Thailand - Farang Thailand
Foreigners in Thailand
Foreigners have been attracted to Thailand for a long time. The country encouraged foreign traders to set up camps and villages during the Ayuthaya period and many did so, coming from all across Asia and Europe.
Some rose to positions of great importance in the country. Constance Phaulkon, a Greek adventurer, became first counsellor to King Narai in the 17th century. This close relationship made some Thais envious and when the king became ill, a coup d'état was staged and Phaulkon was executed and killed.
The leader of the coup, Pra Phetracha, created a xenophobic atmosphere in the country and threw out all of the resident foreigners.
The country remained close to foreigners until the reign of King Rama IV (1851 - 1868), who embraced Western culture in order to develop and modernise Thailand. This continued during the reign of King Rama V (1868 - 1910).
After the 1932 revolution and the end of absolute monarchy Thailand entered a period of military rule led by military dictators, one of whom was Plaek Pibulsonggram. Plaek's ideology was one of fascism and nationalism. He used propoganda to force through his agenda, and his Cultural Mandates are quite disturbing.
This started another wave of xenophobia, but this time directed at Chinese immigrants who had established themselves in Thailand, worked hard, and become successful. The period of military rule ended in October 1973 with the student uprising in which many students were massacred.
During the 1970's tourists visited Thailand, but not that many. In 1987 the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) initiated 'Visit Thailand Year' to commemorate the 60th birthday of the King. At that time I had wanted to visit Thailand for several years and attended a special event organised by the TAT held at London's Barbican Centre. For me personally, this was an unbelievably exotic and magical experience,
In November 1987 I finally made my first visit to the Kingdom. I think at the time there were about six million tourists visiting the country each year. However, I think that most of these were Asian and there were very few farangs in the country.
Thailand in 1987 was considered to be a 'frontier country' in the tourist trade. None of my high street travel agents dealt with trips to Thailand and I had to go through a specialist travel agent.
At that time Thailand was such an unknown quantity in the West that Lonely Planet's yellow 'Southeast Asia on a Shoestring' was actually quite useful instead of being a waste of time and money, which it is now.
After that, tourism started to go crazy in Thailand. The places I had seen and fell in love with on my early visits were soon ruined by mass tourism. Over-commercialism, environmental destruction, greedy Thais and foreigners who were in Thailand for all the wrong reasons ruined everything.
In some parts of Thailand now it seems that there are more foreigners than Thais, even though the landscape has changed slightly. Economic troubles in the Eurozone mean there are less Europeans, but the advent of capitalism in the Soviet Bloc after the fall of the Iron Curtain means that there are a lot more Russians.
These changes are small, though, compared to the changes that have come about with the rise of China as an economic powerhouse. On recent visits to Bangkok kI have been stunned at how many tourists there are in Thailand from mainland China.
The most important thing to Thais is always money and for as long as tourists and expats bring money into the country they will be welcome. The country has changed beyond recognition since I first visited and continues to change at a frightening pace.
In the guide books about Thailand, they may still try to give the impression of the country being mystical, magical and exotic but the reality of Thailand now is that there are foreigners, McDonalds, KFCs and Western style shopping malls everywhere.
Bitter and Twisted Farangs
One thing that comes up repeatedly when I speak to expats who have been in the country for more than a few years is that the reality of living in Thailand is completely different to experiencing the country as a tourist. This is so true.
Thailand seems like the perfect country to many tourists: the weather, the laid-back mai bpen rai attitudes, and the ease of meeting members of the opposite (or maybe the same) sex.
It is far from perfect.
There are many social problems and basically what you see as a tourist is just for show. Thais don't speak about or reveal any of the problems because it is seen as unpatriotic. What's more is that to find out the truths for yourself takes a long time. In my case, it took about four years of living in Thailand permanently.
People expatriate to Thailand because it seems like the perfect country. For many of those expats, there is a very uncomfortable period when the truth about Thailand finally dawns on them. At this stage they have probably burnt all their bridges and can't return home. They probably don't want to return home, anyway.
