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the toa Blog

September 2007
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Want to help stop the illegal trade of Khmer artifacts? Sign the petition to encourage the Thai and Singapore governments to sign the 1970 UNESCO convention on heritage protection. Link is here: http://www.heritagewatch.org/petition.php

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The toa blog - September 15, 2007

Website update

I don't want to talk about it.

A voice of reason

It's nice to know that much of the complaints lodged by foreigners in Thailand at Thailand in respect to how Thailand treats them as well as the general direction the country has been moving in recent times are shared by at least one Thai in 60,000,000. Have a look here at what is well and truly an excellent piece written by a Thai. Unfortunately as it's written in English, it's much a case of preaching to the choir and of the 59,999,999 people who should read it, few ever will. Anyway, here it is:

It's from here: http://blog.nationmultimedia.com/tawan3/2007/09/06/entry-1, from The Nation website.

Thailand Dropping Out Of Global Community

So sad these days to read the press and forums around Thailand and the world, also very sad to hear retirees, tourists and foreign business people opinions and experiences becoming more and more negative about the Kingdom of Thailand. As a Thai, I hope that these world views do not represent the majority of Thai people. In the final analysis, I hope that these views are pursued by special interest Thais that only care about themselves and not representative of the Thai people.

Since the 1997 crisis, I have become so proud that Thailand has decided to participate in the Global economy with all of its pain and gains to move up the learning curve and become a part of the global community. Thailand has gained and benefited from increase wealth. The Global economy because of technology changes very quickly advantages soon turns to disadvantages only the informed can shift course and adjust to compete. Thailand before 1997 exports were only 20% based on an overvalued pegged baht. Everyone in those days visiting Thailand would tell you everything was too expensive in Thailand compared to other Asian countries. But Thailand chose not to listen (Mei pang Mei pang) but instead followed the special interests and defended the baht to bankruptcy. Today, Thailand is in the opposite situation. Thailand 's exports have grown to over 60% but complaints directed at the BOT have risen from the special interest again without looking at the global trends. Will Thailand develop a black and white or right and wrong or with us or against us world view? Or will Thailand follow common sense and realize the world is mostly grey. Will Thailand again listen to the special interests?

The facts from World Institutions are the US can not continue absorbing Asia 's exports at the current rate. The US balance sheet will continue to be weak as the US readjusts its consumer economy and re-pricing of assets and risks. Next year Asia's emerging economies lead by China will lead the world's economic engine for the first time in history not the US . This means that the US dollar will continue its decline and Asia 's domestic economies must be more open including financial market reforms, technology, domestic market reforms, education and human rights.

Warnings to Thailand by World Institutions to develop its domestic financial instruments, Implement foreign exchange hedging by exporters. Develop value added exports, reform education and reform Immigration. Policies, open domestic markets improve human rights to Thais and non Thais. Increase technology investments not censorship and political oppression. Many professionals in Thailand work very hard every day to achieve these goals for a better Thailand .

But, special interests have different answers for Thailand 's future. A recent simple example is the decrease in hotel occupancy rates. Of course the hotel operators blame the baht and fewer tourists when in fact the number of tourist arrivals has increased and the number of new hotels built has increased. Government is not responsible for bad investor decisions. Instead of blaming someone else like children investors should do their homework before whining to the Government.

Flip flopping on issues and laws served Thailand well in the past when Thailand was trying to avoid becoming a colony. Today that strategy sends a bad message to the Global community, special interests making new laws or changing laws when events turn against them to serve their own interest.

