Living In Thailand Blog
Saturday 31st May 2014
I complain about many aspects of Thai road behaviour, and one of my biggest gripes is the frequent weaving in and out of lanes (including the hard shoulder) to get ahead of other cars.
This article should therefore please me.
The problem is that after reading about several other similar crackdowns on road traffic offences and then seeing that nothing ever changes in Thailand I have become cynical.
Firstly, the crackdowns only ever seem to be in one place. This one is taking place in Bangkok and when I read about the implementation of speed cameras a while ago it was only in Phuket.
Secondly, this article contains the following statment and it is fundamentally flawed: "Adul said he hoped that lane-change cameras would reduce abrupt overtaking and disruptive lane changes."
Let's be clear about this, these cameras alone won't reduce anything. The cameras will only assist the police in identifying offenders. Once that happens the police need to catch and punish the offenders. If the law is enforced thoroughly and if the punishment is sufficient, then it may help.
Simply implementing some new technology won't change anything.
Friday 30th May 2014
Based on my own state of mind this morning, having just got back from the school run, it makes me wonder about the mental health of the average Thai. Poor mental health would certainly explain a lot of the irrational and aggressive behaviour that goes on in Thailand.
The driving hasn't been as bad as I had imagined since I started taking my daughter to school. I try to set off before 7am to get ahead of the traffic and I have started taking a less congested route. However, it's always worse on Fridays and the number of aggressive drivers you meet, which varies from day to day, makes a huge difference.
Today wasn't good, both in terms of the volume of traffic and the number of Thai drivers I encountered who believed they had the right to cut up everyone else so that they could go first.
I also met with another slight irritation this morning. There are always a few teachers waiting at the gate to greet students and parents. This is fine, but some have taken to acting like over-zealous policemen.
Last week I parked in a designated parking space about 70 yards from the gate where there were no other cars and I wasn't blocking any traffic. I then walked to the gate and was told that I couldn't park where I parked. I don't know why and I have learnt never to seek logical answers in Thailand because normally there aren't any. I asked where to park and she told me. Today I parked where I was told and incurred the wrath of today's wannabe traffic warden.
I only parked for a few minutes while I got my daughter out of her carseat and sent her on her way to the classroom. During this time the teacher didn't stop going on about how I couldn't park there. I found her behaviour extremely boring and irritating.
One of the biggest gripes I have about driving in Thailand is people double parking. They put their hazard warning lights on and block entire lanes of traffic purely for their own convenience and no action is ever taken against them.
Conversely, when you park in a valid parking space where you aren't causing any inconvenience at all, some jumped up Kindergarten teacher starts going up as if you have just committed the most heinous crime possible.
I got home feeling really wound up and sat down to write this. I am only now calming down. Thais seem to enjoy living on the edge of chaos, but I'm sure that it does them no good in the long run. Many Thais also have additional stress-inducing problems that I don't.
The area in which we used to rent a townhouse was a nightmare. There was constant noise and a constant stream of Thai men and boys racing around on motorbikes and in pickup trucks. This went on directly outside our house. I hated that house and the area it was in, and it didn't help that the area is in a major flood zone.
We moved to a very peaceful housing development away from the centre of town that doesn't flood. The peace and quiet and the fact that flooding isn't a problem has lowered my stress levels immensely. However, most Thais live how we used to and can't afford to move.
Another big cause of stress is being in debt. I'm not as flush with cash as I predicted I would be a few years ago, but we owe nothing to anyone and can afford to pay the monthly bills. Everything is paid for, including the house and cars.
Being in debt is a way of life for Thais and many Thais are in debt up to their ears. This really can't help if life is already stressful. I've had some private chats with Thais recently and life for the average Thai is becoming increasingly difficult as the cost of everything continues to go up. They are struggling.
As a tourist the constant chaos in Thailand may seem exciting and fun, but after a few years it starts to get very tedious. Different people have different tolerance levels regarding the amount of chaos they can endure without going insane.
Had we continued living at the old house my tolerance level would now have been exceeded and I would probably be on my way to Pattaya checking out all the tall condo buildings. I knew the time was coming and I knew that I had to develop strategy to keep my sanity intact. I would advise anyone planning to live in Thailand to do the same thing.
Tuesday 27th May 2014
I read a comment recently that banks are experts at making your money their money. It's true. When I purchase things online I sometimes have to use my UK credit card because it is the only method of payment available to me. Up until recently I have used it simply for convenience and have been quite complacent about how much it costs me. That has changed.
Last year I started seeing extra charges on my credit card statement referred to as 'non-Sterling transaction fees'. I don't think this is a new charge, but that it is just a case of regulators ordering banks to be more transparent by displaying all their charges separately. The charge is 2.99% and it opened my eyes to how much I was being ripped off.
