Living In Thailand Blog
Friday 22nd September 2017
This is rather concerning.
As a tourist visiting Thailand I took anti-malarial drugs before, during, and after my trip. The drugs were quite nasty and caused some unpleasant side effects.
It was actually unnecessary and I have never taken anti-malarial drugs since I have lived in Thailand. The mosquito-borne disease that I am at most risk of contracting is dengue fever. Just yesterday, I did a few tasks in the garden and the stripy Aedes mosquitoes that carry dengue found me straight away.
Although dengue isn't pleasant, malaria is a lot more dangerous but as far as I am aware it is only a problem in some border areas of Thailand and in a few other places. Malaria isn't a problem in most of the big cities and and tourist destinations.
With the wet weather that we are experiencing at the moment there has been a noticeable increase in the mosquito population. We have mosquito screens and most of the year there aren't mosquitoes in the house, but recently there have been quite a few.
Their brains are tiny, but they seem to be quite clever. It's almost as if they wait outside for someone to open a door and then they fly straight in.
The ones we get in the house aren't the dangerous variety, but they are extremely annoying and a solitary mosquito can ruin a good night's sleep. They have a habit of biting repeatedly and last week my wife found that our daughter had been bitten about 10 times on her legs.
Odious little creatures.
Thursday 21st September 2017
Thank you to my readers who send e-mails and feedback. Without some kind of feedback I can sometimes forget that there are people at the other end reading this stuff and it's a good reminder.
Some of you have lots of experience of this region of the world, and of life in general, and some of the e-mails I receive are fascinating. I am interested in all sorts of weird things and, for example, recently exchanged e-mails about the oldest surviving McDonalds restaurant in the USA (which happens to be within walking distance of the home of one of my regular readers!). The other very useful purpose of feedback is that it gives me a much broader perspective.
I have lived in Thailand permanently since 2003 and during that time have spent very little time outside the country. My vision therefore tends to be quite narrow. I will never be Thai, of course, but with regard to the cost of things I now actually think like a Thai. I now think many things are expensive that people in other countries would consider quite cheap.
I received an e-mail about the post I wrote concerning medical insurance and it made some good points. It was from a reader in New Zealand who highlighted the fact that the premium I have just paid to cover a family of four was actually very cheap compared to many other countries, including New Zealand. The term he used for the amount I paid was 'chicken feed'. His healthcare insurance premium is significantly more expensive.
My initial shock reaction to this year's medical insurance premium was because it was quite a large increase compared to last year in percentage terms. However, I acknowledge that relative to many other countries it is still very cheap.
The biggest mistake I made was to assume that any medical problems that might arise this coming year would be the same as previous years, that is, fairly minor ailments that can be resolved during a quick two-night hospital stay.
Fortunately, my family hasn't suffered any major medical problems but that doesn't mean that a major problem won't suddenly occur. This is when medical insurance really comes into its own.
The whole point of insurance - and this may seem obvious, but sometimes we forget - is that it is to cover the unexpected. I have health insurance (x4), house insurance (x2), car insurance (x2 + one motorbike) and if I knew exactly what would happen in the coming year I would be able to determine whether each policy was worth having. I don't know, of course, and the policies are there to protect against the worst eventualities.
Incidentally, my wife tells me that most Thais have very little, if any, insurance. Their low incomes don't allow for insurance and they have to hope that serious problems don't occur. She tells me that most Thais have no house insurance and they only have the mandatory Por Ror Bor third-party vehicle insurance, which doesn't cover their own vehicle in the event of an accident if it is their fault. For healthcare, many Thais just rely on the public health system and have no private insurance.
I am now closer to 60 than 50, and entering the time of life when big medical problems can suddenly hit. Also, as I have mentioned many times before, the risk of road injury is very high in Thailand. My reader, after enjoying good health for most of his life, was suddenly confronted with a heart problem that required very expensive surgery. This is an excellent point and I was pleased that he reminded me.
Have I lost touch with the rest of the world? Yes, I probably have and I freely admit it. This was why, on my recent trip to the UK, it was such a shock to see how expensive everything was.
On the other hand, in my defense, apples cannot be compared to oranges and what goes on in other countries isn't necessarily applicable to Thailand. Thailand is Thailand. Other countries are other countries, and the two can't be compared.
I posted a link recently to an article about the cost of living in various countries and it showed that for the same amount of money you can live in Thailand for 44 days or Switzerland for six days.
Healthcare insurance in other countries is more expensive simply because healthcare is more expensive, and there may be other reasons. The United States, for example, is notorious for litigation and medical professionals need huge amounts of personal liability insurance to cover them against lawsuits. This additional cost needs to be recovered and at the end of the day it is American patients that pay for this insurance.
Shortly after I arrived in Thailand in 2003 I read about an American man who needed heart bypass surgery, but had no medical insurance.
The cost of the surgery in the States would have been US$100,000, which he didn't have, but he got the surgery done in Thailand and paid just US$10,000. This was several years ago and although it will be more expensive now, it will still be cheaper in Thailand compared to the States.
I imagine that healthcare professionals in the United States and most other Western countries earn high salaries which, of course, will translate directly to higher healthcare costs. Conversely, the Thai doctor I was seeing for my asthma problem earns Bt27,000 a month in his full-time job at a public hospital. His medical degree took six years and he has several years experience.
At current exchange rates this is approximately US$815 - for a fully qualified, clever, experienced doctor. He has his own private clinic and works part-time at a private hospital to supplement his income.
Incomes are generally a lot lower in Thailand compared to Western countries. My income dropped significantly after moving to Thailand and if the cost of living in Thailand was the same as the UK, moving to Thailand wouldn't have been a viable option. My healthcare insurance premium may seem like chicken feed in a country where incomes are a lot higher, but it was quite a big chunk out of my budget this year and to many Thais it will represent a significant amount of money.
What makes living in Thailand on a lower income viable is that the cost of living isn't the same. It's cheaper and that's why it is possible for Westerners to move to Thailand with a loss of income, yet still lead a good quality of life. It's also why you can't compare costs in Thailand with costs in Western countries.
Anyway, I went ahead with this year's policy and paid in cash last week. My bank account took another big hit, but that is nothing new this year. With my daughter's medical bills and multiple trips to the hospital in Bangkok earlier this year, which weren't covered by insurance, plus all the building work because of the termite problem and an unscheduled trip to the UK, this year has been probably the most expensive year I've experienced in Thailand.
But I survived and now I have the peace of mind that my family will be covered for the next year in the event of any health issues.
PS. My reader also mentioned that he couldn't see the photo of the pretty Thai nurse and when I looked I found that I hadn't uploaded it. Sorry. I also appreciate feedback regarding any technical issues. On several occasions I have found things on the site that don't work because I have made a mistake, but people don't tell me. If you let me know of any technical glitches I will try to fix them. The pretty nurse should be there now if you scroll down a little.
