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Friday, December 30, 2011

Thai Nudity... no images- culture.

This blog looks at where, why, when nudity in Thailand happens seen from the perspective of a normal Thai National and a European. The blog has been written without nude images in an attempt to make it serious.

As I have commented in previous blogs this month, Thai Culture maintains a rather conservative and traditional form and public nudity in Thailand is rare. When you compare the tabloid newspaper images from Europe with those of a Thai newspaper you can see that Europe is far more at home with topless female images on display every day. In Europe these tabloid papers show a daily diet of provocative and racey images that would not be accepted in Thailand.

Even when many people from outside Thailand point to the well publicised girlie bars, go-go clubs and shows and say this can't be true, the fact remains that the vast majority of Thai culture looks down on, frowns at and rarely gets involved in nudity.

'Thai Face' ensures that only those who have been forced or dropped to the lowest levels and find themselves in the sex industry would show themselves off in public. How you look is of key concern to Thai people and being nude in public is not seen as desirable in anyway.

As in Europe, it would never be seen as a worthwhile drunken prank, to pose nude for a picture or an expression of free will to be nude in public. The European act of nudity of enjoying time with no clothes on in public or at a nudist camp, would be a complete anathema to a Thai National.

Nude or topless beaches in Thailand
I know this is a complicated area of thought and a potential minefield for opinion but in my humble opinion, your average Thai citizen would react as much, and if not a lot more than a European in seeing a nude lady or man. This isn't an issue for tourist in Thailand in the norm except when Europeans visit Thai beaches.

Topless female sun bathing in a hotel or resort is not really seen as the done thing even though it does happen. Most of the time the hotel or resort owners would be too embarrassed to comment to a guest, but take it from me, it is not considered normal.

Nude beaches are not formally sanctioned in Thailand but some beaches are more known as more tolerant than others. Many tourists to Thailand from Europe will go topless but not on the main beaches. When women go topless they will get many admirers and often unwanted attention so these places are typically off the beaten track. The vast majority of Thai men are not used to seeing topless and so nudity creates quite a stir.

By the by....

Thai men and women.

Thai men and women are strong characters when it comes to marriage and living their life. By comparison European men and women share a lot more equal status with their wife's. There is a culture of acceptance among many strong Thai men for having affairs or taking up with a girlfriend while married. This is certainly not the rule but compared to Europe it is more common.

Coffee House sexuality.
The coffee house, often found in an established hotel is a feature in towns where men would go to be sung to /crooned at by Singers, women who, over time, might be asked out on a date by the men in the coffee shop. But this is more sensual entertainment and fully clothed.

Sex outside marriage
It might be argued that there are less cultural barriers to sex in Thailand than in Europe. Older Christian values of sex outside a marriage are similar to Buddhist values but failure to stay faithful in Christian lore brings out emotions of guilt where in Thailand the values it would be more to do with loss of face for your self or within the family.

Girlie Bars.. a go-go entertainment.
There is a lot of nudity inside the streets in places like Patpong in Bangok and Soi Bangla in Patong, Phuket but this is not the focus of this blog subject.

To help promote this blog I have listed the search words with a similar theme
Thai nude
Thailand nude
Thailand nudity
Thai nudity
Thai nudist
Thailand nudist
Thailand nudist beach

No Caveat
Again, these are my personal thoughts on nudity in Thailand.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What is Thai Face or 'saving face'?

What is face, or saving face?
Thai face saving is about how Thai people conduct themselves in their lives, a key components of the glue that holds Thai society together. Keeping Face is closely entwined with the many Thai hierarchies that exist in society, class, seniority in age, social or business position. Face is partly respect (giving face) but also defines the defensible boundaries between people in these different hierarchies (saving face). In a further expansion of the idea, face is used to define and measure acceptable social mobility between people, positions in an organization and class.

Thai face.
The vast majority of children in Thai schools are taught a strict moral compass at school, almost Victorian or Edwardian in it's attitude to style and content. These ideals place strong pressures on children but also give them a strong sense of what it is to be Thai and what is acceptable behaviour.

On raising the Thai flag every morning, school children are imbued with the strength and glory of the Thai Kingdom, a strong reverence for The King, fundamental respect for the authority of the state and an all important sense of where they fit into society.

Explaining why this is so effective in Thailand, 95% of all Thai's are 'same culture Buddhists'. Culturally and religiously they are the same, there is very little history of immigration. Their is a strong buddhist culture that ensures there are many children brought up by monks, especially in the poor areas of Thailand. Also deciding to go into the temple for 3 months absovles you from doing National service.

Aligning their similar education with a strong cohesion of religious thought makes for a strong sense of what it is to be Thai. This is something to be proud of and also something to defend. Thai people are fiercely proud of who they are, a country never conquered like so many others, during the colonial era of history.

Family Loyalty, society and Face
Living in Thailand is more based on the extended family than a European sense of the political society. Having said that, the the last few years has seen a massive upsurge in political demonstrations and a commentary on the political elite. As the Bangkok middle class voice grows, Thai society is changing, as the use of social networks and phones become more ubiquitous out side the capital, change is inevitable. However, whether it totally changes the family I doubt.