Special interest will tell you that foreigners may not own business or foreign retirees may not own their own homes that they have bought and paid for after a lifetime of hard work and saving. Foreign Retirees live on a fixed income and live in fear of being kicked out of their homes or fear immigration's disrespectful sour face in issuing their yearly visa depends on the immigration officer's mood and ever increasing difficult immigration laws. Foreign Retiree's economic contribution to Thai society offering security, supporting entire Thai families and raising children are ignored and their efforts are unwelcome by an ungrateful society. Half foreign Thai children are loved and adored as moving stars or singers but growing up they are tortured physically and mentally by other Thai children. Children are not naturally mean they are taught that way by racist parents. Turn this story of foreigner's experiences in Thailand around and imagine yourself in a foreign country. Do you want your Thai children going abroad to study and being abused by raciest because they are different? Or do you want to retire abroad and then kicked out of your house at 65 years old because you are Thai? Do you want to go abroad and then be kicked out by new immigration laws? Do you want to go shopping abroad and be cheated by being charged more because you are Thai? Or would it be ok if while you are being cheated it is done with a sarcastic smile and you are perceived as rich. There is nothing more irritating than being smiled at while being cheated. Most foreign tourist save a life time to visit Thailand and contrary to popular opinion can not afford to be cheated. Incomes are relevant yes their salaries are higher but so are their cost of living savings rates are the same as a 4.000 Baht per month Thai worker. Foreigners are not stupid people just as Thais do not like to be called poor stupid farmers more and more of these stories are going around the world. I meet people around the world that knows and have friends in many small and large cities around Thailand not just Bangkok . Thailand is not just known by Bangkok in the world community anymore. Remember what you do to others will come back to you. Soon Thais visiting and living in other countries will be treated the same way as foreigners are in Thailand .

Special interests will use the argument that Thailand is a small, pitiful, poor, uneducated, ignorant undeveloped country that can not compete and needs more time to develope. Slogans created such as “ Thailand is for Thais” breeding racism by populist politicians. Special interest will tell you we are protecting Thai culture. Thailand has thousands of years of culture it will not disappear by joining the world community. Thailand is classified as an emerging country with the size and population of a European country. By following populist propaganda Thailand will not have to worry about exports exports will be zero will not have to worry about tourism tourist will go elsewhere that pretty much takes care of foreign exchange policy and foreign reserves there will be no need to participate in the world at all. The world has no time to wait for Thailand . The world will move on to Thailand's neighbors Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, China, and Indonesia where conditions are better and where governments are anxious to join the world community and eventually to Burma ( Myanmar) and Cambodia.

Is this the Thailand we want? Do we just want to go on sabai sabai watching the world go by on TV because the world is too tough for our sabai sabai sanook sanook attitude?

Take a look at what our neighbors Malaysia are doing for retirees or Vietnam is doing for foreign investors while we watch sabai sabai. Below I will paste and copy Malaysia 's retirement program. I apologize to the blog purist that hate paste and copy but I do not have the writing skills to write it better. When asked by foreigners, is Thailand a good place to visit or retire or invest, I am ashamed to say Thailand 's neighbors will treat you better and more fairly.


Dancing Roads
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Dengue easing

The dengue fever epidemic is easing up, which according to people who know more about these things then I do, makes sense as they run in cycles of about three to four months and the whole wave of illnesses kicked off back in May. Still, try not to get bit.

Hun Sen and golf

Hun Sen vented ire over the sorry state of the Siem Reap to Poipet road after having personally traveled over a small section of it a couple of weeks ago. He made it as far as the Phokeethra Country Club to play golf and that was far enough for him. He gave another one of his national embarrassment speeches which would kind of make sense given that a major international golf tournament is slated for the golf course sometime next year and we certainly can't have Tiger Woods bouncing along a broken road, can we?

The whole project is supposed to be finished in 2008, but given the slow pace of work and that a certain airline has a monopoly that doesn't expire until 2009, which probably explains the slow pace of work, 2009 is more likely the completion date and people involved in the road project have admitted as much. Still, if there's going to be a major golf tournament at Phokeethra next year I would imagine they'll find away to at least finish the road to as far west as there before Tiger et al turn up for a few rounds.

