PHUKET: For years – five to be precise – I have kept about fifteen plants, potted in ceramic containers, on the patio outside my front door. The original idea came from my Thai partner who wanted “lucky plants” to grace and guard the entrance to the house. So we slowly acquired some of these talismans, mostly with unknown botanical names. They thrived in the shade provided by the house, kissed only by the sun for an hour or two each day.
With the exception of one “lucky” mistletoe fig (ficus deltoidea), which initially grew with great gusto, and then mysteriously gave up the ghost, they are still there… or almost. A few months ago, I brought several indoors to see if they could make it as house plants. I had already tried the usual culprits: soft-stemmed dieffenbachias, aglaonemas, philodendrons, calatheas and spathiphylums.
Most started well, but began to show signs of stress after a few weeks in the sin-bin, and had to be released outdoors. Anyway it was time for something different. Two, now sentenced to life on the inside, have animal tags related to their appearance: a sansevieria stick-ye or elephant trunk, and a nolina recurvata or ponytail palm. More about these anon.
But the most successful of all these transfers was another odd plant, known in Thailand as waan moracot. Its common name is Zanzibar gem, its actual botanical name – zamioculcus zamifolia – a real mouthful. No wonder it gets shortened to ZZ.
It is, moreover, the only member of its genus – a rare characteristic in the plant world. Not a rare presence in Thailand though, where specimens are often seen on front porches and patios. In fact, mine, originally just a couple of cuttings, came from an unpretentious Thai eatery in Karon.
With a name like zamioculcus, you would expect it to be exotic. And it doesn’t disappoint. In fact it has the look of a lush, heavyweight fern, with a clutch of thick, sappy stems up to an inch across, luxuriating from its base. These stems in turn have grown from a tuberous rhizome beneath the soil, a rhizome that stores water and starch, and thus enables the plant to survive in its native East Africa, where there are pronounced wet and dry seasons.
The succulent stems, each carrying ten or more pairs of leathery, glossy, dark green leaflets on either side, taper towards the top. The plant even has bizarre flowers, in the form of a dense, arum-like spadix. ZZ looks primitive, almost as though it existed when dinosaurs roamed the planet.
The good news is that zamioculcus is almost indestructible: it will tolerate neglect, imprisonment in a pot and the various challenges of life indoors. Best in dry soil with some sand in the mix, it will nonetheless drop its leaves if it is left without water for too long. Apparently, it is deciduous in its native Africa, especially if the wet season is slow in arriving. But my lounge lizard has shown no interest in sloughing off its clothes.
If your ZZ does show signs of shedding its leaflets, it probably needs a good drink.
Because it is considered a “lucky” presence, the Zanzibar gem is relatively easy to find in superstitious Phuket. The Super Cheap, for example, usually has a few on offer.
The only drawback is that ZZ is slow-growing and, because of this, it is relatively expensive to buy in this area.
Best propagated from rhizomes (large specimens can be divided up), it is one of the very few plants that can be grown from single leaves, half buried in sandy potting mix.
That’s probably why it is considered to be a lucky plant. Big returns from small beginnings. Something from nothing. Zzzz…
Tip of the week – Spicing things up
I am currently growing chillies from seed. I used to have plants, which neighbors came and culled. Time to grow more. After all, the chilli is ubiquitous in Thailand. On any dining table they will be there – mixed with fish sauce, ground down to make a red powder, or the fiery concoction known as naam prik. An ingredient in green curries too.
Though native to the Americas, there are many varieties which grow here, from the large and faintly sweet bell pepper – in glossy shades of red, orange, yellow and green, to the familiar, long thin prik chee faa, and the smaller but even hotter prik kee nuu.
Available as seed in packets, they will germinate readily in moist, loam-filled pots. They can be transplanted when a few inches tall, preferably to an area of filtered sunlight. Later they will fruit more effectively given a sunny situation.
Try mixing chillies with flowering plants. They go well together and make attractive bushes.
If you have a question or a garden that you would like featured, you can email the author here.
— Patrick Campbell
Phuket in the Top Ten list of Best Places to Visit
Paris topped the US News list of the World’s Best Places to Visit, Phuket gets into the top 10 destinations this year. The annual rankings list the World’s Best Places to Visit, along with region-specific and niche lists.
Paris, a long favourite with its world-renowned attractions, excellent cuisine and charming atmosphere, scored the top spot in the Best Place to Visit in the World listing. New Zealand’s South Island was in second place, Rome was third, Tahiti fourth and London in fifth place.
Thailand’s most popular island, Phuket, was the highest placed Asian destination and scored the eighth place in the Top Ten destinations, beating out Grand Canyon, New York, Sydney and Maldives.
US News also compiles the Best Places to Visit in the USA, the Best Historical Cities to Visit in the USA, the Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA, the Best Places to Visit in Australia and The Pacific and the Best Places to Visit in Asia. Unique to US News, the rankings combine editor, traveller and expert feedback to determine the most remarkable destinations around the world.
