Living In Thailand Blog
Wednesday 30th September 2009
On The Road - Hat Yai to Kamphaeng Phet
It's been three years since I visited Bangkok. My flight arrived in Don Meuang, the old airport. The old airport is located a lot more conveniently than the new one, and with most flights arriving at the new one, Don Meuang isn't the crazy place it used to be.
The taxi driver is a really nice guy and outside there are no traffic jams. Also, the air seems pretty clear. What has happened to Bangkok?
As we drive to the northern bus station I find the sheer size of Bangkok overwhelming. I can understand why it seems just an imposing place for many provincial Thais. Even the largest provincial towns in Thailand are nothing compared to the capital.
There are shopping malls everywhere. If you're looking for a computer or something it's great, but with every new Western-style shopping mall that gets built there goes another piece of Bangkok's soul.
Before I travelled I called Mo Chit station to ask about buses. They told me there were two buses, at 09:45 and 23:30. I arrived too late for the morning bus and I'm not interested in overnight buses.
I know that a lot of backpackers like overnight buses because it saves them the cost of a night's accommodation but travelling overnight on a bus just makes me tired the next day and consequently I lose a day.
I arrive at Mo Chit at 13:07. It is my plan to buy a ticket for the next day and spend the night in Bangkok. However, there is a bus at 13:20 which is perfect. It makes me wonder what use it is asking for information in Thailand when even the official information service is unable to give the correct information.
The bus gets into Kamphaeng Phet around 19:00 after an uneventful journey. It is then that I meet my first liar on this trip.
My style of travel in Thailand is not to plan anything in advance and definitely not to use any guide books. I still see backpackers getting off buses cluthing their Lonely Planets like an oxygen supply but these are a waste of time.
However, if you are going to travel this way you need to get by in Thai. A woman approaches me and asks what I want so I tell her a hotel. She leads me to a guy who has bloodshot eyes and looks drunk. He is a sawng-thaew driver.
He wants to take me into town for Bt100. I ask if there are any tuk-tuks or motorbike taxis. They both tell me these are finished for the day. I suspect not, and his fare sounds a little expensive.
I walk off and just outside the bus station is the motorbike taxi stand. I get a bike into town for Bt60. Unfortunately in Thailand there are liars everywhere. I can normally pick them out quite quickly now but that is not always the case with foreigners in Thailand.
The taxi driver takes me to a hotel in town and it's quite reasonable at Bt650 a night.
Up until the time I moved to Thailand my life revolved around travelling. I was never happy with my previous life and always looked to other places to find happiness. I travelled for a reason, rather than purely for the sake of travelling.
Since moving to Thailand I haven't travelled much at all simply because I don't feel the need to. It's strange how some people feel that they always need to be travelling. I know some teachers here who are quite young and as soon as they have any kind of a break they hit the road.
This might also be related to age but even when I was younger I couldn't see the fun in the backpacker experience where you are constantly moving around from place to place. If you go too fast you end up not actually seeing or experiencing anything at all.
For me, Thailand is enjoyed most at an extremely leisurely pace. I like to stay in a place, get to know the people, and absorb the atmosphere. I enjoy days when I have nothing urgent to do and can walk around very slowly just chatting to locals.
Bangkok may be a little different because of the pace of life, but in the rest of the country Thais always have time to talk - and they enjoy the attention of foreigners.
Thai children, especially, become very wide-eyed when a foreigner stops by. Compared to the Western world, I find it refreshing that in Thailand you aren't automatically regarded by everyone as a sinister person if you talk to kids.
You need to be a little careful with Thai kids because they are exceptionally shy and some have a genuine fear of foreigners. On many occasions my presence alone has been enough to reduce a Thai child to tears, in which case it's time to say goodbye and continue.
If they're a bit older and in a group with their friends the shyness disappears. I often get mobbed by gangs of Thai schoolchildren if I pass a school. In some parts of the country away from the tourist resorts foreigners are still an unusual sight for Thais and there is a genuine interest.
There is another reason why I'm often reluctant to travel here. As soon as I adopt the guise of 'tourist', that is when I set myself up as a target for bad Thais who think foreigners come here just to be lied to and ripped off.
A few words in Thai is normally all that is needed to get rid of them but they are annoying just the same. Anyway, by the time you read this I suspect I will be somewhere in the north-west close to the Burmese border.
It's been three years since I did any real travelling in Thailand. I'm on a good length paid break at the moment and I need to force myself to get off my backside and see some more of Thailand. I will add more details here later.
While talking to another farang some time ago about the kind of Thai girls who frequent Thailand's major tourists resorts preying on gullible male tourists, he mentioned they have an ability to pick out men who are doing well for themselves. It's true.
Western society bases itself on laws, rules and regulations. Thai society is very much people-based. It is people that matter in Thailand - not laws, rules and regulations - and because of this Thais are very perceptive. They are very good at reading people.
Not only do the girls know who is doing well, but they can pick out the lonely and desperate men very easily. These men are the most vulnerable and the easiest to get money out of. Many of the girls are quite mercenary and don't worry about the consequences of their actions.
For lonely men, a holiday in Thailand to one of the beach resorts in the hope of ending their loneliness can be a disaster. I guarantee they will experience quite euphoric feelings early on when they don't understand what is going on, but these type of relationships often end badly. Be careful.
I've just been through the worst two years of my life. The nadir was when Lehman Bros fell a year ago and I thought that I might lose almost my entire investment portfolio. At the same time, the value of my house continued to drop and I lost my job in Thailand.
For quite a long time I tried to keep up a happy facade but inside I was deeply troubled. During that time I noticed that Thai girls steered quite a wide berth around me. No matter how happy I tried to be on the outside, I was sending out extremely bad vibes and these were being picked up.
This year has seen a remarkable recovery in my fortunes with nothing but good news. At the moment I have nothing to worry about and the current situation should continue indefinitely. I have been feeling very relaxed and contented recently.
I've been sending out positive vibes this year and these have also been picked up. As a tourist in Thailand I used to send out good vibes. When in Thailand for a few weeks vacation you have no worries, you send out good vibes, and consequently you get lots of attention from Thai girls.
This is what I've been experiencing this year (again) but what does it actually mean to get that attention? Actually, very little.
As a tourist I used to read far more into situations than actually existed. As a tourist being smiled at constantly by pretty Thai girls I - like so many men - thought it was a male paradise.
