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  • Living in Thailand Blog March 2010


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Living In Thailand Blog



Sunday 28th March 2010

There's no place like home ... there's no place like home ... there's no place like home.

Pounding the streets of Bangkok as a tourist for several hours a day in the hot sun while carrying a heavy camera bag left me physically and mentally exhausted last week.

I got back on Friday and collapsed. I have spent all this weekend indoors doing computer work, and I have just about recovered.

It is incredibly quiet here compared to the capital. On one side I can hear my clock ticking, and outside I can hear birds singing. Bangkok is fun to visit for a few days but I'm not sure how I would survive if I had to live there.

My spending has gone down as well. Even without all the tourist rip-offs, Bangkok is an expensive place these days.

I have to pack my bag yet again tonight because my girlfriend has been hinting about going away for some time. Where we are going though is really quiet.

I wrote quite a lot last week. In addition to carrying camera equipment around, I also had my netbook and I made updates whenever I stopped for a drink or bite to eat.

It's back to normal now so updates won't be quite as frequent.

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Friday 26th March 2010

On The Road - Bangkok back to the Deep South

Planet Thailand - Click for larger image There's a sad story connected to this photo. It was sent to me by a young English lad who came to teach in Thailand. The drawing was done by one of his students.

He left England because he didn't fit in, but he was quite a serious young man and couldn't accept a lot of the craziness in Thailand. Eventually he decided to move to Korea. I didn't hear from him again.

Instead, I received an e-mail from his father informing me his son had committed suicide. His father had got access to his e-mail account and was contacting everyone his son had written to, trying to find out why he had taken his own life.

If you have problems at home, running off to Southeast Asia isn't always the answer. Thailand can also be a very difficult place if you take life too seriously.

I saw some tourists taking a tuk-tuk ride the other day and the big grins on their faces reminded me of my first Bangkok tuk-tuk ride 23 years ago.

It's easy to see why so many tourists go to Bangkok.

Life in Western countries is boring. Visiting Thailand (especially Bangkok) isn't like visiting another country; it's like visiting another planet. Planet Thailand.

It's an addictive feeling for a lot of people and they either keep returning to Thailand for vacations, or some (like me) return to live.

If I went back to England I would be bored out of my skull. I find that living in provincial Thailand offers enough excitement without being too crazy. Bangkok is a different proposition altogether. It is insane.

I could live in Bangkok if I wanted - or needed - to, but it would mean finding a comfortable place to stay and spending a lot of time indoors isolated from the noise, heat and insanity outside.

It's been a fun trip but I'm glad to be going home today.

At a temple on the other side of the river yesterday I saw lots of Thais paying respect to Buddha (wai pra as the Thais say). The Thai belief system is basically animist but rituals are carried out through Buddhist channels - monks, temples and Buddha images.

Making merit is of the utmost importance to Thais and an important belief is summed up with the saying, "Do good, get good; do evil, get evil."

This week in Bangkok I have had Thais trying to cheat me all the time (along with trying to cheat every other foreigner they encounter). If they really believe in "Do good, get good; do evil, get evil," their behaviour is no good for them at all.

The same people, no doubt, go to the temple occasionally to wai pra and probably think that by doing this all their other sins get erased. This is hypocrisy at its worst.

I don't think they see it like this. I keep hearing from poor Thais that all foreigners are rich, and cheating them out of money to balance things up a bit seems to be perfectly acceptable to them.

If you start to read about what Buddhism really means, you will see that most Thais don't behave accordingly. They have developed a belief system which as far as they are concerned fits in with Buddhism, but it also just happens to be convenient for how they want to live.

Some Thais do attempt to live by the Buddha's teachings but the majority don't. Buddhism warns against grasping, attachment and impermanence. The lifestyle for most Thais, especially in Bangkok, goes complete against these teachings.

When I left the hotel today it was noticeably cooler and less sunny than the earlier part of the week. I considered this typical of my luck that more comfortable weather had arrived just as I was leaving.

While in the taxi on my way to the airport I realised that the apparent change in weather was due to pollution. It was awful. There was a heavy blanket of smog everywhere. Buildings just a few hundred yards away were barely visible and I guess that total visibility was down to about half a mile.

