Category Archives: daily life

Another Year in Siam

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Coming into Bangkok from Vientiane

I am writing this as I wait for my airplane from Vientiane, Laos back to Thailand.  I thought I would be going back to Bangkok but instead I am going back to Ao Nang.  A lot has happened over the last three months.  I guess most of it is too personal to share here.  I will just say I had moved to Bangkok to be with an amazing woman.  But I made some mistakes.  She made some mistakes.  Despite still loving each other we were unable to move past these mistakes and find a way to stay together.  So I’ve been reflecting the time I’ve spent in Thailand a lot lately.  Figuring out what I want to do.  Thinking about my life.  It is amazing how isolated one can feel in a big city like Bangkok.  I have no friends there so I decided to come back to Ao Nang where I still have a few friends.  Where I can climb, and go diving, etc…  Life is easier in Ao Nang.

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My life in November, 2014

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My life in August, 2017

2 years and 9 months have passed since I first came to Thailand.  It’s weird to see that in writing.  When I first came here I thought I would stay for a year.  Maybe two.  But now it’s almost three years and I’ll most likely stay up to one more year.  But I’m still not sure.  I think these two pictures sum things up pretty well.  2 years and 9 months ago things were nice and tidy with only a little extra baggage.  I still have the old bags but now they are a little dirty and worn.  I also have a few new bags, things are not quite so neat and tidy anymore.  So, what’s taking up so much space in all these extra bags?

  • Diving gear.
  • A foam roller.
  • Running shoes.
  • Climbing shoes and other gear.
  • Some new clothes.
  • Ceramic plates and bowls acquired in Chiang Mai.
  • A handmade blanket also acquired in Chiang Mai.
  • Hardware and other electronics I use for work.
  • Various household items that should make like easier.
  • Several books, mostly for learning Thai.
  • Gopro camera and accessories.

Most of this is stuff I want to keep.  But I don’t really need it.  I also brought a bunch of stuff to Thailand that I don’t really need, I probably only needed three bags.  I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last six months.  I’m going to try to be alone for a little while.  I’ll focus on work, climbing, running, diving, learning Thai, and simplifying my life.  I’ll see if I can get it back down to 4 bags but that might not be possible.  I’ll be happy with 5 too.

The President

So America has a new president.  It’s not the person most people were expecting to win.  I was expecting Clinton to win but was not very excited about it.  Both candidates in my mind were equally poor choices for different reasons.  Somehow both parties picked despicable candidates which could explain Trump’s upset victory.  Despite trumps sexist and racist rhetoric during the campaign, 42% of women voted for him and 21% of non whites voted for him according to exit polls.  Clearly there were larger issues at play here.

Well, there are so many things I could say here but it’s already been said elsewhere.  Hopefully the Democrats learned from this and will pick a candidate for 2020 that will unite people instead of divide them.

I do not think Trump will be the leader America needs.  But I’m hopeful things won’t be as bad as everyone makes him out to be.  Time will tell.  I’m willing to give him a chance.  I think everyone else should to.

 

 

The King

By now, the whole world should know, the king of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej (Thai:ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช) died on October 13, 2016.  He was the 9th king of Thailand beginning his reign on June 9, 1946.  At the time of his death, he was the longest serving head of state in the world and the longest reigning monarch in Thai history, serving for 70 years and 126 days.  For nearly every Thai person, he was the only king they knew.

The king of Thailand was highly revered.  People considered him a family member, and often he would be referred to as “father”.  He had reached a nearly divine status.  For the first week after his death the entire country was extremely somber.  A 1 year mourning period was declared and overnight wearing black became the new fashion trend.

Thailand has had a turbulent history.  Frequent military coups and 30 prime ministers since the king took the throne.  Like any leader some of the king’s decisions and actions were controversial.  But he did a lot of good for the country.  He helped a lot of people.  He was the one constant in Thailand over all the changes of leadership.  He held the country together and prevented the coups from developing into civil war.  He was an honorable person.  He was a humble person.  He loved Thailand and he loved all Thai people.  He understood his great responsibility and served with pride, dignity, and grace.  For these reasons, he was universally loved by all Thai people.

