Living In Thailand Blog
Wednesday 31st July 2013
I used to get extremely angry with obnoxious Thai drivers, of whom there are many, and I used to make my feelings known to them. My wife pleaded with me not to retaliate, and other people told me the same thing. I had to learn my lesson the hard way and even though I hate the fact that they get away with completely unacceptable behaviour, you have to let them go. The reason? It is because certain Thai men, when angry, will not hesitate in killing people. This happens everywhere and not just on the roads.
My life is no longer my own. My wife and daughter depend on me and without me around they would have problems. I can't afford to take risks so now drive around with a contorted face as I hold my tongue, bite my lip, and turn the other cheek. Thailand is not a safe country.
Visitors to Thailand shouldn't be overly concerned, but should avoid conflicts with Thai men even if the men are being obnoxious or unreasonable.
Tuesday 30th July 2013
When we started these regular trips to Bangkok last year using Nok Air and flying into the old airport there was hardly anything at Don Meuang. It had been semi-deserted since the new airport opened and after that it was flooded.
All that has changed now. Other domestic flights are using Don Meuang in addition to Nok and lots of new facilities have opened. Bangkok's old international airport has a renewed sense of vibrancy. There didn't used to be any restaurants inside the departure area, just a couple of poor restaurants outside. Now, there are quite a few inside.
My taste bud treat today was to eat at Subway. There are lots of Subway branches in Bangkok and quite a few branches in areas of Thailand where there is a big farang population. South of Phuket, the next subway will either be in Malaysia or Singapore.
The sandwiches are expensive - almost Bt400 for some 12" sandwiches, but they taste great when you can't normally buy anything like this. My life in Thailand has suddenly become an overriding obsession with food.
Monday 29th July 2013
My ability to tolerate Bangkok used to last four days. I think the duration is now shorter. This is day number two and I'm ready to leave. For some reason I decided to visit the Khaosarn Road backpacker area. I don't know why; maybe I thought I could get some good Western food?
It was quite depressing observing the farang freak show while, at the same time, being observed by some decidedly dodgy, shifty-eyed farangs who were probably looking around for their next victims. We ate quickly and left.
My wife bought some takeaway street food and this evening I was given a free pass. I desperately wanted Indian food, but couldn't be bothered sitting in traffic jams going to places where I knew there was Indian food. I don't know Bangkok that well and decided to go for a stroll. I strolled in a direction I hadn't strolled before.
One of my pet hates in Thailand are the pseudo-friendly Indian tailors who stand outside their shops trying to shake hands and greet tourists as if they are old friends. For once in my life I was quite happy to see some Indian tailors this evening. I was looking for Indian food and the presence of Indian tailors meant that I was probably near.
I walked into the Watergate area and found quite a few restaurants. The one I chose wasn't the best in the world, but everything in life is relative. The food was far better than I can get in the provinces and it really hit the spot.
These trips to Bangkok are turning into gourmet fests. When I came to Thailand I never realised that I would start having so many problems with food. It's not the taste of any one particular kind of food; it is simply the lack of variety in the provinces and the fact I am bored shitless with the food that is available.
If I lived in Bangkok and ate my favourite food day after day I would eventually get bored with it. The great thing about Bangkok is the endless variety.
Sunday 28th July 2013
Bangkok, where I am at the moment, is a highly addictive city. I've visited the Thai capital many times, but never for very long. The longest I have ever stayed there is a week, and this current visit is only for a couple of nights. That's about enough, and I have found in the past that about four days is my limit as a tourist. After that I need to get out.
Paradoxically, I could probably live in Bangkok (as a single man) provided that I had a comfortable, isolated dwelling in which to live. Living somewhere and visiting as a tourist are never the same thing. In Bangkok it is essential to have a little sanctuary of peace in which to isolate yourself from all the frenetic activity outside.
There is no other place remotely like Bangkok anywhere else in Thailand. Not even close. My view of Thailand is from living in the provinces and when I think about some of the things I write they simply don't apply to Bangkok. Bangkok is a lot more cosmopolitan and the influence of foreigners is very strong. Bangkok hasn't been held back because of Thai narrow-mindedness, and thus it is streets ahead of anywhere else in Thailand.
One of my complaints in the provinces - even in one of the largest provincial towns in Thailand - is the limited choice of good food. When we arrived in Bangkok today I Googled various non-Thai food options in Bangkok.
Basically, whatever kind of food you desire from anywhere in the world is available in Bangkok, and not only that, you will find lots of choice and the highest quality. My wife wanted to eat pasta and we ended up going to Pomodoro on Sukhumvit Soi 11. It was excellent and I had the best pizza I've eaten in years.
The pizzas available where I live shouldn't even be called pizzas because they are nothing like real pizzas. We walked past some great looking Indian restaurants today and I even saw a sign for Spanish tapas.
Finding tapas in Hat Yai would have the same degree of difficulty as finding the Holy Grail, and the Indian food situation is also pretty dire. There is one mediocre Indian restaurant and a second branch of TOPS supermarket confirmed that they have stopped stocking Patak's Indian curry sauces. I can't even make Indian curries at home now.
Shopping is another huge plus point. Not only are there so many shops, markets and departments stores, but the range of products on offer is so much more diverse than anywhere else in Thailand. Bangkok really does have it all. The trouble is that it has too much
The city grows all the time and more and more people go there to live. The traffic is notoriously bad and every journey feels like a major expedition. The traffic today seemed even worse than usual. A taxi driver gave me various explanations for this - it's raining and there has been flooding in some areas, the red shirts are demonstrating again, Liverpool FC are in town and playing an exhibition game against a Thai team.
I have never driven in Bangkok, and quite honestly I wouldn't want to. I wouldn't want the hassle of driving in this traffic and it would be a nightmare finding places to park.
I find the public transport systems quite tiring to use and the same old problems exist with taxi drivers refusing to take you where you want to go. I thought this had got better recently, but today we had to ask about five drivers before finding one that would take us back to our hotel.
Property prices are also very high and unless you go quite a way out I would imagine that houses with some land in Bangkok are only for the very rich. Last year I saw a large billboard advertising houses for sale starting at Bt100 million. I saw some two bedroom condos for sale today that started at just under Bt10 million. We have quite a large four bedroom house and it cost considerably less than this.