Powerless power

Last year power lines were constructed from Poipet to Siem Reap with a plan to deliver a steady supply of cheap reliable electricity from Thailand, something Siem Reap desperately needs - we don't have enough and it's ridiculously expensive. It was supposed to have been switched on last October just in time for the Korean Gigolo exposition. A year later it's still not switched on. The first reason given was that the residents along the road were demanding compensation for having their trees ripped out of their front yards and utility poles stuck in their place. Apparently it was Thailand they said should pay which seemed kind of silly (though asking for compensation in itself was not silly at all) given that the power lines were in Cambodia and it was Cambodia that put them in. Then the second story was that Cambodia decided not to buy electricity from Thailand because Cambodia and Thailand are fighting over Preah Vihear (again). Both of these stories originated from people working in the Siem Reap office of Electricite du Cambodge. It would be a shame if either one of these stories was true, particularly the latter. Siem Reap is a booming tourist town without enough electricity to go around and what does go around costs nearly 21 US cents per kilowatt hour. And as a business owner who has experienced the power outages and recently went through a very costly and time consuming experience to get his electricity supply increased I know how bad the problem is.

Molly Malone's
Siem Reap
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More local transport hassles

So you take a taxi from the border to Siem Reap like you should. Guess what? They don't take you where you want to go anymore. Seems a certain enterprising and arguably dodgy young man has struck a little deal with the Poipet mafia taxis and some local tuk-tuks. Taxi comes in from Poipet hits the edge of town and stops in front of a hotel where a group of tuk-tuks are parked claiming the taxis aren't allowed into the city, which is of course a complete lie. So passenger gets out of the car and has to take a tuk-tuk who jumps right into the commission crap and hire me for the temples. Several reports I've received indicate that these tuk-tuks are nearly as aggressive as the airport taxis at keeping you away from any establishment they can't get a commission from. And of course the tuk-tuk rides are offered as a "free service". Right, nothing is free. According to my sources, the taxi drivers get $5 from the tuk-tuk who gets the passenger and the tuk-tuks pay $20 a month to the guy that organized all of this.

It's also come to my attention that the drivers, not just from there, but everywhere (airport, bus, boat) are really stepping up the "don't stay at foreign-owned hotels/guesthouses" campaign pushing their agenda that it's better to help Cambodia by staying at Cambodian-owned businesses. This is of course utter bullshit and what they are really saying is "it's better to help me by staying at a business that pays me a commission which few of the foreign-owned ones will." And one non-commission paying Cambodian guesthouse owner had a good laugh with me over this, because he's as Cambodian as Cambodian can be but the drivers try to avoid bringing people to his place just as much as they try to avoid bringing people to mine. And do I really need to get into a speech about the millions upon millions of dollars foreign business has pumped into the Siem Reap economy? Or the higher salaries and generally better working conditions such businesses provide?

Low water

Global climate change? Chinese damming the Mekong? Not much of a rainy season? Some or all of the above? No idea but water levels at the Tonle Sap are well behind normal this year as my boat guides report and Kompong Phluk's flooded forest remained mud flats until only recently.

Sharky Bar
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The toa blog - August 8, 2007

Website update

For those of you who were ready to give up, the new toa website is a reality... almost. The new toa, a massive php-based headache is more or less complete in that all the old data is transferred, a working design is in place, and the linkage is in order. There is still work to be done before we can raise the curtain, but much work has been finished, some money has been paid, and that said, the beta version should be live before the end of the month.

Dengue is back

Though I'm usually one of the first to dismiss what are often hysterical disease warnings (i.e. SARS, bird flu), claims that this is turning into one of the worst dengue years on record in Southeast Asia are real. Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Singapore are all reporting record numbers of cases, with mortality rates, depending on the nation, from barely 0.1% (Vietnam, Singapore) to as high as 1% (Myanmar).

There's still no preventive medication for it. Just don't get bit by any of the larger striped mosquitos (Aedes aegypti) which tend to do their feasting by day. Given however, that you're probably not going to stand there examining each mosquito making moves for your flesh, best thing then, don't get bit.

I certainly wouldn't go cancelling travel plans over it... even if there are triple, quadruple the amount of cases this year your chances of catching it are still slim and if you do, a majority of cases, though not pleasant, aren't serious and nothing more than a few days in bed followed by a few weeks of lethargy and depression. I know, I had a not particularly serious case in 2001. Though not enjoyable, I've been sicker.