It is my hope that one day America can have a leader like this.

Change

Things don’t always go they way they are planned.  Several things have gotten in the way of me doing my normal activities.  Which is part of the reason I haven’t written anything here for a few months.  Also, writing about the same thing gets kind of boring.  I’ve been in Bangkok the past week doing some contract work to support a consumer electronic device being manufactured in Ayuthaya which is about an hours drive north of Bangkok.  I’m sitting in the airport and have about 4 hours to kill so thought I would try to write a series of posts to catch up on what I’ve been up to.

 

So you want to move to Thailand…

Great!  It’s good to get out of your comfort zone and experience a different reality for a few months or a few years.  Here are some things to consider:

  1. Get everything in order in your home country.  Have a house?  What will you do with it?  Where will your mail go?  Where will you put all your stuff?  How will you pay bills? etc, etc….
  2. How will you access money?  If you end up working in Thailand you can open a Thai bank account and keep your money there.  I don’t work and all my money is in my U.S. bank account which means I pay a fee each time I withdraw money from the ATM.  It’s not too much but it is kind of annoying.
  3. What kind of visa will you get?  I’m not working and wanted lots of leisure time so I went with a student visa.  I think it’s a pretty good balance between cost and convenience, plus I’m learning the language more than most expats who have been here much longer than I have.
    1. A tourist visa is good for 60 days and can be extended once at a local immigration office for 30 days.  I think the initial cost for a tourist visa is 1000 Baht.  The 30 day extension is 1900 Baht.  Total is 2900 Baht per 90 days plus costs to travel to a Thai Embassy / Consular office outside the country.
    2. A student visa to study Thai language (or possibly other subject) is a convenient way to stay in the country for a year at a time.  The initial cost is 2000 Baht plus 1900 Baht for each 90 day extension.  Keep in mind tuition for the school you’ll go to and the requirement to attend classes.
    3. If you have a work permit then you need a different kind of visa.  I’m not sure how much it costs or the process involved but I would guess it is similar to that of a student visa.
    4. There is the relatively new Multiple Entry Tourist Visa.  I don’t know many details but it is supposedly good for up to 6 months stay in Thailand but can only be applied for in your home country.
    5. Starting a business in Thailand is also an option for those motivated to go that route.
  4. Where will you live?  I’m a little biased but I think Krabi is a pretty nice place.  There is of course Bangkok and if one is moving to Thailand to look for work it’s not a bad option.  Phuket is also popular with tourists and expats.  Chiang Mai is to the North and culturally is a very interesting city and also popular with tourists.  Best bet would be to do some research before hand, pick 3 or 4 options and spend a few days to a week at each one to see which place suits you the best.
  5. Will you work?  If so, what kind of work?  Work for foreigners is limited and can be difficult to get unless you are interested in teaching English or becoming a diving instructor.  You could enter Thailand on a tourist visa, find job, then make a visa run to get a new visa / work permit.  People do it but working in Thailand without the proper visa / work permit is not a good idea.
