Thailand - Only In Thailand
Only In Thailand
The expressions 'Only in Thailand' or 'This is Thailand' (TIT) are often used by foreigners when Thai logic (an oxymoron if ever there was one) gets the better of them.
Thai behaviour often seems strange to foreigners. I have discovered that sometimes there are very good reasons behind the behaviour, but many Thais have a severe reluctance to talk to foreigners and therefore they don't explain their actions.
On the other hand, certain behaviour is just strange, whichever way you look at it. There are various reasons. Quite a few Thais aren't the brightest of people and stupidity plays a part. There is also a widespread inability to anticipate future events - even five minutes into the future. The 'painting' anecdote below is one such example.
The prehistoric belief system plays a big part, along with a strong reluctance to accept anything from foreign countries. Ancient beliefs are passed on from generation to generation and they are still very powerful.
When you see white pickup trucks with signs on the back saying 'This vehicle is red', that is an example of the belief system.
When you read about monks digging up corpses and chopping the heads off in order to obtain winning lottery numbers, that is the belief system.
My wife hasn't yet resorted to decapitating cadavers, but I witness a lot of strange behaviour at home and she will then tell me something that begins with, "Thai people believe that ....."
Here are a few examples.
In a bid to bolster the mega-important tourist industry that brings so much money into the country, Thaksin allocated funds for a Singapore-style 'Night Safari' to be set up in his home town of Chiang Mai.
The new zoo needed animals of course and Kenya stepped up to donate some African wildlife. The idea was to strengthen ties between the two countries and it was a nice gesture.
Come the official opening, a special event was planned for VIP guests at Bt4,500 a head and on the menu was tiger, lion, elephant and giraffe, not to mention dog from Sakhon Nakhon province in Thailand.
Not only did this raise a few eyebrows among wildlife conservationists but it rather upset the Kenyans as well. With regular busts at Chatuchak market for the sale of endangered species, Thailand's reputation for poor wildlife conservation was not enhanced.
Here's a little conundrum for you to think about.
Imagine you come across some poor villagers from the poorest part of the country who, while toiling in the fields one day under a blazing Thai sun, discover some 100 million year-old dinosaur bones, eggs and fossilised dinosaur dung.
To palaeontologists the find is priceless and could offer valuable clues to what life was like on earth millions of years ago or help us to understand what really killed off the dinosaurs.
What do you do?
Here are some possible suggestions:
- Give your dog a treat.
- Grind up the bones, mix with alcohol and honey and drink the cocktail to improve your sex life (Sorry, that should have been 'Only in China').
- Inform the police who, in turn, can contact the appropriate authorities.
- Contact a local museum or your national Museum of Natural History.
- Offer to buy the priceless artefacts cheaply from the villagers and auction them on eBay, starting the bidding at US$1000.
Only in Thailand .....
(If you chose the last answer you are correct.)
Dogs With Degrees
The country's stray dogs are notorious, but I am constantly amazed at where they turn up and how much tolerance is shown towards them. They are not restricted to the streets and temples but wander around at will and enter whatever building takes their fancy. The Thais just walk around them as if they are normal residents.
An example is the university where I do some teaching. In the common areas where the students eat, relax, sleep and occasionally study it is not at all unusual to see a couple of stray dogs lying on the floor like well-loved pets. No one thinks it is at all strange or amusing - apart from me, of course.
My students told me of a particularly large stray hound who turned up regularly at one stage to attend lectures in one of the lecture halls. As usual, no one did anything to prevent the thing entering and once Fido was inside no one did anything to eject him.
It was rumoured that the dog was more intelligent than some students. Having taught quite a few Thai undergraduates this wouldn't surprise me.
Only in Thailand can you walk around a traditional fresh market looking at all manner of deep-fried insects, and the most revolting pig offal you will ever see in your life, and cause disgust by suggesting that rabbits being sold as pets are actually quite tasty.
My Mum used to serve up stewed rabbit when we were kids occasionally. The taste is a little gamey and there are a lot of small bones but it's good.
Some folks from the north-east region are partial to dog meat and field mice but eating rabbit, apparently, is frowned on in Thailand. Use of the word, "Aroi" is not recommended in the vicinity of cute, fluffy bunnies.
No, this probably isn't what you think. This is the 'Only in Thailand' page remember, not the 'Hazards' page. This isn't about buying a copied Rolex, pair of Levis or fake gems.
A Thai thief steals some gold jewellery and takes his spoils to sell at the local Chinese gold shop. Rather than the gold shop weighing the jewellery and giving him a nice wad of cash they tell him that actually the gold isn't real and that it is worthless.
What would a regular thief's reaction be? Would he just utter something profane, the Thai equivalent of 'blast' and hope for better luck from his next victim? Of course not. This is Thailand.