I wonder what the long term effect on your lungs is if you have to breathe this polluted air every day?

Airport security is a nightmare these days. I was told to rearrange everything about my person and started to get quite confused where things were because they weren't in their normal places.

My wallet and phone had to go in my bag, and my netbook had to come out of my bag and go into a separate tray. My stuff ended up in three trays. As I waited for the trays to exit the X-Ray machine I was called over to be searched and I therefore couldn't keep an eye on my belongings.

I'd forgotten to remove my P&S camera from my belt so had to go through the whole procedure again while the rest of my stuff was sitting unattended in trays. I wasn't happy.

I've made the point before that almost everyone travelling by air is no threat at all. These procedures simply inconvenience all the harmless people and they still aren't good enough to catch the people who board planes intending to do harm.

This was evidenced on Christmas Day a few months ago: Plane 'attack' raises fresh security fears

Unless the security procedures are effective enough to catch the genuinely bad people with explosives moulded to their bodies, or in their underpants or shoes, there seems little point.

Why bother unnecessarily inconveniencing all the good people when they still won't stop the bad people?

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Thursday 25th March 2010

On The Road - Bangkok

Despite my grumbling about lies, deception, rip-offs and dual-pricing, this trip to Bangkok has actually been quite a lot of fun! Bangkok is being Westernised very quickly but there is still a lot of the old city left. As I said before, it's a fascinating place.

For me, it feels like the Olympics. The last time I was here was four years ago, my legs feel as if I have just run a marathon, and returning again in four year's time seems about the right timeframe.

Of course, being a tourist somewhere is nothing like living there. As a tourist, your time is limited and you feel guilty about stopping still because you are wasting that precious time. When you live somewhere, you get to know the place well and you can operate at a much more relaxed pace.

I am going back to the south tomorrow and I just want to get home as quickly as possible. That means flying instead of sitting on a bus for 12 hours.

I have some basic knowledge of domestic flights for the journey home. The budget airline price is around Bt2,000, while Thailand's top airline (Thai Airways) is a bit more expensive. Of the budget airlines, I have found Nok Air to be very good but my impression of Air Asia is different.

Shortly after they set up, I flew to Bangkok with Air Asia. The journey there was OK but on my return I was delayed seven hours. Instead of getting home at 8pm, I arrived back at 3am. I had to get up a few hours later for work and I vowed then never to use Air Asia again.

When I enquired about a flight home the other day I was given a price of Bt2,750 for Air Asia. This didn't sound good - 1) It sounded expensive and 2) I don't like Air Asia.

I asked about the Thai Airlines flight and was told Bt2,550. So, flying with Thailand's premium airline was actually cheaper than using a dodgy budget airline but she didn't bother to tell me.

This is another thing about Thailand. Sometimes Thais will tell you outright lies, but on other occasions instead of lying they will simply withhold information.

The information won't be offered; you need to know the right questions to ask in order to get the answers. The problem for most tourists is that they don't know Thailand, and therefore don't know the right questions to ask.

What about guide books? The problem is that there are so many different situations that guide books can't cover them all. And even if they could, it would be impossible for anyone to read and remember all the information.

Bangkok has an enormous amount to offer but at times it seems as if the whole city is full of Thais ripping off tourists. The authorities know perfectly well what happens but there is very little protection for the tourists, and no action is taken against the rogues.

I can only imagine this is the case because nothing needs to be done. The tourists continue to arrive in Bangkok in huge numbers so why bother?

On the plus side, even after being ripped off, a trip to Bangkok will still be cheaper than visiting London and not being ripped off.

London prices are also a rip-off; the only difference is that everyone is ripped off the same and there is no discrimination based on your nationality. Brits visiting London attractions are ripped off the same as all the foreign tourists.

After spending a few days in Bangkok, I need to make it clear that my general observations about life in Thailand are written from the perspective of living in provincial Thailand.

Bangkok is completely different from provincial Thailand. Rather than being like a capital city within a country, it is more like a separate country within a country.

Apart from the sheer scale of Bangkok compared to provincial cities, provincial Thais still hang on to their conservative values. Looking at the way young Thais behave and dress in Bangkok, it would appear that many of those values have been abandoned in the capital.