They gave up everything to go to Thailand and now they realise that Thailand isn't the place they thought it was. Maybe a few also got scammed for large amounts of money and have added resentments against the country.
I went through a very uncomfortable phase after about four years and seriously thought about leaving. Expats do leave, and a few throw themselves off tall building, aka, the Pattaya Death Leap.
My reasons for living in the country now are very different to my reasons for moving to Thailand. However, I tried to keep my options open and I had some lucky breaks. Some are not so fortunate. They can't go home, they can't go anywhere else, and they start to hate Thailand.
Some run out of money and can't find work. I've met farangs begging on the streets of Thailand. Others just become bitter and twisted and vent their anger on other foreigners who they perceive to have been more successful in Thailand.
Some years ago I had been running around doing errands and started to walk back to my room. I saw a farang who looked as if he had just arrived in town. He looked a bit lost and was looking up at the buildings. People who are new to anywhere always look up as they walk around.
I just walked past him, minding my own business, without making any eye contact. As I did so I heard a voice call out, "You f*ck*ng c*nt." It took me by surprise as I don't tend to hear much Anglo-Saxon in Thailand.
I looked round to see what was going on and who the remark was aimed at. I realised it was aimed at me, and on his face was the most hateful, glaring look I think I have ever seen in my life.
At first it flashed through my mind to question the guy as to what his problem was but he looked extremely violent and I figured that any comment would only have invited trouble so I just walked on and let it pass. It wasn't my problem. He was the one with the psychological problems, and they were pretty major.
I was speaking to a foreign guy here who runs a successful restaurant. When he finishes work at night he likes to go for a quiet drink some place that isn't his own. The problem, he told me, was that at the expat bars there are always farangs who have too many beers and then want to fight with other foreigners.
If you read the Pattaya News website, there are requently stories reported about bar brawls involving Westerners.
Unfortunately, some foreigners come to Thailand because they couldn't handle life at home but after an initial honeymoon period they find they have the same issues in Thailand. They are in a different environment but they still have their same problems.
Initially, Thailand may seem like the perfect place to escape from all your troubles in the real world but that feeling wears off quickly. If you have emotional or psychological problems they will not be resolved simply by moving to Thailand.
If you don't have emotional or psychological problems, it is best to avoid foreigners in Thailand that do.
In the late 19th century, greedy European countries were doing their best to claim colonies around the world and Southeast Asia was a key target. Thailand (Siam, as it was then known) remained independent despite the French having colonised neighbouring Indochina and with the British in Burma, Malaysia and Singapore.
Both England and France were suspicious that the other would try to make some kind of a claim on Siam and to complicate matters further, Germany also started looking at the Kingdom with greedy eyes.
The Germans offered the Siamese money with which to build a peninsula railway but of course this wouldn't have been entirely free and there would have been conditions attached giving Germany a great deal of influence in the country.
The British weren't at all happy about this and made some concessions to keep the Siamese happy. One of these included giving up extraterritorial rights over British subjects in Thailand.
In a memorandum to the British Foreign Office, one F.S. Clarke described these British subjects living in Thailand as, "the riffraff of Burmah."
Unfortunately, Thailand's easy-going reputation - and its abundance of girls of easy virtue - has continued over the years to attract a certain type of foreigner. The good news is that since 2006 there has been a big immigration crackdown and the situation has started to improve.
Ravi, the Indian Escape Artist
As I was buying bread one morning and trying to mind my own business I was seized upon by a guy called Ravi. I think he was desperate to talk to someone. Although he was Indian he had been living in the United States for a long time, in New York city. He spoke English but with a heavily accented Indian dialect.
He said he was a writer and some of his work had been published. He was divorced or separated with three kids. His ex-wife and kids were still in the States. He was obviously very stressed out with his life in the US.
Being Indian he was familiar with South Asia and also had experience of Southeast Asia. Like many before him, he had been to Thailand on vacation and realised that cares and worries seem to disappear while in the Kingdom. After separating from his wife he had come to Thailand to escape from life. The problem is that after a while in Thailand you realise that you can't escape and the same things that were troubling you before come back to haunt you sooner or later.
