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Thai Guide

  • Written by Dan
  • December 20th, 2004
  • 25 min read


This guide is more of a problem-solving and behavior survival guide, than a site-seeing “where-to-go” travel guide to Thailand. There are already many of those. If you feel you can jump on a plane and travel to Thailand without some basic background knowledge, then you might have a very lousy vacation instead of a great, “remember forever” holiday.

Money and currency:

Understanding baht: While the American Dollar and The Euro are worldwide currencies, the Thai baht itself is The Currency in Thailand, and is extensively used by all, especially foreigners on holiday. This Means YOU, and you have to be comfortable in thinking in baht. Thailand is a developed country (in spite of areas of poverty), and uses their own national currency with pride, (even though they are sometimes very very happy to be paid in American dollars also.) Learn the exchange rate cold, to the point that you KNOW that 200 baht is the same as a five-dollar or five Euro note, and that 1,000 baht is $25. The exchange rate (at least as of 2004) is about 40 to 41 baht per dollar.

Conversion method:

a) Multiply your dollars by 40 to get the baht price, and;

b) Multiply the baht price by 2.5 to get the price in cents, and then divide by 100 to get dollars.

PRACTICE THE FOLLOWING EXERCISES in preparation for your trip:

a) Think of some small purchase items that you might need to buy while there: a pair of short pants, a bahtrobe, a pair of eyeglasses, a suit, some laundry services, phone calls, a meal at a restaurant, and the like.

b) Then picture them at three various prices levels: at the regular Western street prices, then at half of that price (often what you can get it for, if you’re sharp), then at three times the expensive western price. (You will often see these common items offered to you at all three of these price ranges.)

c) Now write down at least five items that you may buy.

d) Write out the cheap price for each item in both dollars and Thai baht

e) Write out the western price for the item in both dollars and baht

f) Write out the “tourist sucker” rip-off price in both dollars and baht.

Give this exercise a quick go beforehand.

Bringing your money into Asia:

1. Use American Express Traveler’s checks in $50’s and $100’s. You can only cash them at a money exchange place with your Passport in your possession. These exchange places are all over, and are the safest way to go, although it’s a pain to carry around your passport for this purpose. As for the passport, it should be kept in your room safe or hotel desk box when not in use (along with your uncashed traveler’s checks) until you return to the airport on the way home.

2. Use your ATM banking card at ATM machines, all over the place for quick cash. This is safe. HOWEVER, avoid using your banking card in “credit card” purchase mode, because purchases may wrongfully be submitted twice without needing a PIN number by a slick merchant or store employee. This is less safe. Also, your bank might suspend your account because of activity in Southeast Asian countries that they might find suspicious, and they can’t contact you about it outside of the country.

3. ATM “GIFT CARDS”: This is a good idea. These are pre-paid credit cards that do not link back to your own bank account. You can buy a few pre-paid credit cards in the amount of $100 to $250, and use them at ATMs or in credit-card mode without worry. Just keep them in your wallet or room safe so you don’t lose track of them.

4. Changing Money at the Airport. Change $100 into 4,000 baht at the Bangkok Don Muang airport. The currency exchange is located at the exit plaza meeting area right by the taxi stands. You’ll need 800 baht ($20) to get to your Bangkok hotel.

SHOPPING IN THAILAND:

Many local “professional” merchants such as optometrists, shoe stores, custom tailors, prostitutes, and silk/leather merchants operate on a “best-price” bargaining process. This is similar to buying local products or gifts in the Middle East or Latin America. They may start at about 100% of London-New York-Tokyo prices for silk, leather, watches, suits, electronics, etc., even though their own wholesale costs are a fraction of Western wholesale supplier costs. Know this up front. Respond by reducing their asking price to a half; when they counter with a figure more than 70% of the corresponding western price, then smile and walk away. They should settle for 50% of the Western price. As for yourself, and as a shopper, you shouldn’t drag your purchases halfway around the world if you only saved a few dollars. The only haggling that is comparable to this in the Western world is when real estate is bought and sold. But here, bargaining is common for many transactions. And bargaining covers many routine transactions – especially when tourists are involved. That basically covers negotiated purchases.