I've talked before about how my efforts to speak Thai to Thais are often met with confused looks and blank stares. I know my Thai isn't that good, but I also know it isn't that bad because people who know me can generally understand what I am trying to say.

Here's an observation from this morning.

I went into a coffee shop and asked the guy who was serving a simple question. Behind him was a girl working in the shop with her back to us.

As usual, after asking my question he gave me the famous Thai confused look. However, the girl span around immediately and answered the question. She understood perfectly.

This is my theory.

Thais never expect farangs to be able to speak, understand, read or write Thai. When they encounter a farang they don't expect to hear Thai. The language coming out of the farang's mouth must be foreign. They don't hear Thai because they're not listening for Thai.

This all happens because the first encounter is visual and they make lots of assumptions. When there is no visual encounter initially - as with the girl this morning with her back to me - no assumptions are made and they simply hear what is said.

This is also the reason why I can be understood by Thais who know me; because they are expecting Thai. Once they know to expect Thai - even mangled efforts made by a foreigner - they can generally understand.

I went touring around the other side of the river today.

View across the river from Wat Arun - Click for larger image In the same way that Bangkok is different to the rest of Thailand, the Thonburi area is different to Bangkok. It's just like normal Thailand with none of the problems I've been describing these last couple of days.

I've never worked out where I would choose to live if I lived in Bangkok, but the other side of the river would probably be quite tempting.

I even felt brave enough to get a couple of motorbike taxis today, something I would never do in Bangkok. I noticed quite a lot of construction going on across the river. This is what happened to London some years ago.

When I started working in London in 1983 there was very little south of the river. My old company opened its new headquarters on the South Bank that same year and it seemed like quite an unusual move at the time because that part of London was such a no-go area.

But then, that area really took off. As Bangkok continues to expand and become more of a mess, I suspect that more and more development will start happening on the other side of the river.

I visited Wat Arun, the famous temple of dawn. I went there on my first visit to Bangkok 23 years ago, but this was the first time I'd been back since then. It's another beautiful temple and the views are great.

The steep steps of Wat Arun - Click for larger image The stairs you climb to get up the temple are the steepest I have ever climbed.

Once again, there was a Bt50 charge for tourists and a sign in Thai at the ticket counter telling Thais it wasn't necessary for them to pay. I read the sign aloud and told the man behind the counter that I was Thai. Obviously, I'm not.

He asked for my ID card. I said I had a driving licence and he asked to see it. He inspected my Thai driving licence and waved me through without asking me to pay.

I've managed to do this elsewhere before, but today was the first time on this trip I have had any success avoiding the tourist price.

A trip to Bangkok wouldn't be complete without lunch at the Oriental, which is regularly voted as one of the top hotels in the world. After my trip to the other side of the river, that's where I went today. It's a wonderful place.

I couldn't justify staying there on my present income but lunch is a bargain. The setting is fabulous, the quality of the food and service is first class, and the prices aren't actually that high for what you get.

Lunch only cost a little more than my Greek salad the other day but there is no comparison between eating at the Oriental and serving yourself in a shopping mall.

The Thai staff are really polite and the farang tourists there look as if they have had showers and hair cuts within the last six months. Physically it is only a short distance from the Khaosan Road but it might as well be a million miles away.

I've made it quite clear there are many things about Thailand that I don't understand. Here's another.

Why does Bangkok continue to be developed the way it is, while nothing much happens elsewhere apart from some of the larger tourist resorts?

My massage girl the other day was from Roi Et in Isaan and lives in Bangkok with her entire family. Her mother also does massage while her father and two brothers are taxi drivers. They don't particularly enjoy their way of life but they can't earn a living back home.

My taxi driver today was a 73 year-old man from Nakorn Ratchasima (Korat) in Isaan. His wife lives in Korat. He spends two months at home, and then two months in Bangkok driving a taxi. He wasn't thrilled with his life either.

For a driver to hire a taxi for the day it costs Bt550. The driver today told me he has to buy Bt400 worth of petrol each day, and the girl told me her father and brothers spend about Bt250 a day on petrol.

They therefore have to get quite a few fares each day just to break even before they start making a profit.