Ravi exhibited a lot of obsessive and paranoid behaviour. The only place he could bear to stay in was the best hotel in town. He claimed he had got a fantastic rate but even so it was expensive staying there for long periods of time on a daily rate.
He wanted an American style apartment, complete with his collection of books and a balcony. Nothing like this existed in town. Not only did he want this fantastic place that didn't exist but he wanted someone to share it with to share the costs. He also wanted to start up a reading circle in town for the expatriates to get together and discuss literature. What he failed to realise is that most expatriates in town were here for other reasons and not to participate in reading circles.
Basically he wanted to leave all his troubles in life behind and start a new life in Thailand that included all the things he liked from his old life. He had maybe set his expectations a little too high though. I listened to him for longer than I wanted to, acknowledging his desires but knowing that he would end up being disappointed. He wasn't being at all realistic.
Like any true New Yorker he had been to a shrink for counselling and had taken anti-depressants. When he first got to Thailand the euphoric feeling was enough for him to stop taking his medication but now that reality had set in he was popping pills again. These were screwing with his head as much as anything else.
I heard warning bells almost straight away after he cornered me. He needed English-speaking people around him whereas I don't really feel that need. He also needed lots of things from his life in the West and wasn't prepared to accept Thailand for what it is.
I have encountered manic-depressive people before and they are very draining emotionally so I didn't want anything to do with him. I never saw him again.
The point I'm trying to make by using Ravi as an example is that if you use Thailand to escape from life it will work for a few weeks - a few months, even - but no longer.
The idea of backpacking is fantastic and in the 70's it was quite a feat to go backpacking in Thailand. Back then, very few Thais spoke English and there wasn't much of a tourist infrastructure.
But now when I see backpackers in Thailand they look so out of place. Thailand is a major package holiday destination now so to see them wandering around is like seeing backpackers in Miami Beach.
Worldly-wise Lonely Planet readers experiencing some real Thai culture
The whole thing has turned into a charade. Even before they leave home they have decided on their choices of hairstyle and clothing. It all looks so cliched when I see the dreadlocks, bandanas, indigo farmer's shirts, and baggy fisherman pants.
Their choice of destinations in Thailand is no more adventurous than their dress style. Chiang Mai to do some hill trekking (which is now all geared up for package tourists), a spell in Bangkok's Khao Sarn Road, and various islands in the south.
What's interesting is that much older tourists are now seeking out unseen parts of Thailand, and the young backpacker kids are still going to the places backpackers have been going to for 40 years.
It's fine if they have a good time, but what irritates me slightly is they act as if they are being worldly adventurers when actually they are being no more adventurous than a group of 70 year-old package tourists.
What's a hippy? Probably to many Westerners the term conjures up memories from Woodstock and San Francisco in the 60's where bare-breasted girls danced around with flowers in their hair, everyone smoked dope and there was free love for all.
Farang Kee Nok, Bangkok
At some Thai ports of entry you will see an official government definition of a hippy hanging on the wall. I believe that these have been removed in some places but last time I was at Hat Yai airport the sign was still there. It's quite amusing and I'd love to get a photo but using a camera in the immigration section of an airport isn't a very good idea. The definition gives guidance on how to spot a hippy, that is, what a hippy looks like and how they dress.
I don't see too many hippies in Thailand these days. I think it has got too commercial and expensive for them, and they have moved on to other places.
I've been in quite out of the way places and seen European couples with young kids travelling independently. It's good to see people with a bit of imagination, it's a great education for the kids and shows that if you go on holiday with kids you don't have to find somewhere that caters for children with artificial organised activities.
Some travellers have good ideas and don't just do everything in accordance with their Lonely Planet guide. I remember meeting an Irish lad in Langkawi who was on his way to Thailand and had heard about a regatta involving boats travelling from Langkawi to Phuket. He was looking for the harbour and was going to try to find someone who might take him on their boat. I thought this showed good imagination. I didn't find out if his search was successful but at least he tried.
On my first visit to Thailand in 1987 there were no package tours. I had to find a specialist travel agent because high street travel agents didn't deal with Thailand. That first trip took quite a lot to organise.
