Thailand - Random Page 2
This is something else that is very different in Thailand compared to my native England. There are large conglomerates in the country such as Italian-Thai which carry out work on huge mega-projects. It goes without saying that Thai politicians and their friends have large stakes in these companies and do rather nicely when big contracts are handed out. In addition, there are some specialist companies that perform specific types of work.
Construction worker's camp
However, most general building is done by bands of roving construction workers from Isaan and other poor parts of the country. They arrive with lots of corrugated iron and the first thing they do is set up a camp on the building site where they will live. These camps are basic, to say the least, but none of the workers I've spoken to seem bothered.
The workers consist of entire family groups and it is common to see a lot of children running around. There are also the usual stray dogs, of course, and plenty of chickens which cluck around or are kept in large cages on the ground and killed for food when required.
Thai women involved in construction work incredibly hard
The women are divided into those that support the workers and look after the children and those that work alongside the men. The ones involved in the actual construction work really work hard and, as I have said elsewhere, doing this type of work outdoors in the full heat of the Thai hot season is no holiday. Sometimes, after working all day, they work well into the night under floodlights. This is partly to get the job finished on time and partly because it is cooler then.
Watching them work is interesting. When they start a job it looks a real mess with straggly bits of wood holding everything in place. However, the end result is always very good and on quite a few occasions the workmanship has really impressed me.
Their pay for doing such hard work and living in such basic conditions is disgraceful. Unskilled labourers might get Bt150 a day and skilled ones Bt250 a day. This is one of the reasons why I get so angry in places like Phuket where there is so much greed and tuk-tuk drivers charge a minimum Bt100 fare.
For starters I don't like getting ripped off but it also makes me bitter that they get money so easily when other Thais have to do many hours of back-breaking work to earn the same amount. They get away with it only because stupid farangs let them get away with it and this in turn makes me angry at the ignorant tourists.
I normally make a point of stopping and talking to Thai construction workers if I have time. You probably won't find a harder-working, more honest group of people in the country and talking to them restores my faith in the Thais after reading about the latest political corruption scandal.
For some time now there has been a construction gang living next door to my apartment building. I walk past every day and they all know me now. I have become a bit of a celebrity with the kids there who run over and huddle round when they see me.
There is always lots of construction going on in tourist areas. If you are a tourist in Thailand, stop and have a chat if you see some construction workers. They are always friendly and because they are near the bottom of the pecking order in Thai society they get overlooked despite being an important part of the engine which drives the Thai economy.
Farangs, whether they deserve it or not (and most don't), are given quite an elevated social position in Thailand because they have (or are perceived to have) money. A few words, a friendly smile and even a photograph - if they are willing to be photographed - goes a long way to break down the silly social barrier and is normally very much appreciated.
Dates and Times
It is a well known fact that Thais deliberately do things in a weird way just to confuse foreigners. And it works.
Thailand is a Buddhist country so the system of dates does not adhere to an event in the Christian calendar. The Thai calendar started 543 years before the Christian one so they are 543 years ahead. The Western year 2000 was the Thai year 2543. Western dates are recognised but any official documentation normally only shows the Thai date. It's a handy thing to know if trying to confirm the age of your bar girl from her identity card.
The time is weird too and is based (loosely) around a six-hour system. I say loosely because every Thai I speak to gives me a slightly different version. 1am until 5am is expressed one way, 6am until 11am another, 1pm until 6pm is different again, and 7pm until 11pm is different yet again. There are separate expressions for midnight and noon that are totally unrelated to other times (but then again this applies to the West too as I've used those expressions in this sentence). Thais do understand the 24 hour clock, which is less confusing, but it is not commonly used.
Thailand is 7 hours ahead of GMT and does not observe Daylight Saving Time (DST). Being near to the equator the hours of daylight change very little throughout the year so DST isn't necessary. Even though Thailand is on basically the same longitude as Malaysia and Singapore it is an hour behind. Those two countries are 8 hours ahead of GMT. When you cross the border from Malaysia to Thailand you gain an hour.
