Monthly Archives: February 2007

Promoting Thailand the Wrong Way

Visit doisuthep

For the Thai government, the tourist dollar is worth a lot to them. So much so that they give the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) a budget worth billions of baht in order to promote Thailand. I often wonder where the money goes and whether they spend it wisely. I know that they spend millions on television advertising on channels like CNN and BBC. They also have full page spreads in magazines like Time. I sometimes hear about millions being spent on press junkets. What they do is invite foreign press on private tours of Thailand. But, I wonder how affective all of this advertising and promotion is worth to the country? Are they going about it the wrong way?

Thailand has been going through some rough patches lately. The SARS outbreak, Bird Flu, the Tsunami, violence in the south, bombings in Bangkok, a military junta and political upheaval, and of course the recent gunning down of the Russian tourists in Pattaya.  It also doesn’t help that international news organizations like the BBC start their reports like this: “Bangkok is a notorious destination for sex tourism. But the lives of many of the city’s sex workers are full of danger, disease and the urgent need to send money home.” And how about these headlines that are going around the world at the moment: “Thailand’s Junta Warn Of Terror Attacks In Bangkok”. Does this make it sound like that Thailand is a safe destination for families? The TAT have recently been given a budget of 60 million baht in order to promote the upcoming Bangkok Film Festival. Personally, I think that they should be spending their money more wisely. What is desperately needed at the moment is some damage control. The message needs to get out there that yes, Thailand has problems, but no more than most countries. Thailand is still as safe to travel as it was five years ago.

In the Bangkok Post the other day there was a story that the TAT office in Khon Kaen were recruiting foreigners married to Thai people in their quest to promote the region. The plan was to send them on a cultural tour of the region. I thought that was such a great idea. Who better to promote Thailand than foreigners who have a love of the people and the culture. These foreigners have family and friends back home that would certainly be interested to see what was on offer in the region. Maybe some of them even make websites or write blogs. After all, word of mouth and personal recommendations are worth far more than million baht advertisements. Instead of paying millions to pamper foreign journalists who may or may not write an article that will only be seen for one day in a newspaper, the Khon Kaen TAT office were going to entertain people who already had a love of the country. For sure these expats would do their bit to help promote Thailand. But, then I read the same story in The Nation. “Each couple will be charged 1,101 baht to go on the trip and translators will be on hand to help the foreigners.” What? You are kidding me? You are going to charge them to do your job? What about the free press tours you give?

Actually, this doesn’t surprise me at all. The people on the board of TAT are old school. They believe in print journalism and television. They have probably never used the Internet in their life. Take a look at their official websites. Their lack of updates are embarrassing. They just don’t believe that the Internet is worth their trouble. After all, who uses the Internet to plan their holidays these days? Are they joking? Just take a look at the Paknam Web Network which is a part of. Our mandate is to promote the real Thailand to the world. We have been doing this for ten years. On an average day the network gets over 80,000 unique visitors from 120 countries from around the world. We have written to the TAT a number of times asking them to help us by sending us information. For example, tourist destinations and festival dates. They are just not interested. They just don’t take the Internet seriously. Wake up! We are not asking you for any money. We are fully prepared to continue promoting Thailand for free. Please take us seriously and give us your full support. Together, the Paknam Web Network and the thousands of other people and websites like us, can make a real difference. You just have to be brave enough to take that first step. We are waiting for your call.

Old Patong: Expats Getting By[barely]

By the early 80’s Old Patong was gathering a strong expat community.

Most of Patong Beach was little more than a 5 kilometer stretch of coconut plantation with Sea View Bungalow on the south end and Patong Beach Bungalows near the middle of the beach at what is now just north of Soi Bangla[Bar Road].

Beyond to the south was jungle, a small path leading to Karon Noi, which later became Relax Bay, which is now the site of a large French hotel-resort.

To the east, a two kilometer wide rice paddy, partially cultivated.

To the north after Patong Beach Bungalow was a graveyard and a path that led northward to Governors Bay, AO Kamala.

The majority of bungalows were Thai owned and operated, but by the 80’s, expats had made inroads into operating or “controlling” various bungalow properties mostly along the beach from Soi Bangla[Bar Road]to Sea View Bungalow.

Life then was laid back and s l o w!