Nowadays, two-week package deals in Thailand are displayed alongside all the other package deal destinations. What this means is that the type of tourist in Thailand has changed significantly in recent years.
The Thais have encouraged this because it brings money into the economy. Personally, I don't enjoy being in parts of Thailand where there are lots of package tourists but these places are well known and easy to avoid.
The Thais cater to this trade very well. In the tourist resorts Thais speak English and everything is written in English. The activities and things for sale are what tourists want. Thais are very good at working out what people want and then providing them with these things.
For first-time package tourists to Thailand, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. From the moment you arrive until it is time to return home, you will be taken care of.
You don't have to worry about language because the Thais you will deal with will be able to speak English, and if you have doubts about Thai food there is lots of Western food available in the tourist resorts.
This type of tourism isn't for me. Thai culture is so different to my own, and there is so much to learn (including a completely new language) that being treated like a typical tourist would dive me nuts. However, everyone is different.
My father is a good example. I tried to teach him how to say 'thank you' in Thai but he considered learning one short Thai phrase as being impossible. He won't eat Thai food and consequently it is impossible for him to live in Thailand outside of a tourist resort.
He's happy eating steak and chips in Patong but 'real' Thailand is complete inaccessible for him.
If you want to work in Thailand the easiest option is as an English teacher. There are foreigners in Thailand doing other types of work but most are English teachers.
I did an intensive TEFL course before I went to Thailand that took a month to complete and I found out very quickly that it takes more than just being able to speak English to be a teacher. To do the job well requires a good deal of learning, hard work and lots of imagination to make lessons interesting for students.
Teachers who come to Thailand are motivated for different reasons. Some people really do want to make a difference to the lives of Thai people and it is a great way to integrate with the community and provide a life skill that will serve Thais well, especially in these days of globalisation where English is the international language of business.
The motives of some people are quite different though and there seems to be a disproportionately high number of male 'teachers'.
In 2004 an American 40-something English 'teacher' collapsed and died from a heart attack on top of a 19 year-old Thai prostitute while having sex with her in Chiang Mai. It must have terrified the poor girl. She called the police and explained what had happened. The police found Viagra and pills for a heart condition. I don't know what he had told his family and friends about his reasons for going to Thailand but it must have been very embarrassing for them when they learnt how he passed away.
Unfortunately a lot of foreign males who come to Thailand for cheap and available sex become English 'teachers' as that is the only thing they can do to earn money.
Compared to salaries in the developed world, farang English teachers aren't paid much (Bt30,000 a month, on average) but it is significantly more than most Thais earn and it is enough to live on in Thailand where the cost of living is low. English speaking Asian teachers such as Filipinos and Indians can also find work in Thailand but they are normally paid less than white skinned teachers.
Working conditions and workload vary. The private language institutes are more commercially aware and tend to work teachers harder. Teachers working in such places may have to travel to clients and this can add several hours to the working week, especially if they have to fight their way through Bangkok traffic. This type of establishment may also require weekend working. State and private schools tend to pay lower wages but the working place is fixed, the atmosphere is more relaxed and there is no working at the weekend.
Finding a teaching job is much easier if the teacher is actually in Thailand. Schools wanting teachers in Thailand get lots of e-mails from dreamers. They dream about working in Thailand but it never goes beyond dreaming. If you are in the country and available to start work straight away, that is 99% of getting the job.
For more information I've written a little about my experiences teaching English in Thailand.
George was a Greek Cypriot who I met briefly for a couple of days. He told me he was in Thailand to do some business but the real purpose of his visit (I found out later) was to find a wife. He had been on his own for a long time and was extremely lonely. He wasn't the type of person who exists very well living a solitary life and was trying to do something about it in Thailand because he was unable to find a companion in his native Cyprus. I am writing about him here as he turned out to be an object lesson in how not to behave in Thailand.
George was like a fish out of water in Thailand. On the evening we met I was eating on my own in a restaurant. Bold as brass, he walked up to my table and started talking to me. Uninvited, he then sat down with me. With someone else I might have become annoyed, but with him I didn't mind. He was obviously quite a character and I thought he might be fun to speak with.
