Monthly Archives: October 2006

A Trip To The Far North

After a 12 hour over-night bus journey from the Northern Bus Terminal (Morchid) we arrived at Thailand’s northern most district of Mae Sai, in Chiang Rai province. Once upon a time this place was a backpackers’ haven with a wide selection of groovy guesthouses and meeting places to gather and swap information on travel in the area. Those were the days however when travel to Burma was really restricted and one as a Caucasian really only had the choice of popping over the border on a day pass. Since Burma has opened the border, it really does look like no-one can be bothered stopping over in Mae Sai these days and the area which was once the Khao San Road of the north is dying a quick death.

A huge guesthouse once known as the Mae Sai Plaza Guesthouse set on the hills overlooking Burma has been shut down for a couple of years and the place is now a complete eye-sore – looks like a perfect location for a Thai horror movie. Quite a pity, as that this gaff used to be always packed out with banana-pancake scoffing travelers. The last time I stayed in Mae Sai in 2000, I stayed at the friendly Northern Guesthouse – again another victim of the demise of Mae Sai it now resembles a crocodile swamp. We did find one decent new place along the river called the Yee Sun Hotel with rooms with all the basic mods and cons for 400 baht a night. But again the place, unlike guesthouses, looks to cater more towards tourists or ex-pats on holiday.

I still like Mae Sai and besides a larger market knocking off all the latest imported Chinese technology, the town hasn’t really changed that much. It is also a great place for day trips around the area. The wife had an old friend of hers living in Mae Sai, so typical Thai-style we were waltzed around to as many attractions as possible within the space of….the first day.

On the second day, the wife and I set out on our own for Doi Tung and Mae Fah Luang. Richard our Webmaster blogger has just written up a series of blogs on the area so I don’t wish to go into too much detail. I asked the friendly Farang proprietor of the Monkey Island restaurant/tour company next to where we were staying on details of the best way of traveling up to Doi Tung and he advised that I rent a bike. Actually a pretty plausible recommendation, but I was afraid to embarrass myself with the truth about my horrific motorbike skills and decided to do the wise thing and get there by public transport instead.

(The Princess Mother with her children: King Ananda, Princess Galyani and King Bhumibol)

Now, there are plenty of songthaews (local transport type taxis) willing to take you on a half day tour of Doi Tung and Mae Fah Luang from Mae Sai market at around 1,000 baht. We decided that it was pretty pointless taking one from there when we could hire the same thing at half the price from the Doi Tung intersection. So, we just took a public bus 20 km out of Mae Sai and asked the driver to drop us off at the turning for Doi Tung. As planned, there were songthaews waiting to charge 500 baht for a half day tour.
Sadly the morning we went, the place was really misty and views from the top of Doi Tung were almost non-existent. Right at the top of the mountain we paid respects at Wat Phra That (Doi Tung Temple) before heading for Mae Fae Luang. I really loved the Doi Tung Royal Villa which belonged to the Late Princess Mother. A very tasteful home with stunning views, the tourist is able to get a first hand view of how the Princess Mother lived such a humble life surrounded by the thing she loved most – nature. Peeping through the windows, you can view everything from her dinner table, book selection, personal photographs and even her bed. Great value at something like 70 baht to get in.

I really appreciated the Princess Mother Commemorative Hall too, which gives the lowdown on all the HRH’s projects and whole walls full of old photographs of the royal family which I had never seen before. Sadly though, most tourists seemed to be more interested in just seeing the Royal Villa and Gardens and it looked liked me and the wife were the only ones who made the effort to go that afternoon. Mae Fah Luang Gardens are nice and well worth a visit but be warned that if you go to a place like this with a Thai girl she will have you posing for a photo at every single flower on offer

After spending 2 nights in Mae Sai, it was my decision this time, to take us up to Mae Salong and the home of the Thai-Chinese KMT. Now, I have always loved Mae Salong and the place hasn’t changed in the slightest since my last visit there. Leaving Mae Sai we just took a bus heading south and again just informed the driver the to let us off at the turning for Mae Salong. What I wasn’t expecting though (besides a monk) was a complete lack of passengers waiting to take the songthaew up. Sat around for an hour waiting for at least one more person, we just simply gave up and paid the full hire fee up to Mae Salong which was like 400 baht.

Shin Sane Guesthouse may not have the best value accommodation in Mae Salong, but it’s still the place to stay for information, food or a beer. In fact, after 7 o’clock it seemed like the only place still open. Just before heading up to Mae Salong I had received an e-mail from the Editor at The Nation newspaper advising me to add/edit some things to the Soap Operas article (previous blog) I had submitted. To my dismay however I found that Mae Salong did not have a single public computer with Internet access and so I was forced to cut short my trip to just the one night and head to Chiang Rai town.

Will be continued….

