Meet up with backpackers in Machu Picchu or in the depths of Calcutta or roaming the clubs in Hamburg, and you will find that everyone has something to say about this short street in Bangkok, the famous (or infamous) “backpacker’s ghetto” of Khao San Road. For backpackers exploring Southeast Asia, it is usually the first stop on their trek and often their last before heading home.
You will often hear that Khao San Road is not like it used to be before all the tourists discovered it. Well since backpackers and “budget” (cheap) travelers have taken it over, and other travelers have made the area a “destination”, no one can say this is the “real” Thailand, but it can be quite an adventure to visit. It can be a lot of fun.
Volunteering to help others in faraway places is a very noble act. It also enhances life experiences for those that volunteer. People are needed in every corner of the world to share their skills and talents to make life a bit easier for others, while it adds positively to a volunteer’s Karma. Volunteers are surprised, however, that it often costs big money to participate in a volunteer program. A small industry has emerged of “volunteer brokers” that handle collecting money and arranging for the expenses incurred by the NGO for food, housing, insurance and similar living expenses. Sometimes the amount of money required by the brokers to participate is in the thousands of dollars. It may cost as much to “volunteer” as a regular holiday vacation would cost in a particular destination.
Why should you pay money to work for free? The volunteer broker industry counters that there are expenses that the local organizations simply cannot afford and this fee makes it possible for them to have volunteers come to assist. Plus they have their “marketing costs”, which often is employing people to spam the internet (one such organization, Volunteering Solutions, spams my favorite Reddit groups with literally hundreds of postings trying to get customers). That makes sense, but there are many potential volunteers that are not able or willing to cough up a couple of thousand dollars to participate.
The Mekong River, in its path from central China to the ocean, forms border between Thailand and Laos as it flows southward. The waters provide irrigation for crops, sustenance for fishing villages, and a cultural foundation for many Thai and Lao communities. According to Thai legend, the Mekong also is home to a mythical creature, a giant serpent, called the Naga.
The Naga is a snake that is often suggested to have seven heads. Buddhist iconography popularly shows this beast as a dragon-like water serpent, and at times we see the Buddha depicted as standing upon its head. Once a year, for several days, people from all over Thailand and Laos make their way to the banks of the Mekong to watch the Naga Fire-balls, or often called the “Mekong Lights” (in Thai bung fai paya nak, บั้งไฟพญานาค) emerge from that river. This phenomena has been recorded and witnessed by many over centuries, and is as yet not adequately explained. Some have suggested that it may be a UFO. In any case, it is a “real” phenomenon to most people of the region. Another theory is that methane gas trapped under the river bed finds just the right conditions this time of year, and is released and ignited upon surfacing.
The culture of Thailand is very different from the culture in America. What is acceptable back home may cause a visitor to be poorly received in Thailand and could cause a very uncomfortable situation. This can absolutely affect the quality of your experience in this part of the world, so it would be wise to keep these simple rules in mind as you explore this tropical kingdom. Here is the short list that visitors should be aware of for their time here:
Don’t raise your voice in any confrontational way. It is in the Thai culture when there are disputes to discuss it in a low tone that is not loud. If there is a problem with a bill at the hotel or you received bad service from the waitress, it is important to speak slowly and in a normal tone. If you do it the typical way things are settled back home, with a loud voice, pointing fingers and maybe with a few choice words that should never have been spoken, you will not get the results you want, you will embarrass yourself and you are likely to have the Thai person you are screaming at turn their back in disgust and walk away. Continue reading →
For anyone coming to Chiang Mai and staying for a month or so, it is wiser to get into a Serviced Apartment instead of a hotel. The Serviced Apartment becomes more like a temporary home away from the maddening tourist crowds where you are able to relax during your stay. Fortunately, Chiang Mai has lots of Serviced Apartment Guest Houses, and the pricing is extremely competitive. You can easily stay in a quality apartment in Chiang Mai for much less than you could rent anything almost anywhere in the USA.