He had already met more foreigners in town during the previous 24 hours than I had met in the previous six months but that's where we were very different. For me, being in Thailand is about absorbing Thai culture and meeting Thais. George became irritated with most things Thai and, for him, talking to other foreigners was comforting which was why he actively sought them out. We spoke for a while before I had to leave and meet my girlfriend but he was keen to meet the following day.
I met him for drinks the following night at his hotel and took my girlfriend along. George had arrived in town from Bangkok with one Thai girl but had got rid of her because she was costing him too much money. She had taken the opportunity to order lobster and other expensive dishes whenever they went out and was clearly just using him so they parted company. He was now with a 40 year-old Isaan massage girl originally from Khorat who wasn't the most attractive of girls.
As we arrived, George got involved in a big scene with the waitresses. They had served ice in his beer and he didn't want ice. They then brought him another beer with no ice but it was warm. He wanted cold beer with no ice. This hadn't been understood and there was a bit of a stand off. George sat there with his glass of warm beer waiting for the waitress to do something but she didn't know what to do so was just standing there doing nothing. My girlfriend and I were able to convey what he wanted but his attitude and behaviour had caused a lot of bad feeling.
According to George it wasn't only the waitresses who were useless at the hotel; the room maids are also incompetent. He told me later that he always tells them politely three or four times what he wants before he shouts at them. What he didn't seem to grasp is that it didn't matter how many times he told them because they still didn't understand. He spoke not a word of Thai and was not interested in learning. He told me he could speak seven languages - Greek, English and I think the rest were Russian and similar Slavic languages from when he worked in Russia and Eastern Europe. He repeatedly asked Thais why they couldn't speak English, explaining to them (in English of course which they couldn't understand) that millions of tourists come to this country each year so they should speak English.
George loved to speak but didn't like listening very much and this made two-way conversations difficult. He didn't even stop talking while stuffing his face with peanuts and the sight of him with a mouthful of chewed peanuts didn't endear himself to my girlfriend. I could also tell that Iss was very uncomfortable with his lady friend as they came from quite different social backgrounds. As George talked 'at' me the two girls just sat watching us. This puzzled George as he imagined they would chat away between themselves but he didn't understand Thai culture enough to realise why this didn't happen.
My girlfriend can understand quite a lot of English but George's heavily accented version was beyond her. It was beyond me quite a lot of the time. For most of the evening I just nodded and laughed but didn't understand what he was going on about.
In Bangkok he had got in contact with a woman who ran an Internet dating service, which apparently was cheap. The girls featured were not beautiful but the service was supposed to be honest and not designed to con foreigners by putting up photos of beautiful girls who weren't available. He had met both of his girls this way. He was quite keen on the first one initially before he realised she was a gold-digger. He didn't like the second one who I met. Despite the fact they had only just met, they had slept together and George wasn't impressed with her body or her bedroom technique.
After a couple of beers I could see that Iss was getting tired and bored so I made our excuses and left. She described him as naa boo-uh (boring) and said that Thai girls would find him boring as he just talks all the time. George was keen to meet me alone for a 'man-to-man' chat about Thai women and sure enough he called me the next morning so we met for a coffee.
At our first coffee venue there was a promotion of some kind going on next door with loud music blaring out and we couldn't hear each other speak. This is typically Thai and is very annoying to most foreigners. I've got used to it though and accept that I am a foreigner in Thailand so let it pass. However, George became extremely irritated and told them they should be quiet so people can talk. He had a way of telling Thais what they should do.
He told me he was very disillusioned with Thai women. All he wanted was a simple, honest girl to take back to Cyprus for companionship and he would take care of her but he didn't want a prostitute. He was very naïve in many respects. He had lived in England in the 60's and 70's and had done well with the girls there. He was probably a better looking man then. He was definitely not shy and many English girls go stupid for a Mediterranean accent.
He even told me the chat-up techniques that he used to use on them. These involved walking up to girls in the street, extending a hand for them to shake and telling them they have beautiful something - eyes, ears, whatever. I cringed a bit and thought that if I tried that in England I would get thumped. Despite his strange and sometimes irritating ways though, he was basically a decent, big-hearted guy. He was just lonely like a lot of people in this world.