Getting The Plot: Thai Soap Operas

(The following article was published at ‘The Nation’ newspaper yesterday. Actually though, it is completely revamped version of a popular blog written for thai-blogs last year entititled ‘How To Write A Thai Soap Opera’)

Since a lot of the non-Thai speaking foreigners who have been in Thailand for long are completely perplexed to what actually goes on in local TV dramas, I have decided to put together – here today, some guidelines for: Understanding Thai TV Soap Operas.

Since most of the TV soap operas’ characters are more-or-less all the same, here below is a list of some examples:

1. A stunningly milky-skinned leading actress with a big fancy nose-job. Please be assured that even though she is as thick as your copy of the yellow pages and has the acting qualities of an ostrich, that is not the point – she has the looks.

2. A squeaky-clean leading actor. This is Thailand, so no muscle-tanned Florida qualities here. Thai TV prefers star actors who have skin as smooth and white as a baby’s bottom, use For-Men Beauty Lotions and have the latest Korean-style haircut. He might be as hunky as a hedgehog but he is extremely rich.

3. An awfully jealous elder sister. She is as wonderfully good-looking as the leading actress but throws tantrums every time she can’t pull the man of her dreams. Not just a pretty face, she also has the evilest eyes, meanest grin and the angriest voice around.

4. An extremely dangerous ex-boyfriend/admirer of the star girl. Unlike the leading actor this guy is squeaky bad, even richer, a filthy womanizer, addicted-gambler and a complete delinquent.

5. A totally nasty ex-girlfriend/admirer of the star guy. Siding with the leading actress’ elder sister she is also an entirely loathsome type. Spends here time spreading gossip, stealing money and getting stupidly-drunk every time she’s the slightest bit upset.

6. A powerful and possessive father-in-law. Linked to local corrupt politicians, he is constantly involved in illegal business. He waltzes around with an Al Pacino look and is surrounded by a squad of beefy bodyguards who all wear identical black sunglasses.

7. A despicable minor-wife. A true horror of a woman, she meticulously plans the downfall of the merciful common-in-law wife. More ambitious than just than just winning her husband’s signature in righteous marriage, she is also dreaming of knocking him off and seizing his millions.

8. A not-so-smart ladyboy. As a comedian of the series, she doesn’t do that much but fall over chairs and plaster herself in make-up. Actually, she performs all the classic slap-stick Thai comedy stereotype stuff you can imagine.

9. An uneducated Isarn maid. Just like the ladyboy’s, the maid’s role is funny and family-friendly. She spends her days in the house waddling around whistling local folk tunes while wearing a kinky-looking French chambermaid uniform.

10. A daft-looking ghost. No Thai TV Drama would be perfect without a corny ghost of some kind. The ghost either looks like a freaky black-eyed witch with a severe hangover or an odd replica of Kermit the Frog.

Next, there is the plot. Most of the stories are more or less all the darned same from beginning to end, so lets’ have a brief look at a classic example of ‘Lakhorn Nam Nao’ (Insanely-depressing tear jerking drama)

Our leading actress, a pure damsel in distress, has been subjected to a horrific life locked up in the house by her biological mother and her mother’s new lover – a former hated enemy of her dad’s. Beaten and abused since a small child, she finally falls in love with the man of her dreams – a wickedly handsome fruit farmer. Now, the fruit farmer may be a bit of a stunner, but what he lacks is the financial status desired by mum and crooked dad-in-law. Anyway, the couple secretly elope and have a darling baby, sadly for the toddler and happy mom and dad however, the leading actress has been forced into an arranged marriage with the local gun-toting gangster, the first son of an ever-mighty popular politician. Heartbreaks all around – the love-child has been sold for adoption, the star acting fruit farmer has been forced into army service and the leading actress leads a complete life of misery in the arms of a scoundrel.

A complete tear-jerker beyond words and the audience just lap it up. Gladly, in the final episode however, the dreaded gangster husband gets arrested and sent to life imprisonment and the fateful couple and their beloved child are reunited and everyone lives happily ever after.

The viewers just love a ‘rags to riches’ tale and the more emotionally moving, the better. What is compulsory however, is a happy ending, and nothing like any disastrous finale as in Romeo and Juliet. As in accordance to the laws of ‘Buddhist Khamma’, ‘goodness’ always wins over ‘badness’. Thai TV Soap Operas for the viewers are quite obviously a distraction from the usual burdens of every day reality just like the fortnightly media story of ‘Govt. Lottery Jackpot Winner!’ Such stories truly are a heavenly hope for those born into either economic or/and loveless misery – actually, not that much different from such dramas in the Western world.

Besides the ever-loved modern-day ‘Lakhorn Nam Nao’ there is also the early evening super family-favourite ‘Ancient Fable Drama’, again another rags to riches tale of some beautiful country bumpkin who marries an shockingly good-looking lad with absolutely stacks of cash. Here below is a typical ‘ancient fable’ plot.