With one child already and another on the way, the issue of schooling would be another factor if living in Bangkok. Once again, the situation in Bangkok is both good and bad. The very best of everything in Thailand is located in Bangkok, including schools and universities.
That's good, however, getting young children to school and back home again in Bangkok traffic wouldn't exactly be fun. The city is so large that living in any one place wouldn't be convenient for everything.
The hospitals and doctors in Bangkok are also the best in Thailand. When I had an eye problem several years ago, I ended up going to see a doctor at the Rutnin eye hospital in Bangkok. We are here currently for our daughter to see a doctor because he is the best in his field in Thailand.
There are so many good things about Bangkok and because there is so much going on all the time boredom is unlikely to be a problem, as it could be elsewhere in Thailand. At the same time, I regard my overall quality of life as being better in the provinces.
We live in a very comfortable house in a very quiet development. It's quiet, the air is clean, and if we avoid the morning and afternoon rush hour times it isn't too bad to get around.
Do I miss Bangkok? Sure. I miss the endless choice of food and shopping and I miss the fantastic temples and interesting areas, such as Chinatown.
Would I like to live there? If I was still single I could live there, but I'm not sure if I would want to. Maybe it would be a good experience for a year or two? With a young family, absolutely not.
I really enjoy my two visits to the capital each year and expect that we will keep making these trips for many years to come, but it is better for me personally not to live in Bangkok. I prefer to live outside and visit occasionally. The flight takes just over an hour, the airlines have regular promotional fares, and hotel prices in Bangkok are probably the lowest of any capital city in the world. It's an easy and convenient place to visit.
Of course, we are all very different and need to do what suits us best personally. Foreigners used to living in Bangkok with all it has to offer, especially single men, would probably get very bored in the provinces.
All the choice in Bangkok means that it is a lot easier to get through money quickly, and finding a decent place to live will be higher. To offset this, wages are higher in the capital if you work.
How do you choose where to live in Thailand? For many years I have lived my life using the maxim, "You can have anything, but you can't have everything." Life is always full of compromises.
I would like to have my lifestyle in the provinces along with all that is on offer in Bangkok. Unfortunately, I can't because this is impossible. I had to weigh up the pros and cons of each and decide what constituted the best compromise for me personally.
Of course, when you are married with children, what is important to you becomes irrelevant and you have to do what is best for your family. And if you don't realise already, most Thai females have a great desire to be near their families.
Many Thai girls move a long way from home in order to earn money to support their families, but with quite a few of them the long term objective is to return to their home town eventually. If you get involved with a Thai female she will more than likely play a big part in deciding where you are going to live.
I don't have any problems living in the town where my wife's family live because I had already chosen to live there before I met her. However, if I had got involved with an Isaan girl and she had then wanted me to return to her village in the middle of deepest, darkest, rural Isaan I think that I might have had a few problems.
If you think that provincial Thailand is boring, the boredom in rural Thailand is on another level.
Friday 26th July 2013
This time last week, the last thing I imagined was that this week I would be spending time in an intensive care unit. That's just where I have been and I only returned home yesterday.
Even as a kid I always had an underlying asthma problem, but it only surfaced when I caught a cold. I normally caught colds in the UK in September when the weather was changing and I got very wheezy and short of breath. Apart from that I was fine and played a lot of sport.
Since moving to Thailand it has got worse. Once again I normally have problems when the weather starts to change - around July or August - and the problem goes straight to my chest.
About three years ago I had two bouts of bronchitis in quick succession. I have never smoked. After this I started to suffer from shortness of breath all the time, especially at night.
On Monday my throat started to feel bad and it was worse by Tuesday. I could feel a lot of muck on my chest and I had a very painful chest when I coughed. I went to see the doctor on Tuesday evening and she gave me antibiotics for a chest infection and a cough suppressant.
I had a really bad night on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning the slightest physical exertion left me gasping for breath. I was unable to do anything and it was quite frightening.
My wife took me to the A&E room at the local hospital. They tested my heart, gave me a chest X-Ray, and said my heart and lungs were OK. They gave me oxygen and wanted me to stay in the ICU for a day. I was in there for a day and a half and although climbing the stairs still feels like running a double marathon and leaves me gasping for breath I am well enough to be home.
I have a follow up appointment and I will try to find out why this problem is suddenly a lot worse and whether anything can be done.
The Thai health system, once again, was excellent. In my 10 years in the country I have only ever had one problem and that was a misdiagnosis. While I was travelling once, a doctor in Chumpon told me I had a perforated eardrum when in fact the problem was just some loose earwax.
Apart from that the medical service has been excellent here. The hospitals are well run and the staff have always been caring and competent. I have already written about how good Thai dentists are, and the doctors are also very good.
The hospitals can basically be separated into three tiers. The public hospitals are always overcrowded with lots of poor Thais and look a bit uncomfortable. I visited my wife's father last week, who is currently in a public hospital, and there were lots of patients on beds in corridors because the wards and private rooms are full. They still get cared for but most farangs, I imagine, would feel a little uncomfortable in such conditions.
The middle range private hospitals (like the one I was in) are a big step up. I guess they are meant for middle class Thais and people with insurance. They still get very busy but they aren't as manic as the public hospitals.
Above that are the very fancy hospitals that look more like hotels. These are aimed at rich Thais, people with generous medical insurance cover, farangs with money, and medical tourists.
The medical service isn't any better at the fancy hotel-like hospitals, but the facilities are more comfortable and the staff more attractive. Seriously. A nurse friend of mine showed me around the private hospital where she worked. She couldn't wait to show me the pretty reception staff on the 2nd floor and she asked me very earnestly which hospital I thought had the most beautiful staff. These things matter to Thais.
One thing about the top tier hotels is that because they want to attract foreigners and medical tourists, English is spoken very well. While in hospital this week every interaction with both doctors and nurses was in Thai and their English was very poor. I've been living in Thailand for 10 years and can get by most of the time, but it could be difficult for those who speak little Thai.
You often find that doctors work at several hospitals, both public and private, and some also have their own private clinics. Doctors in Thailand can earn a lot of money, except they don't have any time to enjoy what they earn.
Some of the bigger public hospitals, especially the ones attached to universities, actually have much better research and laboratory facilities than even the fanciest private hospitals.
