Living In Thailand Blog
Wednesday 30th October 2013
My wife saw this story on Thai news and told me about it before I saw this article. It surprised me and indicates that Thailand is becoming a nastier place.
On my first visit to Thailand in 1987 I was a typical naive tourist and didn't have a clue. Before I had even arrived in the country I had already worked out what I wanted to buy, and on my list was a fake Rolex. I don't know why. I also wanted to buy some made to measure clothes. Again, I don't know why.
Tourists in Thailand seem to arrive with preconceived notions of what to buy, what to do, what to wear, and where to go. Once you have lived in the country for a while these things just seem stupid. Anyway, I digress.
I knew that the 'Rolex' I bought in Pattaya was a fake. The seller told me, as did my common sense. How would it be possible to buy a genuine Rolex for a few hundred Baht? After I got home it ran for a few months and then stopped. Getting it repaired was out of the question, of course, so it went in the bin.
In Bangkok earlier this year I bought six pairs of underpants for Bt500 at the MBK mall in Bangkok. They all had designer names embroidered into the elasticated waistbands. I hate designer clothes and had no desire to wear pants with Calvin Klein, etc, written all over them but I had no choice. There were none for sale without a fake brand name.
I jokingly asked the salesgirl if they were real. Of course they aren't, she told me, how could they be for that price? There are lots of fake goods in Thailand, but I have never known a Thai trying to pass off fake goods as real. Everyone knows the goods are fake, the price is cheap, and it is a risk that you take. There are also plenty of places in Thailand to buy genuine goods if that is what you want.
This latest story is concerning on two counts. Firstly, fake goods were being passed off as real and sold at a high price. Secondly, and most concerning of all, is how Thais resort to violence once again when they can't get what they want. The story says that according to local residents this kind of thing is quite normal.
You are told that a watch is genuine. You try one some watches, but then realise that they are fake. You say, "No thank you," and then get beaten up. What was that about the Land of Smiles?
The watch on my wrist now was bought in Thailand in 1996 and is still running well 17 years later. I got my PADI Open Water scuba diving certification in the UK in 1996 and straight after that I went on vacation to Thailand to do some real scuba diving.
I stayed at Kata Beach in Phuket and did my diving with a small operation located right on the beach called the Kata Beach Dive Shop. I told the English owner, Alan, that I wanted to buy a watch for diving and he took me to a shop that he knew. I bought a very basic Citizen diving watch, but it has been totally reliable over the years.
It really shouldn't be difficult to work out which places sell genuine goods in Thailand and which sell fakes. The difference between somewhere like Central department store and a bloke selling watches out of a suitcase in Pattaya should be quite obvious. However, if you aren't sure ask a local Thai or an experienced expat.
While on the subject of fake goods in Thailand, one more point. Fake goods are on sale everywhere in Thailand and the authorities mostly turn a blind eye to what goes on. Nothing is easier than buying counterfeit items in Thailand.
However, your home country may have a slightly different view. Airport customs staff may even make a point of looking for fake goods belonging to passengers who have just arrived from Thailand.
I doubt that they would be very interested in my underpants, but if you have a suitcase full of dodgy software and DVDs, etc, they may get suspicious.
Monday 28th October 2013
Two stories contrasting the good and bad in Thailand, first the bad. One of the worst Thai traits is not wanting to compete fairly. Taxi drivers and massage shop owners will form mini cartels in order to keep prices artificially high.
Taxi drivers will 'claim' territories and if other taxi drivers operate in 'their' territoty they will resort to extreme violence. This has been a big problem in Phuket.
Rubber farmers should realise that rubber is simply a commodity, the price of which is governed by international markets. Causing disruption in an attempt to blackmail the government for prices above market rates is just stupid, but they are stubborn and continue with their silly games.
And yes, we all know that the government only has itself to blame for this.
The good news is the healthy situation of the budget airline market in Thailand. When I arrived in Thailand 10 years ago there were no budget airlines. They started to spring up in 2004, I seem to remember.
This is a truly open market and the competition has resulted in better service and lower fares for everyone. Ten years ago in southern Thailand, the only way to get to Bangkok was an expensive flight on Thai Airways or a 12 hour bus journey.
You can fly on a budget airline for a little more than the price as a bus ticket and the journey is one hour instead of 12. In a truly open market the airlines have to be competitive, otherwise they will go out of business. This is great for the paying public.
Prices drop and service improves. Air Asia used to have a bad reputation for reliability (my only Air Asia flight was fine going to Bangkok, but I suffered a seven hour delay on the way back), but apparently they have improved their service in recent years.
With the ASEAN economic community coming along, this will open up other markets in Thailand to foreign competition and Thai companies will have to improve in order to survive. It can only be a good thing.
The headline looks good, but - as usual - the detail is disappointing. It would seem that the only people the police are going after are those who park illegally and inconsiderately. In addition, this is only in Bangkok. So much more needs to be done.
We took a quick trip to the local municipality this morning. Some traffic lights about 200 yards ahead of me turned amber so I slowed down to stop for the red light. As I did so I looked in my mirror. There was a large tour bus on its way to Phuket thundering along 100 yards behind me and there was no way that the driver had any intention of stopping.
The lights had been red for about five seconds when he raced through the busy four-way intersection. As he went through I saw that a minivan was following the bus as closely as possible and this also went through the red lights. My wife cringed, as did I.
When Thai drivers approach traffic lights they try to turn their cars and trucks into trains. They figure that as long as they drive close enough to the vehicle in front, forming an unbroken convoy, the drivers with a green light will have to wait until they pass.
Not only are there lots of road accidents in Thailand, but there are lots of major road accidents that result in multiple fatalities. A high percentage of accidents involve passenger vehicles. When you see how fast minivans and tour buses travel in Thailand and how blatantly the drivers ignore traffic laws, it is no surprise.
I read a while ago that speed cameras were going to be installed in Phuket. As far as I know nothing happened. I have never seen a speed camera or traffic light camera in Thailand. If these were installed and offenders prosecuted the cameras would pay for themselves in no time and soon after would be bringing in a profit. They would also make the roads a lot safer. If drivers knew they were going to caught and prosecuted they might think twice about running red lights.
No one seems to care about making the roads safer and if more money needs to be raised it is easier to make foreign tourists pay another tax, rather than to penalise and fine dangerous Thai drivers.
Motorcyclists in Thailand shouldn't need to be 'convinced' or 'persuaded' to wear crash helmets. The law says that they must wear crash helmets. Full stop. And it shouldn't be foreigners in Thailand telling Thais that they should follow Thai laws. It is the responsibility of law enforcement agencies in Thailand to ensure that laws are enforced. It is this kind of thing that has made Thailand a laughing stock. Law has a completely differently meaning in Thailand compared with the civilised world.
Nationalism: loyalty and devotion to one's nation; esp the exalting of one's nation above all others.
Government policies to promote nationalism are shortsighted and invariably cause problems. The Nation has just published a report about poor standards of English in Malaysia. When Malaya was a British colony English standards were very high, but that situation has gradually been reversed since independence.
"During the British colonial era, schools used English as the medium of instruction. This continued after independence in 1957 and many English teachers either came from the United Kingdom or were trained there.
In 1970, the Malaysian government began requiring all state-funded schools to use Malay to teach, to build nationalism; though English remained a compulsory subject.
For a long time, English has been the de facto global language and with the different-speaking Southeast Asian countries joining together to form ASEAN, English will also be the common language of ASEAN.
The Thai government has also promoted nationalism for many years and a deep sense of nationalism is ingrained in all Thais. The two books I've read recently mention nationalism several times and look at the reasons from different perspectives.
Baker and Phongpaichit look at it from a historical perspective and the main reasons were nation building and turning Siam into a significant country in the world.
Mulder looks at the subject as an anthopologist. Law is a foreign concept in Thailand and the rule of law is either weak or non-existent. In that case, how do you prevent major social problems?
From an early age, the education system indoctrinates students to believe that their nation is indeed above all others. For the privilege and good luck of being born Thai, citizens should be forever grateful and they are obliged to repay the state by being good citizens and not causing any trouble. It's all about social control.
In Mulder's analysis of the social studies curriculum in Thailand, he makes the point that the principles of gratitude and obligation are repeated over and over again throughout the students' entire education.
Some patriotism is fine, and expected, but nationalism and believing that one nation is better than other nations is always dangerous.
Bangkok Post editorial:
Sunday 27th October 2013
There is a big culture of illegal street racing in Thailand. The movie 'The Fast and the Furious' and its many sequels have acquired a cult following among young Thai males.
Young (and not so young) Thai males like to decorate their vehicles in various ways. This includes plastering stickers over their cars and trucks. A common theme with these stickers is the word 'racing'. This word appears again and again.
On Toyota vehicles owned by Thai boy racers you will often see the acronym TRD, referencing the Toyota Racing Development division. I don't know what connection there is supposed to be between Toyota's racing development division and the division making pickup trucks and Toyota Vios shopping cars for elderly women, but many Thai men seem to think it is relevant.
Of course, young men all over the world like to drive fast and regard themselves as aspiring racing drivers. The difference in Thailand is that they can race around the streets with very little fear of being caught.
Occasionally the police round them up, and in one such round up a few years ago a policeman was run down and killed. Police in Ayuthaya have just rounded up 50 motorcycle street racers. The selfish little brats have absolutely no concern for the safety of legal road users and need to be dealt with harshly.
If they really want to race vehicles, they need to find places where they can race without putting other people's lives in danger. An old student of mine visited last week. She's doing a Bachelor's degree in Electromechanical Engineering, which is quite unusual for a girl
Some students in her faculty have built a race car and race in the Formula Student Auto Challange. She is very much involved and really enjoys it. It looks like tremendous fun. If you study mechanical engineering, as I did many years ago, it's a great way to put the theory into practice and make something that then provides a lot of enjoyment. Students have a great time and also learn a lot in the process.
Once they have set up their vehicles they get to race competitively in a controlled, regulated, safe environment. This is how it should be, but lots of Thai men just use the streets. This is the crazy side of Thailand. I like a lot of things about the country, but there is a completely wild side.
Saturday 26th October 2013
When you drive in Thailand the sight of other vehicles coming towards you on the wrong side of the road - that is, on your side of the road - is very common. Mostly the culprits are motorcyclists, who seem to think that traffic laws don't apply to motorbikes, but occasionally you see car and van drivers doing the same thing.
If Thais have the option of driving 100 yards illegally on the wrong side of the road or driving half a kilometre legally and doing a U-turn, many will just choose to take the easier option.
Friday 25th October 2013
In addition to the terrible accident in Lampang, this other accident was reported in The Nation. This accident, which killed another two people, doesn't even warrant a separate newspaper report in Thailand. The najority of road accidents that occur in Thailand aren't reported by the English language national press. Most fatal road accidents in Thailand aren't considered to be newsworthy because they happen so often.
Separately, another accident in Roi Et's Kaset Wisai district yesterday saw two deaths and 35 injuries. The accident took place at 4am on Payak Phumpisai-Kaset Wisai Road in Nam Om subdistrict, when the bus overturned before crashing into a ditch. Police believe the driver, who fled the scene, might have dozed off. The bus had 41 passengers and was heading for Ubon Ratchathani.
The article contains two phrases that crop up in virtually every report of a fatal road accident in Thailand. "The driver lost control," and "The driver fled the scene."
Thursday 24th October 2013
It never stops. No matter how many fatal crashes there are on Thai roads, the carnage just continues.
The plane crash in Laos that killed 49 people last week, including five Thai nationals, is getting a huge amount of news coverage. Depending on what statistics you believe, the same number of people - or more - die in road accidents in Thailand every single day. Fatal plane crashes don't happen that often.
I'm not trivialising what happened in Laos but I can't understand why there is so much shock and horror about a plane crash when road accidents, which claim far more lives every year, are virtually ignored as if they are unavoidable. The majority of road fatalities in Thailand happen as a result of high speed, stupidity and lawlessness. Many are very avoidable.
With another 21 people killed on Thai roads, this story hardly featured on The Nation website and I couldn't even find it on the Bangkok Post website. Road deaths are so common in Thailand that the newspapers regard fatal road accidents as minor news. It's a national tragedy.
When you drive regularly in Thailand and see how passenger minivans are driven, it is no surprise whatsoever that they are frequently involved in fatal crashes. I just get out of their way now; they are a nightmare.
Apparently, there was heavy rain when this latest fatal crash occurred. Thai driving standards are horrendous at the best of times, and drivers make no attempt to slow down when road and/or weather conditions get bad.
Maybe the regular flooding in Thailand every year is because no one really understands what causes it? To fix any problem, we first need to understand what the underlying causes are. It's good to see that progress is being made in this area. There's a good reason why there are so many PhDs in Thailand.
And more flooding in the San Tropez of the East.
In addition to a possible entry charge being introduced when foreigners arrive in Thailand, six airports in Thailand are increasing their passenger service charge.
The following Bangkok Post story answers my previous question. Yes, the departure tax does still exist. A few years ago you had to pay for it separately, but then it got rolled into the price of the ticket.
If the entry fee plan goes ahead, foreigners will pay a fee when they enter Thailand and another when they depart. The government has made some poor policy decisions recently, which have been very expensive.
It's sad that whenever money needs to be raised in Thailand the first people fo get hit are foreigners.
Tuesday 22nd October 2013
Starbucks, who charge customers the outrageous sum of Bt150 if you want to use their W-Fi connection while drinking their expensive coffee, are attempting to sue a poor Thai street vendor who calls his tiny refreshment selling enterprise Starbung. Bung is his nickname and this was his clever little play on words.
Thais do this all the time and I have seen several business names over the years that have been modelled on a famous brand. I took the Coffeebucks photo above many years ago in Songkhla and every Indian tailor shop in Thailand uses Armani somewhere in its name.
There is lots of copyright infringement and lots of piracy in the country. When I used to teach, the students were never given proper course books and I was told to copy copyrighted material to hand out to them. This is quite common and goes on everywhere. You can buy bound, copied versions of Lonely Planet guidebooks and many other books in Thailand.
Thais definitely need to learn a lesson about intellectual property rights and copyright, but I honestly don't think a tiny independent street vendor selling coffee in Bangkok going under the name of Starbung is going to do Starbucks any harm at all.
This smacks of corporate bullying and I'm pleased to see that Khun Bung is fighting back. He says they can send him to jail, but he won't remove his logo.
This Bangkok Post headline, referring to him as a Starbucks rival, is stupid. It is the very fact that he is definitely not a rival to Starbucks, and that his business won't impact Starbucks' business whatsoever, that makes this law suit ridiculous.
There seem to be a lot of big fires in Thailand. A few years ago there was a huge blaze in an illegal nightclub in Bangkok on New Year's Eve, in which 67 people died. The owner of the nightclub has just been acquitted.
Last week there was a massive fire in Phuket at the SuperCheap store.
Yesterday there was a big fire in Pattaya.
In my neck of the woods there was a huge fire a few months ago at a Buddhist monk's shop and there have been several other fires at an old market. The old market (Gim Yong) is mainly a wooden structure and once fire takes a hold it rips through the building very quickly.
I'm pleased that the action against illegal parking is being taken seriously. The usual problem in Thailand is that whenever the authorities decide to get tough with something the subsequent crackdown only lasts a short time before everything returns to normal. The authorities need to persist with this, and also to make it a nationwide issue. Just dealing with problems in Bangkok isn't enough.
Yet more fatal shootings in Thailand. There are a couple of things that really concern me regarding these stories. My first concern is the fact that so many mentally unstable Thais have guns in their possession.
It's frightening to think how easy it is for people to get hold of guns in Thailand.
My second concern is the trivial reasons over which some Thais will kill other people. Not liking something, getting upset about a minor matter, or having an argument is all it takes for the bullets to start flying.
And then there are the daily killings that occur in the three troubled southern provinces.
This, unfortunately, is the reality of the Land of Smiles.
Monday 21st October 2013
This contraption is known as a 'yor' in Thai. Click on the thumbnail for a larger image. Made from bamboo poles, the frame is moved up and down with a cantilever. Attached to the frame is a large net and devices like this are still used in rural areas of Thailand to catch fish. I imagine that years ago they were everywhere, but now there aren't too many.
ยอ - yor
I've seen them in various rural areas and this particular one is located in the Thale Noi wetlands reserve in Phattalung province. Urban areas of Thailand tend to be frenetic, chaotic places and occasionally I need to escape to the countryside in order to rescue my senses. Phattalung province must be one of the least developed provinces in Thailand and it's one of my favourite escapes.
The Thai verb 'to lift' or 'to raise' is 'yok'. Therefore, to lift the net it is 'yok yor'.
ยกยอ - yok yor - high tone/mid tone
'yor' or 'yok yor' is also a Thai idiom meaning 'to flatter'. If you're in your 80's walking past a bar in Pattaya the bargirls will shout out 'handsome man'. You can reply with 'yok yor' or 'bpaak waan', which means 'sweet mouth' in Thai (literally 'mouth sweet').
ปาก - bpaak (mouth) - low tone
หวาน - waan (sweet) - rising tone
Teenage Thai boys racing their motorbikes around the streets of Thailand delight in being able to lift the front wheel off the ground as a show of their maturity and masculinity. Westerners normally refer to this as a 'wheelie'. Wheel is 'lor' in Thai with a high tone, and thus this act of machismo is know as 'yok lor' in Thai.
ล้อ - lor (wheel) - high tone
Returning to those Pattaya bargirls and their sweet mouths, 'lor' also means 'handsome' in Thai when pronounced with a low tone. The different tones in Thai make the language quite difficult for foreigners.
หล่อ - lor (handsome) - low tone
It sounds confusing, but written Thai is actually quite logical - with the notable exception of implied (unwritten) vowels. Once you understand consonant classes and tone rules, working out the tone of words isn't too difficult. The only difficult part is remembering the correct tones.
Bangkok police are taking a hard line on selfish, inconsiderate drivers who think they have the right to park anywhere. The police have started towing their cars. This is great news. This obviously needs to happen in Bangkok where there are five million cars but only enough road capacity for two million.
I would love to see Thai police in the provinces taking similar measures.
The following kind of story and the examples of Thai logic contained within fascinate me:
My first question is what happened to the exit fee? A few years ago foreigners leaving the country by plane had to pay Bt500 at their airport of departure to leave the country. This separate payment stopped, but I was under the impression that it had simply been rolled into the airfare. If that is the case, then foreigners will be charged to enter and exit Thailand if this new plan goes ahead. Maybe my assumption is wrong?
"The tourism and sports minister (Somsak Phurisrisak) told me that every other country is collecting entry fees from foreigners," Mr Pradit said.
Really? I used to travel quite a lot before I lived in Thailand and I can't remember that being the case. I had to pay to visit Bali and there may have been a fee to pay when I went to Cuba, but most countries didn't make any kind of a charge.
The next point is the justification. The only reason, apparently, is to get better quality tourists visiting Thailand, whatever that means. It has nothing to do with money. With something like 22 million tourists visiting each year this would be an extra Bt11 billion in the coffers, but this of course is only of secondary importance. Really?
The report says that there are 100,000 foreigners in Thailand on illegal overstays. I knew there were a lot, but had never seen a figure before this report. This is interesting. If Thailand is really concerned about them, as it should be, what about a serious clampdown and spot checks everywhere? It wouldn't be that difficult to weed them out and deport them.
When I first arrived in Thailand I used to carry a copy of my passport and visa page around with me. I never got asked to show it, so stopped. Ten years later and I have still never been asked.
On a few occasions while travelling by bus near the Burmese border, immigration police have boarded the bus to do spot checks. They were only concerned with illegal Burmese in the country and didn't even bother asking the farangs on the bus for their documentation.
If Thailand is really concerned about bad people coming to Thailand, have Thais thought about what it is that draws bad people to the country? Lots of prostitution, sex with minors, weak law enforcement, an ability to live under the radar indefinitely. Wouldn't it be better to work on the things that attract them in the first place?
And with criminal types, do they really think that having to pay a Bt500 entry fee will deter them from entering Thailand?
I can't understand anything about this report at all, apart from it being a very easy and convenient way to raise a lot of money from foreigners. Once again, it is taking the path of least resistance and always opting for the easiest option. It is always a lot easier getting money from foreigners than it is from Thais.
Sunday 20th October 2013
Thailand has always been a violent country, but I'm convinced that it is getting worse.
After being on the wrong end of two road rage incidents recently I now only drive when I have to. Thais are the most selfish, aggressive, pigheaded drivers I have ever met. I find it very difficult to bite my lip and not say anything when they constantly try to get in front of me by any means possible and I know that if I react it will spark an incident and that a road rage incident in Thailand can easily be fatal.
We went downtown yesterday and my wife drove. She doesn't react to the morons on Thai roads in the same way that I do, and also her little car is a lot easier to park.
As she made a turn near our destination a tuk-tuk driver started to go crazy at her, laying on his horn and shouting abuse. It was completely unnecessary. He had one of his mates in the passenger seat so this probably made him feel brave. As we continued we saw him engaging in the same sort of behaviour towards other drivers.
If you read anything about Thai cultural behaviour, an adjective you will come across frequently regarding Thais is 'non-confrontational'. I have observed non-confrontational behaviour ever since I arrived in Thailand, and I still do, but what happens on Thai roads is completely the opposite.
Lots of Singaporeans and Malaysians visit southern Thailand often. It's an easy journey for them and it makes a pleasant change from what they are used to. Over the years I have become friendly with some of those regular visitors and we sometimes meet up for dinner. I checked my e-mail this morning and found the following from a Malaysian friend.
"My friend, his wife and 2 lovely daughters took us to Phu Hong Valley hill side Thai restaurant to have dinner. My son and I were really pleased with the pleasant ambience and surrounding garden, the dinner went on well.
While we were having dinner the table opposite us, a drunkard was spoiling the nice restaurant ambience with his constant shouting and interruption to the live singer. Just right on top of their table there was a TV screen, screening a football game so on and off I would looked up toward the screen.
Suddenly, the drunkard rushed to our table and attacked me, in front of my son and the 2 young daughters of my friend, they were shocked and cried. He shouted in Thai language that I stared at him. The drunkard's buddies quickly rushed in to stop him, they pulled him away from me. His buddies apologized to me many times. Those men were in their forties and 50's, decent dressing except the drunk man.
My son still in shocked wanted to go home, so I left early Saturday (yesterday). I wasn't hurt but was shocked. Truly an unfortunate experience and also a learning experience, not to face any drunkard table."
The only violent incidents I have experienced with Thai men have been on the road. This is the first time I have heard something like this. However, there are some parallels with the road rage incidents that I have experienced.
The first point is that although most Thais are pleasant, balanced and non-confrontational, there are also plenty of insane lunatics running/driving around the country. They are very aggressive and highly confrontational. Most tourists probably won't see any, but if you live in Thailand - or visit often - it increases your chances of encountering them.
The second point is that their behaviour is often made worse by alcohol or drugs. The guy in the story above was drunk. Drugs, especially yaa-baa (the crazy drug) are a big problem in Thailand and Thai men will think nothing of driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs. Why should they worry when there is no law enforcement?
The third point is that no matter how obnoxiously they are behaving or driving, no one can afford to say anything to them. My friend glanced at the TV and the drunk accused him of staring. This was enough to make the guy flip. It takes very little.
The road rage incidents occurred because I said something about their obnoxious and totally unacceptable behaviour on the road. The type of Thai man I am referring to believes that he has the right to do anything he wants, and all it takes for the red mist to descend is for someone to object to his behaviour.
My final point is that Thais such as this can't control themselves when the red mist descends. They may do things that even an hour later they will regret, but in the heat of the moment they have no control over their actions. If there is a gun or other weapon to hand they will use it. This has really started to concern me.
All foreigners living in or visiting Thailand need to exercise a degree of caution if they encounter certain Thai men.
Is this really getting worse, or is it my imagination? Most violent incidents I see are on Thai roads, therefore is it just that I have become more aware of this type of thing since I have been driving regularly in Thailand?
I don't know for sure, but I think that it really is getting worse.
The violent incidents are definitely class-related. I never have problems with Thai doctors driving their Benz models or university graduates. Generally, the problems are always with low paid minivan and taxi drivers, tradesmen driving pickup trucks, thugs with some money driving bully-boy Toyota Fortuners, and Thai boy racers, etc.
Thailand isn't a poor country; it is a rich country with a lot of poor people. Inflation continues to rage and everything is getting more expensive. The lower classes are struggling more and more, but because there is also plenty of wealth in the country they see that other people are doing well. They resent this.
When they encounter farangs I believe that there is a further level of resentment. I have never seen as much nationalism anywhere in the world compared to Thailand. Thais believe that they live in the greatest country on the planet, and with the special privileges that Thai men receive in society, Thai men are at the top of the heap - or so they believe.
Why then do they see farangs who appear to have money but who don't work? And these same farangs are often with the type of Thai women that they could never hope to attract. This causes more resentment.
I believe that there are also other factors. The huge increase in car ownership in Thailand in recent years, as a result of the government's populist policy making it cheaper for first time buyers to buy a car, must have hurt taxi drivers.
They have fewer passengers and the big increase in traffic has made it more difficult for them to do their job. They are frustrated because they never have enough money, and the traffic jams make them even more frustrated when they are trying to earn some money. This frustration can easily spill over into anger and then violence.
Taxi drivers seem to think that they have special privileges on Thai roads and that they are allowed to jump queues when other drivers have to wait. They don't, but this is how they think.
In addition, tens of thousands of Thais have moved to this part of Thailand from the three troubled southern provinces in the last few years and this has only made the local traffic worse. The extreme violence in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala only gets worse, not better, and no one appears to know how to solve the insurgency problem. The downtown area is a zoo and I'm very happy to have a house located away from the mayhem.
Maybe it is my imagination, but all I know is that my view of Thailand has changed completely in the last few years ... and not for the better. I find myself spending lots of time at home these days, where I feel safe and secure, and I only go outside when I really need to. It's not an ideal way to live, but it has been forced upon me.
Here are another couple of examples of Thai men losing control over trivial matters and their actions resulting in tragic consequences. With a lot of Thais it seems as if they are balanced precariously on a knife edge and all it takes for them to flip out of control is something minor.
Last week, a Thai man gunned down his neighbour in cold blood for using an electric sander in the process of repairing a fence.
Saturday 19th October 2013
This report says that severe weather warnings have been issued to 16 provinces in southern Thailand. I thought that there were only 14 provinces in the south (the most northerly southern province being Chumpon), but they have included Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan which aren't normally regarded as being in the south.
There has still been very little rain in this part of southern Thailand so far this rainy season, however, the weather warning extends until Wednesday and so there could be some wet weather to come.
It doesn't concern me now, but it would have done in the old rented house. After suffering a huge flood in that house it was a major worry every time a big storm arrived. If it rained continuously for two days I would have to start thinking seriously about moving things upstairs. It was a terrible way to live, but this is the problem many Thais face every rainy season.
I had my hair cut at a local barber shop yesterday for the first time. The owner has had the shop for 20 years and has never experienced a flood. She told me that the land here is seven metres higher compared to the area that was flooded badly three years ago. This was one of my main reasons for moving. We may get a lot of rain, but everyone I have spoken to says that flooding won't be a problem where I live now.
If you are planning to move to Thailand the risk of flooding is a very important consideration in the course of choosing where to live. Do your research, seek local knowledge, and move to an area that doesn't flood. Water does terrible damage and experiencing a major flood is no fun. No fun at all. Flooding occurs every year in Thailand. It isn't a case of if, but where and when.
If you are planning on being in southern Thailand in the very near future, be aware that it could be rainy. The seas are also rough and when the waves get too high some boat services between the islands and mainland are suspended.
With regard to flooding elsewhere in Thailand some provinces east of Bangkok seem to be worst affected this year, with Prachinburi province being heavily featured on Thai TV news. There has been a lot of floodwater in Prachinburi for a month or more. The elegant and sophisticated beach resort of Pattaya (in Chonburi province just south of Prachinburi) has also experienced some flooding.
Friday 18th October 2013
When speaking among themselves they all speak the southern Thai dialect, which is another problem. I can't understand what they are going on about most of the time because I only know the central Thai dialect.
They can speak and understand the central dialect, but there is never any thought of switching to the central dialect if I am around so that I can understand.
I remember being in Sweden years ago and whenever I was in the company of Swedes they would all switch to English out of common courtesy so that I could understand. Most Scandinavians tend to be highly educated, cultured and civilised. It's slightly different in Thailand.
When I meet up with my in-laws I am normally with my wife and don't say much. I'm sure they think I'm a snob, but that isn't the case. Conversation is difficult, unfulfilling, and if there is any conversation it is usually the same conversation as last time. Her mother wants to know if I have eaten rice, and if I haven't she wants to force some rice down me. Conversations with her father centre around his back problems and operation.
All of her brothers are in the car trade and conversations revolve around selling used cars and repairing cars and pickup trucks that have been damaged so severely that in any other country they would be written off and crushed.
Earlier this week I found myself having to take one of my wife's nieces to her grandmother's house. Due to the fact that my wife wasn't there I felt obliged to make some conversation.
The conversation turned immediately to my wife's pregnancy and I discovered that the family's overriding concern is selecting the correct day of the week on which the child will be born. This subject is treated with the utmost reverence and it is on the same level of importance as choosing the correct name for the child.
Once Thais have decided on the most auspicious day of the week for the birth, they will then tell the doctor who will carry out their wishes and induce the birth on the day they want. My daughter was due naturally on a Friday, but my wife said that she could only be born on a Tuesday or Saturday. She didn't want to wait another day, so the birth was brought forward three days and she was delivered on a Tuesday.
My brother-in-law looked me in the eye and told me that choosing the correct day of the week for the birth will ensure that the child is healthy and successful in life. Of course. I nodded and agreed with his analysis and everyone else in the room did the same thing. It probably wouldn't have been appropriate to have exhaled loudly through my teeth while my eyes headed for the ceiling.
I also uncovered another subject that is really concerning my mother-in-law. Since we moved into our new house we haven't had a bunch of monks come round to bless the house yet. When Thais acquire new houses or cars they regard these blessing ceremonies as being extremely important. You won't find anything about this if you read Buddhist texts, even though the people who perform the blessing ceremonies are Buddhist monks.
In the book Phra Farang where Peter Robinson describes his life living as a monk in Thailand he mentions how these blessing ceremonies were very routine and how, on one occasion, he and his fellow monks were asked to bless someone's new washing machine.
When we moved into the house the very first thing I had to do was to install the spirit shelf (hing pra) that my wife had bought. This had to be placed in exactly the right position in the house and on it is a Buddha image, candles, flowers and incense sticks, etc.
Every monks' day (wun pra), of which there are about three or four a month, a lady delivers fresh flowers to the house and my wife changes the flowers and gives her respects to the jao tee, who is the spirit responsible for looking after the house and its occupants.
Despite all this attention, her mother insists that the jao tee won't be happy until we get the monks in to give the house a proper blessing. She's putting a lot of pressure on my wife and I know that we will have to arrange a house blessing ceremony soon to keep everyone happy.
As a tourist to Thailand you see evidence of the local belief system everywhere, which has nothing to do with Buddhism, but maybe you don't think much of it. When you live in Thailand, especially if you are married to a Thai, it starts to have more of an affect on you.
I don't get upset about it. If anything, I find it quite amusing. This type of thing has also made me very aware how different I am to Thais. When I came to live in Thailand I knew it was going to be for a long time and I imagined that after many years I would assimilate. That hasn't happened, at all. In fact, the very opposite has happened.
Knowing what I now know about how Thais think and what they believe, I know that I can never be (or think) like them. I feel much more distant from Thais now compared to when I first set foot in the country.
It's not a problem. I'm married to a Thai and I can coexist with Thais, but my awareness and expectations are just a lot better than they used to be.
Thursday 17th October 2013
If shopping in Thailand, never assume that prices are roughly the same everywhere and never assume that market stalls and grotty shops have the cheapest prices. Quite often, not only are these places more expensive than reputable department stores, but they have no refund or exchange policy.
The room that I had planned to turn into a home theatre (big flatscreen TV and surround sound, etc) has now been turned into a children's play room. This is just one of the benefits of having children - think of all the money I have now saved by not having to buy this expensive electronic gadgetry.
I bought some interlocking rubber floor tiles with letters of the alphabet on them to make the floor softer for children as the floor is covered with hard tiles. Each pack had 26 tiles, one for each letter of the alphabet, and cost Bt289. I bought two packs, only to realise when I got home that it wasn't enough.
A few days later I went back to the same shop, but it was closed. I went to another toy shop, a grotty looking shop near the local market, and found the same thing. When I asked how much I was told Bt550. I almost fell over.
This was ridiculous. I know that shopkeepers are paying about the same for their goods, but some greedy people are just trying to make very big profits. We have had problems with this shop before. My wife had previously asked how much a certain toy was and was told a stupid price that was way higher than the department store price. We won't be going back there again.
On both occasions I knew that they were trying to rip us off so didn't buy. I guess that these unscrupulous shopkeepers rely on people who don't have much of a clue how much things should cost, and who don't look around first. It's easy to do and in our busy lives we don't always have time to research prices before we buy.
A while ago I bought two external hard drives from a shop where I had previously bought my main desktop computer and other equipment. I then found exactly the same drives at a shop a few doors away for several thousand Baht less. I was furious and went back. The guy actually refunded my money, but I was lucky and I think it was only because I was a regular customer.
Don't buy on impulse. Take a look around first and, if you can, ask some knowledgeable locals what prices should be.
In local Thai markets and shops you will quite often find that there are no prices displayed. The first price you will be told is sky high because the shopkeeper has nothing to lose by quoting a ridiculous price. If you object he will simply lower the price. Occasionally, he knows that a customer will just pay the crazy price and then he has made a big profit.
Haggling is expected and it is part of the Thai way of doing things. Many Thais, especially women, pride themselves on having good haggling skills and being able to get prices down.
An easy assumption to make would be that fancy department stores with all their overheads are expensive and grotty shops and market stalls are cheap. This is very wrong.
Department stores have specialist buying departments that buy in large quantities and they are able to negotiate good discounts. I have often found that department stores are a lot cheaper and that the quality of their goods is a lot better. They also offer proper guarantees and return policies.
Many years ago I bought a small holdall from a grotty shop for short trips. On the first short trip I took with the bag the zip broke. When I returned I went back to the shop. Despite having bought it only four days previously the woman was completely uninterested in exchanging it or giving me my money back. From that day on, I have always bought things from department stores.
One word of caution is that even the good department stores in Thailand have strange returns policies. They will only exchange things if you have a problem within something like 7 or 14 days. They will tell you this at the time of sale.
Most of the time I don't have a problem with things so quickly. However, I have had shoes fall apart after about a month and then you find that they refuse to exchange them because it isn't their policy to do so. What happens then?
Most department store items have a one year guarantee so if you have a problem within the guarantee period, but after the initial exchange period, they will offer to repair the item for you.
Most of the time (speaking from experience) the repairs aren't done locally, but carried out in Bangkok. It can take a long time to get something back from repair. When my DVD player went wrong under guarantee some years ago I had to wait about four months to get it back. I can wait, but if you are a tourist with a return ticket home you obviously can't wait.
Another thing to check for is that everything is included in the box and that things work. I have often found with electrical goods that Thais will set up whatever you buy in the shop and plug it in to make sure it works. This probably isn't a good idea if you have bought the wife something battery operated for her birthday, but with lamps and things it is a good idea.
While out shopping yesterday I bought my daughter an easel only to find there were parts missing when I got home. I took it back to Central where they were very apologetic and replaced it straight away without even asking to see the receipt.
Places like Central and Robinson are pretty good. I've bought lots of items from these places over the years and have had very few problems. I bought the easel in a sale and the price was a lot lower than the markets or grotty shops, plus the customer service was good when I had a problem. This is why I buy mostly from reputable department stores.
There are bargains to be had when shopping in Thailand, but you need to shop carefully. Nothing is ever what it seems in Thailand and you need to be careful with what you buy and where you buy from. A piece of rubbish is a piece of rubbish, no matter how cheap it was. If you are a tourist and won't be able to return to the shop if you have a problem, you need to be even more careful.
Wednesday 16th October 2013
Lottery draws for the legal government lottery are held twice a month in Thailand on the 1st and 16th of the month. Tickets are sold every day, but frenetic ticket buying takes place on the day of the draws.
My wife often disappears for half a day to do something lottery related with her sister on the 1st or 16th. I don't know exactly what she does, but because of the time involved I presume it is more than simply buying a ticket. I also hear her talking with her friends on the phone quite regularly about lucky numbers. It's an obsession with Thais.
Compared to other countries, lottery prizes in Thailand are small. If you win the lottery in Thailand you might be able to buy a new car, whereas big lottery winners in the UK and other countries get catapulted straight into the Sunday Times Rich List.
You can't select your own numbers, as you can in other lotteries. The tickets have pre-printed numbers. However, Thais will have lucky numbers in mind and will sort through the tickets until they find numbers that they like.
Naive Westerners may think that buying a winning lottery ticket is purely an act of random luck. However, this is not how Thais see it.
As far as Thais are concerned, some kind of supernatural power is trying to tell them what the winning numbers will be. Therefore, all it takes to win the lottery is an ability to be able to tune in to the right supernatural frequencies. They spend a lot of time doing this.
Our daughter, who is still unable to read or write, scribbles away on paper (and furniture) with crayons. Her scribblings are then analysed to see whether she has left any clues. Perhaps supernatural clues are arriving through the cats? Their leftover food is analysed to see if it resembles any numbers. Were any numbers featured in dreams?
Thais always make a big thing about tum buun (making merit) and when they make merit they want to see some fast returns. Winning lottery numbers are high on the list of things wanted as a result of making merit and monks with saksit power can foretell winning numbers.
I feel a bit sorry for some of the people who sell lottery tickets. Very few Thais receive a pension and thus they have to continue working for as long as they can. I've seen old women in their 80's pounding the streets selling tickets so that they can earn some money to survive. Buying a ticket might not make you rich, but it will at least help the poor people selling them on the streets.
My view regarding lotteries has always been that they are a voluntary tax for people who are mathematically challenged. I can count the number of lottery tickets I have bought in my lifetime on the fingers of one hand.
I made this comment to an old colleague in an e-mail a few months ago and he has a different view. He's a very clever guy and I thought that his comments were quite interesting.
His view is that people take out insurance for the bad things that happen in life, but never for the good things. That's very true. A significant portion of my income is spent on insurance for houses, cars and health. He regards lottery tickets as insurance for something good happening.
If you subscribe to this view, I guess it then comes down to probability and odds. When I take out a new health insurance policy for a year I know that I will use it at some stage. The money I get back may be less than the cost of the policy, however, it could go the other way and save me a lot of money.
With house insurance I don't expect to have to make a claim but, in the event of something major happening, not having insurance could cost me a fortune. Having insurance gives me peace of mind.
I've never had to claim on my car insurance either (remarkably in Thailand), but if the car is totalled it could also cost me a lot of money and this is more peace of mind.
With lottery tickets the odds of winning are very remote. Yes, I know that someone has to win, but the chances of it being me are very slim. It probably wouldn't hurt to buy a ticket each month, but the wife does that anyway.
There's an old joke about a guy who prays to God because he wants to win the lottery. God replies and tells the guy, at least give me a chance to help you and buy a ticket first. If you buy a ticket it is unlikely that you will win, but at least you have a chance. If you don't buy a ticket you don't have any chance at all.
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