Families can be large organisms in Thailand with the extended family coming to dozens of people. Along with the family's trusted friends you can get almost everything done. Whether it is advice on the law, finding the right doctor, helping with a loan, knowing which governement officail to work with, the family knowledge bank is essential.

Within the family there are weak or strong bonds but when an indiviual is pushed, the collective face, support and help of the family will often ensure that the family stays protected and it's bond stays strong. As Thailand is a lot more focused on the family than many northern European countries beware crossing someones family face. Family will look after themselves.

Personal face
The way the shopping malls in Thailand are packed every day testifies to how important the visual impression of ones self is in Thailand. People dress very well and will tend to dress up rather than slovenly. How a person carries themselves and how they expect to be treated is important as it defines who they are. As with many Asian cultures who adhere to the virtues of a society with face, shopping by brand name is critical as it allows the buyers to define who they are and what group they follow.

Thai people don't take kindly to being put down, told off as this can be seen to breaking their face. This is an attack on their deepest held beliefs and if you push someone to this point expect a very strong reaction.

Issues come when foreigners (holiday makers) use of language pushes a Thai person into a corner from where their good manners can't move. Thai people are very forgiving towards foreigners who do not understand these rules of face and will let us make many mistakes but if cornered they will react very quickly.

Is face the same or similar to European 'Pride'?
As the saying goes, Pride comes before a fall. European values are based on Christian virtues, a list of moral do's, dilemmas and character styles you should steer clear of. Pride is something that society tends to steer clear of where as face is something that everybody in Thailand possesses. So on my take on face, you can be a European without pride but it is difficult to be Thai without face.

Having said all the above there are many Europeans who do have a similar or equivalent personality traits. The politician, the salesman, the perfect house wife, the guy who is never wrong, all have a similar traits. They will defend and justify their action, word or deed in spite of vague realities. This can have some aspects similar to face but deep down is something quite different.

Giving face
'Giving face' is the term used to show that you act in a way where you know the other persons boundaries or hierarchy and enforce these with simple respect and in some situations, flattery. This can appear from the outside as facetious but it has an important role of keeping the structure of the hierarchy in place.

If you are trying to work with someone who holds the power for getting something done, the process of 'giving face' can be a way of making the other person feel comfortable with you. I personally, will go out of my way to dress smartly and act courteously if I am going to see a doctor, policeman or government official as this seems to get the best and quickest results.

The digital new Age the youth and face.
The anonymity of driving a car, the phone and Internet means that since 1980 some of the traditional face values are diminishing country wide. The common theme with the car, phone and Internet is that Thai people do not need to be face to face when they interact. However once these same people are face to face their demeanour changes and people drop into the role they see themselves best representing.

Face in Asia
Face is very common in Asia but varies depending on where you are. Understanding the face issues and boundaries are essential for doing business in the these countries and greatly help visitors if they want to enjoy an extended stay.

All the views above a self observed from living and being strongly connected to Thailand for 20 years. I am exceedingly pro Thailand and if anything said here offends, I apologies.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thai food court

If you are a lover of Thai food in all it's guises then a trip down the local food court is one of Thailand's great foodie pleasures. Food courts are a name for an organized places to eat where the landlord will bring together a full and wide range of differing food types. These mini shops are owned by individuals who share their profit with the landlords and have 2-3 meters shop front to sell their specialities. As you go in you buy coupons and use them to buy your meals at the stalls. This ensures that the landlord controls the amount taken. The stall holder gets a percentage of the profit. You can return the coupons for cash at the end.

If you love curry you will love this!

Lining up for the coupons. This doesnt take long.

You might get a couple of curry stalls, a couple of noodle soup variations, Thai salads, chicken and rice, pork, rice specialities and Thai deserts and drinks. You might get Northern Thai food delicacies in the south and southern delicacies in the north so you might find it an excellent place to find food types you cant get in your hotel or resort. There are rarely less than 7 or 8 of these mini stalls in a food court but sometimes, like my favourite in Bangkok Airport, over 20.

Pahd Thai heaven.

I like going to the food courts as my Thai wife can eat something totally different to me and we are both happy. The food show cased is rarely available in restaurants at the same level of originality. I find menus catering to the westerner's tastes relatively mild in flavour and small in variation and so I appreciate this real deal. It is disappointing to me when hotel Thai food is so without any spice and too often lacks the intensity of preparation. The food courts are also fast and very good value.

Thai desserts

The food courts are packed at office meal times but as many people will snack these places are often busy throughout the day. Traditionally the meals are small because it is common to have
a couple of dishes rather than one large meal, European style. More often than not people will eat with friends rather than be alone as is the norm for most of Asia. This means the process of sharing food will allow you to try more than a couple of dishes. This is very Thai, very communal and very sociable.

Variety of food in Thailand often takes a traveller by surprise. The number and variation of ways of preparing rice or noodle, the number of soups types not to mention the variations of vegetable and fruits makes this experience truly memorable if it is your first time.