He returns to his victim, complains loudly to her about the counterfeit contraband she 'gave' him and knocks her around a bit for wasting his time.
This isn't just a one-off silly season crazy story that you might read in the tabloids. I am reliably informed that such episodes are a fairly regular occurrence in Thailand.
If you are robbed and the thief is about to take a piece of artificial jewellery explain the situation to him and give him the real stuff that is hidden under the floorboards otherwise he will be back next week in a foul mood.
Thais are terrible litterbugs and you often see rubbish being thrown on the street as people are walking along, driving in cars or riding on motorbikes. There is no guilt at all; it's perfectly normal behaviour as far as the locals are concerned.
A Canadian guy I was chatting to who lives in Thailand was travelling on the train with his Thai wife and adopted Thai daughters and wanted to set a good example so he collected up all their rubbish and put it into a plastic bag.
Unable to find anywhere to deposit the bag of rubbish - and being a responsible citizen - he found the train guard and gave the rubbish to him.
Slightly bemused at the farangs 'strange' behaviour, the guard accepted the bag, took a quick look at what was inside, thanked him ... and then tossed it out of the train into the surrounding countryside.
Of course, Thailand being Thailand, there is one rule for the Thais and another for foreigners. Tons of rubbish gets dumped in fields and streets every day of the year all over the country but if a foreign tourist accidentally drops a used bus ticket in one of Bangkok's 'Clean Zones', he will be hit with an instant Bt2,000 fine.
Psst, wanna buy an Embassy?
This is a classic 'Only in Thailand' story except that it happened outside of Thailand. Suseree Tavedikul, an ex-Thai ambassador to The Netherlands, decided to sell the Thai Embassy in a private sale.
He agreed to sell the Embassy compound to a businessman called J Bakker. This sounds unbelievable but it is true. A lawsuit ensued which resulted in a huge legal bill which Khun Suseree was eventually presented with.
So, why on earth did he think he had the right to sell the building in which he worked - and get away with it? The answer, I believe, lies in Thai culture. People in positions of power are expected to use that power to their own advantage. It's one of those laws of nature in Thailand. It is not only condoned, it is actually encouraged.
This is the underlying reason why there is so much corruption in Thailand; why it shows no sign of going away and why politicians protest they have done nothing wrong when the evidence against them clearly shows they have.
The problem when you have this kind of belief system is where do you draw the line? If politicians and other people in power are actually encouraged and expected to use that power to their own good, what are the limits?
None of us are totally honest in life but because we understand what is right and wrong we don't generally overstep the mark. There probably aren't too many people who haven't taken a little stationery from the office stationery cupboard but that's where we stop.
Unfortunately, the more power people have in an organisation - or a society - the more they think they are entitled to take. We saw it in the corporate world a few years ago with the likes of Enron and Worldcom.
This kind of thing doesn't just happen in Thailand but because of certain aspects of Thai culture it happens a lot more than it might in other countries.
Many activities are unregulated in Thailand. Take the foot massage industry for instance - there are hundreds of massage shops in tourist areas. At most places new employees get no proper training, they just watch what other people do for a few days and then start copying their more experienced colleagues. To improve the situation, someone in government decided that all massage shops should be regulated and, to do this, employers needed to send all their employees on proper training courses. This all sounds perfectly reasonable so far. So what happened next?
The boss of a shop I know (who had never touched a foot in her life) suddenly started doing foot massages and had a lot of questions for her staff. It turns out she was doing a proper course and by completing the course her shop would get a certificate to say it is an officially regulated establishment. Once she got the certificate she never touched another foot. The actual work continued to be carried out by unqualified people but everyone was happy because the shop had a nice certificate on the wall.
Here's another one.
A girl I know was looking quite stressed. Turns out she was about to go to Bangkok to sit an examination to test her knowledge of Thai herbs to get a license to sell them. Again, everything sounds perfectly reasonable so far. Some herbs are as strong as drugs and people should understand their effects on the body before selling them.
So, was she planning to go into the Thai herb business, then? Er, not quite. There are many folks around apparently who sell Thai herbs but are not licensed to do so. If she gets a license she can affiliate herself to their businesses for an ongoing monthly fee - Bt5,000 I believe.
While selling under her name (and displaying her certificate) they can then trade quite legitimately without fear of prosecution and she gets paid for doing nothing. Everyone's happy. This is very Thai. Depending on your point of view you can say the Thais are very pragmatic, they look at obstacles and take the most direct approach to overcome them, or you can say it is a complete farce.
On the surface everything looks great - very important for saving face. The country can boast of having strict regulations about who can provide certain services or who can sell certain items, and establishments selling those items or offering those services have a nice certificate which is proof they have complied with the regulations.
The reality is completely different though and no one I speak to in Thailand can see anything wrong with this approach, not even educated Thais. They honestly can't understand why I laugh.