As Bangkok continues to grow, the traffic and pollution continue to get worse. I have spent a lot of time sitting in traffic jams this week, and I reckon that taxi drivers probably spend half of their lives sitting in traffic jams.

They work long shifts and it is hard on their bodies.

If more industry was set up in the provinces it would alleviate some of the traffic and environmental problems in Bangkok, it would provide opportunities for upcountry Thais, and it would allow them to have a better way of life.

As a result, there would be far fewer political problems. I know that manufacturing does exist outside of Bangkok - cars are assembled outside and Nikon have a big plant in Ayuthaya, for example, but there needs to be a lot more, rather than the focus being on Bangkok all the time.

There are signs in Bangkok advertising 'Earth Day'. This started off a few years ago and it has become trendy for energy guzzlers to 'save the world' by turning their lights off for an hour once a year.

Does anyone else find this ridiculous and hypocritical, or is it just cynical me?

All Thais aspire to own a car and once they have a car they will never consider using public transport. Buildings could be built in the old style so that they stay cool but now everyone just uses air-conditioning. Everyone also uses A/C in their cars.

Never mind, we'll just turn off the lights once a year for an hour and everything will be OK.

Singapore is similar. Singaporeans scored a big kiasu first when they got the go-ahead to hold the world's first nighttime Grand Prix.

Formula 1 drivers driving cars at 200mph at night need a phenomenal amount of light and so powerful floodlights illuminate the Singapore track. The lights are on for practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Offices in Singapore are so cold because of air-conditioning that staff go to work wrapped up in warm clothes.

It amazes me that Singapore feels no shame about this, but wants to boast that once a year everyone turns off their lights for an hour on 'Earth Day'. Isn't there some hypocrisy somewhere?

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Wednesday 24th March 2010

On The Road - Bangkok

Thais in Bangkok have developed the ability of squeezing money out of tourists into an art form.

On my walkabout yesterday I noticed more dual pricing with Thai prices written using Thai numbers.

I found a place selling Greek food last night and felt a sudden craving as I haven't eaten Greek food since I left the UK in 2003. I ordered a Greek salad but quickly discovered it didn't come with olives and Feta cheese.

Without these ingredients it isn't a Greek salad; it's just an ordinary salad. In order to add olives and Feta cheese to make it into a real Greek salad it was necessary to pay extra ... of course.

The salad plus a kebab cost me just Bt400, an amount that would feed me for several days normally.

The breakfast at the hotel is the stingiest I have ever seen: one egg, one tiny sausage, two small pieces of toast and a small cup of coffee. When I asked for more toast yesterday, I was told it would cost Bt35. Most hotels do a buffet breakfast and you can eat as much toast as you want.

There was a farang there this morning with his Thai wife. He was complaining that they'd only given him half a cup of coffee and that it was cold. To fill his small cup again would cost Bt57. Again, this is free at most other places.

The constant money-grubbing leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

I decided to go to Chinatown today. Bangkok has changed beyond recognition since my first visit in 1987 but this area is exactly the same. I expect it has remained basically unaltered for a very long time.

I had to visit MBK on my first day to buy something at Fotofile but I can't stand the big shopping malls in Bangkok because once inside you could be anywhere in the world. If you spend all your time in those places it hardly seems worthwhile being in Thailand.

Chinatown (Yaowarat) is exactly how a massive, hot, steamy, tropical Southeast Asian city should be. There is a mass of small alleyways and constant frenetic behaviour.

The alleyways only look big enough for pedestrians but a constant stream of tuk-tuks and Piaggio scooters traverse them loaded up with goods. There are also lots of Thais pushing goods along with handcarts.

Every inch of space is used. If you stop walking for 10 seconds you find that you are in someone's way. Everyone is too busy to be polite. If you stand in the way of a handcart being pushed along at a serious rate of knots, you will probably end up with a broken ankle.

The macho Thai males driving scooters along the narrow alleyways have a sense of pride in how fast they can go, and how many people they can intimidate. Just like the roads outside, driving around is a constant game of bluff. No one gives way for anyone else.

I noticed a lot of young girls working in the small shops who didn't look very Thai. Some were Thai (from the north and northeast) but quite a few were from Laos and Burma. Some were as young as 15. They all spoke fluent Thai.