It amazes me that a country with so many social problems can have such a good medical system. It amazes me that so many Thai medical workers devote their lives to preserving and improving life, yet outside on the roads 35-40 lives, on average, (maybe more) are lost each day due to the anarchy, lawlessness and crass stupidity that takes place on Thai roads.
Amazing Thailand. I find the sobriquet 'Land of Contradictions' far more accurate that 'Land of Smiles'.
Running a large hospital must be a logistical nightmare. Not only do all the medical services and supplies need to be managed very carefully, but there is a highly complicated infrastructure behind all the medicine.
This says to me that if Thais can run large hospitals professionally, successfully and efficiently, they can do anything. It also says to me that what they fail to do isn't because they aren't capable, but because they can't be bothered. And it is some of the things they can't be bothered with, such as road safety, that bothers me personally.
Why does Thailand do some things so well and other things so badly?
On to a couple of serious points about health in Thailand.
Firstly, it isn't generally couples and happy families that expatriate to Thailand; it is usually single men. We go when we are healthy, we don't expect anything to go wrong with our health, and we're all big boys who can take care of ourselves. That's right, isn't it? Unfortunately, that isn't the case. As Buddhism reminds us, nothing in life is permanent and things can change very quickly.
A friend of a friend had a stroke a few months ago at home. Fortunately, his housekeeper found him otherwise he would have died. She contacted my friend, who is a very caring person and she took over. It took several weeks of her time to sort out his affairs and without her he probably would have died. He was a very lucky man.
First, she had to attend to his immediate needs and get him to hospital. It was by no means an easy task finding a hospital that would accept him. Then she had to find somewhere that would care for him 24 hours a day.
She had to sort out all his affairs at home, sell his possessions, and contact his family back in Australia. His brother will be collecting him soon and taking him back to Australia. Without his housekeeper and without my friend he would be dead by now.
Even a fairly mild bout of food poisoning can leave you feeling so weak that you can't do anything. If you are living alone in Thailand make sure that you have at least one trustworthy person who can help you out if such a crisis occurs. If you have a Thai 'girlfriend' make sure that she is the type who will care for and help you if need be. If she is only interested in the money that you give her, she's not going to stick around in an emergency.
Secondly, get health insurance. I have met farangs here who say that they are never ill and don't need insurance. I have also met farangs who live from hand to mouth and never have any money left over for insurance or emergencies.
On Sunday I felt fine. Three days later I was given a bill for almost Bt30,000, but I only had to pay Bt1,100 because I had insurance. I may actually consider increasing my health insurance coverage next year.
Thailand is a dangerous country. If you travel by road - and many farangs living in Thailand ride small motorbikes around - there is a high risk of being involved in a road accident.
The constant hot and humid climate is a perfect breeding ground for viruses, bacteria and fungus, and some of these can be very nasty indeed. There are lots of insects that carry disease, some are airborne, and food hygiene leaves a lot to be desired.
There are many ways that dangerous organisms can invade your body. In a very short space of time you can go from feeling on top of the world to being very ill.
It's everyone's personal decision, of course, but I regard health insurance as being very important in Thailand. In previous years my premium has cost me more than the medical services I used, but this year it has saved me a lot of money.
It is peace of mind as well, and you can't put a price on peace of mind. I was in a bad way earlier this week and the last thing I needed on top of my health problem was worrying about how I was going to pay a big bill.
Cosmetic surgery is also big business in Thailand. I found out some years ago that many Malaysians and Singaporeans visit Hat Yai to have cosmetic procedures performed because the work is cheaper in Thailand compared to home. The Thai doctors have good reputations and prices are very attractive.
I've met many Isaan girls who were born without bridges to their noses and subsequently underwent surgery to have silicon nose inserts implanted to improve the shape of their noses in particular and their entire faces in general. It looks very good and it can be done for about Bt10,000.
There is quite an obsession in East Asia with cosmetic surgery, South Korea especially so, with many South Koreans starting on the path to a lifetime of cosmetic surgery when they are in their teens.
Before I was married I had a brief relationship with a melodramatic Thai girl who acted out her life as if she was in a very bad Thai soap opera. She made a big thing about her natural breasts when it was obvious that they weren't natural at all. I can't stand the look and feel of breast implants. Girls who have them normally also require brain transplants.
If someone has a major pyschological problem about an aspect of their appearance that adversely affects their behaviour and quality of life I can understand them undergoing cosmetic surgery. But if girls have breast implants just because they believe that all men like big, round, unnatural looking tits, they are very mistaken.
The BBC carried an interesting article yesterday about a Thai cosmetic surgeon who keeps himself very busy. In addition to 'regular' procedures, there are a lot of men in this region who have breast implants because they want to be women.
Many girls in Thailand also rely solely on their looks for an income. The so-called 'pretties' wouldn't find promotional work if they weren't 'pretty' and prostitutes rely on their looks to get an income. When their looks start to fade many resort to the surgeon's knife and some even die in the process.
Most doctors are fine, but there are some rogues and it pays to do your research first.
Thursday 25th July 2013
A university professor I used to know was complaining about the poor quality air-conditioning in his building. He told me that when money is allocated for a large project in Thailand, 20% of that budget goes into people's back pockets. To make up for the shortfall, shortcuts or substandard materials have to be used. He told me that everyone knows what goes on, but you can't say anything otherwise you will be killed. When Bangkok's new international airport opened it had the same problems.
Other people have told me that this applies to every road built in Thailand. Road building is an expensive business and lots of money is allocated. Money disappears into back pockets and substandard work is carried out. Instead of roads lasting for many years, they need repairing after just a few years.
It's reassuring to hear that some people may actually be charged for using substandard materials in a suspension bridge, which later collapsed killing several people. If Thailand doesn't break these old habits, corruption will eventually kill the country. As I have said repeatedly, in the Thai value system money is always number one. Safety and people's lives always appear down the list after money.
The headline says they are likely to be charged, which doesn't mean they will be charged. And if they are charged it doesn't mean that they will be punished. The following quote from The Nation is in the preface of the book I have referred to below. It is dated 19/5/96.
"The (Thai) budget is like a popsicle that's passed around. Everyone gets a lick at it when it comes their way, so that by the time the one at the end of the line gets it, there's little left... Most of the time corrupt politicians and officials escape punishment. In fact, most of them continue to prosper and command respect in society."
Corruption is quite a complicated subject in Thailand and practices that would obviously be considered corrupt elsewhere are not necessarily considered corrupt in Thailand.
Despite all the progress being made in the country the old value systems, belief systems, and ways of doing business change very little.
If you are interested in learning more, the book 'Corruption & Democracy in Thailand' by Pasuk Phongphaichit and Sungsidh Piriyarangsan is excellent. I haven't read anything esle by Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, but Pasuk Phongphaichit and her husband, Chris Baker, are probably my favourite authors on Thailand.
The book explains very clearly how regional government used to operate, how administrative reforms occurred in the 1880's, and why the same old problems still occur.
During the days when officials weren't paid for their services, it was expected that they would claw back something for themselves. When taxes weren't collected centrally tax farmers were sent out to do the difficult job of collecting taxes and they would keep some money for themselves.
Tax farmers were expected to keep up to 30% and the limit for other transactions was 10%. It was only regarded as corruption when these limits were exceeded.
When bureaucrats started to receive salaries for the work they performed, the salaries were low and the bureaucrats couldn't live the lives they were accustomed to. They therefore received salaries but kept the old ways going to increase their income. Nothing much ever changes in Thailand.
It's an excellent book and well worth reading if you have an interest in Thailand.
Tuesday 23rd July 2013
And many, many more every single day. These tragedies aren't even headline news in Thailand. Horrendous road accidents are so common that they hardly seem worth reporting. Thousands of smaller fatal accidents go unreported by the Thai press.
The roads in Thailand are an absolute nightmare and nothing ever changes. Thais never learn from experience and there is no desire to change anything. No matter how many horrendous road accidents occur in the country, they will continue happening.
There are many things about Thailand that I will never understand. The complete apathy regarding the country's horrendously dangerous driving standards is one of them.
Today many more Thais will be grieving the loss of loved ones killed in yet another senseless tragedy on Thailand's roads. Passenger vehicles are driven way too fast in Thailand with aggressive drivers displaying their machismo.
Money always comes above safety. Drivers overload vehicles and drive like maniacs so that they can get in as many journeys as possible in a day in order to maximise profits.
There are no speed traps, no speed cameras, and no one to stop reckless and dangerous drivers. It's lawless and for as long as the country's roads remain lawless these terrible accidents will continue to happen.
Badminton is such a gentle sport, isn't it? And Thais are such friendly gentle people, aren't they?
Let's bust some more myths. Here is some Youtube footage of two Thai badminton players brawling during the men's doubles final in the 2013 Canada Open that took place in Vancouver recently.
Canadians expect Canadians to brawl in domestic ice hockey matches, but for foreign sportsmen to brawl during an international badminton tournament while representing their country is disgraceful.
I would imagine that the aggressive one of the two, Bodin 'Art' Issara, drives an oversized pickup truck back in Thailand. I encounter his type on Thai roads all the time. Jai rawn, as many Thai males are.
According to the book 'Essays on Thailand' by Thanapol Chadchaidee:
'.. the formal ceremony begins with the oral examination of the ordainee's qualifications. Some of the questions to be answered by the ordainees are, "Are you male? Are you free from debt? Have you your parents' permission to become a monk?"'
The gender question may sound strange if you don't know Thailand. If you do know Thailand, then you will realise that it isn't strange at all. There are lots of girls walking around who look like boys (known as Toms in Thailand, short for tomboys) and even more men walking around as women (ladyboys are known as ga-tur-ee in Thailand).
Despite the very high number of transsexuals in the country, they aren't generally accepted by Thai society at large and there are a limited number of occupations that ga-tur-ees can enter.
One airline adopted a policy of employing ga-tur-ee cabin crew, but this is unusual. If you go into any well respected company in Thailand you are unlikely to find any ladyboys.
I have seen quite a few working in the retail sector selling women's clothing. Another popular occupation is that of make-up artist. At weddings I have attended, including my own, ladyboys were responsible for the bride's make-up. Thai girls say that they do a better job than women.
There are also a number of ladyboy cabarets in Thailand, perhaps the most famous being the Tiffany Show in Pattaya, and once a year the Miss Tiffany's Universe ladyboy beauty contest takes place.
I can normally spot a ladyboy a mile away, but some of the contestants in this contest do look like very attractive girls. It's quite frightening.
In 2009 the contest was won by Sorrawee Nattee, whose nickname is Jazz. Apparently, her father was very enthusiastic about Honda cars.
Despite her newly acquired fame and wealth, Jazz renounced her ladyboy status. She returned to being a man and ordained as a monk in Songkhla ... as you do. He claimed, "I want to be a monk for the rest of my life and I'm ready to leave my worldly possessions behind."
As a ladyboy Jazz had had breast implants inserted, but these were removed before his ordination. He hadn't undergone complete transgender surgery and thus his wedding tackle is still intact.
As the Tourist Authority of Thailand likes to remind us with their advertising slogan, 'Amazing Thailand'. Yes, some of the things that go on in Thailand really are amazing.
I haven't seen one of my neighbours for quite a while, so went along to see him today. Our neighbours are fine people and it's a friendly, pleasant little community where people respect and help each other.
I found out that he ordained about a month ago. He will stay in the temple for the duration of the Rains Retreat and will therefore have completed four months as a monk when he disrobes in October. My wife was gobsmacked when I told her because this type of thing is quite unusual.
He's about 50, married, with grown up children. Normally Thai men ordain before they are married, around the age of 20, and don't stay in the temple for very long. They do it because it is expected of them and it gets them a lot of respect. The real reasons for ordaining are lost on short term monks.
My neighbour never spoke about his intention of ordaining and I can only guess that he has done it for all the right reasons. I have tremendous respect for him.
He has a very comfortable home and he no longer works. His wife runs a very successful multi-level marketing business and she is the breadwinner. He takes care of the house and garden.
Apart from some basic toiletries, his only possessions in the temple will be a robe, cloth bag, and alms bowl. He will be sleeping on a hard bed, getting up very early, and he will have no choice about what he eats.
However, he will learn a lot and I assume that this will be a life changing experience. It's unusual but not unique. The most intelligent Thai man I have ever met - a law professor at the university where I used to work - did a similar thing three years ago. He became very interested in genuine Buddhism and ordained for three months.
I couldn't do it. I am too attached to my home comforts and too fussy about my food. As I said, I have tremendous respect for people who ordain for several months and who do so for all the right reasons.
Along with my wife, we will visit him soon and give alms.
According to a report in The Times, British citizens travelling to Thailand are the second most likely to require consular assistance. First on the list is the Philippines. And it's getting worse, not better.
"There were 389 deaths of British nationals in Thailand in the year to March 2013 - about one for every 2,400 British visitors or residents - although that figure includes natural causes. Deaths and cases of hospital treatment for British citizens rose by about 30 per cent from the previous year."
Scams, as all visitors should know, are a big problem in Thailand and the scammers keep thinking of more ways to scam foreigners.
The article warns about bag snatching and robberies, renting jet-skis and motorbikes (where people will be charged large sums for pre-existing damage), and being drugged. And don't forget that the highest risk of all is being involved in a road accident. The Times article doesn't even mention how dangerous Thai roads are and this is the biggest danger of all in Thailand.
Unfortunately there are a lot of bad Thais in Thailand and they are drawn like magnets to the popular tourist resorts where naive foreigners are easy prey. If you decide to go to one of these places be very careful as there are lots of potential dangers.
Expats living in Thailand know what the country is like, but most tourists are incredibly naive. Perhaps the truth is finally getting out?
I walked past a white taxi yesterday and it had a sign on the back saying it was red when clearly it wasn't. I wrote about this recently. The driver was hanging around waiting for passengers so I stopped to find out why.
Firstly, he was stunned that I could read Thai and this resulted in a spontaneous round of applause from him and his two mates.
He was born on a Saturday. In a book he had read, it told him what were good car colours for people who were born on a Saturday. White wasn't one of them. He couldn't change the colour of his car, so instead he wrote on the back of his white car 'This car is red'. You see this all the time in Thailand.
He told me that the book he read was about Buddhism, but this is nonsense. Most Thais can't differentiate between what is Buddhism and what is the wider Thai belief system. They merge all their beliefs into one and refer to it as Buddhism, but a lot of Thai beliefs have nothing whatsoever to do with Buddhism.
Over the years I have read quite a few books about Buddhism - I am currently reading another - and in books about Buddhism you won't find anything about lucky colours, lucky names, lucky numbers, lucky amulets, or any other kind of superstitious nonsense.
Monday 22nd July 2013
I see road accidents all the time in Thailand. When I drove to the border town of Dannok last week, which takes about an hour, I saw two. It's a really bad road, yet despite this, Thais don't change their style of driving.
The road has two lanes and there are lots of huge container trucks going down to Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore imports 91% of its food and I suspect that a lot of food arrives from Thailand by road.
These huge trucks either trundle along very slowly or, once they have gathered speed, fly along at a rate of knots. Pickup trucks go even faster and continuously weave in and out of lanes to demonstrate the manliness of the drivers. There are also a lot of minivans on this road and Thai minivan drivers are notoriously fast and aggressive.
I stopped for one of the accidents and took a few photos. One of the privately operated Thai rescue and recovery services had already arrived and had administered first aid. They then took the motorcyclist to hospital.
He was from the countryside and the kind of Thai that completely ignores all rules and regulations. He wasn't wearing a crash helmet and his head was bleeding quite badly. He wasn't in as bad a state as two teenage boys I saw after a motorbike accident, but he wasn't at all good. Had he been wearing a crash helmet he would have been in a lot better shape, but trying to tell Thais from this socio-economic background is like speaking to a brick wall.
Driving in Thailand is not doing me any good at all. I've had a driving licence for 35 years and have driven in quite a few countries including Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Nothing compares to Thailand where the driving is just ugly.
While driving you have to pay attention to everything that's going on, of course, and when I am aware of what happens on Thai roads it makes my blood boil.
I am sick of looking in my mirror and seeing pickup trucks six inches behind my car, sick of stupid Thai men constantly trying to overtake and undertake me, sick of stupid Thai men always trying to get ahead of other road users by ignoring traffic laws and using wrong lanes, sick of seeing driving that is reckless in the extreme, and sick of never seeing any kind of law enforcement.
Today my wife and daughter went to the temple. I wasn't interested in going and went into town instead. I didn't take my car. There's a sawng-thaew service that runs past the front of my housing development and goes into town. When I go with my wife and daughter I don't have a choice; I have to drive. Today it was just me and I decided to go by sawng-thaew.
The fare is just Bt15 and it probably costs me Bt15 in petrol just to drive from my house to the front of the development. In addition to saving petrol I don't have to worry about finding a parking space, and best of all I don't have to pay any attention to the lunacy on Thai roads. As a passenger I find it easy to sit back and watch the scenery without paying any attention to other drivers.
Sawng-thaew drivers are some of the worst culprits for bad driving in Thailand, along with minivan drivers. They seem to think it is their right to be able to use the left turn lane or hard shoulder to get to the front of traffic queues.
This all comes down to the Thai obsession with money. The drivers aren't performing a public service, but are all individuals running private businesses. A lot of them drive back and forth between two fixed destinations all day.
If they drive like maniacs they might be able to make an extra journey each day and nothing is more important in Thailand than money. Money is always at the top of the list. Safety and due consideration for other road users are way down the list.
It's not all drivers, but the percentage of bad drivers is high enough to ensure that they are always there.
On the way back I sat in the cab next to the driver instead of sitting in the back of the truck. He was a reasonable guy and didn't drive like a maniac, even though he was guilty of some pretty bad manoeuvres.
We had a bit of a conversation. He was 65 and had two grown up children. He used to work in local government and retired five years ago. Pensions are almost unheard of in Thailand and therefore people have to continue working. He became a sawng-thaew driver.
He drives between the airport and centre of town and does this journey back and forth about six times a day. He uses about Bt500 worth of diesel a day and his daily profit is between Bt500 and Bt700 depending on the number of passengers.
He starts work at 7am and finishes at 5pm. He's at a time of his life when people want to start taking life easier and he didn't seem obsessed with money. He works six days a week and has Sunday off. I worked out that he earns about half the salary of a farang English teacher working in the provinces.
As I was sitting in the passenger seat of the cab I could see the challenges he has to face and, to some extent, could understand why he drove so badly. Thailand isn't a welfare state and people need to work to survive. Nothing is planned in Thailand, especially the road network, and you can understand why it is so chaotic.
