Living In Thailand Blog
Sunday 30th June 2013
I have just returned from a short break to Khanom beach in Nakhon Sri Thammarat province with my wife and daughter. I can't stand the major tourist resorts in Thailand and we go to places where only Thais and a handful of foreign tourists go.
I find the main tourist resorts extremely tacky. These places attract both the worst kind of foreigners and the worst kind of Thais. I don't want to be hassled by Indian tailors trying to sell me badly made suits, I don't want to be in the same place as sex tourists, and I don't want cheating Thais continually trying to rip me off.
I like Krabi main town and some other districts, but stay away from Ao Nang beach. I went to Samui in 1987 when there was virtually no tourist infrastructure and it was too quiet for me. I went again in 2002 and it was bearable. I have no desire to go back again, especially with all the problems there.
We went for a short trip to Trang province last year and it was great. Hotels in Thailand are always a bargain at any time of year, but in the low season the deals get even better. We stayed at the Anantara Si Kao Resort and it was a fantastic experience.
I was hoping for a similar experience in Nakhon, but the Aava hotel where we stayed was disappointing. It sounded fine in the advertising blurb, but we were quite unimpressed. It was run by foreigners and aimed at foreign tourists who know nothing about Thailand, and who only seem to be interested in having a swimming pool and 'tropical bathroom' with a rainshower and a few pebbles in the shower enclosure. Other hotels in the area are a lot better value for money.
Khanom is located near to Surat Thani province and quite close to Don Sak pier where boats depart for Samui island. You can see Samui island from the beach. There isn't a lot there, but that's good. Over development due to mass tourism has completely ruined many parts of Thailand and continues to do so.
An enormous amount of fruit is grown in Nakhon Sri Thammarat province. We stopped to ask directions on one occasion and the woman we asked was running a small minimart right out in the sticks among fruit plantations. My wife bought a chunk of fresh-off-the-tree jackfruit for Bt10. It was delicious. At Tesco Lotus yesterday we saw smaller portion of jackfruit being sold for Bt59 and it wasn't as fresh.
I've heard potential retirees asking where they should live in Thailand. We are all different and it isn't really advice that other people can give. What are the things you like? One man's meat is another man's poison and apparently there are lots of farangs who love Pattaya. You need to choose yourself, but the good thing about Thailand is that there is somewhere to suit everyone.
Foreign men who marry Thai women often end up back in her home town or village. Ted, who we met recently, did what many foreign men do and went to live in a small village in rural Isaan. This is something that would drive me crazy with boredom. Before making any big commitments, it's probably best to check out the location first.
I met a Swedish guy last week who had set up a restaurant in his wife's home town. He seemed very pleased to meet me. He didn't speak any Thai and I don't think he had many opportunities to hold conversations. Apparently, his wife didn't want him to learn Thai. He assumed this was so that he couldn't understand what she was saying.
I've heard this type of thing before and my suggestion would be to make an effort with the language. You can feel quite isolated in a very different culture and if you can't understand anything it isolates you even more.
We encountered a police roadblock and it was a slightly strange experience. Thais who don't deal with foreigners all the time don't tend to speak English very well. I asked him in Thai if he wanted to see my driving licence. He didn't. He only wanted to know where I came from originally. I don't know why they were stopping people or who they were after.
On the way back I saw a cop standing in the middle of the road. He wasn't making any gestures and I didn't know whether to stop or to drive around him. I stopped to be on the safe side. My wife wound down the window and he looked very surprised as to why I had stopped. That was also strange. I'm not accustomed to seeing cops standing in the middle of the road for no reason.
One of the best purchases I have made in Thailand was a Garmin SatNav device. These things weren't widely available when I left the UK (as they are now) and I really just bought it as a novelty. However, it has been much more than that and it has helped enormously.
When my car started to misfire because of a bad ignition coil a couple of years ago it got us to the nearest Ford service centre. Road signage in Thailand is quite poor - even if you can read Thai.
You might see a sign for something on one road, but when you come to the next junction there isn't another sign telling you which way to turn. It always seems easy looking at a map, but many roads have no signs telling you the road number and some roads are very small and easy to drive past.
My wife, who like most women is hopeless at reading maps, has become quite adept at using the SatNav. I leave her to programme it most of the time and then just follow the instructions. It has got us to places that I would never have found on my own.
It's not perfect. We attempted to find a cave and there was no road where it told us to turn. We found the cave by asking a local, but the SatNav was hopelessly wrong.
While coming back and approaching a junction where you could go straight or turn left, it told us to turn right. Technically it was correct, but first I needed to turn left and then go under overpass in order to turn right. This was confusing and could have been handled better.
