Living In Thailand Blog
Sunday 25th May 2008
Japan and the Japanese fascinate me the same way as I used to be fascinated by Thailand and the Thais. Occasionally I browse web sites about life in Japan and the author of one site mentioned the phenomenon of some foreigners in Japan who he described as being 'more Japanese than the Japanese'.
Westerners are known as gaijin in Japan as opposed to farang. And, by the way, we become ang mo down in Singapore. Asians have a name for us wherever we go.
His comment interested me and I thought about some of the farangs I have seen and heard about in Thailand who have tried to be more Thai than the Thais.
Some time ago, Iss told me of something she had seen on TV where a farang living up in Isaan was making som-tum (the spicy northeast salad made from shredded papaya and other ingredients). She found it quite amusing but for me it was just another of those raised eyebrow moments.
Ignoring the fact he was probably working illegally (according to the letter of the law), what was he trying to prove? Learning to speak Thai or something might count as an achievement but putting a few ingredients into a mortar, asking if the customer wants a crab in it, and then pulverising everything with a pestle is hardly a major accomplishment.
My guess was that he was just another insignificant farang who couldn't communicate by speaking and this was the only way he could draw attention to himself.
The Thais get a kick out of this sort of thing though, hence this story was seen to be worthy as a TV news item. That being the case, they will sometimes invite foreigners to join in with their parades and festivals.
Thais of both sexes look magnificent dressed up in their traditional costumes but I'm afraid that foreigners trying to be Thai just look awkward and stupid. I received such an invitation for Loy Gratong last year. My answer was a very quick, "Thanks, but no thanks." The faculty offered to provide my costume but I wasn't interested.
At the big parade, I saw another farang who had obviously been made the same offer but, unlike me, he had agreed to participate. He had been given a traditional costume and all he had to do was sort out some suitable footwear but he couldn't even manage that. I couldn't resist taking a photo of his black shoes and socks - and his shorts underneath.
I expect he would probably make a fine looking morris dancer but in Thailand, being Thai is best left to the Thais. They are much better at it than clumsy, oversized foreigners.
Saturday 24th May 2008
One of the advantages of living in Thailand is being able to go for frequent massages. I can get two hours of Thai massage for less than the price of one pint of beer and a packet of crisps in a London pub.
By talking about the local massage scene I can make a few more general points about Thailand and Thai society, so that is my plan today after going for a massage earlier this afternoon.
The local scene here is geared up for the Chinese Malaysian weekend tourist trade, with farang customers being fairly scarce. Many of the girls can speak some Chinese but few can speak English. They earn peanuts. At the places that charge Bt250 for a two hour massage, the girl might get Bt100. Some places only charge Bt200 and the girl will receive Bt80 for two hours work.
Whereas Westerners tend to prefer a soothing style of massage, the Chinese like a very hard massage so they make the girls work hard. They don't tend to be the most generous of tippers either. I went for a massage last week and the girl had been to a hotel earlier in the day with a friend to give two Chinese Malaysians a massage in their room. The tip the Malaysians gave the girls was Bt10 between them. Bt5 each! She was laughing as she told me.
Given Thailand's general reputation, you might think that all the girls are willing to perform additional 'services' to increase their income, but that isn't the case. Some do and some don't.
The girls are all different but there are lots of similarities. I like to ask questions to get some idea of their background and I often hear the same answers. The 'typical' girl is from the north or northeast region, mid-20's, a single mother with her parents taking care of the child back home, while she works hundreds of miles away and sends money back home.
When I ask what they did before, and/or what their parents do, tum-naa is a popular answer: they worked in the rice fields. It is backbreaking work; leeches can be a problem; they earn a pittance for a day's work; and the work is seasonal.
Some do indeed go back home at planting and harvesting time, but only to help their families and not for the money. Once they finish, it is then back to the massage shops so they can send more money home.
To me, massage work in cheap massage shops is the pits (especially when I look at some of the customers that walk in) but to the girls, I guess it is better than what they did before. Having been born in the lower echelons of Thai society, they don't have many options. They're not going to find good jobs and many don't want to become outright prostitutes even though it would be an easy option for those that are decent looking.