More info here:




Siem Reap airport taxis

I guess somebody with some sense finally learned that having customers pay in advance for their taxi at a desk at the airport wasn't a particularly good way to ensure that the customer would be delivered to where they wanted to go. As one of the renegade guesthouses in Siem Reap that refuses to pay taxi drivers commissions for delivering a customer (why the #$%& would I pay a driver a commission for doing his job as the passenger made the request in the first place????), we have on those occasions where customers did not contact us first for a free airport pick-up, had drivers throw them out on the side of the road, call us on the phone telling us they had a customer that wanted to come to our guesthouse but if we didn't give them money they would take them someplace else (never mind the customer *wanted* to come to Two Dragons), or simply drove them to five different places before finally giving up and bringing them to our place.

That's almost all a thing of the past now as the Siem Reap airport taxi mafia has recently stopped the practice of having customers pay up front and done the intelligent thing of having the customer pay the driver upon delivery. Problem solved. Well, almost, there will still be a few troublemakers but thankfully faced with the prospect of not getting paid for the lift at all, the drivers are behaving better now.


A bit of a scare last month when an expat couple's dog, a really nice Golden Retriever, went missing. It's traumatic enough to have a dog wander off on you but over here it's not enough to drive around the neighborhood and check the local dog pound (there isn't one anyway). Nope, here you also have to go looking in on the half dozen or so Vietnamese restaurants that serve dog. And that's where they found her. Fortunately for both dog and owners she was still tied up in back, very much alive and very relieved to be reunited with her family. Keep an eye on your dog...

Quick Poipet update

I went through the border a week and a half ago. For better or for worse the government transport mafia's bus/taxi station is pretty much underwater and hence closed indefinitely. For better - it's a lot easier to avoid the more expensive mafia transport. For worse - it makes getting transport a little more disorganized and while avoiding the mafia can result in a cheaper cab ride, it can also result in one a lot worse.

As for the road, there is plenty of construction going on, but that work notwithstanding, certain parts, particularly near Siem Reap (Puok area) are turning into lakes every time it rains.

Xenophobia in Thailand

This is a real story from a real newspaper.

Marriages to western men cause of concern

Chiang Rai _ Tying the knot with western men might be a dream come true for many local women who believe it is a ticket to lifelong financial security.

But they might be merely marriages of convenience for both bride and groom, according to Prachan Sakorn, chairman of the Maeyao tambon administration organisation (TAO) in Chiang Rai's Muang district.

He said there was growing anxiety that some westerners might make business gains through marrying local women. There was need for a close watch on possible business takeovers by 'western sons-in-law'.

He said the recent marriage of three couples _ western men and Karen women _ in the Karen-run Ruam Mitra elephant camp in Muang district was a case in point.

The wedding was not a problem, but he wanted the elephant camp's owners to make sure there was no foreign dominance of the business or unfair treatment of tourists, especially overcharging for tours on elephant back.

Isae Saewa, chairman of the Elephant Mahouts Association at the Ruam Mitra camp, said elephant-back tours had gained favour with foreign tourists.

His association had 34 elephants to cater to nature lovers who want to trek through the forest on elephant back.

Three foreign men, from France and Switzerland, had decided to marry Karen women, leave their own country and settle in Thailand.

'I don't think it is a problem if some westerners hold shares in the camp business side by side with the elephant mahouts, or marry local women and help look after the business.

'We have effective control measures to prevent any would-be foreign capitalist from taking hold of the local business, which has been run by Karen people in Ruam Mitra community for more than 20 years,' said Mr Isae.

Meetings with the mahouts to learn of their problems and find solutions to them were held regularly. The association also sought cooperation from the Maeyao TAO to help preserve the business.

Just as many nations have reciprocal agreements on visa regulations, I wonder how Thailand would handle it if other nations began reciprocal treatment on matters such as foreign business ownership laws, real estate ownership, residency status and rights? Not very well would be my guess.

Police punishment in Thailand

This is also a real story from a real newspaper.

Thai cops punished by Hello Kitty

Police chiefs in the Thai capital, Bangkok, have come up with a new way of punishing officers who break the rules - an eye-catching Hello Kitty armband.

The armband is large, bright pink and has a Hello Kitty motif with two hearts embroidered on it.

From today, officers who are late, park in the wrong place or commit other minor transgressions will have to wear it for several days.