Fresh Mango with Khao Niaow rice and coconut sauce

Thai food courts are inexpensive, often street food brought into a collective environment to give the eating public a great variation in one location. Nearly all large public buildings seem to have them. They are an essential ingredient of the Shopping mall and can be found in their older format next to old markets.

Issan Food from the North

One of my favourites is at the salubrious Supercheap wholesale market on Thepkrassattri Rd Phuket. Here you can get meals with the freshest ingredients and the tastes that really jump out at you. The curry stall owners vie with each other on choice and variation each day creating over 20 different dishes just on each stall.

As it is linked to the wholesale market it brings in fresh produce and the meals are sold to those who know fresh and in that sense have high standards. It's not the cleanest of venues, it is open air without air con but the through put of food and the 600 degrees in which food is cooked ensures safe eating (well for me anyway).

A mix match plate from a curry stall

Another surprise food court I love is at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport. Click on the link to see a video. You have to dig through the airport map to find it as it is there for the workers at the airport and anybody wanting the original local tastes of Thailand. (The food court is near the MRT, the modern rail link, entrance).

One final gem. Seafood which is so hard to find in many parts of Europe can be found at many food courts especially if you are near the sea. As well as having a stunning variation it comes at fantastic value. This is worth checking out.

Bar BQ squid .... wow

If you are staying in a Hotel or resort or seviced apartment you will not find food like this around the premises. If this kind of food exploration excites you then take a walk or get down to the nearest shopping Mall and head for the top floor.

More links to articles on Thai Food
Dining on Phi Phi Island
Recommended Trendy Restaurants in Phuket
Thai cooking classes
Restaurants in Haad Rin
Bangkok restaurants
Recommended Restaurants in Pattaya

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Diving in Thailand

Thailand Diving is an experience to match the best in the world though not all reefs and seas are equal. The Similan islands enjoy the premier diving sites but are out in the Ocean and so many visitors end up diving the Thailand's inland reefs which are closer to the main resort destinations of Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. These diving sites are more variable and are more influenced by local conditions such as the state of the moon/ tide, weather and season and their position in the greater ocean reefs.

Often diving is organised and pre-booked before departure. It gives you a chance to research the dive company, and work on any reviews, good or bad that might make your decision  easier. Having said that, if you are staying a luxury island 4 and 5 star hotel or resort then you will be able to organise your diving 'in house'.

Euphoria. Loving it

Thailand's most famous diving islands.
The Similan diving experience is perhaps the stand out dive location in Thailand as it is a series of small islands surrounded by beautiful reefs far from the mainland shores of Phang Nga Province. Diving in the Similans give you the best waters in Thailand, clear and free from any fishing debris and any of the coastal villages. The western coast is on the Indian Ocean and shares a similar but diverse habitat of all the islands that stretch from Koh Tao in the south, Past the vast array of islands off Burma and up to the Bay of Bengal.

Similan Islands

Turtle in the Similans... beautiful sand!

In the deep waters off the Similans there are a series of migratory paths for some of the Thailand's migratory pelagic species and whale shark, manta are a common sight. Many dive boats leave Phuket island or Khao Lak (Tapla Mu) to reach the Similan islands which lay out to sea and just over the horizon. It is only recently that day diving from the mainland has been made possible with the introduction of large and fast speedboats to take divers out as for nearly all the history of diving in the Similans diving has been done by live aboard. There are many live aboard operations that cater from simple to the high end luxury diving experience.

Phuket Diving
One of Thailand's key tourist destinations, Phuket has has a wealth of diving sites though there is very minimal diving from the shore. Most diving centers on taking the day boats from Chalong Bay going out to Racha Island, Shark Point and Phi Phi Islands. On Racha island the visibility is excellent with 40 meters being common. This is one of Phuket's closest reefs and enjoy all year conditions. Phuket Shark Point is one of Thailand's iconic dive days where you are able to dive 2 submerged reefs and the Wreck all within a 600m square.
The wreck dive. Reached from Phuket or Phi Phi
Cuttlefish off Shark Point

Phi Phi Island.
The famous Thailand island of Koh Phi Phi lies some 45km-48km from Phuket and Krabi respectively and is home to more reefs, rock walls, caves underwater pinnacles than most other areas of Thailand. It has the reputation of a mecca for divers. Not only does it have an extraordinary array of dive sites, they are often no more than 15-20 minutes by boat from the shore. On top of this and with speedboat transfers you can get to Koh Ha or Hin Daeng with in a days dive where you can get to see Whale Sharks in the right season. PADI courses are taught at the 15 or so dive schools on the islands.

Day Dives off Phi Phi Island

Manta off Hin Muang

Swim through Phi Phi Island

Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao
Diving off Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao is diving in the southern reaches of the Gulf of Siam and part of the Pacific Rim diving experience. This zone of diving is nearer the historic start of marine life and is open to more variety of sea life than the Thailand's western shore. However geographically this area is at the end of the diving archipelago starting nearer Papua New Guinea and Indoneasia. Although excellent diving it has less migratory traffic from the larger species of marine life.