Wednesday 20th September 2017
I had some problems with the Thai postal service when we were in our rented house, but since living in a our new house it has been perfect. Quite a few items of mail that were sent to me in the old house never arrived.
On the Internet I found an account of a similar thing. A foreigner who was living in Bangkok had lots of mail go missing, but when he moved elsewhere the problem stopped. He attributed it to a rogue employee and my problem was probably the same.
I sent a package to my niece in Phuket on Monday and was impressed that the post office had two employees whose sole job it was to help customers package items. They operated a machine that applies strong plastic straps around packages and all this service was free.
Postage rates within Thailand are very reasonable and delivery is often the next day. Thais were late getting into on-line shopping, but now there is a huge amount of on-line shopping. You can normally find better prices on-line and if you aren't sure where to buy something it is a lot easier to search on-line compared to driving around town, finding parking spaces, and going to various stores.
For this reason, the Thai postal service must have got a lot busier in recent years but it is coping well. This increased demand for delivery services has also led to the introduction of several private courier services. Some things I have ordered via Lazada recently have been delivered by Kerry Express, which is one of the private services.
These services are good, but the downside is that in a country that has so many crazy drivers already, the drivers of courier vans tend to be even crazier than most.
Overall though, if you order something on-line in Thailand you will normally find that the item will arrive quickly and efficiently. Similarly, if you need to send something delivery is normally quite quick and postage rates aren't expensive. There will always be a few exceptions and problems, but generally I have found the system to work very well.
There has been quite a big change in the weather in southern Thailand during this past couple of weeks. I've always considered the beginning of October to be the start of the rainy season, but September can also be quite wet.
Of course, weather is totally unpredictable and changes all the time. January is normally a dry month here, but January this year was very wet.
When I sent a parcel to Phuket on Monday and asked whether it would arrive on Tuesday they weren't sure because there have been flooding problems in Phuket.
There has been a lot of rain recently and also a lot of illness. I've had a cold, as has my son, and we also had to collect a friend's daughter from school yesterday because her Mum is ill. The weather we are having at the moment makes a lot of people ill. Mornings are generally dry, but there is rain every afternoon and sometimes the rain is torrential.
The cooler temperatures are welcome, especially at night, but the wet weather can be a bit glum and it also makes life inconvenient at times.
In addition, the usual lunatic driving just gets worse. There was a big rear-end shunt near my house last night to which ambulances attended in addition to police cars. Thai males believe they are the greatest drivers in the world (whereas actually the opposite is true) and some adverse weather just gives them an opportunity to 'prove' their driving prowess.
There are lots of motorbikes in Thailand and in very wet weather with slippery roads you might expect them to drive slower than usual. They don't. Because it is uncomfortable riding a motorbike in torrential rain they drive even faster than usual, and ignore even more red lights than usual, to get home quicker. It's quite frightening to watch and it greatly increases the risk of me being involved in an accident as well.
I watch very little TV but recently I had been watching the German world service, Deutsche Welle, which was one of the channels on our cable TV service. However, this week the cable TV company decided to replace it with yet another Asian channel that is of no interest to me whatsoever.
DW has an extreme left wing bias - just like the BBC - but, ignoring all the political content, some of the articles were quite enjoyable. I don't keep up with TV technology because I have so little interest in television, but someone was telling me that small Internet-connected boxes are available that provide lots of foreign TV channels. One of these may be worth looking at.
It was on DW where I learnt that Germans experience interruptions to their power supply of roughly 15 minutes per year. It's slightly more in Thailand.
Yesterday, we lost power to our housing development for about seven hours while some scheduled maintenance was taking place. Apparently, some neighbours lost all their ornamental carp due to lack of oxygenation in the pond with no electricity. I have fish too, but didn't lose any.
A couple of months ago I was woken during the night by the A/C unit making a very strange noise. The house had power, of sorts, but not very much. Some lights weren't working and some were working but very dim. One phase of the three-phase supply that comes into the development had developed a fault and this took about 12 hours to fix. It was the second time this had happened.
In addition, we have lots of little power blips that last a few seconds. It's not a major problem, apart from computers and this is the reason why it is essential to have an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) if you use a desktop computer in Thailand.
Everything is relative. When I spent some time in the Philippines there were power cuts all the time and what I have now is better, but compared to most Western countries it is a lot worse.
Whereas all men might be born equal in some countries, it is exactly the opposite in Thailand. No one is equal and there is a very strict social hierarchy, which must always be adhered to. Thais have an inherent sense of their own position in the social hierarchy relative to other Thais they meet, and they speak and behave accordingly.
On those occasions when two Thais meet for the first time and aren't sure who is more senior they may ask questions to determine their relative social status. I once went to lunch with some Thais and saw this happen in person. It was as if any social intercourse was unable to take place until the relative social positions of those present had been determined.
Once everyone knows where they stand, Thais lower down in the pecking order will use certain forms of address to acknowledge to the more senior people that they are indeed senior. Thais higher up in the social structure expect this kind of respect.
On Monday it was fascinating for me to hear my wife repeated use the personal pronoun 'Noo' when referring to herself while speaking to the immigration official. I've never heard her do this before. It means 'mouse' (or 'rat', but mouse sounds cuter) and normally I only hear this pronoun being used by very young children. My wife is 35.
Westerners simply use 'You' and 'I', but it is a lot more complicated for Thais. Depending on your own position in the social hierarchy and the position of the person you are talking to, certain forms of address are appropriate whereas others aren't.
Thai females will normally use their nicknames as the personal pronoun 'I' in informal situations. For example, a girl called Chicken who is going to her friend Crab's house will say (directly translated), "Chicken go house Crab." And when my wife refers to friends or siblings there is invariably a 'Pee' before the friend's nickname because all of her friends and siblings are older.
I never hear Thais refer to someone by their nickname alone. There always has to be some kind of salutation before the name and 'Pee' is normally used to address older people, but it is also used for people higher up the social scale. The opposite is 'Nong'.
Last night my wife gave our daughter a dressing down for using inappropriate personal pronouns when talking to our neighbours. The personal pronouns she uses are OK when used by peers, but not appropriate when children talk to adults because children are expected to be very subservient.
When children use the pronoun 'Mouse' it reinforces the fact that they are very small and very inferior to adults. Government officials have a high status in Thailand and I guess this is why my wife used 'Mouse' to refer to herself.
How nuanced is the social hierarchy? I have read before that the old Sakdina system that was used hundreds of years ago to denote social status used a numerical system and everyone was assigned a value between 1 and 10,000.
