Skip to content

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)

Advertisements

Thailand Houses

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

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 post 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.

house10

 

 

 

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

 

 

house11

 

 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Another compound but better maintained.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

A community of farmers’ houses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

Four kootees

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

The communal toilet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

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

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

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

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 post 187 more words

Markets in #Thailand

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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, fish, and vegetables. Most local markets have a few clothing and general hardware shops but most of the stalls cater for customers buying food. It is perfectly acceptable for a customer to choose which items she wants. Picking up fruit or vegetables, examining them, and deciding whether to buy or put back on the counter is not really acceptable but is not uncommon, particularly with the older generation. Provided the food is not damaged, it is tolerated to some extent.

 

 

 

 

 

market3

 

market2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fanning the food to keep the flies off

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Floating markets. The sellers row their boats over to a customer who wants to buy their produce. Often using a long paddle like contraption. Popular with tourists and locals alike.

market10

market9

 

market8

Husband giving his wife a massage during a lull in sales.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Live fish for sale

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Keeping the flies off again

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sizzling and fresh sausages, very spicy. Popular particularly in the North.

market12

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lots of competition with stallholders selling the same produce.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s more than one type of rice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Still open later when it gets dark

market6

 

The stallholders have to move their wares to one side as the train approaches.

market11

 

 

 

.

Rituals and traditions at a funeral in #Thailand. The #culture explained with over 60 photos.

One of my Friday blog posts

Matt.Owens.Rees; Thailand Writer

Paying respect at an upper class funeral in northern Thailand.

300,000 mourners and over 30 monks in 8 days of funeral rites culminating in the final goodbye on Thursday at the crematorium. Pictures are in sequence.

Although it was the funeral of a rich Thai, the extended family (the deceased had ten children) included people from all walks of life: rice farmers, taxi drivers, government officials, and those with no permanent work. As well as the more prosperous members of the family, which traces its origins back to the founders of Thailand’s biggest newspaper group, less well-off members attended with friends and neighbours in the local community. But all mingling and talking together because of their family and community links.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the wreaths, from a family related to the King. It has first place among all the others from local and national institutions and businesses. Many people in high…

View original post 1,372 more words

Rituals and traditions at a funeral in #Thailand. The #culture explained with over 60 photos.

Paying respect at an upper class funeral in northern Thailand.

300,000 mourners and over 30 monks in 8 days of funeral rites culminating in the final goodbye on Thursday at the crematorium. Pictures are in sequence.

Although it was the funeral of a rich Thai, the extended family (the deceased had ten children) included people from all walks of life: rice farmers, taxi drivers, government officials, and those with no permanent work. As well as the more prosperous members of the family, which traces its origins back to the founders of Thailand’s biggest newspaper group, less well-off members attended with friends and neighbours in the local community. But all mingling and talking together because of their family and community links.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the wreaths, from a family related to the King. It has first place among all the others from local and national institutions and businesses. Many people in high places attended the funeral as well as people from surrounding villages. One 97 year old family member, in perfect physical health but with Alzheimer’s, was present. In Thailand the whole family comes together at times like this. It makes for keeping in touch and family cohesion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The friends and neighbours helped in the catering too. Quite a task given the number of people attending today and over the last few days. Meals were provided from morning to lunch each day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The monks eat upstairs away from the lay mourners and can’t eat after midday. The rites start after the meal. They will sit cross-legged during the ceremony.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Funerals are simpler in Bangkok. Here, in the North the coffin is placed on a “castle or palace” like catafalque symbolising the future home of the deceased.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The white thread, shown below, links the coffin, the houses in this family complex, and the monks and mourners seating area. The sai sin connects them all together during the rites that will take place. The monks hold the sai sin during the solemn part of the ceremony.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Three of the deceased’s great grandchildren became monks on the day of death and will continue as naen, young monks, until three days after the cremation. They sit behind the adult monks but you still wai them as if they are full monks. Their participation in the rites is seen as giving them merit which they transfer to their great grandfather.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mourners give a donation in an envelope (usually an airmail envelope) when they arrive and take a small gift from the bowls alongside. It is seen as making merit for themselves. They put their names on the envelope. It anyway helps towards the cost of the funeral, 300,000 baht, of which about 80,000 baht is donated to the monks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Apart from when the monks are chanting, there is much gossiping and talking going on. I’ve seen politicians handing out election leaflets at funerals and lottery sellers routinely visit and circulate among those present. Thais love a gamble and believe in trying all means of getting good luck. They’ll pick what they see as an auspicious number. Much deliberation goes into their selection.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the first day of this funeral, armed soldiers were called in as there were too many sellers and they were becoming a nuisance. They were chased at gunpoint into the surrounding rice fields. I naively asked why the police were not called but quickly realised that it was because the police are notoriously involved in taking back-handers from the sellers for allowing them to operate. The military government has said it will stop all corruption of this type. That won’t happen of course, corruption is endemic and almost a cultural trait with the Thais, but the present unelected government has already made positive steps to minimise it. A fact of which the ordinary Thai is aware but the foreign media has failed to see.

