Living In Thailand Blog
Saturday 28th September 2013
British, Irish expats in Phuket arrested (and deported) by Immigration - for overstaying their visas
"Tourist Police have been ordered to crack down on zero-baht tours and Immigration officers are to crack down on foreigners overstaying their visas," Gen Wuthi told the press gathered at Phuket Provincial Police headquarters in Phuket Town.
Many foreigners that get a taste of Thailand decide to stay for longer than a vacation. As a tourist you can stay in the country fairly easily and legally for up to about six months with appropriate tourist visas, although you may have to exit the country at the nearest border and then reenter Thailand. There are plenty of visa run services available and doing this is quite straightforward.
If you wish to stay in Thailand indefinitely you require a suitable visa and there are various types of visa available.
There used to be something called an investment visa and if you invested Bt3 million or more in a condominium you could apply for this visa. This type of visa was stopped several years ago for new applicants, but I believe that people already on the scheme were allowed to continue.
If you find work in Thailand you require two things. A work permit is required to allow you to work, and a non-B visa is required to allow you to stay in the country. A non-B visa alone doesn't permit you to work, and a work permit alone doesn't allow you to stay in Thailand. When I was working, these two documents were tied together very closely and kept in sync.
If you marry a Thai citizen you can apply for a non-O marriage visa. You need to prove that you are legally married and there is a financial requirement. You need to show evidence of Bt400,000 in a Thai bank account, or that you have a regular income exceeding Bt40,000 per month.
The age for a retirement visa in Thailand is 50 and the financial requirements are Bt800,000 in a Thai bank account or an income of Bt65,000 per month. You can also use a combination of deposited money and income. For example, if your income is Bt30,000 per month: Bt30,000 x 12 = Bt360,000 and therefore you need Bt440,000 in the bank to make the total Bt800,000.
I have actually invested significantly more money in Thailand than the Bt3 million that used to be the requirement for an investment visa, but because of the way that Thai law works I have nothing to show on paper at all. Everything is in my wife's name and I am a pauper. As a foreigner living in Thailand you can invest a huge amount in the country, but have nothing to show for it.
There are other types of visa, for example, to allow you to study, work in certain professions, do research work, do missionary work, etc, but the most common types of visa are the ones I've listed above.
Permanent resident status in Thailand is quite rare. I believe there is a fixed quota each year of about 100; it's expensive, requires a lot of paperwork, and there is only a small window each year when you can apply.
Most foreigners living in Thailand permanently, even after making major personal and financial commitments, stay in the country on one year renewable visas, and getting a visa extension is never guaranteed. Visa renewal time is never a particularly comfortable experience in Thailand. The easiest time I ever experienced with visas was when I was working full time and it was one of my employer's duties to renew my visa each year.
Some foreigners (the exact number is impossible to ascertain) just don't bother and overstay illegally. I've lived legally in Thailand for 10 years and I have never been stopped randomly and asked to show my visa. These foreigners are either too lazy to do the paperwork or don't meet the requirements for a visa and they know that the chances of being caught are very low.
Occasionally, immigration will have a blitz - as is happening in Phuket right now - but after the blitz everything will go back to normal. I expect that a number of foreigners living in Phuket illegally will be keeping a low profile this weekend, but next week they will be out and about again with nothing to fear.
I used to work with a guy who had overstayed for almost three years. He had some contacts and simply managed to pay the maximum Bt20,000 fine, at which time his slate was wiped clean.
He then obtained a proper visa and work permit, courtesy of a very kind employer, but when that expired he want back to overstaying illegally. I haven't seen him for years but I was told by someone who knows him that he is now on another long overstay.
If you overstay and leave the country, you will simply be fined at the border. The daily fine used to be Bt200, but it is now Bt500, and the maximum is Bt20,000. However, if you are caught while in Thailand and found to be overstaying the consequences are potentially a lot more serious. You can be fined, imprisoned and deported.
Obviously, if you have the responsibility of taking care of a family in Thailand you can't take the risk of being deported. Not only that, but I have always been the type of person that likes to do things honestly, legally and above board.
I've just renewed my visa and although I knew that my application met all the requirements, you never know what is going to happen with Thai Immigration. After I got married I anticipated having a marriage visa. However, the local immigration office said that this was very involved and that they couldn't process marriage visas locally. As I met the financial and age requirements for a retirement visa they said that this would be a lot easier. It didn't really make a difference to me so I agreed.
The German guy I met at immigration earlier this year brought along some documentation from his employer as evidence of his income, but immigration will only accept an official letter from your country's Embassy in Thailand. I was aware of this and applied for this letter earlier this month. Writing such letters is a standard service provided by the British Embassy. It cost Bt2,260 and was done by post, which meant that I didn't need to go to Bangkok.
From previous experience at immigration I knew that they would also want a certified translation of this letter. I got this done locally for a fee of Bt700. Armed with the necessary paperwork I went along to immigration a few days ago. Instead of going alone, I took my wife and daughter. Immigration seem to look beyond the basic paper requirements and I get the impression that they want to know what kind of person they are dealing with. I am a family man these days and wanted to portray that impression. My daughter was a big hit with the staff and I'm sure it would have been a lot more difficult had I gone alone.
It wasn't too bad, although I always sense that they are suspicious of me and that they are trying their best to find something wrong with my application. I appreciate that they have a job to do, but it irritates me slightly that people playing by the rules are given a hard time when there are so many foreigners in Thailand who don't play by any rules and get away with it.
My letter from the Embassy was checked to see that it was an original and not a copy. The amounts have to be specified in your home country's currency and I was mildly amused that immigration asked me what the exchange rate was. They thought it was Bt70, whereas actually it is around Bt50 at the moment.
My income satisfies the requirement made by Thai immigration, but they also wanted to see my bank book. I had a sneaking suspicion that this would happen so I took my bank book along. It wasn't necessary to show them, but I had nothing to hide. Maybe they would be suspicious if someone with a supposedly high income abroad had nothing in a local bank account?
