Readers' Submissions

Amazing Changes – 25 Years in Thailand




There have been countless submissions and comments on this site about how much Thailand has evolved over the years. Most of these refer to the changes in the nightlife industry, with many crying into their (now more expensive) beer that it ain’t what it used to be. Actually nothing is, in Thailand or back in Farangland. Certainly a night out can sometimes demand serious money, but if you did back home what you are able to do with the company of a ‘hired friend’ in Thailand it would cost you considerably more. I’m assuming now, because I don’t know what is available. It might well be that in massage parlours and, in some countries, the legal brothels the fixed price is comparable. Perhaps an Aussie or German who has experienced such things in their own country might like to regale us of their experience. Please.

Anyway yes, costs have risen and the attitude of many has hardened as the higher salaries, girl shortage, the rise of more a independent attitude by females in general and the age of the mobile phone has meant that the ‘public relations officers’ in the bars can be very choosy. However, to say that the GFE is dead is absurd, and if you have the right attitude great fun can still be had for a reasonable cost. Stick has recently directed you to one or two places where you can be entertained in a way that is not possible in Phet’s local, the ‘Welded Wallet’, at any price. And as long as that continues customers will come. The nightlife industry will not die if folks can get it on in Thailand in ways they can’t get it on at all back home.

But it is not only the nightlife that has changed. I have lived in Thailand for nearly 25 years and often think back to the way it was when I first arrived. I live in Nakon Nowhere, Isaan. Certainly not as remote as many, as my house is on a busy road that links Kalasin to Mukdahan and Laos, but I am surrounded by fields where sugar cane or roots to make flour are grown.

The sugar cane grows high, maybe four metres tall, and when the time is right for harvesting it a team of men arrive first and burn the leaves, spraying them with fuel and then setting fire. That is spectacular, especially if done at night which is sometimes the case as everyone needs to harvest around the same time and these teams are in great demand and have to work around the clock. It can be quite frightening to see the flames so high and so close, but these people seem to know what they’re doing.

That is also the time of year when huge, often overloaded lorries trundle past, more often than not hauling a trailer, piled high with sugar cane on its way to the factory. They are so overloaded that plenty falls off and lays by the side of the road, presenting a serious and dangerous hazard for motorcyclists. A couple of years ago I saw a truck come by now and then to clear up the mess, but not last time.

It’s funny. I grew up in London but now wouldn’t even want to live in the village nearby, a village in which my wife seems to have family in every second house. The love of countryside might be linked to childhood memories of visiting family outside of London and the annual two weeks by the sea. Relaxing times away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Anyway, country life suits me fine, because…..

Since I first came up-country life has changed beyond all recognition and expectation. When I made my first visit to the village it was all red dirt roads that became very difficult and messy to navigate in the rainy season. Now most of the roads are tarmacked. If we wanted to make a phone call within Thailand we had to go to a local shop to do so, as no-one else had a phone (I believe that only 10 percent of Thais ever had a land line). If I wanted to make a call back home to England I had to go to a small town 10 kilometres up the road and book the call. Imagine that. The roads, even the main road which is now designated an Asian Highway, were often in poor condition. Now I have a double-lane dual-carriageway nearly all the way from my home to Khon Kaen 130 kilometres away.

I bought our house over 10 years ago but we didn’t move up from Bangkok until much later. Back then, we expected that we would have to buy a chest freezer and make a trek all the way to Khon Kaen to stock up and buy much of our food as there were no supermarkets to speak of anywhere near us. There was a 7-11. That’s it. Other than that there were markets selling meat, fish and vegetables, 10 kilometres one way and 10 kilometres the other. But then a Tesco Lotus was opened in Kalasin, a mere 50 kilometres away, followed soon after by a Big C.

Now we have almost everything we need not far from home. We also have both 7-11 and Tesco Lotus mini stores within 10 kilometres in each direction, and a Big C Market store has recently opened up, all of which leave us wanting for little. There was also absolutely nowhere decent to eat out, with just a couple of barbeque places with the bottom of the barrel produce that they provide, but now a 15 minute drive takes us to a farang-run restaurant operated by a chef who used to work for Manchester’s grandest hotel.

When I first came up-country the entertainment consisted of a few local channels accessed with an aerial on top or beside the TV. When I knew I’d eventually be living in the area I amassed a huge collection of DVDs and books because I imagined otherwise being bored out of my mind. Those are largely unwatched and unread, because now I have satellite TV that brings me live Premier League and other football, and internet TV that brings me all the UK channels I could want and more. From a grainy picture of Thai Channel 3 being almost the only option I now have the BBC and Sky in HD. It really is quite staggering and something we should never take for granted.

Similar to the mobile phone, which now allows me to sit in the garden surfing the internet via my very decent wifi connection. As an aside, it first hit me how much the world had changed when, soon after getting our first mobile phones, my wife called me from a Bangkok taxi and found me walking down a street in Hamburg. Quite incredible, yet we never give it a second thought now.

So I have gone from having little to no infrastructure and being unable to watch any decent TV or even to make a phone call, to receiving live TV from around the world and checking my emails in the garden. And from having only dirty little local shops or the dubious delights of the local markets to provide my needs to mega stores with produce from around the world. So yes, Thailand has changed, and far, far beyond the nightlife.