If you drive regularly in Thailand, I would strongly recommend buying a SatNav. I have mine set in Thai and don't know how it performs in English. The reason I did this was because of transliteration. Well known places, such as Phuket, have a standard transliterated spelling, but what about lesser known places. If you hear a name in Thai, how do you know what the transliterated spelling is? In Thai there is only one spelling.
I've been busy since we got back. The house and garden, as ever, take up a lot of my time and I also bought a new camera, which I am trying to write about on another area of this website.
I will try to get back to this soon.
Sunday 23rd June 2013
I was pleased to see that three new sets of traffic lights have been installed near to where I live recently. The airport road, on which there are now two sets of lights, is a nightmare. Drivers just put their foot to the floor and drive at crazy speeds. I often see accidents and some are quite nasty.
Having to stop twice now will at least curtail their speed a little. There will still be a number of drivers who simply ignore the red lights, but this will help quite a bit.
What I would really like to see is a serious police clampdown where speeding drivers are caught and fined. Speeding cameras would be ideal but they are non-existent here. I have only ever seen the police operate a speed trap once and ironically I got caught!
The maniacs that drive at 120kph or faster get away with it, but I got a Bt300 fine for driving at 65kph in a 60kph zone on an almost empty road. The police were out with their radar trap one day and then were never seen again.
Friday 21st June 2013
The Pollution Standard Index (PSI) level in Singapore rose to over 400 earlier today.
According to the Singapore government website, this is 'very hazardous' and "May be life threatening to ill and elderly persons. Healthy people experience adverse symptoms that affect normal activity."
The language being used in official statements is very guarded, along the lines of 'diplomatic relations being strained', however, I would imagine that the high level talks are beginning to get quite heated.
Singapore is one of the strangest little places I have ever visited. It is tiny, but very developed and immensely rich in terms of cash resources. However, it is immensely poor in terms of natural resources.
The little nation state has a lot of clout in the region because of its financial wealth but has to import a lot of its food, relies on Malaysia for water, and relies on countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia and Burma for sand and building materials for construction and land reclamation projects, etc.
This dependence means that Singapore can't afford to upset Indonesia too much, but Singaporeans are used to a very high standard of living and clean environment and they won't be at all happy having to live with this smog.
Thursday 20th June 2013
I thought that the weather might finally have started to cool down, but it was 34°C again today. It was 30°C a couple of days ago and my wife remarked how cool it felt. It did. If the temperature in the UK exceeds 20°C it is described as a heatwave and worthy of a frontpage headline in the tabloids.
I would freeze if I had to go back - even in the summer.
There are a lot of wealthy Indonesians and they like buying property in Singapore, where they can mingle with lots of other wealthy people. The smog in Singapore has been caused by slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia, and it's getting worse.
I visited the local 'fresh market' with my wife yesterday. I stopped eating pork after I came to live in Thailand as a result of visiting Thai fresh markets. The combined sights and smells of pork being sold at these markets was just too much for me.
The whole pig - head, innards, the lot - is laid out on a table in 30-something degrees of heat without any refrigeration or any protection from flies. The meat is soon covered with flies and people buy it as if this is perfectly normal. In Thailand this is perfectly normal.
Things never change much in Thailand. The photo above taken at the market yesterday is just a small crop showing a few fish, but I can count 11 flies. Click on the small photo for a larger image. There were swarms of flies on the meat and fish being sold.
Thais will complain about being poor but surely it wouldn't be too expensive to sell meat and fish in more hygienic conditions, would it? The real problem is that no one is bothered and consequently there is no will or perceived need to change anything.
As I walk around these places I can't believe that vendors find it quite acceptable to sell meat that is crawling with flies, or that customers buy meat that is crawling with flies. Most local restaurant owners buy their meat, fish and seafood from the local fresh markets.
Where we used to live, I stopped eating at certain restaurants for the same reason. Whenever the cook wasn't preparing food, there was a swarm of flies on the food preparation surface. It made my stomach feel queasy.
A few vendors make an effort to keep flies away by waving a stick around, but as soon as they stop the flies return. One vendor yesterday had rigged up a small motor above her food stall that spun some sticks around to keep flies away. It was an improvement, but there were still flies on her food.
When I was up in Isaan some years ago you could tell where the som-tum lady was because that was where you could see the biggest swarm of flies.
I find that buying fruit and vegetables from fresh markets is acceptable because firstly it doesn't attract as many flies, and secondly it is protected by a peel. I'm just not so keen on the fish and meat being sold.
The following is possibly a scripted and faked video, but this kind of thing is highly believable in Thailand: A foreigner getting into a situation he doesn't understand and a little Thai man compensating for his small stature with the aid of a gun or an oversized pickup truck.
The comment on the video says that not everything is as it seems in Thailand. I would go a stage further than that. Nothing is ever as it seems in Thailand. This dispute was over a Thai girl.