  6. Thai culture.  It’s very different than the West.  How will you adapt?  Thailand isn’t just paradise, beaches, and beautiful women.  There’s a lot to like about Thailand but there’s also a lot to dislike.  I’ve enjoyed my time here but I hate the driving here and also have a hard time accepting the fact that as a foreigner I will never have the same rights and privileges as a Thai citizen.  So I decided awhile ago I won’t be living here permanently.
  7. The transition from tourist to resident.  Enjoy your first few weeks here.  Live it up!  But that gets expensive (even in Thailand) really quick.  Figure out when and how you will transition from a tourist to living a more sustainable daily life.
  8. Cost of living in Thailand can be very cheap to very expensive.  Be realistic about how much you will need to spend to live a lifestyle you are comfortable with and can maintain.
  9. Learn the language.  Learn to read.  English skills of the average Thai person are very poor, especially outside the popular tourist areas.  It’s makes things much easier to speak a bit of Thai.  It also lets you know when you are being overcharged because of the color of your skin.  But speaking the language with a moderate level of proficiency can sometimes get you the Thai price 🙂
  10. Making friends.  I’ve found it hard to make friends with Thai people.  Sure, there are Thai people I am acquaintances with but all the people I’ve met in Thailand that I would consider a friend are foreigners.
  11. Western products in Thailand are very expensive and cost more than you would pay in your home country.  For example, when you tire of drinking Thai beer, a pint of IPA  (if you can even find it) from England or America could cost around $10.
  12. It’s really hot in Thailand.  During the hot season it can regularly be over 40C / 100F.
  13. Sometimes it rains all day, every day.  The rainy season can be kind of depressing.
  14. The cool season is magical.  Perfect weather, hot but not too hot and usually no rain.
  15. There are a lot of weird insects around here.
  16. Transportation.  Everyone has a motorbike.  If you’re sure you’ll be here a long time at least a year or two, consider a car.
  17. Medical insurance.  You should have something.  I got travellers insurance through World Nomads.  Luckily I haven’t had to use it but I assume it will work.  There are also insurance policies foreigners can purchase in Thailand.
  18. Finally, don’t do things in Thailand you wouldn’t do in your home country!  I could write a whole post on this but briefly…
    1. You probably wouldn’t drive a motorcycle without a helmet at home so DON’T DO IT IN THAILAND!  Thailand is one of the most dangerous countries to drive in.  I see near misses multiple times a day.  Minor crashes nearly every day and see or hear about major crashes involving fatalities almost weekly.  When driving leave your ego at home and be extremely defensive.
    2. Meet a beautiful girl who seems perfect and proclaims you the love of her life?  Great, I’m happy for you.  But in a few weeks when she asks you to meet her family or send her a significant amount of money DON’T DO IT!  It sounds stupid but so many foreigners fall for this.  It would seem crazy to give a girl you just met at home a lot of money or meet her family after a few dates.  It’s crazy to do this at home and it’s crazy to do this in Thailand.
    3. Despite what you may have read about in Pattaya, some parts of Bangkok and Phuket, Thai society is for the most part very conservative.
    4. And on and on…  Just because you are in Thailand and it’s new, interesting and exciting, don’t let your guard down.  Educate yourself on the common tourist scams so they can be avoided.  Related to #3, most Thai people are shy.  Be wary of the ones that approach you out of the blue.

