Living In Thailand Blog
Sunday 30th July 2017
In recent posts I've talked about some of my impressions of the UK after my trip there a couple of weeks ago, and how life in the UK differs to life in Thailand. Today, I'll talk about a few more of my views while the trip is still fairly fresh in my mind.
My impression is that Brits who live in England permanently have got used to all the changes that have taken place in recent years and now consider them normal. However, after returning following an absence of almost 14 years many things struck me as being very different compared to the England that I remember. Here's a random selection.
For prices I have used the current exchange rate, but the pound is very weak at the moment after Brexit. The following Thai prices may sound cheap compared to the pound, but before June last year - and hopefully again soon - they were cheaper.
I was expecting to feel cold all the time in England, but generally that wasn't the case. Even though I had missed the 35°C heat wave, daytime temperatures were still quite warm. However, as soon as the sun disappeared it felt chilly. After sunset and before sunrise it felt cool, and it was the same even if there was some cloud cover during the daytime. During the last two days of my trip there was rain and it felt cold, especially at night. The TV weather forecast said that parts of the UK had experienced overnight ground frosts ... in July!
In southern Thailand it's just hot and humid all the time, regardless of the time of year or the time of day. This can be quite a drain on the body's energy. At those times when the temperature does drop it is normally raining too heavily to do anything outside.
I brought back some old camera gear that I had left in my parents' loft in 2003. It was still functioning perfectly and worked just as it had done when I left it. Had I done the same thing in Thailand the humidity would have destroyed everything.
Another pleasure in the UK was to be able to sit outdoors or sleep at night with the windows open and not be pestered by mosquitoes and other biting insects all the time. And, of course, home owners in the UK don't have to worry about termites.
On my journey to Heathrow when I returned to Thailand, which included some rides on the London underground, the carriages were crammed full of people and with no air conditioning it was horribly hot. The tube system is extensive and convenient, but it is old and showing its age. The UK can get very hot at times during the summer months and with so little A/C around it feels uncomfortable. In tropical countries such as Thailand, of course, there is A/C everywhere.
Going back to the UK after such a long absence was like going to a foreign country. When I changed money at Suwarnabhumi I didn't recognise UK bank notes and while in the UK there were occasions when shop assistants had to help me find the correct coins from my pocket of change. As well as feeling like a foreign tourist I also acted like one at times.
In shops after making a purchase I found myself waiting for shop assistants to put my items into a plastic bag and give them to me, but after a few seconds I received an uncomfortable look and soon discovered that this no longer happens in the UK. Customers provide their own bags or pay five pence for a bag. Shops in the UK no longer supply free plastic bags.
Prices in the UK are horrendous. Bottles of drinking water that I saw in High Street shops were about £1.50 (Bt66). 7-Eleven in Thailand sells bottles of drinking water for Bt5 upwards and there are lots of fruit drinks between Bt13 and Bt20. Sandwiches in the UK were about £4.50 (almost Bt200).
After living in Thailand for a long time I have become accustomed to many things, but my stomach has never changed and will never change. The last thing I want to eat when I wake up is boiled rice and a fish curry, and I still have all my old food cravings.
It was great being able to get the food I like so easily in the UK. Prices were high, but I have to say that portions were large. I ate fish and chips with my Dad and my portion was so big that I couldn't finish it all.
The guy in the chip shop was very friendly and I have to sympathise with him. He told me that the price of fish has doubled in the last year and that there have also been increases in the price of potatoes and oil. Everyone suffers as a result of sky high UK prices.
I had a few Indian meals and each meal cost about £20 (Bt877). Earlier this year I found a great Indian restaurant in Bangkok called Rainbow. I actually prefer the Indian food at Rainbow compared to Indian restaurants in the UK and an excellent meal there costs less than Bt300.
My decision to sleep overnight at Heathrow airport to catch my early flight was because taxis and hotels are so expensive in the UK. These two items are huge bargains in Thailand and I have got so used to the cheap prices that I find UK prices unbearable.
I heard mixed reports about healthcare. There were some glowing reports about how people had been treated in hospitals, but I heard lots of complaints about how long it takes to see a doctor. My father has a respiratory problem and has to wait about three months to see a specialist doctor.
When I arrived I realised I had forgotten the medicine I use to control my asthma. In Thailand I simply buy it over the counter at a pharmacy. I discovered that it is only sold with a prescription in the UK and I couldn't get a prescription from my old surgery because it was closed at the weekend.
There is an emergency polyclinic in the next town, which I went to, but the waiting time to see a doctor was about four hours so I just went home. It is always so easy in Thailand to see a doctor or dentist and waiting times are never very long. Furthermore, Thai doctors, dentists and nurses are excellent.
My impression with the UK is that doctors and nurses do a great job, but with so many financial cuts they are simply overworked. This results in demotivated healthcare workers and long waiting times for patients.
Several hospitals in my home town have now been closed and I also heard that my old local police station has gone. Apparently, you can no longer walk in to speak to a policeman or report a crime in the same way as you used to be able to. Brits seems to be paying out a lot more these days while, at the same time, public services keep being reduced. From several people I heard the same phrase, "Where is all the money going?" It's a good question.