The most annoying thing about George was his inability to listen. This was his second short trip to Thailand and it was obvious he knew nothing about the country. He could actually have learnt a lot from me but whenever I tried to tell him something he would just ogle the girls passing by and not listen to what I was saying. He was impressed with my girlfriend and wanted me to tell him where to go to meet girls. This was the kind of question I'd expect from a 19 year-old kid but not a 56 year-old man. I thought by now he would have learnt that life doesn't work like that. You can't just go to a 'magic' place to meet the girl of your dreams. You just have to get on with your life and sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't.
George kept phoning me the next day but I'd had enough of being spoken at and I was busy doing other things so I didn't speak to him. He was leaving the next day to return to Bangkok where he was going to meet some more girls on the Internet site. He had about three days to meet his future wife before going back to Cyprus. Somehow I didn't rate his chances of success very highly.
As I said above, he was basically a nice guy but his whole attitude and approach to Thailand and Thai people were totally wrong. This is Thailand where people have their own language, culture and way of doing things. I agree that some things are very annoying but I am a guest here and don't expect the whole country to suddenly change because of me.
With regard to meeting Thai girls, it may seem at first that there is an abundance of sweet, beautiful girls just waiting for a foreign man to come along but it's actually not that different to anywhere else in the world. If you can't attract girls in your own country it is unlikely you will be able to in Thailand. This doesn't mean that you won't have Thai girls interested in you but they will only be interested in your wallet. When that beautiful young girl starts talking to you and it seems too good to be true, remember, it very probably is.
I almost titled this section 'Sex Tourists' but that is neither fair nor strictly accurate. Also, even though I wouldn't put myself into any of the categories on this page, I am here as a single male myself.
The guys I am referring to are the ones who, more often than not, have been left on the shelf back in their home countries. I sympathise with them and understand their situation. A lot of honest, decent men over a certain age in the West get treated with total indifference by women.
Some single men come to Thailand for the 'wrong' reasons but there are lots of good men. What is unfortunate is that they go straight to places where they will find troublesome Thai girls. After suffering years of loneliness they are in a hurry when they get to Thailand.
In Thailand it is possible to have a 'girlfriend' within hours of arriving in the country but you will almost certainly have problems.
With relationships anywhere you need to spend a long time getting to know the other person, and in Thailand it is even more the case. Thai girls are so good at hiding their true selves that it can take a very long time to get to know them properly.
If there's one place not to rush into a relationship, it's Thailand ... but so many foreign men do.
The other kind of single foreign males in Thailand are the ones who show up for a "lads' holiday". These are the ones who walk around shirtless at all times of day and night carrying opened bottles of beer, taking full advantage of what is offered in Thailand's beer bars.
The Thais tolerate this kind of behaviour and don't say anything but they think it is disgusting, and it gives all farangs in Thailand a bad name.
Retired Single Males
I see quite a few of these guys around and some are more active than others. Foreign nationals over the age of 50 can get a retirement visa fairly easily provided they can provide proof of a regular income and/or have a certain amount of money in a Thai bank account with proof that it was transferred from abroad. Some are widowed and some have never been married.
With good weather and a relatively cheap lifestyle, Thailand can offer a very comfortable lifestyle. Poor Thai girls aren't as hung up about age differences as Western women are, so there are also opportunities to meet young, attractive Thai girls. the same thing applies for gay men.
I think that for any retired single male without commitments, moving to Thailand is a great choice. One concern with older people is medical care but that isn't a huge problem. Health insurance policies are easily available up to the age of 65, and they aren't too expensive.
After 65, insurance could be a problem. For normal ailments it isn't expensive to pay yourself but if you contract cancer and need chemotherapy or something, that could be very expensive. After the age of 65 medical care in Thailand without health insurance becomes a bit of a gamble.
Regarding the girls, just be careful. There are some great girls who would make perfect wives but unfortunately there are a lot of girls who prey on foreigners just for money.
Sex Tourists and Sexpats
Whenever I tell anyone who doesn't know that I live in Thailand, there is always a raised eyebrow, semi-smirk, and knowing grin.
I live in a normal part of Thailand, as opposed to a tourist resort, with my Thai wife and daughter. Our neighbours are teachers, doctors, nurses, business people, and high ranking soldiers. It is all very respectable.
Thailand has a wordlwide reputation for being a huge brothel and some foreigners seem to think that the reputation applies to the whole of the country. Many Thais dislike the reputation and regard it as a slur on the country, but it is their own doing. The industry brings in a lot of money, and money is always the most important thing in Thailand.
It's a wealthy country but there is an enormous wealth gap and millions of Thais live in poverty. They have no opportunities at all to improve their lives and the only things they have to sell are their bodies or their children.
An amount of money that is considered insignificant in a developed country would be a huge amount to a poor Thai and nothing will ever defeat the laws of supply and demand. There will always be foreign perverts with money who visit Thailand and there will always be poor Thais willing to sell sex.
Some of these people visit as tourists and others come to live in Thailand permanently. There are organisations in Thailand and abroad that try to deal with the problem, but it will never go away.
There is little point getting upset about anything that you can't do anything about. There are known places in Thailand where sexual exploitation is more prevalent than other places and I simply avoid going to these places.
This is a growing phenomenon in developing countries. Thailand, like India and other developing countries, has built a private hospital infrastructure capable of delivering excellent healthcare to First World standards but at a fraction of the cost compared to developed countries.
According to an article in The Nation on 21st February 2005, healthcare in Thailand is two to three times cheaper than Singapore, four to five times cheaper than Japan, and five to ten times cheaper when compared to Europe or the United States.
Disabled foreigner in specially adapted vehicle, Chiang Rai
The Bumrungrad private hospital in Bangkok is getting an excellent reputation worldwide but there are many such private hospitals throughout Thailand. The concept is that foreigners arrange to have operations and procedures carried out in Thailand at hospitals resembling 5 star hotels. They receive high quality treatment and then get aftercare from gorgeous, smiling Thai nurses which (believe me) will speed up any recovery.
Many will get a taste for Thailand, and hopefully they will find time for a vacation before or after their hospital visit. The cost for everything, including a vacation in Thailand, should be less than having the operation done at home.
In April 2005 Bumrungrad was featured on "60 Minutes", an American news programme broadcast by CBS. It described how the hospital had saved the life of an American citizen, Byron Bonnewell, who needed urgent heart bypass surgery but who had no medical insurance. Surgery in the US would have cost him more than US$100,000, which he didn't have, but he got it done for US$12,000 in Thailand.
Bonnewell was impressed with the skill of the Thai doctors (all of whom had practised in the US) and the nursing and aftercare.
My personal experiences of Thai private hospitals, similar to Bumrungrad, have also been very favourable.
In addition to medical procedures, cosmetic and eye-corrective surgery is also widely available. I think the figure for 2004 was about one million health tourists but it is a market that has tremendous potential for growth.
Thai doctors are very competent and professional. The medical profession requires a knowledge of the English language so most speak a very good standard of English. They keep up to date with the latest developments and have access to the best equipment and medication.
Dental work is fantastic in Thailand - and also very cheap. Since living in Thailand I have had quite a lot of work done and my teeth have never been in better shape. It has cost me very little.
Look at any US dentists web site and in addition to information about dental procedures there will be a section about finance plans and how you are going to pay for the work. Dental work is cheaper in the UK compared to the US but my dentists bills there always made a big dent in my bank account. That is just not the case in Thailand.
It seems that some people only trust doctors and dentists from their own country and I hear the strangest things said about Thai health professionals but the comments are unfounded. They are excellent.
I would suggest (but you would need to research first) that even if you have relatively little dental work to get done - maybe some root canal treatment and a couple of crowns or bridges - you could probably get it done in Thailand and have a free (or very cheap) holiday for the same price, or less, than getting the work done at home.
March 2006 update: About two weeks after writing this (by complete coincidence) I bumped into a fairly elderly American guy who had returned to the States after spending a lot of time in Thailand in the last 35 year. He was back in Thailand to get four titanium dental implants fitted.