Cost of Living in Thailand

This seems to be a popular topic among expats living in Thailand.  I thought I’d throw in my two cents.  Living costs can vary widely.  Live simply and the cost of living is very cheap.  Live a Western lifestyle and things start to get more expensive.  Keep in mind that this list of expenses applies only to me living in Ao Nang, Krabi.  Live in a different part of Thailand and things might be cheaper or more expensive.

  1. Visa: I entered Thailand on a student visa to study the Thai language.  School tuition is 30,000 Baht per year.  The visa fee is 2000 Baht and 1900 Baht every 90 days or 7,700 Baht per year.  Travel to Laos is about 15,000 once a year which includes round trip airfare, hotel, food, taxi, etc… which comes to just under 4,400 per month.
  2. House / Apartment:  I’m currently paying 13,000 Baht per month for a small two story house with two bathrooms, hot water, air conditioning, kitchen, and living room / extra bedroom.  The location is pretty good within walking distance of the beach and many restaurants in Ao Nang.  Live outside of Ao Nang in a smaller room without air conditioning or hot water and rent could be as cheap as 3,000 Baht per month.  Live in a villa with modern appliances, pool, 24 hour security, maid/garden service, etc and rent can be 40,000 (or more) per month.
  3. Transportation: I drive a Honda Scoopy scooter.  It’s my girlfriends but I make the payment for her.  It’s around 1800 Baht per month.  These can also be rented from many places around Ao Nang for around 3000 Baht per month.  Used motorbikes can be bought for around 20,000 Baht.  Maintenance is very cheap.  Oil changes, flat tire fixes, etc…  Usually comes to 100 or 200 Baht per month.  Gas is about 300 Baht per month.  Total = 2,300 per month.
  4. Utilities: Water is around 200 Baht per month.  Electricity depends on how much the air conditioner runs.  Lately we’ve been paying around 1500 Baht per month.  Trash appears to be free.  Set the bag out on the street and somebody takes it away.  Total = 1,700 Baht per month.
  5. Internet: 700 Baht per month.
  6. Cell Phone: Many options are available.  I pay 400 Baht per month for 3GB of data.  Phone calls which I rarely make are charged at 1 or 2 Baht per minute.
  7. Food: Eating out in the local Thai restaurants, dishes are around 50 to 100 Baht.  Western style restaurants with Western food are usually more, around 300 to 400 Baht.  I also do a fair bit of cooking in my room which brings down the cost a lot.  I’d estimate I spend around 6,000 Baht per month on food for myself.
  8. Climbing: I usually go to Tonsai or Railay once a week.  Round trip longtail boat ticket is 200 Baht and I usually spend around 200 Baht for food and a beer when I am there.  1600 Baht per month.
  9. Entertainment: I don’t go out much and prefer to buy beer from 7-11 since it’s a lot cheaper.  But sometimes it’s nice to go out for a drink with friends and watch a local band play or play a game of pool.  Small beers are usually around 50 Baht per 12 oz bottle.  Big beers are usually around 100 Baht per 22oz bottle.  1000 Baht per month.
  10. Medical / Dental: Travelers insurance was around 1,000 USD per year.  A visit to the dentist for cleaning / checkup was around 2,000 Baht.  Luckily I have not needed any other medical care.  Total = 3,100 Baht per month.
  11. Misc: I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of little things.  There’s the ice cream lady who I buy coconut ice cream from when I see her drive down my street.  Various other snacks, haircuts, and other day to day minor expenses.  Call it 3,000 Baht per month.

Adding this all up is 37,200 Baht / 1,063 US Dollars per month to live in Thailand.  I have a pretty comfortable lifestyle so cost of living in Thailand could be done for much less.  It could also be done for much more.

Stop For Step

I haven’t ranted about driving in Thailand for awhile.  Here are some thoughts, observations, and tips for staying alive I’ve learned after living here for a little over a year.  This post is meant to be partly humorous, partly critical, and partly helpful.  Hope you enjoy it!

Driving Culture

I read somewhere that Thai people treat driving like a videogame they are out to win at all costs.  This could explain a lot except nobody is winning.  For a very long time Thailand has been ranked near the top of road deaths per capita.  The culture of driving here is very much “up to you” / “no problem”.  Want to drive 60+ mph when the speed limit is 30 mph?  No Problem!  Want to pass cars around a blind corner?  You can!  Want to run red lights or drive on the sidewalk?  Go for it!  From a western point of view Thai people are rude, selfish, impatient, and inconsiderate drivers.  Imagine a drunk, roid raging immature teenager and that’s 90% of the drivers here.

What To Expect

  1. Children as young as 7 or 8 speeding around on motorbikes.  Usually with 2 or 3 of their friends on the back.
  2. Thai people do everything possible to avoid wearing a helmet even if it causes more problems than just wearing the helmet.
  3. Entire families on a motorbike.  Small kid in front.  Dad driving.  Another kid or two behind dad.  Mom behind the kids and holding a baby off to the side in one arm while carrying the groceries in her other arm.
  4. Oncoming traffic in your lane at any time and for no reason at all.
  5. Being passed / oncoming traffic around blind corners.
  6. Vehicles pulling out in front of you.
  7. Using a lane of traffic as a parking lot.
  8. Ninja motorbikes.  No, not the Kawasaki Ninja.  In Thailand, these are the motorbikes driving at night with no headlights, taillights, or turn signals because the owner is too poor or lazy to replace them.
  9. Overloaded trucks with bad brakes.
  10. Etc, etc…