Off Sail Rock

One of the key dive sites is Sail Rock, a large granite pinnacle that breaks the surface. Far from land it is an obvious location for schools of trevally to feed off the juveniles that cloud together in defense of these dangerous predators. It is also home to large schools of long fin batfish. 30 meters deep it has a glorious swim through that can be entered at 20 m and left at 5 m. This cavern like structure can be full of glassfish, confusing the way through. Home to morey eel and the occasional passing whale shark, Sail Rock is one of Thailand's key dive sites.

Whale shark off Sail Rock

PADI Courses to learn diving are taught at Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.

Dancing Durban Shrimp

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thai Smile customs- culture.

What's in a smile? Well to a Thai, it's almost life itself.

One of the most appealing aspects of travelling around Thailand to someone new to the country, is the Thai smile. Many foreigner traveling to Thailand have commented to me that they have never experienced anything like it. It's almost as if they question whether their home country, in fact the rest of the world, has got it all wrong. In my own humble opinion I think they probably have and it is one of the jewels in the Thai culture that's often overlooked.

The power of a smile
You can experience the power of the Thai smile as you arrive in a European capital after a visit to Thailand and are confronted by faces showing, stress, distress, and at best a neutral demeanour. There is no uplift in your own heart as you arrive in these places as the smile is missing.

From the moment you set foot on Thai Airways or arrive in the airport you can see working people going about their business with a smile and rarely a frown on their face. This is not absolute and I will talk about the unhappy below. I must admit that not all immigration personnel are happy and smiling but we must be careful of being too literal, they have a serious job to guard the Thai boarders. However once you are enveloped by the Thai culture and custom of smiling, it is uplifting and relaxing. It's as if everything is possible.

The Thai custom to smile
The smile is something that all Thai's give to each other. I think it adds to community, a sense of agreement on what it is to be Thai and it echos and reverberates through society. There are strong beliefs among Thai people about the way you should conduct yourselves. It is important not to externalize your negative emotions as this spreads unhappy thoughts around. Conversely, showing a positive outward demeanour means that you can enter conversation with a positive spin. Living with a positive spin is a lot easier to have a happier life and or to get a solution to a problem.

A Thai introduction starts with a smile
Many assume the equivalent to a western hand shake is a wai between people (a bowing gesture with palms of the hands together in a Christian prayer shape, and the tips of the fingers just below the nose). This is the form of greeting, the initial physical recognition of each other but the equivilant of the pressure of the hand grip in a hand shake is fully completed in Thailand by the smile.

No negotiation will ever progress far unless you come to it with an open and light heart, being prepared to give and take. By smiling you are showing that you are alive to the possibilities and that perhaps your stance can be improved on or altered. There is a strong believe that both sides of a negotiation can be recognised and accommodated.

I suppose the Asian love of harmony is at the bottom of this, the ideal of, if we try to live together, more can be achieved than if we set up barriers and come accross as confrontational, negative or cup is always half full.

Thai characters traits
For Thai people, a smile is the norm and shows you are jai dee (a good heart, good character). It shows to the outside world that you are not angry, or hot tempered and that you have a sunny disposition. This might seem a strange emphasis but one of the worst commentaries you can have thrown at you is that you are jai lrorn (a hot head) or worse jai dum (a black heart, a bad character). Many Thai people will naturally steer clear of jai lrorn and jai dum as this type of character will be associated with trouble.

A smile rather than language
The Thai language is a complex process of protocol with a far less precise grammar structure than say English of German. Also it is is very full of idioms. The literal Thai translation for 'hi, how's it going' can mean 'have you eaten' or 'where are you going friend?' in the many and various situations of life.

Thai hierarchies and language
Traditionally the Thai society is very structured with very definite hierarchies and positions to be observed. Talking to an elder or younger, a subordinate, a superior or a government official might all employ differing turns of phrase showing the understanding of each others place in that society, organization or family. The smile of a jai dee person is the universal language that cuts through all the levels and allows you to communicate with everybody more freely.

A smile is in the eyes.
Not all smiles are the same. This is a world wide truth. A smile from a politician might not have the same resonance as a smile between friends and family. A genuine smile seems to show in the eyes and last longer. A happy person, unaffected by pressures has a clear shinning smile that makes the eyes glow (a twinkle) and conversely an unhappy person has a smile that shows a duller hue, or even a sadness. Similarly a smile born of genuine happiness lasts longer than one that has been is forced.

Don't be confused by a smile and hard reality.
Many tourists staying in a hotel or resort in Thailand are totally knocked out by the Thai smile and fall in love with the country and people immediately. This is understandable for the reasons above. However the Thai smile can often mask realities of daily life.

I have seen Thai people who have taken a knock and are obviously in pain, smile as they don't want to show that pain. They dont want to share their anguish and want to minimise a bad experience for their friends. I suppose this is similar to a stoic's response in Europe.