Examples:

  1. Custom-fitted Suits: $70-250 per suit, depending on the choice of material, which can be a perfectly fitted polyester suit at the low end, to the fully-combed Scottish or Icelandic wool suits, along with fine thread English cotton fitted shirts with silk ties, to be included at the high end. If they ask more than this based on the materiel that YOU will examine and choose, then find another tailor, as there are PLENTY in both Bangkok and Pattaya. However, compare this to New York/London, where custom-fitted is $699-$2,400! They will also ship the suits to your home address anywhere in the world for an additional $30-90 Euros or dollars. (1,200-3,700 baht). Consider having it shipped directly from the tailor’s; your luggage, as it is, is enough to drag around. You may also wish to ship the suits yourself from a “Mailboxes-etc.” or Fed-Ex shipping place for much less money. However, if you’re traveling around with just a carry-on bag, then you may buy a suit-carrier or piece of luggage just for your new shopping items. Consider this.
  2. Taxis and transportation: In Bangkok, metered taxis are plentiful. A ride from the airport to midtown Bangkok is about 600B-800B ($15). <No, it is much less than this – this price could only be for a "limo"Stick> Taxis are everywhere, especially near tourist hotels. If you are traveling as a single man from the airport, do not be offended or surprised if the driver “pimps” you, or offers to stop on the way, to obtain a lady’s company for you, on the way to the hotel. Not uncommon. From midtown Bangkok to the airport the taxi ride is 300-400B, much cheaper. Tip 20B if you want. Generally, if you’re staying at a quality tourist hotel you are within walking distance of all the nightspots. In getting to Pattaya, (a two hour ride) a fancy cab might be 2,000 baht, or a bus ride might be 200B or less. Within Pattaya, there are baht buses (pick-up trucks with seats) that cruise the main streets in the direction you may wish to go for 10B. There are also taxis for about 60B, or motorbike taxis for 30B if you’re adventurous. To get started, just ask a cabbie “You take me to place for 50B?” Within Pattaya, if you’re within walking distance of “Walking Street” you don’t need a cab. The taxi ride from Pattaya back to Bangkok is 800B-1,000B, the bus even cheaper.
  3. Optometrist: If you lose your eyeglasses, or are tied of wearing contacts, or just want an extra pair of spectacles while on vacation, here’s the guidelines for Bangkok/Pattaya optometry. Thai Optometrists generally do very fine eye examinations because the use a Jxxxxxxe manufactured eye examination computerized-machine that perfectly measures your myopia, astigmatism, eye-separation distance, and the like, in just 45 seconds or so. However, regardless of the fancy procedures or the price tags that are attached to any frames you that may you may wish to buy, you still should bargain, or ask “what can you do for me?” and offer them the following, because they are out to make money:

a) $30-$50 for the cheap “dorky” plastic frames, an emergency pair, including eye exam.

b) $80-$100 American dollars or so (baht 4,000) for designer wire frame glasses with a complete eye exam, for regular lenses. Your glasses should be ready within 4 hours. Their own mark-up is still adequate for them.

c) $150 American, (baht 6,000), if you need extreme bifocals, pure glass lenses, Ultra-violent protection lenses, or a prescription for severe astigmatism. Glasses ready in 1 business day.

This isn’t all that cheap, but it’s still fair, as you may lose your contact lenses or glasses when you’re there.