Stop For Step

Stop For Step is an awareness campaign started some time last year in an effort to get drivers to stop for people crossing the street in crosswalks.  It is widely known that one should not stop for pedestrians to let them cross because if you do then other vehicles will just try to go around you and end up hitting pedestrians or rear end you.  So it’s actually safer for everyone to not stop.  Which is exactly what is shown in the video they created.  So although I think it is great that people are finally trying to raise awareness to change the poor driving habits here I think this approach is misguided.  Better would be to enforce speed limits, licences, and basic rules of the road.  Stop at stop signs, don’t run red lights, no passing around blind corners, etc…  Without any actual enforcement of the law and suffering consequences when one breaks the law there will be no change in driving habits.

Trying to understand the mentality of the Thai driver is an exercise in futility.  The Stop for Step video mostly shows a vehicle stopped at a crosswalk, people crossing, then the pedestrians getting plowed over by another vehicle that didn’t stop at the crosswalk.  But one clip shows a group of pedestrians crossing a crosswalk with a car approaching the crosswalk and slowing down (brake lights on).  Then, right at the last moment while one person is still in front of the car the driver takes their foot off the brake and accelerates into the person.  How the driver thought this was the correct course of action given the present situation is beyond me.

Why

This is the million dollar question.  What I have been trying to figure out since I got here.  There are a few obvious reasons why:

  1. Thailand is a developing country.  Though there are some very wealthy people here, most are poor and not well educated.
  2. Very little and arbitrary enforcement of the law.

This would be enough to explain these observations if it was just any other country.  But this is Thailand!  Land of Smiles where the people are known for being compassionate and polite so I think there are some other factors at play.

I read on another blog that tried to explain a theory of the Thai driving culture being rooted in their language.  That Thai people are unable to modify future behavior based on negative past experiences because there is no way to express tenses in the language.  I think this is incorrect for two reasons.  First, although it is true there are no verb tenses in the Thai language, there are many ways to specify past, present, and future in the language.  See words such as จะ (ja) which is used to indicate something will happen, กำลัง (gamlang) which is used to indicate something is currently happening, and แล้ว (leaow) which can be used to indicate an action that has been completed.

Second, even if there was no way to indicate tense in the Thai language it still wouldn’t make sense to me why the structure and grammar of a language would have such a dramatic impact on driving.  And like I mentioned above, the people (when not driving) are very polite.  This politeness is even built into the language and other aspects of Thai culture, so why aren’t they more polite drivers?

But I think they were on to something when suggesting that Thai drivers are unable to modify future behavior based on negative past experiences.  Thai people seem to very much live in the moment.  They do not dwell on the past and do not worry too much about the future.  I think this is due to the dominant religion in Thailand being Buddhism and the practice of meditation that goes along with Buddhism.  Now I don’t know much about meditation but I do know that it teaches to be in the present moment and to clear your mind of thoughts.  In western countries we learn to not pass around blind corners or pass when cresting a hill because there might be another vehicle coming that we can not see.  In Thailand drivers do these things because in the present moment they can not see another vehicle coming.  Then when there are close calls but no collision occurs the Thai person considers themselves lucky because Buddha was watching over them and quickly forgets about it.  So the next time they are confronted with a similar situation they do the same thing as last time.

Second, there is this concept of “saving face” in Thailand.  I still don’t fully understand this but based on what I do know, in Thailand it is very frowned upon to show anger.  It is also frowned upon to embarrass or make other people look bad.  Losing face by showing anger or causing someone else to lose face by embarrassing them could just result in them ignoring or being rude to you or in some cases result in extreme violence.  Which I find ironic considering it is so culturally unacceptable to show anger.  Because of this, Thai people will never criticize or point out mistakes made by someone they are with.  They are always tiptoeing around this idea of saving face.  So nobody ever gets told they are acting like an idiot, not to do something, or that their behavior is inconsiderate or dangerous because doing so would embarrass them and cause them to lose face.