The easy option for poor girls is to work as prostitutes in Thailand (they can make a lot of money that way) but there are still lots of girls who would never consider this way of life as an option.

Thais employ them because they are cheap labour. They work hard, doing honest work for very little pay.

Middle class Thais with some money behind them do very well. By targeting foreign tourists they can charge a lot more for goods and services than they could Thai customers. And by employing staff from poor regions of Thailand and the poor surrounding countries they don't have big salary bills.

It is easy to understand why the comfortable middle classes have no desire for things to change in Thailand. They just continue getting richer. But you can also start to understand why the poor people of Thailand have started to protest.

Unless Thailand makes a serious attempt at putting these injustices right, it's going to get very messy.

I found a good little coffee shop in Chinatown offering Wi-Fi. Great. However, after I'd connected I went to access a secure site and received a warning from my browser that I'd never seen before.

It didn't look good so I went no further.

In all the years I've had a credit card I've only had two instances of attempted fraud, and both came shortly after using my credit card while on vacation in Thailand. Consequently, I try to avoid using a credit card in Thailand as much as I can.

With so many people using the Internet these days, it is another way that bad people can commit fraud. There are a lot of bad Thais in Bangkok, unfortunately, so the warning I saw this morning made me very wary.

As I was wandering around Chinatown this morning I saw signs warning of pickpockets. There were also 'Wanted' posters with pictures of people the police are after. There were just as many women as men and they all looked perfectly normal.

Bad Thais don't walk around in black-and-white strip shirts or have signs indicating they are criminals. They blend in perfectly naturally and this is why you always need to be on your guard.

There are some places in Thailand that I would never consider going to. Pattaya heads the list, followed by full-moon parties, and the Khaosan Road in Bangkok. Despite visiting Bangkok many times, I've never been to the famous backpacker paradise. I went today.

It's interesting in the same way that a 19th Century freak show would be interesting. Khaosan Road is 'farang kee-nok central' and although I have seen plenty of weird-looking, scruffy farangs in Thailand, I don't think I've ever seen so many in one place.

I had heard that fake documents were easily available there but I didn't realise how openly they are sold. There are loads of places selling all sorts of fake ID cards and licences.

If you want to get into somewhere that's restricted, maybe a fake 'Press Pass' will help? If you want to go diving but don't have a PADI licence, don't worry, you can get one in the Khaosan Road. If you buy a fake PADI open water certificate, don't be concerned when you have problems at 40m and don't know what to do because you've never had any scuba training.

Want to teach English to finance your drinking in Thailand but don't have a TEFL certificate? Want to get a job but don't have a degree? Want some discounts but don't have a student card? Want to hire a car but don't have a driving licence? Any problem can be fixed in Khaosan Road. Unbelievable.

I've talked before about illegal activities in Thailand but almost everything I saw there was illegal. Apart from the fake documents, most goods on sale were fake - DVDs, CDs, software, Lonely Planet guides.

I also suspect that a few farangs I saw were in Thailand illegally. There were a few older farangs walking around as if they were in trance. They obviously weren't tourists or English teachers, and I would be surprised if they had the means to get retirement visas.

It was interesting to see but I don't think I'll be hurrying back.

On the way to Khaosan by taxi we passed the Grand Palace. I haven't been there for years so thought it would be a good idea to visit again.

As the taxi pulled up, I was greeted by a very dodgy looking Thai telling me that I couldn't buy a ticket inside and telling me to go somewhere outside to buy a ticket. He was very forceful.

I was immediately suspicious so asked one of the guards where I could buy a ticket. He told me inside. I went back over to the dodgy guy and asked him in Thai why he had just lied to me. He just laughed. I said a very other things to him about his character.

Inside, I talked to another member of staff about the bad people outside. They are fully aware of what goes on but they let them continue. Why? The police should just arrest them all.

The last time I went to the Grand Palace was a long time ago when I couldn't read Thai. I walked over to the ticket counter today and saw a big sign in English saying that the entrance fee was Bt350.

There was also a sign in Thai telling Thais there was no need to pay as entrance is free for them. In this case there was no need to display the Thai price in Thai numbers because there is no Thai price.

