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  • Living in Thailand Blog September 2014


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Living In Thailand Blog

Monday 29th September 2014

Bulgarians busted for ATM skimming in Phuket

At the moment this seems to be quite a big problem in Thailand. Presumably, the villains who do this can buy ATM skimming kits on-line and then they can decide where to carry out their crimes. It would seem that Thailand is near the top of the list.

Every year Thailand attracts millions of tourists with fat bank accounts and they use ATMs to access their cash from home. I would also imagine that the criminals are attracted to the lifestyle in Thailand.

Last week I activated the SMS notification service that my Thai bank offers. I can set a limit for withdrawals and deposits and when a sum of money above that limit enters or leaves my account I receive an SMS. This service costs me just Bt199 a year, which is nothing for the peace of mind it gives me.

Even if I get robbed of Bt30,000, which is the daily limit for ATM withdrawals on my account, I can at least notify my bank and do some damage limitation.

I looked at the Phuket Gazette website to see if they had anything about the report I just watched on the Thai TV news about the attempted rape of a young Russian tourist in Phuket. There was a photo of the assailant and a CCTV frame of the girl on the back of his motorbike.

Girls never ask to be raped and they never deserve to be raped, but the way that many foreign girls dress and behave in Thailand sends out a lot of the wrong signals to Thai men.

If foreign girls want to avoid problems in Thailand they should observe the way in which conservative Thai girls (the majority) dress and behave. The girls are very careful about how they dress, for example, not revealing any cleavage, and they dress in a way that doesn't lead men on. A good Thai girl would certainly not go off on the back of a motorbike with a Thai male who she hardly knew.

My wife has never been outside of Thailand and she is desperate at the moment to experience visiting another country. This is very understandable, but I tend to forget because I have travelled a lot since the age of 11 when I went to Canada for the first time. Nowadays, I am quite happy to stay at home or do trips within Thailand.

I started looking at short trips, but didn't want to go anywhere too unfamiliar (e.g. Burma, Vietnam) or too wild (e.g. Cambodia, Philippines) with a three year-old and a baby in tow.

Singapore seemed like a good option and I am quite familiar with the little nation state. It is ultra clean and ultra safe (and, some may argue, ultra boring), but when I started looking into prices I estimated it was going to cost me Bt40,000 to Bt50,000 for a short visit.

This wouldn't have been too bad if I was going to have some fun, but basically my wife will treat any trip abroad as one big shopping trip. I knocked this idea on the head, and as a result suffered several very uncomfortable days at home with her in a foul mood.

The plan now is to drive down to Penang for a few days next month. We will go with some friends who also have a young baby and charter a minivan. Minivans in Thailand terrify me, but with a private charter we will be able to govern how the driver drives.

Malaysia is similar to Thailand in terms of development, but it is different enough to be fairly interesting and Penang is an interesting little place. Unfortunately I won't be able to explore interesting areas with my camera, as I would like, but instead will be dragged around countless shopping malls. Never mind. This is one of the joys of being married with kids.

I am hoping that I will be able to buy a camera lens that isn't available in Thailand and I am really looking forward to some real Indian food. On my recent trip to Bangkok I had lunch at an Indian restaurant and the Rogan Josh was to die for. For the life of me, I can't figure out why Thais dislike Indian food so much. It is so much tastier than Thai food.

We sorted out passports for the kids last week and it was incredibly easy. Every province in Thailand has a central administrative building called a saa-laa glaang. This is where I used to have to go for my work permit and it is where Thais get their passports.

There were 12 booths in the passport office and they were all empty. We went in and were attended to immediately. We had to show the children's original birth certificates, the house registration book, my wife's national ID card, and my passport.

The fee was Bt1,040 per child and the passports will be sent to the house by post. I believe that Thai passport are issued centrally in Bangkok, even though they can be applied for in the provinces.

Last year, my passport renewal cost £177.59 (about Bt9,300) and the process of sending all the documentation to Hong Kong by courier was a hassle. The kids' passports took no time at all and the process was hassle free, as well as being cheap.

The only negative is that Thai passports remain current for five years, whereas mine lasts for 10 years.

Update: The passports arrived at our house at noon today after making the applications on Wednesday. I can't believe how quick the turnaround has been. Ignoring the weekend, it took less than three working days. Fantastic service!

The other important task I completed last week was my visa extension for another year. As with many other expats in Thailand, everything important in my life exists in Thailand yet I still have to get permission to live here once a year. It's always a bit of a nervous time.

There are never any guarantees and your ability to remain in Thailand is entirely at the discretion of the immigration official that you deal with. The majority are fine, but there is always the odd person who seems to believe that his or her job is to make things difficult for foreigners requesting visas.

When I presented the official British Embassy document confirming my income abroad in UK pounds it quickly became apparent that Thai immigration had no idea about exchange rates.

The first guy guessed at 70, which it was about 10 years ago. I told him it was now between 52 and 53. A woman who had been eavesdropping then walked up to him and told him in Thai that it was 45. At this point I became quite angry and interjected.

Even if it was 45 I would still have met the minimum requirement, but if my income had been borderline then using an exchange rate that was Bt7 lower than the actual rate could have given me a big problem. I can't understand the mentality of some people. They seem to want to create problems for other people for no good reason at all.