His main focus is getting as many passengers on board as he can. As he was creeping along he nearly hit a car because he was looking out of the passenger door window for fares and not concentrating on his driving. Sawng-thaews will just stop in the middle lane and wait for passengers. They aren't bothered about holding up traffic; they are only interested in picking up passengers.
Passengers board while the sawng-thaew is in the left lane and then the driver may have to turn right, in which case he will cut across three or four lanes of traffic.
The Thai authorities should have planned for this type of passenger vehicle but planning ahead isn't big in Thailand. If they created special lanes - similar to bus lanes in England - or constructed laybys into which passenger vehicles could pull in to when picking up or dropping off passengers, the vehicles wouldn't block lanes.
The best solution would be to make public transport services in Thailand truly public. If the drivers only had to worry about providing a safe service and were paid a salary by the local government it would take the emphasis away from money and they wouldn't drive like maniacs.
If they weren't obsessed with making as much money as possible they might slow down a bit and minivan drivers might not be so tempted to overload their vans with as many passengers as possible.
The trouble then would be that the system would have to be regulated, otherwise some drivers would just stay in bed if they knew they were going to receive a regular salary at the end of the month.
Thailand is a fairly large country with a population of almost 70 million and there are a lot of vehicles on the road. The country has the sixth worst road accident death rate in the world.
There are two problems that are almost insurmountable. The first is that there doesn't appear to be any genuine desire to change anything. The government mounts advertising campaigns and puts up posters about safe driving, but there is no enforcement of any laws. The bad drivers have no deterrents and carry on how they have always carried on.
The second problem was that even if there was a genuine desire to change things, which there isn't, the problem has become so Herculean now that it is impossible to fix. Every time I go out in the car I see laws being broken constantly and at every set of traffic lights.
When you are waiting in traffic and see drivers flying up the wrong lane or using the hard shoulder to queue jump, you have to just ignore them. It is the same if they cut you up badly. I was told this many years ago, but had to learn the hard way.
Remonstrating with them won't change the way they drive. There is no police enforcement and in a situation where police are involved in an incident between a Thai and farang, the Thai will always win. That is how the Thai legal system work.
In the worst scenario you will be shot, beaten up, or attacked with an iron bar or something.
The worst thing I ever did in Thailand was start driving. Driving regularly has completely altered the way I regard Thailand, and especially Thai males. Unfortunately, with a wife and young baby - and because of where we live - I have to have a car.
I am aware that driving is worse elsewhere. I've heard horror stories about Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, China, and recently I saw a shocking video about driving in Russia.
However, for me personally, Thailand is the most uncivilised, dangerous, aggressive country in which I have ever driven.
Saturday 20th July 2013
Monday and Tuesday this coming week are public holidays in Thailand. Monday, as you probably already know, will see the arrival of the 15th day of the waxing moon of the 8th lunar month. It is known as Asarnha Bucha Day in Thailand.
On this day during the Buddha's lifetime he delivered his first sermon to his first five disciples at Benares in India. The usual candle ceremonies will take place at Buddhist temples all over Thailand along with merit-making ceremonies.
Tuesday is the first day of the waning moon of the 8th lunar month and signifies the start of the Buddhist Lent, or 'Rains Retreat'. This period is known as pun-saa in Thai and lasts for three lunar months.
Tuesday is kao pun-saa (kao - enter) and the 19th October 2013 is awk pun-saa (awk - exit).
Traditionally, Thai men ordained as monks during this three month period. They studied Buddhism, they accumulated merit, and their movement outdoors was restricted at a time when lots of new crops had just been planted. Staying in temples meant that they were less likely to step on and damage crops.
Thai men still ordain (bpai buat), but some only remain in the temple for a few days. They can't learn much in this time, but it is still a cause for big celebration. Men normally ordain around the age of 20 before they marry. This is so that all of the merit they accumulate goes to their parents before they have a wife. Making merit (tum buun) is a very important part of the Thai belief system.
Banks and government buildings close on these holidays. If you need to get paperwork done at government buildings in Thailand it's a good idea to buy a Thai calendar, which will highlight these holidays.
These days I have no idea when Easter will fall each year, but the Buddhist holidays I know.
I used to travel a lot in my old life. I travelled because I wasn't particularly happy with life in the UK and it was a form of escape. I was also fortunate to have enough disposable income whereby money wasn't a particular problem.
Since I moved to Thailand I have travelled very little. It doesn't worry me at all. I am generally a lot more content these days and don't feel the same need to travel. Besides, my income is a lot lower these days and I have other people to support. Wages are abysmal in Thailand and the money I earned while teaching never went very far.
One of the best vacations I went on was to Egypt. I went just after the Luxor Massacre, which occurred in November 1997. When these things happen tourists just stop going. In places where the only income for most people is from tourism it creates big problems and the locals suffer.
Egypt was suffering badly after their tourism industry dried up following the massacre and the country was desperate to try to get people back. There were some fantastic deals being offered on vacations to Egypt, but people still weren't going. Real dangers, such as Thai roads, worry me, but one-off terrorist incidents don't bother me at all. I booked a vacation in Hurghada on the Red Sea coast.
I can't remember the price, but I do remember that it was very cheap and I stayed in a magnificent hotel that under normal circumstances would have been significantly more expensive.
The locals were extremely grateful to anyone visiting the country and couldn't do enough to help. The weather was glorious, the food excellent, and the Middle Eastern culture was fascinating. I did a day's scuba diving which was fun, but cold. It wasn't like diving in Thailand where I have never suffered from being cold.
It is still a vacation that I remember with very fond memories.
With all the recent political turmoil in Egypt, the same thing has happened again.
Again, I feel sorry for the people whose livelihoods have dried up as a result of the tourist trade dying. However, if I was in Europe right now I would be searching out the current deals on vacations to Egypt.
There is a risk, of course, and if you are the type of person who worries about such things you shouldn't go. But for those prepared for a little adventure and risk there are always great bargains to be had. Unfortunately, in my current position a trip to Egypt isn't possible - even if I could get a very good deal.
Friday 19th July 2013
It's said that pornography has been the driving force behind the technological development of the Internet. Sex is a powerful driving force and the need for sex governs a lot of our behaviour. To survive and procreate are the most basic of human instincts.