The monks are now seated and the rites are about to begin. They have come from several wats, some as far as 40 kilometres away. The most senior monk is on the far left and the man in the white shirt is a village elder who will lead the congregation in the ceremony. More photos of this and explanations later.

The three naen (young monks), who became monks on the day of their great grandfather’s death and will remain in the monkhood for three more days as an act of merit, are seated at the top right of the picture- behind the full monks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lighting the candles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Making an offering

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The village elder leading the opening chants. He will be followed by the head monk (luang paw in Thai). Later all the monks will join in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The most senior monk, Luang paw, leads the prayers and chanting

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The youngest member of the family

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Offering incense sticks to the monks, placed on top of the gifts of merit already placed in front of them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With shoes off and making a wai, a family member offers incense at the coffin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Formally passing the gifts laid out before them to the monks, the closest family members first.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lay people taking the gifts back to the monks’ cars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Starting to pull the catafalque, family nearest the coffin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cortège starts to move off.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The monks always head the procession, they are taking the deceased to the final rites. The really heavy pulling has been done by those behind them. Their pulling is largely symbolic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The wreaths and photo of the great grandfather. Traditionally, the younger members of the family take this role.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More photos of the cortège on the way to the crematorium. A distance of about 2 kilometers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

It was getting hot with the sun’s rays beating down on the procession. In Thailand, umbrellas are often used more as protection from the sun than the rain.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The “spire” of the castle or palace catafalque is two metres high. Electricity supply wires have to be raised to allow it through and sometimes the spire must be pulled down with a white string to allow the main structure to pass under.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the crematorium incense sticks were given to all the mourners. As they approach the casket they wai and lay them on an ornamental tray which will be placed in the coffin before the burn. In some communities each mourner throws the stick directly onto the flames.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before releasing two large balloons into the skies they are filled by fanning air into them. Gas is then inserted and a flame torch is used to ignite them. You can see the wide diameter gun being inserted into the base of the balloon. Once airborne the balloons emit loud fireworks to scare off evil spirits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Ready for release.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once the balloons fly into the distance the next stage of the ceremony begins. A yellow band is laid on a table with one end attached to the coffin. All those present are given a numbered card. 1 and 2 for close family, 3 and 4 for extended family, 5 for civic leaders, and so on. Mourners are called up in groups. You can imagine that, with several hundred people, that sort of organisation is essential. Each person is then given a new monk’s robe to lay on the table as an act of merit. The significance of the yellow saffron band attached to the coffin is that it shows that this merit is being transferred to the deceased.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Each person receives the robe from the family, makes a wai when it is received, lays the robe on the band of cloth, wais again, and then returns to his or her seat.

You notice she has taken off her shoes before placing the robe on the saffron band. Actually, few people did that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whenever the table is full, a group of monks comes to receive the merit gifts and offers a prayer of thanks before returning to the sala (shown in the background).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Preparing the last set of fireworks which will be let off as the body is being cremated.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here we see the monks putting the flowers they were given on a tray. It will be taken to the crematorium oven and placed on the body before burning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Moving the coffin to the crematorium. The immediate family will have viewed the body out of sight of all those present. In many funerals a queue forms and all mourners sprinkle holy water on the body as they say their last goodbyes. That did not happen here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After the coffin is placed in the oven the lid is removed and taken to the open funeral pyre. The castle structure, now without the coffin, is laid on it and set alight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Other families, particularly if poorer, still use an open pyre for cremations. Some aristocratic families still use that method. This family did not.

The flames are now really taking hold.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The family wai the mourners after all those present have placed their incense sticks on the tray in front of the coffin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By tradition, nobody looks back at the still burning pyre. Superstition states that to do so will allow evil spirits to follow you home.