The armband is designed to shame the wearer, police officials said.

"This is to help build discipline. We should not let small offences go unnoticed," Police Colonel Pongpat Chayapan told Reuters news agency.

"Guilty officers will be made to wear the armbands in the office for a few days, with instructions not to disclose their offences. Let people guess what they have done," he said.

Further offences would be dealt with using a more traditional disciplinary panel, he said.

The cartoon character Hello Kitty was first introduced by Japanese company Sanrio in 1974.

The cute round-faced cat has become an Asia-wide marketing phenomenon, with Hello Kitty products such as stationery, hair accessories and kitchen appliances available across the region.

While it's nice to know that small offenses won't go unnoticed it does make one wonder about large offences: extortion, extra-judicial killings, etc.? Seriously though, as a disciplinary measure for what are essentially office rules offences, I like it. Perhaps I ould implement something similar with my own staff???

Reality TV

Was watching Thai news recently and they had a video clip of a man getting stomped on by an elephant. The story was that the man was drunk and decided it might be fun to whack an elephant with a stick. The elephant didn't agree and spent about ninety minutes making its point.

Apperently efforts to pull the man from the elephant failed as the elephant wasn't letting anyone near, and any time somebody tried the elephant's response was another squash with its foot or to kick and toss the man around. When the elephant did finally grow tired of pummeling the drunk and moved off to pummel a pick-up truck - which it did as thorough a job with as it did on the drunk, rescuers were retrieving nothing more than a corpse for the mortuary.

Lesson to be learned: don't get drunk and whack elephants with sticks. But can we also ask why elephants are kept chained up in urban environments and not left in the jungle where drunks with sticks are few and far between?

The toa blog - July 5, 2007

Thai math

Thailand is raising visa fees this month. Among the numerous new rates is the cost for a Cambodian citizen to get a tourist visa to Thailand, which is being hiked considerably from $10 to $35. The reason given by the Thai embassy is the appreciation of the Thai baht against the US dollar, which has gained 20%+ in the past year. If that was truly the case we'd be looking at a new visa fee of... let me get my calculator here... okay... umm, hold on a sec, this is complicated, here we go... $12, maybe $13 just for laughs, $15 because it's a nice round number.

On the other hand, while it is clear the Thai embassy is talking out of it's you know what and talking as if anyone listening is a complete idiot, given that the Cambodian government has always taken the attitude that any foreigner who visits Cambodia is rich and can afford most any price or price increase levied, perhaps to have the same logic turned on them is well, a case of sum muk na (serves you right). And this is the same government (Cambodia that is) which in its stricter drivers licensing requirements (you pretty much have to have one in Phnom Penh now - car or motorcycle) charges its citizens $30 per year for the privilege, which if you were to compare that to a US or UK license against the average salaries of its citizens, it would be the equivalent of paying quite a few hundred dollars a year for the license.

Recent Updates on toa

August 19: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap Travelers' Reports, the Bangkok to Phnom Penh Travelers' Reports, and the Pailin/Battambang Travelers' Reports sections.
July 20: Readers' Submissions Philippines: The Vanishing Batak Tribe by Antonio Graceffo
July 20: Readers' Submissions Thailand: The Muslim Fishermen of Phang Nga by Antonio Graceffo
July 18: Readers' Submissions Korea: On Learning the Awful Korean Language by Antonio Graceffo
July 18: Readers' Submissions Thailand: Tsunami Relief in the Form of Community Based Tourism by Antonio Graceffo
July 18: Readers' Submissions Philippines: The Tau't Bato and Palawan Tribe by Antonio Graceffo
July 15: Readers' Submissions Philippines: The Re-election of Mayor Edward Hagedorn by Antonio Graceffo
July 15: Readers' Submissions Indonesia: Traveling the Islands by Bruce E. Pohlmann
July 15: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Vietnam Travelers' Reports section.
July 9: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
July 1: Updated the Cambodia FAQ, Legal and Safety sections.
July 1: Readers' Submissions Cambodia:Cambodian Bokator Elbow Strikes by Antonio Graceffo.

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