Even when there is no desire to procreate, the pleasure derived from sex still makes it a very powerful force.
Entire districts in Thailand, and even entire towns, have appeared as a result of this basic need. There will always be a huge global demand for sex but, due to the cultural and religious considerations in many countries, the supply doesn't always meet demand.
In Thailand there are no such considerations, and money is the most important commodity in the Thai value system. Thailand is very happy to supply the demand and take the money that comes from this business.
There's a small place called Dannok on the Thai-Malaysian border - well, it used to be small. On either side of the border are the Thai and Malaysian immigration offices and there didn't use to be much else.
In the days when foreigners could live in Thailand indefinitely on 30 day stamps there used to be a constant stream of people arriving by minivan. They would get their Thai exit stamp, walk across the border, enter and exit Malaysia, and then re-enter Thailand. This would be done every 30 days and it was all perfectly legal.
Like most places in Thailand there was a 7-Eleven store, a few other small shops and street vendors, a few cheap hotels, and a few motorbike taxis, etc. It was no different to other areas of remote provincial Thailand.
But then something started to happen. Almost 25% of the Malaysian population is ethnic Chinese and just over 7% is ethnic Indian. Malaysia is a fairly strict Muslim country and the demands of a lot of non-Malay men living in the country aren't met. With Thailand just across the border where anything goes, it is an obvious destination for these men.
Chinese and Indian Malaysians have for a long time gone further into southern Thailand for their recreation, but it is obvious that somewhere right on the border would be much more convenient.
A few years ago this sleepy little border post containing almost nothing started to develop and the development is still ongoing. There is nothing there. The Sadao district in which it is located has a lot of rubber plantations and there are some large factories that turn raw para-rubber into products, such as rubber gloves.
There is no sea, no beach, no lakes, no ornate temples, nothing of any natural beauty. Nothing. It's a wasteland. However, the development continues at a fantastic rate. I went to take another look yesterday and was amazed how much had happened since I was last there.
Everything that was there used to be centered around the border area. A big hotel was built a few years ago about 300 yards from this area and it appeared to be a long way out of town. The town has grown so much that this hotel now appears to be in the centre of town. More construction is taking place further away from the border and most of the construction is hotels.
In Dannok there are lots of girls from the north and northeast of Thailand sitting or wandering around, wearing very little and staring into mirrors while applying their make-up. There are lots of 'Karaoke' shops where never a song is sung, The term 'Karaoke' is simply one of the many euphemisms for brothel used in Thailand.
There are lots of groups of ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysian men wandering around in little packs. There are lots of men who work there trying to find male customers for the girls they control. Interestingly, all of these men appear to be Malaysian despite Dannok being in Thailand. It's really not difficult to work out what the main industry is.
The Thais working in Dannok speak Chinese or Malay, but very little English. Some hotels even price their rooms in Ringgits. It is probably possible for Malaysians to spend a few days in Dannok without having to change any money. Ringgits are very welcome, Malaysian food is offered, and many signs are written in Malay and Chinese.
With so many people visiting from across the border, the town now has quite a sizeable permanent population. If a young girl from rural Thailand has the option of staying at home working in the rice fields for Bt100 a day or working in Dannok where she actually does no work and receives two thousand Baht a day or more, you can start to understand why so many poor Thai girls flock to Thailand's centres of prostitution.
As the number of tourists and permanent population have grown, so other services have moved into town. Some of the large Thai banks now have a small branch in Dannok, clinics have opened, and there is a branch of McDonalds.
At the moment, Dannok still isn't really on the map. It is well known to Malaysians, but I guess that not many Europeans or North Americans know about it. I think that this will change within 10 years. If the town continues to grow at this pace it will end up being quite big. One billboard advertisement I saw even implied that Dannok has aspirations to become the 'New Pattaya'.
I saw just two farang men yesterday, both in their late 60's or 70's. One was on a motorbike and I guess he lived in Thailand. One looked like a retiree who lived in Malaysia. He was driving a car with Malaysian licence plates and had come across the border for some fun.
What continues to amaze me is the driving force behind all this growth. I have watched the town grow for a number of years; I anticipate it will get a lot bigger; and all this growth is purely down to the demand for sex from over the border.
Of course, even sex gets boring and other things are required. Restaurants are springing up, Tesco Lotus has opened one of its dtaa-laat stores (smaller than a supermarket, but bigger than Tesco Express), and it's not inconceivable that there will be department stores, cinemas and other venues in the future.
I find all this quite incredible. As far as I know, there was no long term planning carried out to turn this little border post into a large town. It has all just happened as a result of the cross-border sex industry.
In my native England areas of prostitution have sprung up in certain areas of certain towns and cities, but I can't think of anywhere where the reverse is true and a town has grown up around an area of prostitution.
I find this fascinating, but also a little sad. In Thailand, everything has to be in Bangkok. My dentist ordered a crown for my broken tooth this week and it will be made in Bangkok. Why isn't there a regional centre making crowns for southern Thailand in southern Thailand? It would be skilled work and would employ lots of people.
Bangkok suffers from too many cars, too many people, and too much pollution. A lot of what is done in the capital could be done in the provinces. It would improve Bangkok, it would create opportunities outside, and it would allow provincial Thais to work and live near their families.
Opportunities in the provinces are few and far between, and the sex industry remains the only way in which many poor, young girls can earn a decent monthly wage.
Regarding the sex industry, I have no problems with it. It's better simply to match supply and demand instead of making laws that go against human nature. Governments would be better off regulating it than trying to ban it - which is impossible because trying to ban it would simply force it underground.
Give protection to girls who are forced into the industry unwillingly, regulate health checks, and take some tax. Apart from that, let nature take its course.
Having said that, Dannok makes me feel uneasy. As you enter it feels like fun. As a kid I was taken to the Essex coastal town of Southend-on-Sea occasionally by my parents. These resort towns feel like an escape from the monotony and seriousness of real life.
However, about three hours is all I can take in Dannok and then I have to leave. As I walk around I get constantly asked if I want a girl, I look at the expressions on the girls' faces, and I observe the expressions on the faces of the grinning packs of men who have arrived from across the border. It's not an environment in which I feel comfortable, and this is why I don't live in Pattaya.