Neighbouring Cambodia and Laos share the same time zone with Thailand (GMT +7) but Myanmar is slightly different being 6:30 hours ahead of GMT.
Holidays and festivals are normally based on the lunar year which means they fall on different Gregorian dates each year. Confusing, eh? Welcome to Thailand.
Otherwise known as pyramid selling, I have some fairly strong views about this type of business model. Pyramid schemes are a well known scam and are illegal in most countries. Direct marketing is basically a pyramid scheme but with a product involved which then makes it legal.
Direct marketing is huge in Thailand with companies like Amway doing a huge amount of business. The sales line for new recruits is always about how much money they can make but the money comes from signing up more recruits rather than selling products.
They are always told about individuals who have made a fortune through direct marketing and these individuals are wheeled into recruiting seminars where they are treated like gods. At a hotel I stayed in one time in Nakhon Sri Thammarat there was a big direct marketing seminar going on with hundreds of people involved.
The product was Korean ginseng. It so happened that a good friend of mine had been caught up in the same scheme and I was getting quite worried about her because she apparently believed the lies she was being told.
The truth of the matter is that only a very few people right at the top of the pyramid make any money. The poor suckers down the bottom spend a fortune on shoddy products and marketing material (which they have to pay for) and sell a few things to their friends and families who feel sorry for them.
I was surprised at how much direct selling goes on in Thailand but there are reasons. Firstly, Thais like doing business by word of mouth through people they know. If a friend is selling something they are more inclined to buy.
Secondly, Thais generally are not as sceptical and cynical as people like me. As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as a get-rich-quick scheme. My first reaction is that of complete scepticism and to change my mind takes a lot of convincing.
The Thais on the other hand are not that cynical. They trust other people more and give others the benefit of the doubt. In some ways it is nice because they come across as much nicer, friendlier people when you first meet whereas I am the opposite. I am wary of strangers until I have proof they are honest.
The downside is that many are quite naive and are likely to get taken in by crooks. Evidence of that is seen every time there is a Thai election.
At times, negotiating your way around the streets of Thailand is difficult even for the able-bodied but it must present constant difficulties for those with physical disabilities. I have never seen anyone using a wheelchair to get around in Hat Yai. (The other thing I have never seen is a mother pushing a pram.)
Wheelchair user in Thailand
Wheelchair user in Thailand
Anyone with access difficulties couldn't live in the building where I live as there is no lift and no rooms on the ground floor. In Hat Yai there is barely five yards of unbroken, level pavement anywhere. There are large, open storm drains everywhere and lots of steps to negotiate. Even where it would be possible to use a wheelchair you will find parked motorbikes, cars, food stalls, rubbish, building material and whatever else blocking the way.
Crossing the street for a disabled person would be almost impossible. I am slowing down a bit with age but still fairly nimble, yet getting across certain roads is always an ordeal. Drivers turn on red lights as a matter of course with no consideration for pedestrians whatsoever.
The poor guy on crutches in the photo could negotiate steps and avoid holes but his path was blocked by the red motorcycle. It was moved by the owner just before I took the photo so he could get through. It seems incredibly inconsiderate but people think nothing of completely blocking the pavement.
I expect that big hotels in Bangkok, especially if they are part of a Western hotel chain, cater sufficiently for the disabled but that doesn't help them outside of the hotel. Public transport also doesn't cater for wheelchairs.
Discounts And Promotions
Genuine discounts and promotions are very rare in Thailand. Occasionally I've bought CDs at great prices but it is unusual. Everything has a set price and that price will not normally be reduced even if the goods aren't moving, the bottom has fallen out of the market, or if there has been a major economic crisis.
The best example I can think of is the high-rise apartment building near to me which was built in 1997 just before the Asian financial crisis. Thailand's economy had been going crazy for years and prices for everything were over-inflated. Everyone was trying to jump on the gravy train by investing in property and business and the banks made loans very easy.