The highlight of the day was in the extreme heat of the late afternoon when the water buffaloes would saunter a few kilometers westward, out of the rice paddy and nearby village of Bann Sai Nam Yen and end up walking from the north end of the beach, all the way south along the sand and then disappearing back into the jungle to the east around sundown.

Sometimes the huge gray black creatures could be found wandering thru the various bungalow area to the fear of the tourist nearby and occasionaly could and would suddenly get spooked and end up knocking over a heavy laden motorbike, those unfortunate to be on the bike, in the buffaloes immeadiate area learned to either slow down, STOP IMMEADIATELY or suffer the wrath of the big horned beast!

The usual pack of semi-wild dogs that seemed to inhabit ALL the leg area under tables, beach chairs, porches,etc would look almost like they were trying to heard the bulls on the beach, but then again, anyone that has been anywhere in the Kingdom knows these dogs just run with the pack and their frenzy annoys one and all, including the buffaloes.

At one time, the majority of land which was across the street from the beach was owned by “The Old Lady, a Khun Hearn, believed to be her nephew or relative was the guy all the bungalows paid.

Evidently “The Old Lady” was advancing in age and was actually selling longer leases, with which she would then donate large sums of baht to the local Wat,garnering merit. I don’t think anyone other these few Thais actually “owned” anything, but the leases seemed to be gaining popularity as the expats and locals started their mini-boom of restaurants, bars and the Thai favorite, “The Gift Shop”.

Many of “The Gift Shops” were run by girl friend/wives of various expats and locals.

All gift shops were similar: tee shirts were their main commodity, a fellow in the village had learned silk screening and tee shirts with anything that could be printed were popular with the tourist.

In addition to mozzie coils, sun lotions, flashlight batteries, film, flip flops and SARONGS fill the little shops. Smokes and Mehkong rounded out the rest. Most of the shops would open about 9am and depending on customers, may never close again.

Business in Old Patong was starting to get VERY good!

Once Soi Bangla[Bar Road]opened, mainly to appease all the beach shacks that had been BULLDOZED the year before, considered “squatters on the Kings land”, two or three little “bar sois” immeadiately sprang up, which brought a inkling of things to come.

One store, 5 restaurants, 4 food stalls/carts, a bakery, beauty shop,at first just a few bars, the ever popular “Kangaroo Bar” which had an abundance of Aussies, the beer was cold[and often they RAN OUT], the Michler Bar, the very first katoy show bar in Phuket[the locals finally make them pull the tarps down during nightly “shows’, an “art” gallery, real Thai artist would paint your recent photos into stunning[fairly decent]oil painting for a less than 500 baht and of course on the corner of Soi Bangla[Bar Road]& Patong Beach Rd on the southwest side was the famous “Lada Bar”, which was run by Lada, the Tina Turner of Patong Beach.

Just down the beach road from Bar Road little shops were starting to embed into the coconut groves. Post Office Soi was popular with little shops and cafes. A motor bike rental popped up infront of the big Patong Beach Hotel, a few SCUBA dive shops kept the local fishermans boats full with tours to the nearby coves and bays, some as far west as the Similan Islands, Patong Patty and I were often offered free travel on these cruises, but there was a little too much booze in the veins of the peaceful fishermen[by day, by night..pirates]for us to ever venture farther than a windsurfer could take us over Ao Patong.

Old Patong, where everyday was a holiday and if it wasn’t a holiday, then it WAS a party…:-)

During these early years, as things were starting to hop, there was still that feeling of just another lazy day on the beach.

A big batch of King prawns from No 1, a few Thai Garden Lemonades and the time would just fly by…

A sing-a-song at thai-blogs!

(The following blog/article was published yesterday at The Nation newspaper entitled ‘Sing Your Political Worries Away At The Nation’)

(By: Stephen Cleary & Nimit Somboonwit)

(Once anti-farang and anti-capitalism, ‘Carabao’ – now happily touring the world – with their own energy drink)

Whatever happened to the country’s once wonderfully politically active artists, musicians and students?
Once upon a time, 30 or so years ago, they were running into the jungle with their political ideas; now the only places they seem to be running to are magazine stalls to buy up the latest scandalous photographs of some Thammasat University student wearing virtually no undergarments. Popular musicians who were at one time rocking away with rebellious songs crying for an end to the military’s involvement in politics are now to be found wailing out their thoughts on love, love and, well, love.

