Thailand - Hazards Page 2
Political Unrest and Insurgency In The South
Problems in southern Thailand aren't new. The provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani were once a semi-autonomous state. The people living there are mainly Muslim and have closer ties with nearby Muslim Malaysia than they do Thailand. There are more mosques than Buddhist temples in the region and many people speak the Yawi dialect instead of Thai.
Historically, the southern border has gone up and down during periods when this area was used as a pawn in political games of chess.
The recent problems flared up again in January 2004. An incident on 28th April 2004 escalated the violence and another incident on 25th October 2004 resulted in this conflict being a concern for everyone in Thailand, not just those in the affected provinces.
Half-way through 2009, things seem to have calmed down a little and I am actually contemplating visiting the region for the first time.
Many Thai towns seem almost identical and I think it would be interesting to experience the deep south where, culturally, it is quite different.
Thailand Islamic Insurgency - link to the GlobalSecurity.org web site
One of the Khmer Rouge's legacies on the Thai/Cambodian border is unexploded landmines which present a significant danger once you go off the beaten path in affected areas. Bandits also operate in the area.
As recently as April 2005 the northern army region deployed heavy weapons on the Burma border near Mae Hong San following attacks by Shan rebels. (Source The Nation 19th April 2005).
I have visited areas of Thailand which border Laos, Burma and Malaysia and not seen the slightest hint of any problems but it is advisable to be careful. Another problem with borders is that they close occasionally, as happened at Mae Sai for a short time after the September 2006 coup.
Conning And Cheating
A visitor to this site who lives in Thailand told me he was given some advice by a long-term expat when he first arrived in the country and this advice had proven to be very true. One thing he was told was that, "Conning and cheating in Thailand are skills that are applauded, not denigrated."
I have heard exactly the same thing from other sources. The basic message is that if a Thai can cheat and get away with it, it is something to be proud of and not ashamed of. This isn't just in Thailand either. It is not unusual to hear about Thais abroad who are involved in scams.
Six Thais were arrested at a casino in the Cambodian town of Poipet near the Thai border in January 2005 after using an electronic device to cheat while they were gambling. In April 2005 several Thais living in Los Angeles were involved in a car theft ring. They had good credit records and were paid US$1,000 to lease very expensive cars. The cars were then fitted with GPS tracking systems and stolen later by the gang they were working for to be sold on. The list goes on.
These are the big scams but at a lower level it is just the same. Ignoring red traffic lights is OK if you can get away with it, as is cheating in school exams.
It pains me to point out things like this about an entire nation of people but it is an unfortunate fact that there are many dishonest Thais. By not pointing out such facts visitors will continue to get cheated so I feel obliged to tell the truth and not paint a rosy picture of Thailand like the glossy guidebooks do.
The problem in Thailand for visitors (and Thais themselves) is that there is very little distinction between what is an acceptable con and what isn't. Everyone would probably agree that it is wrong for a tuk-tuk driver to offer cheap sightseeing tours and coerce people into gem shops to be conned.
They would probably also agree it is wrong to cheat in casinos. But what about a language school which says it has innovative teaching methodologies and then just drags any old teacher in off the street to teach? Isn't that a con as well? Because of the notion of face in Thailand it is perfectly acceptable to dress something up to make it look good but this pleasant image bears no resemblance to the reality.
The Thais are lovely people in general but be very careful who you put your trust in and take nothing at face value. This all sounds terrible, saying Thailand is a country full of cheats. Why is it then that foreigners love the place so much and why is it that so many Thais seem such nice people?
It's because they are basically good people individually, and they are not inherently dishonest, but when you consider certain facts it is actually quite predictable. Thai society puts a lot of emphasis on the concept of face so it is important for them to wear nice clothes and gold and ride around on new motorbikes or in new cars.
The majority of the population earn barely enough to survive though and they have no chance in life to make a lot of money honestly. Despite this they are subject to a continual media onslaught showing rich people living fabulous lives. Just to make them feel even less worthy, in every commercial break they are told that to be happy in life it is necessary to have white skin as well as lots of money.
They are then made to believe that all foreigners are fabulously wealthy so trying to get a share of that money is quite acceptable. The ironic thing is that of all the world's religions and philosophies, Buddhism probably has the best analysis of this cycle of unhappiness and how to deal with it.
Thais don't need to explore the religions and philosophies of the world to understand that grasping and craving leads to suffering and cessation of that grasping will stop the suffering. It's all there, if only they would pay attention to the real meaning of their own religion and shun the gods of consumerism.
In tourist areas particularly there are Thais who 'earn' a living by cheating foreigners. Many of the scams are well known and the gem scam, for instance, has been running for so many years that I have no sympathy for anyone who loses money this way. If you're stupid enough to lose money from such an old trick you deserve to lose your money. Remember, there's an old saying that if something sounds too good to be true it usually is.
For those who don't know, the gem scam involves being offered gems at a very cheap price. The victim is told the real value is far higher than the gems are on offer for. They are normally also told of a bogus contact in their home country who they can contact easily once they get home for assistance. All they have to do is buy the gems 'cheap', take them home and sell them for a huge profit. Of course, the gems are actually worth nothing or next to nothing.
Some tricksters can appear to be really nice people but that's the art of it. They are called 'con-artists' because they gain your confidence. On my very first trip to Thailand a friend and I got conned by two young lads in Bangkok who said they were English students and offered to show us around in return that they could practice their English with us. It sounded like a good deal and started off as a nice day until they got us into a very uncomfortable situation with a river boat driver who claimed that we had chartered the boat for our personal usage. At the end of the boat trip he stopped 10 feet from the bank and wouldn't let us off until we had paid an extortionate amount of money. We realised after the event that the two lads had colluded with him to orchestrate the situation.
This is just one example of a scam but Thai con artists are very inventive and there are numerous methods they employ to get money from tourists. Don't get defensive with everyone who tries to strike up a conversation but treat over-friendly people who approach you on the street making some kind of an offer with a lot of suspicion. Thais are actually very shy and whenever I meet anyone behaving this way I immediately smell a rat because I know it isn't normal Thai behaviour. However, I've had the benefit of being in Thailand for a long time.
Now that the gem scam is so well known it would appear that one of the favourite scams these days involves cheap tailoring. Of the various activities farangs participate in when they visit Thailand for a vacation, a popular one is to buy made-to-measure clothes.
The shops are normally run by Indians and they take out adverts in in-flight magazines these days to start getting at tourists even before they arrive in Thailand. The adverts typically offer packages, such as two suits, two shirts, two silk ties, two leather belts and a safari suit. This will be for a fixed price, normally expressed in US dollars.
(One advert I saw said that the price included materials and stitching. Wow. I wonder if they'd give me a price on two suits, etc. without any materials or stitching?).
As far as I am concerned, nothing irritates me more in tourist areas than constantly being approached by Indian tailors. But more than the annoyance factor, a lot are tricksters apparently. The ploy they use is to deliver clothes just before visitors are about to depart and there is no time to take any corrective action for faults or shoddy workmanship.
Be careful. I'm sure it is possible to get real bargains but it's also possible to waste money on rubbish and the salesmen are extremely persistent. They will invariably offer to collect guests from their hotels, they are very good at convincing tourists to buy something and they won't take no for an answer.
One of the favourite ways to get unsuspecting tourists into scam situations is through tuk-tuk drivers. Tuk-tuk drivers approach tourists in the street offering a one hour sightseeing tour for Bt20 or something. It seems like a great deal but the ridiculously cheap price is of course too good to be true.
At some stage of the 'tour' you will be taken to a gem or tailor shop. The people there will seem very friendly and nice of course. They'll give you a drink, ask some polite questions but all the time they are just trying to soften you up for the hard sell. These situations can get very uncomfortable and be difficult to get out of. For taking you there the shop owner will give the tuk-tuk driver a commission of course.
Sometimes I have to admire the ingenuity of Thai scamsters. As a potential scam whoever would have thought of trying to sell moisture-absorbent pellets as uranium? Fake Rolex watches, Levi jeans and gems, yes, but fake nuclear materials? It happened in Nakhon Pathom in early May 2005 when seven Thai men were arrested. Amazing but true.
Bangkok tuk-tuk Drivers
I don't know how many tuk-tuk drivers there are in Bangkok and I feel bad about saying that every one of them is a con artist but I suggest that you treat all Bangkok tuk-tuk drivers with a degree of suspicion. Elsewhere in the country tuk-tuk drivers perform a great service providing transport where there are no other transport options for just a few Baht. They work long hours for little pay and people would be lost without them.
I have found the situation in Bangkok to be very different. As an actual means of transport they are virtually redundant because they are noisier, less comfortable, less healthy, slower and more expensive than metered taxis. In addition, there are now the options of taking the BTS or subway.