I have an intermittent foot problem and my foot was playing up yesterday making it quite uncomfortable to walk. It's probably a nerve or tendon that has become trapped or damaged. I went to a local massage shop where one of the ladies worked on my foot for an hour. Normally I relax and sleep during foot massages, but this one was really painful. However, after she had finished it felt a lot better. The cost was Bt200 (£4.56).
My home town now has a massage shop, which it didn't used to have when I lived there. An hour of massage there costs £45, about ten times more expensive than Thailand, and this is cheap for the UK. If you go for a Thai massage in London it will most probably be around £80 or more.
Thais get enormously excited about this kind of thing and dream about the massive salaries they could earn if they lived in the UK, but they don't seem to have any idea about how expensive it is to live in the UK.
Massage shop in the UK
After my foot massage yesterday I went for a haircut and this cost Bt70 (£1.60). It was a good haircut. The barber took a long time, was very attentive, and shaved all round the back of my neck and ears, etc, with a new razor blade. In my home town it seems that you can get your hair cut by a trainee for £15, but if you want it cut by an experienced stylist it can cost anything up to £50. Again, a big difference.
Additionally, tips will always be expected in the UK when you have a hair cut, ride in a taxi, or eat at a restaurant, etc. The situation isn't as bad as the US where restaurant wait staff use calculators to make sure that tips are at least 15%, but nonetheless tips are expected.
This isn't the case in Thailand. I tipped my massage lady Bt40 and my barber Bt30, but I have observed lots of Thais in barber shops and they never tip. In very basic restaurants there is no tipping. I was told by one Thai that it depends whether there is air-conditioning in the restaurant. If there is, then a tip will be given, but normally it is only very small. Even if a large group of people go out to eat the tip may only be Bt20.
UK hairdressing prices and, no doubt, prices are a lot more expensive in London
House prices in my home town have gone through the roof. The house in the following photo is a similar style to my own UK property, but mine is detached whereas this one is semi-detached and mine has two floors whereas this one is just the ground floor.
Half a house for sale in my home town
I would imagine that it offers minimal accommodation - a kitchen, bathroom, lounge and probably one bedroom (possibly two). Most houses in the UK tend to have very small rooms and I felt very enclosed in my parents' house, even though I used to live there. The price of this house for sale is equivalent to about Bt11 million at current exchange rates and for this amount of money you can buy a LOT of house in Thailand.
When I first entered the UK property market in the mid 80's I was earning about £10,000 per year and lenders would loan up to 3.5x a person's salary. That gave me a limit of £35,000 and there were lots of properties available for that kind of money. In the early 1980's it was even possible to buy decent apartments in London for that price.
Now that starter homes begin at £250,000 outside of London and many people work in the so-called 'gig economy' in which there is no long term job security, I don't know how many young people can afford to buy property. I'm just glad I was born when I was and that I'm not leaving school now.
There are some excellent schools in my home town. Once again, you need to be earning a lot of money to have your children educated at places such as Brentwood School, but even standard schools in the UK offer a much better education than the vast majority of schools in Thailand. As the father of two young children in Thailand and having taught at Thai schools, I have many serious concerns about the Thai education system.
I found Brits to be polite and well-mannered, but quite on edge. Going back to my home town after such a long absence felt strange and I don't know if I will ever go again. I was keen to take photos, especially of the things that have changed most. On two occasions over the course of four days I was asked why I was taking photographs. After taking tens of thousands of photographs in Thailand since 2003 I don't think I have ever been asked this question. Are Brits paranoid, or something?
Road manners and driving standards were infinitely better in the UK. I have explained to a few English friends how bad the driving standards are in Thailand and they have replied telling me that driving standards are now bad in the UK. This is absolutely not true.
Driving standards may have deteriorated in the UK in recent years, but they are still very good. I drove my father's car and other drivers followed traffic laws, showed consideration to fellow drivers, and exhibited good road manners. There was none of the insane, reckless, aggressive and unpredictable driving that I have to deal with constantly in Thailand and I didn't have a feeling that every car journey I went on was possibly going to be my last.
The very worst thing about living in Thailand is the appalling driving and this is reflected in Thailand having the second highest road fatality rate in the world.
The Thoreau quote that I have used several times before came to mind often while I was in the UK: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Pink Floyd also wrote, "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way," a lyric that probably took its inspiration from Thoreau.
During my time living in the United States people always seemed so enthusiastic about life. In the UK I sensed that many people didn't enjoy their jobs and just went through the motions, probably in the belief that there was no alternative, thus leading lives of quiet desperation.
Despite this, the few shop assistants that I spoke to did seem to be quite knowledgeable. As I have written about previously, I find that a lot of Thai shop assistants have very little technical knowledge and many aren't even aware of the products that are stocked in the shops in which they work.
Despite the high prices I saw I had been told previously that some items, such as electronics and mobile phones, are actually cheaper in the UK. However, after looking around Maplin and a few mobile phone shops I did not find this to be the case.
Everything was more expensive and the only things I bought were things that I can't buy locally in Thailand, such as OXO cubes. When we make spaghetti bolognese and similar dishes at home, they just don't taste the same without an OXO cube.
As I have described in other posts, Thailand isn't perfect. In fact, it is far from perfect. While in the UK I was desperate to get back to Thailand and now that I am back I don't miss the UK at all, even though there were a few nice moments.