Our leading actor is a Prince from the past, residing in a spectacularly huge castle. Feeling distraught at the prospect of having to marry into an extremely boring posh family of ’Hi-Society’ orders instead, his servants to find him a fine prospective down-to-earth bride from the local village. Meanwhile, ( just as in ‘Cinderella’) the leading actress has been abused by her hatefully angry elder step-sisters who do everything in their power to potentially ruin any possible understanding between the handsome Prince and the stunning poor leading actress. Adding a bit of distinctive Thai flavour to the story however, there are plenty of sordid castle insights into common-in-laws wives feuding and fighting with jealous minor wives. Then, for an extra splash of humour there is a one-legged nine-foot giant and a platoon of three-foot real-life dwarves running around Snow-White-style. Of course in the end, the perfect ‘Prince’ and the country-beauty are united, married, have two lovely kids and live happily ever after.

Thankfully, Thailand is a country that loves ‘Beauty’ and the land’s soap operas has plenty of that on show. The locations, houses and especially female stars are quite splendid. None of the locations suffer from air-pollution, none of the houses suffer from frequent power-cuts and all the actresses are constantly dressed and dolled-up to the heavens as if they were off to some fancy ball.

Just in case you were wondering about the lack of love scenes in Thai Soap Operas, then please be advised that such awful Western influence is banned from Thai TV. A quick cuddle between the leading actress and actor is perfectly all right but as for any scenes of the couple actually kissing, such filming is strictly prohibited unless the couple has been married in part. This is due to the country’s Ministry of Culture, who after much timely and costly research have deciphered that such intimacies do not occur in Thailand outside of marriage. So, if you want to see any filthy un-Thai stuff like that you had better go back to watching soap operas in Farangland.

Old Postcards of Bangkok – 02

The Giant Swing and Wat Suthat

Rush hour in Bangkok

Traffic jam on the canals

First Day in a Thai Prison

This is continuing the interview with a Thai prisoner. Background information can be found at

How was your first night? Really bad. I couldn’t sleep at all. I was worrying too much about what was going to happen next. It was also very hot and uncomfortable. The cell was very crowded and I couldn’t move. There were three fans in the ceiling but it wasn’t enough for all of us. I found it difficult sleeping on the bare floor and with no pillow. I also couldn’t turn over and had to stay on the same side all night. I was glad when morning came and people started to wake up. This then gave me more room. I found it difficult to stand up because I hurt all over. In one corner of the room there is a toilet for all of us to share. It is a Thai style toilet that you squat over. Around it there is a low wall so that all people can see is your head. It is kept clean and wasn’t really smelly.

What time did you leave the cell? You cannot really call it a cell like in American prisons. It is not a small room with bunk beds that you share with a couple other people. Imagine a big hall that has a partition every four metres. The partition is a low wall with green bars going the rest of the way to the ceiling. It is the same at the front where the doors are. There are 16 of these cells on each floor. Each area is about 4 metres by about 8 metres I think. The place where I am sleeping now has 50 people. That first night there were probably only 35 people in that small area. To answer your question, people start to get up at about 5.45 a.m. or so. However, we are now allowed out until 6.00 a.m.

What happened to you next? The cell boss told us to go down and take a shower. I was lucky as when I got down to the ground floor I met a friend from my old school. He is a trustee and he helped me that first day. He said I could take a bath with the other trustees. He also gave me a bowl and lent me some soap. The trustees have a big water tub and we scooped the water over our bodies. Some people did this naked but others, like me, kept on our boxer shorts. The other prisoners had to take a shower. This is like a long corridor with a wall either side. Each person is allowed five minutes in the shower. The water is turned on for 2.5 minutes for you to wet your entire body. Then it is turned off while you then soap yourself quickly. Then the water is turned back on for another 2.5 minutes for you to wash off the soap. You have to be quick because you don’t get a second chance.

When did they cut your hair? They cut my hair that morning. I had breakfast that first morning with my friend. Other prisoners had to eat the government food which is not very nice at all. It is stale brown rice with some kind of curry. Sometimes the curry or soup is good, other times it is disgusting. They give you food three times a day. The last meal is about 3.00 p.m. However, if you have money, you can buy your own food in the prison shop. So, that first morning my friend bought me white rice and fried pork with basil. After I had finished eating, all the new prisoners had to line up for army like exercises. This is very difficult and exhausting. You have to do it for about two hours with a short break in the middle. All the new prisoners have to do it for the first month. I was lucky because after a short while my name was called to say that I had a visitor.