I talked to the woman selling tickets, explaining that I lived and worked in Thailand. She told me there is one price; take it or leave it. So I left.

The Red Shirts are protesting at the moment because of a perceived injustice. I also believe that this racial discrimination in Thailand is an injustice so I am protesting by boycotting places that use dual-pricing.

It won't do any good but it makes me feel better. Of the thousands of tourists that visit Thailand's tourist attractions each day, I would be surprised if more than a handful can work out what is going on.

They pay up without any arguments and therefore there is no reason for the Thais to change anything. Thais will continue to get into places for nothing - or next to nothing - while all the funding is provided by foreigners.

I do not expect tourists to follow my lead. The Grand Palace is beautiful. Everyone should visit Bangkok at least once in their lifetime, and they should definitely go to the Grand Palace.

After spending a lot of money to have a vacation in Thailand it would make no sense at all to miss out on the best attractions for a few hundred Baht.

But I am not a tourist. I live in Thailand, I work in Thailand, I teach Thai students a very important life skill, and I pay taxes. Why should people like myself be subjected to this discrimination?

Next door to the Grand Palace is Wat Pho. Entrance is free apart from the temple of the reclining Buddha where there is a Bt50 entrance fee.

The purpose of my visit to the Grand Palace was to photograph beautiful temple buildings. I refused to pay Bt350 to get into the Grand Palace but I was able to see lots of beautiful temple buildings at Wat Pho for free.

As I left Wat Pho, there were a bunch of tuk-tuk drivers waiting outside for tourists. "Where you go?" I was asked. "To eat rice," I told him. He then wanted me to pay Bt100 to be taken to an expensive seafood restaurant somewhere where he probably gets a commission.

I told him no. The price went down to Bt60 ... and then to Bt30. I told him I would walk, to which he replied there were no restaurants nearby. I walked three minutes and found a great place.

Tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok are bad news.

What puzzles me a little is that bad Thais have been ripping off tourists ever since the first tourist arrived in Bangkok. Every guide book warns against this, the Internet is full of warnings, and warning signs are even posted around Bangkok.

Why, then, do tourists still fall for these scams? The scammers can only operate if they have gullible victims to pick on but there seems to be no shortage of gullible victims.

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Tuesday 23rd March 2010

On The Road - Bangkok

Bangkok is a fascinating city. It encompasses all aspects of Thailand in one place and exaggerates everything by 100 times.

It's sheer size is mind-boggling. I'm sure that if you put all of Thailand's provincial cities together to make one large city, it would still be a lot smaller than Bangkok.

Thailand is a land of contrasts, and nowhere are the contrasts bigger than in Bangkok. There is a massive wealth gap in Thailand, and nowhere is the wealth gap bigger than in Bangkok.

As I wandered around yesterday, this was in evidence everywhere. There are lots of very expensive German cars in the city. As I have mentioned before, luxury European cars are ridiculously expensive in Thailand because of high import duties.

There are lots of rich Thais these days and this is one reason I object so strongly to the dual-pricing policy (apart from the fact it just isn't fair).

I also saw lots of high society Bangkokians. Thais have adopted this adjective and shortened it to 'Hi-So'. They also use 'Lo-So'.

I saw a bunch of Hi-So Thais in the coffee shop yesterday. There were six of them and instead of sitting there talking to each other, they were all playing with their iPhones and other expensive mobile devices.

As I moved on I saw some really down-and-out Thais who sleep under bridges and survive by begging. Some looked in a very bad way.

There are many beautiful looking girls in Bangkok but these aren't the ones you see with farangs. In the Land of Smiles if you dare to smile at a Hi-So girl you get a look that tells you immediately where to go.

In this respect, Bangkok is more like Singapore (with the Five C's being an important part of the materialistic culture) than the rest of Thailand.

The Hi-So Bangkokian set are completely unlike provincial Thais. When you compare how they live to how peasant farmers live in Isaan, you can begin to see why there are so many political problems in Thailand.

Something that really depresses me about Thailand is how Westernised it has become. I went to MBK to buy the item I needed and although places like MBK are convenient, they just aren't what I want in Thailand.

There are lots of Western-type shopping malls and I'm sure that some foreigners visiting Thailand spend all their time in these places.