The cost in the US was around $45,000, he told me. It still wasn't 'cheap' in Thailand but most of the cost was for the titanium which is the same price everywhere. The cost savings had made his decision to return to Thailand to get the work done a no-brainer.
The only bad experience I had was while travelling one time when I needed to see an ear doctor to get my ear cleaned out.
My left ear had got clogged with wax. He took a look and told me I had a perforated eardrum which came as rather a shock and ruined my trip. When I got home I saw another ear doctor who said my ear drum was fine. He cleaned the ear out, gave me some drops and everything was fine.
However, that was just one bad experience compared to lots of good ones.
The Lonely Planet Guide To Thailand
This is probably the most popular guide book for tourists visiting Thailand. The guide was first published in 1982 and if we think back to how things were then its success is no surprise. Thailand in the early 80's didn't see too many farang tourists and this gave potential visitors a few problems. There wasn't much of a tourist infrastructure in the country so a bit of assistance would be very useful, especially as not many Thais back then would have been able to speak any English.
The other problem was lack of good, practical information. Thailand wasn't on the main tourist trail so it is unlikely your travel agent could tell you much. The books in the library and that stuffy school atlas in your bookcase could probably give you figures on rice production for 1962 but that was about it. Most importantly, that wonderful invention the Internet, that allows everyone on the planet to share information about anything and everything wasn't there.
So, along comes Lonely Planet offering practical information from people who had walked the walk and not just talked the talk. That yellow copy of 'SE Asia on a Shoestring' used to be referred to as the backpackers' bible and for good reason.
I still see people (backpackers mainly) wandering around Thai towns armed with their copy of Lonely Planet as if following what Lonely Planet says to the letter is the only way to explore Thailand. I have seen backpackers getting off buses and shoving aside Thais waiting to give them information even though the Thais understand the current situation regarding accommodation, etc, very well. I've been asked obscure questions by backpackers and discovered it is a result of Lonely Planet. "Where is the small minimart along this road"? because Lonely Planet says that if we find this minimart and talk a man named Suda he will be able to give us advice on where to find a bungalow that is very good and cheap.
Backpackers, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but times have changed. The tourist infrastructure in Thailand is highly developed and many Thais speak quite good English these days. Thailand is no longer a frontier destination. It may have been 40 years ago but not any longer.
I do have a copy of Lonely Planet's Thailand guide with me in Thailand. If I'm going somewhere I haven't been before I'll take a look to see what they say. I also use it to check their accommodation recommendations and make sure I avoid anywhere they recommend as I don't wish to stay in the same place as the typical Lonely Planet reader.
I started to have big doubts about Lonely Planet after living in Thailand for a while. It was only after I started to become more familiar with places that I realised their information was irrelevant most of the time, and that their recommendations seemed to be picked out at random.
Their accommodation tips are generally out of date and I don't like the sweeping statements they make about a place. 'Friendly' is a term they like but in Thailand you don't find many unfriendly people. And how do they know that the person they met didn't leave a week later to be replaced with an unfriendly person?
We all feel a degree of anxiety about going to a place we haven't been to before and having a guide book gives us a feeling of some comfort. This is why people buy them, and what keeps sales of Lonely Planet going.
On a trip to Nakhon Sri Thammarat I took a quick look at Lonely Planet and didn't see anything of much use at all. I didn't take it with me as I was trying to travel light and it is quite heavy. When I arrived at the train station I just started walking as I knew that pretty soon I would see places to stay. I knew about the historical temple there already so didn't need Lonely Planet to tell me about that. I found a decent place to stay and I found the temple without their help. I just wandered around and found a great little coffee shop, which later I saw featured in LP but I found it on my own. Paying more attention to what LP said wouldn't have made my trip any more enjoyable or interesting.
In Thailand it is not an essential item. As I said above, I actually use it to avoid places they recommend. I do not particularly want to be around typical LP readers and I think that in some cases establishments recommended by them get enough business that way as to be complacent.
Thailand for Tourists
Living In Thailand
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