I have seen people smile and say yes to questions when they should have said no, rather than admit they cant help a tourist in their country. This is a matter of face, another custom and complexity of understanding what is going on in Thailand. (I'll write something about this soon.) This could be seen as weak willed and it sometimes is, but is also part of a Thai's natural custom to look after Thai-ness and covers their inate pride in which they hold their own country.

Protesting with a smile

Face and smiling is one of the areas that causes most problems for tourist in Thailand. Here is example. A tour bus is late and the tourist wants to know why it is late as they might miss their ferry boat, transfer etc. The bus driver will often give a smile and give a 'sorry I don't know' in response. The Thai national will understand that it is late but has no way of changing this fact. His answer might very well be to smile in this situation. This can often be read incorrectly by the foreigner who might think that the Thai is making fun of him or that he doesn't care. This might make the foreigner more upset but still the only reaction is a smile. The westerner wants to see that there is some sympathy with their situation (as European values would perhaps expect). However in this situation, the foreigner seems to get the opposite. If the foreigner persists in questioning and raising his her voice, the Thai might move from a smile to a nervous laugh. This intern upsets the foreigner more but this is the instinctive reaction to situations where the Thai feels that matters are getting out of control.

Fixing a problem using Thai customs to your advantage.
If there is a problem, never get upset or show your feelings externally as this will get a counterproductive reaction. Try to relax and smile and go through your problem, request for information and you will get a lot further. Perhaps this will take a lot more time than back in a home country but going calmly about your business will get to a solution or no solution without creating further problems.

Unhappy people
Life is complex and not all Thai people follow the one stereo type or idealized pattern that is learnt in Thai schools. Tourists do come accross those who are worked too hard or are too tired. There are some that only see westerners as an opportunity to make some money. ( I would ask you to consider whether there are people like that in your own country). The smile is not in the eyes any more and with everyone like this all over the world, you try to keep your distance. Having said that, many of these unhappy people will be better company if you in turn smile at them.... smiling can be addictive and contagious!!

Happy Smiling..

Phi Phi Thailand

Phi Phi Thailand commands a magical place in the hearts of all those who have travelled there. The sheer beauty of the sea and landscape of the island is enough for you to just stop and gaze, stunned. When you round the corner of Phi Phi Don, coming from Phuket or Krabi, the ferry boat rails are full of one scene every day. In some of the smaller boats you can even detect the boat leaning over fractionally with the numbers of people all on the left side, taking in the scene of Phi Phi Don or shooting off a picture for memory. It's as if Hollywood has taken the most glamorous tropical setting ever and plonked it in front your very eyes. It is truly inspiring.

Phi Phi Thailand. Phi Phi Ley

And yes it is the place where Leonardo Di Caprio made his famous movie, 'The Beach'. It was set in the jewel of Phi Phi Thailand on Maya Bay. You can see why this one Bay has the pull that it does. It is a near perfect example of that Hollywood improbable landscape that is just too pretty to ignore. I like to visit before 9.30am and after 3pm as it is alot cooler then and the tour boats from Phuket have gone back.

The Best of Phi Phi Thailand
The best place to start is with a list of all that is great on Phi Phi, the must see, top activities to do, where to go and then take a deep breath. For such a small island it has a superb selection of attractions, activities and nightlife.

If you like diving then Phi Phi has some of the regions best dive sites and dive schools. Phi Phi is at the center of things good in the dive world in Thailand. Whether you are new to the underworld experience and need to take a PADI course, or whether you have just trained and needs some beautiful yet non technical diving, or finally if you need something challenging, Phi Phi has it within 1 hour speedboat trip. In fact 85% of all the reefs are just 20 minutes from Phi Phi Don main pier so there is plenty of opportunity to dive and still get to see the rest of the island. This is why Phi Phi island is a magnet for divers and there are over 20 dive schools on the island.

The image below is of Blue View Divers that has an interesting policy of going out with the traditional longtail boats rather than the large dive boast. This has a double advantage to the diver that make it unique. Primarily you are very limited to the numbers in the dive group as the longtail boat has a maximum loading limit. The other advantage is that it can enjoy a different surface time between dives. Where as the traditional dive boat anchors off a beach, a longtail can go onto the sand so you can have a bit of an explore or a lazy moment on the sand.

Blue View Diving Phi Phi Thailand

Similarly, snorkeling in the shallow reefs of Phi Phi Don Island and Phi Phi Ley Island, some 20km of reef are tremendous fun place to explore. My favourite time on Phi Phi is snorkeling with the sharks, see image below. These black tip reef sharks are harmless to humans and yet make a thrilling morning out down on Long Beach. There is nothing like getting your heart racing than having an encounter with a 1-2meter long shark. The Black Tip Reef Shark are timid and time in the water must be spent without disturbing the sea or thrashing around for the best success.

Phi Phi Thailand. Black Tip Reef Shark
Kicking Back
Many of those who travel to Phi Phi Thailand just need the beach, a place to sit and relax. There is nothing quite like sitting in a world beauty spot, maybe with a drink and a chance to be still, take it all in and just breath. It's no suprise that people love to do nothing on their holiday as it is the way to unwind. As my heart beat lowers to my minimum, I find true relaxation.