There were also a few pleasant discoveries in my old home town
After I left in 2003 I never had any desire to go back and my recent trip was only because of personal issues. Having been back recently, my feelings haven't changed at all and I still have absolutely no desire to go back again.
Thailand may not be perfect, but as far as I am concerned it is a far better place to live for someone, such as myself, on limited means. For the same income I have a much higher quality of life in Thailand and everything is just so much easier. And not insignificantly, I have a young wife and family in Thailand that I would never have had if I had stayed in the UK. For men of a certain age, opportunities present themselves in Thailand that would never be available in a Western country.
While flying into and out of London the plane flew over some magnificent properties alongside the upper areas of the Thames in beautiful English countryside and I still believe that the UK can offer a lot to the very rich.
However, if you have a low, average or even slightly above average salary, the cost of living is so high in the UK that the quality of life will never be that great. If my foot continues to play up and I go for massages every day the cost will be almost inconsequential. This will definitely not be the case in the UK and the same applies to everything.
Another saying I have used a lot in life is, "You can anything, but you can't have everything." Nowhere is perfect and every country has good and bad aspects. You can't simply cherry pick and have all the good things in life with none of the bad stuff because that isn't possible. No matter where you choose to live, there will be compromises, sacrifices and things that you don't like.
It's therefore up to you to decide what are the important things in your life. You need to be brutally honest with yourself and only you can decide. It's no good allowing others to decide on your behalf or following some daft blog on the Internet written by some bloke you have never met because only you can decide what is important in your own life.
Saturday 29th July 2017
Amazon has just launched its Prime Now service in Singapore with plans to expand into other parts of Southeast Asia.
Although Singapore is located in Southeast Asia, it is completely unlike anywhere else in Southeast Asia. It is a tiny little nation state with excellent transport infrastructure and its inhabitants are mostly very wealthy. Even if Amazon has success in Singapore, success in other parts of the region will be another matter. Amazon has been an extraordinarily successful company, but this will be a hard nut to crack.
I have been browsing around Lazada's Thailand website quite a bit recently. Lazada's parent company is Alibaba and this large Chinese company seems to have sewn up most of the on-line selling business in this part of Asia.
Living in provincial Thailand can be quite frustrating when you want to buy anything that is slightly unusual, even if you live in the largest city in southern Thailand. Bangkok residents will not have this problem. I need a scanner to scan in the film negatives that I retrieved from the UK and I think I have decided which model I want.
Last week I went to several local retailers about purchasing this model and got exactly the same response. As I wrote previously, Thai vendors seem to enjoy telling customers, "Mai mee," (don't have) and they are quite uninterested in offering any more assistance after that.
I wasn't expecting local retailers to stock this particular model, but I was expecting that a few places could order it for me from Bangkok. Instead, they all told me that they couldn't order it because it isn't in their catalogue. I am now looking at other options, including buying on-line.
The problem is that I am happy to buy certain products on-line, but not items that are bulky and delicate, such as photo scanners containing sensitive optics and electronics.
Having looked at some camera equipment on Lazada being offered for sale cheaply I also have a few other concerns about buying on-line. I've seen the same retailers offering exactly the same items on their own websites and on Lazada, but the items on Lazada are significantly cheaper. Why?
The answer may lie in some customer reviews that I have read that have described items received as show products rather than new items straight out of the box. This indicates that the cheap items offered for sale on Lazada may not always be brand new, fresh-out-of-the-box items.
This only applies to some products. I recently ordered an adapter so that I can use some of my old manual focus lenses on current camera bodies and I'm sure that it will be a brand new item. It is coming from another country and hasn't arrived yet.
I can't use my credit card to pay for buying on-line in Thailand because my registered address is in the UK and I wanted goods to be sent to my address in Thailand. Many Thais don't have credit cards because their incomes are too low, but as a result of this the alternative payment systems in Thailand are very good.
When buying goods on-line, including aircraft tickets, all you have to do is select the 'Counter Service' option. You will then get a reference number that you can print and take to your nearest branch of 7-Eleven or Tesco Lotus and pay there. Once you pay, you receive a confirmation from the retailer that the transaction is complete. It works very well and there is only a small service charge.
PayPal is another option to pay on-line, but there is a problem in Thailand with PayPal. It seems to be almost impossible to add funds to a Thai PayPal account. You can receive funds sent from other PayPal users, but you can't top up your account from your Thai bank account. It is never a problem receiving money in Thailand, but getting money out of Thailand is another matter.
Being able to buy on-line is a good thing and I will continue buying things on-line that I consider are safe and low risk to buy on-line. However, with certain products I am happy to pay a little more and buy from a local retailer - provided that the local retailer can actually provide what it is that I want.
If something bought on-line is defective it is a pain to have to return it. The local camera shop I use offers very good service, I can check items before handing over any money, and I know that they will help me if there is a problem. Despite what some commentators will have us believe, I think there is still a place for bricks-and-mortar businesses alongside all of the on-line retailers.
Friday 28th July 2017
When I used to work at the local university I met quite a few Thais who had studied or worked abroad for lengthy periods and then returned to Thailand. They spoke of a phenomenon that I refer to as 'reverse culture shock'.
Foreigners coming to live in Thailand can suffer from culture shock, but Thais who live abroad for a while and get used to foreign culture can suffer from reverse culture shock when they come back to their own country. It was quite strange going back to the UK after almost 14 years and then returning to Thailand.
These two countries are diametrically opposed in many ways. There are some things that I really didn't like about the UK on my recent visit and for this reason I was desperate to return to Thailand. However, now that I am back in Thailand I find that many of the differences are just too extreme.
In my humble opinion, neither country is good and the ideal way of life would be somewhere in the middle (I always believe in the Buddhist Middle Path), but if I was forced to choose one of the extremes it would have to be Thailand.
Today I will talk about law and attitudes pertaining to following and enforcing laws.
Although Brits may not like all laws, there is a lot of respect for law. It's probably fair to say that Brits take pride in knowing and following laws and they expect other people to do the same. This is commendable, but the problem in the UK is that the enforcers of law tend to be exceptionally officious and petty. There is no room for common sense or pragmatism.
In Thailand it is completely the opposite. A Thai girl told me recently that laws are different in Thailand, but that's not correct. General laws and road laws are very similar, but what makes Thailand different are people's attitudes to following and enforcing laws. With particular regard to Thai roads, the following and enforcement of laws is virtually non-existent in many parts of Thailand. The exception seems to be Bangkok, but the provinces are a different matter.
I can understand why Brits in the UK get upset when they are stopped and fined for driving at 33mph in a 30mph zone and I can understand why so many Brits find living in Thailand uplifting, but driving on anarchic roads on which the fatality rate is the second highest in the world isn't ideal either.
What about parking?
I was horrified to find in my old home town that there aren't any free parking spaces anywhere. I used to order takeaway food and then go to collect it 15 minutes later, but now all those spaces where I used to park have parking meters.
When we went to register my mother's death at the local council offices we had to pay to park in the car park at the council offices. You have to pay to park everywhere and there are parking wardens everywhere to enforce payments, otherwise large fines are imposed.
Traffic warden in the UK
Residents in a certain part of London who park their cars in front of their houses now have another problem. The house were built in a period when very few people owned cars and the car park spaces aren't very big.
Most cars overhang the parking space and take up room on the pavement, but a new law means that if anyone's car overhangs the pavement by more than 50cm they will be fined. Some Brits are now actually being fined for parking outside their own houses. This is simply ridiculous, but it isn't untypical of modern-day Britain where political correctness has overtaken common sense in all aspects of life.
Contrast this with Thailand where people park absolutely anywhere. I have had people park right in front of my driveway so that I can't get my own car out of my own house. On several occasions I have been blocked in by inconsiderate people who park their cars in such a way that I can't get my car out and many traffic jams are caused because people just park in active lanes of traffic with their hazard warning lights flashing.
My wife's car completely blocked in - now we can't go anywhere
Many Thais seem to believe it is their right to park as close to where they are visiting as possible. They will not find a space some distance away and then walk. They just park in an active lane of traffic, turn on their hazard warning lights, and cause massive traffic jams.
Parking restrictions in the UK
Anyone who has visited Thailand will know that street food is sold everywhere (although the current government has taken steps to remove some of the clutter from the streets of Bangkok).
Anyone can prepare any kind of food and sell it anywhere. There are no laws about food hygiene and street food vendors don't care if they block pavements or create safety hazards with their charcoal burners and vats of boiling oil.
However, in the UK a five year-old girl set up a lemonade stand for festival goers and she received a penalty notice and fine.
In one country there are strictly enforced laws which are rigorously enforced, but there is extreme officiousness and no common sense. In the other country people can do anything they want and no laws are ever enforced. As I said above, the two countries are opposite extremes and neither is perfect.
On the way back to Thailand I had to go through security at Heathrow airport and although I didn't have any issues myself the security personnel were taking great delight in giving a group of students a very hard time.
It was obvious that these kids weren't a threat to anyone, but the surly woman at Heathrow was really enjoying throwing away all their drinks and anything else away that violated the current airport security guidelines.
I agree fully that security at airports these days is vitally important and that there have to be guidelines, but there also has to be common sense and pragmatism. At the other end of my journey, in Suwarnabhumi airport, the security personnel were a lot more relaxed and didn't demonstrate the same degree of officiousness.
People like this used to be referred to as 'Jobsworths' in the UK. They had to follow every law by the letter because, according to them, not to do so would be, "More than my job's worth."
Although I have become accustomed to the way things are in Thailand, I will never be able to accept everything as being right because clearly there are a lot of things that aren't right.
However, I found it quite an unpleasant experience going back to England and dealing with so much officiousness. Society needs laws to keep people in check and to prevent a minority making life unpleasant for the majority, but it can go too far.
Not all farangs living in Thailand share the same view. A German guy I once met expressed similar views to my own, but told me that his farang neighbours liked Thailand purely because of the way they could do anything and not get into trouble.
I have found that quite a few foreigners living in Thailand share this attitude, but if people do as they please all the time there is a very fine line between excessive personal freedom and anarchy.
Thursday 27th July 2017
While driving home from the school run today in very heavy traffic I was reminded of a little story I heard many years ago about the difference between heaven and hell.
In hell there were tables full of delicious food, but the only implements available with which to eat the food were six feet long chopsticks. The inhabitants of hell were hungry, miserable and frustrated because they couldn't get the food into their mouths with the long chopsticks.
Meanwhile in heaven there was the exact same food and the exact same chopsticks, but everyone was well-fed, contented and happy. The simple reason was that instead of only thinking about trying to feed themselves, they were feeding each other.
In the exact same situation life can be thoroughly miserable if people are selfish and inconsiderate, but if they don't only think about themselves and they consider and help other people things can be so much better.
Regardless of how Thais behave when they aren't driving, and regardless of how considerate the hotel staff were when you had a two week vacation in Phuket, Thai drivers are generally some of the most selfish, pig-headed and inconsiderate people I have ever come across.
Not only will they not give way to other traffic, they drive as close as possible to the vehicle in front to make absolutely sure that other vehicles can't get in front of them.
In situations where there is only enough space for a single car to get through (normally because a car has been parked inconsiderately and completely blocked a lane of traffic), they won't give way to oncoming traffic and have to be the first few.
With drivers in both directions having the same selfish attitude the result is that the vehicles get stuck and this causes delays. If they just waited a few seconds and allowed the vehicle in the other direction to come through the traffic would run a lot smoother. However, as I said above, Thais never consider other drivers, just themselves.
This habit of following the vehicle in front as close as possible results in junctions being blocked frequently. On several occasions I haven't been able to get out of a side road because Thais are afraid that is they leave a gap between themselves and the car in front, someone will get in the gap.
The inconsiderate and selfish behaviour on Thai roads is unbelievable. What surprises me most is that the culprits are often women in their little eco cars, such as Nissan Marchs or Suzuki Swifts.
As with all Thai behaviour I like to try to figure out what are the reasons behind it. I think that a major reason for this selfish behaviour is because Thai society is highly inequitable. If society isn't fair to people, then Thais see no reason why they should return any fairness. It ends up being a dog-eat-dog situation where everyone only thinks of them self.
On another level, it really doesn't help when every single vehicle has windows tinted so heavily that it is impossible to see the occupants. Not being able to see other drivers removes the human element and other cars are then just seen as inanimate objects.
It makes a big difference when you can interact with other drivers, but you can only do this if you can see them. A raised hand on the steering wheel as a sign of thanks and acknowledgment or a smile is much more likely to encourage good road manners and it tends to be contagious. If someone behaves well towards you on the road, then you are more likely to behave well towards someone else.
None of this interaction takes place in Thailand and whereas flashing the headlights in the UK might be an alternative way of saying thank you to another driver, it is regarded as an aggressive gesture in Thailand.
When a Thai driver flashes his lights it is not a polite invitation; it is a warning that he is coming through aggressively at high speed.
Tuesday 25th July 2017
After dropping the kids off at school this morning I visited a local clothes/flea market called Yun Yong with my wife. It has grown quite a lot since I last visited and it was quite good fun.
Cowboy boots, Yun Yong market, Hat Yai
The goods on sale range from complete junk, such as rusty scissors and broken can-openers, to good quality clothes that have never been worn. My wife is good at sorting the wheat from the chaff and she has bought some good quality clothes there for herself, me and the children. My favourite ever sun hat, which I have since lost, was bought at this market for just a few Baht and I have never been able to find another one like it.
Rusty scissors, Yun Yong market, Hat Yai
I enjoy looking at the antique items and the old bank notes and coins that are on sale. A single Baht has almost no value these days, but 90 years ago there were coins for a single satang, which is one-hundredth of one Baht.
Old coins, Yun Yong market, Hat Yai
There were no tourists at the market, despite Hat Yai attracting a lot of tourists from Malaysia and Singapore. However, I can guarantee that Gim Yong market in the town centre will be full of tourists, as will the Chok Dee dim-sum restaurant.
I find it quite disappointing that most tourists have so little imagination and simply go to the same tired old places all the time without bothering to venture out a little. This is one of the reasons why I haven't had any motivation to do much with my Hat Yai travel guide this year.
Golf clubs, Yun Yong market, Hat Yai
On the way back to my house, near the airport, I saw a tall, blonde farang girl carrying her backpack and walking along a road which has absolutely nothing of interest. I thought that she might be going to the airport, which would have taken her several hours to walk, so stopped and asked where she was going, thinking that I could offer her a lift. She was Scandinavian and told me that she was hitch-hiking to Malaysia. Mmmm.
She was young, not unattractive, and my wife told me later that she was bra-less. I hadn't noticed this myself, which is either a sign of getting old or a sign of losing all sexual interest in Western females. Probably the latter.
Since I have lived in Thailand there have been several stories of young Western girls who run into problems with Thai men while in Thailand. Feminists will argue that everyone has a right to do what they wish and that women are never responsible for being attacked sexually. I agree, but in Thailand you really do need to exercise some common sense, especially if you are a female travelling alone. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.
La Sardina 35mm camera, Yun Yong market, Hat Yai
On visits to Phuket town and other tourist resorts I have been shocked to see farang girls walking around in beachwear or bra-less with loose fitting tops. Firstly, Thai society - believe it or not - is very conservative and most Thais will not appreciate this kind of attire. Secondly, dressing like this sends out all the wrong signals and it can attract the wrong type of Thai men.
I would never recommend hitch-hiking for single female travellers in Thailand. With hitch-hiking there is a trade-off between saving money and safety. No country is absolutely safe, but if you are in a country that is regarded as being generally safe, yet expensive, I can see the justification. It might be a good idea in a country such as Switzerland.
However, in Thailand it is the complete opposite. Transport is very cheap and you can travel enormous distances for very little money. Combined with the fact that there are quite a few rogue males in the country, it is generally not a good idea. From Hat Yai the minivan fare down to Penang in Malaysia (about four hours) is only a few hundred Baht.
Posters and pictures for sale, Yun Yong market, Hat Yai
When I explained to my wife what the girl was doing I got the response that I was expecting. Thai girls think a lot of farang behaviour in Thailand is crazy and if farang girls wish to remain safe in Thailand they could do worse than to follow the example of the local girls.
The vast majority of Thais are fine, but there are a minority of Thai men who definite aren't fine. And one of the best ways for a farang female to attract bad Thai men is to saunter along a deserted road with her thumb sticking out asking for strangers to give her a lift. Another way is to visit deserted beaches alone at dusk and drink alcohol. What was I saying about using common sense?
I think that a lot of foreign tourists in Thailand are completely taken in by the 'Land of Smiles' sobriquet. Yes, most Thais are friendly and smile, but there is also a lot of crime and you need to take precautions and exercise lots of common sense to ensure your own safety. Don't be overly concerned, but when in Rome ... Take note of how the locals behave and don't do things that Thais would never dream of doing.
Saturday 22nd July 2017
Not once since I left the UK in 2003 have I ever had the slightest desire to return. There are plenty of other countries I visited as a tourist that I would like to return to, but my place of birth is right at the bottom of the list.
Recently, when I was obligated to return for personal reasons, I had no idea what I would be interested in and no idea about my feelings when I got there. Would I suddenly be overcome with an urgent desire to return to England? The short answer is absolutely not, but here are a few thoughts and impressions of my trip.
I'm not sure why, but I chose to fly on Qatar Air. The fares are reasonable and I had heard some good reports. It had been 14 years since I flew on a longhaul flight and it was something I was dreading.
I flew in cattle class and it was acceptable. There isn't a tremendous amount of legroom and - as usual - when flying with the cheapest ticket trying to sleep is very unsatisfactory. The male flight attendants were polite and efficient, but I much prefer being served by pretty females. That, plus the fact it is a direct flight, would be a good reason to use Thai Airways, but the cost is higher.
Qatar airways cabin crew staff come from all over and I heard recently that a few of my old (Thai) pupils are now flight attendants with Qatar. The same applies with the pilots and the pilot on my flight appeared to have an Australian accent. My biggest nightmare was being on a longhaul flight piloted by a Malaysian.
Hamad International Airport in Qatar is very futuristic and puts airports such as Heathrow to shame. With their culture of kiasu and always wanting to have the best, Singaporeans who have been able to claim for a long time that Changi is the best airport in the world must be getting quite worried about airports such as Hamad.
I flew out of Suwarnabhumi airport. The last time I used this airport was the first day it opened in 2006. It's large and functional, but I much prefer Don Meuang. The food in the food court at Suwarnabhumi was truly horrible.
Hamad International Airport in Qatar
Hamad International Airport in Qatar
Raffle prize at Hamad International Airport in Qatar
When I booked my flight my mother was still alive, but by the time I left she wasn't. This, therefore, rather altered the purpose of my visit. The original intention was to see her for the last time, but I ended up helping my father with the paperwork that is involved with a bereavement and the arrangements for the funeral.
Many relatives, old friends and neighbours visited the house while I was there and it was a pleasure seeing people who I imagined I would never see again.
When you fly over Thailand you see lots of temples and as the plane descended into Heathrow I started to see lots of church spires. I am not at all religious, but after I arrived at my parents' house I decided that I wanted to look at some churches.
I went along to a local church on the first Sunday I was there and the Sunday service was just about to start so I decided to sit in. This was the first time I had ever attended a church service voluntarily but, in light of my mother's recent passing, it seemed appropriate.
The vicar said some good things and I was fascinated with the interior of the church, which was stunningly beautiful. During my trip I enjoyed seeing all the old parts of England, but not anything new.
St Peter Church, South Weald
St Peter Church, South Weald
Deer eating your roses is better than termites eating your house
I also enjoyed visiting some old pubs and the new smoking laws are the best thing, by far, that has happened in the UK since I left.
England is full of fantastic pubs, many of them hundreds of years old, but my overriding memory of British pubs is the stench of tobacco smoke and the disgusting sight of overflowing ashtrays everywhere. Now, it is completely different.
Pubs are now smoke-free zones and along with the fact that most pubs now sell good food they are great places to visit.
The Boar's Head, Herongate
The Boar's Head, Herongate
The Spread Eagle, Brentwood
Even when I was living in the UK some of the old pubs had started to disappear and this trend has continued. It is very sad. The local High Street looks terrible these days. All of the small, independent shops and pubs have gone and have been replaced with the same shops and pubs that exist everywhere else.
UK High Street chain pub
I find these large, chain pubs to be completely lacking in character, but I can understand why they are popular. The UK is an expensive country and with the chain pubs' increased buying power they can offer much cheaper beer and food than the independent pubs. I had a good English breakfast in this pub for a very reasonable price.
Real English breakfast
Other historic buildings in the Brentwood have suffered mixed fates. Although Brentwood is now a regular commuter town for people working in London, it was once thick forest and to get there from London was quite an arduous journey.
