There are hundreds of things to do in Thailand and you’ll be spoiled for choice during your visit. But there are a few things that may be worth avoiding, despite being available, during your time in the Kingdom. If you want a list of basic cultural faux pas, check this list out HERE.
1. Swim at the southern Andaman beaches in the low season
Every year about 50 or so people drown along Phuket’s west coast. Mostly in the wet season with the south-western monsoon kicking up the waves washing onto the island’s Andaman coast beaches. Sadly, it’s mostly Chinese and Russian tourists who end up getting into trouble. Krabi, Khao Lak, Phang Nga, Trang and southern islands also have their share of drownings and near-misses each year.
There’s a complicated litany of reasons for this carnage – many Chinese and Russian tourists, for example, can’t swim, the lifeguard patrols on many of the beaches are ‘patchy’, not enough information is provided to tourists about the dangerous rips along the west coast during the monsoon and whatever signage and flags that actually exists do little to deter tourists who seem determined to go swimming.
Most of the beaches have the red flags on display when the surf’s up but many of the flags are not new and the colour red, which in some western countries denotes ‘danger’ isn’t as effective in being a deterrent colour for the Chinese. In fact it’s the lucky colour for Chinese.
There is a clear and present danger of swimming on Phuket’s west coast during the May – November low season (which is also the most popular time for Chinese tourist arrivals).
For the Gulf of Thailand coastal areas in Hua His, Samui and other southern Gulf beaches, the windy weather is usually later in the year from October to December.
2. Hire a motorbike
You get off the plane, catch your passenger van to your hotel, check the minibar and then head out to find the nearest motorbike hire shop – there are hundreds around the main tourist spots anywhere in Thailand.
In most cases a passport will suffice (NEVER let your passport out of your sight, even when they’re taking a photocopy of your passport front page) as ID to allow you to hire a motorbike and take it out onto Thailand’s roads.
The roads in Thailand are some of the most dangerous in the world. If you’re under 30 years old, male and riding a motorbike your chances of having an accident are astonishingly high.
Have you ever ridden a motorbike before? Probably not. Do you have a motorbike driver’s license? Chances are slim. Were you taken for a short test to see if you can ride or handle a motorbike? Doubtful. Does your travel insurance cover you if you have an accident without having a valid motorcycle driver’s licence? I bet it doesn’t.
Still, it happens hundreds of time a day around the island and tourists, like lambs to the slaughter, head off into the craziness that is Thai traffic – sometimes shirtless, sometimes after drinking and sometimes without even the basic protection of a helmet.
Then we hear that the tourists have had some sort of horrific accident, end up in an international hospital, their insurance won’t pay for their medical care and we have another report on our website.
Bottomline, if you don’t have a motorbike driving license, have never driven a motorcycle or have been drinking just DON’T hire a motorbike in Phuket. Just don’t!
3. Go to tiger or animal shows
Reptiles, birds, crocodiles, tigers, dolphins and plenty of others. There are hundreds of shows where animals are performing for tourists. These aren’t zoos and usually cater for one particular type of animal. Is it OK to visit these shows. Well, in Thailand it’s absolutely legal to do so and the attractions are all licensed to operate under Thai law.
The question as to whether you SHOULD visit is up to you.
Tigers, of all wild beasties, are not born to sit, half drugged-up in chains, to have tourists patting them for selfies. Tigers are critically endangered everywhere in the world. Specifically, the Indochinese Tiger, the species we see in Thailand and surrounding south east asian countries, is a hunter and can inflict fatal injuries with a single swipe if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
An Australian was mauled at the Tiger Kingdom in Kathu, Phuket in 2015. He survived his injuries which opened up the front of his chest. The only upside about these tiger zoos is that they conduct (for all the wrong reasons) breeding programs to keep the species alive but the gene pool is very shallow so, in the long run, is not a sustainable method of breeding tigers.