Also, in this day and age when everyone has easy access to the Internet, there is absolutely no need for anyone to guess exchange rates. It is so easy to find exchange rates on-line.

Despite this, I was in and out of immigration in about 25 minutes and it would have been even quicker had the official not been processing re-entry permits in lots of Burmese passports.

This story also made the Thai TV news:

German beggar faces deportation for charity-paid partying in Pattaya

Because of a medical problem the guy has a huge swollen leg. It looks like Elephantiasis, but it isn't. He lied about his passport and money being stolen and asked for help.

A lot of Thais are genuinely kind and sympathetic, and gave him money. He then used the money he was given to go to Pattaya to enjoy Pattaya's world famous 'nightlife' (a euphemism for beer and prostitutes).

As I said before, there are plenty of bad Thais in Thailand, but Thailand also attracts a lot of bad foreigners - especially Pattaya.

Knives for sale at a Thai Sunday market - Click for larger image Last week I wrote about how it wasn't a good idea to get involved in arguments or altercations with Thais in Thailand.

Thais who are confrontational and aggressive (and there are more than you think) will often carry weapons, or - as in the following case - use something like a broken bottle as a weapon.

Australian tourist stabbed in Patong street fight with Thai teens

There's no such thing as a fair fight in Thailand, no concept of Queensberry Rules, and Thais will have friends to back them up. They also won't stop until their opponent is severely injured or even dead.

There are millions of unlicensed firearms in Thailand and the array of weaponry that is sold quite openly at Thai markets is horrifying. For a country where I have never seen a baseball diamond, there are a lot of baseball bats sold in Thailand.

Foreigners who are prone to aggression whey they get drunk need to be very careful in Thailand and remember that it is always better to walk away from any potential conflicts.

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Thursday 25th September 2014

Dengue fever warning - Click for larger image The rainy season is just about to start in deepest, darkest southern Thailand and it's actually a time of year that I quite enjoy. The thunderstorms can be quite dramatic and now that we live in an area that is not prone to flooding I really enjoy being inside when there is torrential rain.

That wasn't the case when we lived in a major flood zone where there was a high risk of flooding every rainy season. The other good thing about the rainy season is that it brings cooler temperatures. The last three months of the year are still hot, but at least it doesn't feel like living in a sauna.

The downside to this time of year is a sudden explosion in the mosquito population. Just before writing this I went outside for five minutes and got bitten, so now I have an itchy arm. The house is normally free of mosquitos, but with so many outside at this time of year it is inevitable that some get inside the house. At the moment there seem to be mosquitos in the house all the time and even one or two can ruin a good night's sleep.

Regular mosquitos are highly annoying and the bites can be intensely irritating, but they aren't dangerous. On the other hand, the stripy Aedes mosquitoes that carry dengue fever are dangerous, especially to young children (we have two) and old people (I'm not quite there yet).

A few months ago our local mayor issued a warning that dengue poses a real public threat:

HAT YAI: Dengue fever warning as the number of patients is on the rise

I have just read that there has been a big jump in the number of dengue related deaths in nearby Malaysia:

Malaysia dengue fever deaths more than triple in 2014

The other story that caught my attention was that of Brazil using biological warfare to combat dengue.

Brazil releases 'good' mosquitoes to fight dengue fever

The old method of spraying insecticide isn't very effective. It is inefficient and I'm sure that the insecticide does harm to good organisms.

The Brazilian solution seems to make much more sense and is something that health authorities in Asia should be looking at.

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Wednesday 24th September 2014

After writing about problems with criminals skimming card data at ATM machines as people withdraw money, the Bangkok Post reported today that Thai police have just arrested a Russian national.

Police net card skimmer suspect

This arrest is related to the Thai TV news report that I mentioned on Monday. After police were made aware of the problem they viewed CCTV footage and saw that it was a foreigner who installed the skimming hardware.

He then went back to get the skimming device containing the stolen data and that was when the police arrested him. Thai police come in for a huge amount of criticism, and that criticism has been amplified after the Koh Tao murders, but they also have their successes.

Apart from there being plenty of bad Thais in Thailand, foreign criminals also regard Thailand as being an easy and convenient place to carry out criminal activities. Immigration laws are lax, as is law enforcement in general.

I have met lots of genuinely good foreigners in Thailand, but on meeting foreigners in Thailand for the first time I am always wary because Thailand, being the country it is, attracts a lot of bad people.

This report mentions that it only takes 16 seconds for criminals to install skimming devices in ATMs. That is quite frightening.

Security precautions between good and bad people are a continual game of leapfrog and now that the criminals have advanced this far it is time that the banks and ATM manufacturers added another level of security to ATMs.

My bank did this recently with on-line banking. Instead of just logging on, I now have a small separate device that generates a random code and this code is needed to do any on-line banking. It just makes it that much harder for anyone to hack into my account.

With ATM card details being so easy to skim these days, a further level of security with ATM withdrawals is needed to protect bank customers.

Thailand murders: Police 'close to making an arrest'

I was wondering what the motive for these murders might have been, and this report says that the two youngsters were involved in an argument shortly before they were murdered.

An American man was murdered in Krabi last year after getting involved in an argument, and the local Thai news often has reports of people being murdered after getting involved in arguments or road rage incidents.