My hotel is fairly close to MBK but late yesterday afternoon I headed in the other direction. I soon came across a small area that probably hasn't changed in 50 years.

I love these kind of places. There were genuine Thai rice shops with plastic seats, menus written on the wall in Thai, and even small cockroaches crawling on the tables.

Along the Soi were small print shops, motorbike repair shops, salons, women stringing together jasmine flowers, shops, minimarts, and all kinds of food vendors. I suddenly felt good about Bangkok again. There were no tourists in this area at all.

If I lived in Bangkok, one thing I would need to do is work out how to use buses. I took a taxi to a temple and it wasn't expensive - just Bt45 - but I got a bus back and it was only Bt7.

When I visited Cuba some years ago there was an official dual economy. There were buses and shops for tourists, and buses and shops for locals. Tourists couldn't use the things meant for locals.

In Thailand, tourists aren't banned from using things meant for locals but language barriers are deliberately put in the way.

Many places rely solely on the money from tourists, and Thais are very careful to have English signs everywhere. Buses don't count so everything on buses is written in Thai. If you can't read Thai - as most foreigners can't - then it is a problem.

As I pointed out recently, Thais also take advantage of this language barrier wherever there is a dual-pricing policy in place.

A couple of days ago I talked about one variety of Thai massage shop. In addition, there are lots of other massage shops that offer a more conventional type of massage.

When I travel like this I do a lot of walking. It's very hot and my camera bag is heavy. By about mid-afternoon I start to get very tired.

For the last couple of days I have stopped for foot massages. It feels great to collapse in a comfortable chair while a young Thai girl bathes and then massages your feet for an hour.

The cost has been the same on both occasions so far - Bt200 plus a Bt40 tip. The girl yesterday asked how much a massage would cost in England. I didn't know because I have never had a massage in England. It's just too expensive.

I'm not rich by any means but if I wanted to (and I do sometimes), I have massages every day here. How much would you need to earn in the West to be able to go for massages every day without it breaking the bank?

Thailand is getting more and more expensive to live in each year but with little pleasures still being very affordable you can still have a very good quality of life on a modest budget.

My income now is a lot lower than it was when I was living in the UK but my quality of life is better.

As I was having a foot massage yesterday, four Iranians walked in - two married couples. The women wore veils and the men looked like comical versions of Borat. One of the men spoke a little English.

At first they just stared at what was happening to my feet. The man who could speak English then asked me if it was good. I was obviously enjoying it but jokingly said it was no good. They turned around and started to leave.

I felt terrible that I may just have lost the shop four customers so quickly told him it was very good. The four of them sat down for the same treatment. The women had female masseuses and the men had male masseuses.

It must have been a ticklish experience because they laughed throughout. Bangkok is very cosmopolitan and you meet people from everywhere. This also means great food is available from around the world.

There are lots of good things about Bangkok but to go out in the streets is an assault on all of your senses. It's an exhausting place to be a tourist.

By the time I got back yesterday, my body ached, I was wringing wet with sweat, and I felt that I'd been through 10 rounds with a Turkish wrestler.

Many years ago I spent a weekend camping in Sequoia National Park in the United States with a group of volunteers doing some tree planting. We didn't shower all weekend and when I got back to civilisation I had the best shower I'd ever had.

The shower I had yesterday after walking around the streets of Bangkok all day may actually have been better.

This trip is really about taking photos, and walking around with a camera I look like a tourist. Well, I don't live in Bangkok so I guess I am a tourist? Except that I live elsewhere in Thailand and I'm not quite as naive about Thailand as many Thais seem to think.

I have been a magnet for tuk-tuk drivers looking for stupid farangs. As I am walking along they just stop, call me over and expect me to hop on board. I guess their intention is to take me on a shopping trip to a place that pays them commission, or to somewhere that will try to rip me off with a gem scam or something.

A few words of Thai lets them know they have picked on the wrong farang. They look quite shocked and there have been two reactions.

The first is to be genuinely helpful. They normally ask where I'm going and most of the time I'm not going anywhere in particular. If I'm looking for something, they will help me find it.

The second reaction is anger and aggressiveness. They want easy victims. The last thing they need is a smart-arse farang talking back at them.

