Cold And Boring It Ain’t
Thanks for maintaining this site, it has been and I hope will continue to be a source of entertainment and information for me and many others. I guess you would say that it is mainly kept together by the numerous contributors, but it still needs a grip on the helm, and you have provided that, and more, for over 10 years.
For the past 5 of those years, I have been a regular reader while living and working here in Thailand, I have agreed with many, disagreed with some and been amazed by a few of the readers' submissions. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t ignored a handful, but you have to read them to ignore them, and each to their own.
The one thing I have not done is submit anything – so here is my effort. I hope that fellow readers will find something of use in it, if not, well I am sure the next submission will have. I realise that the people who peruse this site log on from all over the globe, so I guess the following is primarily aimed at those who are considering a move here or just curious about one person’s reflections on the process. I would readily accept that 5 years is not a long period compared to many others, but this submission is about my experiences of living in a different country, it is not a statement of undisputable fact.
Having spent 5 years here, about the only thing I can say with any certainty regarding Thailand is ‘cold and boring it ain’t’. As I suspect most who live here would agree, nothing I had experienced in Farangland (for me, that’s the UK) prepared me for this place. Forget the ‘Same, Same’, remember the ‘Different’. Everything, from the ongoing political / social situation to the way that electricity gets to the houses (if it does!), doesn’t make any ‘logical’ sense to a mind brought up in the west. The nuts and bolts of how society functions in Thailand is so totally alien to a farang, it sometimes seems pointless trying to comprehend it. But it is not pointless, and the difference, however vast, is what makes me stay.
I am going to break this down into 3 areas of life – Work, Socialising and Life in General, but prior to doing this I will give a short introduction to me, simply so that you can maybe get an idea of my perception of Thailand. A 70 year old retired lawyer with 10 million baht in the bank is going to approach and appreciate things differently from a 28 year old welder who might be thinking of coming here with 50,000 baht.
I came to Thailand in June, 2003, I was 46 and had recently travelled to the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia with a view to moving from the UK. I have no bad feelings toward the UK, but I was very much hoping to make a change in my life and thought at that time that SE Asia was a good place to think about starting that change. I had been married, but we divorced after 10 years – no acrimony, no bitter settlement, we just both knew it wasn’t going anywhere and, as we had no kids, why bother trying anymore. Probably a more significant reason for my looking abroad for a ‘fresh’ start was that I had spent the past 5 years as a recovering alcoholic. I had been dry since 1998 and knew the main danger of lapsing was, for me, caused through boredom, and I was getting bored in the UK.
The years prior to 1998 had drained all my savings, and the period between ’98 and ’03 were spent getting a degree and working in very low paid jobs. My head was financially above water – but only just.
On the plus side of things, I had almost 20 years working in colleges of FE as a teacher, a Certificate of Education and a degree. I also had the experience, as most people who go through any form of addiction have, of having been in a bad place and coming through it. The last thing I would describe myself as is perfect, but I have come to like myself quite a lot, most of the time!
I returned to the UK in August, 2003 to consider what I was going to do, but in all honesty my mind had been made up within a couple of days of first arriving in Thailand. The P.I. were beautiful, and the people there great – but there was no work. Malaysia, especially around the north east, Penang, was great too – but I thought very expensive, as was Singapore. Thailand on the other hand was just about in my bracket, the climate was magnificent and the people (read girls) totally out of this world.
I discussed all these things with a couple of close friends and family, and was surprised to get their approval. This was important to me, and became more so as time passed. I think if I didn’t have the support of these few people, I wouldn’t have been able to get through the difficult times everyone goes through when doing something ‘different’.
I had about 350,000 baht as a starting block, in hindsight I would say that is about the minimum with which anyone could set up a life in Thailand. I am sure others have done it more frugally – but I found it hard and wouldn’t advise any less.
I arrived in Thailand in January 2004 and haven’t been out of the country since.
For me, this is what keeps me sane.