Western societies have their class systems, but generally the social structure is a lot flatter. During my career, managers just did a different job to workers, they weren't regarded necessarily as being superior. Workers did the work and managers managed the workers. Some workers were paid more than managers because their jobs were more skilled and everyone addressed everyone else in the company by their first name. This practice was actually a company policy.
My old company had organisation charts, but these weren't on display and their only purpose was to show who did what and who to contact if the need arose. Every Thai office has a large organisation chart prominently displayed on the wall and it is used to show who is senior to who.
I've been making the point that things are different in Thailand compared to the West and that Westerners can't change Thailand. Some Westerners may not like the idea of there being so much social hierarchy, but to Thais it is extremely important. When some foreigners have problems at immigration for no apparent reason, this could be part of the problem. Thais high up in the social hierarchy will get respect from Thais and they expect a certain amount of respect from foreigners as well.
I don't particularly agree with all the subservience, but the rigidly enforced social structure does perform a useful purpose. Thais generally do not respect law, which is an abstract foreign concept, but they do respect people higher up in the social hierarchy. Other countries rely on the rule of law for social control and order, but in Thailand 'big people' ('poo yai'), such as village headmen, are needed to perform the role. Laws are often ignored, but Thais won't ignore 'big people'.
Personal pronouns are usually used to show the appropriate amount of respect to another person, but they can also be used for the opposite purpose. Thai doesn't have the same insulting curse words that English has, but there are certain personal pronouns that are basically the equivalent of English vulgarisms and using one of these pronouns when addressing a Thai will cause a great deal of offense.
Language is extremely powerful in Thailand and using one of these terms could get you into a lot of trouble so I won't repeat them here. Talk to a Thai friend if you want to find out more.
Today is the day when the souls of people's deceased ancestors return to their heavenly world after a two week sojourn on Planet Thailand.
I was going to make some childish comments about two week visas and overstay fines, but it wouldn't be appropriate. My wife returned to the temple today to partake in the second part of the 'Tenth Month' festival and to wish her ancestors a safe journey back to the spirit world.
Tuesday 19th September 2017
The fact that Thailand's biggest expat forum is called Thai Visa probably tells you something about Thailand's immigration process. The process is very complicated and rules change frequently. The Internet is full of information about visa requirements for various kinds of visa, but what you have to remember is that every decision is made at the discretion of the immigration official. It doesn't matter what you read on-line. All that matters is that you satisfy the requirements of the particular official you are dealing with.
The vast majority of visitors to Thailand, who stay in the Kingdom for a short vacation of less than 30 days, will likely have nothing to do with Thai immigration apart from when they enter and leave the country. At the airport a probably unsmiling official will look at their passport, take their photo using the alien spacecraft camera that sits at the front of every immigration desk, and stamp their passport. Finished.
If you overstay your welcome you will need to pay an overstay fine when you leave the country of Bt500 per day overstayed. This was increased from Bt200 per day several years ago, but the maximum fine remained the same at Bt20,000.
If you wish to extend your stay in Thailand and avoid overstay problems you can visit a local immigration office and ask for a 7 day extension, which will cost Bt1,900. Alternatively, if you are near a border, you could leave Thailand and return straight away for another visa-exemption stamp. Depending on your nationality and how you enter the country you will receive a different number of days.
For many years foreigners lived in Thailand permanently (and 'semi' legally) by making trips to the border once a month - they were still doing so when I first arrived in Thailand - but changes started to take place around 2006 and the exploitation of this little loophole is now no longer advisable.
With the visa exempt scheme, citizens of many nationalities will get 30 days if they arrive by air or 15 days if they arrive by road. Citizens of certain countries will only get 7 days, whereas citizens of certain countries will get up to 90 days. Bear in mind that these requirements change all the time.
If you know that you want to spend several months in Thailand you can apply at a Thai Embassy or Consulate outside of Thailand for a tourist visa. This will be good for 60 days and can be extended in Thailand for another 30 days.
Once you get beyond that you need to start looking at other types of visa, which are good for a year. There are many different types, but the main ones are for work, marriage or retirement. If you work, in most cases, your employer will sort out your visa and work permit. The owner of the language institute that I used to work for does this for her teachers and these days it is a major headache for her. However, it's great if you are a teacher and don't have to do anything yourself.
When you begin the annual visa process you will probably need to obtain your first visa from an Embassy or Consulate outside of Thailand. In the past I have made trips to Penang in Malaysia for this purpose. The trips are normally good fun and it is good to have a break from Thailand. Expats living in elsewhere in Thailand can do the same thing in Laos or Cambodia.
Once you have a visa, and provided that you continue to satisfy the immigration requirements, you can extend it in Thailand every year. That's what I was doing for most of the day yesterday.
In the past I have been given retirement visas, which are relatively straightforward to get. You have to be older than 50 and there is a financial requirement. You need either Bt800,000 deposited in a Thai bank or to prove that you have an income from abroad in excess of Bt65,000 per month. Evidence of an income from abroad needs to come in the form of an official letter from your country's Embassy in Thailand and there is a charge for this service. Thai immigration will ask for some other information, but the information they ask for isn't difficult to provide.
Since resolving the three major issues that were causing me so much grief earlier in the year (mother, daughter, termites), life has been a bit quiet and boring. Therefore, to add some spice to my life I decided to request a marriage visa this year because this involves a lot more work. Have I ever mentioned before that I have masochistic tendencies?
I arrived at immigration around 9:30am and around two hours later I was sent off to get more documents. When dealing with any Thai government department the official lunch break is between noon and 1pm and you aren't going to get anything done during this time. I returned after lunch and got out at around 3:30pm.
The officials were all friendly and helpful. The lady I had my main interview with started off speaking Thai, but I found out later that she could speak quite good English. Some officials can't speak English, but even the ones who can want to get a feel for who they are dealing with and I guess that a foreigner's ability with the local language, especially if the foreigner has been living in Thailand for a long time, will tell them something.
As I said above, there are no hard and fast rules with immigration because everything is at the immigration official's discretion. However, here are a few salient points about the marriage visa.
Thai immigration is very aware that some foreigners who wish to stay in Thailand may arrange sham marriages in order to acquire a marriage visa. Your wife needs to attend when you apply for a marriage visa and they will want to know that you are a real couple. They ask for photos of you with your family at your house and they may also arrange a house visit.
Obviously, they will want to see a marriage certificate, but Thailand is often referred to as the counterfeiting capital of the world and therefore you will also need to supply a document from the local Amphoe office stating that your marriage certificate is genuine.
All kinds of fake documents available for sale in Bangkok
You are permitted to work if you have a marriage visa and, if you do work, you will need to supply a letter from your employer and also tax information. If you have children you will need to supply birth certificates and Thai National ID cards if they have them. My kids don't have ID cards yet.
I had to provide all the original documents and two complete sets of copies. They are very fussy about the order of things and the lady official explained that copies should have content at the top of the page because she has to stamp the bottom. Everything has to be signed. I must have signed my name about 100 times yesterday.