The Thai Lanna Resort – Chiang Mai
One such place that I recently stayed at is the Thai Lanna Resort, about 12 kms (6 mi.) south of central Chiang Mai in the Hang Dong district, ten minutes away from the Chiang Mai Airport, and I give it a thumbs up recommendation. This resort was recently built by a Brit expat and his Thai wife, Anthony and Panida. Anthony is also an English language teacher at one Chiang Mai’s prestigious private schools. Anthony is a well educated published author that has traveled and stayed in much of the world, and is a good resource of information for potential expats. His lovely wife, Panida is a wealth of good local information and on Thai culture. She also happens to be a great cook of both Thai and Western dishes. This team is very helpful in getting the most out of a long term stay in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.
I’d eaten “local food” before, but this was on a whole new scale. Our lunch, eaten in a picturesque bungalow in the middle of Petch Thongnoi’s sun-drenched rice paddy, all came from within a fifteen-yard radius.
Bananas, fresh fish, rice, bean pods, bamboo, sawalots, and papaya came from the backyard; several types of chili peppers, lemongrass, and onions from the front. A feast, a cornucopia, performance art – Petch killing and gutting the fish with one artful swing of a knife as we roasted them over the fire, on a stick, like marshmallows. Our hands were soon covered in sticky and spicy food, our arms intertwined as we unabashedly reached and delved into the communal dishes at the center of our seated circle.
Petch punctuated the end of the meal as he rolled up the giant place-mat banana leaf, scooping up the food scraps, and tossed it directly into the rice paddy water. Everything from the rich Thai soil, and everything back to it!
Have a great vacation in the Land of Smiles (plus change in your pocket) for having your dental work in Thailand.
OK, it is true I am no fan of the dental business in the USA. Their rates are astronomical. A lot of people may not see all those high rates because they have dental insurance. Since I have always been employed by myself, I have avoided this insurance expense for my employees (including me), so I have always seen and paid my dental bills in full. Wow. The costs for dental treatment in the US between 1998 and 2008 increased at a higher rate than medical care, and far exceeded the increases in inflation. Dental insurance costs have skyrocketed over the last decade, and many companies are no longer making this part of the employee benefits. So now more Americans, like most self employed people, are seeing their total dental costs, with most or all coming out of pocket. (reference: The American Way of Dentistry – Slate).
A typical dental office in the US has one dentist (sometimes two, but not often), and that dentist hops from patient to patient (sometimes working on three or four patients at the same time) to maximize income (your money). That one dentist is presumed to be an expert in every kind of dental work: crowns, filings, cleanings, X-rays, tooth pulling, and extraction of all available funds from the pockets of patients.
Thailand dentist offices usually work on a different concept. A Thai dental office (clinic or sometimes a “dental hospital”) will generally have several dentists. In the Bangkok dental hospital that I personally have had work done, there are 13 doctors of dentistry. One will be an expert on root canals, another on crowns, another on simple filings, and on and on. As a patient at a good Thai dental hospital or clinic, you are likely to be involved with two or three different dentists that work in their specialty. Thai dental clinics are as modern as any typical American dental office, or better. From what I have seen in my non-scientific study getting my teeth fixed is that Thai dental clinics have more modern equipment and seem much higher on the technology scale than your typical little American dental office. The quality of work in Thailand at a good dental clinic is on par or superior to the work you get in the US in my opinion (and from everyone else that I know that has work done in Thailand).
This is extremely good news, and I did not expect it. A United States Senator has introduced legislation to get rid of FATCA. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, has been one of the biggest assaults on the privacy of American citizens living overseas. It has motivated huge increases in the number of people giving up their US citizenship, it has made living in many areas of the world a financial struggle, and it has invaded the sovereignty of nations.
As Senator Paul states: “The intent of this law was to prevent tax evasion by increasing access to overseas bank accounts held by U.S. citizens. However, any law enforcement benefits have been vastly outweighed by the deleterious effects of FATCA on economic growth and the financial privacy of Americans.”
It seems as if the most beautiful destinations in the world are often the most dangerous. According to an article in the Guardian, exotic locations like Thailand, Australia, Czech Republic and Greece tend to be the places where tourists will most likely find trouble. Whether it’s the difference in culture or economies, it’s essential for travellers to get in the know and in control.
