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  • Living in Thailand Blog September 2007

 

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Living In Thailand Blog

Sunday 30th September 2007

Near to where I live there is a new AMG Mercedes SLK parked on the street. It's an impressive looking car and, no doubt, a lot of fun to drive. Luxury German cars are expensive anywhere in the world but in Thailand they are sold for crazy prices because of high import tariffs.

Thais are very good at being poor when it suits them but you only have to look at the cars and trucks being driven around to realise they aren't quite as poor as they make out to be. I don't know who owns the SLK. It is parked outside an insurance company so perhaps it belongs to the company.

After getting back from Singapore, I walked past the car and noticed some strange swirling patterns on the bonnet. Thais get their cars blessed by Buddhist monks and at first this is what I thought the markings were. The monks daub paint as part of the blessing ceremony but normally they do it on the dashboard and roof lining - not on the paintwork.

I've had a couple more looks and what I think has happened is that someone has drizzled paint remover or brake fluid over the car in an act of vandalism. Nice, eh?

While driving in Thailand you are constantly at risk of crazy motorcyclists or drunk pickup truck drivers slamming into you and when your car is parked you are at the mercy of thieves or jealous vandals.

Iss read a report in the Thai press recently that thieves favour Honda Jazz models. They are popular cars here and also very easy to steal, apparently. An experienced car thief can be driving your locked Honda Jazz away in about five minutes.

If I ever buy a car in Thailand it will be out of necessity and nothing else. Ideally I would like to end up in a part of rural Chiang Rai or somewhere surrounded by rice fields and mountains, far away from traffic jams, pollution, crazy drivers, vandals and car thieves.


The visa nonsense in Singapore has really put a damper on things at the moment. The plan was to have a bit of a holiday in Singapore and maybe buy a new camera but after the bad news I didn't feel like doing any fun activities.

This has been my most expensive month in Thailand since I arrived here to live. I've had to pay for medical insurance and house insurance for my UK property - just over Bt30,000. My old mobile phone bit the dust so I had to buy a new one.

I took Iss to Singapore and the whole trip cost about Bt33,000. I bought her a new camera for no other reason than she has a crap life, she gets little, she asks for nothing, she is always there to help me, and she deserves it. The camera - a Nikon D40 - was just under Bt20,000.

I've had some presents to buy this month for family celebrations. Along with my rent and normal living expenses, my expenditure for September 2007 has been about Bt120,000.

This is why - despite having lots of days throughout the year where I spend only a couple of hundred Baht or less - my average daily spending throughout the year is around Bt1,400.

I didn't buy the camera I was after (about Bt40,000) and I have put my October travel plans on hold. With all the uncertainty I face at the moment and the chance that I may have to travel more to get visas, I need to keep some money back - just in case.

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Saturday 29th September 2007

Some catching up today and quite a long entry so you might want to grab a coffee first if you were planning to read to the end.

I have just returned from Singapore where I met my one week-old niece. A newborn baby is the ultimate expression of a pure and uncorrupted mind and it was therapeutic just watching her sleep. As we grow up, we cause problems for ourselves and each other as a result of our minds being filled with corrupt thoughts and ideas. Why do we do this?

A major aspect of Buddhism is meditation and the purpose of meditation is to cleanse our minds of these impure and corrupt thoughts. The cravings we have in life for worldly things and experiences to satisfy our senses (which all cause suffering ultimately) were not there when we first entered this world but get planted from all kinds of different sources as we experience life. They are not natural.

For me, Singapore is always a welcome break from Thailand. I'm not convinced I would enjoy living there permanently (and I couldn't afford to, anyway) but I enjoy short trips down there to experience First World living again. There is a huge contrast between Thailand and Singapore despite the fact they are so close to each other geographically and I find these massive differences in culture and behaviour quite fascinating.

My other reason for going was to renew my visa at the Thai Embassy but I didn't have very much success. The experience made me angry and frustrated but I will try to keep those emotions out of my writing. Whenever I re-read something I wrote when I was angry, I don't like the way I sound so I will try to keep it objective.

Firstly, I will summarise how the non-B visa process used to work.

Upon receipt of a job offer in Thailand, and with a suitably worded letter from your employer, it was necessary to go to a Thai Embassy or Consulate outside of Thailand where they would issue you with a 90 day, single-entry non-immigrant type B visa.

After returning to Thailand, this visa would allow you to work legally but in that three months you were expected to obtain a work permit - a process that can take up to a couple of months.

Once you had a work permit, you could return to a Thai Embassy or Consulate outside of Thailand and they would issue you with a one year multiple-entry non-immigrant type B visa.

When you next returned to Thailand, immigration would only stamp 90 days into your passport despite having a one-year visa. It was then necessary to extend your work permit to get it in synch with your passport stamp.

Before your passport stamp expired, you had to leave the country and re-enter to get a new one and then get your work permit extended again so it is kept in synch.

It's a time consuming and boring process but this is what I've been doing for almost the last three years. After my initial three month visa, I got two one-year visas from Penang. It is possible to get another 90 day stamp just before the visa is about to expire so a one-year visa is good for 15 months.

That's how it used to work.

On this recent trip, I had some concerns about a new requirement I'd read about which was a police clearance check for anyone teaching in Thailand. I had tried to get more information but - as usual - all I could find were rumours and conflicting reports.

Some people said it wasn't necessary while others had been refused visas for not having it. Some said it could be obtained in Bangkok while others said it had to be obtained in your home country. Some information I saw said it was only necessary if teaching children but I don't teach children.

In the end, I decided not to do anything but to take a chance and that was the only concern I had. This year, I actually have two part-time jobs instead of one as in previous years. I took along a wad of paperwork including two signed contracts, a letter from each employer confirming my employment and supporting my application, and my work permit.

A few weeks ago, I e-mailed three separate 'visa agents' in Penang. I told them what I wanted and what documentation I had. They told me it wouldn't be a problem getting a one-year non-B in Penang. However, because of the arrival of my new niece, and because I prefer Singapore to Penang, I opted to go to Singapore instead. I was about 90% confident that my application would be successful.

The Muslim woman dealing with visa applications at the Singapore Embassy wasn't the friendliest of people but I guess that she deals with a lot of nonsense and stupid people in her job. They operate a queue system there where you take a ticket and go to the window when your number is called.

If people didn't appear at her window within about three seconds, she just pressed the button again for the next person. She came across as surly and officious as I listened to her dealing with other people. Perhaps it was a case of the Monday morning blues or perhaps she is always this way. Perhaps she was just hungry; it being Ramadan.