The bottom line is that Thai immigration can do anything at their own discretion. There are set guidelines, but it would appear that each immigration office can do whatever it wants. I've seen farangs arguing with each other on forums about what is and what isn't required for various visas, but there is no point arguing. These arguments are futile because there is never any consistency.
It depends on the applicant and what impression he or she makes on immigration. It depends on local immigration rules and the individual who you deal with. They no doubt get a gut feeling for the person applying and if something doesn't feel right they will ask for more, even if technically what they ask for isn't required.
There are a few basic rules when dealing with Thai immigration that are well known. The first is not turning up looking like a farang kee nok. I've seen this and it is quite embarrassing. On the other hand, there is no need to go over the top. At the consulate in Penang on one occasion I saw a couple of foreigners who looked as if they were getting married. You don't need to wear black shiny leather shoes and a wedding suit. Just be clean and presentable.
All of my dealings with immigration have been in Thai. I can understand and answer most questions and I always throw in lots of krups to be very polite. If your Thai is lacking always attend with a Thai friend and let them deal with the officials while you sit them and smile benignly.
Don't argue or make a fuss. They are in a big position of power over you and if they tell you to jump, ask how high you should jump. Remember that they have a job to do and it is their desire to help honest people, but they are also aware that there a lot of bad farangs live in Thailand.
I never leave my application until the last day. My expectation (even if it is wrong, and I hope that it will be wrong) is that whatever paperwork I have, there will always be some more hoops set for me to jump through and that I will need an extra day or two to perform the additional hoop-jumping.
To avoid having to do this every year I keep thinking about permanent resident status. It's hassle and more money, but with a wife, daughter and another child on the way I am here for the duration now and there is no going back. It would certainly make life easier and the month prior to requesting a visa extension is never very relaxed. Next time I am passing the local immigration office I may call in for a chat about this.
Yet another shooting. Not every pickup truck in Thailand is driven by an aggressive driver, but most aggressive drivers in Thailand drive pickup trucks.
Why so many guns in Thailand?
From 'A History of Thailand':
(After WW2) As a result of the Allied arms drops, and the disarming of the occupying Japanese, the country was awash with arms and 'Buying arms in Thailand as as easy as buying beer'.
After the war the USA regarded Thailand as being a strategically important ally in its fight against Communism in Southeast Asia (which is why the US let Thailand off the hook for its role in WW2).
Starting in the early 50's the United States sent enormous arms shipments to Thailand's army, while at the same time the CIA began to arm the police.
Also, as a result of the southern insurgency, many police stations and army depots have been raided for arms and with international support for the insurgents and lax border control yet more arms have come into the country.
There is a big gun culture in Thailand and a huge number of unlicensed guns. It is quite frightening.
With major floods occurring in Ayuthaya the past couple of years, the main concern in Thailand was that foreign investors would pull out of Thailand, and therefore lots of work was done to protect Ayuthaya's industrial estates from flooding. This also gives an indication of how priorities are set in Thailand.
However, the water still has to go somewhere and if the industrial estates are protected it just means that even more water will inundate local villages where the factory workers live. This simple truth has only just been realised.
Thursday 26th September 2013
As this report says, Brits generally are lazy linguists. With so many people in the world speaking English as a first or second language, why would Brits need to learn another language?
This report is all well and good, but I can fully understand people being reluctant to learn another language if there is no perceived need. Another problem is that if people don't use a foreign language regularly they won't remember the words they learn.
This has been a big problem with students I have taught in Thailand. There are very few foreigners in this part of Thailand and they simply don't get any opportunities to practice. They seem to understand what you teach them at the end of a lesson, but it is all forgotten a week later.
I can understand someone living in Milton Keynes having no interest in learning Chinese or Swahili. I find it harder to understand why a foreigner living in Thailand would have no interest in learning some Thai, but everyone to their own.
I don't have a clue how many Thais words I know. A thousand? Probably, but I've never counted. I would like to think that I have been able to learn at least 100 words per year. However, even when you know the words you then have to put them into the right order and pronounce them in such a way (remember that Thai is a tonal language) so that the locals understand what you are saying. That is the difficult - and sometimes impossible - part.
Wednesday 25th September 2013
I have just renewed my health insurance. I renewed our daughter's policy at the same time and this year I also took out a policy for my wife, who previously only had insurance that covered accidents. The insurance we all have now covers everything and is good for OPD and hospital stays.
There were five levels of insurance available at varying costs and degrees of cover. I opted for Level 2, which is adequate for most things and not overly expensive. It isn't exactly cheap, but as I have said before, you can't put a price on peace of mind.
Insurance cost depends on your age, and the age groups are divided into five year tiers. The cover for children from 0-5 is quite expensive because kids this age are susceptible to illness. From age 6-10 it goes down and the cost keeps falling until the age of 19.
After 19 it starts to creep up again and the policy schedule shows a maximum age of 65. I'm not sure if they will provide cover over the age of 65. My insurance this year is around Bt18,000, my daughter's is around Bt13,000 and my wife's is also around Bt13,000. This was after a 10% discount.
Last year was the first year that I saved money with my health insurance. Prior to that my policy had always cost me more than my healthcare. However, it is the peace of mind aspect and never knowing what is going to happen. In Thailand you can be in perfect health one day and in a desperate situation the next.
After renewing last year, a small cyst on my chest that had been there for years decided to get infected. The doctor performed a small operation to remove it using local anaesthetic and the cost was over half the cost of my health insurance.
A few months ago I had bad breathing difficulties and ended up in ICU for a day. That trip to hospital was more than my annual health insurance policy.
Being able to attend reasonable private hotels also offers a certain level of dignity. When my wife's father underwent back surgery at one of the public hospitals a few months ago I was reminded how busy and overcrowded Thai public hospitals are.