A good example of how the tide has turned in Thailand’s popular-music scene is the career of legendary Thai musicians Carabao. In their heyday during the politically charged 1970s, many of the band’s songs involved the fight for democracy and against military interference and politics.

This time round, a few days after the military coup, they came out singing the generals’ praises and lambasting the previous democratically elected government – an administration that they provided with more than one ditty of praise during its term in office.

And whatever happened to their songs that were anti-capitalism, anti-materialism and anti-exports such as the popular “Made in Thailand”? For the past few years their well-heeled vocalist has been seen wearing imported Levis, perched on a Harley Davidson motorbike and selling his popular energy drink to the world market. I doubt we’ll be seeing these guys running into the jungle with their political ideas any time soon.

What the country really needs is for its artists to once again stand up and shout a bit of rebellion rather than hawk products and give gossip columnists juicy bits to fill up their columns. To get the ball rolling, here today are a few famous foreign hits from the past, rewritten with on a Thai theme.

(Are these the only politically active in Thailand these days?)

The first is a new version of the classic John Lennon song ‘Imagine’

(Notes: Square-face is the Thai media’s nickname for former PM Thaksin)

Imagine there’s no Square-face,
It’s really hard to do,
No need for stress or headaches,
A truly blissful land.

Imagine all the country, living life in peace….

Imagine there’s no lobbies,
That’s also hard to do,
No one to turn or pay to,
And no interference too.

Imagine there’s no Square-face,
Stirring up unrest….. Ooooh Ooooh….

You may say – Thaksin’s the worst,
But he’s not the only one.
He hopes some day you’ll understand,
And he’ll be back again to govern us.

Imagine no new airport,
A really brilliant thought,
No needs for cracks or scandals,
No big corruption too.

Imagine no new airport,
Happy travels indeed…..

Imagine there’s no somtam,
Incredibly hard to do.
No need for mortar or pestle,
Or fish sauce and chilli too.

Imagine all the people,
Craving all the day….. Ooooh Ooooh….

You may say – I’m a dreamer,
And I’d surely be the only one.
No need for MSG or sticky rice,
How could the Thais live as one?

(One of the Sondhis – “And I did it My Way……”)

Since the country’s politicians just love a bit of duet karaoke, how about a new take on Frank Sinatra’s classic “My Way”? Either Sonthi or Sondhi could sing it.

And now, my visa’s through,
And so I’ll get – my home in Sydney.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.

I’ve golfed a life that’s full,
I’ve travelled each and every country,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way …

Regrets, he has a few,
But then again, too many to mention,
He did what he has done,
And sold our assets – just for the fun.

I planned….not to the court,
Each careful step along the highway,
But more, much more than this,
I’ll do it my way …

(Sonthi/ Sondhi)
Yes, there were times that you will know,
When I planned some actions – not very slow,
And did it all, till Thaksin’s out,
I kicked his butt, and knocked him out,
I faced it all, and I grew tall,
And I did it my way …

We loved, we laughed and cried,
We had our fill, our share of winning,
And now as tears subside,
We find it all so amazing.

To think, I did all that,
And let me say, not in a corrupt way,
No, oh no not me,
I took my money …

For a man, what has he got?
It’s for my wife – she wanna have a lot,
To say these things, how great I feel,
No need for words ’bout them Singaporean deals,
The record shows, how big they were,
And I did it my way!

Finally, one just for Thaksin, a new version of John Denver’s classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

Almost heaven, Northern Thailand,
Suthep Mountain,
Ping and Kok Rivers,
Life is great there,
Better than the West,
Full of great supporters,
Nothing is a mess.

Chiang Mai Roads, take me home,
To the place I belong,
Northern Thailand, Suthep Mountain
Take me home, Chiang Mai Roads.

All my memories gather round me,
Men and ladies, crying out for me,
Love and caring, painted on my face,
Lovely taste of winning,
Teardrops in my eyes.

Chiang Mai Roads, take me home,
To the place I am loved,
Northern Thailand, Inthanon Mountain
Take me home, Chiang Mai Roads.

I hear my cronies,
In the evenin’ hours they call me,
CNN reminds me of my home far away,
And drivin’ down the road I get the feelin’
That I should be going home … tomorrow, tomorrow.