Phi Phi Don Village
The village at Phi Phi Thailand is a mesmerizing mix of restaurants, bars, dive schools, souvenir shops all connected by pathways. There are no cars on the island so you just walk around. If there is one thing that gets you slowed down into that holiday mode, it is walking. At 30 degrees C, a brisk pace doesn't cut it. You must walk slow or you over heat.

The village is a curious mix of tourist land and the village. Thai people work on the island and they have their market center, their mosque and life goes on in parallel and yet both sides of the tourist industry walk along the same paths going to the same destinations. The walking brings everybody down to the same level and this gives a great village feel, a shared experience.

The Muslim aspect of the village does not have a large impact on the tourist experience. The Phi Phi Thailand Muslims are very tolerant and used to holiday makers. In fact 95% of the population has an income from tourism.

Phi Phi Hotels and Resort

Most Phi Phi Accommodation is right on the beach and there are still many resort offering the bungalow / cottage or villa style so loved in Europe. However in the last 5 years there have been some new low rise hotels put up that have increased the number of quality rooms on the island (namely PP Palmtree Resort & PP Andaman Legacy).

Prices are quite high on Phi Phi but you can understand that there are real additional costs in getting all your provisions from the mainland 48 km away.

Thailand Phi Phi. Phi Phi Island Village Resort

If you are choosing a place to stay on Phi Phi it is good to work out how close you want to be to the main Phi Phi Don Village. Some people hunt out the beach party scene and wouldn't be where it is inconvenient to get late night longtail boat taxis. Others need the peace and quiet of the north of the island at Laem Tong. I love Long Beach as it is close to the village so you can get a 10 minute taxi boat but far enough away so you can really get away from the village.

In the days of yore
I first arrived here in 1992 and for me, the charm of the place is that not much of the scenery has changed. (sure the village has changed and the hotels have improved). I have spoke to many of the people who travelled to Phi Phi before me and they talk of the time when the Cabana Hotel was a few grass huts on the beach. This part of Phi Phi Thailand has changed out of sight but in many ways it has become more accessible to more of the world. It is a great shame if you get to Thailand and you don't get time to see one of the truly classic island get aways in the world.

Phi Phi Thailand. The Remote Lanah Bay

The spelling of Phi Phi Thailand.

Phi Phi Thailand is sometimes referred to as Co Phi Phi, Koh Phi Phi, Phiphi, PP or Ko Phi Phi. Co Phi Phi is the latest spelling for the island and the Co part of the Phi Phi has all that modern SMS texting, twitter and facebook spelling cache that might catch on in a big way. The Co is the spelling of Koh which means island. From Koh to Co is a short step so you can see why it's happening. The jury is out on this blog on whether Co Phi Phi is cool!

See more Aerial shots of Koh Phi Phi here.

Thailand property,

Thailand property.
Many people from outside Thailand become so in love with the country that they can think of nothing other than buying a place in the sun, a bit of real estate property that can act as their get away from the pressures of work, an investment for the future or retirement home. Many expats living in the neighbouring countries of Singapore Malaysia and
Hong Kong are drawn to comparatively inexpensive property prices that can be found in Thailand.

Bangkok the hub.
Bangkok Thailand is the main town in tropical Asia. No other town has it's size and complexity, it's variation and business dynamism. It is no surprise that a lot of inward investment aims at getting a bolt hole in 'The Big Mango'. From here, a lot of business gets done, connecting South East Asia with Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. No self respecting businessman will fail to recognise this. There are many high rise luxury smart condo's in Bangkok and in the Pattaya (Bangkok-by-the-sea). These are taken up by all the world as they come to join one of the world most vibrant economies.

Second Home
If you live in
Asia in a town like Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore you might want your weekends on the beach. A lot of people think like this and there has been a striking number of upscale property developments catering to space bound town dwellers. What's more appealing than leaving the smog and congestion of the large urban metropolis's and heading for the Thai Islands of Phuket and Samui. A 1-3 hour flight and you've kicked your shoes off and are strolling down a sandy beach with a sunset a head of you, and a cool sea breeze un-knotting the stress lines accumulated during the week.

When you do an analysis of the living expenses in US, Northern Asia, Europe and Thailand there is a striking difference between the countries. Many people from Europe and the Americas choose to relocate to the tropics. Many combine the best of the seasons by living in Thailand during the northern hemisphere winter and then returning to summer in their own country. The perpetual summer feeling is a great pull and many gated communities have large number
retirees enjoy a great life style.

A house in the image above might cost you around £70,000/85,000Euro/US$ 110,000. You can see why many people are intrigued by the idea of down sizing their lifestyle and living in the sun for a few years.

What I have outlined below are the broad strokes of buying a property in Thailand. You will need to consult a property lawyer to get the full detail for a purchase.

Buying a property on Thailand.
Everywhere you look Thailand Property is for sale. The Thai economy has gone through as massive improvement of smart and upscale property development
. Initially in the 70's, 80's and 90's and the first few years of the 00's it was more difficult to find a well constructed house or villa with an equally good legal structure that gave security to the owner. There are now many property developments that have it all wrapped up. You might pay a price for it but they do exist. And what is more, the property variation has improved so that there are now many more lower budget properties of value.

Legally speaking, a foreigner can own a Thai Property but the land must be in a Thai National's name. This has lead to a dearth of legal companies who specialize in getting non Thai Nationals their dream property, condo or land. The vagaries of the Thai Law mean that there is a very definite way in which you can own your own property and very definate ways in which you cannot. It is important to understand that the law in Thailand assumes that the land is owned by a Thai national.

It is possible to buy land in Thailand but it m
ust be bought in a Thai national's name (or a Thai company's name). There are few restrictions to building in Thailand and so for those who know what they want, for those who have a vision this can be an exciting project to get into. There are many good architects and project managers, Thai and western, who can put the right team together to make a house.

Law and the Land
The land paper is a key aspect of Thai property.
By referring to the address and showing a simplified planned drawing of the footprint of the shape of the land and defining;
Title Deed 78699.
Land No.61.
Book No. 787.
Page 99.
Survey No 2586.
each plot of land is logged and is distinct from each other.

Issues of boundaries can happen depending on the age and style of the survey of the land plots. Imagine 200 years ago a piece of Forest is claimed as settlement land and turned over to grazing farmland with a farm property. The boundary markers are in the initial owner's mind and could easily be 'this tree to this tree, straight down to the stream and then nearest line to the road or track'. As a neighbour arrives this is not discussed in detail and a rough zone of influence builds up between the neighbours. After a few years, when asked to define the boundary both neighbours give a different boundary line.

Move on to this 1900-1990; newly settled land and subdivided land was marked by numbered concrete posts which were driven into the land. These points referred to exact points on the land title that could define the land. The only problem was that inaccurate placement of these posts meant that there could still be argument.

The latest survey techniques involve using GPS and having a very exact location for the post. This isn't always plane sailing as the team that puts the posts in the ground might not always get the posts to the correct positions for technical reasons, (granite boulders in the way) or laziness, to clear the undergrowth and jungle.

For these reasons it is important to understand your land titles especially in Thailand's holiday destination's of Phuket and Samui) as you don't want to have a land title that is in dispute with a neigbour.

The different names for the land titles reflect the type and age of the survey that define the land plot and the differing rights of use.

Chanote (Nor Sor 4 Jor)
This is the best title and is deemed full ownership and prevelant throught Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin. This land parcel is GPS surveyed and compared to the fixed national map. This will have exact land size and written on the chanote down to a square wah which is 2 meters x 2 meters. This land can be subdivided,
the right of use has been confirmed.

Note this anomaly even with a Chanote title; a land buyer agrees a price with the seller. The land is surveyed again and if the land amount varies to the sale contract, the difference is resolved by the buyer paying more or less from the value agreed.

Nor Sor 3 Gor
The survey here is done be aeiral photograhy and focuses on the boundariy posts between neighbours.
This land can be subdivided, the right of use has been confirmed.

Nor Sor 3 Kor
This is similar to the Nor Sor 3 Gor but there are no concrete posts to define the land.
This land can be subdivided, the right of use has been confirmed.

There are multiple more land titles defining communes, agriculture, settlement and squatting with poorer rights of use and land will be priced accordingly. As an indicator Chanote land may cost 10-100 times the price of the Por Bor Tor 5.

Por Bor Tor 5
This is an old right that means that Tax has been paid on the property but gives the owner no official rights except...the owner can apply for a Sor Kor 1 which allows the possessor to farm the land.

Upgrading land
The key to understand the title issue are rights. Some people have got a good deal by buying land with low value rights and then applying through the Thailand Land Department and the courts to upgrade the land title. This takes some perseverance and time but allows you more security on your land and increases it's value.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thailand with kids

Space, quality time with kids
If you don't get to see your kids a lot because of work and commitments, your vacation time can be very precious, a time away from the hubbub of the daily grind, the kids out of the repetitiveness of school life and the Xbox.

If I am honest, I don't really get to play as much with the kids as I want, as life is a frantic rush between, getting up, getting everybody to school, getting fed in the evening, homework, down time in front of the TV or machine and sleep. Weekends are not much better as the kids have their sport, their sleep overs, their list of must do's.

It's difficult to have strong bonding moment without distractions, or a common task or family chore. Travel can bring all these things back to the family in spades so in my opinion, the family vacation, though expensive is essential for a happy life.

Thailand with kids
I am often asked how to travel in Thailand with the kids and I say easy. Once you bite the bullet with the cost of the air fare I find it straight forward. I am looking for kid friendly hotels that have plenty of space, have good pool facilities and are on the beach. I am looking for hotels and resorts that have family rooms, connecting rooms or who can make up an extra bed in my room. I am look for resorts with easy access to international hospitals (God forbid) and are not too far from the airport. These can be found and a tour through the kingdom can be as fun and outward going or inward resort looking as you like.