I thought the only thing stopping me from claiming one of these girls as my prize was my ticket home. When I moved to Thailand I no longer had a ticket home but after six years I'm still single.
A few days ago I played tourist for a day just walking around shopping. I met and spoke to a couple of amazing looking girls. We exchanged smiles and I used this as a cue to start a conversation.
These weren't the average bar-girl-from-Isaan types in skin tight jeans teetering around on high-heeled shoes. They were very conservative southern Thai girls dressed accordingly.
One was a doctor from Trang who was working at a local hospital. The other was a recently graduated student doing some temporary work. Both were stunningly beautiful, both were pleasant and extremely polite, and both gave me some of their time to chat. But neither was interested in taking things any further.
How did I know? After living in Thailand for six years I just know. Sometimes I don't know and I am in such a situation now. She doesn't know either. With most Thai girls I wouldn't waste time waiting to find out but with this particular one I am prepared to wait as she is really something special.
As a foreigner in Thailand it is very easy to start up conversations with girls you don't know. A Thai man would probably just be ignored but foreigners in Thailand can get away with a lot more than locals.
I talk to these girls, flirt with them (which gives my ego a boost); but then I say goodbye and walk away. I know there is nothing more in it.
Very occasionally a girl might be interested, in which case she will suggest swapping numbers. Unless she takes the initiative and does something positive to show she is interested, then the safe bet is that she isn't interested.
As a tourist I used to read more into these situations. I tried to arrange to meet girls again, only to be disappointed when they didn't show up. I got telephone numbers only to hear repeatedly when I called that they were busy.
There are some unique aspects of Thai culture that most foreigners don't understand. Thais don't want you to feel disappointed, they don't want to cause you to feel bad, they don't want to lose face, and they don't want you to lose face.
I met an incredible girl last year - real super model material to look at along with all the polite speech and mannerisms of a well brought-up conservative Thai girl. It really is an unbeatable package and this isn't something you get with the bar girls.
We exchanged messages, we went out together, she told me how much she liked me and how good I made her feel. I knew that it was impossible for her not to have a very serious boyfriend but I was afraid to ask directly because I didn't want to hear the answer.
Of course, she did have a very serious boyfriend. I heard from another girl that she was planning to get married soon. You can accuse the girls of leading you on but that isn't their intention. They are just trying to be kind and considerate.
There are a lot of females in Thailand. Many are poor and they can only attract poor Thai men. For these girls, a foreigner is a very attractive proposition because it is the only way they will ever get any money.
There's nothing wrong with a lot of these girls but their education and knowledge of the world leaves a lot to be desired. They live in a very small world. They have little interest outside of that world and the sole function of a foreign partner will be to supply money to support them and their extended families.
As a tourist I thought that Thai girls were pretty much the same. Now, however, I see enormous differences and - as a result - I have become a lot more selective.
The problem now is that I have no interest in the girls who make themselves easily available to foreigners and the girls I am interested in have Thai boyfriends already, or are highly sought after by Thai men. A lot of Thai men have money, they share a culture and language with the girls, and competition is so stiff that it is almost impossible for foreign men to compete in many cases.
Another big mistake I made when I arrived in Thailand was thinking I could get any girl. I didn't bother with the ordinary ones but went for the beautiful girls. The best girls in Thailand are not available to the vast majority of farangs. In the top league, Thai men have the market almost completely sewn up.
As a tourist in Thailand it is extremely easy to misinterpret smiles and friendly behaviour. Back home, if a girl isn't interested she might scowl and tell you to, "P*** off." In Thailand, a girl may be just as uninterested but she will smile sweetly, be very polite, and make you feel great.
Having been made to feel great, walk away with a smile on your face but never read any more into the situation than actually exists. If you ask for her number she will probably give it to you and if you try to arrange another meeting she will probably agree. But it doesn't mean anything.
Remember that she doesn't want you to feel bad. However, if you read too much into the situation you will most likely end up disappointed.
Of course, if the girl concerned is one who sells her body for a living or who is just after some farang money it will be very different but that is not the type of Thai girl I am referring to.
If you aren't sure because you are unable to differentiate between the different types of Thai girl then you still have a lot to learn about Thailand and Thai girls.
I've been discussing belief and value systems here quite a lot recently because I believe it is of the utmost importance if you live in, or visit, Thailand that you understand what Thais believe in and what they value.
In the past foreign men have written (and I remember one memorable UK TV documentary about sad old men going off to Bangkok for two weeks to find wives) who clearly have no idea of the Thai value system.
They seem to think that Thai girls value exactly the same things as they value. Big mistake. The good thing about Thai girls is that if you bother to find out, they are honest about what they want.
The number one thing seems to be taking care of their parents (and sometimes younger siblings). A lot of poor girls move to other parts of the country to work and they send money back home as often as they can afford to.
The wish to be able to build their parents a new home is one I have come across quite often. I am constantly amazed at how little this would cost. One girl told me Bt400,000, which to her was a great deal but really it is nothing.
I've been told directly by other girls that any potential husband would be expected to love their family just as much as they love the girl. After marriage, quite a few men end up living with the girl at her parents' home. Family ties are very close in Thailand.
Trust is another important issue. There are lots of Thai terms for unfaithfulness because so many Thai men are unfaithful. The girls tend to be very suspicious of men and it takes a lot to convince them that you will not be unfaithful.
The girls who sell themselves are very greedy but a lot of girls aren't. If you are honest and do what you can for them and their family, that is often enough.
Morality is a big part of Thai culture. It is a recurrent theme in Buddhism, it is taught in schools, and a lack of moral judgment has been the downfall of more than one Thai politician.
I've noticed that this theme features highly in Thai music videos. Typically the video will start off in the girl's village and she will be with the good, but poor, boy who really loves here.
Next, she will go off to work in the big city where she will meet men with lots of money but poor moral values. As she gets driven around in expensive cars by these men the poor boy from the village will follow on his motorbike in the rain.
Eventually, she will see through all the bad men and return to her first love. The moral of the story is that morality always wins over money. This is a very common Thai theme and to some extent it is true.
I've watched poor Thai boys courting and all they have is the old motorbike they ride around on. However, they're always there to pick the girl up from work and they make an effort to take care of the girls despite having no money.
The girls appreciate this and it often results in marriage. Having someone to take care of them (doo lair in Thai) is very important to Thai girls.
Finally, for good Thai girls you need almost endless patience. They take a lot of convincing and it can take years to win a girl over. The documentary I watched about foreign men going to Thailand trying to find wives showed some proposing about 10 minutes after first meeting. What a joke.
There are some wonderful girls in Thailand but if you thought that finding them is quick and easy, think again. Finding a Thai girl to be with - any girl - is the easiest thing in the world. Finding a really worthwhile one to share your life with can be extremely difficult.
A Thai taxi driver has been arrested over the alleged rape of a British woman on Samui island.
Violent crime against foreigners isn't generally a problem in Thailand but Samui has started to gain a bit of a reputation. It's a 'real' island, compared to Phuket which is so close to the mainland it hardly seems like an island.
Samui's distance from the mainland seems to make it a little wilder than mainland Thailand. On my last trip to Samui I remember walking alone at night in a deserted area and feeling a little uncomfortable due to the remoteness and lack of people.
Based on past history, I think that it is advisable for female tourists especially to exercise quite a lot of caution if planning a trip to Samui.
There is never any justification for rape but on my last trip to Phuket in March (after living in normal Thailand for a long time) I was quite shocked to see how young female farang tourists were dressed around the main town.
For many tourists, beachwear is all they know in Thailand. I got my visa renewed last week and in the immigration office there was a Thai girl helping a farang do something. He was wearing the regulation shorts, flip-flops and backpacker T-shirt printed with all kinds of tropical fish. Very nice.
His attire was fine for the beach but when dealing with Thai bureaucracy - especially immigration - it's not always such a good idea.
Back to the farang girls in Phuket, and the way they were dressed didn't leave much to the imagination. Again, their attire might have been acceptable on the beach but not around town.
As I've said many times before, Thailand is a very conservative country and dressing inappropriately can send out the wrong signals. There are a lot of men at the bottom of Thai society who can't be trusted. They like to drink and when they are drunk they certainly can't be trusted.
Thai girls are very, very wary of Thai men. Rape, unfortunately, seems to be quite a big problem in Thailand, especially gang rape. Language often gives insights into behaviour and I've spotted various terms for gang rape in my dictionaries.
The Thai idiom (the equivalent of gang-bang) is wian-tian and if an idiom exists for something then it is something that is widely recognised.
A while ago there was an attempted gang-rape at a Thai school that was filmed on a mobile phone. The school tried to hush it up so as not to lose face but the girl's parents went public.
On the subject of crime, theft (both petty and not so petty) is a major problem in Thailand. Many apartment buildings have security guards and I haven't seen as many bars, chains and locks on houses since I was in South Africa.
One woman I spoke to was running a business but it ended when some employees stole everything. A Thai friend owned a house for a while and it was broken into so frequently that he ended up just leaving the door open so that the thieves could get in without causing any damage.
Thais make great efforts to secure their motorbikes as these are very vulnerable to theft. Most car parks operate a system where you are issued a ticket when parking your motorbike, and to get your bike back out you must return the ticket.
Farangs are not exempt when it comes to theft in Thailand. I heard about a farang recently who was staying in a bungalow somewhere that was broken into overnight while he slept. It didn't sound like opportunist thieves.
Had they been opportunists, then they would just have stolen cash and small valuable items. Instead they went for his passport and credit cards. This indicates they must have channels through which to dispose of such items, and that it must have been organised crime.
These items are valuable to criminals who know what to do with them. Losing your passport in Thailand is a major headache and thus I can't believe how careless some tourists are with their passports.
At guesthouses I have seen piles of passports left on a table at the front desk with no one in attendance. Anyone could walk off with them.
If you lose your passport you will need to get back to your Embassy in Bangkok with all the right paperwork and then wait for a new passport to be issued. Do you have a copy of your birth certificate with you? Probably not, in which case you may need to get one.
If you had visa stamps and re-entry permits in your previous passport you will need to get all of these done again. As I said, it's a major headache. Take care of your passport at all times and don't leave it lying around where it can be easily stolen.
I live in a safe apartment building with security guards but one of my first acquisitions in Thailand was a room safe in which to keep my valuable items. I trust very few people in Thailand and, with the room safe, even if someone gets into my room they will struggle to get the things that really matter to me.
Many hotels have room safes. Places like the Atlanta hotel in Bangkok have huge safes in each room in which you can put loads of things. Use them. You can be lulled into a false sense of security in Thailand with all the happy, smiling faces but unfortunately there are a lot of light-fingered Thais around.
My relationship with the Internet has turned sour in recent years. It's a wonderful thing - and I would be lost without it - but it has revealed just how many sad and pathetic people there are in the world.
After not owning a TV for many years I bought one recently (along with a DVD player), so that I could catch up on movies in the time I would otherwise waste on the Internet.
I enjoy anything to do with foreign countries before mass tourism ruined the travel experience. One movie I watched recently was 'A Passage to India'.
Colonial powers during the era of colonialism were horribly arrogant and conceited with their superior views and gunboat diplomacy. One memorable quote from the film was along the lines of, "I've had many years' experience here and I have never known anything but disaster result when English and lndians attempt to be intimate."
Another line I liked was, "India forces one to come face-to-face with oneself."
I think that applies to Asia in general, although it is probably especially relevant to India from what I understand about India. Most Westerners tend to lead a fairly sheltered life and it isn't until you live in the developing world that you see the harsh realities of life.
I found the sign in the photo above outside a shop that sells buckets of goodies for monks. One way that Thais make merit is to give food and useful items to monks. The quote is attributed to Albert Einstein (written in Thai at the bottom).
As a philosophy on life, Buddhism is the most accurate I have ever seen. It explains the reason behind every form of dissatisfaction in life and how to solve the problem. It's not always very comforting though, as other religions tend to be.
There is no higher being in whom to put your faith in return for that higher being to guide you through life and look after you. In Buddhism the responsibility comes back to the individual every time.
I desire and get attached to things in the same way that everyone else desires and gets attached to things. The things I desire and get attached to are not so much material items, but feelings and certain people. However, there are things we desire and get attached to that we just can't have. This is perfectly normal, and it has been a part of life ever since humans have been around.
Buddhism tells us that this desire and attachment will lead to suffering. The answer is to stop grasping at things and to become detached. When that happens the dissatisfaction will disappear. Simple. Well, not so simple actually because humans tend to be very weak emotionally.