The old Brentwood Moat House, now called the Marygreen Manor, has a very long history as a manor house and hunting lodge and was probably visited by Henry VIII and some of his wives. Portraits of his wives still hang inside.
It has been quite well preserved and is now an attractive hotel with a lot of the original character. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with the White Hart pub.
The White Hart is Brentwood's oldest pub, dating back to the 15th century. It was visited by royalty and then served as a coaching inn where drivers, passengers and horses could find a place to rest and sleep on the journey out of London into Essex.
It was always a classic reminder of Brentwood's history, but there were changes some years ago and now it is a tacky nightclub called Sugar Hut, which is frequented by the type of people have been responsible for giving the county of Essex such a bad reputation and it is featured in an equally tacky 'reality TV' show.
Some changes aren't always for the better
Brits, like Thais, love their cars and I couldn't believe how many expensive cars I saw in the UK. My brother picked me up at the airport in a rented Mercedes Benz AMG and as soon as we got on to the motorway we were overtaken by an Aston Martin with a licence plate '2 OLD'.
Apart from the obvious supercars, cars such as Mercedes, Audi, Porsche and BMW SUVs seemed to be very common. These models incur a huge import tax when sold in Thailand and are extremely expensive, but in the UK everyone seems to drive a Bt4 million car.
My home town was full of very expensive cars
Everything was extremely expensive and house prices are now crazy. This seems to make a lot of people happy, but unless they do something like I did and sell up and move to Thailand it doesn't really mean anything. People's houses may have a high value, but if they want to move to a bigger house in the same area they will still need a lot of money to move.
For this reason, and because the UK government applies a tax in the form of 'stamp duty' when people buy a house, I saw that many house owners had opted to extend their houses or convert the loft space to another room.
Loft conversion being carried out in the UK
While in the UK everything seemed so small. Roads were small, houses were small, and everything was packed together very tightly. It felt quite claustrophobic. Many Thais who are considered quite poor actually live in larger houses than many Brits who are considered quite wealthy.
I have more to write about, but I have been writing this post for quite a long time now and I can sense that my wife is getting irritated. More later.
Thursday 20th July 2017
When I started teaching myself to learn to read Thai in 2004 I preferred to practice in a natural way. I found text books to be mostly boring and irrelevant, so I just went out on the streets of Thailand where there was an infinite source of real-world practice material.
I only ever used Thai language menus in restaurants and I attempted to read every sign that I saw - it's a habit I never managed to break and I still do the same thing today.
Thais advertise services by posting advertisements on the streets and you will find that every electricity pole is covered with advertisements for various goods and services. There was one word that I saw repeatedly, but at first I didn't know what it meant.
The Thai word for termite
I dislike transliteration intensely, but if you can't read Thai it is pronounced something like 'bpluak'. The sheer number of advertisements for eliminating termite problems implied that it was a big problem in Thailand, but while I was living in rented apartment rooms it was never a problem. The apartment management dealt with pest problems or if there was a problem they wouldn't deal with I would simply move to another place.
This year it became a big problem in my house, but what risk is there of encountering a termite problem in Thailand? The following chart from Rentokil gives an indication.
Pest infestation risks in Thailand
'kwarm siang' means 'risk' in Thai, but you don't need to be able to read Thai to understand this chart. According to Rentokil, the risk of suffering a termite infestation is 95%.
Incidentally, my home has been hit by all of the pests in this chart (termites, cockroaches, mosquitoes, rats, flies, ants) ... plus a few others. Snakes aren't uncommon intruders in my garden (including baby cobras), birds attempt to nest in various part of the house - including rain gutters, and I recently had to deal with an Asian house shrew.
I should therefore not be to too surprised that there was a problem. Using these statistics, in the housing development where I live only three houses should not have a termite problem, but I suspect that all houses have a problem to some extent.
A couple of days ago my wife told me about another house nearby in which termites had eaten the expensive Starmark fitted kitchen. A number of other neighbours have discovered termites and seem to think that by spraying the area where they find termites that it fixes the problem. It doesn't.
We found termites in two places, however, when the wooden flooring was ripped out we found them everywhere. Simply spraying at the site of detection does no good at all.
One house in the development was sold last year and it had a massive termite infestation. I don't know whether the seller made this clear to the buyer, or not. Probably not. The new owner is obviously quite rich. The first thing he had done was to have a large swimming pool installed.
He has his own dedicated team of builders and they have been on-site for about a year. The house was completely gutted and remodelled. The termite problem probably wasn't an issue for the new owner, but if you buy a house in Thailand without having several million Baht spare to fix termite problems it might well be an issue.
The house buying process in Thailand seems very lax and solicitors and structural surveys don't appear to be necessary.
The work upstairs is now complete. The wooden flooring has been replaced with wood-effect tiles, as have the wooden stair treads, and the wooden stair rail has been replaced with a stainless unit using the original glass to keep costs down.
New tiles and stair rail - no more termite food
The original version
Despite all this work, which has cost me around Bt200,000 and thrown our lives into chaos for several weeks, there is still a problem. The downstairs of the house is already tiled, but we have found termites in one section of skirting board and one door frame.
