world coming to? The technology that the scientists have been promising for years has finally arrived in the last few years. There are enough resources on the planet to go round so that everyone has a decent standard of life and we have the resources, technology and knowledge to make it happen.

The problem with our race is that many humans are greedy creatures and whatever they have is never enough. To get more they are willing to do whatever it takes and not worry about the consequences. When I look around at the problems of the world now, most can be traced to greed and the situation will only get worse.

At this rate, the world doesn't stand a chance. I'm just pleased that I'm more than half way through my life and that I didn't bring any children into the world to suffer the sickening policies of our greedy and self-serving politicians.

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Saturday 8th July 2006

The BBC reports that former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is to stand trial on charges of false accounting, embezzlement and tax fraud. Many of the dodgy deals he is accused of making were done through offshore firms controlled by his business empire.

He claims he has done nothing wrong and although he has stood trial before, he was acquitted. The BBC report goes on to say that he has always been able to afford top lawyers, and that during his period in office as prime minister he managed to make important legislative changes which, his opponents say, favoured his personal business interests.

His opponents say he used his political power while in office to shore up his business empire and to alter laws which helped him escape conviction.

How shameful that someone democratically elected to serve his country should abuse that power just to make himself richer. Thankfully, Thailand would never allow such a thing to happen.

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Friday 7th July 2006

I heard on the BBC World Service this morning that a tuk-tuk service has started operating in the southern English coastal town of Brighton. I'm not sure if this is the same tuk-tuk that was driven by two English females from Bangkok to Brighton for their own enjoyment and a lot of publicity charity fund-raising.

The BBC reporter commented that, "It's a bit cramped in the back." The only other passenger at the time was a Thai girl she had managed to find who was living in Brighton. To fully understand the adjective 'cramped' she should try sharing one with nine other passengers and their shopping. She should also try doing this in the Thai hot season.

I wonder whether she had to negotiate the fare first before setting off in order not to receive a nasty surprise when arriving at her destination? I also wonder how many gem shops the driver stopped off at on the way that were having a 'one day only' special sale that day? And did he charge the Thai girl twice the normal fare?

After all, it's perfectly justifiable. If the girl can afford to live in another country, especially an expensive one such as England, she must be rich so therefore can afford to pay more than the locals even if some of the locals live in huge houses and own Mercedes cars.

Living in the famed Land of Smiles must seem like a breeze to the average tourist but things are never quite the seem as they appear to the casual observer. Living in Thailand requires getting things done in Thailand and that means doing things the Thai way which can be bloody frustrating at times. There is a lot of bureaucracy and Thai levels of efficiency are not quite what I am used to.

I have to go back to Bangkok next week to pick up my new passport and it's going to be another expensive trip just for a simple task. The British Embassy offered to mail it for Bt40 but I simply cannot afford to have both my old and new passports going the same way as several Christmas cards at the end of last year. My passport is simply too important a document to trust in the Thai mail system.

I called in at the local DHL office a few days ago thinking that they could collect it for me for a reasonable price but they said they don't operate a service within Thailand; only to other countries. This seemed a little strange because surely items arriving in Thailand from other countries must arrive in Bangkok first?

Oh well, there was no point arguing. I just decided that I would have to make the trip again. Today I went to book a flight as I can't be bothered with 12 hour bus or 16 hour train journeys. The girl at the flight desk in Carrefour kept me waiting for 30 minutes before I just walked away to buy my ticket elsewhere.

She had already lost out on my business on my recent trip to Bangkok because she was at lunch when I wanted to buy a ticket. On that occasion the other girl asked if I could come back. No, I couldn't, not while there are places selling tickets which bother to always have someone on duty. It's not unusual for entire departments to disappear at the same time for lunch in some places (such as government offices) and just keep everyone waiting.

In Thailand, employers and business owners rule. Employees and customers are just expected to put up with anything that's thrown at them. The problem in Thailand is that the Thais do. They don't complain or walk away so nothing changes. My stroppy attitude has surprised a few Thais because I have no qualms at all about complaining and/or walking away.

Last year I was a tenant of the landlord from hell who, for a time, was also my employer. He frequently pissed me around as a tenant and as an employee. I would turn up to teach his students only to find out the class had been cancelled. I wasted hours this way and never got paid for the wasted time.

He was getting a lot of money from me in rent but then tried to screw me for a few hundred Baht more each month by reinventing the telephone billing system. The only reason I was forced to use the telephone in the first place was because he was too mean to install broadband and I had to use a dial-up line to connect to the Internet.

I decided that enough was enough. I told him I did not want to do any more teaching for him and that I was moving out of his apartment building. He threw a fit. I moved into a much nicer place that had 24 hour broadband for Bt500 a month - about half what I was paying him in telephone charges for a slow dial-up line that I only used for about an hour a day.

The point is that the balance of power needs to shift in Thailand before anything starts to get better and for that to happen, consumers and employees need to start getting a bit stroppier.

After I get my new passport the next task is getting a new visa. For this I will need a letter from my employer to take to the Thai Consulate in Penang. When I mentioned this at work a few days ago I was told that there is a big budget meeting next Thursday and one of the agenda items is whether they will continue to employ me. Great. This is the first I had heard of it and I only found out in a fairly casual conversation with one of the secretaries.

Not working for a while is actually quite appealing as it would give me a chance to travel around parts of Thailand I haven't seen and do some Thai language studying. I'm not desperate for the money and I know I can get another job quite easily later on. But, of course, it isn't that simple.

I have a work permit which is current and easy to extend provided I have a non-immigrant visa. If my work permit expires it will be a real pain going through the entire process to apply for a new one. However, if I'm not working I won't be able to get a letter of employment and therefore I won't be able to get a new visa so I won't be able to get my work permit extended and it will then cease to exist. And there lies the problem.

Without a non-immigrant visa it will be a case of living in Thailand on 30 day stamps again which is not at all desirable. There are quite a few things in Thailand that require foreigners to be more than just tourists.

Later this year I need to get my Thai driver's license and medical insurance renewed. Both items needed copies of my visa last time round. There is a lot hinging on getting a new visa and finding out now that my continued employment is in doubt is a case of very bad timing.

The situation is such that I am close to offering to work for free just to get the paperwork I need. The issue has nothing to do with money but everything to do with my status as a foreigner living in Thailand. Hardly a month goes by when it seems I am not struggling with some kind of bureaucratic process just to stay and work in the country. It is not only time-consuming and stressful but also expensive.

This is what it is like trying to live and work in Thailand. I spend a lot more money here than the majority of Thais and that money goes straight into the Thai economy. I teach a skill that is critical to Thailand's success in the global marketplace and I do it well.

But despite this, I am never made to feel really welcome in the country. On the contrary, it is a constant struggle and a constant source of ongoing expense to get the necessary paperwork to live here and work legally. It's no wonder that so many foreigners don't bother and just work illegally, especially when no one checks up.

Some kind of a non-O visa would probably be better because holders of these visas don't need to leave the country every 90 days as I do on a non-B visa. However, I am too young for a retirement visa and I am not stupid enough to get married to a Thai citizen just for this purpose.

For the time being it is just a case of persevering. And besides, what are the alternatives? The prospect of going back to the UK is a complete nightmare. Southeast Asia suits me very well and Thailand still has to be the best country in the region.

Singapore is far too developed and Westernised. Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia don't appeal to me at all with the exception of Bali (which is mainly Hindu anyway). Burma, Cambodia and Laos are just not developed enough and are all problematic.

I don't know enough about Vietnam but maybe it is an option. The Philippines is a bit wild and there is no demand for English teaching which is about the only employment option for farangs in Southeast Asia.

Sorry Thailand, I take it all back, but I behave myself in your country and I do my best to make a contribution to society so please make life a little easier for me.

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Monday 3rd July 2006

Another farang living in Thailand has been stabbed to death. The incident happened in his own apartment in Bangkok after a disagreement with his 19 year-old Thai girlfriend and one of her friends. He was a 32 year-old New Zealand national working as an English teacher.

Similar stories appear far too often - normally involving bargirls. Thai females tend to get quite volatile and when alcohol is involved (as seemed to be the case here) it can be a recipe for disaster if there is any kind of a disagreement. Whereas Thai men load up their guns when they have a score to settle, Thai girls' favour knives.

More details on The Nation web site where I saw the story.

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Saturday 1st July 2006

I met up with my friend Aor this evening who is back in town for a few days from her new job in Phuket. She is a wonderful girl and as pure as the driven snow (despite having just turned 30). She has a big circle of friends from her high-school days who she keeps in touch with and they are all very respectable girls from respectable families who are all doing well in their careers.

I have got to know a few of her friends and one of them picked me up this evening. She is a local councillor and the niece of the local mayor. I attended the wedding of another one of her friends a couple of months ago and it was quite a high-society event. The girl's father is also high up in the local municipality hierarchy and the wedding was attended by all the local movers and shakers.

But back to Aor. I met her about a year ago after she opened a small restaurant. I spotted it one evening after eating and popped in for a drink. We clicked straight away and have been friends ever since but friends is all we have ever been. She handed over the restaurant to one of her friends and is now a spa therapist trainee at the Banyan Tree Resort in Phuket.

It's a very upmarket resort with rooms starting at around Bt10,000 which is what many Thais pay to rent a room for four months. The spa treatments aren't cheap either, starting at around Bt4,000. However, the therapists undertake extensive training - unlike those at the Bt100 an hour places who are more interested in watching TV than they are giving massages.

She is studying very hard learning about anatomy and all kinds of different massage treatments. She also gets taught English every day and is tested on what was taught the previous day. I should probably do something similar with my students to force them to study more but it would just have the opposite affect and they would stop attending classes.

Aor is desperate to experience life overseas and with this job there will be plenty of opportunities to work overseas after she has finished her training and got about a year's experience under her belt. She applied for a UK work visa a couple of years ago but was turned down. They said she was too old but I guess it's the same old story of other countries thinking the wrong thing about Thai girls who apply for work.

This spa therapy job is good for her travel aspirations but because of her purity and primness it strikes me as an interesting career choice. Pretty soon she is going to be alone in a room with various naked men rubbing oil all over them and I know the reaction I have got with her if I push my luck.

I was teasing her tonight but was also genuinely interested in how the girls at these upmarket places are taught to deal with male clients who want 'extra' services on the massage table. She told me that first and foremost they have to be polite with the customers. They are told first to explain the situation to the customer and describe what the treatment includes and what it doesn't include.

If he doesn't understand, or won't take no for an answer, they are told to leave the room and talk to the manager who will then have a word with the customer. On no account are they to do anything of a sexual nature with customers. This is not the reputation the establishment wants and any girl breaking the rules will be dismissed immediately.

The selection process is very thorough anyway. Only riep roi girls are hired thus reducing dramatically any chance of naughty goings on. The Isaan 'massage therapists' working a few miles away in Patong are unlikely to secure employment here.

A warning then to Kevin Costner and anyone else planning to go for a massage at the Banyan Tree. Keep your towel in place and keep your hands to yourself.

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Visit Thailand

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. 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 - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, 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

Images of Thailand