Prices for the apartments were high to reflect the overheated market but just as they were about to go on sale the economy crashed. The Baht was devalued by about 40%, many Thais were bankrupted and people were selling their possessions in car-boot sales to try to raise some money.
Despite all this, the apartment prices remained the same. Consequently they remained unsold and as I write - nine years later - many are still unsold. It's a nice building but now has a ghost-like quality. Just one lift is used and plans to open shops and a laundry, etc., were abandoned. It seems a bit crazy but Thais will not discount. If anything, they will raise prices if business is bad to make up for the shortfall.
The shops in tourist areas of Thailand that advertise 30% to 70% discounts are doing no such thing. They have constant, year-round 'sales' for goods that have never been sold at the higher price. This is due to a complete lack of any consumer laws and, to be blunt, lies.
In the UK, if goods are advertised at a sale price they must have been on sale at a higher price for a certain period of time. This is not the case in Thailand. It doesn't matter if something is advertised with a 70% or a 99% discount, it was never on sale at the higher price.
The shops are also crafty. I didn't fully realise this until I spent a fair amount of time looking around for a notebook PC for my girlfriend. I became familiar with prices of certain models and also familiar with Thai sales techniques.
Most places showed prices without VAT included so it was necessary to add on 7% to the price. One place I found was advertising a 'special deal' where no VAT was payable but their price was higher than the other place - by about 7%. All they had done was add on the VAT price but advertise the product with a higher base price and claim they weren't charging for VAT.
Another place had a 'special promotion' where they included a 'free' printer but all they had actually done was raise the base price by the cost of the printer. None of these 'discounts', 'deals' or promotions were genuine; they were just sales tricks.
If you do try to negotiate a genuine discount it will be laughably small or you will just meet a dead end in the negotiations. I have tried to haggle for discounts and after a lot of negotiating been offered Bt10 or Bt20 on something that costs several hundred. Big deal.
One of my favourites was the shirt that cost Bt450 and was offered with a 10% artificial discount which wasn't really a discount; they had just increased the real price and then reduced it again in the form of a 'discount'.
This actually happened to me and I'm not making it up. They told me it was Bt450 but with the 10% discount it would only cost Bt405. I said, "OK, I'll give you Bt400." There was a flat refusal. Just for a bit of a laugh I tried pushing it to see how far I could get.
What happens though, if you put Thais in a position where they feel uncomfortable or they just don't know what to do, they stop all communication. This is what happened. The shop assistants completely stopped talking to me and wouldn't even look at me. The more I tried to get them to agree a flat Bt400 the more they just stared into space doing their best to ignore eye contact with the awkward farang. And all for the sake of Bt5.
They were happy to give me the standard 'artificial' discount but when I tried to negotiate a real discount of just Bt5 I got nowhere. They were quite happy apparently for me to walk out of the shop and to lose the sale altogether rather than to give me a Bt5 discount.
The bottom line is that prices are generally cheap in Thailand so you actually get good deals anyway. If you buy something and you consider you paid a good price then you should feel happy because you got a deal. I just wish they would stop the silly pretence of making out they are offering special deals when they are doing no such thing.
Driving In Thailand
Driving while not wearing a seat belt is against the law in Thailand. Drivers caught breaking this law are subject to a Bt1,000 fine but this driver is unlikely to fall fowl of the law (sorry, I couldn't resist).
Driving isn't at all pleasant in Thailand and according to some statistics Thailand has the second highest road fatality rate in the world (number one in the world for motorbike accidents).
Another way of looking at the road death statistics is more interesting (the following stats are from the Internet, but I can't remember the source). This is the length of road over which you can expect to see one road fatality annually is approximately:
Thailand: 5.2 km
China: 7.2 km (new WHO statistics)
South Korea: 8.3 km
Colombia: 12.3 km
China: 17.3 km (official government statistics)
Russia: 17.5 km
Japan: 97.9 km
UK: 106.9 km
USA: 151.70 km
Why are Thais such incompetent, dangerous drivers?
There are many reasons, most of which are cultural. There is no concept of following traffic laws and Thais simply project their normal cultural behaviour on to the roads.
For example, Thais do not give way to other vehicles when they are in a situation in which they should give way. This is because they have been brought up in an unjust, inequitable society in which there is no sense of fairness.
In such a society, big people (poo yai) get preference over people who are considered inferior. Thais don't like this, but in normal life there isn't much they can do. What they really want is to have status, power and influence so that they can get treated preferentially instead.
Everything changes on the roads in Thailand. By having a big vehicle (normally an oversized pickup truck) and driving in an aggressive manner, Thais at the bottom end of the social hierarchy find they can get the status, power and influence that they so desire. The way they achieve this is very unpleasant, but they don't care.
Driver education is extremely poor and arrogant Thais seem to think they know it all anyway.
Tailgating at high speed is a big problem and the cause of many accidents in Thailand. When I learned how to drive in the UK, understanding safe braking distances was very important. Thais don't understand this.
When I talked to my Thai wife about the subject, she was under the impression that regardless of your speed you are driving at, you should leave a distance of 5 meters between vehicles. Unbelievable.
When I went to get my driving licence extended in Thailand I had to watch a road safety video and there was a big section about safe braking distances. When I looked around the room it was obvious why Thais don't understand this.
No one in the room, apart from me, was watching the video. They were sleeping, talking or playing on their mobile phones. This is the general attitude to road safety. Whatever they are told they ignore and do things their own way. Not wearing seatbelts, not wearing crash helmets, speaking on mobile phones while driving, and driving along the wrong side of the road are all illegal activities in Thailand, but they are all very common.
Not only laws not followed, but they aren't enforced either. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Thai police have basically the same attitudes as Thai drivers and don't like to be punitive.
Secondly, the situation now is so out of control that even if the Thai police had the will to enforce laws it would be virtually impossible.
One of the worst places I have driven regarding dangerous, speeding drivers is Phuket. I was therefore very pleased when I read that speed cameras were being installed in Phuket.
Some time later I read that the cameras have caught only a handful of drivers, and that only a small percentage of those caught had actually paid their fines. What's going on?
I then saw a video in which a Phuket traffic cop was interviewed. He said that if tickets were issued to everyone breaking the speed limit (80 kph), every single driver would get a ticket. That would have been impractical, so he had to artificially raise the speed limit and the only ticket he issued was to a driver driving at 129 kmh.
I've written more about the subject here: Nice People, Ugly Drivers
International Driving Permits (IDPs) are not a permanent license but a permit that only lasts for three months. They are available through motoring organisations in the UK such as the AA or RAC, and the countries in which you wish to drive need to be specified.
That is fine for someone visiting Thailand for a short time who wants to drive but it wasn't suitable for me living in the country. There seemed to be only one solution and that was to acquire a Thai driving license.
Unless you are fluent in Thai, I would recommend going to the Department of TRansportation with a Thai friend.
On the first visit I was told what was required. Copies of my passport and work permit, two small photos, a copy of my UK driving license with a translation into Thai from an authorised translator, and a letter from the Department of Immigration stating that I lived in Thailand.
They also told me that my landlord needed to supply some kind of Residency Registration form. However, the people where I stay knew nothing of this and no one asked again. It took a while but Immigration prepared a letter for me and there was no charge.
Having got everything together I returned to the Department of Transportation (with my Thai friend). We presented my paperwork only to be told there was a form to fill in - no problem - but also that I needed to do some tests and I couldn't do them now so I would have to return again.
We returned for a third time, having completed the form, ready for me to do the tests. At first they didn't seem to want to help me but my friend pleaded and they agreed. I was led to a room containing the test equipment. Everything was explained - in Thai.
The first test was to measure my reaction time. Under the desk were two pedals. Pushing the accelerator lit a green light and when it turned red I had to hit the brake. My reaction time was measured and was OK apparently.
The second test was a standard colour-blindness test consisting of a large disc with lots of red, green and yellow blobs. As the woman pointed at different blobs I had to tell her what colour they were.
The third test was quite interesting. About four meters in front of me was a large wooden box with a small window at the front. Inside were two posts. The one on the right was stationary and the one on the left traversed backwards and forwards. I could control the front to back position of the left post by using two buttons.
The idea is to line up the two posts so they are side-by-side. It's basically to test spatial awareness and it needs your two eyes and one brain to be working properly in order to judge space in three dimensions.
Nothing was said but I must have passed the tests. The next step was to go to lots of different windows in a particular sequence to finish the process. At one window I had to pay my fee which was only Bt105. After waiting for about 30 minutes my new Thai license arrived.
A Thai driving licence is really useful to have in Thailand.
Thai driving licence
My first licence lasted for one year. Subsequent extensions last for five years. Whenever you extend your licence it is necessary to watch a road safety video and to do the tests again. When I renewed my licence in 2016 the cost was Bt655.
Electricity and Wiring
The AC mains supply in Thailand is rated at around 220V and 50Hz (cycles/second). Appliances from countries that use a similar power supply should work OK. Appliances from North America and elsewhere that run at 110V and 60Hz will need to use some kind of a converter.
Power sockets in Thailand
The electrical sockets have 'D' shaped holes that accept round or flat pins in the live and neutral connections. The earth connection is a round pin but many appliances are not earthed, and thus many sockets do not have an earth connection.
The two photos here show the different types of plugs and sockets available in Thailand.
Two-pin sockets lacking an earth connection can cause problems. Firstly, if the plug on your appliance has an earth pin, it won't physically fit. Secondly, if you use an adapter to connect to a two-pin socket, your appliance won't be grounded.
I have used a laptop this way and the result was a lot of small, but uncomfortable, electric shocks through the keyboard.
Power plugs in Thailand
Of course, with other appliances that aren't grounded - for example, hot water showers - the consequences could be a lot worse. Thai electricians are fully aware of this and as long as they are competent they will install a ground connection.
The house that I moved into had a serious lack of electrical outlets and so I paid an electrician to install more. I insisted they were all three-pin earthed outlets. I think he would have done it this way anyway, but I wanted to make sure.
Be aware that many extension cords sold may have three-pin sockets, but the plug only has two pins. You can therefore physically connect three-pin appliances with these cords but they won't be earthed.
Since my first visits to Thailand, the electricity supply seems to have become more stable. There are occasional power cuts - especially during fierce electrical storms - but generally I have very few problems.
If you use a laptop computer that has a working battery, you already have a built-in Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS). This can be very useful in areas that suffer from power cuts.
If you use a regular computer you may wish to consider buying an external UPS device. These are widely available in Thailand and not too expensive.
When arriving in Thailand from Singapore (as I've done many times) there are two things I tend to notice about Thailand straight away. The first thing is that little building maintenance such as external painting is carried out. New buildings look fine when they are first built, but once the paint goes bad very few places are repainted. The other thing I notice is the amount of wires everywhere.
Thai Health and Safety
Concealing wires and cables beneath the ground is a fairly new practice in Thailand. Normally, everything is strung between poles on the street. If more electricity cables are required, extra supports are added to the existing poles and the cables hung on them. As the broadband Internet network is slowly growing the cables for this just get added to the poles.
Some places are a complete mess and if one pole was to fall down for any reason it would create chaos. Putting everything back to how it was would be a nightmare task.
The way Thais work on live cables here is quite scary and would terrify people doing similar work in the developed world.
Larger cities around Thailand have started programmes to bury ugly electricity cables underground. This was done in central Hat Yai in 2007 and the work made a huge improvement. It's just a shame that the old methods still prevail outside of the city centre.
Alien registration, banking, children's day ...
Fake goods and piracy to money ...
Movie posters, pickup trucks, stray dogs ...
Tailors, toilets and bathrooms, work permits ...
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