India, Thailand, Buddhism, Asia and Eastern philosophy in general certainly force one to come face-to-face with oneself. It's better though to confront problems, rather than to run away from them or to deceive yourself.
Many foreigners move to Thailand to run away from problems. It works temporarily until the novelty wears off and reality sets in. In most cases when people have problems, moving to Thailand is not the answer.
The scenery changes but the underlying problems remain and it's not long before they surface again. When someone's last resort in life is a move to Thailand yet Thailand doesn't work out for them either, where do they go next?
Perhaps that is why quite a few foreigners who move to Thailand end up doing the infamous Pattaya suicide leap from the nearest convenient tall building?
Sunday 27th September 2009
I was chatting to some massage girls I know and one of them asked me to translate an SMS message. It was written in Thaiglish, that is, random English words written without any sentence structure thereby rendering the sentence unintelligible. It was the kind of thing I see when I proofread Master's degree theses written by Thai students.
I told them I couldn't understand the message. The girl replied, telling me I was the second farang who had said the same thing. I asked who had sent it and was told it was from an English guy.
No doubt he is currently in England planning to return to Thailand to teach English.
I once saw a draft of an English language textbook written by a farang that he wanted to get published. He told me had found a publisher but the publisher had backed out. Apart from having no structure, the book was full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. No wonder the publisher didn't want to go ahead.
This week I saw an application form that had been sent in by another Englishman for a teaching position. It was from the kind of guy who fails at everything in life. He then has a holiday in Pattaya, completely misinterprets everything he sees in Thailand, thinks Thailand is a paradise, and subsequently decides that his future lies in Thailand, and that is where he will move to.
He had nothing to show from his high school education and he had only done a Mickey Mouse course at college. His career history consisted of menial shelf-stacking type jobs and his reason for leaving each job was to live in Thailand. I think the vacation in Pattaya had really got to him.
Again, there were basic spelling mistakes throughout his application and where he had been asked to assess his own ability regarding English language skills he had only ticked 'Elementary'. I guess at least he was honest.
Despite all this, he still felt qualified apparently to apply for an English teaching job in Thailand. You'd think the least he could have done if choosing to go down the English-teaching path was to do a TEFL course.
My course some years ago in the Czech Republic was tough. It was extremely intensive but in a month you get the skills required to teach English as a foreign language and I considered it to be money very well spent. However, for many farangs there are a couple of problems.
The first is the cost. It's around US$1,000 and many of the guys who are looking to run away to Thailand have no money behind them. The second problem is a complete lack of ability.
Another farang I knew was determined to move to Thailand and of course the only way he could support himself was by getting a teaching job (the same old story). The trouble was that his language ability was about the same as that of a seven year-old.
He attempted TEFL but found it impossible. This was obvious to his TEFL instructors and they told him not to waste his (or their) time.
The application I saw this week was regarded as a joke but, sadly, this guy will probably be able to find a job somewhere in Thailand. Schools get a certain amount of kudos from having a white farang teacher and many schools claim that they have an international - or bilingual - programme (the bilingual part meaning that the kids speak Thai and the farang teachers speak English). Therefore, it is essential for them to have a few white faces to show off.
There is a lot of racial prejudice in Thailand. I know a Filipino teacher who is well qualified and who has a lot of experience teaching English in Thailand. She phoned somewhere about a job. They asked where she was from and when she told them they said their policy was not to hire Filipinos.
I was once approached by a language school owner in the supermarket to see if I was interested in teaching at her school. She knew nothing about me whatsoever. I could have been the most stupid person in England and/or a criminal on the run but I was a white farang and that was good enough. In Thailand a white farang off the street is much better thought of than a qualified, experienced Filipino teacher. After all, farangs are all the same, aren't they?
In Thai society mothers and teachers are very highly regarded. English is a vitally important life skill and therefore teaching English should be a highly respected job. The fact is that because the profession is so unregulated there is actually a stigma attached to being a foreign English teacher in Thailand. It's hardly surprising.
I feel so ashamed sometimes that when people ask me what I'm doing here I tell them I'm a closet ladyboy and that I'm saving up for a sex-change operation. It's a lot less embarrassing than admitting that I teach English.
Thailand remains the destination of choice for many failures, misfits, rejects, social outcasts and criminal types looking to escape from their miserable lives in the West. Apart from the obvious reasons (the vast majority of farangs living in Thailand are male), it's cheap to live, easy to find teaching work and immigration control is lax.
A few years ago, after several high-profile paedophile cases and that of a suspected child murderer where the people involved were found to be living and teaching children in Thailand, international pressure was applied to Thailand to clean things up.
For a while immigration control was pretty tight, but now I'm not so sure. I know farangs who still live in Thailand for most of the year by getting back-to-back tourist visas, and who then do a couple of back-to-back border runs before getting more back-to-back tourist visas.
It's a little less convenient these days because when entering Thailand by road the time allowed in the country has been reduced to 15 days from 30. However, it still means that almost anyone can come to live in Thailand pretty much permanently while living under the radar.
I know another guy who is on a massive overstay - I think it's almost two years - yet he's working as a teacher with no problems. No one ever checks and the word is that if he leaves the country and pays the maximum Bt20,000 fine - along with a little contribution to the immigration officers' Christmas party fund - he will be able to re-enter Thailand straight away and his slate will be wiped clean.
When I first started living in Thailand I used to carry around a copy of my passport with me just in case I was stopped by anyone and asked. After about a year I didn't bother any longer because it became clear that I would never be stopped. After six years I have yet to be stopped and asked.
Thais like a quiet, easy life for themselves - cheewit ngiap ngai sabai sabai - and they will also do what they can to accommodate other people. This is what makes Thailand such a friendly and welcoming country.
The problem though is that if you make something too easy there will always be people who abuse the system; and there is no shortage of farangs wanting to live the easy life in Thailand who are ready and willing to abuse the system.
The Nation, in its editorial asks, "Has it become too easy for criminals from outside to enter and leave the country?"
Sunday 20th September 2009
A friend wants me to go to a nearby temple with her to observe the cadaver of a monk who died some years ago. I am told that his corpse shows no signs of decomposition despite the fact nothing was used to preserve his body.
According to local belief, this phenomenon is entirely due to the Saksit (supernatural) power in his body that Thai Buddhist monks are believed to have - some more than others.
I have no doubt that if I went I would see a preserved corpse. What I doubt though is that the reason is supernatural power. I would imagine that scientific analysis would reveal a rather more down-to-earth reason.
Many local shops and businesses were closed yesterday. I also heard that a lot of people had gone off to various temples to make merit. I wasn't sure why. Significant days in the Buddhist calendar are shown on my desk calendar but there was nothing for the 19th September.
Getting into unfamiliar conversations in Thai is difficult for me because a lot of vocabulary crops up that I don't know. Quite often I can get the gist of story but miss the detail.
Anyway, from what I could work out, Thais from the southern region only (14 provinces) were paying homage to some kind of giant spirit in the sky. According to the Thai belief system (which is basically Animist) there are spirits absolutely everywhere but I hadn't heard of this particular one before.
The Nation just reported on the 'famed' Thakhienthong tree-stump spirit in Chon Buri that Thais worship in return for winning lottery ticket numbers.
Apparently, mobile phones can interfere with signals from the spirit world so it is best to switch them off when worshipping this particular spirit. Please bear this in mind on your next visit.
This kind of thing is perfectly normal in Thailand. It's the reason why I was a little surprised to read in Benjawan Poomsan Becker's book that hill tribe people believe in ghosts and spirits. As if mainstream Buddhist Thais don't.
The channel through which Thais worship spirits is essentially the network of Buddhist monks (the Sangha) and Buddhist temples. Thai monks are believed to have the supernatural powers that get transferred to amulets and other inanimate objects.
When Thais want to worship a spirit, they go off to the local Buddhist temple to make merit. This is why it is so easy to confuse Buddhism and Animism in Thailand. Most of what goes on is Animist but against a backdrop of Buddhist monks and temples it can give the appearance of being Buddhist.
A big part of a Thai Buddhist monk's life is spent performing various kinds of blessing ceremonies. All major life events (ordination, marriage, death) and many other lesser events need lots of monks present and a common sight in Thailand is seeing groups of monks in the back of pickup trucks being delivered somewhere to do this.
Peter Robinson, an Englishman, ordained as a monk in Thailand and became Phra Peter Pannapadipo. He wrote a book: Phra Farang - An English Monk in Thailand.
In the book he describes how he, along with the other monks, have to make frequent trips out of the temple to bless new houses, new shops, new cars, etc.
This is all part of his life so he accepts it, but he admitted he was a little taken aback on one occasion when the monks were asked to perform a blessing ceremony for someone's new washing machine.
If you're in Thailand, keep an eye out for signs of blessing ceremonies. Once you get used to spotting them you will see them everywhere. They are normally swirls of paint and can be seen on the dashboards of cars that have been blessed, and above doorways of houses and shops.
Sunday 13th September 2009
Thais love asking questions. No matter where you go in Thailand the questions are fairly standard, which makes them easy to answer. They generally range from highly personal to utterly stupid. However, you get used to it after a while.
Sometimes I just say, "I'm not telling you," in Thai. I need to learn the Thai for, "It's none of your business." Interestingly, what foreigners regard as personal or stupid doesn't seem at all personal or stupid to Thais.
The classic question from a complete stranger on the street is, "Where are you going?" (bpai nai). If asked in English they usually ask, "Where you go?" or "You go where?"
The question bpai nai maa confused me at first (go where come) but I think this is a kind of Thai equivalent of the present perfect "Where have you been?"
If they see you carrying something, they want to know what you have bought and - more importantly - how much it cost. Money is a constant source of fascination with Thais. They always want to know how much things cost and how much you earn.
As I was paying my room rent this week there was a woman in the office from outside who is always hanging around the apartment building. She was doing her best to read my bill and when she couldn't she started me asking me direct questions about the cost of things.
Then come the stupid questions.
After speaking in Thai to a Thai for 10 minutes, they ask if you can speak Thai. I usually tell them in Thai that I can't - poot mai bpen. They nod their head and then the conversation continues in Thai.
I bought a takeaway curry in the week and as the woman was heating it up she asked if I could eat Thai food (meaning spicy food). No, I just buy it for fun, throw it away, and then go to MacDonalds.
I eat at quite a few places where only Thai is spoken. While looking at a Thai menu it isn't unusual to be asked if I can read Thai. No, I just like looking at the squiggly letters and guessing what kind of food is served.
Taxi drivers always want to know if I want to go to the airport. I often get this question while going about my daily life. It's obvious that I have no luggage but they ask, "Go to airport?" Well, I only popped out for a loaf of bread but a trip to the airport sounds like fun. "Sure, let's go!"
I did something I have done a thousand times in Thailand this week; I ordered a glass of orange juice. "A hot orange juice?" the young lad asked who was serving me. I had never heard of a hot orange juice before so I was a little surprised.
"Do you have hot orange juice?" I asked him. "No," he said. In that case then, I'd better take a cold one, which is what I wanted in the first place anyway.
Being a farang, the other question of course is if I want a lady. Foreigners in Thailand are very much stereotyped; and associating them with Thai prostitutes is all part of the stereotype.
Even if I did want one I know where to find them by myself. If a taxi driver or hotel bellboy takes a foreign customer along, the price automatically goes up to cover the guy's commission.
Money is one Thai obsession; the other is beauty.
One of my friends is a nurse at a private hospital. At one time or other I have been to all the local private hospitals and when we first met she wanted to know my opinion of them.
Her overriding concern was which hospital had the prettiest nurses. Seriously. Later, I met her at work and she gave me a tour of her hospital. On the tour I met lots of nurses and they all wanted to know which department I thought had the prettiest nurses.
When I worked at the university and told Thais where I worked, they would always remark how beautiful the students there were. The people at the faculty in which I worked all wanted to know who I thought was the most beautiful member of staff.
This type of questioning is perfectly normal in Thailand. In the United States you would probably be fired and then find yourself on the wrong end of a multi-million dollar sexual harassment charge, but not in Thailand.
Likewise, complimenting a girl on her appearance goes down very well in Thailand. She will probably give you a big smile, say thank you, and wai. Back in the United States you'll be looking for a new job while receiving calls from the girl's lawyer.
Given the choice, I know which country I'd rather be in. It's quite funny actually. You go into somewhere thinking that you will be asked searching questions and all they want to know is who you think is the prettiest girl.
Having a language barrier is a good mechanism to avoid stupid questions in Thailand so not learning any Thai is highly recommended.