When you’re in a new, exotic landscape that feels like paradise, you might not stop to consider what could go wrong. The sad truth is, however, many things can and do. There are many precautions you can take to ensure that you stay safe while on holiday and it doesn’t hurt to prepare yourself in the case that something does go wrong. Newspapers and travel website often publish articles about what to do in a crisis. With a little bit of reading you can leave with a lot more confidence.
We found the perfect house to live in retirement. Paid cash for the place plus have no property taxes. Live a pretty easy life, better in the material things than I thought I would end up with. Have a decent newish car and the weather is good where we are living. We are retired and have few responsibilities and obligations to worry about as we are settled in the Southeast Asian tropical kingdom. It is certainly better than if we retired to a trailer park outside of Dayton, or a little shack in Tulsa or an apartment in Pasadena. But we have crossed that line into retirement that has drastically changed our lives, no matter where our habitat happens to be. It is certainly a major adjustment, and not all of it is easy.
Now I no longer wear a watch because I don’t want to know what time it is. That’s a big adjustment from a time when every minute counted and I would not waste a drop of it during a workday. I shave about once every three days now, only when it gets a little too scratchy for me. I wear sandals on my feet and can’t remember the last time I polished my shoes. I have settled in.
There are ancient mystery sites all over the world. Easter Island, Peru, Egypt and even that silly little circle of rocks in the southwest of England have all brought armies of archeologists, historians, and mystics to ponder their existence. How many people know about the mystical and mysterious Plain of Jars in Laos?
The Plain of Jars consists of thousands of huge megalithic jars chiseled out of solid rock that date back to the Iron Age. They are not made from ceramic or other modern method. Each jar measures from 1 meter to 3 meters across. Best guesses at this point of their age is about 3,000 years.
Insects are not part of the American diet yet, but in Thailand it dates back a few centuries and you can find them readily available in most fresh food markets around the country today. It is a real challenge for an American boy to venture into the area of insect snacks, even with the continuous prodding from Thai friends and relatives.
So that you may get a head start on these Thai delicacies, I am here to report on the various varieties available to you. Insects are eaten primarily in the Northeast part of Thailand — Isaan — and in the mountain areas of the North, but often available in Bangkok markets and in the South. There is no season for insects and they are available all year long.
While Thailand’s southern cities and beaches attract most tourists – Full-Moon-partiers, Bangkok night-lifers – the true gems of Thailand lie a bit further north. Off the beaten path, yes, but all the more rewarding for their remoteness.
Any journey into northern Thailand wouldn’t be complete without exploring Chiang Mai, so we’ll start there. A 10ish hour bus ride from Bangkok isn’t so bad, as long as your bus has enough seats… Last minute tickets often mean standing room only, which gives the intrepid overnight traveler the added benefit of learning how to wedge herself upright and catch some z’s while standing.
Like many Caucasians from that great nation across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, or from the European continent or Great Britain or Ireland or from almost anywhere else, we are often simply referred to as a Farang here in Thailand. Some people take great offense with being called this and others embrace it. It is tempting even for other Farangs to use the word “farang” as a synonym in American English for foreigner in Thailand.
The term does not seem to apply towards people India living in Thailand or from Japan or Korean or other Asian countries. It also does not seem to apply towards people of color originating from Africa, or with African heritage but actually from America or other Western countries.
The most unconventional Thai Buddhist Temple in Thailand is Wat Rong Kuhn in Chiang Rai Province about 30 kilometers south of Chiang Rai. This is often called the “White Temple” because the main buildings are stark, chalky white, and are one of the great places for an excursion out of Chiang Mai to experience. Even if you have gotten the feeling of being “templed out” down in Chiang Mai with the hundreds of beautiful Buddhist temples there, this is one additional shrine you will want to add to your list. There is no cost here for spending as much time as you want, and you will want to truly study all the art in this amazing temple. It will blow your mind.
It is here again: Jackfruit Season. The time when one of my favorite Thai fruits ripen here in Thailand, and it is available everywhere: all the food markets, with roadside vendors and on the trees in my neighborhood. Jackfruits are known as Khanun in Thai.
It always amazes me how such an enormous fruit can pop out of a small tree. Jackfruit very often can weigh around 60 lbs! It is known to get up to 80 lbs. These massive fruits hold the record as the largest fruits in the world. It can sometimes take two healthy guys to get just one Jackfruit off the tree. And with its somewhat spikey skin makes it hard to handle.
Durian is the King of fruits, and Mangosteen is the Queen. Completing the hand is Jackfruit, a native fruit for Thailand and surrounding countries, and a native to my back yard. In Bangledesh, Jackfruit is actually the “national fruit” (and I didn’t even know nations had national fruits). In Thailand, the Jack of Fruits is bigger than the King and much bigger than the queen. In fact, it is considered to be the biggest fruit of them all. Continue reading →
A few years ago, around 2006, we would get 40 Thai Baht for every dollar. Then the dollar starting inching downward in relation to the Baht. Actually the Baht stayed relatively stable and it is the value of the US dollar that fell. I think in that year, American politics were kind of crazy (Bush fighting fruitless wars and a democrat congress spending with little regard for the future), and it has gotten more crazy ever since.
It may have been 2013 in most of the world since January 1, but the traditional New Year for Thailand is April 13 and Songkran — New Year Holiday — is celebrated on the 13-14-15 of April this year in the Western calendar, and it is about this biggest holiday of year. Thailand recognizes the Western calendar as well, but in true tradition, the Thai Buddhist calendar is different by 543 years.
I am an American living on the other side of the planet from the United States and am very happy living here. It’s not perfect, but authorities pretty much leave me alone and I live well stress free. As long as I keep current with some fairly easy rules from the Thai government, and comply with the long reach of the IRS, the US State Department and a few other US agencies, I am not bothered very much by any authorities.
I escaped. And I have no intention of returning.
We all know how much America has changed. Any aware American citizen now realizes that the life of an obedient, securely employed (the very lucky ones), tax paying citizen in the US is no longer as wonderful as it used to be. Dreams of a secure future, a nice home that grows in value, a nice car in which you could afford to travel around the countryside, a secure retirement fund and healthy living has been shattered over the last couple of decades. Many are thinking about an escape, and it is something I recommend. If you have decided that you would like to spend your life outside of the US, your first step is to work out an escape plan.
If you come to Thailand on holiday you are likely to be introduced to the Gem business. You will hear a story or two of a guy from Los Angeles that flies over to Bangkok every few months, buys a load of gems and resells them for huge profits in the US. Unless you are an absolute gem expert, I am going to tell you that this simply cannot be done. So many visitors to Thailand end up ruining their vacation by being part of an extremely well-orchestrated Thai theatrical production: The Gem Scam.
Gem Gallery International have stores in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pattaya (the major tourist cities of Thailand) and are regular stops for city tours.
This scam is certainly no secret; there are warnings in every Thai guidebook and all over the internet, yet because these swindlers are so professional at what they do, many, many visitors are caught up in it and become another victim. While the scam is found in every tourist city in Thailand, the vast majority of them happen in Bangkok. No matter how savvy you may think you are as a world traveler, you should be aware of this infamous activity and be prepared for it.
Small talk is not something we think about much, but there are major differences between light conversations among friends or colleagues in America and in Thailand. Here are some of my thoughts about this:
Europeans and Americans have a hesitation in things that are discussed in polite conversation. We generally don’t talk about religion or age or income levels. It is a polite taboo that we maintain for all but the very closest of friends or family. In Thailand, those restrictions have not been building over the generations, but other taboos have, so sometimes Expats and visitors to the Kingdom are taken back a little bit. Mastering Thai small talk is all part of the immersion process when a Westerner moves into this society.
The Coffee Shop Culture of Chiang Mai – Guest Posting by Ryan Gibson
Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s most popular destinations for tourists, due to the range of unique cultural experiences and stunning scenery on offer to visitors. This fabulous city has even made it onto TripAdvisor’s “25 Best Destinations in the World” list, which considering the sheer volume of competition is a commendable achievement (there are a lot of amazing locations on this planet!)
In addition to the picturesque landscapes, colossal temples, boutique hotels and bohemian art galleries that have all put this city on the map, Chiang Mai is renowned for its warm and friendly coffee shop culture, making this a really sought after destination for digital nomads and perpetual travelers alike.
In much of the West, this is a controversial subject. Cockfighting is outlawed in most of the world and condemned as being barbaric, especially it seems in the UK, and animal rights advocates often get very angry about the whole concept. Animal rights people call it inhumane, but If you want to see true inhumane treatment of chickens, visit a Perdue chicken “farm” (factory) in Maryland. Now that’s inhumane. And they all end under infrared lights in fast food joints all over America. In Thailand, cockfighting is considered a noble sport, in Thai it is Gai Shon, and has been a part of the Thai culture for a few hundred years. It is a spectator sport that is absolutely legal in Thailand and other Asian countries, and many Westerners have serious misconceptions about it.
One of the big objections from animal rights people is that the animals have “no choice”. Two responses come from Thais involved in cockfighting: (1) it’s only a chicken, an animal we often raise just to slaughter, not an intelligent animal (e.g., bird brain, ask the birds under the heat lamp at KFC if they had a “choice”), and (2) some Thais say the birds are not forced to fight at all. They are free to walk away in the ring, the match is forfeited and that’ll be the end of it for that bird. While cockfighting is permitted in Thailand, there is no fight to the death; that’s illegal in Thailand. If a bird chooses not to fight, they are usually whisked away and will not be placed in the ring again. Cockfighting chickens are perhaps the best fed birds in the country, since good health of the fowl is necessary for good fighting. So even if they proved to be “chicken” in the ring, they are likely to be used for breeding new chicks and living the good life that would be the envy of any rooster.
Americans living outside of the US: the time is here when we must again comply with the unfair controls imposed by the Internal Revenue Service. As an American, even if you are permanently living outside of the US paying income taxes in your new homeland, you must file an income tax form, and you may pay income taxes to the US based on your nationality, regardless if that income ever went to the US and regardless if it means double taxation (taxed on the same money by the country you live in and also by the US federal government) . In addition, and perhaps more hideous, you must report any financial assets — like bank accounts — that you may have in your new homeland to the US government. If you fail to comply, the penalty inflicted on you by the US government can be enormous.
So would I, as an American citizen, have to pay double taxes? That is, taxes in the US and in Thailand? “Yes, and it gets worse: if you marry a Thai citizen they have to file US taxes even if they’ve never set foot in the US, simply because they are married to a US citizen and are now “conjoined” to the US tax system. Seriously evil and stupid. This is why many folks who do this renounce their US citizen and often at the behest of their non-US spouse. Unless you are making good money (USD $92K+) it’s unlikely you’ll owe anything – but the IRS still requires you to file a tax return.”
Everyone knows about the deadline of April 15 for income tax filing. We have had this drilled into our heads since we first earned a few bucks in our high school part time job. The other date we must remember as expats is June 30. That’s the deadline for compliance with the FBAR rules of reporting assets. Don’t let this deadline slip by or you will be severely punished.
In Thailand, the power of the amulet is still very much alive. An amulet is a mystical item that is usually worn around a person’s neck that because of some religious ritual possesses powers to protect or give good luck to the person wearing it. We have all seen pictures of old European Kings wearing emerald and ruby amulets that had purported power, and many old tales about how the wearer was protected. It was also a part of ancient Roman, Egyptian, Hebrew, Babylonian, Greek, Aztec, Mayan, Navajo and so many other great cultures that built the world we exist in today. Almost every ancient culture. In the West, we have tossed the idea about the power of amulets aside as just another old superstition or myth of something imaginary. Maybe we need to be open to this concept once again. Maybe there is something behind all this.
You see them around the necks of many, maybe most, Thai people, hanging off the rear view mirror of Taxis and Tuk-Tuks, these beautiful tiny artworks showing the likeness of the Buddha, of Monks or some special spiritual being. It is seen in all levels of Thai society, in the top level boardrooms and lowly construction worker. These are Thai Amulets and they provide their wearers with protection against a multitude of possible harms, or often provide good luck in particular situations. These miniature artworks are also a doorway into the history and religious culture of the Thai people. Symbolic amulets have been worn by Thais for centuries, and today even the most educated and modern Thai people will have a collection of them. The Thai Army gives amulets to soldiers that must face dangerous situations.