When my turn came, she ripped apart my neatly presented folder of paperwork and threw back anything she didn't want. She seemed to be looking for reasons not to give me a visa. Nothing was mentioned about the police clearance check that I have read so much about. She told me she didn't know whether a visa would be given or not so I had to call back after lunch. She said that as I had a work permit it should be OK.

She also said that if I got a visa, it would only be for three months. That is almost useless to me so obviously I wasn't happy. I mentioned that I had obtained one-year visas from Penang the last two years. Her response was that I should go to Penang then. That was really helpful.

She said that one-year visas are only issued to Singaporeans and that they can't give one-year visas to other foreign nationals. This isn't true of course. The decision is at their discretion and that can do whatever they want. There is a difference between won't and can't.

Singapore, of course, has a keen interest in Thailand. The small nation state is cash rich but poor in terms of land and natural resources so it must invest in other countries. There is a massive amount of Singaporean investment in Thailand and Singapore was Thaksin's favoured trading partner when it came to selling off national Thai assets.

Singapore also has a majority ethnic Chinese population and no race is more protectionist than the Chinese when it comes to business. It shouldn't really surprise me that Singaporeans find it easy to get business visas at the Thai Embassy in Singapore whereas foreigners don't.

I then had to wait but regardless of the decision, it was unacceptable to me. I called back after lunch (their lunch break is from noon to 2pm apparently, according to the recorded message) and was told my application had been accepted but even so, a 90 day visa wasn't what I wanted.

The next day I went to collect my passport. On the visa they had written my place of employment but only for one of the places where I teach. As I looked further down, they had stamped on the visa that the applicant should apply for a work permit before applying again.

As well as anger and frustration, I also felt a sense of disbelief. How could they return my work permit to me and stamp in my visa that I should apply for a work permit? Steam was coming from my ears.

I waited for everyone else to leave and then approached the window again asking to talk to the supervisor. I was hoping for a little more cooperation but the supervisor had exactly the same attitude and was not interested in helping me.

I was told to speak to immigration in Thailand to get an extension. They added my second place of employment but why they wrote this information on my visa, I don't know. It had never been done before.

When I asked them to explain why they had stamped a message advising me to obtain a work permit when I already had one, they said it's because my work permit is about to expire. But of course it is. The Department of Labour in Thailand will only extend it to keep in synch with my most recent passport stamp so it is always 'just about to expire'.

I mentioned again that my previous two applications in Penang had been fine whereupon the supervisor told me that Penang are now only issuing 90 day visas but how true this is, I don't know.

Where does this leave me now? The visa runs to almost the end of the year and I have applied for a work permit extension to keep the two in synch. Once I have my work permit back I will talk to the local immigration office.

It's only a single entry visa so if I want to leave the country for any reason I need to pay Bt1,900 for a re-entry permit otherwise the visa will be invalid when I return.

Depending on who I talk to at the immigration department, and what kind of a mood they are in on the day, I might get an extension or they might tell me to go to Penang. It's not unusual when dealing with Thai bureaucracy to be batted around from one department to another. No one wants to help and they just send you on wild goose chases.

What is certain is that in the coming weeks I will be wasting even more of my own time trying to sort this out when I can see no reason why I wasn't granted a one-year visa in the first place. I have two jobs, two contracts and a work permit. I am also officially qualified to do the job I do. What is the problem?

I seem to spend most of my free time these days battling with bureaucrats just so I can stay in Thailand for the privilege of teaching Thai students a vital skill in today's world.

If immigration in Thailand won't extend my visa, perhaps I will need to make another visit to a Thai Embassy or Consulate. Who knows, I might even get a one-year visa next time? The rules seem to change with the wind. Perhaps I will be forced to go back to the UK to get a visa?

Embassies and Consulates always favour their own citizens. This was confirmed in Singapore and I am pretty sure that I wouldn't have had a problem in the UK - especially at Hull. However, as a European or North American living and working in Thailand, it isn't exactly convenient - or cheap - to go back to your home country every time you need a new visa.

At the moment, I have more questions than answers. Thai Embassies and Consulates around the world do everything at their own discretion but what guidance do they receive and from where? In my case, two Thai educational institutions (one of them being the top university in southern Thailand) want me to work for them but the Thai Embassy in Singapore have made it very difficult to do that.

Why? Who does their decision benefit? It certainly doesn't benefit me or the people who want me to work for them. Is it just bloody-mindedness? I will never know and I will never be told.

I don't like bureaucracy any more than other people like it but while living as part of a society I respect the fact that there must be laws, rules and regulations. What I can't accept though is when these rules and regulations make absolutely no sense and no justification has to be given.

One of the reasons, I fear, is Thai short-sightedness and the national obsession with money. Tourists are very welcome. They aren't allowed to work and they only spend money in Thailand. Most visas being handed out in Singapore were tourist visas. "That will be 85 Singapore dollars, please." It's money for nothing and with the airport departure tax as well, tourism is a nice little earner for Thailand.

Retirees also seem to be very welcome. Again, anyone on a retirement visa isn't allowed to work and they only bring money into the country. The main criterion for obtaining a retirement visa - apart from being over 50 - is a financial one. Every year, when it is time to reapply for a retirement visa, the authorities want proof that the applicant has Bt800,000 in the bank.

Could it be that people teaching in Thailand for a salary are actually seen as taking money out of Thailand, rather than just bringing it in, as tourists and retirees do?

I don't know. You would think that bringing a key skill to Thailand would be appreciated but that is not how Thais think. Many other countries are fully aware of the importance of the English language and pay native speakers good salaries to teach that skill. Thais, however, don't generally have that foresight, and many think only of money.

In a hypothetical 'magic genie' scenario, if you asked a young Thai whether they wanted Bt100,000 in cash or the immediate ability to speak perfect English - a skill that would earn them far more money over a period of time - most would probably choose the money.

With the money, they would buy new motorbikes, mobile phones and clothes, have a few parties with what was left and blow everything in no time at all. The 'live for today' attitude and the obsession with money are national traits.

My previous landlord was a highly intelligent university head of department but even he was afflicted with the same failing. He managed to find a stupid farang (me) to pay a very high rent for one of his rooms that no Thai would dream of paying. I only paid it because I wanted a large room at the time and it was the only large room I could find.

But even that wasn't enough for him. He continually tried to find ways to screw a few more Baht out of me each month - as if I didn't realise what was going on. Thais should learn the proverb about cooking the golden goose.

His naivety and lack of foresight resulted in him losing everything when I announced I was leaving; a decision he was not at all happy about but it was his own doing. The final straw was him jacking up the phone charges one month without telling me in order to extract another few hundred Baht each month. Enough was enough.

The point of this example is to demonstrate the Thai way of thinking. There is no forward thinking about what is best in the long run. All decisions are based on getting as much money as possible right now, this minute.

The landlord, after acquiring me as a high-paying tenant, should have gone out of his way to do everything in his power to keep me sweet but he didn't. I asked for a broadband Internet connection (these are cheap in Thailand now and available in most apartment buildings) but he only saw this as an unnecessary expense.

Instead, he forced me to use a dial up connection and then - to add insult to injury - he tried to screw me further by increasing the phone charges. When will they ever learn?

Depending on what happens next, I will then have to decide what my next course of action is. I am annoyed and sometimes feel like jumping ship but that would be akin to cutting off my nose to spite my face.

Thailand is a convenient and comfortable place to live with a lot going for it. Going back to a Western lifestyle is not an option for me at the moment and no other Asian country is quite like Thailand.

I mentioned recently that I don't want to teach for a lot longer but another year would suit me. It would be another year closer to being able to apply for a retirement visa and another year closer to achieving my financial objectives for a retirement fund.

If I am forced by bureaucrats to stop working before then, then so be it, but all they will achieve is making life difficult for me and depriving my students of a teacher. I will find alternative ways to get what I want but it all seems so pointless.

What I also think we are seeing in Thailand is the fall out from certain events of the last 10 years. Behind the smiles, Thais have never really trusted foreigners. Foreigners are a necessary evil as far as most Thais are concerned - good as a source of money (they have bottomless supplies of the stuff, after all) but not good for much else.

The 1997 financial crisis was blamed on foreign currency speculators, not Thai greed. The Thais were then betrayed by one of their own a few years later when, after being put in charge of the country, he started selling off the family jewels to foreigners.

Since kicking Thaksin out, the country has gone very inward-looking and the mantra is that of sufficiency economy. I happen to agree with this theory but it is designed to have less reliance on external factors and is not intended to be xenophobic. Unfortunately, there is a serious xenophobic streak in the Thai psyche that rears its head whenever scapegoats are needed.

In the 1600s, a Greek adventurer called Constantine Phaulkon came to Thailand and worked his way up in the royal court to become first counsellor to King Narai. This created lots of jealousy and envy. Phaulkon was eventually seized and beaten to death.

This single event effectively closed the door to foreigners in Thailand as a xenophobic mood swept over the country and it wasn't until the reign of Rama IV over 100 years later that foreigners really started appearing in Thailand again.

During Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram's dictatorship of Thailand, another wave of xenophobia (this time against the Chinese) swept through Thailand as he compared the Chinese in Siam to the Jews in Germany.

All of the above is speculation, of course, but these are strange times in Thailand and I can't quite figure out in which direction the country is headed.

Making it difficult for me to work in Thailand is insignificant and affects only a handful of people but if all nearby Thai Embassies and Consulates start to refuse work permit holding teachers new one-year visas, then there will be implications for lots of other people fairly soon.

Footnote: My younger brother is experiencing mega problems with Singapore immigration. He has Permanent Residency (PR) status but he and his Thai partner are not married. He is now facing a battle trying to keep his girlfriend and baby in the country. I expect they may just tie the knot which will resolve a lot of the problems.

He has been speaking to a lawyer about his issues. The lawyer told him that immigration have no fixed rules and are a law unto themselves. Different decisions will be made depending who you speak to on the day and what kind of mood they are in. I think it is the same in every country.

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Friday 21st September 2007

I talk a lot about the dangers on Thai roads on this site. I am aware I do this and I am aware that some people may find it boring. I do it because I believe everyone visiting Thailand should be aware just how dangerous Thai roads are. It's no joke.

I was almost killed in Bangkok last year by an unbelievably stupid, illegal taxi driver from Isaan who didn't have a clue where anything was in Bangkok. He took one too many wrong turns and then, after realising we were on our way to the old airport, stopped (yes, stopped) in the fast lane of the highway and attempted to exit by crossing about six lanes of very fast moving traffic.

I sat there in the fast lane waiting for a huge truck to rear-end us at 140kmh and I really thought that my time was up. I shouted at him to keep going. He smiled back at me and said, "Mai bpen rai."

A traffic cop managed to get him into a safe area, arrested the guy, and flagged down a proper taxi for me. The second driver took me still trembling to my hotel. I was lucky that time but I may not be so lucky the next time.

Yesterday, a 31 year-old Australian girl teaching English in Thailand didn't have the luck I did and she died in what looked like a horrific crash. Here's the link to the story. It's in Thai but the photos tell the story without having to understand the words.

It is conceivable at the moment that some people might be worried about taking low-cost flights in Thailand - and that is understandable - but your journey to and from the airport is potentially far more dangerous than travelling by air.

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Thursday 20th September 2007

I have reached a fairly critical stage regarding my continued existence in Thailand and next week will be very busy.

If all goes to plan, I will be doing a little travelling in Thailand later in the month before returning to my normal life around mid-October (if life in Thailand can ever be classed as normal).

More to follow in due course but I am not anticipating writing much here in the next few weeks.


From the BBC:

The three Thai players on trial at Manchester City last week said the language problems proved a difficulty for them.

"Sometimes we did not understand what Sven-Goran Eriksson wanted us to do," said triallist Teerasil Dangda.

Perhaps there's a niche market in Thailand for teaching football cliches to promising Thai footballers? "At the end of the day, it's all about putting the ball in the back of the net." That kind of thing.

I need to give this some thought...

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Wednesday 19th September 2007

There is currently a girlfest in town; I've never seen so many females. I wasn't sure why at first but then it dawned on me.

It's graduation week this week and many people have travelled to see their friends and relatives graduate. The university has a ratio of six female students to every male and whenever I ask a female student about brothers and sisters, it always seems they have two, three or four sisters and no brothers.

With so many female siblings around at the moment for graduation, that would probably account for the plethora of females. It must be something they put in the water here but I'm not complaining.


I became an uncle today and there is now Thai blood in the family. My younger brother's Thai girlfriend gave birth to an, as yet unnamed, daughter so I have a little laan-saaw luuk-kreung.


Being bilingual 'protects brain'

I am far from being bilingual but perhaps learning Thai late in life will have other benefits other than just being able to help me communicate with the locals?

Learning Thai certainly exercises the brain, if nothing else. At times, I wonder just how many languages I am actually trying to learn. Some southerners seem keen on teaching me the southern dialect but as a rule I just stick to the paasaa glaang central dialect.

There are four main dialect groups in Thailand and they are quite different but all Thais know the central dialect in addition to their regional one so they can always communicate with each other, regardless of where in the country they come from.

I have also found that Thais from the south know quite a lot of words from the northern and northeastern dialects.

Sometimes different vocabulary is used and sometimes the same word will be used in different regions for the same thing but with a different tone. Considering that different tones can completely change the meaning of a word, this just adds another degree of difficulty to the language.

Thais sometimes think I am speaking in the southern dialect but it is simply a case of me having made a mistake and I got the tone wrong, as I often do.

Talking of the word 'often', I was pulled up last night by a very well-bred Thai girl for speaking impolitely. But at least she told me and now I can avoid the same mistake. Thais are generally too polite to tell you when you make a mistake so you just continue making it.

I thought the standard Thai word for often was 'boy', or 'boy boy' for very often. However, she told me it was impolite and that I should use bpra-jum. My wrist was officially slapped.

So, in addition to the different dialects, you have different words for the different degrees of politeness - and there are lots of them. One further complication is that certain words are only used in written Thai, not spoken Thai.

In English, we write the same way as we speak but in Thai the written language is very formal and quite different to everyday spoken Thai.

It's a tough learning curve but an exponential one. When I started I couldn't remember anything but as I have learned more I find it slightly easier to remember new words and phrases. Instead of having to be told 20 times before I remember, I only need to be told 10 times now.

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Sunday 16th September 2007

Thailand is back in the news again for all the wrong reasons. The day started with news of the death of Colin McRae in a helicopter crash and ended with news of a plane crash in Phuket.

Doubtless, many foreigners will have been killed. Phuket, known locally as amphoe farang, is a primary destination for foreign tourists.

The island province is one of ten provinces that have been warned in recent days of heavy rains and flash floods (Ranong, Phang Nga, Krabi, Phuket, Trang, Satun, Chumphon, Surat Thani, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, and Phatthalung). Bad weather, therefore, may have been a factor.

When I arrived in Thailand at the end of 2003 there were no cheap internal flights but the budget airline market went crazy in 2004. With flights becoming available for just a little more than bus tickets, it was great news for a lot of people considering that travelling by road from one end of the country to the other can take 24 hours.

This is the first accident involving a Thai budget airline.

With millions of passenger miles travelled by air each year, it is statistically a very safe form of travel - certainly safer than travelling by road in Thailand. However, when I am sitting on a plane, that statistic never seems very reassuring.

I have a flight booked later this week and will probably be booking more flights in October to travel around Thailand a little.

I heard the news from a Thai guy on the street as I was wandering around this evening. I had been on my way out for dinner and a massage but upon hearing the news, lost my appetite for both.

For updates on this story, visit The Nation.


Now that, hopefully, my life is quietening down a little, I want to try to get back into my Thai studies.

Thai - similar to English - is very idiomatic and I like idioms. The fact that an idiom exists says that the pattern of behaviour it describes is commonly known by everyone, otherwise there wouldn't be an idiom.

Idioms are therefore good insights into cultural behaviour. The source for these was in Thai so transliterations and translations are my own. Feel free to correct my translations.

Translating from Thai to English seldom makes sense when translating word by word so a degree of artistic licence and interpretation is required.

The method I am forced to use to input Thai script with my preferred text editor is quite laborious so I will just include the transliterated versions here.

sun-lung yaaw - long spine/backbone = lazy, indolent (this one is very well known by the Thais)

len hoo len dtaa - play with ears, play with eyes = to flirt

dtao hua ngoo - old man snake head = dirty old man

ko gair chawp gin yaa on - old bulls like eating soft grass = old man with a young wife

kaaw mai bplaa mun - new rice, plump fish = newly married, the honeymoon period

dtee taay krua - to hit the backside of the family = commit adultery, have an illicit affair

soy dok faa - to pull down a flower from the sky = to marry a girl from a higher social position

hoo tuwan lom - ear against the wind = to turn a deaf ear

leu-ut kao dtaa - blood in the eyes = to be mad with rage

kum waan or bpaak waan - sweet words or sweet mouth = sweet talk (very similar to the English version)

gluay gluay or moo moo - banana banana or pig pig = very easy (in other words, a piece of cake)

maa gut mai hao - a dog that bites doesn't bark

glai dtaa glai jai - far from the eyes, far from the heart = out of sight, out of mind (I mentioned in a previous blog entry that Thais think differently to Westerners. Thais point to their hearts and not to their heads when telling you they are thinking about something.)

gin naam hen bpling - drink water, see leeches = to feel embarrassed or ill at ease about something

bpaak mai sin glin naam nom - a mouth that isn't finished/ready smells of (breast) milk = wet behind the ears

ying gra-dtaay - shoot a rabbit = to urinate (siphon the python)

maa lop gut - a dog that bites slyly = one who does things behind another person's back

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Saturday 15th September 2007

A woman started talking to me in the street yesterday and I quickly got the impression that something wasn't quite right. She spoke in the kind of 'bar English' that you hear from bar girls but I don't live in a part of Thailand where there is a bar girl scene.

We exchanged some small talk and she told me that she used to have a Canadian boyfriend but they split up after she had told him a lie and he found out.

Out of the blue, she suddenly asked me if I wanted a chocolate lady. What she meant was did I want a dark-skinned prostitute. Farang chawp dum dum. It is a well known fact in Thailand that all farangs, without exception, prefer dark-skinned Thai girls.

She told me she was a mamasan and gave me a list of what she could offer. She had girls from all parts of Thailand; of all ages from 20 up; and all skin colours. She described what they could do and that they were available for short-time rental or all night.

This kind of thing isn't unusual in tourist Thailand but it is in the deep south. The prostitution scene is fairly active locally but men go to where it is located. There are no obvious freelance hookers on the streets and it was the first time I have been approached in this manner.

Sometimes tuk-tuk drivers mistake me for a tourist and ask if I want a lady. They do this with all men they suspect of being tourists but all they will do if you say yes is take you to one of the local brothels so they can collect their commission. If I really wanted to go, I would go by myself and save money.

The saddest part was how she described some girls on her books from Chiang Rai as being sweet and gentle, and I'm sure she was telling the truth. They're not forced into prostitution but if the family is in financial difficulties, it's the only way a poor Thai girl can earn more than a pittance so it then becomes the only viable option.

The whole conversation took me by surprise a little but I came away feeling sad that one person can be dealing with other people's lives as if those other people are rental cars.

What colour do you want? Manual or automatic? How long do you want it for? Don't forget to fill the tank before you bring it back. Have a nice day.


After making a tongue-in-cheek remark recently (2nd September) questioning why Thailand bothers with road signs and traffic lights, I was intrigued by a story earlier in the week about the town of Bohmte in Germany that has removed all traffic lights and stop signs in an effort to improve road safety.

The theory is that in the absence of traffic lights and stop signs, drivers will exercise even more caution than usual. I can understand the theory and I think the scheme will be successful in Germany. It would also work in other Western countries where, in general, drivers exercise caution and abide by traffic laws.

However, it would be a different matter in Thailand and this is a good example of what I was saying about Thais thinking (if that's the right word) differently to Westerners.

In Thailand, such an exercise would be an open invitation for all drivers to drive straight through junctions as fast as they can. Exercising caution at road junctions in Thailand does not involve slowing down. The only precaution taken by drivers at road junctions is to blast their horns to let other drivers know they are coming through.

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Thursday 13th September 2007

Is it worth paying out for medical insurance while living in Thailand? I have just paid for another year and my premium has gone up by almost Bt2,000 (compared to last year) to just over Bt16,000. I saw a doctor twice in quick succession earlier this year for a very minor skin problem.

On the first visit he prescribed antibiotics and on the second he said that everything was fine. My medical expenses for the whole year were just over Bt1,000 so is it worth paying out for an expensive insurance policy?

I figure that you buy insurance only if it is mandatory by law or if it gives you some peace of mind. My medical insurance in Thailand falls into the latter category and the peace of mind it gives is worth a great deal to me.

Once I leave the safety of my apartment building, there are several accidents waiting to happen out on the streets. I have catalogued Thai road safety (or lack of it) extensively but generally speaking there is no regard for public safety even away from the roads.

The hot, humid weather all year round also provides a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, microbes, viruses and fungi, etc.

There might be countries where I wouldn't consider medical insurance but Thailand isn't one of them.


It's been another interesting week in the classroom. I realised some time ago that I will never actually understand why Thais think the way they do. I know how they think - and can even predict their thinking most of the time - but that doesn't equate to understanding why.

It has nothing to do with language or intelligence. Thais aren't stupid but their brains are wired differently to Westerners. It's analogous to the different ways men and women think. Men will endlessly obsess over gadgets whereas women might do the same over clothes. We just have different values and priorities in life.

My humble advice is not even to try to understand how Thais think. Just accept they think very differently.


The world is going mad. I have thought this for a long time but now it's official. Several sources quoted this story based on a report that 30% of all people have some form of mental illness, and 14% of all disease is attributable to mental illness. Campaign to recognise dangers of mental illness

In the last couple of years of my working life in the UK I became desperately unhappy (a mental problem in itself) and that unhappiness manifested itself in a variety of physical symptoms. One of the most common physical symptoms as a result of mental illness is excessive tiredness but other symptoms can - and do - result.

Mental illness is a difficult - and often taboo - subject. The worrying thing now is that with so many people suffering, no one seems to regard even the most strange and obsessive behaviour as unnatural. Recent technology hasn't helped, notably the Internet.

I am no longer active on any Internet forums or web sites. I am particularly wary about so-called 'Social Networking' sites and regularly delete invitations to join such sites.

I monitor a few forums and it is clear that many people spend their entire waking lives sitting behind a computer. It isn't at all healthy.

One of my students is very withdrawn. He sits in a corner at the back of the classroom where he doesn't interact with any of the other students. After one lesson recently, he asked me not to involve him in any role plays that involved talking to any of his classmates.

He arrived very happy a few days ago and when I asked why, he said he had met a new friend - a Chinese girl. When I asked where he had met her, he told me on-line. Oh dear.

I've been interested in photography since my early 20s but certain Internet forums supposedly about photography have turned into on-line battlegrounds where people trade insults because they have differing opinions on how many AF points a camera should have, how many pixels the screen on the back should display, or whether Nikon is better than Canon. It's pathetic.

My ancient mobile phone died last week and I know nothing about mobile phones because they don't interest me. I tried to get some ideas about what model to buy next and did an Internet search but found the same kind of comments from crazy, anal people about mobile phones.

It's not just the Internet. I can't understand why young kids, instead of trying to fill their brains with knowledge, want to try to speak and write like gangsta-rappers. As far as I am aware, there is no definite article 'da' in the English language. I can't understand why so many kids are shooting and stabbing other people nowadays.

I can't understand why seemingly intelligent people work hard in order to earn money so they can buy things they don't need or want, and then find that the only way to escape their lives of quiet desperation is to resort to excessive alcohol consumption.

I can't understand why people get themselves into so much debt, kidding themselves they are well-off based on the value of the property they live in when the value of their house is meaningless unless they sell it and go to live somewhere cheaper.

I can't understand how locking a group of highly volatile, mentally unbalanced morons inside a house full of TV cameras and then watching them for weeks on end like monkeys in a zoo until they explode can be classed as entertainment.

Of course, mad people never recognise their own madness. If you're not sure whether you have mental problems, you might want to start by asking yourself, "Do I watch Big Brother?"

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I can't change anything and it does no good thinking about all the madness in the world.

As I get older, I find I am becoming more insular in life, and Thailand is a good place for insularity. The cost of living is such that I can be fairly independent without having to rely on others around me. New people come into my life but most soon disappear and I do not actively seek out new friends because I am happy with my own company.

There are lots of foreign loners in Thailand. I see them all the time. They aren't sexpats and they avoid other foreigners, as I do. To very social people that can't exist alone, this behaviour may seem strange, but to me it isn't.

They are many reasons why foreigners come to Thailand. I have never suffered fools gladly but in an expensive Western society where it is necessary to work, they can't be avoided. In Thailand it is possible - even for someone of fairly limited means - to be a lot more independent.

I anticipate that I will only continue to become more insular as time goes on. I didn't burn all my bridges when I left the UK but after leaving exactly four years ago, I have no desire to return.

Eventually I will have to return but I think it will only be to burn those bridges before settling somewhere in Southeast Asia permanently for a peaceful, isolated existence surrounded by rice fields, far away from the madness of the world.

Perhaps it is really me that is going mad but at least I can cope better with my own form of madness rather than that of other people's.

I haven't written much lately and I expect that trend to continue. I'm busy, I have quite a lot on my mind at the moment, and also, I am trying to distance myself from the Internet which has grown into a medium I don't like very much.

At its heart, it is a fantastic innovation. The ease with which we can get on-line and the two-way nature of the Internet makes it a more significant invention to mankind than the printing press, the telephone, television or radio.

However, it is immature technology that we still haven't got to grips with yet. Governments don't know how to regulate the Internet and Thailand is a classic example, having blocked hundreds of web sites.

Instead of using the technology to supplement and enhance their lives, far too many people (especially the young and vulnerable) are trying to replace their real lives with virtual ones and that is very dangerous.

The situation will get better eventually but, as with all new technology, there is a steep learning curve and while we are learning there will continue to be victims.

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Saturday 8th September 2007

This is what I've been saying for years but it's always satisfying to hear confirmation from another source. Editorial comment from The Nation: Our lives in constant danger

It's all very good to have newspaper editorials calling out for improved public safety but (as I've also said many times before), nothing ever changes in Thailand. In other countries, 'people power' might make a difference and bring about change but in Thailand there is too much complacency and apathy for that ever to happen.


In this blog on 29th July I mentioned meeting a Thai teacher from Phitsanulok who asked me the classic Thai question, "Where are you come from?" Upon correcting her, she told me this was how she had been taught by her Thai teacher and, no doubt, she had been teaching her students the same mistake.

I was walking around last week and some young schoolboys thought it would be a good laugh to talk with the stupid farang. The first question was, "Where are you come from?" The grins soon went from their faces when a) the farang spoke back to them in Thai and b) they started to get an English lesson in the street.

One of them then shouted, "Hey you," to get my attention. He was the next one to receive a lesson and looked quite contrite when told that what he said was mai suparp - not polite. Not being polite to older people may be perfectly acceptable in the UK but not in Thailand and the poor kid looked quite upset.

I can only imagine that they are learning this stuff from Thai teachers who don't know any better. Either that, or they have farang teachers who don't correct them and who try to impress the kids by teaching them funky phrases.

"I'm fine, thanks," is a perfectly satisfactory answer to, "How are you?" but there are farangs teaching English in Thailand who seem to think the best way to teach English is to teach lots of smart-ass answers to that question.

Teaching the kids some basic grammar and concentrating on correcting their mistakes would actually benefit the kids far more than teaching them how to be smart-asses.

But back to Thai teachers teaching the English language and here is another report from The Nation - An 'F' for English teachers

The inadequacy of Thai teachers teaching English is probably the biggest contributing factor to why Thai students are such poor English speakers. They tend to have a fairly good technical grasp of grammar but don't understand how to use different tenses.

Most of my teaching these days is teaching students how and when to use different tenses. If I ask them what tense a sentence or question is, they can normally tell me but trying to teach them, for example, when they should use the simple past and when they should use the present perfect makes them very confused.

It's the same with verbs. The rote learning system employed in Thai schools is effective in teaching students the infinitive, past, and past participle forms of verbs (chong 1, 2 and 3 in Thai) but they don't know how to use them.

As a native speaking teacher here, it would be a lot more effective for me to teach teachers but there seems to be little demand. It's probably a 'face' thing where teachers with long lists of qualifications in English would be seen to be losing face if seen taking lessons from a farang.

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Friday 7th September 2007

After following Thai news stories for a few years, certain patterns start to emerge.

Around Songkran, the normal carnage on the roads reaches frightening levels and around September time, we start getting into boat-capsizing season.

A boat returning to Phi Phi from a diving trip has just sank, leaving one Israeli tourist dead and another in a coma.

In another report related to the same story, The Nation stated, "The accident came just two weeks after a ferry carrying 42 Thais capsized in rough weather near Phi Phi."

In Thailand, the same rules apply to sea travel as apply to road travel. Get as many passengers on board the vehicle or boat as possible to maximise profits and then go as fast as possible regardless of whether the sea is like a millpond or whether there are 10 foot waves.

It doesn't matter if a speedboat, for example, is designed to take 15 people; if you can get 30 on board you double your profit. The boat in the story I have linked to was reported to be carrying, "far too many passengers."

The last time I experienced this type of thing personally was on a boat from Koh Tao returning to Koh Samui and it wasn't pleasant. Prior to that trip, I seem to remember a Koh Tao ferry had sunk with many people drowning.

After each incident you might think there would be a big clamp down with the boat operators to prevent further deaths but there never is. This is possibly the most worrying thing about Thailand. However dangerous a situation is, and regardless of how many people die as a result, nothing ever changes. The Thais just carry on as they have always done.

In April next year there will be hundreds more deaths on the road at Songkran and next September there will be more stories of people drowning when overcrowded boats capsize in rough seas during the southwest monsoon season.

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Wednesday 5th September 2007

I've noticed that the cost of my grocery shopping keeps moving steadily upwards but with electronic goods we continually get better equipment at lower prices year after year. I am getting close to upgrading my camera body and the model I am after is looking like a very good deal at the moment.

Back in 2004, after procrastinating for almost a year on whether to buy a Canon 10D or 300D, I bought the 10D. After taking so long to make my decision, Canon replaced the 10D with the 20D almost straight away and I wasn't prepared to upgrade so soon.

I didn't bother with the 20D and neither did I bother with the 30D as it only seemed to offer a little more than the 20D. However, the 40D that has just been announced looks as if it might be a worthwhile upgrade.

The price I have just been quoted is 1,820 Singapore dollars (about £592). Tax is 7% but I will be able to claim some of it back at the airport. Three years ago I bought the 10D in Bangkok for £812 so the 40D represents a lot more camera for a lot less money.

When I bought my 10D, I bought one 512MB Compact Flash card for £75. When I was in Singapore a couple of months ago I bought a couple of 2GB cards for less than £18 each. They were the same brand and model as I bought before - Sandisk Ultra II.

Therefore, four times the capacity for less than a quarter of the price. At one stage I was considering buying some kind of a portable storage device but with CF cards being so cheap now, it's not worth it. Even for fairly long trips I have enough capacity shooting RAW and if I need more, it's cheaper just to buy some extra cards.

The other quotes I got were for a BG-E2N battery grip for the Canon 40D (230 SGD), a Canon 100mm F2.8 macro lens (757 SGD), and a Nikon D40 kit including 18-55mm lens (830.00 SGD).

For camera gear and computer equipment I always choose to buy in Singapore if I can, rather than Thailand. The choice is far greater, the prices are lower, and in Thailand I am never sure if someone is trying to rip me off or sell me something that has been returned as faulty.

The only bad lens I have ever purchased was bought in Bangkok. It was the same lens I mentioned above (the 100mm macro) and it is a lens that people normally rave about but my one didn't focus properly. It was too much hassle trying to get it serviced so I just ended up part-exchanging it.

It is still a lens I would like to own and hopefully the next one won't have the same focusing problems.

The quotes came from Cathay Photo which is a proper photography outlet and not a typical Singapore electronic goods store that sells everything.

To get the prices they quote by e-mail, it is necessary to print out a copy of the e-mail and take it to the shop. If you just walk in off the street, you will be quoted higher.

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Tuesday 4th September 2007

Thailand's frenzy for amulets - a BBC report on the Jatukam Ramathep craze that has swept through Thailand this year. I have made my feelings known about this subject in previous blog entries.

The whole country of Thailand has started to resemble a huge Bee Gees concert because so many people now are sporting huge medallion-like amulets around their necks.

Many Thais have an obsession with money but when that obsession starts to afflict the Sangha (the community of ordained monks and nuns) - as it has done - then you know that something is very, very wrong.

Since the death of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, the only person I ever hear speaking out about the corruption of Buddhism - and the general deterioration of moral standards in Thai society - is Sulak Sivaraksa but he has never been a person afraid to speak his mind. (Read his quote in the BBC report I have linked to.)

It's rather concerning how deathly seriously the majority of Thais regard the Jatukham phenomenon and I was even told that a recent partial solar eclipse was the result of supernatural Jatukham powers.

It's basically a scam that has made some people very rich and preys on the animist beliefs that many Thais still hold. These amulets cost nothing to make but are exchanging hands for stupid amounts of money.

Jatukham has nothing to do with Buddhism but everything to do with magic and the supernatural. Unfortunately, the line has been blurred because so many monks and temples are now involved with the craze.

A Western equivalent might be Christian priests and vicars raising money by selling Harry Potter amulets.

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Monday 3rd September 2007

It is 20 years ago this year that I first visited Thailand. Although I can't remember the exact dates, I must have gone early in November 1987 because I celebrated my 27th birthday in Pattaya. I am planning to write more about what I recall of that first trip in later blog entries.

I can't remember when Thailand started getting into my head but it was at quite an early age. I started to get disillusioned and bored with England very early in life. I'd grown up through the 60's but - unlike George Best - I was too young to enjoy the benefits of a convertible E-Type and free love.

1970's Britain was a depressing place indeed. Not only television, but everything else was in black and white, or miserable shades of grey, and I remember sitting around candles while my mother cooked by gas during long periods of three-day working weeks and power cuts.

My uncle emigrated to Canada in 1969 and - as an 11 year old - I went on a family vacation to Canada in 1972. Apart from Wimpy Bars, I'd never been to a proper hamburger restaurant so going to a MacDonalds (completely unknown in Britain then) or a Red Barn was a magical experience for a young kid.

Canadians cooked food outside on things known as barbecue grills. Like many things, these are common in Britain now but nobody did this kind of thing in the early 70s. Neither were there 50 varieties of ice cream available in England. You could get about seven if you were lucky.

But I digress. I was disillusioned with Britain and at some stage, mystical, magical, exotic Thailand started getting into my head.

I worked briefly in the oil services industry in 1982 and many men working in that sector worked a rota (often in the Middle East) where they would get a month off regularly. After a period of solid work (with nothing to spend their salary on), many would head off to Thailand for their month off instead of going back to the UK. I guess I must have heard lots about Thailand while I was in that job.

A friend of mine resigned from his job and went to work in Australia for a year. He travelled back overland and our plan was to meet in Thailand around 1984/5 but he is one of these guys whose mind always seems to operate on a different planet and it didn't work out. Nonetheless, after he returned to England, it was him I went to Thailand with in 1987.

With package deals to Thailand in every travel agents' window nowadays, it is difficult to describe the situation 20 years ago. No one I knew had ever been to Thailand and mentioning Thailand to High Street travel agents would leave them completely baffled.

During my days as an IBM customer engineer in the City of London, one of my customers was the Thai Farmers' Bank in Cannon Street, just outside the entrance to the station. The Thai staff working there were the only people I had met who knew anything about Thailand.

1987 marked King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 60th birthday and the Tourism Authority of Thailand launched their first major tourism campaign. 1987 was designated 'Visit Thailand' year.

A special event to promote Thailand was held by the TAT at the Barbican Centre in London. This happened to be very close to where I worked so I went along.

I don't remember much but there were photos of Thailand, examples of handiwork, food, some very elegant Thai women, and an actual tuk-tuk. It was an excellent event which increased my perception of Thailand as being a mystical, magical, exotic land and also increased my desire to visit.

It must have been shortly after that event that I finally booked my flight. Even that wasn't straightforward. There was no Trailfinders back then and High Street travel agents could only really manage package trips to Spain and Greece.

Thailand, at the time, was regarded as a frontier country in terms of tourism so I went through a specialist company that was offering a special deal that included flights on Philippine Air and four night's accommodation at the Manohra Hotel on Silom Road (which is still going strong).

I shall write more later about the trip but all I will say for now is that on that trip, my friend, John, and I redefined the term 'stupid farang'. I cringe now at what we got up to and how stupid we were but there is some truth in the saying about ignorance being bliss and we had a thoroughly good time.

Thailand (the whole world, in fact) has changed so much in the last 20 years it would be impossible to recreate the trip again. Not only are there so many tourists in Thailand these days, but the attitude of Thais towards foreigners has completely changed.

We got ripped off - notably in Bangkok - but there was a sense of innocence among most of the Thais we met that has all since disappeared now.

More later ...

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Sunday 2nd September 2007

The YouTube problem I had yesterday was in fact a caching problem on the proxy server at my apartment building. Holding down the Ctrl key while refreshing the page did the trick and once again I can access YouTube after several months of not being able to.


Thai cowboy with a Salvador Dali moustache - Click for larger image A report I saw about the 2007 World Beard and Moustache Championships in Brighton, England reminded me of this Thai man I met a couple of weeks ago who was sporting a rather fine Dali moustache. Some Thai men wear moustaches (King Rama V famously wore one) but facial hair isn't that common in Thailand.

The author of one book I read (John Blofeld) said that the Thais 'have always detested beards' but I don't know how true that is. Generally, Thai men aren't genetically disposed to growing them anyway, having very little beard growth.