I ended the week chatting with a friend and we got on to the subject of travel. Like many Thais she spends most of her waking life at her place of work and is bored out of her brain so she wants to travel.
She mentioned a few neighbouring countries and made a remark that the culture in Laos is very strange. This made me grin. What surprises me is that Thais never think that some of their own behaviour might be regarded as strange by other people.
In the week I was asked to assess two students who have just returned from the United States. They were only there for a year but even after a short period of time abroad Thai students return as completely different people. The change is quite amazing.
Firstly, I was able to talk with them as if they were native speakers. It makes me feel a bit ashamed that my Thai is so bad after six years in Thailand, whereas they achieved so much more in just a year.
In addition to language skills, their whole attitude changes. If Thais never leave Thailand they never have a chance to compare how other people think and behave. Their world is very insular, and quite unbalanced.
I spent about 18 months of my working life in the States so I am fairly familiar with life there. I was talking to the girls about differences between the US and Thailand and we agreed on everything.
One of the major problems I find with Thais is their lack of any experience anywhere outside of Thailand. They have no frame of reference to compare anything with, and simply accept that everything in Thailand is perfectly normal and acceptable.
It's not until they live abroad that they start to see things clearly, and even start to question things about Thailand. It's extremely healthy. What's a shame is that so few Thai students get the opportunity to study abroad.
My view is that no other country is better than Thailand, and that Thailand is no better than any other country. There are big differences, and there is both good and bad in all cultures. The best thing we can do is observe and then take the best practices from each culture.
Most foreign media accounts of Thailand are completely inaccurate because most foreign media reporters just don't understand Thailand or how Thais think.
The Nation published an interview with a foreigner who does understand Thailand. It's accurate and a lot better than the usual drivel: Professor Stephen Young's interview with The Nation
The local municipality is organising a 'Car Free Day' on Sunday 20th September. Posters advertising this have been posted around town. I asked my students what was happening on the 20th of this month and no one knew. This didn't really surprise me.
The 'Car Free Day' idea was done for the first time last year. It was a joke. Thais either didn't know or - more likely - they simply couldn't understand the point. Based on my observations, car usage on last year's 'Car Free Day' was exactly the same as any other Sunday in the year. I suspect this year will be the same.
I've been continuing the theme of pollution and protecting the environment with my students.
From a teaching perspective it has become a lesson in sentence structure. Most of my students have a good knowledge of English vocabulary and basic tense structure but they don't know how to use tenses or how to form grammatically correct sentences.
Apart from teaching, I am personally very interested in how young Thais think. As a foreign teacher in Thailand you are privileged to have access to such a rich source of unedited opinion. I teach them about the English language but over the years my students (all the way up to PhD) have taught me a lot about Thailand and how Thais think.
For me personally, the question about whether cars should be banned from city centres has proven to be the most interesting. Every single student - with absolutely no exceptions - has said no.
It's almost as if they have all colluded with the answer but they haven't. When questioned about this, every single student I have spoken to has been adamant that cars are as essential to life as water and air. It's quite concerning but I think I can understand.
For many years, people in developing countries looked at the affluent and materialistic lifestyles of people in the West, especially Americans because of the influence of American TV and movies. They were envious.
In the last 20 or 30 years developing countries have been getting richer and it is natural that people in developing countries think they should be getting a taste of the lifestyles that not so long ago they could only envy.
Now that their time has come, Western countries are trying to tell them that the way Westerners lived before isn't good for the environment and that really they should keep their bicycles instead of driving cars.
This is the problem.
Western countries have already been through the cycle of wealth and they know that there is more to life. But try telling that to someone who has never experienced wealth.
I've owned a couple of fairly fast cars in the past and it was fun but fast cars aren't everything in life. However, try telling this to a young Thai boy racer who has bolted on a big exhaust tailpipe and other 'go-fast' accessories to his 20 year-old Nissan Cefiro and he won't believe you.
I don't believe it will do any good preaching to developing countries about protecting the environment. They need to go through the cycle of wealth, materialism and damage to learn the lessons first-hand.
Hopefully, by the time these lessons have been learned the damage won't have been too great.
I just find it interesting that there is a genuine concern among Thais about global warming and the potential damaging effects but that they steadfastly refuse to reduce their use of cars and motorbikes.
They are genuinely scared by all accounts, but not scared enough to start walking or taking public transport.
Sunday 6th September 2009
I've been doing stuff about pollution and the environment with my students this week. Thai kids have just as much knowledge of environmental issues as kids anywhere else; they understand the problems and they know what steps should be taken to reduce the problems.
Where it all falls down in Thailand is when something is seen to impact someone's personal freedom; or when something is perceived to affect their social status. To the question, "Should cars be banned in city centres?" not one student answered yes. In fact, this question drew some horrified looks.
Bangkok is permanently gridlocked and the air pollution is pretty bad. Larger Thai provincial cities are going the same way. Various attempts have been made to fix the traffic problems in Bangkok but nothing has worked so far.
I asked my students why cars shouldn't be banned from city centres and was told that they are important, and necessary in order to live. That is complete rubbish, of course.
The real reason - although they won't admit it - is perceived status. Thai society is extremely hierarchical and Thais are extremely status conscious. Image is everything and car ownership is the ultimate status symbol in Thailand.
At the last place I worked, the staff would take second jobs and work every hour of overtime they could purely to be able to make monthly payments on a car. It's not unusual for Thais to spend 75% or more of their monthly income on car payments.
A farang guy I met was pressured into buying a pickup truck by his Thai wife and two Thai step-daughters. He saw no need but they pressured him relentlessly until he gave in.
After the truck arrived one daughter got home from school and then made up a story about having left something at school that was very urgent. She made her step-father drive her back to school to collect it.
The story was a complete fabrication and its only purpose was so that her friends would see her in a new pickup truck.
A friend of mine was given some money to buy a car from her Bangkok-based boyfriend. He has two BMWs. She was going to buy a Toyota but he objected because Toyota isn't a fancy enough brand. He wanted her to buy a BMW but they are expensive in Thailand. The compromise was a Honda Civic.
This kind of thinking is common in Thailand. There is abundant public transportation, and for many journeys it would make a lot of sense to use it. However, I don't think I know any car-owning Thais who use public transport to go anywhere. It's all to do with perceived status.
This is where Thais are different to most foreigners. In the future I may decide to buy a car in Thailand. If I do though, there will still be a lot of occasions when I will walk or take public transport.
This was what happened when I had access to a car recently. The car was in the car park downstairs but I would still walk to the local supermarket because it was less hassle with traffic and parking. The girl whose car it was couldn't understand why I did this. It was completely beyond her comprehension that someone should have access to a car but choose to walk instead.
In his excellent book 'Money Politics, Globalisation and Crisis - The Case of Thailand', John Laird gives a classic example of Thai thinking (page 311).
A European woman he knew got a job in a hotel in Hua Hin. Very sensibly she chose to go to work by bicycle. Subsequently, she was told by the management of the hotel that this was unacceptable and that she must get a motorcycle. Presumably this was because the hotel didn't want people to see its staff riding bicycles.
Compare this with the Winkworth estate agent in London where staff have had their cars replaced with electric bicycles because they are more efficient and better for the environment: Winkworth Go Green with Gocycle
Things like John Laird's story sound unbelievable but when you start to understand how Thais think you will know that this kind of thing is perfectly normal.
What is concerning is that these attitudes are not uniquely Thai. Such thinking is widespread across Asia. Considering that Asia is the next economic powerhouse of the world, this doesn't bode well for the world's environment.
Like many other farangs living in Thailand, I walk a lot. While walking it is very rare to see a Thai walking. Bicycles are also very rare. Everyone has a motorbike. Kids are either taken to school in cars or ride motorbikes. This causes terrible traffic jams and pollution.
I am amazed at how lazy Thais are when it comes to walking. At a local som-tum shop, I saw the som-tum girl making a delivery 50 meters away on her motorbike. This kind of thing isn't unusual.
Iss was the same when I first met her but after a while she got used to my walking and she started to enjoy it. When I first met her we would go to the supermarket by some kind of vehicle and she would complain about having to walk across the car park from the road to the store!
Recycling is interesting. Local municipalities and individuals don't seem to make much effort at recycling, as is done in other countries. For example, around where I live there aren't separate containers everywhere to dispose of different types of rubbish.
However, there are lots of poor Thais who make a living by scavenging for recyclable material in rubbish. I often see them walking around the streets with hand carts. They search through every rubbish bin they find and take anything that is recyclable.
They sell it to one of that several places in town that buys scrap. This is done purely on a weight basis.
This means that although individuals may not worry about recycling too much, quite a lot of recycling actually gets carried out thanks to the poor people who make a living this way.
Something else that is quite unfortunate about Thailand is the unhealthy obsession with money that so many people have. The clearest memory I have of an example of this type of thing is in Khaolak.
When I first started visiting the area, I found an idyllic traditional thatched restaurant located in beautiful countryside overlooking a natural pond. The pond was full of fish and it attracted many different types of bird. It was wonderful.
I went back on a subsequent visit only to find that the thatched structure had been bulldozed and the pond filled in.
An ugly concrete restaurant had been built in its place with a line of ugly concrete bungalows next door. The owners were thrilled at the prospect of the additional income they would get from renting rooms to tourists. The destruction of that idyllic piece of the Thai countryside was inconsequential to them. They were good people but they simply didn't think the same way as I did.
I was horrified, but subsequently I've seen similar things elsewhere in Thailand. It's just a different way of thinking, a different value system, and a different set of priorities.
Tuesday 1st September 2009
I'm finding it increasingly difficult to write here; and it isn't because I have run out of things to say about Thailand, because that definitely isn't the case.
The first reason is time. My life at the moment is fantastic - probably the best it has ever been, in fact. Many years ago, I started planning for a time in the future when I would have the time and the means to do whatever I wanted to do for the rest of my days without having to work.
I worked hard and limited my fun to some extent so that I had enough money left over each month to save and invest. I still lived well, travelling frequently and driving fun cars, but I always lived well within my means.
My plan worked well for a long time but everything changed half way through 2007. That year was terrible but it was only the start of the disaster, as 2008 proved to be probably the worst year of my life.
My investments crashed; the interest I was getting from my savings went to almost nothing; and the final piece of icing on the cake was a change in the UK occupational pension regulations that indicated I would have to wait another five years until I could collect my pension.
All of a sudden it looked as if I would have to carry on teaching in Thailand for a lot longer than I'd planned; not because I wanted to, but out of necessity.
In short, my life started to fall apart and I did what a lot of people without a life do - I spent a lot of time on the Internet.
So far, 2009 has been as good as 2008 was bad and the indications are that the recovery will continue. I have heard nothing but good news this year and in a short space of time the bad situation I was in last year has been completely turned around.
Once again, my plans for a full retirement at the end of next year have materialised again.
With my life so full - and looking to get a lot better next year - the last thing I want to do is sit at a computer.
The other reason is that when I write, I want to write positively. I pulled a lot of stuff from this blog last year because I was fed up being negative.
However, the things I find myself wanting to write about are mainly negative. Maybe I've been in Thailand too long? A sure sign of a new farang in Thailand is the tendency to fiercely defend all things Thai. I used to do it myself.
There comes a time though (I found it to be after about four years of constant living in Thailand) when there are no longer any secrets or mysteries. At this stage your eyes are opened and you just see things as they are.
This awareness doesn't necessarily make Thailand a worse place, but it makes Thailand a very different place to how you perceive it as a tourist or a newbie expat.
Then comes the argument: "Well, if it's so bad and you can't say anything good, why do you stay?" It's interesting how so many farangs come to Thailand voluntarily but after a while start to criticise so many things.
I'm not sure why this is. So many things in Thailand drive me crazy at times but to change them would take away the very essence of Thailand. If the Thais changed everything how I wanted, then you would end up with an Asian version of Germany ... probably something like Singapore.
All the prices would go up and a lot of the fun would be removed. There are good reasons why so many Germans and Singaporeans (and many others) come to spend time in Thailand wherever they are.
This therefore gives me something of a dilemma. I can't say that I approve of many things in Thailand, but to criticise them and continue living in Thailand is somewhat perverse and hypocritical.
I enjoyed this account regarding Nigel Hankin, who spent most of his life in India, especially the quote that he, "missed the chaos," of India when he returned to the UK.
After returning home, he just found England so dull. I miss a few things from England occasionally but I haven't returned after six years because I think the dullness and boredom would kill me.
As a tourist in Thailand I would wander around the streets as much as I could taking in every sight, sound and smell simply because everything was so vastly different to what I was accustomed to, and so vastly different from the boring world I had come from.