Here’s an interesting blog from a westerner who volunteered at one of the Tiger shows.
4. Go to zoos
Many of Thailand’s zoos are not up to international standard and, like the elephant rides and tiger shows, have gone out of fashion with many western tourists. But ‘animals for entertainment’ is still a popular concept for many Asian and eastern European tourists – it’s a cultural thing.
The Thai zoos come up for constant criticism especially on platforms like Trip Advisor where pictures of poor conditions, lonely and skinny animals keep getting attention.
Voted by many Trip Advisor readers as one of the worst tourist attractions in Phuket – it routinely scores either one or two stars with comments that sound like the visitors have just come from an abattoir rather than a modern zoo.
Visiting a Thai zoo is like visiting one in the West in the 1950s when animals are crammed into unsuitable enclosures or cages with little care taken to keep the facilities clean. Many of the zoos smell, the animals don’t appear to be in the best of health and it’s simply a relic of a bygone era whereas modern zoos have changed dramatically to provide true educational opportunities and vastly superior, and more natural, enclosures for the animals.
5. Ride an elephant
Riding elephants in Thailand whilst you’re on tour here is just one of those things tourists have on their bucket list. In Phuket there are many, many elephant camps where you can see these wondrous mammals and, if you want, ride on their back through the forests. Generally frowned upon by western values, it’s still hugely popular in Asia and all the camps do a roaring trade.
The problem with elephants in Thailand is vexed with a well cared-for pachyderm living up to 60 years – the average age is 48 years. They used to work in the rainforests as beasts of burden but that work has now dried up with the banning of logging in most parts of Thailand so the elephants and their mahouts have gravitated towards the cities and tourist industry to make a living – elephants require quite a lot of food.
To say we should simply ‘set them free’ is an absurd suggestion and unpractical so a longer term solution needs to be found.
There are now new elephant ‘sanctuaries’ and retirement parks opening up around the country. They provide a more natural environment for humans and elephants to interact. Although these are really just an alternative pay-to-visit ’zoo’ (albeit a huge step up from the majority of elephant camps), we applaud their efforts and hope there’s more available soon.
There’s now also an even stricter code of conduct gaining popularity in wildlife circles whereby any contact between beast and human would be banned, even feeding and washing the elephants. We will see if this becomes a new norm.
6. Go running during the day
You like keeping fit, you run regularly in your home country and you’re on holiday where you can get a few extra kilometres under your belt as you explore. Except that it’s hot, really hot, most of the year, especially in the south. And humid.
In northern regions it does get a lot cooler in the ‘winter’ (around December and January), otherwise most of Thailand is just HOT most of the year.
All the marathons and running events held around Thailand start at 4 or 5am in the morning for good reason. It’s the only time of the day where you can run in relative safety. If it isn’t abundantly obvious that running in the heat of day is just plain dangerous you are going to learn the hard way.
Keep fit, by all means, but try your hotel’s gym or get up really early if you want to pound the pavement.
Same goes for any other types of sport where you’re going to exert yourself. You can get sick quite fast if you’re not used to the heat, and tourists do regularly.
7. Get in a taxi or tuk tuk before negotiating your fare
This is probably mostly important in tourist hot spots like Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Samui or Phuket. There are variations with taxi and public transport options – some locations do it better than others. Pattaya, for example, has the excellent ‘baht bus’ where you hop on and off and pay the driver 10 baht.
Bangkok too is generally taxi-friendly except that the traffic can be hideous around tourist traps around the city.
Meanwhile, getting a taxi or tuk tuk to go anywhere around Phuket is expensive, compared to anywhere else in Thailand and even some western cities. There’s a long history as to why taxis and tuk tuks are expensive and that’s a report for another day. The words ‘cabal’, ‘mafia’ and ‘extortion’ could be used in such an article, but we’ll leave all that for another day.
Your best bet if and when you’re going to use a taxi is to negotiate the fare before you get in. By all means bargain the stated price down as much as you can but make sure there is a firm understanding with the driver about the price before he turns the key.
By law, all taxis in Thailand are meant to use a meter. In Phuket it never happens. Never. ‘Meter not work’, blah, blah. In other parts of Thailand the meters appear to work a lot better, must be the humidity.
There has been decades of efforts by Government authorities, the Army and any number of well-meaning officials that has had precisely ZERO effect of the notorious taxis and tuk tuks in Phuket.
All you can do is accept that the prices are high and negotiate a fee, BEFORE YOU GET IN, wherever you are.
8. Sign contracts without advice from a qualified Thai lawyer
DON’T SIGN ANYTHING in Thailand without getting it checked over by a trusted and qualified Thai lawyer and advice from a western lawyer. You are conducting business in a foreign country, in a foreign language and there are thousands before you who have fallen foul of hastily or poorly prepared legal documents.
The list of stories over the years reporting on foreigners getting burned over contractual problems has filled Thailand’s newspapers and websites.
Guy meets girl. Girl and guy move in together. Guy decides he wants to buy a villa. Guy buys property under Thai GFs name (because foreigners can’t ‘own’ land in Thailand). Relationship goes sour. Thai GF vanishes and sells the house without telling ex-BF. And it gets worse from there.
Even if you’re signing a basic rental lease, get it checked by people who know the ropes of the Thai legal system. Check, check, check. And then check again.
9. Get in an argument with Thai police
You will always come off second best if you decide you’re going to challenge the boys-in-brown. Thai police have a job to do and, in most cases, do a sterling job given that a lot of the time (especially in places like Patong) foreign tourists do some REALLY stupid things.
Police in Thailand are, generally, poorly paid and there is a generation of police who still work their way up the system ‘buying’ higher positions in the police ranks so they can get a larger proportion of the ‘tea money’ (bribes) that are still rife in the system.
Whilst there are many, many efforts, made with the best intentions, the ‘system’ has been in place for many generations and corruption will still be around long after you’ve left the country. With all that said, if you get stopped for a minor indiscretion – not wearing your helmet or not carrying a valid license with you, etc – just pay up and go on your way.
Yes, you are feeding the pyramid of corruption but your other option is not paved with happiness. Ramp up the situation by insisting that you ’speak to the superior’ or go to the police station to voice your objection. You will come off second best, every time.
In a more serious situation, like a traffic accident or where someone’s been injured, you are best keeping your cool and insisting that a member of the tourist police or a consular official come to the scene before you do anything. At least make sure you call them before agreeing to ANYTHING.
DON’T get angry or get into an argument with the local police. Their English-language skills will probably be limited and they represent a system that can get you into a mountain of trouble, costs or jail if you don’t play your cards right.
10. Get your gear off
It’s hot and humid and you’ve come to Thailand for a swim. You’ve seen photos of bar girls in skimpy hot pants and a size-too-small singlets. You’re used to western values where topless bathing is acceptable.
Forget all this – you’re in Thailand and, despite the outwards acceptance of showing some flesh, it is still a deeply conservative country when it comes to what you wear and where you wear it.
There are plenty of double standards when it comes to this issue and you only really learn the subtleties after living here for a few years. The Thais will generally tolerate you wandering around shirtless in tourist zones but you don’t have to wander too far from the tourist hot-spots before the idea of ‘acceptable’ clothing changes quite quickly.
This becomes acutely apparent when it comes to visiting temples or anywhere there are images of members of the Thai Royal family or Buddha.
If you’re in any doubt about what the dress code is in any particular situation, ask a local.
Don’t, for example, wander down to the local Immigration office in your shorts, sandals and singlet and expect to get service – you won’t.
Going topless on a Thai beach will draw undue attention from the local constabulary, most likely resulting in a fine.
1. Have a quick read about the places you’re visiting and Thai customs on the internet. There are hundreds of sites that will spell out much the same mantra about behaviour, dos and don’ts. Here’s our LIST.
2. Do some homework about the places you want to visit, chat to other tourists and your hotel concierge about suggestions (although they’re usually on commission too)
3. If you are going to get into any business transaction consult a local lawyer plus a lawyer who speaks your language with experience in the transaction. Especially buying property.
4. Think before you act in most situations. You are in a foreign country and they truly do things differently in Thailand. The longer you live here, the more confusing it can seem. Turn your brain on before you hand over your money.
5. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Thailand, even if you can.
If you are looking to book a hotel in Thailand check out THIS link first.
BTS launch their new album on April 12, appear on Saturday Night Live the next day. Why this matters.
The music business is about to have another one of those seismic shifts in the next month as the power of the music business continues to dribble away from western record company influences to a more democratic, social media-driven, business model.
In the past two years, mainly, a small South Korean production house has re-tooled the massive world music business (and it is, first and foremost a ‘business’) with one product.
Bangtan Sonyeondan, better know around the world simply as BTS.
The seven members of the K-Pop phenomenon (and the word phenomenon is aptly applied in this case) actually debuted in 2013 after forming originally in 2011, but they’re hardly an overnight success with real struggles threatening their success along the way. The BTS that writes, produces and performs in 2019 is a slick, highly professional performance and business unit that has, mostly by design, completely rejigged the fatally-wounded ‘old’ music business model. From a try-hard hip hop band to world-class music artists is a fascinating journey in the annals of the modern music business.
Also consider they’ve done this singing, mostly, in Korean.
Whilst the record companies continue to roll out the ‘oldies’ with another Greatest Hits compilation, or interpret their 70s and 80s heroes on the big screen (another guarantee to boost flagging music sales and downloads), there is some light at the end of the music tunnel which gives us hope of some great tunes ahead.
From first impressions the septet of BTS are just another fresh-faced boyband with catchy hooks, hair tosses and screaming fans – we’ve seen it all before, right? Except that they’re South Korean in a white-washed music world.
But behind the facade is some raw talent, a highly skilled back-room and the use of social media as a jack-hammer, not just a tool. After charting two of their albums at #1 in the Billboard Hot 200 last year, a first for a Korean band, appearances on the American Music Awards, the Grammies, Ellen, all the popular Tonight Shows, the front cover of TIME and a series of sell-out concerts around the US, the seven young men are about to take the next big step, and it will be big.
Days after BTS announcing their forthcoming Map of the Soul: Persona album coming April 12, they also announced they are appearing on SNL, Saturday Night Live, (NOT Donald Trump’s favorite TV show) the day after.
Saturday Night Live announced that BTS will make their musical debut with Emma Stone, a self-declared K-pop fan, on the April 13 episode.
SNL is a highly coveted stage for any performer and has the ability to bring an artist to new heights of their career. A pre-fame Adele performing in a 2008 episode went on to the highest-rated episode in 14 years and sent her 19 album to new highs on the charts.
BTS, although still in their early to mid-20s, are already seasoned live and television performers. There would be more BTS live YouTube clips on the net than any other performer, period. They know the performance craft and how to play an audience. The sales of their music speaks for itself, their YouTube click numbers are astonishing. Type ‘BTS’ into Google and you get 490,000,000 results!
And that’s part of the magic formula that separates them from just about every previous band. Whilst using social media is nothing new, BTS has amassed an enormous world-wide audience of music downloaders, ticket and merchandise buyers and sheer screaming hordes beyond anything previously attainable. And there’s a lot more to come as the fan base spreads out of Asia into the rest of the world.
Of course it’s easy to say the band came along at the right time, given the rise and rise in social media’s impact on our lives. But they’ve been first band to really harness the power in ways most other bands never even thought about.
Their fanbase is called ‘Army’, an appropriate name given the onslaught on music fandom around the globe. That the enormous fanbase started in Asia and is spreading westward is something we’ve not seen before.
BTS also deliver a different message aimed squarely at their peers and not with the same gloss and sheen of most other K-Pop. It’s sometimes raw, always relevant, reflecting their own battles and scars as young people growing up in a complex world. They cry, they share their fears, they argue on their videos, they’re humble – it’s very different.
The BTS-on-SNL program will be, easily, the biggest audience the show will EVER have, not by a little, by a LOT. That’s quite an easy prediction given BTS’s chart history, their YouTube viewer numbers, their growing appeal and the sell-out concerts, around the world.
For a crash course in BTS, check out this video (below). There are also thousands, yes thousands, of other videos apart from their award-winning music videos as well. Such is the power of Army, the power of social media, the power of good music well performed, and the hope that cream always, eventually, rises to the top.
The Saturday Night Live episode airs in the US on April 13.
A new visa paperwork problem for some expats?
We get occasional emails from expats relating their various problems with Immigration as they apply for new visas or renewals. The common thread is that applying for, and renewing visas, is becoming unnecessarily complicated.
This one seems complex. Names have been withheld for privacy.
“I am a British citizen and my baby’s visas were renewed without an issue, but the Thai immigration has caused problems for my wife and wants me to prove that I am married to my Chinese wife so that I can renew her dependent visa for a third year.
The man’s wife and baby are on Dependent visas tied to his ‘Retirement’ visa.
Our marriage certificate is in Chinese so in order to get Immigration to acknowledge our marriage, she now has to go back to China to have our marriage certificate notarised and translated, first in her local home area, then sent to China’s foreign affairs office in Beijing for their stamp, THEN to the Thai embassy in Shanghai for their stamp, THEN to Bangkok for the Chinese embassy’s stamp.
This takes many weeks/months and it’s simply a joke and is ‘mission impossible’ to do.
My wife flew out to China today and I am at home here in Phuket with our 1 year old baby who was born here at the Siriroj Hospital.
The new guy in charge at the local Immigration office has apparently decided that the certified translation from an authorised translator here in Phuket, which was ok in previous years is now NOT recognised or accepted.
We have brought all our money here and own two properties. We have money in the bank, private medical insurance, spend all our money here, our baby was born here, but they have split up the family.?
“I just wondered if anyone else is aware of these changes?”
“It’s crazy to penalise the good, law abiding people and break up a family. I thought once I was on a retirement visa and met all the requirements that all would be ok?! But no.”
“We have been to the Chinese consulate here in Phuket, they cannot help. My wife’s visa runs out in 2 days so she has had to leave….. !?!?
And get this… from last year onwards all Thai embassies in China (Shanghai Beijing Guangzhou, etc) are all saying they need at least one month to process any non-immigrant visas (dependent, business or education visas). Why is it all becoming so complicated?
Not to mention that the months and huge expense wasted every year to do this is staggeringly stupid. We have been hear for years, retired for the last two years and now this paperwork road-block!?!”
PS. I worked and lived in China for over 6 years, and later retired here in Thailand, I have been married for 7 years and my wife and I have been together over 11 years now.
Top 10 ways to cope with the humidity in Thailand
It’s humid most of the year in Thailand. In the southern areas, during the ‘wet season’, it’s hot and humid all the time. You will sweat, a lot. Or in the case of ladies, you will perspire. Plenty of showers and common sense are your best simple advice. You WILL get used to it after a month or so and probably never worry about it again. In the meantime, here’s the Top 10 ways to do something about it…
1. Drink plenty of water
Drink lots of (bottled) water. Don’t drink out of the taps, even in the fanciest of hotels. Drinking lots of water will keep you hydrated and help you avoid headache, nausea and dizziness. If you come from a cooler climate you will find yourself needing to drink at least twice as much as you did before. (The Thaiger suspects that the water supply in many built up areas is probably potable these days – the ‘don’t drink the tap water’ story has been around for three decades. But be safe and drink the bottled water, it’s very cheap in Thailand.)
2. You need more salt than usual
…but most Thai food has plenty of salt already. When sweating you lose a lot of salt in the form of sweat. Just eating a few Thai meals each day will provide you with all the salt you need. But the evils of adding extra salt aren’t quite as evil when living in Thailand.
3. Wear loose fitting clothing made from natural fibres
Most of the time you’re only going to be wearing a single layer. Go for light colours and natural fabrics like cotton and linen. You will almost never wear a jacket or need a tie. Ladies, think ‘hot summer days’. Here’s your excuse to wear one of those outrageous tropical print shirts. But don’t feel too inclined to get your gear off – the Thai’s don’t appreciate TOO much skin – respect the local customs regarding skimpy clothing. Speaking of your clothes, beware closing the wardrobe door in the wet season. Without air circulation, after even less than a week, you’ll open to wardrobe doors to a sea of black mould. Just leave them open.
4. Exercise first thing in the morning or last thing at night
Don’t exercise in the middle of the day unless you’re insane. The heat of the day is best spent shopping, inside an air-conditioned office or as a siesta time. Go for a swim, take a nap. If you do need to be outside refer Item 3! All the running events (getting increasingly popular around Thailand) are held around 4 or 5 am. Get the idea? Take a bottle of water with you and drink more than you might usually drink during your exercise.
5. Wear a hat
Hats can be fashionable but in Thailand they’re also very functional. A hat will stop sweat dripping down your face and prevents the sun hitting you directly on your head, face or eyes. Sunglasses are also very important to protect your eyes from damaging UV. They also tell your brain that it’s not quite as bright as it actually is. Shade, generally, is worth pursuing as standing out in the sun, at any time, can really drain your energy and dehydrate you faster. Although the sun light isn’t particularly intense, it is hot, hot, hot when added to the humidity level.
6. Take your time – sabai, sabai
There’s no need to rush – adjust to a slower pace. Do what the locals do. Thai’s rarely rush around and tend to manage their pace to the levels of the heat and humidity. Rushing around will just heat up your body temperature and expose your body to heat-stress. Sabai, sabai (relax!)
7. Avoid air-conditioning, if you can
OK, it’s hot, we get it, but AC will likely cause your body even more stress if you spend all day in an air-conditioned room. Seek out cool places, sure, but try a fan, sitting in a cool breeze or under a tree. AC will really dry your air passages and your skin. For sleeping turn on the AC for an hour before you go to bed then use the ceiling fan (or a floor fan) for the rest of the night. Very few locals, even expats, will use AC for sleeping.
8. When in Rome, do as the Romans do
When it Thailand, watch the locals. They’re not running around the streets in the middle of the day and enjoy many showers during the day as well. Turn down the hot water when you head to the shower. Many Thais don’t even have hot water connected to their shower. Why bother? Especially if you live in the southern areas where the running water is quite warm, like the tropicals seas. A cold-water shower a few times a day will help keep you cool and refreshed. After showering it’s a good precaution to use some talcum powder in the ‘nether regions’ as sweat build-up and bacteria will thrive in a humid climate, sometime leading to rashes and itching. Nasty!
9. Mop up the sweat
You will sweat. Your body needs to sweat to help maintain your body temperature. A damp towel carried around in a plastic bag will be a perfect way to wipe your face, neck or hands from time to time. Some of us perspire more than others but there’s no problem in mopping up the perspiration from time to time – you’re not the only one sweating you know.
10. Eat healthy, light food
Lighter, less stodgy food is going to make your body work less to digest and keep you feeling a lot cooler and refreshed. Local fresh fruit and salads should be included in a humid-climate diet. Some of the Thai spicy dishes can be quite light as well but maybe keep off the heavier curries until the evening. Coconut water is available everywhere, cheap and very refreshing. You also have the prefect excuse for an ice-cream too!
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