Living In Thailand Blog
Thursday 16th July 2009
Panic is about the best way of describing what is happening. The government has announced that all tutoring schools (of which there are thousands in Thailand), and certain other places where kids hang out in the evening, are to be closed for two weeks.
There are many people walking around wearing surgical masks. One student at the school where I teach has just been diagnosed with swine flu. The classroom was evacuated today while an army of staff wearing masks disinfected the classroom.
However, the kid was probably in contact with lots of other students while she was contagious but before the symptoms developed. Therefore, I suspect these actions were too late.
The air-conditioners in the classrooms have been turned off to prevent recycling viruses in the air. Fortunately, it's not too hot at the moment otherwise this could be quite uncomfortable.
Everyone seems paranoid and, even at the best of times, Thais go off to see the doctor for the slightest little thing. I would imagine that the Thai health system is feeling quite a strain at the moment.
On top of the swine flu scare, I have recently seen posters warning against Japanese Encephalitis. In addition, dengue still remains a threat. Personally, I would be more concerned about contracting either of these diseases compared to getting a dose of flu.
I have a few doubts about the wearing of masks. The people I see wearing them don't wear them permanently but keep taking them off. Considering that we can't see viruses, how do they know when it is safe to take the mask off?
It has been reported that some businesses aren't keen on customers wearing masks because they say it frightens away other customers.
Ever since humans have been around, viruses have attacked us. They keep on mutating in order to survive. Is this latest strain any more dangerous than previous strains? I really don't know. All I know is that nowadays the media jump on any kind of news like this and quickly blow it out of all proportion.
How dangerous is swine flu, and how much is just media hype? Without the high-profile media stories, would we just regard this as 'normal' flu and get on with life instead of panicking as we are?
For a long time now, Thailand really seems to have been made to suffer. First, the southern insurgency started to flare up again (and that problem still hasn't gone away). Then bird flu hit. Then the tsunami.
Then the political problems (which still haven't gone away). And then the credit crunch problems that have affected economies everywhere. And now this latest health scare. I went to Phuket in May and it was very quiet. Several people I have spoken to who work there, or who have been there recently, say it is dead.
As for myself, I haven't been feeling too well the last couple of days. If I mention this to anyone Thai, I am instructed to go straight to hospital. However, it seems like a normal cold to me so I'm not planning on seeing a doctor. I have some cold symptoms but my body temperature is normal.
It's a bit unnerving walking around and seeing so many people wearing masks; and the general atmosphere is very uneasy.
What if you have plans to come to Thailand soon?
I would expect that most people arrive by air and because planes recycle so much air to save costs you are probably most likely to contract a virus on board the plane if another passenger has it. As for contracting it in Thailand, your chances are probably about the same as anywhere else.
Whatever strain of flu it is, some people will always be vulnerable, and some will die. I think the death count from swine flu in Thailand so far is about 15. More than this number of people die on Thailand's roads each day. However, I don't see people panicking about this or avoiding travelling by road.
Humans tend to react completely irrationally based on emotions and fear, rather than applying any logic. But I could be wrong. Time will tell.
Sunday 12th July 2009
I have tried to rescue abandoned animals in Thailand but I'm not in a position where I can take on the responsibility of caring for one myself. My apartment building doesn't allow pets, and because I'm not sure about my future plans I don't want to make any long-term commitments.
A couple of years ago a dog that lived nearby was hit by a car. I gave it food for a while but the thing was in a bad way. When I asked my Thai friends for advice they told me to take it to a temple.
When I've tried to rescue abandoned kittens, I have received the same advice. The last kitten I took to the temple didn't last long. I started off going back each day with food. I then bought some food and asked the monks to feed it.
When I went back a few days later to check up, I was told it had been killed. A dog (not one of the resident temple dogs, but one that had come from outside) had killed it.
Stray cats and dogs are left to breed unchecked and with no one to take care of them, a lot suffer. Thais do care about animals but sometimes they have a strange way of showing it. Quite a few people feed street animals, and Thais kind of adopt street dogs even though they don't own them Western style.
They put collars on the dogs and give them food, but the dogs are free to just roam around the streets like typical stray dogs.
For most Thais, the natural thing to do if an animal can't fend for itself is to dump it at a local temple. Every temple is full of cats, dogs and chickens wandering around.
Some of the temple dogs are in a really bad way. These are the hairless variety with crusty skin that emit a really bad stench even from several yards away. "Temple dog" (maa wut) is a Thai idiom for a very lowly, unattractive and unwanted man.
This mentality that animals can simply be dumped at temples means that nothing ever gets done about the root cause of the problem, that is, controlling how they breed in the first place.
It also means that temples get inundated with unwanted animals and it creates problems for the resident people at the temple.
I had never heard this said but I noticed the sign in the photo above outside a temple in Nakhon Sri Thammarat.
A rough translation is "Don't bring and release cats and dogs here. Take care of animals, love animals, don't discard animals."
I'm not convinced signs like this will change much. Thai belief systems - like Thai value systems - are very strong. Certain beliefs go back thousands of years and are deeply ingrained in the Thai mindset.
Thais can be quite stubborn and won't change their beliefs, no matter how much something makes logical sense. In the meantime, thousands of stray cats and dogs will continue to be born on the streets each day; many dying on the roads at a young age, and many being dumped in temples for the monks to take care of.
There was a holiday during the week and I got some time off work. Not so long ago I would have been off somewhere in a shot, but these days I find myself increasingly reluctant to travel.
I used to travel as a form of escape because I wasn't happy. These days, however, I am fairly content and therefore I don't feel that same need to escape. It would have been easy to have stayed at home but I forced myself to go away for a few days.
My other problem is knowing where to go. I didn't have enough time to go far so it had to be somewhere in southern Thailand. The trouble with most well known areas of natural beauty is that they have all become tourist traps.
Not only do I not want to be anywhere that is crawling with farangs, but these places attract greedy Thais, and prices go through the roof. You can end up paying two or three times the normal price for food and accommodation.
In the end, I decided on Nakhon Sri Thammarat. I've been three or four times before and I enjoy it because it's real Thailand. I can't understand foreigners who go to Phuket or somewhere for a couple of weeks and then bang on about how much they love Thailand.