Thailand for kids
Thai people love kids. They love kids and I don't mean in a creepy or oddball way. It's as if kids can do no wrong and hotel staff are more than happy to give kids attention or even play with them for hours on end even if they are at work.

Having said that, an area where Thai people can be a bit over playful is when they see children with fair and white hair. It can be a bit off putting as people will come up to the children and touch their head, their hair or might be inclined to give a friendly pinch on the cheek. If this type of thing would unnerve you be prepared.

Thai people love babies and again will be inclined to touch and pat which does make a lot of families uncomfortable. If this doesn't worry you too much it can be made use of. Often my wife and I had many pleasant meals down by the beach while a member of staff either held the babies or played with them.

On the whole Thai people are very generous and accommodation towards kids and go out of their way to help families travelling in Thailand.

Thailand for children
Children like many things about Thailand. There are many reasonably priced hotels that have wonderfully playful water pools, and water parks, have games rooms and have great in room facilities... like the dreaded gaming machines.

Western food is available in all 3-5 star resorts although my kids were happy with fried rice and fried eggs, or noodle soup or fried noodles as Thai food for ages. The bar B q chicken or pork appears every where and of course the ubiquitous fruit is a Major pull to all those who appreciate healthy eating. Now in their teens they eat a far wider selection of simple or light curries.
Playing on the beach is one of life's great pleasures and no less on Thai Resort destinations and Islands. Those families with kids new to Thailand might want to start their first couple of days on the beach at either sunrise or sunset as the sun can cause all kinds of sun burning or heat stroke. Shade time, Sun cream and covering up are strongly advised.
Thailand is a great Vacation for the family
The right hotel or resort for your family in Thailand can be a difficult thing to prescribe but here is a list of hotels that might be of interest.

3 star Merlin Beach Resort

Phi Phi Island
3 star Andaman Beach Resort
Family Bungalow (sleeps 4)

Samui4 star Amari Palm Reef Resort

Marriott Resort And Spa Bangkok

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thailand Tipping Custom - culture.

Tipping custom in Thailand.
A very common question for visitors is how much to tip in Thailand. Thailand is a tipping place and are expected. Wages are not large by western standards and the custom to tip helps keep a good quality of service and a smooth relationship between the tourist and the tourist worker. Thai people do tip each other so it does reflect society's practice in general.

Tipping amounts will vary according to who you are, what country you are from and where you are in Thailand. Some find tipping as natural as breathing and will put there hand into their pocket at the smallest trifle and some are a lot more careful. This is human nature. However it always nice to find the right balance.

When you compare the American attitude to Tipping (a real tipping people) to say the English (many people are down right squeamish when it comes to tipping and are considered poor for tips) it is easy to see why Thai people working in the travel industry contrast the different cultures.

Some tourist areas are more likely to require a tip than others. A 5 star hotel or resort in Phuket get on better with tips and tourists in will get preferential treatment if the tips are right.

How much to tip
Having lived in Phuket for some time and watching my Thai wife tip, the right protocol seems to be about gauging the salary of the person working for you. It is easy to over tip but this will cost you and there will always be a limit to how much better a service can be provided. It is better to tip with the right balance as this keeps everybody happy.

Tipping Restaurant Staff

Restaurant staff will probably get minimum wage in a simple local restaurant so 10-20 THB is greatly appreciated. In a smart local restaurant 20-50THB is good. In a full-on 5 star resort it can be 50-500THB depending on the size of the meal.

Tipping Hotel Staff.

I always tip the hotel or resort door man or bag carrier ( I stay in 3 to 4 star hotels) as this is the first time that the hotel staff will see you. I will tip above average here as this means everybody will naturally help you out during your stay. This isn't big money, 100-200THB to the bag boy, 50 THB to the door and the rest of the time during your stay, you can give 20-50THB and everybody seems happy and willing to help you at any turn. Some might consider this excessive but I often consider this a small additional price compared to the hotel room price and well worth it.

Tipping and tours

You don't need to tip a boss unless he is a one man band tour guide, ie a self employed. You would tip a a boat man in a kayak tour who helps you in and out of your kayak. The same for snorkeling diving and fishing tours. Aim to give a little something, 100THB to no more than 5% the cost of the tour.

Tip a Taxi?
Taxis don't need tips unless they go out of their way or move your heavy luggage around. But there again 50-100THB gets a smile that you remember as you get out at the airport when you return home. Tipping for a limo can start from 100THB but would rarely go beyond 500THB.

Tip on a shared bus.
On the whole I would not tip here unless the bus man moves heavy luggage or goes out of their way to help. Here I would rarely give 100THB but might easily give 50THB.

Tipping as a family
As a family of 4 I would not give any more than the figures above and would probably not give any less. How ever I would give on the higher side for the family and the lower side if it were just myself. The larger the group the more important it is to tip generously.

We only live once. I say, make someone smile!