Speaking of saving face, this guy completely lost it.

There are two other smaller reasons I can think of to explain the driving here.  Thai people literally grow up on a motorbike.  When / if they are able to afford a car, they drive the car just like a motorbike.  Meaning they zip in and out of traffic, and in general do things that you can get away with in a motorbike but are more likely to cause problems in a car.

Finally, when driving a car to get the same perception of speed in a car as on a motorbike the car will be going 30 to 40 kph faster.  I realized this after I rented a pickup truck to move to a new room not too long ago.  I thought I was going 50 or 60 kph and was a little surprised when I looked at the speedometer and saw I was going 80 kph or so.

Culturally Acceptable Behavior

All this brings up another issue I’ve been interested in.  What is considered culturally acceptable behavior?  I’m pretty sure Thai people are not trying to be inconsiderate, selfish, and impatient when driving.  I’m also pretty sure that other Thai people don’t view these actions in a negative way either.

Thai people also wait in line like they drive.  They will blatantly cut in front of people and can be very pushy.  The change in personality of a Thai person when driving still amazes me.  It seems Thai people have never been taught that patience is a virtue and the concept of waiting your turn.

Then there is the culture of the Chinese tourist in Thailand.  Despised by everyone, Chinese tourists are even worse drivers than Thais.  They are known for making a complete mess of bathrooms and eat dinner as if they are attacking their food like rabid dogs.  But I guess this is considered OK in China.

And of course Thai people probably think tourists drive like idiots.  To be fair, plenty of them do.

How Not To Die While Driving

Many people say that if you’ve never driven a motorcycle or scooter you should not learn in Thailand.  There are some places this is true.  I’m thinking specifically of Koh Tao which has many very steep poorly maintained roads.  Koh Tao is also filled with tourists who think that just because they are in Thailand they can act like idiots.  But the fact is a motorbike is the best way to get around Thailand, especially in the city.  A motorbike really isn’t much harder to drive than riding a bicycle so most people will have no problem.  Just approach with caution and you’ll be fine.  Here’s a few tips I’ve learned after being here a year:

  1. Drive DEFENSIVELY!
  2. Anticipate unexpected actions by other drivers.
  3. Do not expect other drivers to follow any western standard of driving etiquette.
  4. Check your ego.  If somebody cuts you off or does something to anger you just let it go.
  5. Don’t speed!
  6. Wear a helmet!
  7. Right of way is determined by vehicle size.  The larger vehicle has right of way.  Always!  Pedestrians and motorbikes are at the bottom of the food chain.  Don’t get out of the way and you will be run over and it will be your fault.
  8. Don’t be afraid to use your horn to make a couple short beeps to make others aware of your presence.  So far it hasn’t caused a problem and I’m pretty sure has avoided a few crashes by now.
  9. Longer more aggressive sounding of the horn is not appropriate but could be done on rare occasions.  Thai people will definitely think poorly of you for doing this but I’d rather avoid a crash than care what some random Thai person thinks of me.
  10. Motorbikes are expected to drive on the shoulder to the left.  But Thai people do not look before pulling out into the street.  So if driving on the left or on the shoulder go slower than normal and give extra caution when approaching side streets.
  11. Front brake is on the right.  Rear brake is on the left.
  12. Thai drivers are erratic and not good at planning their route or anticipating when they will need to do something.  Because of this, give them plenty of room.  Don’t tailgate, etc…
  13. At night be extra cautious and watch out for the ninja motorbikes.
  14. Don’t let your guard down just because you are on vacation.
  15. Don’t do things you wouldn’t do in your home country just because you are in Thailand / on vacation.
  16. When cars flash their brights at you it means DO NOT go because I will not stop or slow down and will run you over if you get in my way.