My local immigration office can issue retirement visas, but the application for marriage visas need to go to the big boss's office elsewhere. I'm not sure why, but this is how it is.
For some reason, the financial requirement for a marriage visa is lower than a retirement visa - Bt400,000 in a Thai bank account or Bt40,000 income per month. No one seems to be able to work out this logic but, again, this is how it is. There's no point arguing about the way things are in Thailand because nothing is going to change.
The bottom line is that if you are a genuine, honest person who satisfies the basic requirements there is no good reason why you should be denied a visa. If you are trying to game the system you may get away with it, but Thai immigration officials have a lot of experience with dishonest foreigners and they are probably smarter than you think.
Now, just a few general pointers about dealing with immigration.
I was most amused on one trip to the Thai Consulate in Penang to see a couple of guys dressed as if they were going to a wedding. No doubt, they had read on an Internet forum somewhere that foreigners will only get visas if they are wearing black suits, ties, and black leather shoes.
Thai government offices are fairly formal and my wife was telling me the other day that Thai Airways has just banned the wearing of rubber flip-flops on its flights. Thais don't like the extreme 'hippy' look so don't attend looking like something out of the Khaosan Road dressed in rags and dreadlocks, but you don't need to wear a top hat and tails.
Most importantly, set an expectation that you won't get what you want on the first visit. That way, when you are told to go away and get more documents, which is highly likely, you won't be disappointed. On the other hand, if you do get what you want on the first visit you will be ecstatic.
Try to bite your tongue and never, ever get angry. I almost did this yesterday, but my wife set a fabulous example of how to behave at immigration. I kept telling myself to shut up and just to let her do the talking. This is one example of where it is much better in Thailand if you don't understand any Thai.
At immigration there are lower level officials who check your paperwork before you are allowed to see a more senior official. After handing over my letter from the British Embassy the girl asked for a letter from my bank, which isn't necessary. I started to get a litle irritated, which would have been a big mistake. Fortunately, my wife interjected.
My wife is always cool and accepts everything they say. She's Thai and, naturally, she knows how the system works. If she wants to question something she does so very gently and never shows anger. I know this only too well, but at times I still find it difficult to control myself.
I am obstinately independent and fairly confident with the language. Over the years I have seen so many farang husbands in Thailand who have acted like their wive's lapdogs. She does all the talking and he stands diligently behind her, his only purpose in life to dig out his wallet when something needs paying for.
I never wanted to be like this and this was a major motivation for learning to speak Thai. However, there are times when you just have to take a back seat and let Thais do things on your behalf. Dealing with immigration is a classic example.
If you work, let your employer deal with immigration. If you are married, let your wife do the same. If you are retired and single, ask a Thai friend to help. Firstly, Thais much prefer dealing with other Thais, including immigration officials. Secondly, Thais understand the culture and know how things work in Thailand. As a foreigner, you don't and by getting angry and telling Thais what they should and shouldn't do you will only inflame the situation.
Another thing immigration may do is give you one list of requirements on the first vist, but when you return they may ask for more things that they didn't tell you about the first time. Again, never get angry. You will only upset people and make your life more difficult for yourself.
Don't even bother trying to analyse the process. If you do so you will only be applying your Western logic to a Thai process and, as I have stated many times, Thais think and behave very differently to Westerners.
Thais will also behave and think in accordance with the very strict social hierarchy that exists in Thai society. You can't apply your logic to Thailand and there's no way that Thailand is going to change anything because Westerners don't agree with the way they do something.
Days like yesterday aren't the kind of days I enjoy, but it's a small price to pay. After returning to the UK this year and seeing what a miserable, expensive place it was I couldn't wait to return to Thailand. Thailand isn't perfect, but the pros far outweigh the cons and although there are some inconveniences, I have a far better lifestyle overall.
Saturday 16th September 2017
In the last few weeks, for various reasons, I have had lots of telephone conversations with Thais and I am now at the stage where I just give the phone to my wife if she is available because of the communication problems when talking to Thais over the phone.
It's frustrating because if they made a little effort to understand, and made a little effort to be understood, there wouldn't be a problem. However, most won't make the effort. A native speaker can always recognise a non-native speaker speaking their own language. Lots of non-native English speakers in Thailand have jobs teaching English and even though their knowledge of English is very good, they never sound like native English speakers. You can always detect a trace of their original accent.
The English spoken by many Singaporeans, Malaysians, Filipinos, etc has a strong accent and it isn't always easy to understand at first, but if you listen hard and make an effort you can understand. As a native Londoner, I could even say the same about Brits from Scotland and provincial areas of England. And I'm sure that many Glaswegians, Geordies, Scousers, etc would have a problem understanding my Cockney twangs. The problem with many Thais is that they won't make any attempt to understand foreigners speaking Thai. As soon as they hear a foreigner speaking they close their ears.
My Thai isn't good and I'm the first to admit it. I was helping my daughter with her maths homework last week, which was written in Thai. As I was reading it she repeated what I said using my wrong tones. She was then chastised by her mother for speaking Thai like a farang. My Thai isn't good, but if Thais make a little effort they can understand me.
Obviously, when Thais answer the phone to a farang they know it is a foreigner speaking Thai but instead of making an effort to understand, their reaction is simply to give up immediately. They stop listening and frantically search for a friend to help them or - as has happened a few times - I've actually had Thais hang up on me.
It's a two-way thing. Firstly, they won't make any effort to try to understand me. Secondly, they make no effort to speak slowly and clearly to help me understand. When I speak English to foreigners I speak slowly, more deliberately, and also I use simpler vocabulary than I would normally use.
Southern Thais will speak the southern dialect at a machine gun rate and expect me to understand it, which I can't. I have been told that even Thais from Bangkok have the same problem with the southern Thai dialect. When they see that I don't understand the southern dialect, instead of trying to speak the central dialect slowly and clearly, which I probably could understand, they just give up.
This happens a lot when speaking directly to someone in person, but usually I can fix the problem. On several occasions Thais have looked completely bewildered when I first open my mouth, but five minutes later - once they have 'tuned in' to my strange version of Thai - they tell me how good my Thai is.
Unfortunately, without any eye contact or other forms of visual communication I don't get the same opportunity to fix communication problems on the phone and the path of least resistance for Thais is just to give up immediately and terminate the call.
It also makes a difference depending how prepared I am for a call. I've had a number of items delivered recently and the delivery person will call before they come. If I am expecting a call it is more likely that I will understand what is being said.
A call I took yesterday evening had me completely baffled at first and it took me a minute or so to figure out what the call was about. It was a Thai male and all I picked up at first was that he was the owner of something (jao kong).