Yesterday morning a girl who works for me came into my office holding a mobile phone and asked if I knew who it belonged to. I said I didn't and to leave it with me so I could try to find out. A little later she told me she had now remembered and it was in fact hers. She had bought a new one the day before and had forgotten what her old one looked like.
(Submitted by a reader from Pattaya).
Sometimes I am so grateful for things that happen 'Only in Thailand'. It's an insane country most of the time but on occasions I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
While visiting Ayuthaya, I had done a walking tour of the temples in the morning and found a great place to eat lunch. The food was good and I ate my lunch sitting on the floor resting on one of those triangular cushions that are popular in Thailand.
At the end of the meal I reclined on the cushion with an aching back and shoulders from carrying a camera bag that was a little too heavy. At that moment a shoulder massage would have been perfect so, being a cheeky type at times, I called the waitress over and asked her to massage my shoulders.
Can you imagine the response such a request would get in the West? I can and it would probably be a two-word answer. Not in Thailand though.
The girl said she couldn't but it so happened, she told me, that another one of the waitresses was a masseuse. The first girl called the other girl over, we negotiated a quick deal and she got to work. I was so desperate for some massage therapy she could have asked for whatever she wanted but we agreed on Bt100.
I lay back and for about 30 minutes she performed miracles with her hands. I left the restaurant with a satisfied stomach and a revigorated body ready to continue my temple sightseeing. What a country.
Before agreeing to take a hotel room in Kanchanaburi I wanted to take a look first. The room was OK but there were ashtrays and a smell of nicotine. I asked the bellboy if there were non-smoking rooms. "Certainly," he replied. As that was the case I agreed to take a room.
We strolled down to reception so I could check in and I told the receptionist I wanted one of the non-smoking rooms. From the expression on her face I could tell that they didn't have any non-smoking rooms. Thais will never tell you something that you don't want to hear and therefore they never admit that they don't have something or they don't know something. This looks bad (they think) so they always say yes.
The receptionist and the bellboy babbled away in Thai and continued to look confused. I interrupted, telling her that I didn't smoke. A look of recognition suddenly appeared on her face as if she has suddenly seen the light.
I didn't get the non-smoking room I was told about because there weren't any, but the receptionist told me it was perfectly acceptable for me not to smoke in the room.
I have a German friend who speaks fluent Thai and English and he was telling me that one day he was talking to a Thai man. The man asked how long farangs go to school for and my friend told him 11 years. His reply came back, "Oh, farangs must be really stupid, Thais only have to go to school for two years."
(Submitted by a reader from Pattaya).
I wanted to buy a bed. I saw one that I liked but it was 6 foot and I wanted a 5 foot one. I asked the seller, "Do you have a bed like that, but I want it in 5 foot?" He replied that this one is 5 foot. "No it isn't," I said. He continued to insist it was but I could see just by looking at it that it was 6 foot and told him to fetch a tape measure.
This he did and laid it across the bed. It was indeed 6 foot. He scratched his head, thought a moment and tried again, it was still six foot. He turned away from the bed for a minute then turned back and tried it again, and yes it was still six foot but the story gets better.
He walked off and got another tape measure to try again. Yet again it was still six foot and at that he finally had to admit defeat and sent someone off to his warehouse to look for a 5 foot version. Eventually all was resolved and I purchased my 5 foot bed but the entertainment came free.
(Submitted by a reader from Pattaya).
I know an Englishman here who owns a hotel. He had a problem with a wobbling fan and asked his resident Thai 'engineer' to fix it. The 'engineer' looked at it and hadn't a clue what to do, so my friend suggested trying to balance it by glueing on Bt1 coins. He did just that, he glued a Bt1 coin to each blade!
Being quite a large hotel there are always lamps blowing somewhere. The owner would tell the same 'engineer' that a light needs replacing in a certain room. The 'engineer' would go and remove a lamp from somewhere else and simply swap it. It took my friend a little while to work this one out as for a while it seemed there were always several lights out throughout the hotel.
(Submitted by a reader from Pattaya).
In my previous building I built an office workshop area. I sent two of my Thai staff to paint the office floor. I told them to paint the floor and work towards the exit door. That is in any case common sense, it shouldn't be necessary to tell even a Thai that.
One hour passed, then two hours, then three hours. I was thinking, "Where are they, they should be finished by now." So I went to check. I opened the door and burst out laughing, they were at the other side of the floor waiting for the paint to dry!
(Submitted by a reader from Pattaya).
I was in a deep sleep in the early hours of the morning, only to be woken by the sound of my phone ringing. Having been woken up, a voice on the other end asks in Thai if I am sleeping. "No, not any longer." Next I am asked why I'm not sleeping. I refused to answer this question.
What I have described was by no means an isolated incident. This kind of thing has happened several times, and I have heard similar stories from other foreigners 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. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand