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I’m now posting new blogs onto http://www.matt-owens-rees.com

It’s a more reader friendly site than this one, though still run by WordPress.

Hope you can join me there. The last few posts have been on #Thailand Scams and Smiles, Spirit Houses, and pictures of houses we humans live in in Thailand.

I blog a fresh post every Friday. Suggestions for topics always welcome. And I allow comments whether I agree with them or not (other than flames, libels and spam messages etc most of which Wordpress filters out anyway. Thankfully there aren’t many of those.)

 

 

The Reasons why there are Spirit Houses in Thailand

This is also posted on http://www.matt-owens-rees.com  It’s a WordPress site but is more reader friendly than this one. You’re welcome to join me there. From next month most blog posts will only be posted on the http://www.matt-owens-rees.com site

Spirit Houses in #Thailand: A commentary with video and photos.

San phra bhumi. Thailand’s Spirit Houses.

Every home in Thailand, and most businesses, will have a san phra bhumi or spirit house on the premises. If you stay in a hotel or guesthouse you will see one in a corner of the reception area. Thai homes will have a spirit house in a corner of their garden. They come in all shapes and sizes: some basic, some very elaborate.

Click the link or paste into your browser for a video.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/multimedia/vdo/thailand/481490/thai-spirit-houses

Buddhism and Animism live amicably side by side in The Land of Smiles. The Sangha, the national Buddhist authority, makes no objections to the practice of people apparently being Buddhist while still worshiping ancestors. The Thais are comfortable in following Buddhist teachings and beliefs while still venerating their deceased relatives and those who lived on the land before them. The houses are for the spirits of the dead and are built so that their souls do not enter the main buildings of the living. They are made to be as comfortable as possible for these spirits. Food and drink is placed in the san phra bhumi each morning. Bananas, rice, packaged snacks, and soft drinks are the typical fare. Because red is an auspicious colour for the Thais, red-coloured soft drinks such as Fanta (nam daeng) are the chosen drinks that are offered. Red is a lucky colour in Thailand and many countries of the Far East. The food and drink offerings are discretely discarded the next morning before fresh donations are provided. A few months ago I saw a small bottle of beer placed as an offering. That was quite unusual and I noted that it didn’t stay there very long.

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The spirit house is a miniature replica of a Thai sala, a meeting place within the wat compound, with its ornamental sloping roof. It can be made of wood or concrete and be on stilts or on a pedestal. If the san phra bhumi is moved for any reason a new ceremony must be performed by a village elder as an apology to the spirits. I inadvertently moved a spirit house to clean around it and reposition it in what I thought was a better location in the garden. I was not hanged, drawn, and quartered but I was told in no uncertain terms that spirit houses are for the spirits and are not to be moved. The ceremony, which I dutifully attended, lasted an hour. Sometimes a new san phra bhumi is erected after a person has died in a house. His spirit then lives with all former spirits. Again, there is a formal ceremony.

 

You will see the Thais placing josh sticks and flowers in the spirit house and you may notice little figurines there too. Often, small porcelain figures of a man and a woman to represent the previous occupiers of the house (the spirits are not always those of family: they can be of previous owners that the present residents do not want to displease by living in their former home). Models of children and animals are less common but are provided to make the spirits “feel at home”. In the san phra bhumi of richer people you will see the figures include servants, domestic animals, and anything useful for the afterlife. Most Thais take looking after their spirit houses seriously and attend to them daily.

 

Some are rather run down. There is a wide gap between rich and poor in Thailand.

 

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Some  are abandoned at the local wat. Even then offerings may be left.

 

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If you travel up country you will see spirit houses at accident black spots. Drivers will take their hands off the wheel to wai in respect as they pass.

Thailand: Land of Smiles or Land of Scams?

All weekly blogs will be posted on the home page of  www.matt-owens-rees.com Just click on the link. Comments always welcomed as for the old site.

Still a WordPress site, it has better features for readers. It is 99% up and running and will be fully operational before 1 March.  Hope you all join me there. Thanks. Matt Owens Rees

Everyone’s first impression of Thailand is of a country of smiling happy people displaying a caring and helpful nature. Talking among themselves, they will not raise their voices or argue at any time. Thais will smile even if they disagree with you and hate what you are doing or saying. Avoiding any display of anger, emotion, or conflict is second nature to a Thai. They will walk away from a problem rather than face it directly – as we may tend to do in the West. Smiling and avoiding conflict are techniques they have been taught from the cradle and reinforced in schools and temples throughout their developing years. It’s not difficult for the casual observer or first time tourist to observe this phenomenon and Thais will not dispute or correct this view you have of their lay-back lifestyle and culture.

But is there another side to what is seen as the warm welcoming attitude of all Thais?

The most frustrating difficulty in writing about Thailand and the Thais is that, because they dislike any perceived criticism of the country and its people, it is not easy to gain their confidence and discuss issues which they believe should be ignored. As with all peoples of the Far East, no Thai wants to lose face. Comments must never appear as criticism. I have got round the problem by deliberately not directly discussing an issue but patiently building up a reasoned “argument” in rational (perhaps long-winded) steps. It works with Thais. I bounce ideas I have for my books on Thailand by discussing with my “focus group”: five individuals of varying ages and backgrounds but who have a common inquisitive interest in how foreigners see Thailand and the Thais. If you are fortunate to meet Thais with that approach you will learn much about their lifestyle and culture and why they act and think the way they do. For example, Thais don’t want to give offense so they may walk away or engage in white lies. They will say yes when they mean no. They will arrange to meet but not show up. They don’t see that as rudeness; they see it as avoiding telling you something they know you may not like. Rarely will they be direct and give a straight answer. The onus is always on the Westerner to build up a level of confidence that will result in more informed and accurate dialogue.

Cheating and corruption is another example. And we should look at this before we talk about the Scams of Thailand. There is a wide gap between the rich and poor of this country

The minimum wage is 300 baht a day (some Thais get less), a police officer has to provide his own pistol and motor cycle and is paid around 9000 baht a month. The majority of Thais today have grand parents and great grand parents who worked the rice paddies or earned low wages in other menial occupations. It is no surprise then that, coming from this background of poverty, they will resiliently look after their best interests. If that means telling an untruth which is not particularly harmful or taking advantage of someone with more wealth than they have, then so be it. The Thais have a strong weapon in their armory called Mai Bhen Rai.. It really means more than “never mind, it doesn’t matter”; it has the connotation of life not being serious, that it is better to avoid problems and conflicts and to concentrate on surviving within the family and the local community. Self sufficiency can imply looking after “number one” first and that can mean taking advantage of others in a way that can and does lead to cheating and corruption – though only rarely within the family or community.

At the other end of the scale are the elite rich – the amart. Few in number but powerful in politics and the community. Unlike in the West, the largest businesses are concentrated in the hands of just a few families. With almost monopolistic power they are subject to few regulations or controls. In Thai culture, people are not seen as having been created equal. A Thai may believe that living an honest life today will gain him wealth, status, and power in the next life; but he certainly does not believe he is equal to his lord and master. “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” applies to today’s Thailand as much as it did in 18th century England when the lines were first penned. The largest Thai company, founded by two Chinese immigrants in 1921, now has assets well in excess of $50 billion (equivalent to 13% of the country’s GDP) and the family is the second wealthiest in Thailand.

That is a very brief background to Thai culture and attitudes but is essential in understanding why corruption and scams are more prevalent in Thailand than in many other countries.

Dual Pricing

Although technically illegal as it is a form of discrimination, western tourists (and even expats) are routinely charged more than Thai nationals. State owned national parks may charge four to ten times the admission price paid by Thais. Buddhist temples are free to enter for Thais but foreigners are usually charged, particularly in the larger Bangkok temples. Sometimes expats can show a Thai driving licence in order to get a reduced price at some tourist attractions, particularly if they smile and speak a little Thai. The going rate for legal services for foreigners is six times that for the country’s own citizens.

Ordinary Thais, especially the younger generation, are quite embarrassed by dual pricing but are not always able to do much about it. If you see a pricing board with both Arabic and Thai numerals you can be sure that the venue is using dual pricing. The Arabic price may be shown as 200 baht for foreigners; the Thai numerals, which a tourist would not comprehend, may be just 20 baht. The Thai prices being in Thai numerals to avoid tourists realising they are paying an excessive price.

The prices on menus written in English are often different from those written in Thai. Sometimes you can ask for the Thai menu, sometimes the restaurant will insist you order from the English menu even if you are with a Thai. Embarrassing for everyone. An American friend of mine confirmed that the western meals in his restaurant, using the same basic ingredients as his Thai dishes, are priced higher because the foreigner market will bear the increased prices. That’s not so much a scam as taking advantage of a tourist or expat’s misunderstanding of prices in Thailand.

House rentals and the asking prices for condominiums and houses (which have to be registered in a Thai national’s name with very few exceptions) can be as much as twice the normal price. In selling later, you would need to find a Thai to purchase and even then don’t expect the capital gains that we have come to expect in the West. Land but not houses appreciate in Thailand because Thais like to build new houses instead of buying an existing structure. If someone has died in the house the value will drop appreciably. Thais are superstitious of ghosts. You can only own a condominium if there is a 51% or higher ownership by Thais of the remaining units. This may mean you can only sell to a Thai (at a much reduced price) when you want to sell your own apartment. To sell to a fellow foreigner would be against the strictly enforced rules if the Thai quota is already at 51%.

Be very careful when shopping at an airport. It is not always clear where the boundary of the shop ends and the airport concourse begins. It’s very easy to stroll out into the public concourse believing you are still in the shop. The scam is that you’ll be apprehended as soon as one foot steps outside the shop boundary. A difficult and expensive exchange will follow when the police, who appear amazingly quickly, are called.

On the islands the biggest scam occurs when renting jet skis. Click here for the video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsPuoaktoAw or copy and paste into your browser window.

On return to the shore you are presented with a bill for damage, tens of thousands of baht. Unless you have photographic proof that the damage was present before you rented the ski, you will have to pay. The police will side with the jet ski owner because you will not be able to present any evidence to establish that you were not to blame. There is more than a suggestion that the local police are party to the scam. Consular officials will not get involved. There is no presumption of innocence in Thai law or legal proceedings.

Not all fraudsters are Thai, there are many examples on www.andrew-drummond.com of foreigners living in Thailand being involved in share dealing, housing, and other scams. Drummond was an ex UK tabloid reporter who is fearless in exposing western fraudsters. As it is illegal to name and shame in Thailand and as stating the truth from accurate sources is not a defense against an accusation of libel in Thailand, Andrew Drummond faced many frivolous cases in the Thai courts. Although he won the cases, he was responsible for costs under the Thai system. A fact his opponents were fully aware of. Following threats to his safety and that of his young family he left Thailand earlier this year but still reports on the criminal activities of the foreign population here.

 

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The “It’s closed today” scam comes in many guises. Your taxi or tuk tuk driver will tell you the Grand Palace is closed for renovation, your hotel has gone bankrupt, or the roads to Tiger Kingdom are blocked solid with traffic. The suggested alternative will be to take you to a much cheaper and more interesting tourist attraction, a gem shop owned by the driver’s family, or to a higher rated hotel. Thais look for every opportunity to earn a commission by introducing customers to alternative businesses. Drivers can earn more by doing that than by driving around the streets looking for fares.

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tuk tuks

When you do get to a tourist site buy your tickets at the entrance booth and not from a tout selling cheap (but fake) tickets on the road outside. Even though there are warning signs stressing not to buy from unauthorised sellers and police are watching nearby, nothing is ever done to stop this practice. Foreigners and tourists are seen as fair game when it comes to earning a living from the tourist dollar. It’s not unreasonable to assume that some police deliberately turn a blind eye in order not to jeopardise their “tea money” – a commission shared out later at the station. Always try to get taxi drivers to use the meter, most are honest and will do so. Late at night or with heavy rain, when there is a shortage of available taxis, that maybe easier said than done. Fixed fares are always more expensive than paying on the meter.

fake tickets

cigarette butt scam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “You threw a cigarette on the sidewalk” scam occurs when you’re walking down a street and a police officer or security guard claims you’ve just thrown a cigarette butt onto the road or pavement. With so many butts already there you won’t be able to deny the charge and be forced to pay a “fine.  You’ll notice that only foreigners who look like casual tourists are targeted. The locals can chain smoke and litter the area with perfect immunity.

Human nature being what it is, it’s difficult to resist giving some money to a small child begging alone on a street corner. The reality is that she is placed there for several hours as a money generating scam run by small time mafias. Later, she’ll be replaced by another child for a further few hours. The child or her parents get only a small portion of the money collected. Walk down the block and you’ll probably see a top of the range Mercedes parked waiting to ferry these trafficked children from location to location.

Bars, strip joints, and massage parlours entice punters inside with promises of a free first drink and an attractive companion to sit with. Your eventual bill will be more than you expected. The coloured water your “companion” is drinking (the lady drink) will cost more than in a London five star hotel, you’ll be charged for her time chatting to you, and you’ll have difficulty getting past the group of hardened bouncers at the door if you try to leave. Call the police if you want but they won’t be too sympathetic – though they may get the owners to reduce the bill a little. The punter is still the biggest loser with the bar owner and police sharing the spoils of another Thailand scam.

Thailand: Land of Smiles or Land of Scams?

Thailand: Land of Smiles or Land of Scams?

Everyone’s first impression of Thailand is of a country of smiling happy people displaying a caring and helpful nature. Talking among themselves, they will not raise their voices or argue. Thais will smile even if they disagree with you and hate what you are doing or saying. Avoiding any display of anger, emotion, or conflict is second nature to a Thai. They will walk away from a problem rather than face it directly – as we may tend to do in the West. Smiling and avoiding conflict are techniques they have been taught from the cradle and reinforced in schools and temples throughout their developing years. It’s not difficult for the casual observer or first time tourist to observe this phenomenon and Thais will not dispute or correct this view you have of their lay-back lifestyle and culture.

But is there another side to what is seen as the warm welcoming attitude of all Thais?

The most frustrating difficulty in writing about Thailand and the Thais is that, because they dislike any perceived criticism of the country and its people, it is not easy to gain their confidence and discuss issues which they believe should be ignored. As with all peoples of the Far East, no Thai wants to lose face. Comments must never appear as criticism. I have got round the problem by deliberately not directly discussing an issue but patiently building up a reasoned “argument” in rational (perhaps long-winded) steps. It works with Thais. I bounce ideas I have for my books on Thailand by discussing with my “focus group” – five individuals of varying ages and backgrounds but who have a common inquisitive interest in how foreigners see Thailand and the Thais. If you are fortunate to meet Thais with that approach you will learn much about their lifestyle and culture and why they act and think the way they do. For example, Thais don’t want to give offense so they may walk away or engage in white lies. They will say yes when they mean no. Rarely will they be direct and give a straight answer. The onus is always on the Westerner to build up a level of confidence that will result in more informed and accurate discussion.

Cheating and corruption is another example. And we should look at this before we talk about the Scams of Thailand. There is a wide gap between the rich and poor of this country

The minimum wage is 300 baht a day (some Thais get less), a police officer has to provide his own pistol and motor cycle and is paid around 9000 baht a month. The majority of Thais today have grand parents and great grand parents who worked the rice paddies or earned low wages in other menial occupations. It is no surprise then that, coming from this background of poverty, they will resiliently look after their best interests. If that means telling an untruth which is not particularly harmful or taking advantage of someone with more wealth than they have, then so be it. The Thais have a strong weapon in their armory called Mai Bhen Rai.. It really means more than “never mind, it doesn’t matter”; it has the connotation of life not being serious, that it is better to avoid problems and conflicts and to concentrate on surviving within the family and the local community. Self sufficiency can imply looking after “number one” first and that can mean taking advantage of others in a way that can and does lead to cheating and corruption – though only rarely within the family or community.

At the other end of the scale are the elite rich – the amart. Few in number but powerful in politics and the community. Unlike in the West, the largest businesses are concentrated in the hands of just a few families. With almost monopolistic power they can be subject to few regulations or controls. In Thai culture, people are not seen as having been created equal. A Thai may believe that living an honest life today will gain him wealth, status, and power in the next life; but he certainly does not believe he is equal to his lord and master. “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” applies to today’s Thailand as much as it did in 18th century England when the lines were first penned. The largest Thai company, founded by two Chinese immigrants in 1921, now has assets well in excess of $50 billion (equivalent to 13% of the country’s GDP) and the family is the second wealthiest in Thailand.

That is a very brief background to Thai culture and attitudes but is essential in understanding why corruption and scams are more prevalent in Thailand than many other countries.

Dual Pricing

Although technically illegal as it is a form of discrimination, western tourists (and even expats) are routinely charged more than Thai nationals. State owned national parks may charge four to ten times the admission price paid by Thais. Buddhist temples are free to enter for Thais but foreigners are usually charged, particularly in the larger Bangkok temples. Sometimes expats can show a Thai driving licence in order to get a reduced price at some tourist attractions, particularly if they smile and speak a little Thai. The going rate for legal services for foreigners is six times that for the country’s own citizens.

Ordinary Thais, especially the younger generation, are quite embarrassed by dual pricing but are not always able to do much about it. If you see a pricing board with both Arabic and Thai numerals you can be sure that the venue is using dual pricing. The Arabic price may be shown as 200 baht for foreigners; the Thai numerals, which a tourist would not comprehend, may be just 20 baht. The Thai prices being in Thai numerals to avoid tourists realising they are paying an excessive price.

The prices in menus written in English are often different from those written in Thai. Sometimes you can ask for the Thai menu, sometimes the restaurant will insist you order from the English menu even if you are with a Thai. Embarrassing for everyone.

House rentals and the asking prices for condominiums and houses (which have to be listed in a Thai national’s name with very few exceptions) can be as much as twice the normal price. In selling later, you would need to find a Thai to purchase and even then don’t expect the capital gains that we have come to expect in the West. Land but not houses appreciate in Thailand because Thais like to build new houses instead of buying an existing structure. If someone has died in the house the value will drop appreciably. Thais are superstitious of ghosts. You can only own a condominium if there is a 51% or higher ownership by Thais of the remaining units. This may mean you can only sell to a Thai (at a much reduced price) when you want to sell your own apartment. To sell to a fellow foreigner would be against the strictly enforced rules.

On the islands the biggest scam occurs when renting jet skis. On return to the shore you are presented with a bill for damage, tens of thousands of baht. Unless you have photographic proof that the damage was present before you rented the ski, you will have to pay. The police will side with the jet ski owner because you will not be able to present any evidence to establish that you were not to blame. There is more than a suggestion that the local police are party to the scam. Consular officials will not get involved. There is no presumption of innocence in Thai law or legal proceedings. Not all fraudsters are Thai, there are many examples on http://www.andrew-drummond.com of foreigners living in Thailand being involved in share dealing, housing, and other scams. Drummond was an ex UK tabloid reporter who is fearless in exposing western fraudsters. As it is illegal to name and shame in Thailand and as stating the truth from accurate sources is not a defense against an accusation of libel in Thailand, Andrew Drummond faced many frivolous cases in the Thai courts. Although he won the cases, he was responsible for costs under the Thai system. A fact his opponents were fully aware of. Following threats to his safety and that of his young family he left Thailand earlier this year but still reports on the criminal activities of the foreign population here.

Because of internet downtime this blog is not finished. It will be published in full with some photos on Friday 20 February as the latest in my weekly Friday blogs. It appears both on http://www.mattoensrees.wordpress.com and http://www.matt-owens-rees.com (which is a more robust site)

Thailand Houses

Matt Owens Rees:

http://www.matt-owens-rees.com :my improved blog is 90% finished. Fully up and running by 1 March

Originally posted on Matt.Owens.Rees; Thailand Writer:

A teak house on stilts. The structure on the right is a sala where you can sit and enjoy the view over the lake. There is a wooden stairway down to the water’s edge.

Construction costs for teak houses are high as there is now a limited supply of teak due to restrictions on harvesting timber from the rain forests.

house01

A less traditional style of house but with the usual wide overhangs on the eaves to protect from the hot rays of the sun. Note the lack of guttering on the roof. A tell-tale sign that this home is owned by a Thai, not a westerner.

house02

A less expensive home, the kind owned by the average middle class Thai

house03

Corrugated or asbestos roofs make the inside rooms hot in the daytime but are the cheapest form of construction. A house favoured by a working class family.

house04

A farmer’s house. His family will…

View original 501 more words

Thailand Houses

A teak house on stilts. The structure on the right is a sala where you can sit and enjoy the view over the lake. There is a wooden stairway down to the water’s edge.

Construction costs for teak houses are high as there is now a limited supply of teak due to restrictions on harvesting timber from the rain forests.

house01

 

 

 

A less traditional style of house but with the usual wide overhangs on the eaves to protect from the hot rays of the sun. Note the lack of guttering on the roof. A tell-tale sign that this home is owned by a Thai, not a westerner.

house02

 

 

 

A less expensive home, the kind owned by the average middle class Thai

house03

 

 

 

Corrugated or asbestos roofs make the inside rooms hot in the daytime but are the cheapest form of construction. A house favoured by a working class family.

house04

 

 

 

A farmer’s house. His family will all help working the farm. Any casual labour he may employ would live in a one-room “apartment”. We’ll see examples later.

house05

 

 

 

Very modern. Very expensive. The sort of house upwardly mobile Thais would have an architect design.

house06

 

 

 

Another farmer’s house in a rice paddy.

house07

 

 

 

A three or four bed-roomed house on an estate or project. Could be Thai or foreigner owned. A typical choice for westerners, many of whom prefer to live in gated communities with other farangs (expat foreigners)

house08

 

 

 

A straw roofed home in the countryside

house09

 

 

 

A condominium block. A foreigner can own an apartment in a condo in Thailand provided that 51% of the other condos are owned by Thais.

A westerner can freely sell whenever he chooses but may find he is restricted to whom he can sell because of the 51% rule.

If he succeeds in finding a Thai buyer he will get about 30% to 40% less than if he were fortunate in selling to a fellow farang. The Thai land law ensures it’s a buyer’s market as far as westerners are concerned.

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Interiors of Thai and farang homes can be quite lavish. But the majority of Thais cannot aspire to this level of luxury.

 

 

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Houses along a canal.

house12

 

 

 

Thais like colour.

house13

 

 

 

Bangkok tower blocks overlooking the Chao Praya river

house14

 

 

 

This home is owned by the local pooyaibaan, village mayor.  The family run a small food store at the front of the living quarters.

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You can see the stairway to the living and bedroom areas in the background.

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Families tend to live in close proximity to one another. Married couples are given or buy a home on the family compound.

Not unusual to find three generations living like this. Fleeing the nest on marriage or when one gets older is not typically Thai.

But if children do move for job reasons they still keep in touch and support financially. These photos show three houses.

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Another compound but better maintained.

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A community of farmers’ houses.

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These are single bed-roomed homes rented by those working away from the family home.

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Monks live in small kootees within the grounds of the local temple (wat). Again a spartan single room.

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Four kootees

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The communal toilet

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The living quarters are at the back of the main wat buildings. The abbot would have a slightly larger room  but nothing elaborate.

 

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At the Dhamakaya wat just outside Bangkok, the abbot’s kootee lies in extensive grounds shielded from view. But that is a very rich Buddhist temple, untypical of other Thai temples. I was not able to take any photos.

 

I am upgrading my blog to include more enhanced features which I hope will make the posts more interesting for readers. The site is not completely finished yet: some tweaking needs to be done and tested but you can take a look at http://www.matt-owens-rees.com         (That’s a dash not an underscore)

Hope you continue to enjoy these blog posts on Thailand topics. Comments are always welcome.

 

Matt Owens Rees

 

 

 

 

Markets in #Thailand

Originally posted on Matt.Owens.Rees; Thailand Writer:

he busiest times in Thai street markets are early morning and evening. The locals usually arrive by motor bike to buy food: sometimes ready-cooked, sometimes to take home to cook. A typical meal in rural areas is about 40 baht so Thais often purchase a prepared meal – it’s only a few baht more expensive than cooking oneself. And there’s an opportunity to socialise and gossip with neighbours. Maybe that’s the real reason. Thais love to keep up with the latest snippets of local interest.

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These pictures were taken when the evening market was opening and it is already crowded around some stalls. A few hours later there’d be twice as many people and a police officer trying to control traffic – not an easy job with bikers coming from all directions and not always on the correct side of the road.

There is a wide variety of fresh meat…

View original 187 more words

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