On arriving in Thailand, I started a ‘4 week wonder’ TEFL course in Hat Yai. Within days I realised that my Cert Ed and the experience I had made it a fairly useless and mind numbing experience. I decided to leave the course, but use the accommodation to explore southern Thailand, mainly for work. In hindsight this was a mistake. I should have stuck with it and gained the TEFL. I have no doubt now that I would have gained, both learning from the others on the course and the teachers on the ‘supervised’ teaching modules. I have also found that when applying for jobs in Thailand, a TEFL is highly respected by Thai management, where as a 1 year, full time qualification like a Certificate of Education is unheard of.
However, having decided to hunt for a job, I was invited to lots of interviews over the next few weeks. Of these, I was nearly always offered the post, but for one reason or another, declined it. My teaching experience in the UK had been in ‘post-compulsory’ education, and I was hoping to teach students over the age of 16.
In March 2004 I arrived in a small town called Hua Hin, with 3 interviews to attend over a week. I came by train and got off at six o clock in the morning.
For those of you who do not know Hua Hin, the train station is about a kilometre from the beach and the town is on the ‘Gulf’ side, about 3 hours drive south of Bangkok. Consequently, I came out of the station with the sun rising over the sea as I walked down an avenue lined with trees, very few people around and the birds were singing. I shall remember this for a very long time as it was a wonderful feeling and before I had reached the beach, knew that this is where I was going to live, at least for a while. I am still here.
I had all 3 interviews and accepted a post in a government university; again, I am still here.
The work in a government uni in Thailand has 2 main advantages and 1 main disadvantage. The latter is important – money, the starting salary in a government uni is about 19,000 + 8,000 accommodation allowance per month, it may have gone up a couple of thou, but not much more. This does rise as you stay there, but do not go away with the idea that uni teachers are on big money – they aren’t. The 2 advantages are that (a) you are pretty much left to manage your own classes, within reason, but your attendance is only required when you teach, and to make sure the courses are well run. None of this 7:30am – 4:00pm, Mon – Fri stuff. If you are not teaching on a day – your attendance is not required. The government uni contract is for 14 hours per week, any extra is paid overtime. The other advantage is (b) that the academic year runs from June to September and November to March, but your salary is for 12 months. In effect, this works out to working 14 hours per week for 8 months a year. It gives you a lot of time to do the things you want to do, but with no money to do it!
I have always taken the approach that I didn’t come to Thailand to get rich (I have proved myself correct), so this sort of contract and payment scheme suits me well. Don’t get me wrong, it is not perfect by any means, but my students are a constant source of joy, annoyance, pride and smiles. My fellow staff, both farang and Thai, are as good as I have worked with in the UK, certainly regarding their professional attitude to the job. Of course there are exceptions, but these are very few compared to some of the horror stories I have read on this site. The one, small, black cloud on the horizon is the management, but even then, compared to most of the reports I have heard, I am lucky. There is undoubtedly an ethos of not failing students, accepting less than would be the absolute minimum in standards in the UK , but with a growing partnership between Thai and farang staff, it is improving, and the ‘management’ issue is becoming one we share. Not too different to the UK.
Another aspect of working in a ‘uni’ setting, certainly the uni I work at, is language. Farang lecturers, rightly in my opinion, are not allowed to speak Thai to the students, and all the Thai staff want to practice their English with you, consequently my Thai ability is appalling, but it has very little negative effect on my relationships. I also find the same true about Thais wanting to speak English to me in Hua Hin, a tourist dominated town and economy, and although my mediocre attempts at Thai are appreciated, the majority of people want to improve their English. This is my excuse and I am sticking with it!
The social life you can have in Thailand depends mainly on three things, what you want, where you live and how much money you want to spend. When it is put as simply as that, it is obvious that Thailand is no different to anywhere else, but it is different, and below is brief summary of my very limited experiences.
You are either living here or you would like to consider it. I don’t wish to be sexiest, but you are most likely to be male, between the ages of 25 – 70 and you are not reading this website because of your overwhelming passion for classical music.
So I shall presume your interest in Thailand in some way or other involves interaction with members of the opposite sex, or the same sex, or any sex that you have not come across yet – but you are curious about. If I am correct in my assumption, Thailand is a good place for you to be.
I am a straight male and I live in Hua Hin, so most of my comments here will relate to the confines of this fine town, and while there are all tastes catered for here, I can only write with any authority on matters hetro. Others have posted on different towns and different countries about different preferences – have fun searching.