The men are getting want they want, the girls are earning money to send back to their families, the pimps are earning money, the banks, restaurants and other service industries are all doing business. Everyone's happy, aren't they? But then I think about what everything is based on and it just doesn't seem right.
The only way to change things is for the powers that be to create more opportunity in the provinces. I would make plans to move a lot of industry out of Bangkok into the provinces, at the same time developing training programmes in local colleges to make sure there was a trained workforce.
I believe this would make things better for everyone and would provide alternatives to the sex industry. But foreigners have no influence in Thailand, and Thais do things their way. I don't envisage that anything much will change any time soon.
By the way, if you are thinking of going, none of the girls working in Dannok look anything like the beautiful, smiling girls in the big photos outside the Karaoke shops. I did see one or two reasonably attractive girls, but most were ordinary at best and some were less than ordinary.
These girls rarely smile. They wear cold, hard, cynical, wary, untrusting expressions on their faces. Considering what they do in order to earn money to support their families, it isn't really surprising.
Wednesday 17th July 2013
When you live in Thailand you will suffer from food poisoning occasionally. It's not a case of if, but when. Food hygiene isn't all it could or should be, and the microbes that cause the problems are invisible to the naked eye.
My first bout of food poisoning occurred about six months after moving to the country. I went to the local private hospital with my then girlfriend and they decided to admit me. I was taken to a private room and much to my surprise my girlfriend started preparing herself to stay the night.
When I stayed in hospital in the UK no one ever stayed with me. There were visiting hours, of course, in which I sometimes received visitors. Sometimes I didn't receive any visitors, and visitors were forbidden outside of visiting hours. To most foreigners this is how it is in hospital and it is perfectly normal.
Not in Thailand.
Whenever someone is in hospital, their partners or relatives are expected to stay with them all the time. When my Thai girlfriend was later admitted to hospital and realised that I had no intention of staying the night she got quite upset.
My wife's father had back surgery on Sunday and, as usual, the family members have been staging a 24 hour round-the-clock vigil. They take it in turns on a shift system and someone is always there with him.
My wife has been doing the day shift. She goes in the morning and returns in the evening. When she gets home, she sleeps, and then she goes again the next day. I like being home alone with just my cats for company, but with her effectively out of action I have been doing everything around the house and more. I'm getting a bit fed up with it.
As with many things in Thailand, I find this ridiculous. Apart from very young children, if someone is in hospital there is no need for them to be attended by their relatives 24 hours a day. Staff provide them with food, nurses give them medication and do regular checks, and in the event of a problem they have a button to press and nurses will come.
Their relatives don't have any medical training and can do nothing to help. They just waste their own time and it doesn't hurt the person in hospital to be alone for a few days. Why disrupt the lives of so many people when only one person is in hospital?
However, if you are foolish enough to suggest to a Thai that it is unnecessary, they react as if the person is on life support and your suggestion is akin to turning off their life support system. They look horrified at your callous remark.
Why do they act this way?
I'm never exactly sure why Thais behave the way they do, but I'm never short of a theory or two. The Thai 'education' system (I use the term loosely) and constant deference to others means that Thais grow up with very little self confidence.
When Thais see farangs travelling alone it is inconceivable to them that anyone would travel alone. Thais always travel in big tour groups, or at least with their families of several friends. To be in any situation alone is quite daunting, especially in hospital. That's one possible reason.
In addition, this is simply what happens in Thailand and Thais can't get beyond following accepted norms. To a Thai, it is a fact of life that when someone is in hospital other people will stay with them 24 hours a day. They accept this as an incommutable law of nature and wouldn't even dare to question it. This inability to think beyond what is accepted as normal in Thailand is quite typical.
On one occasion I did make the mistake of questioning my wife on why she thought it was necessary to stay with someone 24 hours a day in hospital. There was no logical answer, of course, so in response I just received an emotional rant with, "How would you like it?" attached to the end.
Well, actually, it wouldn't bother me at all. I would need something to occupy my mind, such as books or a small computer, but that's all. Watching Thai TV for more than about 10 minutes would result in me being sent to a hospital of a different kind, so that wouldn't be an option.
She then responded that she would still insist on staying with me because she couldn't trust me with the nurses.
You can't win. No matter how logical your argument may be and how illogical the Thai argument may be, in Thailand farangs never win any arguments. As I said yesterday, you get beaten down every single time.
Tuesday 16th July 2013
Thais never learn from their mistakes. Learning from mistakes is an important part of the learning process. When this doesn't happen, it is rather worrying. The same problems occur time after time.
In 2009 a waxwork's museum in Pattaya put up large billboard advertisements on the roadside featuring Hitler performing a Nazi salute. There were lots of complaints, of course.
A couple of years later some students in Chiang Mai decided that dressing up as Hitler and SS guards would be a good idea for a sports day parade.
As a tribute to this year's graduating class, a huge mural of superheroes was painted at one of Thailand's top universities. You've guessed it. The mural featured Hitler performing a Nazi salute.
It's also rather worrying that the education system only covers Thai history and that important world events aren't even mentioned. It actually goes further than this.
I helped a PhD student with his English language thesis many years ago. He lived in southern Thailand and said that there was nothing about southern Thailand in his history lessons at school. The only Thai history taught was that concerning the Ayuthaya and Sukothai periods.
Some find an alternative form of headwear that is more comfortable than a crash helmet. I've seen them riding around with fireman's helmets and construction worker helmets. I've also seen quite a few wearing replica German WW2 army helmets with a Swastika on one side and an SS flash on the other.
From the Yahoo report on this story: "The university said it was painted by ignorant students who had no idea the image of a dictator behind the genocide of millions of people would be offensive."
This is maybe difficult for foreigners to comprehend, but it is true. When I first started teaching as a naive, enthusiastic, idealistic, wet-behind-the-ears teacher I tried to organise a dinner party game for some senior high school students.
They would act out being important figures in history and the conversations over dinner could be very interesting. In theory it sounded good, but this is Thailand.
First, I asked them to think who they could be. They didn't have a clue. They came up with some obscure Thai pop singers who I had never heard of and Spiderman.
I tried to give a further explanation of the game, but by the looks on their faces I knew I was wasting my time. I abandoned the game and returned to playing Snakes and Ladders. As a teacher in Thailand you always get beaten down to the students' level, and even with university students this level is very low.
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