Whenever I have tried to negotiate a fare with a Bangkok tuk-tuk driver he has always tried to rip me off so I've ended up getting a taxi. If they would actually stop trying to rip off tourists and offer fares that are cheaper than taxis they might get some business. The truth of the matter though is that with so many gullible tourists around they are not interested in honest work.
The other thing I don't like about Bangkok tuk-tuk drivers is that so many have tried to involve me in scams. Who are the people who hang around the Khao Sarn Road and other tourist spots, such as Jim Thompson's house, trying to lure tourists into scam situations with promises of cheap sightseeing tours? It is always tuk-tuk drivers.
After being persistently hassled by tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok to go on one-hour sightseeing tours for Bt20 - which are obviously scams - I took one of them to task. He was actually very direct and told me that the deal involved visiting two Indian tailor shops. (In my opinion, the only people in Bangkok that register lower on the slimeball scale than tuk-tuk drivers are Indian tailors.)
By delivering tourists to these places he would be given five litre fuel coupons so that's his incentive. You could look at this as a cheap way of doing some sightseeing by just not buying anything at the tailor shops.
However, you can guarantee that the Indian tailors - having paid a tuk-tuk driver to get you there in the first place - are not going to allow you to walk away easily without buying something first. Personally I feel uncomfortable in these high pressure sales situations and don't think they are worth getting into just to save a few Baht but you may feel differently.
A tuk-tuk ride is fine for first-time visitors and I would urge Thailand virgins to take a short ride just for the experience but beyond that first ride I honestly wouldn't bother and I would actually suggest steering well clear of them.
Tuk-tuk Drivers In General
My patience is wearing pretty thin with these guys. Where I live in Songkhla province they have decided to raise the standard fare around town from Bt10 to Bt15. OK, it's not a lot - Bt5, but it is a rise of 50%. Their justification is that oil prices have gone up thus raising the price of petrol and diesel.
They operate in a cartel system so there is no competition. The tuk-tuk mafia in Phuket is well known but the drivers do the same in other places. All the drivers raise their prices together and give passengers no option but to pay the increased fare. When I first encountered the increased fare it wasn't a long way home so I told the guy I would walk. He shouted, "Kee niaow," as he drove off. It's the Thai for 'stingy'. I just laughed.
A fare increase to offset rising fuel prices is fair enough except that tuk-tuks don't run on petrol or diesel, they run on LPG. It was possible that LPG prices had risen too but I suspected not by as much as 50%.
I happened to be passing a petrol station and called in. Thailand, like many poor countries, still offers full service at petrol stations and I spoke to a couple of lads working on the pumps. I asked how much tuk-tuk fuel was per litre and they told me Bt26. I asked how much it was last month and they told me Bt25. A quick calculation in my head gave me a figure of 4% for the price rise.
Everyone complained when the government removed part of the subsidy on fuel prices but commercial drivers have done OK. Prices for diesel went up by about 20% from Bt15 to Bt18 a litre but the standard sawng-thaew fare went up from Bt5 to Bt7, or 40%.
Now on to a specific tuk-tuk incident which is still fresh in my mind.
I decided to take a look around the local Macro store as I hadn't been there before. I knew exactly where it was in relation to my location at the time - about a five minute ride down a straight road - and I knew that sawng-thaews went along that route.
I asked a couple of sawng-thaew drivers if they were going there but they weren't. I guess they planned to turn off before Macro to go to the bus station. A tuk-tuk driver was lazing around and asked where I wanted to go. I told him and I asked how much.
My estimate for the fare was Bt15 but I expected him to tell me Bt20. He told me Bt50. I thought I might have misheard what he said so I asked him again. I did mishear. He actually said Bt150. Some days I might just have walked away but he caught me in a bit of a grumpy mood and I rather laid into him - verbally of course.
Looking straight at him, I asked him if he was joking, "Poot len, chai mai?" With a stupid grin on his face he told me he wasn't. My barrage continued. The general advice in Thailand is not to show any anger or emotion but sometimes it's good to let off steam and rogue tuk-tuk drivers are fair game in my book.
A Thai guy then walked by and asked me where I was going. (This is very common, people will ask you all the time, "Bpai nai?") I told him and he told me I could get a sawng-thaew for Bt7. I thought I could but I had asked the wrong ones before. I pointed out the cheat and told my new friend the fare he had quoted me. "He was joking," the guy said. "No he wasn't," I replied. I jumped in the next sawng-thaew but not before letting the tuk-tuk driver know where I was going and how much the fare was. Bt7.