(Written with Nimit Somboonwit. Nimit is an occasional columnist for the Thai language publications – Matichon and Thai Post)

The Tragic Story of Ms Somying

(By: Steve Suphan & Nimit Somboonwit)

Joseph Wadsworth of England and his bride, Kanokwan Ninjinda display their marriage license following wedding ceremonies Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007, in Bangrak, Bangkok. The couple were part of a mass wedding for Valentine’s Day in Bangkok. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

Back over in the UK a lot of the locals haven’t a clue to what the name of their town/district actually means or originates from, but here in Thailand it’s a completely different kettle of fish. Virtually every place name in Thailand has a proper meaning to it and the Thais are often very superstitious in due regard.

One of the most well-known districts in Bangkok is ‘Bang Rak’ which quite literary means the ‘Village of Love’ and on last Valentine’s Day 665 couples tied the knot there. Now, the word ‘bang’ can be translated in various ways but for today, I shall stick to ‘village’. Thailand actually has zillions of ‘bangs’ besides just the ones mentioned in the following story we have the likes of ‘Bang Phoot’ (Village of Speaking) ‘Bang Ta Thaen’ (Village of Spiritual Folk) ‘Bang Kruai’ (Village of Cones) ‘Bang Bua Thong’ (Village of the Golden Lotus Flower) ‘Bang Kaeo’ (Village of Glass) and there are certainly many villages in the north-east aptly nick-named ‘Bang Farang’ If you were wondering what Bangkok means, it does in fact translate as ‘The Village of Olives’. Yes, the word is Thai origin.

All the place names in this story are completely authentic – as for the stars of the show, however – that I am not too sure. Well-worthy of at least a soap opera let alone a movie, here it is, the modern day folk-lore legend of:

The Tragic Story of Somying

Mr Somchai, originating from ‘Bang Yai’ (Village of the Big) certainly lives up to his name. A complete delinquent, gangster and mafia-like bodyguard to the Village Headman, he is involved in vote-buying (for the Village Headman) and running the local underground gambling syndicate. A truly handsome fellow with stacks of cash too, Somchai has more women on the go than The Rolling Stones or even former Thai tennis champion Paradon Srichaphan.

Meanwhile, over in ‘Bang Bon’ (Village of the Big Mouth) our delicious Miss Somying is also residing in a place which lives up to its name. Many of the local females do very little else for the entirety of their days besides spreading evil gossip about their neighbours and sponging money out of gullible foreigners over the Internet. As for the men, they sit around all day intoxicated and arguing about politics while living off their lovers.

By chance, both Somchai and Somying have relatives in Bang Khae (Village of Care) and that is where they meet for the first time – at some run-down noodle soup stall. Somying is soon swept off her feet by the supposed Mr Cupid as he ‘takes care her everything’. Playing-up to be the man of her dreams, he carries her bags, takes her for romantic dinners and trips to the cinema, buys her lovely little gifts and even washes his own underwear. Such a complete smoothy, you wouldn’t believe it.

After a little bit of innocent romance, Somchai invites Somying for a weekend away in Bang Plee (Village of Sacrifice) and after Somchai swears devotion and a life of happy marriage, it is there that Somying decides to sacrifice her body and allow him a little bit of naughty pre-marital action in the nearest short-time motel.

Mr Somchai, on getting rather bored of working for the corrupt Village Headman and his crooked cronies; and Somying too – of the deceiving gigolos she knows back home, both decide that a new life is called for and they head for the big city. And it is there that the happy couple decide to get married at ‘Bang Rak’ (Village of Love). Somying, however, has failed to realize that Mr Charming (AKA: Her Husband) has certainly not changed his playboy ways and is still rendezvousing around with plenty of saucy girls.

Somying, completely oblivious to the goings-on of her husband, hasn’t even noticed that he spends more of his time talking to her pretty younger sister on the phone than she herself. An absolute scoundrel of a man, Somchai wins the heart of Miss Somtum his wife’s sister and rents her a secret house in nearby ‘Bang Sorn’ (Village of the Hidden).

In the meantime, Somchai and Somying have moved to ‘Bang Sarm’ (Village of Three). Anyway, Somchai carries on the relationship with the two sisters and not needing his common-in-law wife to get suspicious, he informs her that his weekends away from home are due to volunteer work with the blind orphans in a neighbouring province. Absolute lies, as he is instead drinking whiskey, smoking cigars and watching DVDs with his wife’s sister til 3 in the morning.