Every time I go out in my car, little Thai men who can barely see over the steering wheel try to intimidate me in their big pickup trucks, and no doubt a few have guns. 40% of Thai men are fine, but this is typical of how the other 60% behave.
If you meet an attractive, young girl in Thailand be aware of two things. Firstly, she will swear that she is single. Secondly, there will most likely be a Thai man (or Thai men) somewhere in the background. This may not become evident for a long time, but the skeleton will come out of the cupboard eventually.
Thais form relationships at a very young age, often when the girls are too young to really know what they are doing. After that the Thai man regards the girl as his personal property, regardless of how he treats her, what he gets up to with other girls, or whether or not she wants to be with him. The men are very insecure (especially with regard to rival farang men) and very possessive. Many have a nasty habit of physically bullying and intimidating women and some will turn their anger on the other men involved. Remember that life is cheap in Thailand and that the criminal justice system will always favour Thais over foreigners.
I used to chat with quite an attractive girl who worked at a laundry shop near to where I stayed. One day I was talking to her and there was a Thai man lurking around. The conversation went on for a while and obviously this was making him feel very insecure.
He then came and stood in between me and the girl to force us to stop talking. He was almost in tears and it was quite pathetic. I had no interest in her and just laughed at him.
After I first arrived in Thailand I was speaking to a farang and he told me his story. He had been living with a Thai girl for about 10 months and one day there was a knock on the door. It was a Thai man who announced himself as the girl's husband and said that he wanted his wife back.
Nothing is ever as it seems in Thailand and that sweet, perfect, innocent little girl that you met will very likely have lots of hidden secrets beneath the demure and smiling exterior.
It could be husbands or boyfriends in the background, her own debt problems, or various kinds of problems (debt/medical) that her family has. Many poor Thai girls working in tourist resorts also have children being looked after back at home with her family that they don't bother mentioning. Remember that when you marry a Thai girl you also marry her family and she will expect you to take care of them the same way as you take care of her.
Tuesday 18th June 2013
On 13th August 2005 I looked outside from my apartment in the deep south of Thailand and could hardly see anything in the distance. A thick haze covered the whole area and reduced visibility considerably.
The photo here (click for a larger image) is of a tall condo building about a kilometre away. This is exactly how the photo came out of my camera with no Photoshopping. You can hardly see the building. The problem had been caused by slash-and-burn farming techniques in Indonesia.
Nothing quite as bad has happened here since then, but Singapore and some parts of Malaysia are now suffering badly from the same problem and the polluted air constitutes a serious health risk. This problem is bad enough for healthy people, but for those suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases it can be life threatening.
The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was signed in 2002, but still the problem occurs.
The risk of dengue fever isn't confined only to provincial Thailand.
We've all heard of money laundering, but 'car laundering'???
Only in Thailand ...
Monday 17th June 2013
I have some potted plants that I believe are called Adenium. They're attractive plants, they come in a variety of colours, they flower throughout the year, and they are very hardy. My fingers aren't green and plants in my care don't usually last very long. These are great. Even if I neglect them for ages, they survive with no problems.
I bought the first one at a local agricultural fair in 2004. It's still going strong and the bulbous root is now quite large. I bought it for about Bt100 and a garden centre owner told me that it was now worth over Bt1,000. I should have invested in plants many years ago instead of being stupid and investing my money in stock markets.
These plants are tough, but there is one problem. Every now and again they are assaulted by huge, green caterpillars with fake blue eyes. These things are horrible and they may even be poisonous. Google tells me that they come from the Oleander Hawk Moth.
They are perfectly camouflaged against the leaves and very difficult to see. My wife has a phobia about caterpillars and worms ('nawn' with a rising tone in Thai) and freaks out whenever she finds some. I then get the task of removing them.
Even when she tells me that there are lots, I have difficulty seeing them at first. When you think you have removed all of them, there are normally a few more lurking that you didn't see at first. They defecate and whenever I see small caterpillar poop pellets on the floor, that is the first sign I have that they are around. I found two more this morning.
They have voracious appetites and if I don't find them until three or four days after they arrive they will eat every leaf and every flower on my plants.
My battle with caterpillars is sporadic. My ongoing battle with ants is daily. The situation seems to be getting worse and I am finding more every day. In addition to eliminating the ones I find, I've been trying to find where they are coming from. This isn't always easy. However, I found that they have been building nests behind the coving where the walls meet the ceiling.
My other battle is with algae in my fishpond. When I have time I intend to write more about this subject later. Since we moved to this house, the green water problem has taken up a huge amount of my time. It still isn't perfect, but it is now at a manageable level.
I found out yesterday that there may be another battle on the horizon. My wife told me that she has heard noises coming from the roof cavity three of four times. She said it sounds like something running across the ceiling and she suspects it may be a rat or a large lizard.
I manage to win some battles now and again, but the war never ends.
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