I will also say that this is not purely a straight sex guide to Hua Hin, there are other ways of socialising, most notably eating and drinking, that are important to many of us.
Hua Hin is a small town, it is difficult to get a figure for the population, but I have heard between 35,000 and 75,000 people, with about 3,500 farang at any one time. Most of those I presume are holidaymakers, and I would guess at about 500 – 750 residents. At the time of writing, I would also guess that this figure is dropping, dramatically, due to both the global financial crisis and the pig's ear of a political / social situation.
Another influence on Hua Hin’s population is that it is 3 hours from Bangkok, and the numbers grow every weekend. Not only is it on the coast, but it is the ‘second’ home of His Majesty The King and his Family, making it the destination of choice for many Thais.
The more affluent Thais that visit, or have second homes / condos here, also demand high quality restaurants and facilities, and while Hua Hin cannot boast the very best of social amenities, for a small town it does okay. 30,000 baht will get you a night’s stay at the Chiva Som, 8,000 at the Sofitel, 6,000 at the Hilton and so on and on. Many good hotels, and even more mid-range places to crash. If you are backpacking, you will also be catered for, 350 baht should get you a room with pets (small, crawling variety) but do not expect the same access to a sauna / Jacuzzi.
There are many farang restaurants on the eastern / coastal side of Phetkasem Road, while on the western / mountain side there is Night Market and the Grand market, both with excellent Thai street restaurants and a growing ‘farang’ area between them.
That’s the tourist blurb done, but what do you do in Hua Hin?
Well, speaking for myself, on a fairly stringent budget, I do quite a bit.
It has to be said that I do not drink, so this leaves what many would regard as a ‘normal’ chunk of their budget free, but I go out every night, I have never cooked at home (I rent a 2 bed-roomed house in the centre of town) so the consumption of solids is a major part of my evening's entertainment. Invariably, going to and coming from one of the 7 or 8 restaurants that I use will involve meeting friends, arranged or otherwise, and may, but not usually end with going to the bowling alley or cinema at Market Village. More often than not I would end up going into the farang bar area that is based on Soi Bintabaht, although the bars that I use are not usually on this street. The farang bar area consists of approx 30 – 40 bars, most of which are ‘girl’ bars, but with a few ‘sports’ bars for those who are happy to chew the fat with mates, play pool / darts and watch the magnificent two legged scenery as it meanders past.
The are a couple of ‘Thai’ discos, which I do not go to, and a ‘farang’ disco at the Hilton, again, I rarely darken their door, at 75 baht for a coke, I can leave ‘A ga do do do’ to the tourist – but it’s there if I want it.
After the discos have shut, there is always the karaokes near by – a group of 6 / 7 small bars mainly for people who have lost the use of their legs and minds, while I may be accused of the latter, I haven’t suffered from the former for over ten years now, and I am not in the slightest bit interested in starting again now.
As I mentioned before, I live in the centre of town, actually on a street where about 10 – 15 new bars have opened over the past 4 years. So even after leaving the main farang tourist area, I am still pleasantly subjected to subtle barrage of ‘hello welcalmmmmm’ prior to arriving at the relative sanctuary of my own door.
Now, the above has described a fairly normal night, I would be less than honest if I where to say that I was always ‘khondio’ as I approached my abode, but these nights are far outnumbered by nights sleeping alone. And that’s okay, 5 years has taken the edge off what was once the only reason for being here. But only the edge!
For those of you who may be interested, the going rate for taking a girl from most of the bars in Hua Hin is 300 baht bar fine plus 1,000 for ST or 1,500 LT. Like everywhere, it varies from place to place and girl to girl – but that would be about general price structure.
Dinner in Hua Hin can cost as little as 40 baht for a plate of rice and some ‘things’ at a street stall, or as much as 2,000 for two at the Chinese restaurant in the Hilton (their Peking Duck is the best I have ever had). But more often than not, a Penang, or Indian Curried Chicken for 80 baht is enough for me at ‘Lung Ja’ in the Night Market. I must also mention the new Grand Steak at the Grand Market – Thai produced rib-eye (approx 200g) with chips and rabbit food – 99 baht, or a choice of lots of different barbequed animal flesh for similarly good deals. Opposite Grand Steak is a stall which sells deep fried ice cream with a variety of toppings – sounds awful – but it isn’t.
Hua Hin also has many European restaurants, I would recommend ‘Lucky Restaurant’ (near to the Lomprayha office, opposite Blue Elephant) for their Red Snapper with acidulated cream (170 baht) and Spaghetti Bolognaise (100 baht), ‘Jungle Juice’s’ Big Breakfast (160 baht) and their mega Pork Chops (200baht), ‘All In Hua Hin’ for a great selection of German and Italian food, and ‘Mamma Mia’ opposite the City Beach Hotel –superb pizza, real Italian pizza, not something out of a hut or a shack! <Agree, Mammia Mia is GREAT and we always have a meal there when are in Hua Hin – Stick>
I have not mentioned anything like as many places to eat as I should, but I hope it shows that going hungry, whatever your taste, need not be an option here.
Life in General.
For some of the time that I lived in the UK, I lived on the south coast – Bournemouth. Many people that I had known in Manchester would visit and say how wonderful it was there, and it was, but it was not the same as a resident as it was as a visitor. I am sure you have all had similar experiences of your home countries.
Well, you can multiply that difference by a thousand for Thailand. It is nothing like what you thought it would be when you first came here, it is not better or worse, but it is not the same as your first impressions. But at the same time you cannot say that you have gotten used it, nobody who was not born here can ever get used to it. So if the country hasn’t changed, maybe you have? Well, maybe, but I don’t think it is that easy – of course we all change, especially in a different culture, but not to the extent that we are unmoved by a traffic accident, but we make sure we are not in anyway involved with the possible repercussions. So we haven’t changed, we have adapted.
This final part of my submission is concerned with my adaptation to living in Thailand. For you who are considering a move here, this is possibly the most difficult aspect of life in Thailand, certainly the most difficult for me to put into words, but I hope not to difficult for you to grasp. I have to say that I have met a few resident farang here who, or so it appears, have not adapted one bit and have no intention of doing so. Their money buffers them from the need to, maybe I am jealous, but I don’t think so. I have moved to Thailand to get away from the ‘mind set’ of the day to day existence of UK life, so I have to accept that there is a different ‘mind set’ in the day to day existence of Thai life. Accept it yes, adopt it – impossible, adapt to it – I think a wise move.
Having said this, there are some things which I will never accept as being correct; the recent treatment of the boat refugees by the authorities is a prime example, curiously no longer a subject for debate here.
You will not go far in farang areas of Thailand before you come across the word ‘corruption’. It is endemic, potentially part of everyone’s lives here – mostly the Thais. Farang are subjected to it in relatively small doses, speeding fines for not speeding, getting a phone connected – for 3000 baht if you want it this week, every bar with a pool table contributes to the tea money fund. But compared to what the Thais have to put up with, this is peanuts. A Thai police officer starts on about 6 or 7 thousand a month, but he has to buy a uniform, a motorbike and a gun – so where does the money come from? He borrows it from senior colleague and so it starts. Fundamentally, you cannot be a Thai policeman unless you are beholden to another, end of impartiality, end of justice. But there are good, decent Thai police officers, there are good, decent immigration officials, there are good, decent land office bureaucrats, there are good decent Thai people – they have all adapted to the Thai way, from birth. Our problem is that it is not our way, so we presume it is wrong. But it is not our presumptions that are wrong, mix it with the fact that there are a few bad apples in the police, and all other strata of Thai society and you have a mix that is confusing at best and at worst – well, Thai.
As a teacher in a university, the most difficult concept I can get across to my students is ‘Why’. As Thais, they have been brought up to accept that whatever they are told by their superiors cannot be questioned. This is completely at odds with the educational philosophy of western countries, where the whole purpose of going to school and university is to learn how to ask ‘why’, or at least to know when it is a good idea to do so. I haven’t come to Thailand to change the philosophy of the educational system, as much as some would argue that it would be an improvement. But I would be happy if I thought that one day, one of my students was to turn around and ask why.
Especially if they were patrolling the Andaman Sea.
Being content or finding contentment with our place in life is a skill – and you seem to have done very well there. Kind of surprising that after 5 years you have not settled down with a woman though.