These places are full of Western style restaurants and Western style shopping malls that have been created just for Westerners. They're in Thailand but they are unlike anywhere in Thailand that doesn't have a large population of foreign tourists and expats.
Foreigners who have only ever been to Patong beach should spend some time in places like Nakhon and then see how much they love Thailand.
There are foreigners in Nakhon, of course, but not that many. It therefore came as something of a surprise to find my hotel inundated with farangs. For this, I had the Thai Ministry of Education to thank.
The farangs were all English teachers attending a three-day seminar on 'Thai Language, Culture and Professional Ethics' training. I spoke to one of the teachers on the final day and he sounded very relieved to be going home. From what he said, it had been a complete waste of time.
They were shown Thai dancing and given examples of other 'high culture'. I'm not sure what the language training involved. Seeing as this was a course for teachers, I asked what they had been taught about teaching in Thailand.
They were told that basically Thai students don't want to do anything, and they will only bother doing something if they regard it as fun. The guy I was speaking to had been teaching in Thailand for four years so knew this already.
In fact, anyone who has taught in Thailand for more than a week will know this.
So then, another misguided Thai government initiative. Someone was telling me that the Thai government is going to make this 'training' compulsory for all foreign teachers in Thailand. Oh whoopee wee. I can't wait.
I have also been told there is a test at the end regarding the Thai language. I can't confirm this but if it's true it sounds like a good idea. Hopefully, it will include reading and writing as well as speaking and listening.
Nakhon is incredibly rich in fruit and vegetables. When I went to Kanom beach a few years ago, we drove through endless plantations and orchards to get there.
In the main town, there is a large market where fruit and veg is sold wholesale. I've never seen so much. I got lots of free tastings and the fruit is not only extremely delicious, it is really cheap.
My favourite - mangosteen - was being sold for Bt10 per kilo. I've bought it for Bt30 per kilo elsewhere and it hasn't been as good. Rambutan was being sold for Bt5 per kilo.
One of the vendors was telling me she has customers from Singapore. Singapore has very few natural resources and by importing cheap fruit from Thailand you can sell it there for a huge mark up.
Nakhon is the location of probably the most important temple in southern Thailand. It is normally busy, but because of the Buddhist holiday this week it was very busy. Lots of Thais were doing their wai pra thing and at first I felt a bit guilty about what I wrote last week.
However, on closer inspection a lot of what I witnessed just confirmed what I had written about. Once Thais get inside a temple it is all about ritual, ceremony, and superstition. Candles, incense and lotus flowers are offered to Buddha images, while certain temple buildings are walked around three times.
Bells are rung and certain objects are rubbed repeatedly for superstitious good luck. Temple gongs have been rubbed so much that they have become shiny. One woman I saw was working herself into a frenzy rubbing a gong. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Buddhism.
The books I've read about Buddhism talk about concentrating and focusing the mind in order to understand the true nature of things. I have never read anything about rubbing metal gongs for good luck. It's really the equivalent of keeping a rabbit's foot.
Sadly, a lot of what goes on in Thailand can easily be mistaken by foreigners (and also Thais) as Buddhism. These superstitious rituals are practised by people calling themselves Buddhists; and performed in Buddhist temples. It also doesn't help that many monks get involved in the 'magic' amulet trade, and that they perform 'magical' blessing ceremonies.
It was this type of thing that Buddhadasa Bhikkhu was so outspoken about during his lifetime.
There are lots of different ways to make merit but these fall into two basic categories. You can identify an opportunity in which you can make a difference, and you can act purely out of goodwill. No one - apart from the recipient of your act of goodwill - will be any the wiser, and this kind of thing is completely unselfish.
Alternatively, you can make your act of merit-making as conspicuous as possible, or do something really stupid such as paying someone to release a bird that they themselves captured.
As far as highly conspicuous merit-making is concerned, there are specially staged merit-making ceremonies in Thailand that involve hundreds of monks. People from far and wide come to participate in these ceremonies.
Individual temples also have specially organised merit-making days on which Thais parade around money trees made from the money they have collected. At these ceremonies the name of everyone who has contributed will be read out over a PA system - just so that everyone knows.
This kind of conspicuous merit-making isn't exactly unselfish. It is done to get something back. It also isn't new.
Do you acquire the same amount of merit by performing an unselfish, low-key act of goodwill that no one knows about as you do by making a big show of merit-making at a famous temple or at the biggest merit-making ceremony you can find?
Here's what Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has to say:
The Buddha taught: "Merit-making which is based on greed has not the sixteenth sixteenth part of the value of cultivating good-will (metta)."
Merit-making based on greed is merit-making for publicity, merit-making in exchange for paradise, or heaven, merit-making in order to be re-born beautiful or rich, merit-making to gain sensual pleasure.
Such merit-making is based on greed. It is simply grasping and clinging. Merit-making that consists of grasping and clinging is still merit-making, but it cannot have the sixteenth sixteenth part of the value of practising good-will.
Good-will is not based on self-interest; it is practised for the sake of other people. There is love for other people far and wide and all around. Merit born of good-will is great merit; merit based on greed does not amount to the sixteenth sixteenth part of good-will.
(In the Pali language, when it was desired to indicate a great quantitative difference between things, this sort of expression was commonly used: "The sixteenth part taken sixteen times." Suppose we have one unit of something. Divide it up into sixteen parts and take one of these. Again divide that part into sixteen parts and take one of them. Then divide that part yet again into sixteen parts. Again take one and divide it. Carry on like this a total of sixteen times to get the sixteenth sixteenth part.)
Merit which is based on greed is described as not worth the sixteenth sixteenth part of this element called good-will (metta).
My least favourite form of transport in Thailand are minivans. However, with certain destinations they are the only viable option. Trains are very slow, and buses aren't that frequent. And so, I found myself back in a minivan going to Nakhon.
The journey there was the usual white-knuckle ride, but coming back was a lot worse. The drivers drive with so much aggression that it isn't healthy for them or their passengers (not that they care about their passengers).
On roads with a 60kph or 80kph speed limit we were doing a fairly constant 130kph. The drivers accelerated hard if there was a vehicle in front and flashed the headlights in an intimidating way in order for the vehicle to move over.
Sometimes they were forced to brake heavily after doing this. Some of the overtaking manoeuvres were really scary, and often where there were double yellow lines indicating no overtaking.
There isn't a single speed camera or speed trap. I saw one police car. As we approached the police car, the drivers coming from the opposite direction flashed their headlights to warn of the danger.
Our driver fastened his seat belt and slowed down. As soon as we had passed the police car, his seat belt came off again and his right foot went to the floor again.
Thais love crazes, and following trends. The Jatukham Ramathep phenomenon started in Nakhon and at the height of the craze it was impossible to find an empty hotel room in Nakhon.
However, everyone got bored and that craze (like all the other ones) died out. Various shirt colours followed but Thais seem bored with those too now.
The latest thing I've noticed is hair extensions for girls. All the salons are offering this service, and whenever I get my hair cut there are girls in there getting hair extensions.
The extensions are real hair from China. Presumably, this is a way for poor Chinese people to make some money. Grow you hair, cut it off, and sell it to Thailand.
A few years ago the trend was adding coloured tinsel in hair but that also died out. I wonder how long before Thai girls get bored with hair extensions, and what the next craze will be?
On the way back I found a comfortable seat on the van. The driver didn't want me to sit there so made me move. We went half a mile down the road, picked up someone, and she sat where I wanted to sit but wasn't allowed to.
This has happened to me several times on vans and buses in Thailand. If they tell you to move and you ask why, they never give a reason. They just smile and keep pointing to where they want you to sit.
It's annoying but in Buddhist terms this is caused by having attachment. If you are attached to the idea that you can sit where you want - provided the seat is unoccupied - you will be upset or angry when you can't.
Thais don't seem to care where they sit. This seems to be because when Thais travel they do what Thais do best. They sleep. When I travel I like to observe the area we are travelling through. I therefore like to sit where I can best do this ... except I am never allowed to sit where I want to sit.
Among Thais, Nakhon Sri Thammarat has quite a fearsome reputation. When I first visited about five years ago, some Thai friends expressed serious concerns for my safety. Speaking to some Thais, you get the impression that Nakhon is full of cutthroats and murderers. This isn't the case at all.
There are problems (as there are everywhere) but I have never experienced anything bad there. A friend of mine's young nephew (from Nakhon) was shot and killed at a temple fair a couple of years ago. He had an altercation with some youths he knew; and one pulled a gun and shot him.
I have actually found Nakhon to be one of the friendliest places I have visited in Thailand. I was constantly speaking with people and my time there turned into a huge flirt-fest. I can't ever recall getting so much attention from Thai females.
They don't see that many farangs and the ones they do see often can't speak any Thai. Not many Thais I met could speak English so it creates a problem.
I don't speak much Thai either, but Thais are totally predictable. Everyone I spoke to asked exactly the same questions. I know these questions and I know how to answer. It's therefore possible to have quite lengthy conversations without actually knowing too much Thai.
I even got marriage proposals. Some of the 40-something market vendors were well past their sell-by dates but there was even an 18 year-old student who seemed very interested. I chatted to her and her parents for a while.
I said goodbye and went on my way. A few minutes later, she came chasing after me and asked for my phone number. I gave her my number even though she was far too young.
A few of the girls I spoke to seemed genuinely interested in foreigners but it is no secret what is the major attraction of farangs for most Thai girls.
At a market selling cheap clothes I walked around with my ears open and my mouth closed. It was the kind of place where vendors talk openly about foreigners walking past because they assume the foreigners can't understand anything, and I wanted to hear what was being said.
A group of about eight girls stopped me and started asking questions. I made out I didn't know any Thai. One of the girls spoke some English so acted as a translator.
They wanted to know if I was interested in one of the girls they called 'Chicken'. Many Thais have animal nicknames and 'Gai' (chicken in Thai) is a common one. Various questions went back and forth through the girl who was translating.
I asked why this girl wanted a foreign boyfriend. The girl translating asked her in Thai. Her reply was that farangs have a lot of money. They all laughed. The girl translating tactfully translated this to, "Foreign men are good at taking care."
Oh yeah? That wasn't quite what she said, was it? Thais will always hide the truth. You are told what you want to hear, and shown what you want to see. If you really want to know how Thais think you need to be able to understand what they say because the edited version never reflects the truth.
On the subject of language, the sing-song southern Thai dialect still remains a complete mystery to me. Southern Thais (like all Thais) can speak the central dialect but when southerners start speaking in their own dialect among themselves it is unintelligible even to Thais from other regions.
The girl I was sitting next to on the minivan told me how southerners can understand all other Thais, but how other Thais cannot understand southerners. This obviously made her very happy.
Understanding other people, when they don't understand you, gives you a great advantage. Southern Thais are quite different to Thais from elsewhere in the country. They're proud, but they can be quite stubborn and arrogant.
I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact they can understand, but they cannot always be understood?
Another Thai fixation is with danger. I started to notice this immediately after I came to Thailand to live. In Nakhon one of the questions everyone asked was, "Who do you come with?" When I said alone, they wanted to know if I was afraid because it was dangerous?
In the past, whenever I have told Thais I will travel somewhere alone they seem amazed. They seem frightened of everything: people, ghosts, weather.
There are Dhamma radio stations in Thailand on which you can listen to Buddhist monks talking about Buddhism. On one I listened to, I didn't understand much but the monk repeatedly used the Thai word for danger.
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu covers this in the book I mentioned below. He talks about awareness of the completely fearsome nature of all phenomenal existence, and that all things are inherently dangerous.
The belief system and a lot of the cultural behaviour in Thailand can be traced back to Buddhist beliefs - with a lot of Animism thrown in.
Nakhon, like many places in southern Thailand, has a Muslim population. I receive lots of hateful chain e-mails regarding Muslims; and Buddhist Thais aren't always too kind with their words about Muslims either.
I find myself being very defensive when I hear such things. My little sister, Iss, is Muslim and many of my past students were Muslim. They are all very kind, very good people.
My usual stance is that there are good and bad people of all races and religions. I've met bad Christians and Buddhists, and I've met very kind Muslims. Making sweeping statements is therefore unfair and inaccurate.
I went inside the mosque in the photo to take a look. Upon doing so, I was ordered to get out. I wasn't told in a pleasant way, but in quite an aggressive way. Presumably this was because I'm not a Muslim?
The Muslim world is becoming increasingly isolated, but this kind of attitude and intolerance towards non-Muslims certainly doesn't help to win Muslims many friends.
Cleverer than some of my students: Monkeys recognise 'bad grammar'
Thailand can't rid itself of Thaksin. Even in self-imposed exile, the man continues to cast an enormous, dark shadow over the whole country. I just can't understand why. A lot of people were fooled initially but by now they should understand exactly how he operates.
Neither can I understand why so many people continue to defend him. Everything he did was done with one thing in mind; and one thing only: to secure votes from poor rural Thais.
The consequences of his populist policies and their impact on the Thai economy overall mattered not one little bit to him. As the Thai economist quoted in this article says, "It's pro-business and pro-rich farmer, and basically it's a programme to finance political campaigns."
I can understand why the poor supported him initially (because of policies such as this guaranteeing the price of rice) but surely by now people must realise that his populist policies were unsustainable, and that they have caused far more problems than they solved?
Sunday 5th July 2009
I read an interesting article on the BBC News Site: Japan's fashion rebellion goes West
Apparently, this fashion (which includes lots of fake tan cream) was started in Japan by people who wanted to make, "... a rebellious statement against the traditions of fair-skinned beauty."
Young Thais are very much influenced by Japanese and Korean fashion and trends. However, they are also completely obsessed with fair-skinned beauty. The skin-whitening cosmetics industry in Thailand is enormous.
There is at least one advert for skin-whitening products in every TV commercial break; and every magazine is plastered with ads for skin-whitening products - as well as featuring white-skinned models in every photo.
Dark-skinned Thais are rarely seen on TV; those jobs going to Thais with fair skin (often as a result of having mixed blood). Even in the retail industry, the more upmarket shops tend to have lots of fair-skinned Thais working as sales assistants.
One very unfortunate effect of this obsession is that naturally dark-skinned Thais - even those who are extremely attractive - can start to develop inferiority complexes because of their skin colour.
Many Japanese trends catch on in Thailand, but I wonder if this one will?
Somehow, I just don't think the day will ever come when a fair-skinned Thai girl applies fake tan cream to make her face look darker before she goes out.
The following article may be a little heavy-going but I mentioned before that I was going to write a little about Buddhism and how it has affected my way of thinking.
It's a huge subject and of course it is very difficult to try to explain in just a few paragraphs. And anyway, I am not qualified to explain very much because I still have a lot to learn myself. I was prompted to write this as a result of currently re-reading a book I bought a few years ago.
If you are interested in finding out more, I recommend the writings of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. Not only was he able to separate real Buddhist thinking from the many rites and rituals in Thailand that have absolutely nothing to do with Buddhism, but he also had the ability to teach in a very understandable way.
Religion is a very sensitive subject and by writing about Buddhism here I do not wish to denigrate or criticise anyone else's religion. So please, no hate mail.
A question I am often asked in Thailand is what religion I am. By virtue of the fact I was born in England, I was stamped up as a Christian before I was able to think about the issue and decide for myself.
It just so happens that Christianity never worked for me personally, but it works for a lot of people. In my earlier life I had no idea what Buddhism was about but once I started to find out I realised I agreed with virtually everything.
Technically (filling in forms, etc) I'm still Christian, but the life I want to lead is Buddhist ... even though it is still very difficult for me to change the way I have thought ever since I was born.
You might think that feeling disillusioned and disenchanted about everything in life would be signs of depression?
If the owner of those thoughts also considered that nothing in life had any value, and therefore nothing whatsoever was worth having - or being - your suspicions might be confirmed.
In fact, this was of thinking is what Buddhists strive for.
Buddhism tells us that life is suffering. It's easy to see why other religions have made a lot more impact in the world than Buddhism.
Buddhism doesn't make any promises that if you 'believe' you will then be accompanied by an omnipresent being who will guide you through life and make decisions for you, or that after your life ends you will go to a wonderful heaven.
On the other hand, when you analyse Buddhist thinking, it is completely accurate with regard to what causes problem in the human condition, and how those problems can be solved.
Studying is the wrong word, but I have been trying to learn more about Buddhism for the past eight or nine years. I am currently re-reading a book titled 'Handbook for Mankind' written by the late Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and his thoughts are quite fascinating.
You'd think that by living in a country where the predominant religion is Buddhism it would be easier to understand the religion. But this isn't what I've found.
Most of my knowledge has come from books - and I could have read them anywhere. A lot of the things you see in Thailand that some people may think of as Buddhism actually have nothing to do with Buddhism.
Thais are very good at the ceremonial aspects, rites, and rituals involved when they meet monks or go to the temple. Merit-making is an extremely important part of the culture and this is often done at temples involving monks. As Buddhadasa Bhikkhu says, this isn't the real Buddhism.
Animism was the belief system before Buddhism arrived in this region and its influence is still very much present. Over time it has been integrated with symbols of Buddhism to such an extent that to the casual observer the two things are inseparable.
However, there is just so much that has nothing to do with Buddhism. The fortune telling, magic potions and amulets, food and gifts for spirits, monks' blessing ceremonies, ribbons tied around trees (for the spirits that live in the trees) simply aren't Buddhism.
There are also some Buddhist practices that have been completely dumbed down and abused. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, in his book, is particularly scathing about two such practices. He actually refers to these things as a tumour in Buddhism.
The first is what has become of ordination these days. At one point, young Thai men ordained for the period of the Rains Retreat (about three months) and learnt about Buddhist practices and thinking in that time - some still do.
Ordaining as a monk is still one of the major events in the life of a Thai man. Many Thais regard a man who has never ordained as being unfit to marry. He will normally ordain before he marries. Not only does this make him 'fit' to marry but all the merit he receives by ordaining will thus pass to his parents, and not his wife.
Ordaining as a monk and learning about Buddhist thinking is highly commendable but it has turned into a joke for many. A lot of men ordain and remain in the temple for a week or less.
The ordination ceremony is a big party and lots of photos will be taken so that parents can proudly display photos of their sons as monks. After spending a few days in the temple the man is fit to marry and is very highly regarded by Thais, but what has he learnt in that time?
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu makes the comment, "The new bhikku leaves the Order only a few days after having been ordained, and may become an even stronger temple hater than he was before."
The second practice is the ceremony in which lay people offer robes to monks. Originally this had a good purpose but now it is simply an excuse for people to have a 'picnic' (Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's words).
Instead of choosing a local temple, Thais hire a bus and go to a temple far away to offer robes because this is more fun. The whole thing is a big party but it is also seen as being very meritorious.
What isn't Buddhism?
It's not simply an Eastern equivalent of Christianity where Buddha replaces God and people pray in temples instead of churches. The Buddha was very much a mortal man who realised the true nature of life, became enlightened as a result, and then became a great teacher.
Buddhist thinking is completely different to God-based religions.
Buddhism is not shaving your head; wearing an orange robe; bashing a tambourine around Leicester Square, performing intricate ceremonies at temples; paying respect to sacred objects; or coming to Thailand and sitting cross-legged and motionless in a temple (as I have observed some foreigners doing).
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu is critical of people who 'sit rigidly like a stone image' because they lack awareness and are in no position to investigate anything.
"Even a woodcutter without book-learning will be able to penetrate to the essence of Buddhism, while a religious scholar with several degrees, who is completely absorbed in studying the Tipitaka but doesn't look at things from this point of view, may not penetrate the teaching at all."
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu simply describes Buddhism as knowing "What is what" and understanding the true nature of things. That's it. This regards changing the way you think but that is all that is actually required to be Buddhist.
All our suffering comes from desire. By understanding the true nature of things, we will be able to see that nothing is permanent and nothing has value. When we understand this we will stop desiring things, and then our suffering will stop.
Buddhism - like all other religions - has a moral code (described in either eight, ten, or 227 moral precepts) but Buddhadasa Bhikkhu says that the purpose of morality is only to give us an inner calm in order that we can concentrate our minds to understand the true nature of things.
If we did not lead morally good lives our minds would be disturbed and therefore we wouldn't be able to concentrate.
I still have a very long way to go with Buddhism. I have an analytical and sceptical mind, but - with the possible exception of reincarnation - there is very little about Buddhist thinking that I can't accept.
The problem is that as soon as we come into this world we start to suffer from the grasping, craving and attachment that Buddhism warns us about. These things start at a very young age.
I was in the supermarket this week and there was an incident at the check-out queue. The supermarket very cleverly place items at the check-out that people will decide to buy at the last minute.
A young girl of about three saw some sweets she wanted and pointed them out to her mother. Her mother said no, at which the girl started to get very upset.
From when we are very young, we want things that we can't have. When we get older we may not be able to have things we desire because we can't afford them. Whatever the reason, wanting something and then not being to have it causes suffering.
Even if we get what we want, the satisfaction will only last for as long as we start to desire something else - and then the cycle starts all over again.
Clinging and attachment also starts very early. If you give something to a child that gives the child comfort, and then take it away, the child will get upset because of attachment.
Buddhism wants us to change the only way of thinking we have ever known.
Publishing a list of things I like and dislike about Thailand (as I have done below) is proof that I have a long way to go:
"Liking or disliking anything, even if it is only an idea or a memory, is clinging."
I looked around a large electronics store in the week; and that craving that affects as all was still present. Possibly the difference between me and many others is that I now recognise what is happening when I see and desire things - and I am very conscious of it - even if I still have problems extinguishing that craving.
A little while ago I craved a small netbook computer. Since I bought it, several more new and updated models have appeared and it is easy to crave them. This may make me dissatisfied with the one I own already.
However, if I buy a newer model now I will only have more feelings of craving and dissatisfaction in six months time when yet more new models appear. This cycle never stops and therefore it is easy to spend our whole lives being dissatisfied; and suffering as a result.
One thing that puzzled me was what it was that motivates people if they come to the conclusion in life that nothing has any worth; and therefore is not worth wanting to have, or wanting to be, anything?
We study because we want to get a good job. We want to get a good job so that we can be something, and also so that we can earn money to acquire things. If it is not worth being anything, or if nothing is worth having, why do we bother to get out of bed in the morning to go to work or school?
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu answers this by saying that the Buddha and other enlightened people achieved far more in their lives than unenlightened people because their minds were totally concentrated.
Without desire for worldly things and pleasurable feelings, people's motivation changes. There is goodwill and there is the ability to discriminate between what is worthwhile doing and what isn't.
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu makes the point:
"We study industriously and work at our jobs in order to get money. Then we go and buy things: utensils, food, amusements, things covering the whole range from gastronomy to sex. And then we partake of these things with one single objective, namely pleasurable feeling, in other words delightful stimulation of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body."
"We invest all our resources, monetary, physical, mental, simply in our own mind that if it wasn't for the lure of pleasurable feeling, we would never invest study. work and expend physical energy in the search of money."
But desire for these things, and the attachment we have to them, will only lead eventually to dissatisfaction and suffering. It is still possible to motivate ourselves for reasons of goodwill, rather than purely for selfish reasons to satisfy our own desire for pleasurable feelings.
If I tried to explain this to a lot of people I know very closely, they would laugh in my face. For them, there is no more in life than craving for and acquiring material things and pleasurable feelings.
What I have found in life though - and often through very unpleasant experience - is that this is a very superficial (and temporary) way of looking at things.
Here's another quote from the book:
"When the ordinary worldly man hears that nothing is worth getting or being, he is not convinced, He doesn't believe it. But anyone who understands the real meaning of this statement becomes emboldened and cheered by it."
"His mind becomes master of things and independent of them. He becomes capable of going after things sure in the knowledge that he will not become enslaved by them. His actions are not motivated by desire and he is not so blind with passion that he comes to be a slave to things."
I accept that a lot of Buddhist teachings are extremely difficult to make sense of because they goes against everything we are taught from birth in materialistic Western societies.
It's very easy simply to dismiss Buddhist teaching as something just for crackpots. I suspect that Buddhist teaching is easier to understand for those who have experienced being very unhappy.
Periods of extreme unhappiness are not necessarily a bad thing because it is during such times that we can start to understand life for what it really is.
How I have I tried to use Buddhist teachings in my life?
I am not fanatical about any of this. If you met me, none of what I have written above would be at all apparent on the surface. I am not planning to shave my head, don robes, enter a forest monastery, and spend the rest of my life meditating in an attempt to become enlightened.
When I look back at the very unhappy times in my life I can see now that I was unhappy because I was craving for things I couldn't get, or that I was attached to things that were impermanent. I suffered from the same weaknesses that we all suffer from but I didn't know why I suffered.
Simply by understanding a little about Buddhism, it helps to explain the human condition, and helps to explain why we all suffer as we do.
Understanding what is happening is the first step in being able to treat, or prevent, the unhappiness. That's all it is really. I have more awareness these days, and I am more conscious about desiring things or becoming to attached to things (material things, ideas, states of mind, people, etc).
This doesn't mean that I never experience unhappiness any more, because I do. However, both the intensity and the duration of unhappy times are reducing as I become more aware.
One unfortunate side-effect is that avoiding getting attached to people can sometimes make me seem like quite an uncaring person. This was something that I always used to notice with Buddhist monks: that they seemed very aloof and quite uncaring.
This isn't really the case but it is just a perception.
I'm actually quite a bad Buddhist regarding many aspects of my life but I am trying to use the teachings to understand myself better and to improve my life, rather than to adopt a completely new lifestyle.
Ironically, as a foreigner in Thailand from a Christian country I get the impression that my way of thinking is a lot more Buddhist than that of many Thais. Lots of Thais desire material things so much that they get themselves into lots of debt by borrowing money or buying on credit to acquire those things.
Despite this, they do their best outwardly to give the impression of being good Buddhists. A good example of this was the girl who I was trying to help with her relationship problems a little while ago.
She considers herself a model Buddhist. All of her personal spaces are covered with amulets, garlands of flowers, and other such objects. She was always telling me about life as a Buddhist and she was very good at kneeling, bowing and wai-ing at what she considered appropriate times.
However, she was so emotionally weak that she would often sob to the point of collapsing. Inside, she was very unhappy and the root of her unhappiness could be traced to grasping, clinging and attachment.
She desired something in life that she couldn't get, and she was attached to things that were impermanent and eventually went.
It would have been a really heartless thing to do but at times I felt like telling her that if she was really such a good Buddhist she wouldn't have the feelings she had.
I've mentioned before that I could never work out the casual attitude towards death in Thailand. Since I started living in Thailand I have never heard about, and witnessed, so much death in all my life.
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's book may have given me the answer.
Attachment to anything, in Buddhist thinking, is bad. This includes being attached to life. He talks about the lives of monks during the Bhudda's lifetime.
"If they suffered from fever, they knew how to treat it. If the fever was quite overpowering and they were not strong, they recalled that to die is natural. Whether they lived or died was of no significance to them; they (life and death) were of equal value in their eyes."
If I was a good Buddhist I wouldn't cling to ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, etc. Detaching myself from these feelings of self would mean that I wouldn't get upset or irritated about anything.
Sadly, that isn't the case.
This week, I think I have experienced all of the things that irritate me about trying to communicate in Thai.
- The triangular conversation. This happens when there is a Thai person with you, or in your group. If you order in Thai in a restaurant, for example, instead of responding to you the waitress will immediately talk to the Thai person in your group as if you don't exist or you are invisible.
Your friend then speaks to you, you speak to the waitress again, she speaks to your friend again, and the conversation continues to go round in a triangle until I lose my rag and start questioning the waitress about why she doesn't understand.
- Running away. As you start to speak, the Thai person runs away desperately looking for another Thai person to help. You try to say something but of course they aren't listening.
They return with a friend. You speak in Thai and the friend understands you perfectly. If the first person had attempted to listen - instead of running away - they would also have been able to understand.
- Refusing to listen. Before any kind of communication has taken place, the Thai person sees you and is convinced that communication is impossible. They switch off their ears so that when you talk they aren't even listening. I ordered something very clearly at a restaurant a few days ago and got something completely different because of this.
- Refusing to answer. At a food market I asked the price of something in Thai. You'd think that by asking in Thai it was an indication that I could speak a little Thai. The woman understood the question perfectly but refused to answer. Instead, she panicked and started looking around for her calculator so that she could punch out the price on that instead of simply telling me.
- Miming. Sometimes they refuse to answer using speech, but they go into some kind of miming routine. It's OK, I want to say, I'm not hard of hearing. Also, when Thais speak to me, most find it impossible to say a number without using their fingers to supplement the information. Numbers was one of the first things I learnt so this really isn't necessary.
- Speaking jibberish. Sometimes you start the conversation in Thai but the Thai person insists on trying to speak English even though their English is unintelligible.
I went on a minivan trip and asked about the journey in Thai. The woman responded, "You buy ticket, you buy ticket." OK, you want to speak English. She then started to say, "You go up, you go up," repeatedly.
This completely baffled me. She could see that I didn't understand so she then started to speak Thai. I then realised she wanted to know where I wanted to get off. I don't know why they do this but they do.
- The helpful Thai. I shouldn't get annoyed at this but I do. Many Thais like to help people but some have the idea that every single farang in Thailand is fresh off the boat and can't speak or read a word of Thai.
If I am having genuine communication problems I appreciate some help, but while I'm just browsing a menu written in Thai trying to decide what to have I don't appreciate Thais sitting down next to me explaining what things are (unless they are very attractive girls, in which case I am happy to be completely illiterate).
The equivalent Thai proverb of teaching grannie to suck eggs goes along the lines of teaching a crocodile how to swim.
There have been a number of significant deaths recently. The deaths of certain people are so profound that you will forever remember where you were at the time you heard the news.
JFK; Elvis; John Lennon; Princess Diana. And now Mrs Slocombe.
Wednesday 1st July 2009
The cult of Harry Potter completely passed me by but I came across the commencement speech that JK Rowling delivered to Harvard graduates last year: The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.
She comes across as someone who has really lived - and understands - life. It's a good read.
Top 10 (and bottom 10) lists are popular blog items so I have been giving some thought to my own lists regarding Thailand. These things will probably change over time and the lists below are in no particular order.
My Top 10 first:
- Doctors and dentists. I've had dental work done in Thailand and my teeth have never been in better shape. Healthcare is something the country can be really proud of. Not only are there 5* facilities for international health tourists, but even the poorest Thais seem to have access to pretty good healthcare.
At my local public hospital where all the poor people go there are even lodgings at a temple nearby where relatives of those people in hospital can stay overnight for Bt5 a night.
The UK's NHS has been going down the drain for a long time, and care in the US is ridiculously expensive if you don't have insurance. Thai doctors have saved the lives of Americans who needed urgent surgery but who couldn't afford to have it done in the US.