Additional money and buying notes:

a) The negotiated purchase transactions described in detail above do NOT apply to worldwide chain stores, hotel services, pubs, Laundromats, or restaurants. They also do not apply to “on-site” or “house” brothels such as the Eden Club, etc., should you happen across them. (More on this subject to come below.) Bargaining applies only to small local merchants such as tailors, taxis, and “tourist stores”, etc.

b) Hotel laundering phone and bar services are generally very expensive, as they have rich tourists in captivity. Do NOT use the hotel laundering services or telephone services. You may be taken. A full load of clothes to launder at a hotel is $20 American/or Eu 18.00 (=850 baht) through the hotel, but only $2.00 or Eu 1.90 when done at the Laundromat-cleaners. Also, hotel long distance is $1 a minute, but only 10 baht a minute at a phone use place! Since most tourists show up with 1,000 Dollars or Euros per week for the stay (50,000 baht), this could cost you a day’s dinner or a night’s recreation.

c) Tipping. Tips are generally less practiced here than in the states, and the rule of thumb is to neither be too generous nor to be a complete stiff. In the states, your tips should be 15%, but 5-10% here for coffee shops and taxi rides if you tip. If the minimum tip based on your bill is less than 20 baht (50c) and you were waited on, then leave a full 20 baht note. Bellhops should get 20-50 baht depending on the amount of luggage. For the free Hotel meals that are part of a package, leave 20B on the table for breakfast, 50B for dinner.

How to save:

a) International Phone: Buy a 500 baht phone card at the 7-Eleven store to use at the yellow phone booths, or use the phone-call stores for international calls. 10 baht per minute.

b) Local Thailand phone calls: keep some Thai silver coins on you (5 and 10 baht coins), and use the local pay phones. (Black phones.)

c) Use the Internet stores. They’re 50c per half hour or so. Work your email.

d) Notice where the cheap laundries and restaurants are located by your place, and use them.

One of the great surprises in both Bangkok and Pattaya (and even Phnom Penh) are their restaurants. There are some very fine dining and world-class restaurant experiences available to you at very fine prices. You certainly didn’t travel to Thailand to eat at Mickey Dees. While some restaurants are tourist traps, many are completely inexpensive and surprising excellent. The local city guide will list them, but if you went with a group, then the tour leader knows the inside poop on where to go.

The better places offer FULL COURSE Two-star Thai, Italian, Russian, or English Steak house dinners, typically for 1,000 baht with tip, (or $25.00.)

The local Thai restaurants, pizza shops and coffee shops offer decent meals for $5 or $6 or so.

A little bit on Thai Cuisine, Thai culture, and being yourself:

I did not mention getting into the whole Thai cuisine and cultural experience here, because while you are exposed to Thai culture simply by being in Thailand, Thai customs are different, and the Thai cuisine is an acquired taste. There are some cautions here in these departments.

Quite often a tourist will immerse himself excessively, starting with the cuisine, only to end up with a burnt tongue and two days worth of diarrhea. Or a tourist may have a “First World, do what I WANT” attitude towards people. Similar problems occur when tourists don’t know the customs, or think that they do. You are under no obligation to pretend that you’re Indiana Jones who is doing the full local scene, and you will prove nothing by getting carried away and pretending you’re a suave world-traveling native or bossy impatient westerner when you’re just a fat falung on vacation.

So just enjoy the sites, the ambience, the shopping, and the companionship, and be patient. Moderation, Respectfulness, and being yourself are key.

So Please avoid:

a) First World Syndrome, or the Ugly American/Brit: This is a biggy. Loud, bossy, fussy, impatient. Feeling that you can do what you want and snap your fingers among the little third world people. It’s amazing how after a few drinks that this attitude may appear in some people. Remember, you’re guests at their house and nation. Examples of rude westerner’s behavior:

· The changing of the guard at the Thai Royal Palace: an adult American stood directly behind a Royal Guard soldier on display making clown faces while a friend took pictures, and while Thai citizens looked on in anger, and cringing over it. The man was 50 years old! It was completely retarded, and the only thing that that man’s photographs will reveal of his trip to people is what an idiot he was. Your arrogance (or grace and humility) not only represents you, it represents your countrymen. You are always on display!

· Talking rudely to cabbies, hotel workers, and waiters, in case there’s a mishap or disagreement: Murphy’s law applies big-time here in Thailand, and there’s always a little snafu or glitch to cause a delay or change of plans. Be flexible and patient, and NOT demanding to people involved if you feel inconvienced. Do NOT start barking or ordering people around rudely; you’d be surprised at how much more badly things will go for you if you’re bossy or rude. Be Zen about things by being prepared, flexible, and patient.

· Never, ever approach a pretty lady outside of a pick-up spot. Ladies who are NOT working girls are upset about the Thai situation and reputation. We know why many of you have come to Thailand, but that’s NOT how it works. It works like this: you show up at a pick-up place, and have them jump you! Then you make your selection. Not the other way around, and NEVER outside of these places.

· Avoid discussing politics, the Royal family, The Buddhist religion, pointing at people of things, or making extravagant hand or facial gestures. Show respect for religious items, the Thai government, workers, and property by speaking softly and slowly without great gestures, and by conservative dress.

b) The Patronizing James Bond world traveler syndrome: Don’t try to be too patronizing, suave or pretentious about a culture and cuisine that you actually know little about. I’ve seen tourists act with great pretention by quickly adopting Asian dress, mannerisms or conventions, or other forms of immersion that cannot quickly absorbed or understood, in just trying to be suave or native-like. This is actually quite common among tourists; for example, we see it in Americans who visit Paris and who pretend to speak fluent French with the aid of a translation dictionary, knowing full well that the waiter that they’re dealing with already speaks perfect English, and is annoyed. I’ve also seen American friends and acquaintances, while having dinner at a four-star Jxxxxxxe restaurant in Las Vegas, purporting to know the culture of Japan, and expounding on the ways of a particular and arcane Asian dynasty or Samurai rite and while poking each other in the eyes with chopsticks. It can get this ridiculous. Are some people really that insecure about themselves when entering into an exotic location for the very first time? The answer is yes, sadly. I am surprised at the amount of pretentiousness that arises whenever people visit an exotic location after reading some tourist guidebook. People are at their best when they are simply being themselves without pretensions, no matter where in the world they are. So, have no fantasies that you’re a world-traveling James Bond by wearing an Asian Day-Glow Chairman Mao outfit at a Thai restaurant and ordering the spiciest local food that cannot be comfortably handled, only to hurl it back out later. I have seen too many times, and the humiliation is deserved. Not cool. Enter a foreign culture and cuisine slowly and gracefully without any pretense of being a sophisticated James Bond, just absorb the experience. Excessive patronization or eagerness is a wrong action when you should be laid-back, observing and learning.

c) Patience: The Thai’s sense of time, even in the service industries, is one of: “Well, I’ll get to it, ventually” (with a “V”). It really isn’t that bad, but things don’t get accomplished in a New York minute here. Be patient when waiting for your check at a restaurant.

d) Too touristy crass: Also, for that matter, it is counter-productive to be too “touristy”, to go overboard wearing short pants and a loud Hawaiian shirt with an oversized camera riding your belly. It’s actually considered very naïve and disrespectful. Avoid short pants, loud shirts or noisy tee shirts, and just wear regular button-up cotton shirts with full-length slacks or jeans. Short pants, loud shirts and a loud mouth will get you nowhere in trying to have sway with people, or earning the local’s respect, especially if you have to deal with the police or other professionals. Dress “causal-classy”: clean, light, full-length clothes in discreet solid colors, with a pocket-sized camera that’s not on a strap. Even in Thailand’s sub-tropical climate, such cotton clothes are very doable.

A Pack of Cigarettes, a pack of Durex condoms and a pint of Thai Whiskey at the local 7-Eleven or Family-Mart is just 200 baht ($5). Local groceries stores, whether or not they global chain stores, sell whiskey and condoms at the checkout, along with beer, cigarettes and sandwiches in Thailand; they have a different attitude about things.

THE LADIES: In Asia, the attitude towards lovemaking is much more tolerant, viewing sexual activity as a normal part of adult life, without the western-style guilt, games, or puritanical attitudes. As such, it is simply no big deal; grown up people are expected to get their minimum daily requirement of frequent love as a part of being a human being, no big deal. And many do come to Asia for the “pay for play” aspect. The best way to describe their attitude towards sex is that there is simply NO puritanical judgment or “guilt games” involved with any occurrence of screwing.

Please note that this sexually tolerant aspect of Thai does NOT give anyone license to act like a randy and rude slob at any time in any such a liberal environment; it simply means if you act like a gentleman who always acts calm and respectful towards a new partner – whether or not she’s a working girl or just a date – then you’re pretty much getting some, assuming that the rest of your encounter goes along smoothly.

But Also note that the western reputation of Thailand as a “prostitution paradise” is horrendously demeaning and incorrect, even though lovemaking services are clearly and easily available there, as they are EVERYWHERE else in the world. The WORST cities for crass prostitution are the American cities of Las Vegas and New York, the European cities of Amsterdam and Paris, as well as ANY damn city or town in Russia or Japan that you can possibly think of! Bangkok doesn’t even make the top ten on the list! Yet the people of Japan, Europe and America look to Thailand to point a finger of scorn, because they just don’t want to point to themselves in this department, in light of their “First-world” arrogance.

That’s basically it. Assuming that you, as a visitor there, may wish to partake in the “pay for play” scene, then there are certain rules to follow.

a) This scene is strictly limited to certain venues, such as beer bars, go-go-clubs, brothels, and pick-up beaches and coffee shops. Know where these places are, and strictly limit your “prowling” to these areas only. If you don’t know where these areas are, then surf the Internet, or ask a westerner or a local taxi driver.

b) At these places, do not approach the ladies aggressively – as they approach you, simply by your being present in these places. They approach you by walking up to you, sitting next to you, and asking your name as they caress your legs or chest. I Mean You Simply Cannot Miss It. Some ladies practically pounce on you, while others are more discreet, but still very clear about their availability.

c) Don’t select the first one that approaches you, unless she’s a complete knockout. Order drinks for them, look around, chat them up, and TAKE YOUR TIME! If you’re at a beer bar or go-go club, shop around for the item that interests you most.

d) ALWAYS use condoms. You can always buy condoms at the 7-Eleven on the way back to the hotel. If you’re out of condoms (very rare), the hotel’s bellboy might bring some to your room for a few dollars (100 baht). Better still, you should just buy some before hand.

e) ALWAYS remain relatively sober and VERY respectful to her and all ladies at all times. Do NOT act like a Gxxxxn or Jxxxxxxe man! (Not caring if I offend anyone with that comment, but you KNOW what I mean.) Don’t pretend you’re as suave as a first-world James Bond and act as however you like, but be humble and friendly, as nobody likes a horny slob. Treat her like a real lady or girlfriend, and you’ll get the real “girlfriend experience”. Never rudely demand things, or order her around, or get too frisky or drunk while in public view with her. Ladies will come to you if you act graceful — as you will too also, later on at that night. Remember — Even if you are paying-for-play, consider it a privledge and honor to have her company and to receive some action, and not as a right. If you’re paying a lady to be your own lady then you damn-well treat her as a lady at all times!!! Never forget this! Make it a policy that if she shares your bed with you and is willing to give you loving, then you treat her as family or friend for your time with her. Period, end of story, it’s a real simple rule.

f) Remember that you’ll have to “Bar-Fine” any lady that leaves with you from a beer bar or go-go club. This means that you’ll pay 250 baht to 500 baht ($5-$10) to the establishment, for taking a lady out of service for the night. Go-go clubs have higher bar fines than beer bars. Do not bargain on this, just pay it and leave with her.

g) Prices for action are 800-1,200B ($20-$25) for “short time”, which is just a one or two-hour afternoon or evening session. It’s 1,500-2,200B or more ($37-$65) for “long-time”, which means she’ll spend the night with you until the late morning. Negotiating directly with the lady occurs here too, but it should be very friendly and mild in nature. When you decide on whom you like, the two of you will take a taxi back to your hotel room. This is not complicated. In all cases, keep your excess cash and your passport in the room safe. (While almost all ladies are very honest, there are still a few opportunistic thieves.) Generally, with a “long-time” session you will talk, eat, shower together, massage each other, chat, and generally socialize with her in a respectful fashion as you would with a long-term girlfriend, even though you’re planning to shag her brains out. Take your time and feel comfortable with it. She may at times want to watch some Thai Soap-opera dramas on the television between your sessions. What the hell, be a sport. This is how it works. Then you’ll sleep arm in arm until breakfast. This whole experience is very different than the New York-Las Vegas pay-for-play type of cold “slam-bam” action that is just down to business.

h) Do NOT – at any time – act like a horny slob outside of a beer bar, go-go club or pick-up spot to ANY civilian ladies outside of these pick-up places. Don’t even think about this anywhere else, unless they come onto you! Memorize and practice this. STAY WITHIN YOUR ZONE AND RESPECT THEIR ZONES! And the zones are the designated pick-up places only.

i) Your Camera: I’ve heard complaints from ladies that some, – not many – tourists actually want to take pictures of the naughty nocturnal activities themselves. Usually Jxxxxxxe or Gxxxxn tourists, (and that’s what they’ve complained about), and they have an absolutely HORRIBLE reputation as “ugly slob tourists” or worse. So Don’t Even Think About It. Why even do it??? It’s grossly offensive, completely unnecessary, and you should just be very thankful for the good loving and companionship you share with her. Spoiling things for yourself, for her, and for others doesn’t even describe this situation: it’s criminally offensive and hugely, hugely disrespectful. If your “vacation lady” means a lot to you, (or even if she doesn’t) then just take pictures of the two of you while on a fishing boat with her, or at a pub sharing a drink.

j) Katoeys, or “lady boys”: Some ladies, especially the “stunningly beautiful” ones are occasionally men in drag; and it can be very remarkable, very strikingly beautiful, very uncanny, and unnerving to say the least. You might not even believe that she’s not really a lady until her manly toolbox flops out in your Bangkok hotel room. So if you don’t like surprises, glance at her throat. If she has an Adam’s apple, then she is a he. Or better yet, you may discreetly ask. But if you don’t have a problem with it, or are open to new experiences and are both drunk enough and non-judgemental enough, you can run with that, too. Just don’t tell your fishing buddies.

k) Don’t fall in love with her. Because the Asian concubine experience is very intimate and “girlfriend”-like, (as you may actually socialize with her, and have a true temporary relationship with her,) you can get lulled into thinking it’s more than a short-term fling for pay. But it is TEMPORARY, even though you may wish for it to continue, especially if the extended encounter was really good. Many temporary relationships here are quite exquisite. But they are also temporary. Keep in mind that the lady has a whole complete life with her friends and family, and her service to you is just her job for the night or for the week. Do not get so arrogant or romantic that you somehow want to “save her from all this,” like you’re a savior be doing her a favor! It’s a fantasy. Also note that the ladies who DO want to return with you may have already screwed up their lives here in Asia, due to their own dysfunctional problems. So snap out of it! If you want to develop a relationship, then either move to Thailand yourself, or correspond with her by phone or email, and see how she appears to you when you’re not looking at her body, but at her in her own words and print.

Stickman's thoughts:

Some good advice here, but some is a little misleading. I would question quite a few of the prices you listed as being a fair way out…overall though, very good advice for the first timer.