I would offer this advice to tourists, based on about six-and-a-half years of living in Thailand. Good Thais would never think of approaching a stranger in the street. In some situations if they think someone is struggling, they might offer some assistance, but it's unusual for honest Thais to offer assistance without first being asked.

If anyone approaches you in Bangkok offering you any kind of service it is almost definitely a scam. Be very, very wary of offers from strangers, and be especially wary of tuk-tuk drivers.

Most Thais are very kind, and in the Land of Smiles people smile a lot. But there are also quite a few bad apples in the basket. Bad Thais will smile just as much as they are picking your pockets, as good Thais will smile while they are genuinely helping you.

I went along for a chat with the red-shirts first thing this morning.

Everything is very peaceful and it was pretty much how I expected. Most people there were from the north and north-east (as expected), and they were absolutely typical of Thais from that sector of Thai society. They're basically good, honest people.

Most people I spoke to had been there for about 12 days. When I asked when they planned to go home they said when their fight with the government had been won. They could be there a long time.

They are with friends and family, and there is plenty of food. These ingredients make for a sanook environment and they seemed to be having fun in a way that only Thais can have fun.

I was asked what I thought. I said there are lots of injustices in Thai society and that I felt sorry for them. That was the truth, but after that I had to hold my tongue.

The messages being expressed are that Abhisit is on a par with the Antichrist, and that Thaksin is a kind of Thai Mother Teresa - the best Prime Minister that Thailand has ever had. I see things a little differently.

Thaksin is enormously wealthy and he likes the company of similar people. While he was living in London his best friend was the Harrod's owner. I also remember seeing photos of him flirting with Lakshmi Mittal, the very rich Indian industrialist.

He very much enjoyed being a football club owner and mixing with rich people. When he was PM I remember that whenever there was a crisis he was in Singapore or Hong Kong on shopping trips with his family, or in Japan enjoying the cherry blossoms.

I haven't spent much time in Isaan but I have seen how people live up there. I can just imagine Thaksin sitting among poor Isaan folk eating som-tum and sticky rice with his fingers, drinking cheap Thai whisky, and singing look-tuung (country/folk) songs into a Karaoke machine ... not.

He once had a lot of political power but now that has gone. A large percentage of his money has been confiscated, and he also has a jail sentence hanging over his head.

The only way to get his money and power back (and to nullify his jail sentence) is to instigate a people's uprising to overthrow the government. This is what he is doing, and it is purely in his own selfish interest.

I do feel sorry for Thailand's poor people. They don't have opportunities in life and they have no outlook for a better life.

The government needs to get more poor people into higher education, and to start investing in industry in the poor regions in order to create some real opportunities.

Thailand is a very wealthy country and it is getting wealthier all the time. The problem is that the wealth continues to go to the same people, and consequently the wealth gap in the country continues to grow wider.

I wanted to talk about some of this with the red-shirts today but I knew it would fall on deaf ears. All they can say is 'Abhisit bad, Thaksin good'. Beyond that, there is no capacity to think or to see what is really going on.

The situation is actually more complicated but because I live in Thailand I am not at liberty to speak about certain very important matters.

All I can say is that things will probably get a lot worse in Thailand before they get any better. It's peaceful now but when fatigue sets in and patience runs out, the mood could change very easily.

The last time I was in Bangkok it was the day after the coup. With so many tanks and soldiers around it looked like a war zone.

Today, I visited the royal Dusit area and it was the same. There were soldiers and police everywhere with rifles, riot shields, batons and full body armour.

Roads were blocked off and concrete barriers were being erected covered with razor wire. I'm not sure what the Thais might be expecting but they certainly aren't taking any chances.

This theory about there being a lot more women than men in Thailand is rubbish. It's just that because of the jobs they do, women are normally a lot more visible. The number of men in the country might be slightly less but not by much.

There are a lot of men in the military but they aren't usually visible - apart from times like this. It is the same for other male-dominated professions.

If you start getting involved with Thai females you always find out about Thai men they are involved with lurking in the background. If the conspiracy theorists were right then these men wouldn't exist, but they are always around.

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Blog entries 1st to 22nd March 2010


Visit Thailand

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. 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 - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, 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

Images of Thailand