Earlier in the day when doing the school run I had found a wallet. My first reaction was just to give it to the appropriate person at the school. I didn't open it or rummage around, but there were a few Bt100 notes poking out the top. I handed it in and didn't think anything else about the matter.
The phone call I took later was the owner of the wallet thanking me for handing it in. The lady at the school who I gave the wallet to knew me and obviously gave the owner my telephone number, which they have on record because I have two children at the school.
Thailand, like all countries, has good people and bad people, honest people and dishonest people. Some Thais finding wallets would do what I had done, but unfortunately there are a lot that wouldn't.
If I lost my wallet in Thailand I would immediately give up all hope of seeing it again, and even if I did it is unlikely that there would be anything left in it. I once took off a sun hat to take a photo of something and then walked off, forgetting my hat. When I returned five minutes later to retrieve the hat it had gone.
There have been a few instances of Bangkok taxi drivers returning high value items and money that have been left in their taxis. Whenever this happens the story makes the national TV news and appears in national newspapers. It's good press for Thailand, but I suspect that there are a lot more instances of forgotten items not being returned.
Just after writing this my wife told me about an incident at the school in which a student the same age as my daughter (6) took another student's money and used it to top up her smartcard so she could buy ice cream at the school tuck shop.
I asked what is being done about this and was told that the girl's parents would be talking to her. My wife also mentioned that we should talk to her daughter to explain that this kind of thing is wrong, but it is completely unnecessary. We have never sat her down and explicitly told her that taking other people's money and property is wrong because she knows already.
I can't ever remember my parents telling me that certain behaviour was wrong. I guess that some people are born with an inherent sense of right and wrong, and others aren't. Or they know that some things are wrong, but they just don't care and have no moral conscience.
As I was driving along a road by a canal recently I saw a man who lived in a house by the side of the road come out of his house with a sack of garbage. He took a little run-up and then heaved the sack of garbage into the canal. Littering and fly-tipping is something that I see all the time in Thailand and it is something that I can't come to terms with.
Sign in a Singapore toilet
It always amused me slightly on trips to Singapore to see posters displayed everywhere for the latest government campaign. These campaigns have run for many years and Singapore is supposedly a developed country, but the campaigns only tell people what they should know already. Do we really need government campaigns to tells us to be courteous to other people, not to litter, not to spit in the street, how to use toilets, etc?
Unfortunately, it would appear that some people do need to be told.
Tuesday 12th September 2017
Is Thailand cheap or expensive?
I see once-a-year visitors to Thailand posting on Internet forums about how cheap everything is in Thailand. Sure, some things are very cheap. When I get my car serviced and need to get home without any transport, which is quite a long journey, I hop on the back of a sawng-thaew for Bt15. It's nothing. A taxi in the UK for the same distance would probably be the equivalent of about Bt3,000.
If I didn't have a house and needed to rent a room I could find a place for less than Bt2,000 a month. It wouldn't be the kind of place I would feel very comfortable staying in, but for Bt6,000 I could fine a nice place.
If I only had Bt100 a day to feed myself I could do so and I wouldn't go hungry. Eating cheap Thai food every mealtime would drive me crazy very quickly, but I wouldn't starve.
In many respects it is cheap, but in others it isn't. Some things are expensive and they continue to get more expensive.
My medical insurance policy renewal gave me a bit of a shock this year. Here are the figures with last year's figures in brackets.
Me: Bt15,456 (Bt13,789)
Wife: Bt7,394 (Bt6,777)
Daughter: Bt8,553 (Bt7,097)
Son: Bt12,442 (Bt9,068)
Total (+ Bt176 stamp duty): Bt44,021 (Bt36,731)
This year, for the first time, I started to wonder whether it would be more cost effective not to have medical insurance. Most admissions are for two nights and the cost is a little over Bt20,000 each time, so basically the break-even point is two admissions a year.
After some thought and a discussion with my wife, I decided to renew it.
My son was born with pneumonia and suffers from asthma. When he gets colds - as he does quite often - he usually develops severe breathing problems and needs medical care. He was admitted to hospital last month. We figure on him being admitted at least once, and maybe twice, a year.
The rest of didn't use last year's insurance, but I'm getting older and the risk of disease or injury, especially from road accidents, is high in Thailand.
It's an intangible quantity, but peace of mind is also quite important to me and now that we have insurance for another year it gives me peace of mind. It also helps with budgeting. If we don't use the insurance next year (which is unlikely) I might feel it was a waste of money, but if there are lots of problems I'm not going to have any nasty surprises. Medical bills in Thai private hospitals can get very large very quickly.
The other alternative was to rely on public hospitals. The doctors are fine at public hospitals and you will find that many doctors at private hospitals in Thailand only work there part-time and have full time jobs at a public hospital.
The standard of nursing care at public and private hospitals is the same. If you spend any time in Thai private hospitals you will see that the nurses are hired for their looks and not necessarily their nursing skills.
Pretty Thai nurse from one of our local private hospitals
The problem with public hospitals is that they are overstretched and understaffed. Thailand has a large population of poor people. Many work hard physically in a harsh climate, their nutrition isn't great, they don't take care of their health in other ways, and there are a lot of injuries from road traffic accidents. Thailand's poor go to public hospitals for their healthcare.
Our son goes for a regular checkup at a local public hospital for his asthma problem and the hospital is always heaving with people. You have to wait a long time for everything, wards are always full, and I always see beds in the corridors because the wards are overflowing.
I have a lot of admiration for the doctors and nurses in Thai public hospitals, but when I'm sick I want my healthcare to be a little more dignified and efficient, and the same applies with my family. I also find that being attended to by pretty nurses speeds up my recovery.
The other reason for renewing my insurance was because I have been a customer for many years and they give me quite a good discount. If I failed to renew and then wanted to start from scratch later it would cost significantly more.
Also, after the age of 65 (another eight years, but the years pass quickly) it is difficult to get medical insurance in Thailand. However, if you are an existing customer and reach the age of 65 they will continue covering you.
Sunday 10th September 2017
The author of the e-book I read recently was critical of Thai tradesmen and I have been critical in the past. However, Thailand is the land of contrasts and contradictions and although there are some really bad tradesmen, there are also some really good ones. On Friday I had a really good experience when some people came to do some work at my home.
When my house was being built I took the opportunity of having a wired LAN installed inside the walls so that no wiring would show. The developer didn't have a clue what I wanted so I used an external company.
It was a good decision and not that expensive - about Bt7,000 or Bt8,000. Wi-Fi is convenient (and many devices nowadays can only connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi), but wired connections are a lot faster and generally more stable.
In my office the LAN connection was on the wrong side of the room and I was using a cable draped across the floor, so I wanted a more conveniently situated socket. One socket downstairs I had never used until I bought a new Internet TV recently and then discovered that the connection didn't work.