Banks already make enough profit by using an adjusted exchange rate that favours them, but then they add on extra charges as well. They also do this with foreign ATM transactions. In fact, when using an ATM abroad you get a bad exchange rate, a charge from your bank back home, and a charge from the local bank whose ATM it is.
I've made a few quick enquiries about getting a credit card in Thailand, but what they look at is your regular monthly salary and I don't have one. I'm sure that I can get one, but it's going to take some effort and time. This is something else on my 'To Do' list.
I just booked some flights to Bangkok with Nok Air. Nok gives me the option of paying in Baht or US dollars, either of which will incur credit card charges. However, there is also an option to pay by ATM or counter service. Many Thais don't earn enough to have credit cards and therefore the cash payment systems in Thailand tend to be quite efficient.
I opted to pay by counter service and the whole process worked like clockwork. Nothing pleases me more than things work really well in Thailand. I want to be positive about the country and some things do make me feel positive.
While using the website to book my flights I was instructed to send Nok an SMS. The SMS they sent back to me had a booking number and when I had finished, my booking went into 'Needs payment' status. I then gave the booking number to the staff at my local 7-Eleven and paid. Within seconds, another SMS arrived from Nok telling me that my flights were confirmed.
Finished. The charge for this service was just Bt30. Had I paid using my UK credit card the charge would have been significantly more.
For a very long time now I haven't drawn any money from ATMs in Thailand for the reasons stated above. Greedy bankers caused all the economic problems that we are suffering from now, yet they still try to keep ripping us off.
Whenever I need to, I transfer money from the UK to my bank account in Thailand using a specialist company who give me a much better exchange rate than banks. My Thai ATM card costs Bt200 per year, but there are no charges for individual transactions.
In addition to trying to get a Thai credit card for myself, my wife will also apply for one. Her salary was never enough in the past, but with the money I transfer to her account each month she should be able to get one. In fact, she will probably apply for several.
The companies that issue credit cards in Thailand normally give quite good benefits ranging from airmiles to extra discounts at certain department stores and access to VIP parking spaces. If she gets the right cards we should get some decent benefits.
On the subject of domestic flights in Thailand, I still find Nok Air to be the best option. Budget airlines started to appear in Thailand in 2004 and prior to that the only choice was Thai Airways. Thai Airways doesn't even try to compete with the budget airlines any more and exited the domestic flight market at the end of March 2014. Thai Smile, the budget arm of Thai Airways, now competes with the budget carriers in the domestic market.
New budget airlines keep appearing and the latest is Thai Lion Air. For my forthcoming trip I checked prices for quite a few airlines and Nok was still the cheapest. I have also found them to be reliable. I have flown with Nok on many occasions and they have never let me down.
I have only used Air Asia once and I have never forgiven them for delaying my return flight from Bangkok by seven hours in 2004. Since then I have never flown with them and have no intention of doing so, unless they are the only option or come up with a fantastic offer. Air Asia also insists on charging for our four month old son, whereas Nok make no charges for infants under two years old.
I also perceive Nok to be quite a large organisation, and if there was a technical problem they could probably arrange a back up plane quite quickly. With some of the very small airlines that only have a small fleet, I doubt that this would be possible.
I know people who swear by Air Asia, but for domestic flights within Thailand my personal recommendation is Nok Air.
One little ruse I didn't like on the Nok Air website was the practice of opting people in, and charging for, additional baggage allowance and travel insurance. These things are included in the price unless you read the information carefully and remove them.
I would imagine that a lot of people skip through the booking without reading everything and then pay for things that they don't need. Presumably, this is the intention.
There have been several reports on Thai news recently of farmers committing suicide because they are in so much debt as a result of not having been paid for so long. Not only are farmers happy, but the news that they are going to be paid has made many other Thais happy.
Rice is the staple of life in Asia. It is more than simply food or a commodity. My wife gets very upset if anyone leaves any rice uneaten, and one thing that she really hates is having to throw away uneaten rice. There is a special empathy among Thais for rice farmers.
I'm not sure if this also signals the end of the rice-pledging scheme. Although I sympathise with rice forces I disagree with governments manipulating prices and interfering with market forces. Had the previous government not promised to pay farmers 50% more than the market rate, they may have been paid already.
Another populist policy that appears to be coming to an end is the 'Tablets for School Kids' programme. There are many problems with the Thai education system, but dishing out tablets to primary school students was never going to fix them.
Thais, generally, are very materialistic and of course the policy was very popular with poor families who couldn't afford to buy their kids iPads.
The new proposal by the Ministry of Education is to set up 'smart classrooms', whatever a 'smart classroom' is. Obviously, technology can't be ignored these days but simply using technology isn't an elixir to cure all education ills.
At that age I studied in a 'dumb classroom'. Calculators hadn't been invented, but if you were clever enough you could use slide rules and log tables. I learned to do sums in my head and I learned to spell.
The world already suffers from a digital divide in which a small minority of very clever people have become extremely wealthy through technology, while the vast majority of technology users upload photos of their most recent meal to Facebook and post inane tweets on Twitter. Education systems will determine on which side of the digital divide its citizens will sit in the future.
On Thai TV news this morning there were reports of taxes being raised for rich Thais. Very few Thais pay tax. My wife, who is a teacher (considered a professional job elsewhere) has never paid tax because her salary has never been high enough.
When I met her she was earning less than Bt10,000 a month and if she started teaching again she would earn about Bt12,000. These are impossible salaries to live on, even in Thailand. Every foreign tourist in Thailand pays more tax than the average Thai.
As soon as a tourist sets foot in Thailand he or she pays tax to the Thai government, and tax is paid again when that person leaves. The dual pricing system, that exists everywhere in Thailand, is like another tax system for foreigners. At almost every place in Thailand where there is an entrance fee, foreigners pay a lot more than Thais and at some places it is even free for Thais.
This system of taxation is hidden to most foreigners because the pricing information is written in Thai using Thai numerals. However, once you can read Thai it all becomes very clear.
Hitting rich Thais for more tax makes a change to targeting foreign tourists, but rich Thais also control the businesses that generate income for the country so why should they be penalised?
Every country in the world is experiencing problems with growing wealth gaps, but I don't think that taxing richer, more successful people is the answer.
What appears to be happening is that Thailand is looking for quick solutions to all of its problems, but quick solutions aren't possible. If you analyse the problems with the inequalities in Thai society they go back hundreds of years. They can't simply be fixed overnight.
This is partly symptomatic of the world we live in nowadays, where everyone wants instant gratification, and partly due to the Thai tendency to take the path of least resistance and to always look for the easiest fix.
You can't make society fairer just by taxing some people more. I would like to see a long term strategy (maybe 30 years) of developing the business and education infrastructure in the poorest parts of Thailand.
An American academic was on TV the other day and used the expression 'kicking the can down the road' when describing what was happening in Thailand. If only 'sticking plaster' solutions are used to fix the problems, then they will never be fixed properly.
With so much development taking place, Burma is going to be a huge market in a few years. Further development of the East-West Economic Corridor joining Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam (and ultimately India and China) would provide huge opportunities and conveniently it goes through some of the poorest regions of Thailand.
Thailand needs to think beyond simply transport infrastructure and invest in developing goods and services that are needed by other countries along the corridor.
The Dawei deep sea port in Burma is already being jointly be Burma and Thailand, although I would imagine that most of the investment money is coming from Bangkok and that the profits will return to Bangkok. This is what usually happens in Thailand.
I would love to see some big projects in northeast Thailand that provided employment for local Thais and in which the profits went back into the local area. This would be a genuine opportunity to even up Thai society and share wealth around the country instead of everything going to Bangkok and the south.
I agree that with the current unrest the government (civilian or military) do need to take steps to placate people. However, I also believe that to effectively break the cycle of political unrest the country needs to invest in some significant long term development plans, and that those plans should be focused on poor areas of Thailand and not Bangkok.
To add to Thailand's problems, we are approaching the time of year when the central region starts to get a lot of rain. This region is also where there are a lot of industrial parks and a lot of foreign investment. Ayuthaya has a lot of industry and this province has suffered from possibly the worst flooding in Thailand for the last few years.
Thailand was getting concerned that foreign investors might pull out if flooding continued to be a problem, but some flood defence projects were started to protect the industrial parks. There have been some issues with environmental impacts and the projects were halted. Japanese investors now want some reassurance that the work will continue.
Monday 26th May 2014
"Only in Thailand," or "This is Thailand," are terms that are usually used by foreigners to describe illogical and/or unexplainable behaviour that probably wouldn't occur elsewhere in the world. However, these terms aren't used exclusively by foreigners. "This is Thailand," was the answer I received from my wife recently in response to a question.
I was waiting to collect my daughter from school and there is only a single lane of traffic because of parked cars. A woman in a pickup truck about five cars ahead wanted to park near the school gate, but there were no available parking spaces.
Instead of going somewhere else to park, she just turned on her hazard warning lights and waited in the middle of the road until a space became available. This took about five minutes. Meanwhile, all the traffic behind her - including me - had to wait for her to get out of the way.
I was fuming and really wanted to vent my anger at her, but the two places where I don't want to have any problems are around my house and at my daughter's school. Thais are extremely vindictive and problems like this can soon get out of hand.
When I got home I mentioned this little incident to my wife. I was genuinely interested to know why people who do this kind of thing think it is acceptable, and why other people don't get mad. Her first reaction was annoyance that I had even mentioned this. Why do farangs always find issue with trivial little matters? Then she told me, "This is Thailand." That was her best answer.
I think that I already know the answers, but it's always good to get confirmation from a Thai which is why I ask questions. Sometimes I get helpful answers, but more often than not I get a blank expression with a shoulder shrug, or, "This is Thailand."
- ไท - Tai (independent, free)
- ไทย - Tai (Thai as in Thailand - the 'h' is unnecessary and confusing because the consonant cluster 'th' makes a very different sound in English)
The spelling is different, but Thailand means 'The Land of the Free'. Thais seems to have interpreted this as meaning that everyone has their own individual freedom and that this individual freedom overrides any respect or consideration for other people. It's a land of 67 million people where everyone does things only to suit themselves.
If you want to park in a certain place but there are no spaces, just wait in the middle of the road with your hazard lights flashing and don't concern yourself with the people waiting behind. This is the Land of the Free and you have the right to do what you want.
There are also reasons why other people don't tend to react or confront those who are behaving obnoxiously in these situations. I was approaching a junction recently and wanted to turn left, but I was prevented from doing so because a pickup truck had double-parked and was blocking the lane. He too had switched on his hazard warning lights and thought this was perfectly acceptable. Double-parking happens everywhere all the time in Thailand.
I was annoyed and tooted my horn. The driver, who was out of his truck, looked in my direction with a furious expression and started to march towards me. My wife and kids were in the car so I pressed the switch to lock the doors. Nothing happened, but that isn't always the case.
This attitude of people being able to do whatever they want is so strong that Thais will get extremely angry and aggressive when anyone tells them otherwise - even policemen. I once saw a cop hold out his clipboard to tell a motorcyclist to pull over for not wearing a helmet. The motorcyclist whacked the clipboard and drove off. Thais don't like being told what to do and there is no respect for law or those who enforce it.
When I drive in Thailand I can do whatever I want. I can speed, go through red lights, use the wrong lanes, drive recklessly, and I know that nothing is likely to happen. However, there is one thing that I can't do. I can't say anything to other drivers if they do these things. Confronting aggressive Thai drivers is one thing that is guaranteed to get you into lots of trouble in Thailand.
The TV news was back to normal this morning. Only in Thailand can a complete military takeover of the country occur on a Thursday and everything is back to 'normal' by Monday. If this happened anywhere else people would be talking about it all the time for months, but in my conversations with Thais over the last few days no one has even mentioned the coup. Amazing Thailand.
You may wonder what 'normal' news is in Thailand and most of the time the morning news consists of road carnage. Every day there are scenes from all over the country of wrecked cars, trucks, vans and buses. Some of these crashes are horrendous because Thais drive way too fast and when crashes occur they tend to be big ones.
There was also a road rage shooting incident reported in Kanchanaburi. The unwritten, but widely observed, rules of driving in Thailand are to drive as fast as possible, to drive as close to the vehicle in front as possible, to overtake as many other vehicles as possible, and to use whichever lane has least traffic without any adherence to lane discipline.
The incident, which involved at least one pickup truck - maybe two, happened after one vehicle was trying to overtake the other. Apparently, the vehicle in front didn't want the other one to overtake and blocked him. One driver had a gun in the car, as many Thais do, and fired at the other car.
I don't believe that anyone was killed in this particular incident, but a woman took a bullet to the head and is now critically injured. This is Thailand, the so-called Land of Smiles.
Some years ago a reader sent me an e-mail saying that to really understand Thais you should observe how they drive and watch their TV soap operas. It's actually very true. When you see how Thais behave on the road it helps to explain other aspects of Thai behaviour.
There is no facade or forced polite behaviour. While inside a big pickup truck feeling anonymous because no one can see them through heavily tinted glass, Thais behave as they would naturally.
According to the Bangkok Post, tourists are not only cancelling their trips but those already in the country are leaving early.
This is probably a bit of an overreaction. The tourist resorts will be unaffected and as long as you stay away from areas in Bangkok where there are protesters and soldiers it shouldn't be a problem.
However, there is no doubt that what is going on now will do lots of damage to the economy and that many individual Thais will suffer if tourists continue to stay away.
Sunday 25th May 2014
My TV channels have gone again. I don't watch much TV, but I quite like the news reports and documentary features on Channel News Asia. My three year-old daughter also likes to watch kids' stuff occasionally. A lot of chanels are still showing military screenshots. It's quite annoying and also I object to this kind of censorship.
I'm a big boy and I can make up my own mind as to what TV channels I watch and whether to believe what I hear, or not. I don't need anyone to filter or block media channels for me. I find this all very autocratic and dictatorial.
From what I have read about the military drawing up lists and taking people into custody, it seems as if they are trying to purge Thaksin's influence from the country. I mentioned before that in the event of another election there will be a Thaksin-sponsored party, and that that party will win. What it seems they are trying to do is to engineer a situation where there won't be a Thaksin-sponsored party in a future election.
If that is the case, it will fail. Thaksin may be a convenient scapegoat, but he isn't the current cause of the problems. He was simply the person who opened the eyes of the rural poor and had he not done so, then somebody else would have done it eventually. Whether he is around or not, the rural poor won't give up now.
Expectations and attitudes of poor Thais have now been changed forever and trying to purge Thaksin's influence now is a classic case of 'closing the stable door after the horse has bolted'.
The military can't simply attempt to turn the clock back to pre-Thaksin times and try to pretend that he never existed. The world has changed and Thailand has changed. Forever. The only way forward now is to change the way that Thailand is ruled to come into line with people's new attitudes and expectations and to make Thailand a fairer place for all Thais.
Of course, that won't happen and this conflict is therefore likely to go on for a lot longer yet.
Saturday 24th May 2014
The generals obviously realise that the quickest route to a complete breakdown of society is by preventing Thais from watching their beloved soap operas. Several Thai TV channels have therefore reappeared, however, other Thai channels are still just showing screenshots.
As a farang in Thailand, the situation isn't as good. None of my cable TV foreign news channels have returned and Barney the Subversive Dinosaur is still missing.
I guess that there are two possible reasons. The first is that Thailand is very much for Thais and anything aimed at foreigners isn't regarded as being particularly important. Secondly, it could be that the content on Thai TV can be controlled and censored, whereas that isn't the case for foreign news channels.
This is an eccentric country at the best of times, but now that the dust has settled the events of this week seem a little strange even for Thailand.
The political divisions have been going on for years and when there are political problems in Thailand, Thais always have one eye on the army because that's how it works in Thailand.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief, has been asked about the situation several times and has always answered in a disinterested (not uninterested) way. This is correct because the army should be neutral from politics.
Thailand is also very aware of how coups are perceived by the international community, and in addition the army knows that any military intervention was likely to anger certain groups and that the situation could get worse. After every coup everyone acts as if it will be the last because Thailand has finally grown up, but then it all goes full circle again.
At first I agreed with the army's intervention. I agree with free speech, but the rabid, partisan, hateful oratory that was coming from both camps was further dividing the country and it was heading towards civil war. Both sides have lots of weapons and plenty of thugs (nuk-leng) who are prepared to use them.
I also thought that it was an excellent idea for the army to get the two sides together to agree a way forward. The Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts weren't able to do this by themselves and it needed someone to do it for them. Everything was fairly positive up to a point and the army put a lot of emphasis on the fact that the initial intervention wasn't a coup.
But then it all changed very quickly.
After the first day of meetings the political leaders were apparently given some homework. Based on my experience of the Thai education system this probably involved some rote learning where they had to memorise a page full of information, which could then be forgotten after they had passed a test. The leaders then came back for a second day of meetings.
When they still couldn't come to any agreement on the second day they were put into custody and the coup was formally announced. What seems strange is that after years of political divisions based on causes that are very deep rooted, was the army really expecting them to sort out all their differences in a couple of days?
Or had they already decided on the coup, and the meetings were simply a gesture to try to show that they had attempted to solve the conflict in a grown up fashion? And after being disinterested in the situation for so long and unwilling to intervene, why the sudden change of heart? And now what will happen next?
What is also quite surprising is that despite all this uncertainty and so many unanswered questions, the markets and currency haven't really been affected. The stock market has gone down a little, but the Baht remains unaffected.
A week or two ago, one UK pound was just over Bt55 at the interbank rate. It then fell back to just over Bt54. It has gone back up in the last few days, but it still hasn't reached Bt55.
This could be the country's reputation of being 'Teflon Thailand'. No matter what problems the country faces - even though they may be extremely serious if they occurred elsewhere - in Thailand, nothing ever sticks and the country always bounces back. A coup in Thailand is completely unlike a coup anywhere else. In Thailand, coups are simply a routine part of the political process.
Meanwhile, from where I am sitting life is pretty much the same as usual. We never go out at night and so the curfew is meaningless. When we go out during the daytime we see soldiers on the streets and are sometimes pulled over to be checked, but that's about it.
The south is completely Yellow and even if people are Red Shirt supporters they don't let on because it could be quite dangerous. There are therefore no rival factions and no chance of any clashes between rival factions. Some TV channels are still off the air, but my wife's naff soap operas are back again and she's happy.
The phrase 'Only in Thailand' has been around for a long time and things really do happen in Thailand that wouldn't happen anywhere else. It's an eccentric country, but that isn't how Thais see it. There is a stubbornness and national arrogance that the Thai way is always the best way, and Thais get very angry when foreigners comment on, or try to interfere with, domestic problems.
The usual retort is that foreigners don't understand Thailand. This certainly doesn't apply to some foreigners, who actually understand Thailand better than the majority of Thais. The BBC consulted Chris Baker for one of its articles recently and he is an example of a foreigner who has extensive knowledge, and a very deep understanding, of Thailand. However, the claim that foreigners don't understand Thailand isn't completely baseless.
Lee Kuan Yew pointed out that you can't foist Western style democracy and electoral government on countries where the pre-conditions for those things, which take hundreds of years to inculcate, are not present. That is why I get upset when I hear stock phrases from foreign secretaries of foreign governments that Thailand should "seek a democratic solution and follow the rule of law."
Presumably their bland comments are controlled by laws of diplomatic protocol and they can't speak their minds, but what they say is completely pointless and unhelpful.
It's around 2pm and Barney is back, as are a number of foreign sports channels and also the BBC. I still can't get Channel News Asia, which is my preferred news channel for this region, but I suspect that it will be back soon.
The news from the BBC about Thailand, which generally I find quite biased, has been given a BBC editorial slant and it all seems to be a little sinister. The military have said nothing about returning power to a civilian government, but have instead installed military personnel in key government positions. This is looking like a real military takeover, just like the old days.
They have also drawn up a list of people who are required to report to the military. Not only are there politicians on the list, but also academics. This is all a little different to the coup of 2006 and I think I understand why.
Western style democracy and electoral politics simply don't work in Thailand and that fact has been proven time and time again. What is the point of starting yet another cycle of interim government, elections, elected government, corruption, nepotism, dissatisfaction, protests, violence, and coup again when anyone can look at Thailand's recent history and predict that exactly the same thing will happen again? This cycle has to be broken.
I mentioned previously that one positive Thai trait is pragmatism. Thais understand what other countries are pressuring them to do, but if they know that what is appropriate for other countries isn't appropriate for Thailand there is no point.
Thailand has to have a system of government that works for Thailand. Thailand is not the USA, or UK, or Singapore. Thailand is Thailand and it is very different to other countries, even though superficially it may appear similar on the surface.
I'm sure that the human rights and politically correct lobbies will be up in arms at what is happening, but even if Thailand upsets other countries in the process, it has to sort out this mess otherwise the problems will never end.
Friday 23rd May 2014
Even at the best of times Thailand is chaotic, but on occasions the chaos reaches an even higher level. Things weren't looking at all good just before I went to bed last night. To make matters worse, one of our cats hadn't returned home before the 10pm curfew and we were getting worried that he might be arrested.
We are very friendly with one neighbour who lives on her own most of the time because her husband is a high ranking soldier stationed in Lopburi. He's currently in Bangkok and is constantly in touch with his wife, who then sends Line messages to my wife.
The Red Shirts see the coup as playing into the hands of the Yellow Shirts and they aren't at all happy. There is a big concern that they will defy and resist the army and that this could lead to more bloodshed. There are factions within the Red Shirt movement that are heavily armed.
Yesterday evening I was watching events unfold on Channel News Asia, a Singapore based TV channel that I receive on cable. All of the Thai TV channels had already been shut down and they are now just displaying a screenshot. However, the army has now shut down foreign media channels as well, so we have no TV.
They have even shut down Jim Jam, the kids' channel that my daughter watches. I can only assume that Barney the Dinosaur was regarded as being too subversive and that Barney and BJ could undermine political stability in Thailand.
I was wondering whether the military would try to censor the Internet (Thailand already blocks hundreds of websites), but it all seems to be functioning so far. The BBC is reporting that: 'Social media platforms could be blocked if they carry material with provocative content'.
All schools are closed in Thailand today, which meant that I didn't have to get up at 5:40am this morning to do the school run. We were scheduled to attend a meeting at our daughter's school on Sunday, but that has been cancelled because the coup has banned all gatherings of more than five people.
While scanning the news on the Bangkok Post and The Nation websites (which are functioning as normal), they are describing the worst traffic and commuter jams in the history of Bangkok and widespread international condemnation of the coup with the possible threat of sanctions against Thailand.
The UK has urged, "all sides to put aside their differences, and adhere to the values of democracy and the rule of law". This kind of statement is all very well coming from a developed country, but the root causes run so deep that you have to be Thai or understand Thailand to know that Thais can't simply put their differences aside.
Ever since this started I have been unable to think of a solution. I still can't. What is really needed is a complete restructuring of the way that Thai society works with a much fairer system put in place that is fair for all Thais, and not just a privileged minority.
However, the privileged minority that run the country will fight to the death to preserve their privileges, which they believe are their birthright.
Thailand has always been a highly inequitable country where there is a massive wealth gap between the haves and have-not's, but for a long time those with nothing were resigned to the fact that they were powerless to do anything.
Most Thai politicians, with a few notable exceptions, have been corrupt and their main objective when holding political office has been to make themselves richer. Thaksin continued to do this, but his modus operandi was very different to previous politicians.
He didn't simply dip his hand into the till, but he first made a deliberate effort to win the hearts and minds of the rural poor (the majority) so that he would then have unassailable political power. When he had achieved this, he used his political power to strengthen his many business interests.
This had two side effects. Firstly, it alienated him from the traditional Thai establishment and he thus made a lot of powerful enemies in Thailand. Secondly, he empowered the poor and completely reset their expectations in life. From being in a position where they could do nothing, they found that they could use their votes to elect someone who would do something for them.
When Thaksin first appeared on the scene, Thais were very united. The country was still suffering badly from the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 and all Thais believed that another kind of politician was required. The problems had been caused by poor financial control and Thailand needed a leader who understood business and finance.
Thaksin was a rich businessman already and seemed to fit the bill perfectly. He was also very good at saying the right things. Further, he claimed he would end corruption in Thailand and told Thais that he was already so rich that he didn't need to be corrupt. This statement was true, if only he had kept to his word.
Initially, all Thais supported him and believed that he was the only man who could get them out of the crisis. When he first took office he was accused of asset concealment, but it seems that Thailand was lenient towards him at the time because he was considered the only person capable of leading the country.
By the time he fled the country to live in exile so that he would avoid going to jail, the country was completely divided and that is the way it has remained ever since.
If Thais fail to make the radical changes that are needed in Thai society things will never change. I suspect that sooner or later an interim Prime Minister will be chosen by the army and then there will be more elections. This is what happened after the last coup.
When the election takes place, one political party will be sponsored by Thaksin. The leader of the party could even be Thaksin's son, who I believe has gone into politics, or it could just be another proxy. That party will win again because Thaksin supporters form a majority in Thailand. And thus the cycle will simply have repeated itself yet again without anything changing.
I think that maybe the only way to fix the problem is long term and that it will require a serious amount of investment in the Northeast, which is the poorest region of Thailand.
If a Thai government was to commit to investing heavily in this region it would reassure the people there that they weren't being ignored. The south is relatively wealthy from tourism and natural resources, and most investment seems to go into Bangkok and the central provinces.
Thais from the north and northeast get very few opportunities. There has been a tremendous amount of economic migration and many Thais from those regions work and live in other areas of Thailand so that they can send money home to support their families. They work hard for small salaries.
If they were given genuinely better opportunities in life, and didn't have to live away from their families, they would vote for politicians who were doing the right things for the country and not simply for politicians who gave them kickbacks through populist policies.
What is also needed are some brilliant-minded, selfless politicians who have vision, political skill, and the oratory skills to communicate their plans. There are very few of these in the world and I can't think of any in Thailand.
If Thais don't fix these rifts in society, it is only going to get a lot worse and there are other factors that will cause economic hardship to Thais.
Before Channel News Asia was removed from the airwaves in Thailand yesterday, I watched a news story about Myanmar. It was about an archipelago of 800 pristine tropical islands that were almost complete deserted. There is just one hotel and last year only 2,000 people visited them.
They reminded me of the Similan Islands in Thailand and they are the archetypal tropical islands that Westerners normally refer to as 'paradise'. I hate this word when used in the context of describing anywhere that has turquoise seas, white beaches and palm trees, but the tourist industry loves it.
The Burmese government has granted 12 concessions to develop the islands and a Singapore company has already drawn up plans to create a 'new Phuket'. When this is finished who - apart from sex tourists - will be interested in the old Phuket with all its tacky fast food restaurants, faux Irish pubs, sexpats, and prostitution?
There are also many countries in the world, including Thailand's neighbours, who would be very happy to have the manufacturing and assembly industries that Thailand has, and their costs would be a lot lower.
Thailand is my adopted home and the birthplace of my children. My wife, daughter and son are all Thai citizens. I want them to live in a happy, successful, organised country and I want my kids to have real opportunities in life when they grow up. I don't want to see perpetual political instability and huge rifts in Thai society.
With a wealth of natural resources, a decent level of infrastructure, a tourist industry that other countries envy, a more advanced state of development than many countries in the region including an excellent healthcare system, Thailand could be a very successful country if it was united and everyone was pulling in the same direction.
These political and economic divisions and rifts are killing the country.
Thursday 22nd May 2014
Apparently, the Thai army has had a change of heart. The coup that nobody was allowed to call a coup because "it definitely isn't a coup" is now a coup. It was made official at 4:30pm today.
Only in Thailand.
Initially the army did exactly the right thing by forcing the two opposing groups to meet with each other to negotiate, compromise, and sort this mess out. They met for two days, but being typically stubborn Thais they couldn't agree a way forward. The army then stepped in again to take full control of the country.
I've seen a lot of soldiers around today in Thailand's deep south. They've been setting up road blocks and doing some cursory checks before letting drivers through. Farang drivers get waved on immediately with no questions asked.
Censorship in Thailand is currently very heavy. Many Thai TV stations (and I believe radio stations) have been taken off the air. The TV channels are simply displaying a message about restoring peace to the country.
I just went to check the Bangkok Post website and it is offline. I don't know if this is a temporary glitch or a result of the coup. I can still access The Nation website.