The wards were full and there were lots of beds in the corridors where patients had no privacy at all. The hospital staff do their best, but there are just too many people. You will get treatment but I wouldn't want to be admitted to a public hospital.
While in Phuket many years ago I was in a beer bar and saw a sign propped up on the bar that had been written by the bar regulars. One of their friends was in a Phuket hospital in a bad way and didn't have any money or insurance. The sign was there to remind people how generous he was when it came to buying rounds of drinks, and it asked for donations.
Another Phuket expat is currently in a bad way after a serious car accident. He almost died. If you are familiar with this blog, you will know that serious road traffic accidents are very common in Thailand.
The driving standards are atrocious everywhere in Thailand, but the situation is particularly bad in Phuket. Minivans are notoriously dangerous and because of the huge number of tourists in Phuket there are lots of vans. There are also lots of very nasty steep hills and sharp bends in Phuket. I have driven to, and around, Phuket about four times and it is no fun at all.
This latest Phuket expat with serious injuries doesn't have enough funds, either, and there is a plea in the Phuket Gazette for help.
One of the great things I remember about visiting Thailand as a tourist was how carefree everything seemed to be. All the things that I had to worry about were back in England and in Thailand there was nothing at all to worry about. It felt fantastic.
This was partly because I was only staying in Thailand temporarily as a tourist, but mostly due to ignorance on my part. As a tourist I knew nothing about Thailand, even though I thought I did at the time.
When you come to live in Thailand permanently everything changes, and the longer you are in Thailand the more aware you become of the potential dangers.
I'm not really in a position at the moment to be spending lots of money, but I had no qualms renewing the health insurance policies for me and my family. I believe that it is money well spent in Thailand and I don't want to end up in a position where I have to beg for money from friends and family.
The uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that I bought for my computer earlier this year has been a great investment. Since I bought it in May, it has bleeped and I have heard the relays click in many times. On most occasions interruptions to the power supply have just been little blips, but it has prevented my computer from dropping power.
There was a power cut for about an hour two days ago and as soon as I realised that it wasn't a short blip, I was able to close down all my applications safely before powering down my computer in a controlled fashion.
The UPS only cost Bt1,490. It has saved me work that would have been lost, and possibly it has prevented hardware problems caused by a sudden loss of power.
If you use a laptop that has a good battery there is no need for a UPS, but if you have a desktop machine with no battery backup it is definitely worthwhile getting a UPS in Thailand where power cuts are frequent.
Unfortunately, the pumps I have been using in my fishpond to circulate water through the filter haven't proved to be very resilient to power cuts. After yet another brief power cut yesterday morning, another water pump (the third one) stopped and never started again.
I have managed to get two replaced by keeping my mouth shut regarding power cuts. I made that mistake with the first pump and they then refused to change it. That was an expensive error on my part because these things cost around Bt2,000 a throw.
Electrical goods are not covered if damaged by power surges that take place when the power is resumed after a power cut and the local electricity authority won't take any responsibility.
There are frequent power cuts in Thailand but, as with many things in Thailand, no one takes responsibility or is accountable for anything and you are left on your own. The only thing I can think of doing is trying to get some kind of surge protection installed in the house.
This is another thing that would be relatively easy to do in Western countries, but based on previous experience no one here will understand what I am talking about. Living in Thailand can be extremely frustrating at times.
I couldn't get hold of a plumber on Friday because everyone was making merit. The staff here promised 'hand-on-heart' that he would be here first thing Saturday morning.
Of course, he never showed up and I fixed the problem myself on Saturday evening. I can do these jobs but I had a pretty bad cold and the house is only 10 months old so I don't see why I should be fixing things myself.
A couple of Burmese workers turned up to fill in the snake holes under the house, which was good. I am still waiting for someone to fix a sliding door so that it doesn't rub on the floor tiles, and waiting for someone to fix bubbling paint that has appeared in a lot of places.
They warned me that the painting couldn't be done if it was wet. The weather has been very dry recently and no one has showed up. My suspicion is that they are waiting for the rains to come, and then they will tell me the painting can't be done because it is too wet.
Customer service isn't always bad in Thailand, but bad service is very common. When I do receive good service I am usually quite surprised because it is the exception, rather than the rule.
Be careful if you get involved romantically or get into an argument in Thailand. Issues and arguments are often settled with guns.
Monday 23rd September 2013
The news in Thailand is so predictable that I could probably write some headlines for next year and they wouldn't be very wide of the mark. For starters, many fatal road accidents occur routinely every day.
Every month or two there is a major accident with several lives lost, and there are always high-profile accidents that kill foreigners.
During the New Year and Songkran periods, the road accident rate goes through the roof. In addition, tourists are also killed in speedboat accidents.
No fatalities this time, unlike the speedboat accident at the end of last month, which killed two Chinese tourists.
Once or twice a year there is hypocritical outrage about a foreigner or foreign media organisation commenting on the sex industry in Thailand because it tarnishes the country's image, or there is outrage at the disgusting behaviour of Thai females who walk around in 'spaghetti strap' dresses.
At this time of the year, all you ever seem to see on Thai TV news, apart from road accidents, are reports about flooding. This is flooding that has been caused by normal rainy season rainfall. Typhoon Usagi, which has been affecting Taiwan, the Philippines and China, hasn't got close to Thailand yet. Ayuthaya gets hit every year.
I could understand if a severe weather system had brought higher than expected rainfall, but even in normal rainy season conditions there is still lots of flooding in Thailand. Lots of rain in the rainy season is hardly a new phenomenon in Thailand, but the same problems occur every single year.
The reason that Thailand never moves forward is because the problems in the country keep going round and round without ever getting resolved.
Mixed results for car-free day - this is about as useful in Bangkok as trying to arrange a sex free day in Pattaya.