Thai healthcare workers really do seem to be in the profession because they want to help people; and not just to earn money. An important factor regarding quality of life is the healthcare that we have available to us and Thailand's healthcare system is hard to beat.
- Food. Not fancy Bangkok restaurants; and not the kind of fancy, Westernised Thai food you get in Thai restaurants abroad. I'm talking about freshly made chicken with holy basil served on rice with a fried egg plonked on the top and sold for Bt30.
I used to crave Western food in Thailand but now I crave putt guh-prao-gai kai-daaw. If I were to leave Thailand I would get serious withdrawal symptoms without having this kind of food available. Not only is it delicious; it's healthy, it's available absolutely everywhere, and it is sold so cheaply that they might as well give it away.
- Thai girls. Any foreign man who says he didn't know what Thailand was like before he arrived - and that he only decided to stay because of the food and culture - is a liar, and someone who is not to be trusted.
I'm not referring to the bar girls at the beach resorts who are for those pitiful men who can't get women any other way. The women of Thailand are not only beautiful, but combined with all the gentleness of Thai culture they are unbeatable.
They can also be deadly but the process of finding out about them makes living in Thailand very enjoyable for a foreign male.
- Non-confrontation. In England everyone wants to fight. If you look at someone the wrong way, or do anything that someone doesn't like, they either want a slanging match or a physical altercation. I once had a guy start shouting at me on the London Underground because I glanced at the newspaper he was reading.
This simply doesn't exist in Thailand (unless you live somewhere that has loads of farangs where there are still undesirable elements of Western culture). It makes for a very peaceful and harmonious atmosphere.
- Diversity. What I mean by this is that Thailand can be as Third World as you wish, but you can also get the best of the First World. You can experience authentic Thailand in a way that probably hasn't changed for years but the country also offers all the infrastructure and facilities of a developed country.
- Cheap prices. By Western standards I do not have a big income but my income goes a long way in Thailand. With the money I have available to me I couldn't live in most Western countries (and even such places as big cities in India).
In my old life, one of the biggest problems was work/life balance. Everything was so expensive that I had no life because I had to work all the time. In Thailand life is a lot more balanced.
- Buddhism. Never talk about politics or religion as you are bound to offend someone - so the old saying goes. Suffice to say, I have found many answers in Buddhism. I regard it is a philosophy and a way of understanding the human condition rather than a religion.
I plan to talk a little more about Buddhist thinking in future blog entries. I am currently re-reading a book about the subject written by the late Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and there is just so much good advice.
- Kindness. There are a few bad eggs but most Thais are very kind. Moral goodness is a very important aspect of Thai culture and this is reinforced with the Buddhist law of karma. tum dee, dai dee; tum chua, dai chua (a very well-known Thai proverb) means 'Do good, get good; do evil, get evil'.
Even those who are genuinely forced to beg will find that they will be given enough to eat;, and I myself have been on the receiving end of many acts of kindness.
- Tolerance. This, again, stems from Buddhism. Of the world's great religions/philosophies, Buddhism is the most tolerant of other religions and philosophies. Thailand has always attracted missionaries who come here to convert Thais to their religion but it doesn't happen the other way round.
Buddhists have complete respect for followers of other religions and have always been very accommodating with regard to people of other religions living in Thailand, and also to foreign missionaries who come to Thailand to try to convert people.
This tolerance extends throughout society and I think it is the reason why you see so many ladyboys in Thailand. Many foreigners who have some kind of gender identity problem are attracted to Thailand because of the tolerance that is shown towards them.
But it goes beyond religion and gender confusion. Thais are tolerant of almost everything and, along with their other cultural beliefs, it makes for a very harmonious society.
The political demonstrations we saw in Thailand earlier this year were quite disturbing because it was unusual behaviour for Thais. Unfortunately, because of the hierarchical nature of Thai society, Thais can also be easily led by people who have power and/or money.
- Sense of humour. There is nothing more Thais like to do than joke, laugh and smile. Unsmiling, humourless people are quite scary. At first it can appear that there is quite a wide sense of humour gap between Thais and foreigners but it is quite similar in many respects.
A good sign that you have been accepted is when Thais let down their barrier and start to joke with you. I joke all the time with them and often it's best when they don't realise I am joking. My juvenile sense of humour gives me endless hours of fun in Thailand.
Here's my bottom 10:
- General lawlessness and lack of responsibility for other people's safety.
Buddhism teaches that we are all responsible for our own actions. This is good in many ways but we all need to be responsible for our actions with regard to other people's safety.
All too often, I see examples of people creating hazards for others, and no one ever does anything about this. Many Thais do as they wish with little regard for laws, or for other people.
Driving is the obvious example but there are others, such as food hygiene and the way people will just take over pavement space to set up a food stall or something. A classic example was the New Year nightclub fire in Bangkok that killed over 60 people.
The club was located in an area where night clubs are banned so the owners blatantly flouted the law and regulations by running it. In their greed for money they completely ignored any regulations relating to safety. And look what happened.
- Mai bpen rai goes a little too far. The Thai attitude of 'never mind' to absolutely everything has created a culture of laziness, apathy and complacency.
In my old job in the UK, one of the things that got me down was the ever-increasing pressure on employees to do more and more and more. Thailand provides a nice antidote to that crazy work ethic but it also leads to a lot of people under-achieving in life.
- Sabaay and sanook goes a little too far. Life is to be enjoyed - and the Thais are very good at that - but there are times when we just need to work hard or study. However, try explaining that to a classroom full of Thai high school students.
- Stray cats and dogs. It breaks my heart every time I am walking along and hear an abandoned, newborn kitten crying for someone to take care of it. My first instinct is to take it home and care for it but I can't do this for every animal in Thailand.
On the occasions I have attempted to rescue abandoned kittens and give them sanctuary at a local temple but it hasn't worked.
Buddhist Thais (with their belief that taking any form of life is a sin) don't believe in any form of sterilisation programme but the way in which animals are allowed to breed freely causes a lot of them to suffer. Thailand can be a difficult place for animal lovers.
- Face. This is the aspect of cultural behaviour that I've talked about recently.
- Image and presentation over substance. Thais will spend an inordinate amount of time and effort giving the appearance something is good instead of simply putting that time and effort into fixing the original problem.
Many things are very superficial. Things may look great on the outside but when you start digging, you find that the reality of the situation is very different.
- Scammers and con-artists. In much the same way, some people will put enormous effort into scamming others instead of putting that effort into honest work. Thais themselves don't tend to get caught but a lot of foreign tourists do.
For that reason, Thai con-artists mainly operate in areas where there are lots of foreign tourists. It's bad for tourists and it's bad for Thailand's tourist industry. Those most vulnerable are tourists who don't speak any Thai, but if you only visit for a short vacation then you can't be expected to learn much Thai.
Scammers, in my book, are one of the lowest forms of life. I encounter them if I visit tourist areas, as does every other farang, but those encounters are a little different these days. They don't expect (or like) farangs questioning them in Thai and giving them a hard time.
- Elitism. Thailand's strictly hierarchical social system is both good and bad. Society tends to police itself because of the respect people have for those higher up the ladder, but some people higher up the chain can be really arrogant.
Thai society places far too much emphasis on paper qualifications and other worthless symbols of status. The Thai language is peppered with terms of address that reinforce this strict hierarchy. Address someone using the wrong pronoun or title and they can get quite offended.
Most foreigners are an unknown quantity and Thais don't know how to place them in their hierarchy. However, once you start getting integrated into Thai society and Thais start to find out more about you, this can happen.
Once you have been labelled, you will start getting respect from people 'below' you, but you will be expected to kowtow to people 'above' you. This kind of thing dates back to the feudal system that supposedly disappeared some years ago.
- Farangs who are attracted to Thailand for all the wrong reasons. I don't think I need to expand on this. The good thing is that they tend to be drawn to certain places in Thailand. These places are well-known and easy to avoid.
- Language problems. If I had moved to France or Germany six years ago, I'm sure that natives would understand me talking their language by now. In Thailand I still get those blank looks at times as if I am talking Martian.
What is frustrating is that quite a few people understand me perfectly well. The problems mainly arise with lesser-educated Thais. Their problem is that they convince themselves they won't be able to understand me even before I open my mouth.
There are times when my frustration reaches boiling point because of this ignorant behaviour. My Thai isn't great - and I will be the first to admit that - but it isn't as incomprehensible as some Thais make it out to be.
The 'Bottom 10' list was a lot easier to do than the 'Top 10' list and I could have expanded it quite easily to be a 'Bottom 50' or 'Bottom 100' list.
In terms of purely numbers, there are more things I dislike in Thailand than I like (but that would be the case anywhere). Overall, the pros far outweigh the cons.
I considered 'weather' but didn't know if this was a good or bad thing. It is easier living in a hot climate rather than a cold one, but for most of the year the temperature is just a little too high.
Teaching in Thailand has been good to me so it's only fair that I try to give something back to the TEFL community.
Thai students aren't keen on studying in the traditional manner because they find it incredibly boring. Instead of simply teaching, foreign teachers in Thailand spend an enormous amount of time trying to turn learning topics into games.
One activity my students enjoy is listening to English songs. In order to inject an element of learning into this, I give them lyric sheets with missing words which they then have to complete.
I don't mind doing this but finding appropriate songs is very difficult. Songs that are popular often have meaningless lyrics, and those songs that have meaningful lyrics are often boring.
I had another request from one class to listen to some songs and wracked my brain trying to think of something suitable. In a flash of inspiration I suddenly remembered a song from my youth.
"Jilted John" by Jilted John was made for foreign students learning English. To start with, the title (and the artist) both use a useful adjective that my students probably don't know.
The first line gives an example of a contraction, use of the present perfect continuous tense, and a useful phrasal verb (going out) which has an idiomatic meaning:
"I've been going out with a girl, her name is Julie"
The next line gives examples of simple past, simple past continuous, and a piece of slang that is rarely heard in Thailand:
"But last night she said to me, when we were watching telly"
As we continue with this sad account of unrequited love and rejection, there are more examples of contemporary and idiomatic English that are very useful to foreign students:
"She said listen John, I love you
But there's this bloke, I fancy
I don't want to two time you, so it's the end for you and me."
"Who's this bloke I asked her
Goooooordon, she replied
Not that puff, I said dismayed
Yes but he's no puff she cried."
"(He's more of a man than you'll ever be)"
Here we go, two three four
Not only do we have examples of language, but we get a glimpse into the cultural complexities of life in the UK as John tries to console himself with saveloy and chips, and a pickled wally.
"I was so upset that I cried, all the way to the chip shop."
The song is rich grammatically. Past simple and past simple continuous are covered next:
"When I came out there was Gordon, standing at the bus stop"
"(And guess who was with him? Yeah, Julie, and they were both laughing at me)"
In the next verse the lyricist has obviously made an attempt to cover adjectives:
"Oh, she is cruel and heartless
to pack me for Gordon
Just cos he's better looking than me
Just cos he's cool and trendy"
And now the use of a noun to describe someone. The chorus could also be used as an introduction to current British politics.
"But I know he's a moron, Gordon is a moron
Gordon is a moron, Gordon is a moron"
"Here we go, two three four"
Some more useful adjectives, and a reprise that pretty much sums up life for many of us - "It's not fair."
"Oh she's a slag and he's a creep
She's a tart, he's very cheap
She is a slut, he thinks he's tough
She is a bitch, he is a puff
Yeah yeah, it's not fair
Yeah yeah, it's not fair"
"(I'm so upset)"
"I'm so upset, I'm so upset, yeah yeah"
The writer of the song obviously realised that his artistic work would be used later on to teach foreign students of English, and therefore he even covers modal verbs.
"(I ought to smash his face in.)"
... and comparatives:
"(Yeah, but he's bigger than me. In't he?)
Some more slang and the use of would (contracted) as a conditional auxiliary:
"(I know, I'll get my mate Barry to hit him. He'd flatten him)"
There are even question tags. John was probably an English teacher before Julie left him.
"(Yeah but Barry's a mate of Gordon's in'e?)"
"(Oh well, I don't care)"
"I don't care
I don't care
Cause she's a slag and he's a creep
She's a tart, he's very cheap
She is a slut, he thinks he's tough......
Who would have thought that a song about a sad love story released during the punk era would go on to be a TEFL masterpiece?
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