I said yesterday, after the declaration of martial law, that what had happened wouldn't affect tourists. However, that situation may have changed after today's events.
One condition of the coup is the imposition of a nationwide curfew from 10pm until 5am. With Thailand's infamous nightlife activities being a major draw for many foreign tourists, this may be a little inconvenient.
At the moment I'm not sure how strictly the curfew will be enforced, how long it will last for, what the consequences are for anyone who breaks it, or whether certain tourist nightlife areas will be exempt.
Big fires occur regularly in Thailand, and there was another one on the TV news this morning. This latest blaze destroyed a market that was over 150 years old.
Old buildings in Thailand are made of wood and at certain times of the year when it is scorching hot and there is no rain they are like tinder boxes. Thais cook food using open flames powered by gas cylinders and fire is always a risk.
Several big fires have occurred at the old market near to where I live. As the old wooden buildings are destroyed they are replaced with ones made from concrete and steel and thus the risk of fire is reduced. However, it's a shame to see these old historic places going up in flames. Soon, there won't be many left.
In this latest fire people lost their homes, their possessions and also their life savings. Instead of keeping money in banks they had kept it at home in cash.
Of the many causes of dissatisfaction in my old life, boredom was one. Not much happened that was new or interesting and life had become rather repetitive and predictable.
After over 10 years of living in Thailand some aspects of life are now the same, but there is so much that is different that I am continually learning new things. This continuous learning adds a bit of interest to life.
I just found out that when Thais visit museums and have access to old artefacts that aren't enclosed behind glass, they like to rub and scratch them. The idea is that doing this will reveal numbers, and if you know and understand Thais you won't need to ask what they use these numbers for.
I don't believe that actual numbers appear, but it's a bit like staring at clouds. If you stare at a cloud or any inanimate object long enough you will eventually see shapes, faces or numbers.
The numbers, of course, are used to buy lottery tickets. In the Thai mind a lottery is not simply a game of random chance. The winning numbers are all around and it is simply a case of looking in the right places to find them.
To add to all of Yingluck's woes, she was also in trouble recently when eagle-eyed Thais noticed that on more than one occasion the winning lottery numbers were the same as the licence plate numbers on her vehicles.
My wife was one of many Thais who got really upset when watching news articles about this story.
In Cambodia recently a magic snake transmitted winning lottery ticket numbers to a local villager and so many people went to visit the snake that the owner of the premises where it lived asked police to put the poor animal into protective custody.
Asian belief systems are very powerful and they often relate to finding winning lottery ticket numbers.
Wednesday 21st May 2014
What can visitors to Thailand expect after the latest
coup invocation of martial law to preserve law and order, which isn't a coup? It can't be a coup because Thailand is now a mature democracy and coups are a thing of the past that only occur in immature, undeveloped countries. The answer is nothing much at all.
In the provinces I wouldn't have known that anything had happened in Bangkok unless I had read the news. It will be exactly the same in the tourist resorts. My wife watches Thai TV news and only mentions things to me that she thinks are significant. She hasn't said a single word about what has happened, so to her it isn't significant. This is the same for most Thais.
Coups Acts of military intervention "purely to preserve law and order" in Thai politics are quite routine and have been occurring regularly in Thailand since 1932 (18 coups and attempted coups since 1932). Thais would probably be more surprised if the country went more than 10 years without one.
In 2006 I had bought a ticket to fly to Bangkok and the coup occurred the day before I was due to go. At first I didn't know whether to cancel my trip, or not. I went ahead and then felt stupid about even considering cancelling.
Apart from a strong presence of soldiers, tanks and armoured vehicles on the streets of Bangkok, nothing had changed. Just as they are doing now, people were presenting the soldiers with flowers and food and lining up to take selfies with them.
If this had happened anywhere else in the world it might be cause for concern, but in Thailand it is just business as usual. Enjoy your time in the sun and don't worry. It's safer now compared to when the red and yellow shirts were holding rallies in Bangkok and tossing grenades at each other.
Tuesday 20th May 2014
Thailand is once again under military control now that the army has invoked martial law across the whole country, however, the army has stressed that it, "Definitely isn't a coup." In the immortal words of Lance Corporal Jack Jones, the Thai public has been told, "Don't panic!"
The situation had become impossible. The country has been split in two for a long time and neither side has been willing to negotiate, compromise, or agree a way forward with the other side.
The term 'civil war' has been appearing in lots of articles about the current conflict in Thailand. Such a scenario would be disastrous for Thailand and this kind of military action was inevitable, but what I'm not so sure about is what will happen next.
Presumably this will only be a temporary measure and sooner or later the country will hold another election. But if no dialogue or negotiations take place between the two sides before that happens, exactly the same thing will happen again. For as long as I can remember the problems in Thailand have kept going round in circles and unless someone comes up with a solution that is acceptable to both sides the problems will only keep going round in circles.
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