I wasn't wearing my T-shirt which says, "I'm a stupid farang who has just arrived in the country. Please feel free to charge me as much as you like," but unfortunately I can't do much about my physical farang appearance.
It angers me that there are so many good-hearted, honest Thais doing back-breaking work on building sites around the country for Bt150 a day yet this lazy bugger thought he could earn the same in five minutes just because he was dealing with a farang.
Even more annoying are the stupid farang tourists who just hand over their money. If they weren't so stupid then the situation wouldn't exist.
Having just arrived in Thailand at the end of 2003, an expat living in the country told me that all Thais lie, and they lie even if it is easier to tell the truth.
Another expat teaching at a university found that a student had simply copied something from the Internet. It was obvious that she had copied but she denied having done so. He made the comment, "When Thais lie, they never seem to show signs of unease, embarrassment or shame. That is why they make such brilliant liars."
Over the years I have been lied to hundreds of times by Thais. Some basic analysis and several years experience of living in Thailand has shown that lies fall into specific categories.
The art of living in Thailand is not to take anything you are told at face value, but to assess the person and situation and try to work out if what you are being told is true or not.
- Lying to make money.
This applies to tourists more than expats, but not exclusively. Many Thais make a living preying on naive tourists who know nothing about Thailand. They lie about tourist attractions being closed and try to get tourists involved in scams.
They lie about prices and fares and try to get tourists to pay extra. They lie about cheap tours and have other motives for offering to take tourists on tours of Bangkok for Bt10.
This type of Thai liar is easy to spot if you've been in the country more than a few weeks.
- Lying to save face.
The notion of losing face in Thailand is a big part of the culture and very powerful. About 40 years ago I remember watching Jasper Carrott on TV.
He had just had a vacation in Asia and remarked that when he asked for things in a restaurant they would always agree to get what he wanted but never returned.
Thais don't like to say that they don't know or don't have something. If you ask for directions and they don't know, they will make something up and send you on a wild goosechase.
These kind of lies aren't always easy to detect.
- Lying to make the other person feel good and to avoid confrontation.
Thais refer to this as 'poot ao jai' (speaking to please).
If the wife asks you whether her bum looks big, you never say yes. Saying no makes her feel better and it prevents a fight, even if her bum does look big. This is sensible lying: white lies, as Westerners say.
Thais do this as well but take it to the extreme. If you are having a house built and are desperate to move in, whenever you ask when it will be finished you will get the answer that you want to hear and not the truth.
If you work and want to know if your contract will be extended or not so that you can make plans, you will be told what you want to hear and not the truth.
Lying is supposed to make the other person feel better and making them feel better prevents any confrontation. Thais don't like confrontation.
As you can imagine, this type of lying can be extremely frustrating and life would be made so much easier if they simply told the truth.
Again, this type of lying isn't always easy to detect.
- Lying for vindictive reasons.
Thais are very vindictive and if you've done anything to upset them or cause them to lose face they will want revenge. If they can make your life difficult by lying, they will.
Should You Lie To Thais?
Follow your moral compass if you are in possesion of such a device.
Lying to protect feelings is OK provided there are no other consequences. If Thais ask me whether I like living in Thailand, I say yes just to keep them happy.
On the other hand, if someone was relying on me and I knew I wouldn't be available, I wouldn't lie and say that I would be available simply to 'save face' or to make them feel better, only to let them down later. Morally, I believe this wrong.
Checking Your Brain In At The Airport And Forgetting To Collect It
Hundreds of Americans and Europeans are killed on the roads of Thailand every year while on holiday. That is a fact. When you start hearing the details behind some of the accidents though the stupidity starts to defy belief. What happens is that people develop a different mentality, purely due to the fact they are on holiday in Thailand. I have mentioned elsewhere in these pages about the euphoric feeling I used to get just being in Thailand. It goes eventually, after a long stay, but for many years I had this amazing feeling every time I was in the country and the feeling used to last for the duration of my visit. I can therefore empathise but it does well to try to exercise a degree of common sense.
According to police reports in the newspaper many of the tourists involved in fatal accidents were high on cocktails of Viagra tablets and alcohol when they decided to jump on a poorly maintained motorbike they didn't know how to control properly without the appropriate license or insurance. Many did not wear a crash helmet or have any protective clothing and were not familiar with Thai driving 'techniques'. It's a disaster waiting to happen.
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