I knew that even if I returned every year for the rest of my life as tourist, it wouldn't be enough to satisfy my desire to know more about the country. There was only one option open to me and that was to move permanently to Thailand - like many people do.
As most tourists to Thailand will appreciate, the day you have to return home is a pretty sad day. Conversely, when you first arrive as an expat knowing that you don't have to go back, it is an amazing feeling.
After a while this euphoric feeling starts to wear off, but to then criticise the very things that attracted you so much initially seems rather strange.
The maxim I use for every aspect of my life is that 'you can have anything, but you can't have everything'. If you want cleanliness, orderliness, efficiency, etc., move to Germany or Singapore, but understand that life could get a bit boring after a while.
If you want fun, excitement and a very different approach to life, Thailand might be more suitable but it can also be frustrating.
With regard to any comments I make here, look at them as advice and warnings for foreigners. Would I want anything changed? Sure, on certain days I want lots of things changed but to change Thailand too much would mean destroying what it is that makes Thailand such a refreshing change from so many other boring places.
Just as foreign words have crept into the English language over time, so too have many English words crept into Thai. The fact they are written in Thai can cause problems. It takes me a while sometimes to realise that what I am reading is in fact an English word that has been transliterated into Thai.
Certain English sounds simply don't exist in Thai (and vice-versa), and most Thai consonants change sound depending on whether they are used at the beginning or end of a syllable. The whole subject of transliteration - whether it is English to Thai or the other way round - is a complete nightmare.
It even causes problems for Thais. In addition to the problems mentioned above, these words aren't Thai so they aren't a part of the formal language and therefore don't appear in dictionaries.
While wandering around a local market this week I became aware of a group of Thais that were struggling with a word that one of them had written down. They were arguing among themselves how it should be pronounced, and they didn't know what it meant. I saw the word and knew so I was able to help them.
The woman with the piece of paper was pronouncing it wai-nin and that is the correct Thai pronunciation. This word is an attempt to write the English word 'vinyl' in Thai.
There is no 'v' sound in Thai so they use the Thai consonant that has a 'w' sound. For the final consonant they use the Thai consonant that makes an 'l' sound as an initial consonant but as a final consonant it makes an 'n' sound.
Thais are big on banners and signs, and the waterproof ones used outside are often made of this material. I see this word quite a lot outside sign shops.
In 2004 I started helping university students with their English. I worked with students at all levels, that is, those studying for Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees and PhDs.
I was introduced to a girl who was studying bird calls. She showed me her caged doves and explained a little. It was moderately interesting.
Five years later (a couple of months ago) she sent me the first part of her Master's degree thesis to proofread; the culmination of five years' work (maybe longer). She has just sent another part and I expect this will continue for quite a while yet.
Her hypothesis is that caged doves when kept alone do not make different sounds to caged doves when kept in pairs.
She has identified four types of call, each of which have been recorded and analysed for amplitude, frequency, number of syllables, etc. She has compared these same sounds for birds kept alone and birds kept in pairs.
That's it. As I said, moderately interesting, but not exactly earth shattering stuff.
She's a sweet girl and I see nothing wrong with students doing this kind of research, even if it is next to useless. What I do object to, however, is how society - especially Thai society - worship people who have useless paper qualifications and sneer at people who don't have useless qualifications but can actually do something useful.
I've proofread lots of theses by Thai students and apart from one that looked at ways of increasing the yield of palm oil from oil palms, most have had no commercial or practical value.
I am working with another PhD student at the moment trying to improve her speaking skills. She is typical of many Thai students. She has studied her whole life and as soon as she finishes her PhD she plans to become a lecturer.
This isn't uncommon. Thais like a quiet, easy life (cheewit ngee-up ngaay) and many students - provided their parents can afford it - find this in the realm of academia and never want to leave.
Again, that's fine, but the way Thais with Master's degrees and PhDs are worshipped because they've studied obscure subjects for years on end is ridiculous. Most have absolutely no practical skills and, in fact, all they are qualified to do is teach.
She will be worshipped even more because she has written her thesis in English. The fact that I have changed every sentence in her thesis to make it comprehensible will never see the light of day.
If I sound bitter and twisted about this, there is a reason. For my tertiary education I did an HNC (Higher National Certificate) in Mechanical and Production Engineering. It was four years of hard work and involved a lot of practical work. I worked at a company for part of the week and studied by day-release for those four years so that I gained real work experience at the same time as gaining academic knowledge.
When I finished I was a pretty useful resource. Not only did I have knowledge but I could actually do things.
A couple of years ago I applied for another job at the university here. It involved teaching Thais at a very basic level and I could do it with my eyes shut. They asked to see my qualifications.
The stuck-up girl I was dealing with sneered down at her nose at me uttering something about it 'only' being a certificate and effectively they threw me out. It was no big loss because it was a crap job for a crap salary and I found something a lot better.
What really annoyed me was the sneering attitude. Had I spent five years recording pigs farting, made sonograms from the recordings, analysed them and written a thesis about farting pigs to earn a Master's degree, everyone would have been really happy.
Because I spent four years doing something worthwhile but this had 'only' resulted in a certificate, I was valued about the same as a dog turd.
We have just experienced a major problem with the economy because of years of stupidity. For many years people borrowed far more than they could afford and eventually the world ran out of credit.
We are now in the middle of a phase of stupidity regarding education. With each year that passes, 'A' level students get better results in the UK because exams get easier. The world is turning out hundreds of thousands of graduates each year but many are useless.
Even so, there is still lots of emphasis placed on academic qualifications as an indication of a person's ability despite there being no direct relationship.
Just as the economy crashed, sooner or later the world will have to wake up to the issues facing education.
We all know that the British are the most drunken nation in the world but what is particularly ugly is seeing so many young females pissed out of their brains so frequently.
Living in Thailand makes the situation in the UK look even uglier than it already is because so few Thai females drink or smoke.
Some Thai girls may indulge in a very small tipple occasionally of something that isn't very alcoholic. One thing you definitely won't see in Thailand is packs of 'ladettes' out on a Friday night sucking on cigarettes and binge-drinking like sailors who have just returned from six months at sea.
Seeing a Thai girl smoking or drinking is a big warning sign that something isn't quite right; this might be common in the tourist resorts but it certainly isn't common in normal Thailand. The same applies to girls sporting visible tattoos.
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