Some have bad attitudes but I can understand why. A few girls have been really stroppy with me. As soon as we are in the room, they switch on the TV, turn the A/C as low as it will go, and then watch TV while performing a perfunctory kneading action. They even get upset if I ask them to switch off the TV or make the room less cold.
Others are really good and do their best to please. When that happens, I normally ask for a phone number so I can call them next time. This has caused problems in the past though because some girls are really 'bunnie boilers' in disguise and once they have your number they can be problematic.
It happened a few months ago with a Lisau hill tribe girl. There are also quite a few northern hill tribe girls from Chiang Rai province working in the local massage shops. I haven't been able to talk to some of them because not all of them speak Thai but this one could speak Thai.
She seemed OK at first but then went missing and I couldn't contact her. A little later she reappeared and wanted me to visit her but it wasn't convenient. She wouldn't take no for an answer and kept calling. She resorted to calling at 4am and yelling abuse down the phone. Strange girl. A few other girls have also displayed similar weird behaviour.
Over a period of time, I have found a core of about five girls who always try to please and are generally trouble-free. However, some are more trouble-free than others.
The girl I saw today, I have been seeing for over two-and-a-half years. She's a sweet thing, just 21, and from Sukhothai. She's very pretty, with typical central Thai looks, and there isn't an ounce of surplus fat on her body. She doesn't have any children but does come from a poor rice farming family and spent a good deal of her youth in the rice fields.
You can normally tell if a girl has worked in the rice fields by her feet and this one is no exception. Her body is about as perfect as you can get but her feet look as if they were attached to the wrong person by accident when she was born.
She's not stupid but she only did her basic six years of compulsory education. Girls from poor families can't afford higher education and they need to go out to work as soon as possible to support their parents. She now works six days and goes to school every Sunday to get, I assume, her high school certificate.
The people at the place where she works obviously know I am a regular and were asking recently when I was going to marry her. Somehow, I can't see that happening even though the idea would probably appeal to her.
When I wrote recently about patron-client relationships, Westerners might think that nobody would ever want to be someone else's client but that isn't the case with many poor Thais. Not only would many be very happy with an arrangement where someone looks after them, but it is what they actively seek in life.
The fact that a man might be 20, 30, or 40 years older, ugly, fat, and way past his best, makes no difference. Where life is so tough for so many poor Thais, they have learnt to be pragmatic. Girls might dream about love and romance but that doesn't put rice on the table for their families.
However, it's not the kind of relationship I want, even though I could get myself a very young, very attractive girl. Even so, in a way, I have already become her patron to some extent.
After having known her for a while, to the point where we became very familiar with each other, I started to hear a lot about her problems. Thais are taught always to smile on the outside but to hide their true emotions.
This is something that makes the Thais appear so happy and care-free to tourists but after you get to know them better, you understand that they have just as many problems as everyone else. Maybe more, in fact, because of money shortages.
Her problems are always different but what is always the same is that she never has enough money to fix the problem - and that is where I come in. Whether she needs money to buy a new phone, or for dentist bills, or to go home to see her family, or to pay a traffic fine, she never has enough and there is only one way she knows of getting the money.
She is pretty good now at getting my sympathy, and she normally gets what she wants. I tip her very well ordinarily so there is no obligation to give her more but it has been a mutually beneficial relationship for quite a long time so I don't mind. And we are not talking vast amounts of money.
With our relationship the way it is, she only asks for money for things that she needs personally. However, the Thai concept of marriage is such that you marry the entire family, not just the girl.
Apart from the fact that she would constantly be assumed to be my daughter, another reason for not wanting to marry such a girl is that I would not want to be financially responsible for a whole family of poor Thais.
Some people might be happy with that kind of arrangement but I think I would come to resent it after a while. Quite a few foreign men I have spoken to who are married to Thai girls from poor backgrounds have no problem at all with their wives but big problems with their in-laws.
It's certainly something to be careful of. The first thing to remember is that nothing is as it first appears in Thailand so take your time getting to find out about people you meet. There are always smiles on the outside but you need to be aware of what's going on inside and Thais can be very good at hiding their true emotions. The second thing is that money and financial support are always very high on the agenda when dealing with poor Thais.
Here we go again. British tourist arrested in Pattaya for allegedly buying sex from 16-year-old boy. I hope the message is starting to get through to paedophiles and perverts that the Thai authorities are on their case; that they are being caught and dealt with; and that they aren't wanted by anyone. Stay away.
Wednesday 21st May 2008
A couple of visitors have arrived here recently after making queries about what is required for British citizens to live in Thailand; and whether it is necessary for Brits to go home once a year to get a visa.
There is no question that the whole visa issue is far more complicated for Thailand than it should be. If you search for visa information on other countries, you will probably find all the information you need in one short page.
For Thailand, however, there are entire web sites devoted to visas with very active forums. I am no expert myself, and I don't pay a lot of attention to visa types that don't apply to me, but here is my attempt at summarising the different ways foreigners can stay in Thailand.
I won't go into details because there is just too much but maybe I can at least point people in the right direction. As I said, I'm no expert myself, so if you spot a mistake please let me know.
The big changes that have occurred in the last couple of years do not affect tourists in any way. Thailand wants as many tourists as it can get. Thailand is also happy to have retired foreigners who can support themselves financially, and anyone who can bring something to the country in the way of skills or investment.
The people who are no longer wanted are beggars, buskers, bums, illegal English 'teachers' who aren't qualified (or able) to teach, and anyone breaking the law, whether they deal in prostitution, fake football jerseys and other counterfeit goods, pirated software, or any other illegal activity.
- I want to stay in Thailand as a tourist for less than 30 days. No problem, but first check the Visa Requirements for individual countries. Citizens of some countries will only get a 15 day stay and others have extra requirements. In most cases, anyone just turning up at the border will be given a free 30 day stay.
- I want to stay in Thailand as a tourist for more than 30 days.
You can get a seven day extension in-country by going to a local immigration office and paying Bt1,900. If that's not long enough, once your 30 days is up you can leave Thailand at the nearest border and return immediately, at which point you will get another free 30 days. You can stay in Thailand this way for up to 90 days in any six month period.
If border runs aren't convenient, you can apply for a tourist visa outside of Thailand before you arrive. A tourist visa allows you a 60 day stay and can also be extended without leaving Thailand at a local immigration office. The first extension is for 30 days and I believe it can be extended again by 10 or 15 days.
The initial visa application and any extensions cost Bt1,900. One important point to make is that visas and visa extensions are granted at the discretion of the immigration official, and therefore nothing should be taken for granted.
Please also be aware that some loopholes have recently been closed with tourist visas. You will not be able to live in Thailand indefinitely on back-to-back tourist visas and immigration may state additional requirements, such as proof of hotel accommodation in Thailand, sufficient funds to cover your stay, and a return air ticket.
- I want to stay in Thailand for a year or more.
You should be able to obtain a one-year, multiple-entry non-O visa from a Thai Embassy or Consulate in your home country fairly easily. However, you will not be able to obtain such a visa from an Embassy or Consulate in one of Thailand's neighbouring countries so this method cannot be used by someone looking for a cheap solution to stay in Thailand long term.
With such a visa, you will get a 90 day stamp when you arrive in Thailand and after 90 days you will need to leave the country - even if you come back straight away. When you re-enter Thailand, you will get another 90 day stamp.
Just before the visa is about to expire, you can do the same thing and get another 90 days, thus effectively turning your one year visa into a 15 month visa.
You can live in Thailand long term this way, but it will be necessary to go back to your home country to get new visas.
- I want to retire in Thailand and I am over 50.
The basic requirements are that you are over 50, in good health, no criminal record, not banned from entering Thailand, and can show Bt800,000 in a Thai bank account that has been there for at least three months.
I have been told by two separate sources that if you are a Brit and apply at the UK Hull Consulate, the money does not need to be in a Thai bank account, but at every other Embassy and Consulate they specify it does need to be in a Thai bank account. Bear in mind that with Hull seemingly being the exception to the rule, it will mean going back to Hull once a year if you don't have the funds in a Thai bank account. That may be convenient for some but not for others.
Provided you can meet the requirements each year when it is time to renew your visa, this kind of visa should be easily obtainable at a Thai Embassy or Consulate in a neighbouring country. You therefore do not need to make a long, expensive trip back to your home country.
- I am married, or planning to get married, to a Thai. For marriage, you will need to show an official marriage certificate and some of your spouse's official documents. The financial requirement is Bt400,000. Other than the basics, I am not familiar with this type of visa but there is lots of information elsewhere.
- I want to retire in Thailand but I am under 50.
This is where it starts getting tricky or expensive - unless I am missing something. You can go back to your home country every 15 months or so for a multiple entry non-O visa or you can retire in the region but only spend 90 days every six months in Thailand.
Perhaps you could consider spending half your time in the Philippines, or somewhere?
- I want to work or set up a business in Thailand.
I have no experience with setting up businesses in Thailand but you will need to invest a certain amount of money and you will most probably need to enlist the help of a Thai lawyer and accountant. Proper accounts will need to be filed once a year and taxes paid. Also be aware that foreigners are excluded from doing certain types of business in Thailand.
To perform any kind of work in Thailand requires a work permit. A visa - no matter what kind - allows you to stay in Thailand but not to work. Work permits will only be issued to holders of specific types of visa. For example, people with retirement visas aren't expected to be working so they won't be given work permits.
For people wishing to teach English, the requirements keep changing so it is difficult to state exactly what will be required now when applying for a work permit. Refer to the link I gave in my blog entry for Sunday 4th May.
- I want to study the Thai language in Thailand.
A special type of non-immigration visa is available for the purpose of education and the basic requirement is an official letter from the registered education institution where you will study. Some language schools can arrange the necessary paperwork but first you will have to pay for a year's worth of lessons up front.
I don't know if there are other requirements but perhaps immigration will want to check that students have the means to support themselves while studying in Thailand.
Students will be expected to attend a certain amount of lessons each week. If someone obtains a visa this way and then doesn't bother studying, I'm not sure if the institution will inform immigration.
- I want to ordain as a monk or work as a missionary in Thailand. Sorry, but I don't know what is required if you want to work for an NGO, do voluntary work, or anything else that is a little 'different'.
Monday 19th May 2008
There are lots of public holidays in Thailand and today is another. Buddhist holidays are determined by using the lunar calendar. You might have thought that today was the 19th May but it is actually the 15th day of the waxing moon in the sixth lunar month.
Today is Wun Wisaakaboochaa, more commonly transliterated as Visakha Bucha Day, even though the vowel lengths are wrong and I don't know how the people responsible for the transliteration managed to find a 'V' sound when it doesn't exist in Thai.
It commemorates three significant events in the Buddha's life which all happened on this day: his birth, enlightenment and death.
Merit making ceremonies will be performed throughout the day and candlelit processions take place at Buddhist temples in the evening where people carrying a lotus flower, three incense sticks, and a candle, circle the main ordination hall (bot in Thai) three times.
The Toyota in the middle of the photo has been parked, and left with its hazard warning lamps on. This is the busiest road in town but the woman driver wanted to use an ATM. She couldn't park near the kerb because motorbikes are parked there so she just parked in the middle lane, thus reducing a busy three lane road to one lane.
I tried parking illegally for a few minutes in England once so I could get something heavy from a shop (though I didn't park as badly as this). I was caught by an overzealous traffic cop who was having a bad day. I got fined and had three points added to my licence. In Thailand, it seems that drivers do whatever they want without fear of prosecution.
However, that isn't the case today. There are lots of cops around today and they are being particularly vigilant with regard to illegal parking, giving anyone who stops even for a few seconds a very sharp blow on their whistles. There can only be one reason for this, and that is the possibility of explosive devices in parked cars and motorbikes.
It's a Buddhist holiday and there are also lots of Malaysians in town, some of whom also celebrate the same holiday except they call it Wesak Day. A strike today by Muslim insurgents would be a double blow. It would be an attack against the Buddhist majority and it would temporarily wreck the Malaysian weekend tourist industry that brings so much money into southern Thailand.
It is such a sad state of affairs, especially when the vast majority of Thai Muslims cause no problems whatsoever.
The latest rumours circulating are of forthcoming attacks on infrastructure in the three provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, that is, destroying electricity lines, phone lines and reservoirs, etc. If successful, this kind of attack could make areas unlivable; but that is probably what the insurgents want.
Taking into the account the history of the region, I can understand some of the grievances but nothing will ever be achieved with this kind of mindless violence against innocent people.
I remember reading a forum posting from a guy who was leaving Thailand after four years. He obviously had some bad feelings about the country and the tone of his post was 'goodbye and good riddance'. One comment he made was that he was leaving without having made one real friend.
In my experience, friendships in Thailand can indeed be fleeting and there are distinct differences between having friends in Thailand and having friends in England. I make the point they are different, not better or worse, and for me personally I think I prefer Thai attitudes.
I helped three students with their English a couple of years ago and at the time they were the best of friends who shared a house. They seemed very close.
Just recently, I have been helping two of them again individually and both told me they no longer see or hear from the others. This isn't unusual. When I was living with Iss, her current 'best' friend seemed to change fairly frequently as well.
I have always had what I regard as friends in Thailand but when I think about it, exactly the same thing has happened to me. Current friends are fairly new and now I never see people who I considered good friends a few years ago.
A trademark of Thailand is how quickly the natives adopt you as friends, and how warmly. It isn't unusual upon meeting someone for the first time to be invited to go to their home or to go travelling with them. In fact, this attention can be a little embarrassing and overwhelming at times, but it's what makes visits to Thailand so special for so many visitors.
If you meet a Thai who is about to get married, don't be surprised to be invited to the wedding, and then - if you accept - don't be surprised to find yourself being treated as an honoured guest at the head table. It has happened to me.
It's a good feeling and one that brings lots of visitors back to the country again and again. However, after living in Thailand for a while you may find - as I have done - that these intense friendships that develop so quickly, fade in their intensity just as quickly.
Occasionally, I feel it is because people aren't being genuine upon first meeting but there are other reasons which I will come on to.
Sometimes I feel that Thais who want to be my friend do so for tangible reasons. A business owner might want another regular customer, someone might want help with their English, or perhaps they want me to help their children with English. A poor girl might just have money problems and look at me as a possible solution.
At other times, it is less tangible. Many poorer Thais live drudge lives where they do the same thing every day in the same surroundings, and having a foreigner around is just something different to break the monotony. There is no doubt that sometimes I am regarded as nothing more than a novelty.
It passes quickly though and, before I know it, my new 'friends' have gone and more new ones have appeared; for a while at least before they are replaced again.
At other times, it is all perfectly genuine but it may not seem this way because Thais aren't as dependent on other people for friendship.
It helps that I have always been a bit of a loner. I don't mind being alone (in fact, I enjoy it), and I have always preferred to travel on my own. I value my friends but I never enjoyed the kind of dependent friendships that some people in England wanted where I was always expected to do things with them just because it was what they wanted.
One aspect of friendship in Thailand is that Thais don't harbour grudges if you allow a friendship to lapse. In England, I didn't always have time to maintain friendships and found myself very quickly struck from people's Christmas card lists.
Thais don't take this kind of thing seriously though and if I were to get in touch with old friends who I haven't seen for a long time, I know that there would still be a warm greeting with no ill feelings. In many ways, Thai attitudes towards the concept of friendship suit me better than those from my old culture.
When trying to analyse Thai behaviour, you can't help but consider Buddhism and one of the tenets of Buddhism is non-attachment to people, things, states of mind, etc. Attachment is a dangerous thing, which is best avoided, and when I look at the nature of my friendships in Thailand, what I see is classic non-attachment behaviour. It makes a lot of sense.
It's always Pattaya, isn't it? Briton arrested for allegedly buying sex from 8 underage teenagers and Briton arrested for allegedly buying sex from 11-year-old boy.
Stories like these really make me feel proud to be a Brit in 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.
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