There is a phenomenon in Thailand that I have described previously as the 'red mist' descending. Foreigners may have the perception that Thailand is the Land of Smiles and that all Thais are easy-going and have a 'mai bpen rai' attitude, but that is absolutely not the case.

Thais regard themselves as a martial/warrior race, there is a lot of aggression and violence in Thai society, Thais are very easily slighted, and there is the additional cultural concept of losing face. It's a bad combination.

If pushed too far - and it takes very little - the red mist can descend and some Thais in that state will stop at nothing, including taking someone else's life. It's quite frightening.

The American was murdered because he got on stage to sing with a band in a bar and wouldn't stop. A Thai was murdered in Phuket by his neighbour because renovations to his house were causing noise and dust. Another incident involved a rubber tapper shooting and killing eight people because their Karaoke music was keeping him awake.

These are just a few examples, but during my time in Thailand I have heard about many more.

Road rage in Thailand - Click for larger image The way that Thais drive has angered me intensely ever since I started driving in Thailand. It still angers me, but now I try not to react. While driving my face is permanently contorted as a result of simultaneously biting my lip and holding my tongue.

When I first started driving I reacted all the time and this made my wife upset to the point of breaking down in tears. Being Thai, she understood the potential consequences of having altercations with extremely aggressive Thai drivers. At the time I didn't.

Since then I have been personally involved in about three quite nasty road rage altercations and I have seen several reports on Thai TV news about people being killed after getting involved in road rage incidents.

If you read books about Thai cultural behaviour you will read that Thais have a tendency to avoid confrontation. In most cases this is true, but what the books don't explain is why.

The reason is that quite a large proportion of Thais are highly aggressive and vindictive, and getting into confrontations and altercations - even over small, insignificant matters - can be fatal.

It may hurt your pride, but in most cases arguments are best avoided in Thailand.

Thailand backpacker murder: When paradise turns sour

This case has also resurrected talk of powerful families, men of influence (poo mee ittipon) and the so-called Thai mafia.

By far the most informative book I have read on this subject is 'Corruption and Democracy in Thailand, by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Sungsidh Piriyarangsan. They devote an entire chapter to Jao Pho (Godfathers), explaining the historical context and how it affects current day Thailand.

Thai island murder investigation hits a wall of silence

Terrified Briton flees Thai island after 'mafia' death threat

Amazon UK

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Tuesday 23rd September 2014

I used to buy consumer goods that lasted for years. Back in the UK my Quad II valve amplifiers and Quad Electrostatic loudspeakers were already old when I bought them in 1978, but I continued using them and getting them serviced for many, many years.

These days I buy something and then have to replace it after a couple of years. I wrote recently about how it was cheaper to buy a new printer than to replace the toner cartridge in my old printer. Now, the same thing has happened with my GPS.

I bought it just after I bought a car towards the end of 2010. At first it was just a novelty, but soon it proved to be extremely useful. On several occasions it guided me to places that I would never have found myself due to a complete absence of any road signs.

Also, on one trip to Phuket in torrential rain with a young baby in the car it guided me to the nearest Ford service centre when my engine started to play up because of a faulty ignition coil.

In addition to using it on road trips, I also use it to record the GPS coordinates of various places. For this purpose I need to use its internal battery and just lately the battery's life has only started to last for a few minutes.

I sent an e-mail to the Garmin distributor in Bangkok. They responded very promptly and have been very helpful. Based on previous experience I never expect to receive replies when I send e-mails in Thailand, but sometimes I am pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately, their reply wasn't the one that I really wanted. The unit will need to be sent to Garmin in Taiwan to have its battery replaced. This will take 45 days and cost Bt3,740.

For Bt3,990 I can buy a brand new Garmin Nuvi 42 with all the latest technology and a year's warranty. For a little more I can buy another unit and be entitled to download free maps for the lifetime of the GPS. It doesn't really seem worthwhile geting the battery replaced in my old unit.

There are two ways of looking at this.

The first is that it is all a conspiracy theory involving planned obsolescence, in which manufacturers design scheduled failure into their products in order to make us buy new products. Lightbulbs used to last forever, they tell us, until manufacturers built in planned obsolescence.

The other way of looking at it is that technology is constantly changing and the rate of change now is greater than it has ever been in the history of mankind.

Even if my old incandescent light bulbs lasted for 100 years, would I really want to keep them when I can replace them with LED bulbs that put out the same amount of light but only incur a fraction of the electricity costs?

The problem I face now is that my GPS with a duff battery is worth next to nothing and the repair costs will be more than I can sell it for. I can still use it in the car, but not if I am walking around.

It seems that the best thing to do these days is to sell things after a couple of years when they still function well and still have some resale value. If you wait too long and they go wrong they then have no value.

I have never done this and have always bought things with the intention of taking care of them and using them for a long time, however, I will need to try to change my mindset.

The festival of the tenth lunar month is celebrated in southern Thailand. It originated in Nakhon Sri Thammarat, which is where my wife's family is from, and she and her relatives all go to the temple to take part. She disappeared to the temple last week for a tenth month activity and she has gone again today.

In previous years I have gone with her, but while she is inside the temple sitting on the floor eating food and talking to her relatives I usually wander around outside getting bored. This year I am staying at home to look after my daughter.