- Paris, France
- South Island, New Zealand
- Rome, Italy
- Tahiti, French Polynesia
- London, UK
- Maui, Hawaii
- Bora Bora, French Polynesia
- Phuket, Thailand
- Grand Canyon, US
- Yosemite, US
- Barcelona, Spain
- New York City , US
- Dubai , UAE
- Machu Picchu, Peru
- Sydney , Australia
- Amsterdam , The Netherlands
- San Francisco , US
- Florence, Italy
- Yellowstone , US
SURVEY: Do you tip in Thailand?
Yesterday we asked readers to tell us what they do when it comes to tipping in Thailand. We noted that a lot of people’s feelings about tipping was related to where they come from and the customs they had on tipping in their home country. The question was…
To tip or not to tip? Whilst the custom of tipping is largely something you bring from your country, what are your tipping habits in Thailand?
Most people, 63% said YES, they tip, whilst 37% said NO, they don’t tip.
The Thaiger also has an article – The Top Ten Tips on Tipping in Thailand HERE.
Here’s some of your thoughts on the matter…
Thai waiting staff usually survive on small salaries, so unless they provide a lousy or unfriendly service I usually tip. How much will of course depend on how well they were doing their job, but I rarely leave a restaurant without tipping. – Michael B
Let’s just say my tips leave a lasting impression and go a long way to helping more than just the person I gave it to! The Thai people have never failed me in my journeys from north to south… for this I express my gratitude generously in return… khob khun krap 💜 – Kirk L
Tip is an extra, should be given if there is extra in either quality or service or both. There is also the service charge, which is not optional to be included in the equation. – Francesco G
When they start to get my orders right and I don’t have to wait ages my order then i might tip. – Sami J
Of course tips; unless service is bad. It’s part of their salary and tipping beats ladydrinks (begged for) all day long. – William H
Good way to get rid of annoying coins but a small tip doesn’t hurt. Most service I get in Thai land is quicker and with a smile compared to home. – Andrew C
Top Ten tips to tipping in Thailand
How much is appropriate in Thailand or should you tip at all?
There is no rule of thumb although tipping is not common amongst Thais whilst it remains reasonably common with some westerners, but certainly not all. Americans almost tip by habit.
Tipping in Thailand is not mandatory but will always be welcomed with a ‘wai’ and a smile.
Our ‘recommendations’ are by no means the rule. And your discretion should be advised at all times when you have your wallets out and talking about money in Thailand.
If you allow 10% of the bill as a tip for a ‘good’ or better restaurant, that would be considered a generous and well-appreciated tip. Or just rounding up the bill to the nearest hundred baht will be appreciated as well. At a ‘fancy’ restaurant with snooty waiters and a really nice view you better use the 10% rule to avoid any ‘glances’ when you leave.
Check the bill to see if there’s a ‘service charge’. If so then you can dispense with the tip – the ‘service charge’ is meant to be dispersed amongst the staff. But a personal tip to a very special staff member would be nice in these cases – 50 to 100 baht would be suitable.
But unlike many US restaurants, you will get out of the restaurant alive if you don’t tip. Remember, it’s a voluntary gesture. If in doubt just have a quiet word with the Manager who will usually be frank with you about what may be appropriate at their venue.
PHOTO: Gerry’s Kitchen
If you feel inclined to tip when eating street food then you are more than likely going to confuse the vendor. Most street food is clearly priced, or at least when you ask the price, there is one price. That’s what you’d be expected to pay and you’ll receive the correct change. At the same time you’re not expected to bargain or haggle the food prices.
If you’re in a franchise like McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, Svensons, Tom Tom’s, etc there’s no need to tip.
At the bar
Quite a few different situations here. If you’re going up to order from the bar in a ‘nice’ venue then there would be no expectation for you to tip (if you’re in any of the tourist zones you’ll already be paying a heavily marked up price).
But if it’s a beach bar and the waiters have been serving you drinks all day whilst you’ve been contemplating nothing-in-particular, then rounding up your bill or leaving 100 baht when you leave would be appropriate.
And if you’ve been chatting to the bar attendant all afternoon, a tip of 50-100 baht would almost be expected, but not mandatory.
As with restaurants, if there’s a ‘service charge’ on your bill then consider that your tip has already been paid, although a smaller tip for a particularly attentive waiter would be a nice gesture.
Speaking of bars, if you end up at one of the venues with lots of smiling, scantily-dressed ‘bar girls’ (or bar boys) gesturing you to have a drink with them, then it’s a different situation altogether. For these ‘Girlie Bars’ (or boy bars), they are on a commission. So, apart from your over-priced drink, you’ll also be buying them a drink (which they also receive commission on). In return you’ll get their T’inglish smalltalk and company and a good time is had by all. No tips in this situation.
If you’re one of 30 people on a crowded bus or boat, on a fixed price tour, then never feel obliged to tip. If you’ve booked a tour guide for your personal use for a few hours or the day, then we would recommend a tip around 10% of the agreed tour guide hire. For a half day tour, maybe 100-150 baht or double that for a full day tour.