(File photo of Somying after catching her husband with Miss Somtum)

Unfortunately however, there is one time, when Somying needing a loan of some money, pops around to see her sister one early Sunday morning. She is soon in shock and disgust to see Somchai stark drunk naked on the sofa with Somtum waltzing around in revealing lingerie hoovering the carpet.

Distraught and heart-broken, Somying feels such an utter fool that she moves to Bang Krabeu (Village of the Buffalo) and plans her future – alone. Having no idea what to do with her life, she feels it best to go and make merit at ‘Bang Luang’ (Village of the 1st Wife) and then on to ‘ Bang Phra’ (Village of the Monk). And it is there where she meets Abbot Scammy of the local temple an enlightened monk of supposedly genuine insight. Asking for spiritual advice, the Abbot advises her to ‘make big donations’ in order to balance out the awful Khamma she acquired in a past life. After giving virtually all her money away, she is next utterly dismayed to find out that the Abbot has been spending most of her donation money on lottery tickets. As for his hut, it has been turned into a mini-mansion, decorated with chandeliers, a mega sound-system and the latest 72” Sony Flat Screen TV.

On having to suffer such humiliation to the hands of men, Somying decides it best to take her own life at ‘Bang Saphan Yai’ (Village of the Big Bridge). Venturing to the top of the bridge late at night, she gets ready to take the plunge. Not quite though, by heavenly intervention, she is spotted by Pol. Captain Somkok who somehow manages to talk her out of such fate.

A real charmer of a cop, Somying is in tears, delighted at having met such a wonderfully nice, honourable and honest guy. A true friend indeed, he puts her up at his auntie’s house in Bang Seu (Village of the Honest). And it is there that Cpt Somkok advises Somying to get divorced from her evil husband at Bang Plat (Village of Separation). After a successful split, Somying believes it best to start a new life (again) in neighbouring ‘Bang Mae Mai’ (Village of Female Divorcees) and it is there that she secretly falls in love with her dear friend, Pol Cpt Somkok.

Though rather apprehensive at first, Cpt Somkok agrees to marry Somying. Sadly however, Somkok is transferred to duty in the dangerous deep South and the wedding is cancelled. As time goes by, Somkok never does return to Somying and sends her a letter telling her so.

Poor old Somying, moves on to ‘Bang Rakum’ (Village of Absolute Tragedy) and it is there that she spends the rest of her legless days…… as a loony alcoholic.

(Mr Nimit,who gave me the idea for this blog is an occasional writer and cartoonist for the Thai language publications ‘Matichon’ and ‘Thai Post’)

The Thai Smile

Thai smile

Thailand has long been called the Land of the Smiles or LOS for short. However, over the years, it would seem that the smile is starting to fade. And the ones that are left are sometimes used to hide something completley different. The letters pages in The Nation and the Bangkok Post have been full of stories of unsurly immigration officials. Foreign tourists were complaining that compared to other countries the Thai immigration officials never smiled or appeared to be rude or uniterested. Someone reported that when they crossed the land border from Malaysia to Thailand the Malaysians smiled and said “Please come again”. The atmosphere on the Thai side was completley the opposite and he didn’t feel welcome at all.

A week after I had read that letter I found myself at the new airport. I was curious to see what the immigration were really like. The queues were long and slow moving and so I had at least 30 minutes to observe what was going on. I could see that the man at the counter in my queue had a straight face and didn’t once smile. In contrast, the man at the counter for the neighbouring line was very animated. He had this famous Siam Smile and seemed to be chatting energetically with each of the people in his line. Well, that is what I thought. When I got nearer I realized that he was chatting with his girlfriend on his mobile phone! From my immigration officer I got neither a smile nor a greeting.

But, all of this is due to change. For the past month immigration officials are now on courses to teach them how to “wai” and how to do that perfect Siam Smile. They are being taught to be more friendly with their greetings. This is so important as these people are the first Thai people we usually meet when going to Thailand for the first time. They are also often the last people we interact with too. How difficult would it be for them to say “Thank you for visiting Thailand, please come back again”? Let’s see if there are any changes and how long it lasts.