What was it like having visitors for the first time? That first day was very bad. My girlfriend, mother and brother came to see me. I cried a lot as I was so sad. At that time scared also because I didn’t know much about prison life. I wanted to touch my girlfriend but could not as there was glass and bars separating us. We could only speak to each other using a telephone. I spoke to my mother as well but we were only allowed 20 minutes altogether. It was hard saying goodbye but we weren’t allowed to stay after the phone line was cut. When I went back inside the prison, the exercises had finished. I then met up with a prison guard who is a friend of my grandfather. He told me that he would arrange work for me which will make life easier. He said if I worked then I didn’t have to do the daily exercises, which made me happy. That first day there wasn’t much else for me to do. So, I just hanged around. The time went very slowly. At about 4 p.m., we were all told to go back to our cells. We were then locked up in there for about 14 hours until the following morning. Then the day started again.


If you can find the time, it would boost his spirits a lot if you can write a short letter or send him a postcard. If you go to the website you will see information about how to write to him. This chapter in his long and eventful life (he is only 21) is not over yet. There will be more stories about what it is really like in a Thai prison as well as what it is like for the foreign prisoners in his cell block. Some of them already knew him from his websites and his column in the Bangkok Post.

Sent to a Thai Prison


Last month I was telling you about the court case of one of my former students. He had been arrested last year for possession of drugs. The police found amphetamines pills on him. These are known locally as “yaa baa” or “crazy medicine”. The pills are not as strong as other drugs like heroin but they are addictive nevertheless. They were popular with truck drivers as it enabled them to stay awake all night. However, there were side affects which affected the brain and rational thinking. My former student first became addicted to “yaa baa” when he was 15. Many of his school friends at that time were also taking the drug. He tried to quit many times but it was very difficult.

After he was arrested in August last year he did in fact manage to turn his life around. For the year that he was out on bail, he managed to stay clean and was able to concentrate on his family and work. His court case was a few months ago. At that time we didn’t know what the judge would do. In many countries he would have just been given a warning or at the least community service. But, in Thailand, penalties for drugs are harsh. I have heard of sentences of 15 years just for a handful of pills. In the end I think he was lucky. I think the judge took into account that he had a regular job with a responsible position, had a family to support and that this was his first offence. He had also taken the advice of the judge and pleaded guilty. My former student was sentenced to three years in prison. His friend, who pleaded not guilty, was sentenced to six years.

I have already written about my experience of visiting him in the Thai prison for the first time. Over the past month I have been visiting him regularly in order to interview him about his life in prison. This wasn’t easy for me to do. Prisoners are only allowed one visit per day and each visit is only 15-20 minutes long. I wasn’t allowed to take a recording device so I had to write all of his answers down longhand. Then when I returned home I typed it up. The first interview is now over and you can read it below. I took it to him this morning in order to check the details. This first story is about his first day in an adult prison. If you would like to read the background story then you can now visit the website that we have set up for him. Details are at the bottom of this page.

What was going through your head when you left the courthouse on the prison bus? I was in complete shock. It felt like the world as I knew it was coming to an end. I had known for a year that this day would come but I tried to block it from my mind. I knew I would never see anything the same again. It was like a nightmare and I couldn’t wake up. I don’t remember driving through the city.

What happened when you first arrived at the prison? They took us to an area where we were told to take off all our clothes. We were then given a full body search by the prison guards. Not just the new prisoners but the older ones too that had been to the courthouse. I was then given some brown prison clothes. These were a simple shirt and shorts. Then all of the new prisoners were interviewed and a record made by some other people. I thought they were guards at first but I later found out that they were trustees. These are prisoners who have some power like the guards. They took down details like my name and address, occupation and the name of my parents. I was then fingerprinted. After this the trustees took us to an open area on the ground floor of one of the prison buildings. This is like a canteen. We were given brown rice and a kind of soup.

Where were you taken next? They took us up to our cell. For the first few days all of the new prisoners are kept together and then split up around the prison. We were taken to a cell that already looked full but I later found out was only half full. It was already early evening by this time and all of the prisoners had already been locked up in their cells. They were watching a movie on VCD. The cell boss told us where we could sleep on the floor. There was no mattress, no blankets and no pillows. The space we were allowed was marked by the blanket of a prisoner on either side. They had been here longer and had bought extra space so they were able to sleep on their backs. I was only allowed to sleep on my side. We slept head to foot. Meaning the feet of the prisoners on either side were near my head. I recognized one of the prisoners in the cell as a friend of my friend. We talked and watched t.v. for a while. Then at 9 p.m. the television in every cell was turned off and the cell boss told us to go to sleep. However, the light in the cell was kept on all night.


I will post part two tomorrow. A number of you already know my former student through his websites and his work in promoting life in Thailand and the Thai language. As you can imagine, life in a Thai prison is pretty mundane and the highlight of their day is receiving visitors and letters. If you have the time, he would be delighted to receive a letter from you. Or even a postcard of your local area. You can find out more information about this on the website