My wife had also been complaining about a weak Wi-Fi signal on her iPhone and occasionally devices on the network wouldn't work until I reset my router.
On Thursday last week I went back to the shop that had installed the LAN and asked them to fix these problems. They arrived on time at 9am the following morning - a man and a lady. He did all the physical wiring and she did the technical stuff.
With the problem downstairs I discovered that my darling children had stuffed the LAN socket full of plasticine and assumed that it would be an easy problem to fix. It wasn't. After changing the socket they found that the cable was defective.
Because the cable was inside the wall I didn't think it would be possible to replace, but they managed to replace it. They also installed the extra socket in my office very neatly with little cable showing. For the other problem they replaced my Wi-Fi access point with a model that outputs a much stronger signal.
The woman who did the technical work was very competent and very good. I was impressed. When they left, everyone was happy. My daughter was happy because she could watch YouTube videos on the new TV downstairs. My wife was happy because she had a strong signal on her iPhone and I was happy because I no longer had an Ethernet cable running across my office floor.
All of this good work only cost Bt3,000. The new access point cost Bt1,800 and for all the other parts, labour and skilled knowledge I paid just Bt1,200. Having this work done in a Western country would, no doubt, cost significantly more.
No matter what generalisation you make about Thailand and the Thais, you can always find examples that contradict the generalisation.
It's probably fair to say that most of us love music and that certain songs and pieces of music reach deep into our souls. The music touches us and, of course, the people who created the music become very special people.
For those in the UK who lived through the summer of 1976, it was a time that they probably won't forget. I was 15 at the time. That summer was extremely hot and society was about to see some dramatic changes as the nascent punk movement started to go mainstream.
Punk never appealed to me. In my teens I was actually quite optimistic about the future and saw no need to rebel against society by wearing safety pins in my nose and spitting everywhere. I also preferred listening to musicians who actually had some musical ability.
Young Thai punks
The family vacation that year was on the island of Jersey, a dependency of the UK but actually a lot closer to mainland France. There, as was always the case with European vacations, I met a lot of mainland Europeans who were also vacationing.
There was a Swiss girl who I lost my heart to, but was never brave enough to talk to, and a German lad about the same age as me who was crazy about a band called Steely Dan.
I also had a friend in the UK who was a bit older than me. He was an artist who went on to study at the Slade School Of Fine Art and he introduced me to music that normally I wouldn't listen to. One band was Steely Dan.
The music of Steely Dan became a big part of my life. Teenage years are awkward because people want to establish their own identities and be independent, but they are still dependent on their parents. There are limited ways to express their individuality other than the clothes they wear and the music they listen to. Music is thus very important.
I discovered yesterday that Walter Becker - one half of Steely Dan - died last week. This follows the death of Glen Campbell who, in conjunction with Jimmy Webb, created some wonderful songs that touched many people.
Becker wasn't that old, 67, and I had no idea that his health was poor. Fagen is a musical genius, but he is undoubtedly a difficult person to get on with. Becker, on the other hand, always seemed like such a nice guy. Very sad.
Whenever I read about hurricane damage in the news, there are inevitably comments about how this severe weather is all our (the human race's) doing and if we don't change our ways it will only get worse.
Before 1492 there are no records in North America about hurricanes because there was no native writing system known among North American Indians. However, soon after Columbus arrived there was a big tropical storm in 1495 and there have been tropical storms and hurricanes ever since. What we are seeing now is not a new phenomenon. The deadliest hurricane was the Great Galveston Hurricane in 1900.
The most extreme climate change on Earth took place during the Pleistocene epoch when there was no human activity or industrialization. This has been attributed to Milankovitch cycles - the Earth's position relative to the Sun, which changes over many thousands of years.
Many people don't seem to realise, but there is a huge blazing ball of fire in the sky that burns with ferocious intensity and it tends to have quite a big effect on our climate. It isn't a nice, controlled source of heat and light, but a very violent one. Sunspot activity affects our climate and the solar cycle is about 11 years.
The phenomena known as El Nino and La Nina also have big effects on our climate and these are cyclical.
Just recently I keep reading the term 'climate change sceptic', but I don't think anyone is sceptical about climate change. We are all aware that climate changes. The key point is whether we believe that human activity is responsible for it happening and, from what I have read, it seems that any impact humans have on the climate is minimal.
Richard Branson decided to stay on his island as hurricane Irma approached and he and his son have been very vocal about this storm being a reminder of climate change and this is the reson why we have to make changes.
Branson is first and foremost a businessman, and businessmen do whatever it takes to make money and get ahead of the competition. I read his autobiography 'Business Stripped Bare' last year and he decided to gamble on the green issue to get ahead with his airline business.
Virgin did a lot of research on flying their planes using biofuels, which obviously was expensive, but the gamble was that if fossil fuels were outlawed later they would have a big advantage over the competition. Naturally, Richard Branson is a big advocate of man-made climate change because of the business decisions he has made.
The BBC also pushes this agenda and to back up the argument they have used quotes from Elon Musk, but Musk is in exactly the same position as Branson and hardly in a neutral position as a manufacturer of electric cars and solar roof tiles.
I know by saying this that I am putting my head above the parapet, but this is exactly what governments and the main stream media want. Anyone who questions the man-made climate change argument is shot down and attacked and this deters people from speaking up despite all the contrary, scientific evidence.
I feel immense sympathy for those people affected. Most of my income goes on my house and it also takes up a lot of my time. No matter what happens outside, my home will always be a safe haven for me and my family.
For anyone to lose their home to a major meteorological event is a terrible tragedy, but I also get quite annoyed when people use these events to push a political agenda.
Neither am I saying that we can be complacent about the environment. No one wants to breathe polluted air or to suffer from polluted rivers and seas and it is important to maintain a clean environment.
But to blame human activity for every extreme weather event when these things have been happening from time immemorial - and will continue to happen, no matter how we change our activities on Earth - simply isn't right.
I mentioned previously that these days I can generally work out what is behind most instances of unusual Thai behaviour. Even if I disagree with the behaviour, I usually have an idea about the part of the value system or belief system that is behind it.
However, there are still many aspects of Thai behaviour that remain a mystery. This is a good thing because trying to figure out strange behaviour prevents me from getting bored.
I often find with groups of Thais that the first one to spot me will tell his or her friends, "Farang." This happens a lot and it happened a few days ago when I went to buy some food. There was a man and two women. The man was first to spot me and alerted his female colleagues to the potential danger that was looming.
I then asked the two women, in Thai, if they were aware I was a farang. They were. I turned back to the man and asked him why he had felt the need to tell the women something that was blindingly obvious.
When I ask Thais this sort of question about their behaviour I know that I am not going to get an answer. Probably because there isn't an answer. All I ever get is the classic Thai blank look and shoulder shrug. Does anyone have any ideas?
On to strange Thai behaviour example 2.
The men who laid tiles in my house recently are now working on the house across the street. As I went out today to buy some food they were all sitting on the sidewalk having their lunch. This is quite typical for Thai workers.
I said hello, but in this situation Thais will always tell me, "Gin kaaw," - they are eating. Thais never use the verb 'to eat' alone, but always use the expression to 'eat rice'. Rice is a very central part of Thai culture.
What's more, whenever they tell me they are eating rice they always follow this up by miming the action of putting food into their mouths.
This little ritual also happens a lot and it always puzzles me.
Firstly, I can see exactly what they are doing and I don't need them to tell me something that is very obvious. Secondly, they have already told me something verbally that is completely unnecessary and it is even less necessary to then mime the action of eating.
Wednesday 6th September 2017
There is probably not a nation on Earth that has more superstitious beliefs than Thailand. My wife just left to meet her family at their favoured temple. There is a graveyard at this temple and some of her family's ancestors are interred there. Her family is originally from Nakhon Sri Thammarat and today marks the start of the Festival of the Tenth Lunar Month - 'sip deuan' in Thai.
As far as I am aware, this festival is only celebrated in southern Thailand and the epicentre is Nakhon Sri Thammarat which, in the past, was a very important centre of power in peninsular Thailand.
The same festival in 2010
When we were first married I played the role of diligent husband and went along, but for me it was a complete waste of time. Nowadays I stay at home and do more useful things, such as reorganising my sock drawer. For her and her family it is extremely important, but their belief system is very different to mine. No doubt, it is especially important for them because they come from Nakhon Sri Thammarat, where this festival is such a big event.
Before she left she paid her respects to our 'jao tee' - the protecting spirit of our house. In the house we have a special shelf ('hing pra') for this specific purpose. When we moved to this house the very first job I had to do was to install the spirit shelf. There are small vases on the shelf, in which she places fresh flowers, and she lights candles and incense. I find the smell of the incense very soothing.
Our spirit shelf
This little ritual takes place on every Buddhist observance day - 'wun pra' in Thai. There are quite a few of these throughout the year. Ever since we have lived in this house a lady has arrived on a motorbike every Buddhist observance day to deliver fresh flowers. We pay her, of course - Bt40 each time. For the last couple of weeks she hasn't been and we don't know why. This is something of a concern and my wife now has to go out and buy the flowers herself.
The other thing I had to do before my wife left today was to write the names of my dead ancestors on pieces of paper and, sadly, that list now includes my mother. The 'sip deuan' festival is all about ancestor worship.
I always believed that ancestor worship was a Chinese tradition, but there is a huge Chinese influence in Thailand and Thais are only too happy to add other people's beliefs to the many beliefs that they already have.
The festival is divided into two parts and today is regarded as the 'small' part of the festival.
Today, the souls of deceased ancestors can leave the spiritual realm in which they normally exist and return to make a visit to this world. Relatives make merit and perform various rituals at their home temple. There is also a lot of eating, socialising and - as you can see in the photo above - even dancing.
However, the heavenly visit only lasts two weeks and then the poor souls have to return to their celestial realm again. Their returning marks the second part of the festival and it is a bigger event, but basically the same kinds of ritual take place at the temple.
Monday 4th September 2017
Generally I write about Thais, but the expat community in Thailand is equally as fascinating and just as varied. I don't go out of my way to foster friendships with farangs, but since I have lived in Thailand - and even when I was a tourist - I have met quite a few.
The expat community tends to be very different in many ways but there are some common traits, which I will come on to. Young foreigners in their early 20's come as teachers or missionaries and end up staying permanently. A few even end up becoming Thai TV or YouTube stars.
The country also attracts foreign men in their 60's and 70's, who view Thailand as a good retirement destination. Any foreign man with a monthly income - even a small one - can find a Thai woman somewhere, the warm weather makes for easy living, the cost of living is low, and the healthcare system is good.
Apart from big age differences, there are also big differences in intellect and character. At one end of the scale you will find genuine intellectuals and, at the other, criminals running high pressure boiler room scams.
One thing that many tend to have in common is being highly successful before coming to Thailand, or so they claim. I have heard this so many times from farangs in Thailand, even though it is obvious that the only money they have is from their current teaching gig. The other thing in common is that their knowledge of Thailand always exceeds that of every other farang in Thailand, even if they can't speak or read Thai.
I have just finished a short e-book written by a farang who has been in Thailand for about nine years, I believe. It was OK, but I guess that my view of such books is probably a little different to the average reader who has very little experience of Thailand.
His impression of Thailand reminds me of my impression of Thailand at around the four year stage. He points out that getting to know Thailand takes a very long time and that most expats, at some stage, have probably felt like leaving. I concur.
For me as a tourist, Thailand was always the most fantastic, most magical place on Earth. When I decided to change my life dramatically I already knew where I would be going next.
Living in Thailand at first is like being on vacation, except that you don't have to go home. It feels great. However, after about six months the novelty starts to wear off and by that time you have probably had a few bad experiences. At this point you start to realise that the tourist experience is just a well-constructed veneer and that the real Thailand under the surface is quite different.
After four years, when I had discovered a lot more, I started to have severe doubts about living in Thailand and that was the stage when I seriously started to think about leaving. The problem came with knowing where to go. Going back to the UK wasn't an option, going to any other developed country wasn't an option, and other developing countries weren't necessarily any better than Thailand. Eventually, I just decided to stay and get on with life.
The author of the book talks about the lack of morality in Thailand and the many contradictions that he observes. Most Thais purport to be strict Buddhists, but there is no correlation between the Five Precepts and the way that Thais actually live their lives. Again, I concur.
He talks about the frustrations of 'Thai logic' and bureaucracy. His visa application was turned down at his local immigration office for no apparent reason, and no reason was given. He went to immigration in Bangkok who said that they couldn't see a problem and had no influence over the local immigration office. When he returned to the local immigration office and submitted exactly the same paperwork it was accepted. There probably isn't an expat in Thailand who can't relate to this type of thing.
He was told by a long term expat never to try to understand Thais because you never will. I found this comment interesting, if a little defeatist.
He describes himself as curious and I am the same, but I have often thought that it isn't good to be this way in Thailand. Thinking too much (kit maak) is a very bad thing in the eyes of Thais and sometimes I think they are right. I have spoken to some very intelligent foreigners in Thailand who drive themselves crazy trying to understand Thai behaviour, and I am sure that the guys sitting on barstools in Pattaya ogling prostitutes with a cold beer in their hand are a lot happier. Should you just ignore irrational behaviour and accept that you will never understand the reasons behind it? Maybe it's good advice.