Sunday 22nd September 2013
After unsuccessful attempts at finding a suitable mate on-line at hotpanda.com, Lin Ping is set to leave Chiang Mai zoo next Saturday to complete the task in China. Astrological charts have already been drawn up and Lin Ping will be accompanied by a renowned Thai fortune teller and Cambodian witch doctor, both of whom are well versed in the art of matchmaking. They will provide assistance with identifying auspicious dates and be available for consultation with regard to other important celestial matters.
Lin Ping, having been born in Thailand, had not been inconvenienced by the same visa irregularities that plagued her parents, Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, who held Chinese passports and were only allowed to stay in Thailand on one-year renewable procreation visas provided they could show evidence of owning 800,000kg of bamboo shoots, or an income of 65,000kg bamboo shoots per month.
The two great pandas' visa runs to Mae Sai, located in Chiang Rai province on the Thai/Burmese border, every 90 days in a specially modified minivan - the Panda Express - had become one of northern Thailand's most popular tourist attractions in recent years.
Thai Airways, after suffering a ghostly landing gear failure in Bangkok recently, is currently arranging for special blessing ceremonies to be carried out on its entire fleet, including the plane in which Lin Ping will fly to China, to ensure that no further mechanical or electrical failures ever take place.
Asked how successful he believed the Chinese trip would be, a director at Chiang Mai zoo said he wasn't sure. However, he acknowledged there would be a special Brahmin ceremony held at the zoo this Monday and that the type of food chosen by the zoo's oxen would give an indication of the level of success.
Asked whether he had any concerns about Lin Ping spending a year in China, he pointed out the issues of unnecessary bureaucracy and superstitious nonsense that are commonplace in China.
Saturday 23rd September 2013
Observing minivan drivers drive aggressively at high speed in Thailand, while weaving in and out of traffic and constantly breaking traffic laws is common.
Normally the culprits are passenger van drivers, who drive back and forth between two set locations. Occasionally, however, you see the same type of thing with vans belonging to schools that transport young students.
While driving with my wife recently, we saw just this. She was so incensed that she wanted to call the school to tell them about the way the driver was driving. Unfortunately, the van didn't display the name of the school - it just had a sign saying that it was carrying students.
Once again, the driver of this van complains of having lost control. If they didn't drive so bloody fast, the morons wouldn't lose control so often.
Friday 20th September 2013
In the Thai value system there isn't much that is more important than merit-making and today (the full moon day of the 10th lunar month) is a big merit-making day in southern Thailand. It's known in Thai as sip deuan. I don't why it is just southern Thailand and not other regions.
My wife and her family all meet up at the same temple every year on this day to get together and do their thing. They originate from Nakhon Sri Thammarat, where this festival appears to be a big thing. I normally get dragged along to keep up appearances, but I've been under the weather the last few days and don't feel up to going this year. When I do go I wander around the temple grounds making conversation with the temple cats and dogs while they do their bit inside. Rarely in Thailand do I get the opportunity to have a decent conversation.
I doubt whether my wife could explain what this particular merit-making day is about, but she - like many Thais - just goes through the ritualised motions of what she thinks is required of being a good Buddhist. As with most 'Buddhist' activities in Thailand, there is no doubt a good deal of animism and other belief systems mixed in for good measure.
From what I can make out, it is about ancestor worship and releasing hungry ghosts from the underworld. Ancestor worship is a big part of the Chinese belief system, so possibly this merit-making day was started by Chinese immigrants in the south. I don't know.
Shortly after she left I discovered a problem with the water tank. The float valve to stop water entering when it is full has developed a problem and consequently there was water pouring out of the top. I turned the main supply off and went to find a plumber to fix it.
There should be all sorts of tradesmen around the development, but today there are very few. They are absent for the same reason that my wife is absent - merit making.
In our old rented house I got a plumber in to install a water tank and pump to fix the problem of very low mains water pressure. Subsequently, one of the joints developed a leak and he sent one of his men round to fix it.
The guy did half a job and left. I thought he had gone for lunch but after several hours he still hadn't returned. I called his boss and was told that he had gone to make merit. To him, this was far more important than fixing a customer's leak. I was furious and told his boss that I wanted someone else to finish the job. He wasn't at all interested and when I tried to phone again he didn't answer my calls.
Never try to get anything done in Thailand between noon and 1pm because that's when Thais have lunch and nothing gets done during lunchtime. Merit making days are another time to be wary of if you want something done. In your view your job might be more important than making merit, but Thais and Westerners have very different value systems.
It's a spectacular building and it must have been even more spectacular a few short years ago when it was one of the tallest buildings in Bangkok. That is no longer the case with all the high rise offices and condos that have been built in Thailand's capital in recent years.
A climb to the top also offers spectacular views of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya river.
As from next Tuesday Wat Arun will be closed for three years while it undergoes repairs and renovation. The repairs are obviously necessary, but it is a great pity for first time tourists.
Mai bpen rai, as the Thais say. This will simply give them an excuse to return to Bangkok in the future.
Singapore is very safe, but very controlled and regulated. Singaporeans I have spoken to who visit Thailand regularly regard the laid-back, relaxed attitudes in Thailand as a breath of fresh air compared to what they are used to, but a few don't seem to be able to control themselves ... especially when they get stuck into cheap Thai alcohol.
Thailand is a crazy enough place as it is, even when you are stone cold sober. If you allow alcohol to impair your judgment, just be careful. I had some very lucky escapes in my youth as a result of doing the dumbest things while drunk. I lived to tell the tale, but it could have been very different.
From the Phuket Gazette:
Even if you don't drive a car or motorbike, pedestrians and cyclists also need to be very careful on Thai roads. A number of foreigners have been killed in Thailand while trying to cross roads and two cyclists attempting to cycle around the world were killed in Thailand earlier this year.