If you have been on an organised tour but the tour guide has been uniquely amazing, you took up a lot of their time with questions or just went above and beyond their work requirements, then a tip given straight to them would be greatly appreciated. 50 to 100 baht.
Taking a taxi
There are two ways to take a taxi in Thailand. Either negotiate a price before you get in or check that they have a working taxi meter. There’s plenty of wriggle room in between these two solutions where you can get caught out. Firstly you should have a ‘rough’ idea of what the fare is going to be before you even think of taking a taxi. Check with your hotel concierge or ask a friend before you take your journey.
With the metred taxis there are a few, not many, taxi drivers that turbo-charge their meters so they run a lot faster than the permitted rate. If you think you’ve been ripped off take a photo of their taxi ID and threaten (nicely) to contact the Tourist Police (1155).
If you’ve taken a taxi ride, metered or negotiated, and all went well and the taxi was clean, etc, then feel free to round up your bill. The worst problem you’ll have with taxis, especially in Bangkok, is that you’ll often be turned down if you’re not heading where THEY want to go. There are big fines for taxi drivers who refuse your fare but the situation is not heavily enforced.
Ride-hailing taxis and Apps
Uber and Grab, but most likely GrabCar which is increasingly popular in Thailand and likely to be fully legalised in 2019. In the case of GrabCar, for example, the App does it all from the booking, calculation of the fare, a pic of the driver, the registration of their car, a map showing the car approaching and an estimated time of arrival – it’s certainly the future.
There’s also a TripAdvisor-style appraisal system so you can read reviews and rate your driver. In the case of a Grab fare, you know the fee before you get in. Rounding up the bill at the end would be appreciated but it’s not necessary.
You will find the Grab fares competitive, usually less, than the government-endorsed taxis floating around the streets so feel free to offer a little something at the end.
Tuk Tuks, Baht Buses and Red Buses
No meters here. You’re in a public transport ‘twilight zone’ here and anything can happen. Good news is it usually ends well. BUT, if there are any problems you should call the Tourist Police immediately (1155).
Always negotiate the price before hiring a tuk-tuk or Red Bus (Chiang Mai). Tuk Tuks in Bangkok are the three wheel jalopies that are ubiquitous in the capital and have been for decades. It’s estimated that there are around 9,000 of these hideous, noisy modes of transport. All that said they remain a favourite for tourists and are something you MUST DO at least once in your life.
In Phuket the tuk tuks are mostly red, although you’ll see them in other bright primary colours. The Phuket tuk tuks are a blockchain – a closed system with a local ‘mafia’ keeping control of the pricing and oppressing the entry of any competitive public transport into the island. Just google ‘tuk tuk Phuket’ and read the endless stories about the island’s infamous tuk tuks.
Negotiate the fee before you get in. It will be higher than a conventional taxi ride. Haggle or bargain the price as hard as you like, with a big smile on your face. Once settled then don’t even think about trying to bargain at the end of the journey.
Traditional Thai massage is unique, an art, easily found and usually very good. After all that diving, bargaining, swimming, shopping and checking to avoid pot holes in the middle of the road, you’re going to need a massage. Most of the better massages won’t be found in the middle of the busy streets of a tourist trap like Pattaya’s Walking Street, Bangla Road in Phuket or around Patpong in Bangkok. Indeed some of the services you may be offered, including the often-mentioned ‘happy ending’, are not really ‘traditional’ Thai massage.
Ask your hotel concierge for a recommendation, check with TripAdvisor or ask a local. If you’re walking along a busy tourist street you will hear MASSAGE!? shouted at you as you make your way past their shops, usually with a rate card handy and usually in matching team outfits. These might be ok for a quick foot or shoulder massage.
For a good or even great Thai massage you need to find a spa with trained masseuse and masseurs. Most hotels will have their in-house spas, and most of these will be very good.
Anyway, back to the tip, a 50 to 100 baht would be an appropriate tip directly to your masseur. It would be customary to tip your masseur in most situations.
Tattoo artists and hairdressers
Tattoos are a very popular ‘thing’ for many visitors in Thailand. And the tattoo shops are very good with some of the world’s best exponents of the art working in the Land of Smiles. There are also traditional local tattoo artists that are highly sought after. We would recommend a 10% tip to your tattoo artist.
Much the same goes when you visit the hairdresser in Thailand. We would recommend you make the tip directly to your hairdresser, if you’re happy with their work. For the cheaper ‘barbers’ with their less-fancy premises a 20 baht tip would be appreciated.
Not every venue will have bathroom attendants but most shopping centres will, larger office blocks and restaurant and bar venues at night. Some of these may have a fixed price-to-pee. Other won’t but you’ll see the attendants lurking around keeping the bathrooms and toilets clean.
There is no need to tip them but, if it’s a really nice bathroom and you appreciate the cleanliness a 10 baht tip would be appreciated. If you paid to use the bathroom there’s no need to tip.
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