Rentokil called a couple of days ago to do an inspection and recommended a very expensive (Bt27,000) baiting system. One of my readers from Malaysia recommended such a system and the company that was supposed to be protecting my home from termites offered a similar system for Bt10,000.
Basically, these systems include small boxes for indoor use and special containers that are inserted into the soil outside the house. Initially, they are filled with the kind of soft wood that termites like to eat and they are inspected every two weeks.
If evidence of termites is found at any of these stations, then a special growth inhibitor chemical is added. This gets taken back to the nest where the queen lives and gradually the colony is destroyed.
I'm not sure what to do at the moment. The Rentokil system sounds excessively expensive. I am quite annoyed with the previous company that I signed a contract with and am loathe to use their services again, but their Bt10,000 quote is a lot more attractive.
There are also a number of DIY systems from Malaysia advertised on the Internet and I could probably do it myself. The main problem has been fixed by removing the upstairs wooden flooring. Not only did this provide a large food source, but it provided termites with a method of getting around all parts of the house unseen.
I think I will give a few more local pest control companies a call to see what they quote. I'm sure that Rentokil will do a good job, but when international companies start operating in Thailand they tend to be very expensive. Also, the Bt27,000 quote is just for one year.
Sunday 16th July 2017
Here's just a very quick update for anyone who follows this blog.
At the beginning of this month I heard from my brother that my mother's condition had deteriorated considerably and after almost 14 years in Thailand I booked my first flight back to the UK on Monday 10th July.
I then heard that this date might not be soon enough so changed it to the earliest date possible, which was Friday 7th July - arriving in the UK on the 8th. It wasn't quick enough. She died in hospital on the 6th.
Back in the UK I gave my Dad some help with the paperwork involved for a bereavement and the funeral arrangements. There is quite a lot to do. He is not coping that well physically, mentally or emotionally.
The earliest date we could arrange the funeral for was the 18th July, therefore as well as arriving too late to see my Mum I also had to leave before the funeral. I would have stayed a little longer, but the situation at home recently has been extremely difficult for my wife with the two kids.
Since 2003 all of my aircraft journeys have only been an hour or so. The journey back to Thailand from the UK took around 36 hours door to door. It left me feeling drained and it is not an experience that I would wish to repeat any time soon. I had an early flight from Heathrow and travelled to the airport the evening before.
Prices for everything in the UK are disgusting and I resented paying a fortune for a hotel overnight at the airport or an early morning taxi. I slept in a chair at the airport and it wasn't the most comfortable night's sleep I have ever had, but it was free.
The journey home entailed three train rides, a night sleeping on a chair at Heathrow airport, a flight to Qatar, another flight to Bangkok (which was delayed 2.5 hours), a frantic taxi journey between Suwarnabhumi and Don Meuang airports, and another flight to Hat Yai where my wife collected me.
The builders have finally finished at home, but there is still quite a lot of mess and things need to be cleaned and put back in place. I spent most of Friday asleep after my mammoth journey, and after taking my lad to his school sports day on Saturday I spent most of the day assembling flat-pack furniture to replace the furniture that was eaten by termites. Today I have more of the same and need to pressure wash around the outside of the house.
I'm still not in a position where I can sit down at my computer for an extended period, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. My daughter is still in casts, but this latest episode of treatment should finish soon and once the house is straight I should be in a much better situation.
I left the UK in 2003 with a very negative attitude about the country and as an outsider looking in for 14 years those views have never improved. I was very interested to find out what I thought about the UK upon going back after an extended absence.
There were a few things I enjoyed, but generally I found the UK to be miserable, depressing and horribly expensive. I couldn't wait to get back to Thailand and after the plane touched down in Bangkok I felt like kneeling down and kissing the ground.
This euphoria lasted until I took my son to his sports day and had to contend with the thoroughly rude and inconsiderate manner in which some Thais behave. I had to remember to park my car in such a way that it wasn't possible for anyone to park behind. In Thailand if you leave any space behind your car someone will park there making it impossible to get out and they just don't care.
After the event there were balloons for sale for the children and while waiting politely to be served, everyone just surged to the front shouting at the vendor with absolutely no awareness that people ahead of them were waiting. This type of behaviour, unfortunate, is not uncommon in Thailand. I told the guy which balloon my son wanted and as he passed it over a woman snatched it out of his hand. I couldn't believe it and she didn't even respond when I told her in Thai that she had no manners.
It goes to show that nowhere is perfect. In the UK there is lots of respect for queueing, but this is non-existent in Thailand. Last week I drove, and was driven, in the UK and although Brits drive quite fast I didn't see one single instance of stupidity. On every single journey I make on the roads in Thailand I witness multiple instances of stupidity, some bordering on insanity.
I was also amazed in the UK that whenever I stopped to cross a pedestrian crossing drivers in both directions would screech to a halt. This NEVER happens in Thailand.
So, good and bad in both places, but overall Thailand - in my very humble opinion - is a far, far better place to live and on my meagre income I have a much higher standard of living in the Land of Smiles.
I managed to take a few photos in the UK and I also managed to retrieve thousands of negative from the days when I used to shoot film - from around 1982 to 2003. These include photos taken on vacations during this period, including vacations in Thailand when I was a tourist rather than an expat.
I need to buy myself a suitable scanner to digitise these negatives and in due course I will add some of the photos to my site. I hope to be able to get back on course with my site updates within a month.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand