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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Thai Family and familiarity

Thai Family
From the European perspective, the Thai family has a very traditional, and some would say, old fashion structure. Old fashion sounds negative but I believe that many of the normal Thai family traits appear similar to some of the great values of European living. By this I mean there is a strong sense of family and how it is perceived to fit in with the social hierarchy of the country as a whole. Thai parents and children have a profound understanding of who is senior and who should be respected as this is drilled into children at an early age. There is also a great respect for government work like army, police & bureaucrats and this sense of structure keeps the family unit grounded. It also helps keep Thailand uniform and cohesive.

Thai Family
Thai Family

Thai Schooling
From very early on, children are taught by rote, with a lot of repetition, to conform to norms as set out by their teachers and parents. The Thai alphabet is a 48 character system, each letter represented by common animals like chicken and snake and some more esoteric characters like monks cymbal bells. Children endlessly repeat the sound of the alphabet with associated representation until they know them backwards and can say them with the correct intonation. The intonation is something core to talking, understanding, reading and writing Thai. This chanting style at an early age pulls children in a uniform direction embracing the value of the culture.

Once these basic elements have been assembled, the Thai culture and Thai face is taught by Buddhist parables & fables that reflect Thai's basic relativism. Along side these cultural elements the sciences and social sciences sit. However I would comment that the majority of Thai people see the Thai cultural aspect as core.

Thai Schooling
Thai Schooling at the start of school

The elderly
The elderly are always addressed in an honourific term 'Pi' their name emphasizing their place in the family and in society. The style of language that is used to talk to an elder changes to show this respect. However they in turn are able to reply to the younger 'Nong' their name and use less formal language. This sense of elder younger is taught from a young age and is part of the fabric of life. The classic way to describe this comes from the following story. Imagine twins at birth. Aunts will gather round and  talk to the older baby as 'Pi' their name and 'Nong' their name to keep this hierarchy in place. This younger older conversation will stay with those children throughout their life and spreads out to include family and friends.

Ancestor worship
I'm not convinced that Thai people are ancestor worshipers unlike their Chinese-Thai compatriots who go to great lengths to pay their respects to the dead. Having said that, there is a fundamental awareness of relations in the after life in the tradition of believing in ghosts. Many of the most popular TV soaps include ghosts and their imaginary horrors.

No Nanny state.
Thailand is not a nanny state and the primary care process is based on the family. This emphasizes the need for good family relations and large and extended family ties.  Often getting work comes through who you know in the extended network of family and their friends. Many homes have elderly relations living our their days, some with far from satisfactory help but there is no European sense of state provision. For these reasons the family is at the core of Thailand living.

Familiarity.
Thais are not very tactile compared to Western cultures and care should be taken not be too informal before you get to know people. Thailand is very hot so it makes sense there isn't a lot of hugging or cheek kissing or even shaking hands. This I believe, is one reason why the Thai feel comfortable doing the 'Wai' (meaning 'bow') with their hands together as if in prayer, fingers pointing upwards.


Thai Wai or bow
Thai Wai or bow


Thailand since the Internet
Boy things have changed!

It's as if the internet has re-written social values all over the world and none more so than in Thailand. The 'smart phone generation' has come to large sways of the country, changing how people communicate and express their thought. There is a lot more slang, a lot more break-down-the-walls-of-hierarchy-and-independent-thought and having a voice, much to the chagrin of the older generation. This has created a social energy that puts the under 40's in a different mind set to those who have not embraced the internet.  However the language, schooling and values are the same, the powerful political classes and institutions change very slowly. So from the outside it is feels as if it's a modern version of the same culture. However, speaking to some of the older generation it's as if the world is getting turned upside down.

In a heavily networked family, the internet generation might find it more difficult to respect their elders and this is a fault line that will change Thailand over time.

Thai internet generation
Thai internet generation

Modern times
Modern times



Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Thai Shopping Malls, the aspiration lifestyle of choice

Siam Paragon Shopping Mall Bangkok
Siam Paragon Shopping Mall Bangkok next to Siam Square MBS skytrain.

Thai Shopping Malls

Shopping Malls in Thailand have an incredible pull on Thai society. Large sections of Thai society aspire to spend loads of time in smart, clean, air conditioned mega buildings. The modern shopping Mall is packed with the latest fun things to buy, eat, and look at and enjoy. It can often have cinema complexes, bowling alleys, Thai Massage and even attractions like Aquariums, which along with gardens, sculptures and displays, make it the go to entertainment center. Normally there is no bargaining for a deal in the main shops but quiet calm persistence can get some movement of the price if your smile is genuine enough.

SFX Cinema complex in side the Mall
SFX Cinema complex in side the Mall

It has also acquired the prestige of a cool (as in hip) place to meet up with friends and hang out. It really is an amazing phenomenon. Most places will have wi fi and internet connection down the mobile is great so you can hang out and be connected.

Not only that, Malls are often have large parking lots and so, for those who have a car, the symbol that shows the world that you have made it in the world, you can arrive in style. Having said that many people arrive on motor bikes, subway, bus, songtail tuk tuk, or simply walk, anything to be apart of the Mall lifestyle.

I think one of the most obvious draws for Thai people is comfort. The Mall removes you from the glaring sun, the heat and the humidity of the Thai seasons. It also provides a level a comparable comfort outside the home, if wealthy, but even a higher level of comfort, if less affluent. You could argue that any smart restaurant with air conditioning has the comfort, but because The Mall is similar to an enclosed village and allows you to walk around like you are in a smart shopping street, able to browse, compare, experience, shop, eat and just past the time of day. In addition it allows you to show how sophisticated you are and how you stand in the world.




The shopping Malls also plays heavily on Thai's love of food. It is rare to visit a country that is so engaged with food. From the simple local food to elegant Thai Royal cuisine, sophisticated tastes to rare and mainstream food franchises, the Shopping Mall is a place to come and meet friends and eat. The convenience of it cannot be stressed. The huge number of people on the roads, the stress of any day to day living can be wiped clean with a walk around the Mall, a chat with friends and a bite to eat.

One of my favourite eating experiences are the Shopping Mall food courts. Surrounding many many tables you have small food outlets with local food. Here you can enjoy all the local street food without the heat of the street, all the local desserts and specialties and often at great value. Normally you buy a swipe card from the kiosk for 100-200 THB, buy any dishes you like, and then return the card, getting any unused credit back in change.



Busy food court in the Mall
Busy food court in the Mall

(While I'm thinking of it) It's not strictly a Mall but does have multiple food outlet like a Mall. One little gem that is worth knowing is the food court at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). It's down stairs near to the Suvarnabhumi skytrain station entrance. This a great place to taste that authentic taste before a flight but also before passport control on departure.

Those who cannot afford the time and money to go to the Mall aspire to this lifestyle. Thai society is quite hierarchical so there is big face if you can go and be at ease with your surroundings. A way to show you are at ease is to walk around with many bags of shopping, ideally with the most expensive brands on show. Huge section of the Thai society love to shop and feel great comfort in buying into well known brands. Marketing people have worked this all out so now their are an entire range of Shopping Mall's that focus in on branding by income and demographic.

Quieter times food court,
Quieter times food court,

Different shopping Mall franchises.
General Malls like Big C or MBK off Siam Square aim at those with a lower income and tweak their business model for exactly the profile of people who can afford the entry level products. The Central Shopping Mall aims at the aspiring middle class and this franchise can be found all over Thailand. High end Malls like The Emporium off Sukhumvit in Bangkok cater to the super wealthy and you can feel that affluence by the watches worn, bags, designer labels of all the customers. So by going to the Mall it  has become a status symbol which measures where you are in society.

MBK Bangkok- Shopping Mall
MBK Bangkok- Shopping Mall
MBK Shopping Mall
MBK Shopping Mall

In 2014 the Worlds most used Instagram hashtag for a while was #paragon (siamparagon.co.th) a seven storey mega Mall in Bangkok with all the top clothing (Chanel) brands, high end jewelers (Cartier) and a whole section devoted to selling Porshe, Ferrari, & Lambourgini. This was an aspiration movement hashtag and with over 7 million hits showed that being part of the Mall lifestyle has a profound meaning inside Thailand.

Central Festival Phuket
Central Festival Phuket

The Meaning of the Materialism
From a western perspective the Thai Shopping Mall might come over as highly materialistic which, at one level, it is. But there again I think there is more to it. There is massive social cohesion in Thai society and being part of the group represents good. From an early age, children are taught at school to believe that the Thai way is the best way and doing what other Thais do is a good thing. Buying into known brands at popular shopping Malls, eating with other like minder people reaches a deep comfort level that reinforces the belief system.

Another aspect of the success of the Shopping Mall is it's modernity. Modern, not old and backward, is the hallmark of progress. Thai people sees themselves as modern and from a modernizing society, a developing country looking forward optimistically to a brighter future. So in this sense the Mall gives Thai people a sense they are part of the future.

It is important to understand that this isn't a western sense of optimism, it is purely a Thai one based on strong foundations of shared Thai Values, a strong school system to teach them and a profound love of being Thai. So although the Mall looks like something you might see in London, Paris or New York it most definately has a strong Thai twist and theme and very unique social interaction.

What this love of the shopping mall culture tells me about Thai people is that they are very confident about the future and confident on who they are. They are happy to spend and spend as nothing in the future will stop the progress of their country.









Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Coco's Guesthouse Phi Phi Island.

Coco's Viewpoint look out, 30 min from reception
Coco's Viewpoint look out, 30 min from reception

Coco's Guesthouse or Hostel Phi Phi Island.

Phi Phi has a very long established history for good value traditional backpacker and traveler accommodation. Ever since Cabana's straw huts on Tonsai Beach in the late 70's Phi Phi has been the part of that delightful coming of age travel circuit that covers South East Asia. Now Phi Phi is much more a party Island than it ever used to be, but still the majestic beauty of its cliffs, island's hidden sandy bays, draws all who want a glimpse of paradise.



Coco's Guesthouse Fan rooms in the village
Coco's Guesthouse Fan rooms in the village

Coco's is one of those classic and traditional Thai Guesthouses that appeared in the 1980's and 1990's that specifically serve the traveling mindset. A mindset that wants to explore, explore, explore and then fall asleep in a quiet corner among other like minded souls. The fan rooms at Coco's off this traditional simple room with a balcony onto the main thoroughfare path of the old village all set in a pavilion structure.


Fan rooms at PP Coco's
Fan rooms at PP Coco's

Following the trends of credit card backpacker and the more affluent traveller, Coco's does have standard and superior air conditioned accommodation to cater for those who want a bit more than the basic. However, the atmosphere of a guesthouse set in the village is paramount and fondly kept by the owners.
Phi Phi Coco's standard rooms
Coco's standard rooms

Coco's Superior Air Con 4 person room, hot water, tv.
Coco's Superior Air Con 4 person room, hot water, tv.


The Coco's name game from the coconut trees that covered the island in large plantations. Many of these trees have been cut down in the center of the village but there are still many around the guesthouse, so you must be careful and make sure you don't get hit by them when they fall (which is often very signaled when it gets windy.)




Monkeys can often be seen at Coco's and will always come down the mountain to steal the mangoes off Cocos trees. The guesthouse is right next to the Viewpoint Hill and many of these playful creatures come to harvest the fruit in season.  However it is worth mentioning that they have become a little too tame from being fed by the guides and tourists, but then fierce when crossed.  I advise people to keep your distance.





Coco's is 5-7 minutes walk from the world class Loh Dalum Beach which is stunning during the day (but with a tidal beach) and with quite the party scene by night. Coco's is just far enough away to not be effected by the late night revelry.



Loh Dalum Beach Phi Phi
Loh Dalum Beach Phi Phi

Loh Dalum Beach Phi Phi
Loh Dalum Beach Phi Phi

If you are visiting Phi Phi and staying at Coco's, let them know your arrival time at the pier and they will pick you up with their Trolley service.



Getting to Phi Phi has got easier and easier and still the 'go to' place to get your tickets for transfers from Phuket or Krabi  Beach resorts or Airport is at phi-phi.com. it is still the website to organize speedboat transfers, especially when  your plane misses the last ferry to Phi Phi Island.


Getting to Phi Phi Island
Getting to Phi Phi Island

Coco's website is at; http://ppcocos.com/

See also the Backpacking in Thailand blog.

Monday, 2 November 2015

I'm Back. Where is the blog going? What's new? That Killer Travel Blog

Just to say I'm back on the blog hot seat and am going to post on my take on the travel scene where ever that takes me.

Having been in the travel scene for over 30 years I think I am in a good position to comment on how it has changed, mostly for the better but in some situations lament the loss of the big world feeling since the advent of the internet and mass information. The irony is not lost on me when I say this as the information has partly been propagated in blogs such as these. However as I say to anyone who will listen, there is information and informed information and I hope you might agree this is the latter.

I'll also start to write on new series of what's new with regard to Phi Phi news,  which is a place I have known for over 20 years.

Since I last wrote I have gained a greater understanding on the Guesthouses of Phi Phi Island with all the new rooms now on offer. By helping with the promotion of Coco's guesthouse I have now have a first hand understanding of what makes it tick from the local side.  I'll explain how the advent of the internet has totally changed the way people find accommodation and places to stay.

I'll also report on the latest travel information, on getting to Phi Phi Island and all the new transfer and ferry links that make the island very accessible on a short or longer visit.

And anything else...

Well as I sit here and type a few thoughts cross my mind. One which I really think is at the heart of off all travel blogs and that is; How to get that killer holiday at a great price. But more of that later. I will now sign off for the moment as I have to continue with the day job.