I don't really understand what it is all supposed to be about, but there are Hungry Ghosts involved, which are the spirits of the deceased that haven't completed a successful rebirth. The ceremony is designed to help the Hungry Ghosts.

Thais like this kind of thing for several reasons. It's a day off work, they get together with friends and relatives, there is lots of food, and they make merit. Thai children also get to eat the snacks that are first offered to the ghosts.

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Monday 22nd September 2014

Two foreigners - a Swede and a Filipino - were arrested in Chiang Mai last month for skimming ATMs.

ATM skimmers nabbed in Chiang Mai

They were found to have 500 fake cards in their possession and the network that they were affiliated to was suspected of stealing up to Bt10 million. They had already skimmed ATMs in South Korea and the Philippines without being caught.

Thai news has reported several such stories recently and there was another one on the TV news this morning.

A Thai man became suspicious of a blinking light inside an ATM when he was withdrawing money. He reached up to the light source and discovered a small camera.

I spoke to my wife and this problem is well known among Thais. The skimmers put small cameras inside ATMs (sometimes in multiple positions) to grab PIN numbers. They also somehow install a small magnetic stripe reader in the machine so that they can copy cards.

Once they have a copy of your card and your PIN number they can raid your bank account at will. My ATM withdrawals are limited to Bt30,000 a day, but often I don't check my account for several days at a time. Even if they only took Bt30,000 a day it could add up to a significant amount over several days.

Apparently, Thai banks won't take any responsibility for their own ATM machines being compromised and therefore won't compensate customers who fall victim to this scam. There is no real concept of responsibility or accountability in Thailand. If something bad happens to you in Thailand as a result of someone else's actions (or inactions), don't expect any compensation.

The advice my wife was given was not to remove her ATM card from the machine in one movement after she has finished. She was told to pull it halfway out, and then to wait a few seconds before removing it completely.

This, apparently, interferes with the process of the magnetic stripe reader skimming the details from your card. I don't know how valid this advice is, but it might be worth trying.

I was trying to think of some other ways to reduce the chances of becoming a victim.

Using ATMs inside shopping centres and malls is probably a good idea because it would be difficult for scammers to install their hardware in ATMs that were inside being monitored all the time. I would imagine that they find it a lot easier working on ATMs outside in the street.

You could also try to conceal your PIN number with one hand as you use the other hand to enter it.

As in the Thai news story this morning, be aware of anything suspicious about the machine.

Thai banks also offer a paid service whereby they will send an SMS to your phone whenever there is activity on your account. If you suddenly receive a message that money has left your account unexpectedly it will give you a chance to contact your bank before too much damage is done.

In some ways I have to admire the skill and ingenuity of the scammers, but at the same time it is frightening that they can get access to your bank account so easily.

Really, the banks should take more responsibility for their ATMs and introduce measures that make ATMs more difficult to compromise. However, until that happens, it is up to us as innocent customers to try to avoid becoming victims.

I was in Bangkok again last Monday and had the usual problem with taxi drivers refusing to use their meters. They would quote me a high price and try to justify this by telling me that there were traffic jams.

I would just like to know where and when there are no traffic jams in Bangkok. Whenever this happens to me I slam the door and hail another taxi. It's pointless remonstrating with them because they only get upset and won't use the meter. Sometimes I argue, but it isn't advisable. If you upset the wrong person in Thailand it can be very dangerous.

I also have to say that I've met several really nice Thai men driving taxis. They have been totally honest and provided an excellent service. I make a point of tipping these guys because they earn so little.

One guy last week was over-honest. As we tried to exit the hospital after my daughter's appointment the exit was blocked. He then had to go all the way round to get back to where we had started. It wasn't his fault, but when we returned to the starting point he reset his meter. This was completely unnecessary.

He took me to my destination and when I tried to tip him he refused to take a tip. This kind of thing just goes to show why you can't generalise in Thailand.

Another driver told me about a Thai saying. Translated, it was, "If the traffic isn't jammed it isn't Bangkok."

10 monster traffic jams from around the world

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Sunday 21st September 2014

Links to a couple of reports regarding the police investigation after the Koh Tao murders:

Police all at sea in island murder probe

The last pictures - on night backpackers beaten to death

The new Prime Minister has also announced that measures will be taken to increase tourist safety:

Prayut: Tourist and student safety a must

I visited Koh Tao about 12 years ago on my final vacation to Thailand before I went to live in the country. I didn't like it and the boat journey both ways was really rough.

I'd almost forgotten how much I didn't like it, but I just looked at another part of this site and read what I had written previously. The one redeeming feature was very cheap scuba diving. I remember that if you just wanted to dive, or if you wanted to take PADI courses, it was very cheap.

I wrote the following several years ago.

"I really disliked Koh Tao and almost as soon as I arrived couldn't wait to leave. It's a small island and I think it used to be a penal colony. The main activity on Koh Tao is scuba diving and that should have been a good thing because I used to enjoy diving. It is the diving industry presence though that made me dislike the island.

When in Thailand I like to feel that I am in Thailand and that means lots of interaction with Thai people. Koh Tao attracts a lot of farangs who are looking for an easy life as divemasters or instructors in the day time and drinking, whatever, at night time.

I found the individual groups of people working at dive schools to be very 'clique' and they didn't like other farangs. I was ignored a lot of the time and made to feel most unwelcome. The accommodation I found wasn't up to much but seemed to be about average. There were swarms of mosquitoes and I heard that dengue fever was a big problem on the island with several foreigners working there having contracted it. However, this particular problem seems to have been hushed up because presumably it isn't very good for business.

I went diving and the diving wasn't that impressive. Nor were the divemasters. Many of them were quite immature, only wanting to talk about how little weight they carried and how little air they used on dives, or how much they drank last night. Yawwnnnnn. Your typical backpacker will probably love the place but I didn't and I won't be going back. It's very cheap to dive in Koh Tao and accommodation will often be included in dive course packages. I have never seen diving offered cheaper anywhere else."

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Saturday 20th September 2014

Paradise Pensioners

A friend sent me this video link and asked if I had any comments.

To start with, whenever this type of documentary film is made the producers can never resist including all the Thailand cliches. "Palm fringed beaches; ancient temples; lotus ponds; Thailand is indeed a land of enchantment, etc." And the associated imagery is of Buddha images, serene temples and chanting monks.

This is what I imagined Thailand to be like before I lived there, but now - 11 years later - I have completely different views.

The difference between the image of Thailand that is projected to visitors and the reality of Thailand is colossal and it takes several years of living in Thailand before you start to see the country for what it actually is. The documentary makers never show the lunatic pickup truck drivers and the death threats from Thai drivers if you dare to point out the error of their ways.

On the other hand, if you go to live in somewhere like Pattaya, where there are more foreigners than locals, you will probably never see the real Thailand anyway.

For old people who need constant care, retiring to a retirement home in Thailand could be a good thing. My mother knows an old lady in the UK who pays £800 a week to live in an old folks' home. That amount would pay for a month's care or more in many equivalent places in Thailand, and Thais make for very good carers. The Thai healthcare system in general is excellent, as I have stated many times.

It is possible to live cheaply in Thailand and some people in this film make the comment that you can lead a very good life for not much money. However, that really depends on your definition of a very good life.

It's an Australian film and features mainly Australians. An Australian who likes to visit the opera house and who enjoys the finer things in life probably wouldn't enjoy Thailand that much. In contrast, if your perfect night out is sitting on a bar stool holding a cold stubby while watching semi-naked Isaan farm girls gyrating around poles, Pattaya would be heavenly. It all depends on personal preferences and one good thing about Thailand is that different locations suit different people.

Farangs who choose to live in Chiang Mai would probably hate Pattaya, and vice-versa. You can tell a lot about farangs in Thailand simply by knowing where they have chosen to live.

The maxim I use in life is that you can have anything, but you can't have everything. If you move to Thailand you won't be able to do certain things that you did at home, but you will be able to do other things. What are the things that are important to you personally? When you know the answers, you will know where will suit you best.

The film refers to Pattaya as the 'Sexpat Capital of Thailand' and says that many retirees are lured to Thailand in search of more than just happy smiles. I think we all knew that already.

The danger of foreign men getting involved with Thai females should never be underestimated. Just like Thailand, the image of themselves that the girls portray at first is never representative of how they actually are. Furthermore, foeigners have absolutely no rights under Thai law. Many foreigners have lost everything after getting mixed up with Thai girls.

I just wish that this kind of documentary would be a bit more balanced. It highlights all the advantages without really covering any of the risks. If everything was so perfect, why do so many foreigners in Pattaya end up throwing themselves from tall buildings every year?

Thailand isn't necessarily a bad place, but there are many risks and many dangers. The longer I live in Thailand the less I like Thailand, and the more I find out about what goes on in Thailand the more the country frightens me. Yes, at times it really does frighten me.

For some people, Thailand can offer a good lifestyle. If you are thinking about moving permanently to Thailand, find out as much as you can, be very careful, try not to burn all of your bridges, and always hold some money back so that if everything goes horribly wrong you have something to fall back on.

My house in the UK was the best investment I ever made. For 11 years it has given me a good, regular income and with that income alone I could live in Thailand quite comfortably if I was still single (or become single again). The house is also my insurance policy should things go badly in Thailand. The money I get when I sell it will be enough to live in Thailand comfortably for the rest of my days.

Getting married, buying a house and cars outright for cash, and having kids has cost me millions of Baht but even if I lost everything - which could, and does happen in Thailand - I could still live comfortably.

This insurance policy is important to me. Some men with a lot less have invested everything they have in Thailand through Thai women (because of Thai laws) and then lost everything. It is so important to have a safety net in Thailand.

There's a lot that can go wrong in Thailand, but having said all that I live quite a charmed life. My income would be tiny in the UK, but in Thailand it puts me in the same league as doctors and successful business people. I live in the type of house that I could never afford in the UK and I have no need to work.

I can't take a train into London's West End or watch the latest debacle at Upton Park, as I used to, but I have never missed these things a great deal since I left. Where I live now is also constant summer. I certainly don't miss English winters, but for a lot of the time it is too hot here.

If I moved back to my house in the UK, which is about a quarter of the size of my house in Thailand, I would lose one source of income and I couldn't survive on the other sources. I would have to work and that is something that I just couldn't do.

I enjoy work and I work hard, but I only want to work on my own terms and do the things that I enjoy. I couldn't work for a company again, especially in the confines of an office.

The expense of international travel now means that it really isn't an option, but this is something else that isn't a problem. I travelled a lot in the past and got the wanderlust out of my system.

I can now drive to some fabulous coastal areas that are within a few hours from my house. These same places would be exotic vacation spots for Europeans and North Americans, and they sure beat Southend-on-Sea and the Kursaal.

Probably the biggest thing about moving to Thailand was that it gave me a second chance in life regarding marriage and having a family. After the age of 40 loneliness started to become a problem and I was never interested in women of my own age. I was attracted to girls in their 20's, but most farang girls aren't at all interested in older men.

I married in Thailand at the age of 50 to a girl in her late 20's and then had the opportunity to have a family; an opportunity I would never have had if I had stayed in the UK.

Thailand has taken a lot, but it has also given me a lot, and for that I am grateful. It worked for me, but I know many people for whom it wouldn't work.

Would it be right for you? The only person who knows the answer to that question is you.

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Thursday 18th September 2014

Thai PM sorry for bikini comment after British murders

Prayuth was in trouble over his comments, and he shouldn't have added the part about not being beautiful, but he does have a point. I've also made this point several times.

When tourists wander around Pattaya and Patong and see all the prostitutes flaunting their wares to all and sundry it is very easy to get a completely false impression of Thailand.

Believe it or not, Thai society is actually very conservative and wandering around dressed like a bargirl in normal areas of Thailand, as opposed to resorts for foreign tourists, sends out all the wrong messages.

I've seen lots of farang girls in Phuket town, not the beach areas of Phuket, dressed in bikinis or bra-less in loose T-shirts.

Thailand is still a very male-dominated country and there are lots of men who think they can do whatever they want. Violence is endemic and there is a lot of violence against women - just tune into a few Thai soap operas for a portrayal of how women are treated.

Tourists, especially female tourists, do need to be very careful in Thailand. The Land of Smiles has a very dark side.

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Tuesday 9th September 2014

Thailand deaths: Tourists named as David Miller and Hannah Witheridge

Manhunt underway after brutal murder of 2 British tourists on Koh Tao

Koh Tao 'sealed off' after two tourists brutally killed

A holiday that turned to tragedy: Hemsby student murdered in Thailand

This kind of thing is quite rare in Thailand. Lots of farangs perish in Thailand, either as a result of natural causes or accidents (particularly road accidents), but only about two Brits a year on average are murdered in the country.

I can't begin to imagine what the motive might have been for such brutal murders.

Don't let your children become crocodile food - Click for larger image When farangs living in Thailand decide that they have had enough of life the favoured method to exit this world and join the next is to perform the Pattaya Death Leap. Farangs throw themselves from tall building in Pattaya several times a year.

Thais have different ideas.

Thailand woman dead after jumping into crocodile pit

At Songkhla zoo there isn't much protection to prevent people from doing the same thing and there are signs telling parents to watch out that their children don't fall in the crocodile pit.

It must be a horrible death. The crocs normally show very little activity and look almost lifeless. However, if a free meal were suddenly to fall from heaven I suspect that within seconds there would be a major feeding frenzy.

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Tuesday 9th September 2014

This Reuters' article makes some of the same comments that I have made many times.

New Thai PM uses holy water, feng shui to ward off occult

On the surface Thailand may look similar to Western countries, however, the reality is that it is completely different.

Thais have entirely different belief and value systems to Westerners and the way they think is very different.

My wife disappeared for half the day today to attend a big merit making ceremony for the 10th month with her family. Before she went, she prepared fresh flowers, lit candles, and paid respects to the spirit that takes care of our house. These kinds of activities are extremely important to Thais.

A few quotes from the article:

"Despite its outwardly modern appearance, everyday life in Thailand still prominently features pre-Buddhist animist beliefs."

"Critics say the survival of these beliefs harms democracy and the course of politics should be dictated by the will of the living rather than politicians' belief in spirits and the stars."

"It is not uncommon to use astrologers to decide what day and time to stage a coup, for example," said Kan Yuenyong, an analyst at Siam Intelligence Unit think tank.

"It's not just Prayuth, it's all Thai leaders, and it can be a dangerous (course to take) because, instead of analyzing a situation according to facts and the political situation on the ground, they might rely on astrology instead and worsen a volatile situation."

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Saturday 6th September 2014

Severe flooding remains in Sukhothai

Sukhothai fights flood, as barrier on Yom breaks

The Yom river in Sukothai, 2006 - Click for larger image I visited Sukothai at this time of year in 2006. There was flooding in some areas and the Yom river was full to the brim with sandbags placed on the river banks.

The situation in the north appears to be quite bad again this year. Flooding is a perennial problem in Thailand and General Prayuth mentioned the problem in his address to the nation last night.

He said that flooding will always be a problem in some areas that are low-lying. He also said that Thai houses used to be built on stilts and that every Thai household used to own a boat.

Thais build Western style houses now and not many people I know have boats. Older style wooden houses on stilts can still be seen and occasionally new houses are built on stilts, but most aren't.

General Prayuth's theory is that families have become bigger and people have built living spaces on the ground floor instead of leaving the space empty as a precaution against flooding. In a country where flooding is so common it always seemed eminently sensible to me to build houses on stilts, but this practice has become unfashionable.

The violence between students at rival technical colleges is another old problem that Thailand doesn't seem to be able to deal with. Young students are killed in running street battles fairly regularly.

1 dead, 1 hurt in student violence

A large proportion of Thailand's youth is out of control. I met a friend from Singapore last night and drove home at round 8pm. Generally, I do my best to avoid driving at night because the lawlessness that is ever-present gets even worse once it gets dark.

The roads were full of young kids racing around on motorbikes. Many bikes had two or three kids aboard, none of the riders were wearing crash helmets, none were following any traffic laws, and - as usual - there was a complete absence of law enforcement.

I tuned in to watch General Prayuth last night and the tone was different to previous addresses. He moralised a lot, which is very common in Thailand. I went to a parents' meeting at my daughter's school earlier this year to get some key facts. During the first half hour I had to listen to the head teacher moralising on the subject of student and parent responsibilities.

Prayuth said that students should work hard and not burden their parents. They should not lust after luxury goods that they can't afford and shouldn't get their parents into debt. People on low incomes should ask themselves why they are poor and work harder to improve themselves. They shouldn't deal in drugs to raise their incomes.

What he said was right, but there will always be people in society who have no morals or ethics and they won't change their ways. Confucianism is good, but the law needs to deal with people who won't comply.

I'm always interested in statistics. The Nation just published this one:

A Thai suicide every two hours, doctor reveals

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Wednesday 3rd September 2014

The weather this morning is perfect. It's slightly overcast, there not being any bright sunshine, but the sky isn't dark either. The thermometer in my study is registering 27.8° C and it feels very cool. For most of the year in southern Thailand it is at least 2° C too hot, and more often than not it is five or more degrees too hot.

So far this electricity billing period we haven't used any air conditioners and now it should be fairly cool until the end of the year. I like this time of year.

The only downside is that the rainy season will commence next month and it won't end until early January. All of the big floods here (the last one being in 2010 and previously 2000) occurred in the month of November.

When it's not actually raining, the rainy season is the most comfortable time of year. However, when it rains persistently for days on end it can get quite depressing and if you live in the wrong location there is a very real risk of serious flooding.

The 2010 flood had a bad psychological effect on me and that's why I bought a house where it doesn't flood. When I was explaining this to a Thai recently, she wanted to know why I was so worried about flooding. She told me that flooding is perfectly normal.

I don't regard it as being normal and my house isn't full of concrete floors and plastic furniture that won't be ruined by a flood. Flood damage would be extensive and expensive and it isn't something that I want to go through again. The rains begin earlier in the central and northern regions and already there have been news reports of severe flooding elsewhere in Thailand.

Severe flooding in several northern provinces after heavy downpours

Floods recede but more on the way

Since I left the UK, flooding has become more of a problem there due to the climate changing. A homeowner in the Thames Valley recently paid £70,000 to have his entire house raised 1.5m. That is how seriously foreigners regard flooding.

House Lifted 1.5m To Avoid More Flood Misery

Some Thais do the same, but most just live with flooding and accept that once a year their houses will be flooded. My wife told me that to raise a house in Thailand is quite cheap - certainly a lot cheaper than in the UK.

Before building new houses in Thailand, the land level is often raised by dumping tons of soil before building commences. Instead of indviduals protecting their houses I would like to see more infrastructure to protect everyone, but flood protection is expensive and around where I live very little has been done.

Quite a lot of para rubber is grown nearby and there are large factories that convert the raw rubber into useful items. One manufacturer of rubber gloves decided to close its plant here and one of the reasons cited was flooding.

Safeskin peels away, closes factory

This kind of thing might encourage the local authorities to invest more in flood protection. The other problem is that there has been a huge building boom in recent years and all the building has disturbed or blocked flood plains.

Report: Volkswagen nears deal for new plant in Thailand

This is good news. Thailand protects its own car assembly industry by imposing very high taxes on imported cars and this makes imported cars all but unaffordable to normal people.

The cars that are affordable in Thailand are those made in Thailand, but unfortunately there isn't a great deal of choice. It's great if you want a pickup truck or a family saloon from Honda or Toyota, but nothing made in Thailand is very exciting.

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Tuesday 2nd September 2014

Certain things in Thailand are done extremely well. I have written about the excellent healthcare system on many occasions and have personally experienced excellent service from Thai doctors and dentists on many occasions.

Something else that Thais do very well is car servicing. I was going to write about this last month after having my own car serviced, but I will write about it today after my wife's little Honda Brio was serviced.

I bought my car second-hand through my wife's brother, who deals in used cars. The price I paid was supposed to be something of a bargain and a friend of his was supposed to have checked the car out to see that it had no faults. That wasn't the case.

I gave it a quick test drive and it seemed OK, but it wasn't until the first night in the garage that I noticed the pool of power steering fluid on the floor underneath the car from a leaking pump. And then, when I parked and locked it for the first time I found that the rear door didn't lock with the central locking.

This kind of thing went on for a long time and subsequently I ended up paying a small fortune in repair bills. Despite all the repairs, every problem was new and I soon started to notice that everything that had been fixed stayed fixed. I have never had to get a bad repair fixed again.

This certainly wasn't the case when I was in the UK driving company Vauxhalls. The general level of servicing was terrible and one particularly nasty problem with a Vauxhall Astra, which resulted in the engine losing power at unpredictable moments, was never found and never fixed. It wasn't until I started running around in used Porsches that I experienced excellent service, but this came at a price.

Honda run quite an impressive operation in Thailand, where Honda is perceived as an upmarket brand. Obviously, it's not as upmarket as Mercedes Benz, but there is a certain cachet in Thailand about owning a Honda.

The Brio is a very ordinary car and whenever I wash it the impression I get is that it is made entirely of plastic, however, it gives Thais the opportunity to walk around with a Honda key fob dangling from their belt loops for not very much money.

When I first started thinking about getting a car I looked at new models. Some sales staff tried their best to ignore me and didn't take me at all seriously. The best and most respectful treatment I got was at the Honda dealership. I was impressed.

I have been similarly impressed since we started getting the Brio serviced. On the first servicing occasion they said they could service it there and then. Whenever I make an appointment for my Ford, I have to wait quite a while. Honda also wash the car's exterior and vacuum clean the interior, which never happens when I get my car serviced.

The Brio has also been reliable. It's just over two years old and today the front disc pads were changed for the first time. A few months ago I had the battery replaced, but there has been nothing else.

When we went into the service centre this morning there were lots of cars and a small army of service staff. As usual, we were dealt with promptly and efficiently. Two-and-a-half hours later the car had been serviced, fitted with new brake pads, and cleaned. The entire operation runs like clockwork with none of the time-wasting, inefficiency and bureaucracy that plagues many other organisations in Thailand.

With a company such as Honda in Thailand it is obvious that the parent company has made it very clear what is expected, but what the Thais have demonstrated is that they are very capable of providing high quality service if given the right direction.

I always use official service centres and stay away from the small back street operations, of which there are many in Thailand. These small places can provide good service, but it is probably more of a gamble.

Additionally, with cars becoming so complex these days and specialised equipment being needed to diagnose problems, the small places may not always have the necessary equipment.

My wife managed to drive her car into a concrete pillar in our carport while parking recently. Her car also had a number of small dings and stone chips so I got her to send it to her brother's bodywork repair shop. His repair shop is an utter mess, but the car came back a few days later and looked like new.

What I can't understand is why I can walk into a large hospital or busy car repair centre in Thailand and observe so much organisational excellence and efficiency, but whenever I drive on Thai roads the chaos I am forced to participate in borders on being anarchic.

It really is the Land of Contrasts and Contradictions.

If you didn't like animals, would you get a job in a zoo? If you didn't like children, would you become a school teacher? If you didn't like confined spaces, would you get a job as a miner?

Why then, would you get a job as a Bangkok taxi driver if you don't like traffic jams?

I've made quite a few trips to Bangkok in the last couple of years and hailed a number of taxis. There were lots of problems on our early trips with drivers cherry-picking the fares they wanted and refusing fares that they didn't want.

On every occasion we were travelling with a child who was having her feet treated by a doctor and unable to walk very well, and on several occasions we were actually going to the hospital. This didn't elicit any sympathy from the drivers and they continued refusing to go where we wanted.

On my trips earlier this year it was a lot better. I was not the only person to have noticed this problem and it has received quite a lot of attention in the local media. At one point there was even a telephone number to report drivers who refused fares and there was talk of drivers being fined.

I always chat to taxi drivers and this year I've met some really nice drivers. The vast majority have come from Isaan; they work hard, complain little, and are honest. They have treated me very well and I have tipped them quite generously to show my gratitude.

In July in the Sukhumvit area, where there are lots of naive tourists, we started encountering drivers who refused to use their meters and quoted a flat fare. While in Bangkok last week, I was carrying my daughter and had already been waiting about 15 minutes for a taxi when one showed up displaying his 'waang' (available) sign.

He rolled down the window and I told him where I wanted to go. He thought for a moment and then refused. I don't know what possessed me, but I asked, "Why?" (tum-mai?). In 11 years of living in Thailand I have very rarely received an answer to a 'why' question, so I don't know why I thought he would give me an answer.

Anyway, he did - rote mun dtit (traffic jam). I didn't really know how to react. I was carrying a small child with her legs in plaster casts wanted to get to a hospital, but he refused because there was a traffic jam. And this was Bangkok. And where is there a place and when is there a time in Bangkok when the traffic isn't jammed? Bangkok is synonymous with traffic jams.

I told him that I would report him to the police. He told me to go ahead (chern). He then drove off angrily. Stupid farangs are only there to be taken advantage of, not to start answering back and asking awkward questions.

I've been reading that this is quite a big problem for Thais because drivers prefer taking foreigners. Drivers perceive farangs as being more generous with tips and the places they want to go to are often more profitable fares. Drivers always want their passengers to agree to use the toll ways. The drivers can then miss all the traffic and the passenger pays.

I didn't report the guy. He knew that I was unlikely to do so and even if I had done so, I doubt that anything would have happened. This is just one of the unfortunate things about Thailand.

There are lots of good Thais around, but occasionally you still run into people like this.

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

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. 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. 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 - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, 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.

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