Living In Thailand Blog
Wednesday 24th June 2015
Amazing Thailand ... the perfect tropical paradise
Thailand is a great vacation destination. In my previous existence in the UK I was fortunate enough to travel to quite a few countries and I probably enjoyed vacationing in Thailand more than anywhere else. Tourists tend to go to tourist areas where they are isolated from a lot of the crap in Thailand and they are never around long enough to really understand Thailand, which takes several years.
Living in Thailand is an entirely different proposition. Life in Thailand can be quite satisfactory for some, but for others it may simply not work out. One of the main problems is that people only find out the truth about Thailand after going there to live, by which time they may have already burnt too many bridges.
One of my main motivations for starting this site was because my personal observations of Thailand didn't correspond with much that I read about Thailand. Various accounts I read about Thailand didn't necessarily lie, but they were heavily edited with huge omissions and they created a completely different picture of the country to the one that I saw with my own eyes.
When writing about somewhere, why would people make huge omissions in order to create a version of reality that isn't completely truthful?
Information is never free and providers of news and information always have an agenda of some kind. The agenda of an individual may simply be to try to make other people envious of living in Thailand. I have seen several forum posts about Thailand in which posters living in Thailand make a big thing about the fact they live in Thailand and how great it is. Highlighting the negatives wouldn't fit in with their own personal agenda.
Large media channels tend to have more of a political agenda. The BBC has a left-wing agenda, while Fox News is the opposite. The BBC also seems to have a scare mongering agenda and jumps on any story related to contagious diseases in such a way that this latest disease will start a pandemic that will wipe out the global population.
The agenda with most websites is to sell something, and what is the best way to sell something?
In the 1950's products were sold based on what manufacturers claimed they could do. That all changed later on when big advertising agencies started to be responsible for advertising and instead of selling products they started selling lifestyles.
Car adverts stopped looking at the cars being sold. A group of beautiful, happy, smiling people were shown having fun in an exciting location with a catchy song playing in the background and the whole purpose of the advert was to try to convince people that by buying the car in the advert they too could have a similar lifestyle. The actual features of the car were incidental.
To sell a product it is much easier if you can sell a lifestyle or a dream first. Once you have accomplished that, selling the product is easy.
Hotels in Thailand don't sell features of the hotel which, on the most part, are very basic. The advertising copy always includes the word 'paradise' and they are trying to sell the lifestyle dream of spending a few weeks in a tropical paradise.
So, what do people dream about?
For most people, work is pure drudgery. Commuting is a pain, the work they do is boring, colleagues can be difficult, office politics overtakes real work, and some bosses can be impossible to work for. It is many people's dream to work for themselves, to do something they love doing, and to be able to work wherever and whenever they want.
Travel is also a dream. Many of us get bored of the places we grow up in and faraway lands look exotic and fascinating. For many years since the introduction of cheap jet flights we have all had opportunities to travel (unlike my parents' generation) and vacations and gap year breaks have fuelled our passion to travel. When you combine these things, certain employment opportunities fit the bill perfectly and when packaged cleverly they can be sold very easily as dreams.
The Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) industry sells a big lifestyle dream. As a TEFL teacher you can find work and live anywhere in the world, so they tell you, even in those places where people pay lots of money to go on vacation. All you have to do is speak your native language.
In reality it's an awful job and I couldn't wait to make my exit. It's easy to spot farangs in Thailand who teach English and just look at the miserable looks on their faces as they trudge wearily to their next teaching assignment. The only ones who look happy are the ones who have just arrived and are still wet behind the ears.
There is lots of work, lots of running around, lots of lesson preparation, lots of marking and assessment and as a teacher your main purpose it to make money for someone else. Employers will thus want you to do as much as possible and instead of teaching students who are already motivated to learn your main task will be trying to motivate them.
Who benefits from selling the dream? I paid US$1,000 to do a TEFL training course and there were six other students. This is good money for organisations who teach teachers. Once in Thailand you are just a profit centre and you are totally dispensable. If you don't like something, no problem because there are thousands more farangs ready to step into your shoes.
The Internet has provided us all with huge benefits, but there is no shortage of people who use the Internet for deceitful purposes. Nigerian scammers no longer have to send letters in the mail when it is so easy and cheap just to send e-mails.
A few years ago I remember seeing a number of 'on-line survey' scams. These promised being able to fund a life on the beach in Thailand drinking cocktails while surrounded by beautiful Thai women and all you had to do was fill in a few on-line surveys each day.
Complete nonsense, of course, and the only people who made any money were those selling their information packages on how to lead a life in paradise doing on-line surveys.
A few years ago I started hearing the term 'digital nomad' and it came up again this week in an e-mail conversation. I started looking into the subject. I realised that there were many farangs in Thailand trying to make a living on-line, but I didn't realise how popular Chiang Mai had become with 'digital nomads'.
Like all sub-cultures they have dedicated websites and, of course, being 'digital nomads' they are connected on social media sites.
Many of the websites encourage people to go to Chiang Mai to exist as 'digital nomads' and they provide information. As a long-term permanent resident of Thailand I couldn't quite believe some of the descriptions of Thailand I was reading. Is this the same country that I live in?
There are no negatives at all about living in Chiang Mai? None at all? The worst thing about Chiang Mai is that there are no beaches nearby? This is like me saying the worst thing about living in southern Thailand is that I can't go skiing.
I have visited Chiang Mai a couple of times, but never lived there. I am therefore not qualified to talk about living in Chiang Mai, but no negatives? At all? Come on. I think these people need to get out more. At least open their eyes or read some of the local news stories.
One problem that springs to mind straight away is the choking haze that envelops Chiang Mai at certain times of the year. I have been warned by several people who live in Chiang Mai not to visit during the haze season.
On the 'digital nomad' sites I found not one mention of this phenomenon. Isn't that a little irresponsible if someone planning to go to live in the city has a severe asthma problem?
And what about the fact that whenever you want to sit down for a cup of coffee and absorb the Thai atmosphere you are surrounded by groups of geeky farangs playing Facebook on their laptops? That sounds like another big negative.
According to these sites, comfortable studio apartments are $100 per month. Fantastic meals can be eaten for $1. There is a friendly, supportive network of expats. Visas are easy to get with no problems. Etc, etc. It's the land of milk and honey.
I know that I am too negative and too cynical most of the time, but at least I try to be honest. If something is good I will write about it, but I will also write about all the crime, discrimination and social problems that are only too common in Thailand. I try to be balanced and I try to be honest.
When I read one-sided accounts that are skewed in such a way that nothing is wrong and everything is rosy I immediately smell a rat. Sites likes this are not being honest and that is because they are selling a dream. And why are they trying to sell a dream?
It's because if they are trying to sell a 15 page electronic guide to being a 'digital nomad' in Chiang Mai for $20 it is much easier to sell the 'digital nomad' dream first. And to sell the dream first you must paint a perfect picture that doesn't represent the whole truth.
Making people aware of dual-pricing, lawlessness, road rage shootings, etc etc, isn't conducive to selling dreams and if you can't sell the dream first you can't sell your expensive electronic file.
The Buddha told followers of Buddhism not to believe anything they saw or heard, even from him, but to investigate and verify every piece of information for themselves.
This piece of advice from 2,500 years ago was never more valid than it is today with the advent of the Internet. Don't believe anything you read on the Internet and don't believe anything that I say. Check for yourself first. Everyone who provides information has an agenda and their agenda may not necessarily place your interests first.
Tuesday 23rd June 2015
How can you save money in Thailand?
I've taken a look at some expenses recently and you should have been able to tell that Thailand is getting more expensive all the time. I am always looking at ways to save money. I will cover this in greater detail later, but today I will just look at the subject of discount cards.
All the large shop and restaurant chains in Thailand seems to have a membership card scheme, and I even know some small, independent restaurants that operate one. They work in various ways.
In some coffee shops if you buy a certain number of cups of coffee you are then entitled to a free one. Some cards give holders a fixed discount and when you are initially given the card there are often some cash vouchers that can be redeemed straight away, thus making a further saving. There is normally a charge for the cards (not with supermarket cards), but this isn't a lot. The usual cost is Bt99 or Bt199 and they are normally valid for a year.
Supermarkets send cash and discount vouchers to their members' homes based on how much they spend and there may also be special offers that are only valid for card holders.
The cards are certainly worth having, but there are a few negatives. Firstly, with so many cards it becomes a problem carrying them around. I bought a credit card holder specifically to carry discount cards in, but after a while I got fed up with carrying it around.
It's not so bad if you know where you are going to eat or shop, but we never do. This means trying to remember to take every card to cover all possibilities. I bought something at the SE-ED book store last week and didn't have my discount card with me. The better schemes allow you to use your phone number instead of having to physically present the card. TOPS will accept phone numbers, but Tesco Lotus won't.
The second problem (for me anyway, and this may be a sign of the early onset of dementia) is that I can't remember which cards I have. I ate at S&P with my wife today and when the bill came she asked where my card was. I didn't know that I had a card, but when she reminded me I vaguely remembered applying for one sometime in the past.
I have eaten at S&P alone or with my daughter a few times and paid the full price because I had forgotten I had a card. This rather defeats the purpose of having a discount card.
The third negative, in these days of Big Data, is that some people may not like the idea of yet more people snooping on them. The people who benefit most from discount card schemes are the big retailers themselves.
If companies advertise shotgun-style they know that a lot of people will not be interested in the things they advertise. However, by collecting data from member card schemes they know exactly what each individual customer buys and they can then target their advertising much more accurately and effectively.
Some people might like this. TOPS knows very well that I like HP sauce, Branston pickle. Liptons tea, and various brands of marmalade, etc etc, and if they contact me with offering discount prices on these items I will save money.
Other people don't like it because it smacks of Big Brother.
You don't necessarily need to live in Thailand to take advantage of membership schemes. A group of people on vacation who spend Bt2,000 and get a 10% discount by buying a card that costs Bt99 will save money even if they only use it once. There is normally no time limit and you can use the card straight away after buying it.
Thai won't normally proffer information about discount schemes to foreigners. It's not that they don't want you to save money; it's a language problem. They can't explain in English and it is a well known fact among Thais that there isn't a farang in the country who can speak, read or write Thai. Any attempt at communication is therefore futile.
You can always ask the shop or restaurant.
บัตร - but (card)
สมาชิก - sa-maa-chik (member)
"Mee but sa-maa-chik mai?"
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