Instead of growing sideburns, as a teenage farang boy might attempt to do, some teenage Thai boys grow long strands of hair that come down in front of their ears.

Many young Thai men are incredibly vain about their hair and wherever they can find a mirror, they will spend long periods of time grooming themselves for that killer look.


A relaxing head massage while the young salon girl shampoos your hair is part of the deal when you get a haircut in Thailand but last night I had the most intensive head massaging/shampooing session I think I have ever had. It was wonderful.

Having my hair washed at a hair salon in England was always an uncomfortable experience as I had to bend my neck backwards over a sink while sitting down. It's far more civilised in Thailand where you lie horizontally on a purpose built 'bed', thus avoiding neck ache.

Nong Bpoo, a 22 year-old local lass, must have spent at least 15 minutes scratching my scalp with her fingernails, and massaging every part of my cranium and neck. After she had finished I wasn't bothered about actually getting my hair cut; I was ready to go home and sleep.

In fact, I was almost ready to propose marriage to her.

Even then she wasn't finished. As I was sitting down waiting for the stylist to come along with her scissors, Nong Bpoo gave my shoulders and upper back a little massage. What a girl. After my hair had been cut, it was back for another wash and then the stylist dried my hair.

The charge for everything was Bt100. I gave Bpoo and the stylist a Bt20 tip each. I was a bit embarrassed at giving such a small tip but they were very grateful because not all customers tip.

It's perfectly OK to go into a salon just to get your hair washed and, depending on the type of place, the price can be as low as Bt30. It's a very relaxing experience and because it is done with cold water, it's a good way to cool down when the weather is hot.


To save taxpayer's money in Thailand, why not just do away with pedestrian crossings, traffic lights and road signs? No one takes any notice of them so what's the point?

What sign? - Click for larger image What sign? - Click for larger image
What sign? - Click for larger image Click on the thumbnails
for larger images

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Saturday 1st September 2007

A report on The Nation web site says the YouTube ban in Thailand has been lifted but I am still getting the following message:

Sorry, the web site you are accessing has been closed by Royal Thai Police due to inappropriateness such as pornography, gambling or contain any information which is deemed to violate national security.

For more information, please contact "Police Information System Center" Bld#19 2nd Flr, Royal Thai Police, Rama I, Patumwan, Bangkok 10330 Tel. 0-2251-0164,
email : webmaster@police.go.th

http://www.police.go.th

There is a Malaysian invasion in the deep south this weekend. I wasn't sure why at first but then I remembered seeing a story on the BBC about it being half a century since Malaysia gained independence from Britain.

To celebrate 50 years of nationhood, it seems as if half the population has buggered off to spend the weekend in Thailand. Mind you, if I had the misfortune to live in Malaysia, I would probably do exactly the same thing.

It will be a very welcome injection of money into the local economy and some of the cash will eventually end up in small villages in the north and northeast of Thailand via the thousands of commercial sex workers who have moved down to the south from those regions to service Chinese and Indian Malaysian sex tourists who arrive in great numbers every weekend.


I have been suffering from a mosquito infestation in my room for many months. For a long time, the room was mosquito-free but when the problem began I started being woken at night by the pesky things whining in my ear or biting me.

I was awoken one night by a painful, throbbing, itching sensation in my right foot as a result of a mosquito bite. At the height of the problem it was not unusual to go to bed knowing there were none in the room, and waking up the next morning to find three or four flying around.

My first thought was that they must be getting in from outside of the building somewhere so I did some work tightening the insect screens but the problem persisted. I wasn't very happy when I discovered the source of the problem.

My apartment building has an internal courtyard around which the rooms are located and in the courtyard there is an ornamental fish pond. It's all very nice but around the outside are small fish breeding tanks which are open and contain still water.

The tanks also make an ideal breeding environment for mosquitoes and there is always a swarm of mosquitoes flying above the water, with mosquitoes sitting in the water and the mosquito larvae in the water. The fish normally eat the larvae but that isn't happening here.

Yes, my apartment building (which is great in every other respect) operates a mosquito breeding factory.

They were getting into my room through the large gap under the door. I have fixed the problem by sticking a piece of thick cardboard to the bottom of the door with double-sided foam tape. (If you want to get anything done in Thailand, you have to do it yourself.)

The cleaners change the water every month or so and I mentioned the mosquitoes to one of them. Yes, she told me, "Yoong yeuht," (lots of mosquitoes). They know about the problem; they understand perfectly well the diseases that are spread by mosquitoes, but no one does anything. I keep telling the reception staff but nothing gets done. It seems unbelievable but this is Thailand.

There is currently a major dengue fever outbreak in the region and I commented earlier on how seriously Singapore is taking it, whereas nothing appeared to be happening in Thailand.

I made some critical comments about the central authorities in Thailand not doing anything but I was wrong. The Ministry of Health are trying to tackle the problem but Thailand is a big country and there is only so much that can be done by the central government or local authorities.

Crash helmets are for wimps - Click for larger image It is up to every single individual citizen to be responsible for their own actions and therein lies the crux of the problem. A long time ago, I wrote a piece I called 'Responsibility, Accountability, Liability'.

You only have to walk around the streets of Thailand for a while to see examples of people doing things that are potentially hazardous to other people because a) they have no real sense of responsibility and b) if their actions do cause problems there is no (or very little) liability.

I will always remember the story from three or four years ago about the Thai Rottweiler owner whose dog got loose, attacking and seriously injuring a little girl. She needed intensive hospital treatment and the dog owner offered her family Bt500 compensation. As far as I am aware, no action was taken against him.

All it takes for mosquitoes to breed is a discarded cup or plastic bag that can then fill up with rain water. Many Thais think nothing though of throwing their garbage into the street as they ride along on motorbikes or in cars.

And then you have people breeding fish, while at the same time providing a perfect breeding environment for mosquitoes. The Thai government does try but it's a hopeless task because they are dealing with Thais.

Eyes wide shut (this bike was actually travelling quite fast at the time of the photo) - Click for larger image It doesn't matter whether the government tries to campaign against drunk driving; tries to encourage motorcyclists to wear crash helmets (instead of hanging them on the handlebars); tries to encourage drivers to wear seat belts; tries to get drivers to slow down; tries to fight against dengue fever. In the Land of the Free, no one ever takes any notice.

The Thais are lovely people but, among the lower social classes, the general apathy and the inability to think about the consequences of their actions is so frustrating at times.

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Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.

If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.

I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.

If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.

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