I don't profess to know all the answers, but if you know a little about the Thai value system, the Thai belief system and the importance of the hierarchical structure in Thai society you can often explain why Thais think and act as they do. And the way they think and act is totally different to how Westerners think and act. This is why farangs have spawned phrases such as, "Only In Thailand," or "This Is Thailand." Things happen in Thailand that wouldn't happen anywhere else.
The author quotes Wikipedia repeatedly as his source and has obviously spent a long time reading Wikipedia entries. I have always found Wikipedia to be a little dry and too politically correct. Also, because it covers everything I find it quite difficult to establish the important points. The best information I have read about Thailand has always come from real books, not the Internet. I also firmly believe that a deeper understanding of the language gives you many clues into the way that Thais think.
He highlights the culture of dependency in Thailand and mentions that children are expected to find work elsewhere so that they can support their parents. But he then says that the population of Thailand must be decreasing because he only hears of deaths in his little village in northern Thailand and has never known anyone to have a child. This is kind of contradictory.
When I first came to Thailand I acted like a stupid tourist and messed around with the wrong kind of girls. Subsequently, I ended up in one girl's home village in deepest, darkest Isaan. Many farangs, after getting involved with bargirls in Pattaya or Patong, go down this path and some end up staying in the village permanently. It may suit some people, but one correspondent described the experience as being akin to a prison sentence.
The village I stayed in was complete devoid of girls of child-bearing age because they were all in Bangkok or one of the tourist resorts doing various kinds of work (use your imagination) and sending money home to support their parents and extended families. The village consisted of old people and young children, which probably explains why there were so few births.
We took our three year-old to a local hospital today for one of his regular hospital check ups and there was certainly no shortage of infants in the children's clinic. I think this highlights the fact that depending on your own personal situation you will have a very different view of Thailand compared to other people.
When you live in a large town, have children of your own and spend so much time in schools and children's clinics you see lots of children. If you live in a remote village in rural Thailand you won't, but it doesn't mean that there is a shortage of children in Thailand.
Recently I wrote about some of the bad workmanship that has been done in my house by Thai tradesman. The author of the book mentions this and describes exactly the same thing, that is, plumbers using excessive amounts of insulating tape to complete jobs instead of doing the job properly.
His conclusion is that they do this to save the customer money on parts (although they then charge more for labour), but I have always believed it is because they can't be bothered to do jobs properly and always choose the easiest solution - the path of least resistance.
It wasn't a bad book and certainly better than a few others I have downloaded to my Kindle. The literary masterpiece on how to swear in Thai, which was about four pages long, is one that I can still remember.
I really get annoyed with the fairy tale websites and books that never say anything critical about Thailand because these one-sided versions don't help anyone. In this latest book the author has tried to give a fairly balanced view, but personally I feel there is a little more to say than never to try to understand Thai thinking and behaviour because you never will. Maybe he has never read Mulder?
A lot of Thai behaviour may appear to be completely illogical but, as I said above, once you start to understand the Thai value and belief systems there are reasons - even if the reasons aren't at all reasonable, logical or rational to the average Western mind.
Saturday 2nd September 2017
My life was completely taken over after starting a family in 2010, but now I'm almost on the cusp of getting a little of it back. On those days when both kids go to school in the morning it feels great to be able to do things that I want to do without interruptions for a few hours.
Unfortunately, my three year-old has been ill again this week and this throws everything into disarray. He spent three nights in hospital last month for a chest infection and this time it is just a cold, but he gets very asthmatic when he has a cold and suffers badly. This is how I was as a kid and unfortunately he seems to have inherited some of my bad traits. He was also born with pneumonia, which has probably made his chest susceptible to infection.
I write this just to let my readers know why there has been nothing here lately. I just haven't had time. Hopefully, next week will be better.
One visitor to this blog - a long time correspondent - visited me at home recently after driving up from Malaysia. We got on well, but he was concerned that it might have made me feel uncomfortable.
I've operated a website for quite a few years and occasionally people do want to meet. It's really not a problem if we have exchanged a lot of e-mails and I have a good feeling about the other person. My gut instinct about other people tends to be quite good. However, I probably wouldn't be too keen if someone writes for the first time suggesting that we meet.
This is now my fourth consecutive difficult year. I miss my Mum, who died in July, and I feel concerned about my Dad, who I know is feeling very lonely many miles away, but I also think this year has signalled a turning point and that life will start to improve from now on. In fact, it already has.
I discovered that my wife's recent bad mood was because we didn't go away for Mothers' Day. It was a one day holiday and she only mentioned taking a break a few days before. The hotels we were interested in were either fully booked or very expensive and we ended up not going anywhere. We haven't had a break for a long time and she is getting restless.
If you don't have kids and can travel any time you can find some great hotel deals in Thailand during quiet periods. When you have kids you can only go during school breaks - when everyone else wants to go - and it isn't so easy. The next school break is in October.
Our original plan was to return to Krabi, which is very pleasant, but I have been several times and I fancied seeing somewhere new for a change.
There are still some places in Thailand that I haven't been to and would like to visit, but my wife wasn't keen on my suggestions and the kind of places that interest me hold zero interest for our children. There is also a lot of uniformity across the entire country and wherever you go in Thailand many things seem exactly the same.
I think I have solved the dilemma by arranging a trip to Hoi An in Vietnam. My wife, who never travelled outside of Thailand before we were married and has only been to Malaysia since then, is fascinated with the outside world (as are many Thais who have never been outside of Thailand) and loves the thought of going anywhere abroad.
There aren't that many places in the world that really appeal to me now, but Hoi An has been on my radar for a while. It's a huge tourist centre and tourism seems to be about the only industry, but it still looks very attractive and as a keen photographer it looks to be a wonderful place for photography.
In addition, there are direct flights from Bangkok which aren't too expensive and the flight to Da Nang only takes 90 minutes. My journey back to Thailand from the UK in July took around 36 hours from door to door and just the thought of a long haul trip fills me with dread.
I honestly can't remember the last time that I looked forward to making a trip, but I am looking forward to this one. I'm also looking forward to renewing my interest in photography which, like many things, has had to take a back seat in recent years. I even have a new camera; I just hope it will be safe in Vietnam.
I was going to apologise (again) for my lack of posts, but 1) I can't do much about it, and 2) my long term readers will know what I'm like anyway.
Just recently I've been trying to update my photography pages, which I will continue doing, but - provided that both children return to school next week - I hope to be able to write some more here next week.
After my UK trip I moaned like crazy about how expensive everything was in England compared to Thailand. Certain things are more expensive in Thailand, but not the things that you need for everyday living.
Someone sent me the following link, which shows how long you can survive in various countries on UK£500 (about Bt21,500 or US$648). According to the survey, it is 6 days in Switzerland, 9 days in the UK and 44 days in Thailand. Quite a difference, eh?
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