British cyclists on round-the-world trip killed in Thailand (not the ones in the photo below)
The traffic light sequence at most Thai road junctions doesn't cater for pedestrians and thus there is never a time when it is safe for pedestrians to cross. Thai drivers running red lights is common, as is taking off at red lights before the green light appears. Drivers never stop at pedestrian crossings, even if pedestrians are attempting to cross.
At some places you will find pedestrian bridges. These may seem an effort to climb in the intense heat, but use them because they are a lot safer. In addition, I've read about foreigners being fined by police for crossing roads and not using pedestrian bridges where there is a bridge nearby.
Hit and runs are common. Don't expect Thai drivers to stop after an accident if they think they can get away without being caught. Young teenage boys on motorbikes have hit my car a couple of times and their first reaction is just to ride off as quickly as possible. They can get through traffic easily, so they are impossible to catch.
Just when the UK pound to Thai Baht exchange rate had started to head up towards 51, Bernanke opens his mouth and it falls below 50 again, looking as if it will continue to drop. I'm getting fed up with hearing everyone's current favourite buzzword - 'tapering'.
Wednesday 18th September 2013
Penis Enlargement Attempt Fails Horrendously - Only in Thailand.
Thais Claim To Have No Time To Read Books, but all the time in the world to play on Facebook.
Tuesday 17th September 2013
It is well known that NGOs, governments and international charitable organisations do a lot of admirable work in the developing world, but it is heartening that some individuals also get involved.
China may be suffering from a huge wealth gap, overpopulation, male-female imbalance, corruption, underdeveloped infrastructure, choking pollution, inadequate construction quality, counterfeiting, crime, low grade education, lack of morality, no rule of law, poor food hygiene, etc etc, but Ms Sara Jane Ho has also noticed a serious lack of etiquette in the country.
A news report on Channel News Asia brought this important matter to my attention. Her first mission, as she sees it, is to teach the philistines in China how to pronounce foreign brand names correctly.
She has noted that Chinese aficionados of Louis Vuitton are horrified and offended when they hear a common person saying 'Loo-is' instead of the correct 'Loo-ee'.
So am I, if the truth be told. Nothing in life makes me more irate. While at a top fashion house in Thailand recently, well actually the local market, I heard this exact same faux pas. You would expect better from an authorised Louis Vuitton distributor selling expensive, high quality, genuine Louis Vuitton products. Some of her bags cost almost Bt500.
Ms Sara's first trip should be to all the authorised factories in China producing genuine Louis Vuitton goods under licence.
A lack of etiquette is no laughing matter. What can NGOs think when they ship in emergency supplies of food after a natural disaster and see people eating their rice with the wrong type of chopsticks?
Ms Sara knows about these things, having studied at a Swiss finishing school, and until such time as it becomes compulsory for all Chinese citizens to spend some time at a Swiss finishing school she is offering classes to the uncultured hoi polloi at Institute Sarita.
In an insane world it is good to know that at least one person has got her priorities right.
Sunday 15th September 2013
My wife has been checking out names for our forthcoming second child. I am attracted to names that I like the sound of and also names that remind me of people I respect. Whenever I think of a name, it reminds me of people I have encountered previously with the same name. The type of person they were influences how I feel about that name.
It is different for Thais. Whenever I suggest a name to my wife, she always asks what the meaning of the name is. This is the most important thing to her. Most of the time I don't know and have to resort to the Internet. Besides, it isn't really important to Westerners. I found out some years ago that my name means 'lover of horses' but I'm not a lover of horses and I don't think my parents realised this when they chose my name.
Names are seen by Thais as having a big influence on a person's luck in life. It is very important for parents to choose names for their children that will bring luck and good fortune, and if Thais are going through a prolonged phase of bad luck it isn't unusual for them to change their name.
Some Westerners may think that certain aspects of Thai behaviour are a little strange, and possibly even weird. However, it is exactly the same for Thais. There are certain aspects of farang behaviour that they just can't get their heads around. Here are a few examples, but there are more.
Why do foreigners whose parents are still alive come to live in Thailand instead of staying at home and taking care of their parents in old age? Not only does this seem strange to many Thais, but it borders on cruelty.
Why do foreigners travel and eat alone when surely the only point of travelling and eating is to share the experience with a group of friends or relatives?
How is it possible for foreigners to support football teams other than Liverpool or Manchester United? West Who?
When Thais take extreme measures to avoid the sun, why do foreigners lie on a beach deliberately exposing their milky white skin to intense rays and why do they delight in turning bright red?
Why are many foreign men attracted to dark-skinned Isaan females who work as bargirls?
When invited to engage in an all-male drinking session involving lots of beer and cheap Thai whiskey, why do foreigners decline simply because they have to drive home?
Why do foreigners walk such long distances - sometimes 50 or 100 meters at a time - instead of going by motorbike?
Why aren't foreigners afraid of ghosts?
Why do foreigners run naked around Pattaya?
Why do farangs buy food that they can't eat?
I bought a bag of bpaa tong go this morning. This street food breakfast snack originated from China and consists simply of deep-fried pieces of dough. The pieces of dough have a distinctive shape and can be pulled apart in two pieces.
I normally just dunk the pieces in coffee, but my wife dips them in something called sung kayaa, which is made from coconut milk and sugar.
A woman standing next to the bpaa tong go vendor asked me if I could eat what I had just bought. Why shouldn't I be able to eat it? I told her no. She then asked who I was buying it for and I replied my cats. She asked if my cats like it and I told her very much. As I drove off, she was still looking puzzled and probably talking to her friend about how weird farangs are.
I think that it is quite important to maintain the eccentric reputation that foreigners have in Thailand and at all times to reinforce Thai stereotypes of farangs. Whenever I get quizzed about my strange ways I try to reply in such a way so as not to shatter any illusions that Thais may have of foreigners.
A friend of my wife's came over for dinner this evening and it turned into a major name choosing session. I tried to find out more, but my request was met with disdain. This was partly because Thais think it is far too confusing a subject for a mere farang to understand, and partly because my wife knows that I think it is all nonsense. If she thought that I took it seriously, she might tell me more but she knows that I think it is a joke so she is reluctant to open up.
They were referencing books and Internet sites, such as fortunename.com. The date of birth of the child is important and you might wonder how they know what the date of birth of an unborn child will be.
Thai women tell the doctor which day they want to give birth, and doctors in Thailand will oblige because they are Thai and understand the local belief system. Our daughter was due on a Friday, but my wife was told that she had to be born on a Tuesday or Saturday. She therefore told the doctor she wanted to give birth three days early on the Tuesday. He obliged.
There seem to be lots of factors involved with choosing a name, including the day and date of birth, the letters used in the name, the numerical value of the letters in the name, and what the neighbour's goat ate for breakfast this morning.
I had to leave the room. I can't stress enough how importantly this was being taken and my tongue-in-cheek remarks weren't winning me any friends.
Friday 13th September 2013
This is what I said, based on common sense. Can I call myself an expert now?
Thursday 12th September 2013
Something else in Thailand that has been detached from reality for a long time is the used car market. When I was looking at cars a few years ago I couldn't believe how expensive used cars were, especially compared to the UK.
Someone I know bought a second-hand automotive wreck in Thailand a few years ago and it cost Bt100,000. In the UK this particular car would have been impossible to give away, let alone sell. My father in the UK tried to sell his cherished Vauxhall Astra, which was like a new car with hardly any miles on the clock as it had only ever been as far as Sainsburys, and he couldn't sell it. He virtually gave it away.
There is no such thing as a cheap run-around in Thailand. Even old wrecks that no one in their right mind would want are quite expensive.
As soon as a new car is driven out of a UK showroom the value falls dramatically, and it continues to fall. Many one year-old used cars in Thailand cost almost the same as a new car. I honestly can't understand why Thais buy expensive used vehicles when for a little more they can have the peace of mind of owning a new car.
My wife explains this by saying that they are already stretching themselves buying used and simply can't afford the extra Bt50,000 or Bt100,000 to buy new.
When I bought my car I decided that I wanted a Ford Escape and didn't want to pay Bt1.2 million - as the price was then - for a new car. I looked around and saw used models for Bt580,000, which was crazy. I searched online for used Escapes in the UK and the Baht equivalent price was about Bt100,000 to Bt150,000.
The problem in Thailand is that dealers work together to keep prices inflated and there is no competition - it's like tuk-tuks in Phuket. If you want a tuk-tuk ride in Phuket that should cost Bt20 and every driver says they want Bt300, you have no choice.
My brother-in-law is a used car dealer and found me an Escape for Bt480,000. I still wasn't happy with the price, but there was nothing cheaper and it was better than Bt580,000. He told me that his mate had checked it out and it was OK.
As I found out shortly afterwards, that wasn't the case. The car had reached an age where it had started needing a lot of work and the previous owner had obviously decided to get rid of it instead of paying for the work to be done.
I soon realised that the rear door didn't lock with the central locking and that the power steering pump was leaking. Ford parts are expensive in Thailand and the high maintenance bills started soon after I bought the car.
The HVAC started to make a strange noise and the entire heater unit needed to be replaced, not that I need a heater unit in the deep south but I wanted the car to be right. That was around Bt30,000. The water pump, radiator and expansion tank all developed leaks and needed to be replaced. I bought four new tyres to replace the worn, wrong size tyres that were on the car. That was another Bt22,000.
The cruise control wasn't working and the electric sunroof switch was faulty. At various times, most memorably while driving to Phuket in torrential rain, the engine started to misfire and the cause was a bad ignition coil. I've been through about four of five of these.
The car was serviced last month and it was a big service interval (spark plugs, transmission oil, brake fluid, etc) costing Bt10,000 instead of the usual Bt5,000. I had also noticed that the A/C was no longer blasting out cold air. They replaced a pipe assembly that cost Bt14,000. This didn't fix the problem so they replaced the cooling unit, which cost another Bt12,000.
They also found some worn steering joints and a noisy belt idler in the engine. Getting these bits fixed cost an extra Bt5,000.
After paying for the last lot of service bills I started thinking about selling the car and getting something else. However, there are two problems.
A new car would be cheapest to maintain (my wife's almost new Honda Brio has cost me nothing in maintenance apart from a regular service), but there aren't any news cars within my budget that appeal to me. If I buy another used car it is likely that the maintenance bills will start all over again.
Secondly, the Thai used car market has finally got in touch with reality, but this now means that I will get a lot less if I sell my car. The following report says that used car depreciation has increased from 10% to 25%.
The reason is that the new car market has become very competitive, especially the eco-car market, and manufacturers are offering very good deals on new cars. I saw a big Ford ad the other day for new Fiestas. Fiestas have come down in price and now Ford are giving away a motorbike and smartphone to all buyers of new Fiestas.
I had a chat with one of the technicians at the Ford service centre who acts as a liaison between customers and the workshop. I've now got to know him quite well and sometimes the Ford service centre seems like my second home.
I told him of my frustrations with always needing repairs done and that I might sell the car. His response was that I would get very little for it now and that most things that go wrong have now been replaced. Hopefully, he is right.
If I can get another couple of years out of the car with relatively little maintenance it will make more sense to keep it for a while, rather than selling it now.
I really like the car, apart from its fuel consumption and the high cost of maintenance. It's fun to drive, it's solid (especially compared to the Honda Brio, which feels as if it was made from recycled plastic bottles and Coke cans), and it's highly practical. It will accommodate five people and plenty of luggage quite easily.
Regarding size, it's a kind of 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' car. It's just right, not being too small or too big. I don't drive quickly as a rule, but there's plenty of power to get away from, and out of the way, of idiots. This ability is needed frequently on Thai roads.
However, it is not a car I would recommend buying in Thailand. If considering buying a car, the cheapest option in the long run would be to buy a new eco-car: Honda Brio, Nissan March, Suzuki Swift, Mitsubushi Mirage, etc. After the initial cost of buying the car, maintenance will be very low and these cars are also very fuel efficient.
The cheapest cars to maintain are those cars that are assembled in Thailand. Not only are original parts cheaper, but for common cars there will be lots of cheap parts made by other manufacturers.
The most common makes of cars in Thailand are Honda and Toyota, and the most common makes of truck are Isuzu and Toyota. These vehicles will have the lowest maintenance costs.
I do occasionally see cars that are unusual in Thailand, such as Land Rovers and Range Rovers (there are quite a few of the new Evoque models running around at the moment), but I would imagine that maintenance is difficult and expensive.
I also see the occasional Porsche Cayenne - and recently a 997 C4S, which is very rare down here - but for Thais who can afford to buy these cars in Thailand they aren't going to be worried about maintenance costs.
My days of owning used Porsches are now over, unfortunately. I still look at what's on offer in the UK and lament the fact that I could buy a cherished Boxster 3.2S in the UK for the same price as a used Honda Jazz in Thailand, but that is no longer an option living in Thailand.
It's actually a good thing. With the way that Thais drive, it would be an even bigger nightmare if the boy racers had access to affordable genuine performance cars, rather than the pickup trucks and 20 year-old go-fast Mitsubushi Lancers with big exhaust pipes and spoilers that they drive now.
The best thing in Thailand is not to have a car, which unfortunately for me is no longer an option with a young family. Cars are expensive and nothing has diminished my opinion of Thais more than driving regularly in Thailand. I really wish that I didn't have to drive.
If you want a day out and wish to get off the beaten path, cars are easy and relatively cheap to rent in Thailand.
Immediately after I was married, my wife started putting lots of pressure on me to buy a car. In addition to everything else, cars are a big status symbol in Thailand and Thai girls want their husbands and boyfriends to own a car. You can also add fathers to that list.
I once met a Canadian guy who was married to a Thai girl who had two daughters from a previous marriage. He didn't see the need for a car, either, but the pressure to buy a car was unrelenting. He gave in and bought a new pickup truck.
One day one of his daughters arrived home from school and then made up a story about having left something very important at school, and could her Dad drive her to school to get it. He did and later found out that the whole point of this exercise was so that she could be seen by her friends in a new pickup truck.
One of the first questions from one of the first girls I met in Thailand was did I have a car. I didn't and if I was still single I wouldn't have one now.
Even now, if I want to go downtown by myself I will hop on a sawng-thaew instead of driving myself. Thais who own cars will never do this because of the perceived status. It's more relaxing, I don't have to worry about parking, and the Bt15 fare is a lot cheaper than the petrol my car would use.
Returning to my original point, the used car market in Thailand could start to look very different within a year or two. Thailand has been flooded with new cars in the last couple of years after the government subsidy assisting first-time owners to buy a car.
My wife has predicted that a lot of owners won't be able to keep up with repayments and that finance companies will be repossessing lots of cars to sell used. With the higher depreciation rates on used cars, this will probably mean that in a year or two there will finally be some bargains with used cars in Thailand.
Wednesday 11th September 2013
The BBC ran an interesting article about Tesco.
Tesco has not only enjoyed extraordinary success in the UK, but also in Thailand - something that the article didn't mention. The UK retailer only entered Thailand in 1998 and in that short space of time has grown into an enormous business.
What makes this even more remarkable is that it is tough for foreign businesses to succeed in Thailand. Carrefour entered Thailand in 1996, but then sold out to Big C in 2011. Sometimes things just don't work out and despite its successes in other places, even Tesco couldn't conquer the US market.
Just as Tesco has courted controversy in the UK, there has been quite a lot of criticism in Thailand. There is lots of nationalism in Thailand and some people just don't like the idea of foreign companies doing well in Thailand. I counter these criticisms by saying that it is a free market, so if Thais think they can do better go ahead and compete with Tesco. Don't just whinge about foreign companies in the country.
Tesco, no doubt, pays a lot of taxes to the Thai government. The company awards scholarships to poor Thai children and does things to help the environment, such as participating in tree-planting activities.
I object to some of Tesco's sneaky pricing policies, but would be quite lost without them. Tesco is my preferred retailer, but this has more to do with the local Tesco stores being in more convenient locations and having better parking facilities than Big C.
The company employs around 46,000 abled-bodied and over 200 disabled Thai staff, buys a lot of produce from Thai suppliers, and provides large air-conditioned play spaces for millions of Thais in the hot season. On weekends and public holidays, especially if the weather is very hot, every branch of Tesco is packed.
Tesco appears to have got fed up with 7-Eleven's dominance of the retail minimart sector and has opened about 1,100 branches of Tesco Lotus Express. These are often located near to, and compete directly with, branches of 7-Eleven. In total there are around 1,400 Tesco stores in Thailand.
In addition to the large superstores and Express minimarts, there is also a dta-laat format, which - in size terms - is in between the two.
This is a strange story and I can't remember anything like this happening after an aircraft incident before. Thai Airways initially claimed that covering up the airline logos and national flag was a Star Alliance Policy, but this was denied.
Now we hear it was done to protect the airline's image. Image comes above everything else in Thailand so this is now kind of understandable.
What I don't understand is that the incident was caused by mechanical failure and that no one is going to think badly of Thai Airways just because one of its aircraft developed a problem.
Genuinely bad things are often covered up or not talked about in order to protect image. This is one of the reasons why it takes so long to discover the real Thailand. Thais think very differently to Westerners.
The wife was in a state of shock this morning. We stopped to pick up some Thai food for her - the usual curries and vegetables in plastic bags that Thais eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She bought it for breakfast and it will also be her evening meal. I can't eat anything like this in the morning and need proper breakfast food, but it isn't a problem for Thais.
She was expecting the food to cost around Bt150 and handed over Bt200 expecting some change. The price was Bt280 - almost twice her estimate - and she almost fell over. Many Thais earn less than Bt280 per day. She also bought a kilo of green oranges, which she thought would be around Bt80 but they were Bt130. This is what is happening all the time now. With increasing food costs, restaurants are simply passing on the cost to their customers ... plus some more.
One of the great benefits of travelling to Thailand is an abundance of cheap accommodation. Backpackers can get a roof above their heads in dormitory accommodation for almost nothing, or pay a few hundred Baht to get their own room.
You can find perfectly good hotel rooms for well under Bt1,000, and for the price of a crappy room in a UK travel lodge you can stay in a genuine luxury hotel in Thailand. It's generally very expensive staying in hotels in the great cities of the world, with the notable exception of Bangkok.
However, that could all be changing soon.
The price of everything in Thailand is going up and that includes hotel room rates. This is to cover higher living costs and one of the justifications is the high number of Chinese tourists with deep pockets that visit Thailand these days.
On recent trips to Bangkok I have been astounded at the number of tourists from mainland China. A few years ago all the tourists were farang, but now most are mainland Chinese.
At tourist attractions such as Vimanmek Mansion and large retail stores, such as the King Power Duty Free shopping complex near Victory Monument there are hordes of Chinese tourists who arrive in large tour buses. They like visiting Thailand, they have money, and they like shopping.
Rubber isn't sold directly to the public and so the approach of passing on higher prices to customers doesn't work. The price varies according to international commodity prices based on international supply and demand. The only way Thai farmers can get a higher price is by causing as much disruption as they can and blackmailing the government.
I was pleased to read a report in the Bangkok Post written by a Thai journalist echoing my own views.
There are plenty of clever Thai intellectuals, but the educated middle classes are still in a minority. They don't have the political clout to change much, and neither are their numbers big enough to change much at the ballot box.
The largest sector of the electorate is the rural poor and they operate by a system of patronage. They will vote for whichever politician promises to give them the most. This has resulted in politicians dreaming up all kinds of populist polices to secure votes from the rural poor, and these populist policies have created all kinds of problems for the country.
Western style electoral democracy doesn't work in Thailand, and the Thais know this only too well. The following quote is from Baker and Phongpaichit's 'A History of Thailand' (p234):
The Interior Ministry embarked on 'political education' to prepare the people for 'democracy'. Its own research studies concluded that the Thai people were not ready for democracy because of poor upbringing, an innate lack of ethics or seriousness, or simply a 'disposition to be under the command of others'.
This doesn't apply to all Thais, but it applies to a great many.
The Bangkok Post article is good. I didn't realise that only 15% of Thai rubber is used domestically. Increasing domestic demand would be one way of offsetting a higher price, but if Thais continue to sell rubber to other countries they can't go against international market prices.
It's a shame that there aren't more clever Thais getting involved with politics rather than just writing about the problems. I've met several clever students and university lecturers over the years and basically they are too nice to be politicians. They don't have the nasty edge that is required in Thai politics, and the harsh outside world of politics frightens them. They feel a lot more secure in a university campus environment.
Thais will be upset about falling from 6th to 9th position. The problem with this latest set of figures is that they don't take population size into account.
There might be more fatal accidents in the United States, but are American roads more dangerous than Thai roads? I don't think so.
A few years ago, seeing this article would have pleased me:
Now, my reaction is a lot more cynical. There are lots of problems in Thailand, but they never get fixed. Now and again someone makes a statement that something will be fixed, but either nothing happens or it is a half-hearted, insincere promise that never has much of an effect.
There are illegal advertising banners everywhere in Thailand and this is one of the main ways in which Thais advertise. They look a mess and the people who erect them are breaking laws.
Some years ago the road alongside our local branch of Tesco Lotus was full of advertising banners. One day some men from the local municipality came along and removed them all. It looked great. They also put up signs that anyone erecting more banners would be prosecuted. The banners have phone numbers and other contact information, therefore the offenders are easy to trace.
The road was clear for a while, but then the banners started to appear again. When business owners saw that the banners had reappeared they followed suit and before long the road was full of banners again.
What the municipality should have done was to remove them all again, and keep removing them - and prosecuting people - until the offenders realised that erecting illegal advertising banners wouldn't be tolerated. But they didn't.
It's the same with traffic laws. Now and again the traffic police will announce a campaign to clamp down on traffic offences. These campaigns are brief and before long everything returns to how it was before.
Other people have picked up on Thailand's insincerity when tackling problems.
Horrifying Accident ... again.
Foreigners seem to like jumping from tall buildings in Pattaya, aka the Pattaya Death Leap. The ones who do so are normally mentally disturbed Western men, but even some Asian females get in on the act when they are drunk.
More foreigners run into problems in Pattaya than anywhere else in Thailand. It's the dodgiest place in Thailand with lots of dodgy Thais and no shortage of dodgy farangs.
This report was quite disturbing, especially when rape is committed as a form of entertainment to provide some fun when men are bored.
Have these men no idea that they could destroy the lives of their victims? Have they no compassion, no empathy, no regard for other people's lives?
Apparently, they don't.
Thailand treats females fairly well but in many Asian countries, especially India, women are still very much second class citizens.
Top University Rankings for 2013
I was interested to know where Thai universities were ranked in the list of the world's top universities, but none appear. The United States and United Kingdom dominate in the field of tertiary education.
If you narrow down the search just to universities in Asia, Mahidol is ranked at 42, Chulalongkorn at 48, Chiang Mai at 98, Thammasat at 107, Prince of Songkla at 146, Khon Kaen and King Mongkut's University of Technology at Thonburi 161-170, Kasetsart at 171-180, Srinakharinwirot University and King Mongkut's University of Technology at Ladkrabang 251-300.
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.
Images of Thailand