Monthly Archives: May 2007

G-strings & The Buddha Image

(Here below is a brief translation of a headline story in today’s Thai Rath newspaper)

On May 28, the Culture Ministry received complaints about an American company which had been advertising products by the name ‘Philosophy’ on the Internet using the Buddha as their logo.

After a bit of investigation, the ministry agreed it was sacrilege to screen an image of the Buddha like this on to inappropriate clothing. The clothing included women’s knickers (similar to g-strings), men’s underpants, dog warmers and women’s spaghetti-style tops – all of which is sold under the guise of a Buddhist Gift Shop.

Many Buddhists, on coming across the website, have been very angry. They have asked the Culture Ministry to take immediate action. They are also confused to why such accounts of sacrilege like this happen so often. In Thailand recently, we have had strip-tease shows at temples and Coyote dancing at funerals etc.. – seems like we have no shame, just like foreigners. It is much wanted that foreigners realize that Buddhism is our national religion and that it is sacrilege to use images of the Buddha is such a way.

There really ought to be a clear law which states that such offenders be punished. We are tired of just hearing the same usual excuse of “Oh, I’m sorry” time and time again.

Our reporters decided to investigate the site for themselves and found that all the items on sale had images of the Buddha. Besides those things as mentioned above, we also found t-shirts, caps, vests, boxer shorts, belts, mugs and bags etc…

Mr Preecha of the Dept of Religion said that the matter will be forwarded to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Thai Embassy in America etc etc….

Poor-old Thailand vs Western Media

The following blog/article was published last Saturday in The Nation newspaper. Here below however, is the original un-edited submission)

(According to Western reporters last year: Bangkok is the world’s naughty-nymphet capital)

Ever since the much publicized censorship incidents, it has all been rather enthralling if not actually quite amusing to have been sat at the Internet reading the world’s comments about Thailand. Some of the weird and wonderful perceptions foreigners have of Thailand are made even more extra-ordinary when they are written by folk whose closest real-hand experience of Thailand is buying friend noodles at their local Tom Yum Kung take-away shop.

So, just where do, a lot of these supposed intellectuals get their glorious ideas about Thailand? Quite obviously the media.

Take the infamous John Mark Karr scenario last year. When he was arrested in Thailand, the foreign media were up in arms, declaring Bangkok the pedophile capital of the world. Potential perverts, on the phone booking the quickest flight to Thailand, must have been dribbling at the mouth at the prospect of naughty nymphets waiting to be had at every street corner. As a possible aftermath of this brainwashing, I remember the news not long after of a middle-eastern guy busted for standing half-naked drunk outside a primary school near Jomthien Beach doing an Arabian belly-dance and waving a 100 baht note in the air. I hasten to add however, that any lollypop-lover may be just a trifle disappointed when he realizes that perhaps the Western reports of such everyday activity in Thailand don’t quite live up to his fiendish fantasy.

Leading on from that incident, highly qualified and knowledgeable Western reporters were quick to point out that such immoral business exists in Thailand because of rampant poverty. Now, I am not going to say that such inhumane activity does not exist in Thailand, but it is certainly nothing like what the Western media portrays. As for that poverty lark, well how do you define poverty? If you define it as lack of food, shelter, clean water and clothing, then there is very little poverty in Thailand. If you define poverty as lack of an MP3, new Honda Dream and a flat-screen TV set, yes then there is a lot of poverty in Thailand. But then again, if you define it so, then the West is also full of poverty. By the way, if you had no choice, what kind of poverty would you settle for, a gun-toting Los Angeles slum or a buffalo-ridden remote Isarn village?

(Bar-girls: Enjoying life in the bar. If not, they can get a job in some factory)

And according to the Western media, destitute Thai families from the north and north-east are so undernourished, that unless their young women go seek out some wealthy male company at some fancy tourist destination or a Rachadaphisek massage parlour, they are going to starve to death. After watching a documentary on such ordeals, male tourists are completely perplexed when they witness for themselves these girls who have been supposedly forced into prostitution, clad in brand-new designer label jeans, chatting away on their digi-camera mobiles, whilst laughing away and meticulously applying their make-up like some junior-high girl. Western media forgets to point out that most girls however, from hard-up families, have a choice, they can either engage themselves in after-dark employment or do as the majority do and find a manual job; just the latter doesn’t pay so well.

Working on the Internet, I am often dumbstruck at some of the questions I get asked by potential travelers to Thailand “Steve, can I buy shampoo and toothpaste in Thailand or must I bring my own?” or “Excuse me Steve, if I eat on the street will I get food-poisoning?” “Certainly” I reply “And don’t forget, when traveling north, the only mode of transportation is elephant”

Or how about this one I was told once by a newly arrived backpacker, and I am not joking “I heard that if I wanna score some dope that I should go to the back of any police station and ask some dodgy-looking cop”. Some theatrical foreign reporting of just how easy it is to buy drugs, makes it out that you can, like candy, just pop into any old corner shop and stock up on your favourite illegitimate intoxicants. Or how about drugs and the law enforcers, I have read Internet comments along the lines of this one before “If I get caught with Ganja, how much should I pay the police?” or how about this one for paranoia “What should I do if a policeman plants drugs on me?” Well, a lot of that mentality again evolves from exaggerated foreign reporting of the cops in Thailand. Now, I am not going to say that such corrupt scenarios don’t exist here, because it does, but nothing on the level which it is made out to.

Some of the literature written by some foreigners who have been incarcerated in Thailand is another wayward source of sensationalism. Now, if you used to be a prisoner in Thailand and want to write a book about it, your publisher needs to sell the darned story. It is advised therefore, to just make up a few adventures; popular themes which sell well are ones of wardens with handcuffs indulging in sordid swinging sessions, dog food which is force-fed to new inmates, cunning pregnant cockroaches which crawl into your ears, female pig anatomies for hire and finally there is such an abundance of heroine readily available that if you have enough cash you can shoot up from dawn til dust and no-one’s gonna bat an eyelid. In fact, the Thai judiciary system is portrayed in such a bad light in the West, that if you do get arrested with a few kilos at the airport; simply plead innocent, claim it was all a set up, you were the victim of a brutal beating and shiver-me-timbers your local media and a pompous politician will be on to your plight in no time!

(Above pic of recovering drug-addict in Thailand and according to reports, drugs can be found as simply as candy)

Besides rampant nymphets and narcotics, another extremely unpleasant element in Thailand is the horrendous Farang mafia. According to reports, pitiable Pattaya is plagued by extremely dangerous scores of German mafia, Italian Mafia, Israeli mafia, Timbuktu mafia and the most dangerous of all, the awe inspiring Russian mafia. Before you shiver in your pants however, let me recall the tale of supposed Russian mafia a few years ago. After robbing a bank, the gangsters made their dash in an instantly bought speed boat and revved it out to sea – Koh Samui bound. Unfortunately however, the hoodlums had failed to realize that such devices need a tank full of petrol and thus one hour later they were witnessed by the entire nation being paraded live in front of the live news cameras wearing nowt but their Y-fronts.

The Thai press, in regards to exaggerated reports of Farang mafia and criminal gangs, are just as bad though. Some of the stories which have made the Thai language press over the past couple of years have been almost laughable. As a Middle-Easterner, whatever you do, do not get caught over-staying your visa, or we will be waking up to possibilities of prominent Al-Qaeda presence on Thai soil. As an Englishman, if you get caught managing a pub without a proper visa, by geez you could be wanted by Interpol as belonging to some terrifying international ‘Milwall Mafioso Mobster’ gang.

Some seedy foreign publications must have their own squad of Thai-English translators or spectacular first-hand reporters at their beck and call too, as within no time, they also will be reporting similar tales of sordid syndicates – members of which are as organized as some cost-saving Thai B-Movie production.

And, how about democracy? We have read and heard, especially from countries like The Land of Uncle Sam that true democracy doesn’t exist in Thailand. I advise therefore, to follow in the golden footsteps of such fantastic nations and call immediately a free and fair election. An election just like theirs, where propaganda, money, big-business and religion have no influence whatsoever on the outcome of the vote. Wonderful lands, where prostitution and drugs are hard to come by, few nymphet-dealers and foreign gangsters who stalk the streets. And finally, all their citizens are devoid of financial hardships.

The Thai Court System


When I was younger, I once sat on the jury of a murder trial. It lasted for about seven days. I had always been fascinated by courtroom dramas and after watching “Twelve Angry Men” I fancied myself as Head Juror. Alas, I was only 19 at the time and no-one voted me for that position. Although it was a serious case, I did enjoy my time listening to the arguments of the prosecution and defence. The evidence was overwhelming and I think we all knew what the verdict would be quite early on in the case. On the final day, we were sent to deliberate the verdict just before lunch. There wasn’t really much to discuss and I think we could have gone back in straight away with a guilty verdict. However, out of respect for the accused, we decided we should at least put on a show of having a deep and meaningful discussion. We were also hungry and decided to order the free lunch and give our verdict after we had sufficiently rested.

In Thailand, the Courts of Justice don’t quite work in the same way. In the Criminal Courts, there are always at least two judges and no jury. Although it may seem to be unfair not being judged by a panel of your peers. I think it is probably better if amateurs, like myself, didn’t have so much of a say in the lives of the accused. But then, that leaves a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the judges. A few days ago I was in court for the trial of a defendent who had been accused of attempted murder. This was a Westerner who was being put on trial in a foreign land. Everything was conducted in Thai. At the beginning of the case, there was a discussion between the judges and the defence team as to whether there should be translations for the defendent during the trial. The judge was of the opinion that it would slow the proceedings down too much and asked the lawyer to only translate what she felt was necessary. Really, John was lucky to have a lawyer that spoke English. Another prisoner that I spoke to said he couldn’t afford his own lawyer. So, the court appointed one for free ,who unfortunately didn’t speak any English. He said there was a court interpreter, but all he said was “You, come here. Sit down. Stand up. Sign here” etc. Other than that, he had no idea what was going on or even how much time he was sentenced to. In fact, he was the last to know.

The courtroom wasn’t very large. There were probably about six or so of these rooms on this floor alone. At the front was the raised platform where the judges sat. Above them is a portrait of H.M. The King. Below it is the symbol of the court, a downward pointing dagger with scales balancing on it. In front of the bench sat the court clerk. On the judges right was the table for the prosecution. On the left was the table for the defense. In the middle of the room, facing the judges bench, was the chair and table for the witness. The room was roughly split in half with a low railing. Behind this were the benches where members of the public and interested parties sat. In Thailand, courts are usually open to the public. So, in theory, if you are respectfully dressed, you could go and watch a trial. Just remember no cameras are allowed and you should turn off your mobile phone.

At about 9.35 a.m., John was escorted into the courtroom by a policeman. He was barefoot and chained at the ankles. A piece of string was attached to the chains which enabled him to pick them off the floor as he hobbled along. The policeman told him to sit down on the front bench next to where I was sitting. I asked him whether he remembered me and he said “yes” but he didn’t remember my name.  While we were waiting for the judges to arrive, I tried to have a conversation with him. I asked some general questions about the food at the prison as well as the number of prisoners in his cell. He wasn’t very responsive and it was clear that he didn’t really understand what was going on. It was like he had retreated within himself. He didn’t really know what had happened at the airport when he was arrested. He told me that the British Embassy were hopeless and that they hadn’t visited him. I told him that they had been to see him at least four times. He then said he didn’t remember. This wasn’t an act. This guy needed serious medical help. I also noticed that his forehead seemed to be swollen. I asked whether he had been hit, but he said he didn’t know. The lawyer said she would ask the prison to do a proper medical. It might not be anything. However, if it is not treated, it could be life threatening. I am not a medical expert, but pressure on the front of the brain like this could explain to his memory lapses and his general demeanor.

Shortly later, the two judges arrived through their private entrance at the front of the court. No-one announced their arrival, but everyone stood up anyway. They wore a black robe with a dark velvet edging around the neck and down the front. People didn’t wai the judges, but bowed instead. The public prosecutor was sat on my left. I recognized her instantly as she was also in Gor’s trial. The first day was reserved for the prosecution. The burden of proof rests on the prosecution and she has to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In the morning, she called three witnesses: the victim, the arresting officer and a witness to the crime. Each one was called forward where they then put their hands together in a prayer like gestured and promised to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. As in Western courts, the prosecutor asked a series of questions and then the defence were allowed to cross examine. However, there were some notable differences.

In Western courts, there would be a stenographer who would make a record of everything that was said. However, in Thailand, this is left up to the judge. In front of him was a tape recorder. This wasn’t to record the witness. What happened is that after the witness had answered the question, the judge would then paraphrase what he had just said. But, he didn’t do this for everything. Only what he deemed to be relevant. During the cross-examination, I could see the defence lawyer pausing before he asked each question so that the judge could have time to record the answer. However, sometimes the judge didn’t bother to record anything which obviously annoyed the defence. He just told them to ask the next question. The witness had said he was in hospital for four days. However, under cross examination, he said he was only in ICU for the first day. The judge didn’t record that.

I also noticed that the judges participated more in the questioning of the witness. Sometimes they asked questions that they felt the prosecutor should have asked. Or a question to clarify an answer. Like in my previous trial, the prosecutor sometimes left the courtroom during cross-examination. Although there were two judges, there was only one lead judge. The other was there as support. Every now and then he would change tapes and the court clerk would then take this to type up. At the start of each tape he would record something and then quickly rewind it to see if it recorded properly. The last witness of the morning was supposed to be the doctor. However, he didn’t turn up which seemed to annoy the judges. After a few phone calls, they decided to postpone the next trial date. The prosecution were supposed to finish on this day and then the following week the defence team would have their turn. But, as the doctor couldn’t come the trial was put off for just over two weeks.

It is doubtful that the verdict will be read out on that day. From previous experience, I would say it would take them two to three weeks before they set a date for the verdict to be read. By about 12 p.m., the court clerk had finished typing up the testimonials from the witnesses. These were then read out in court. Each witness was then asked if what had been read was a true account. They said it was. Then each relevant party had to sign these statements. At first John didn’t want to sign this document. It was all written in Thai. He said that he was being framed and didn’t want to be a part of all this. The lawyer managed to persuade him in the end by saying that he was only signing to witness this document. Not to say what was written was the truth.

It is really difficult to say which way this case will go. It was good that the witnesses contradicted themselves over certain details. I think it was also in the favour of the defence that the police hadn’t collected the video from the surveillance cameras. Which is strange as the police decided to charge him with the more serious crime of attempted murder. The defence will argue that it should be bodily harm which carries a sentence of no more than two years. I will be going to court again next month in order to give morale support to John. I will also let you know the verdict which will probably be announced at the end of June. Obviously, as this is an on-going case, I will not give any exact details of the case, nor the names of the people involved.

A Foreigner in a Thai Court

Samut Prakan Criminal Court

Samut Prakan Criminal Court

Recently, I found myself back at the Samut Prakan Criminal Court. This is now my third time in a Thai court. I am not trying to make a habit out of it, but Gor keeps asking me to help out foreigners who find themselves in trouble with the law. This time it was a British national who had been accused of attempted murder. I will call him John as this is an ongoing case. This guy arrived in Samut Prakan Central Prison in early October of last year. Gor was the person who interviewed him that first day and took down his particulars. Without going into too many details, John was arrested at the airport after getting into a fight with a waiter. John was in a deep depression due to problems with his ex-girlfriend. He had also been robbed of all his possessions a few days earlier. He was now on his way home. He had been drinking heavily when he got into an argument with the waiter. He picked up a knife from the counter and stabbed the waiter in the chest. The wound wasn’t fatal but the waiter spent four days in hospital. Later that night, John was arrested by the police and taken to prison.

I had been to see John a couple of times at the prison after Gor had told me that he was worried about his mental health. I was quite frankly shocked when I first saw him. He didn’t make eye contact with me and seemed very unresponsive to my questions. He just kept saying that he was framed and that he wanted me to contact the British Embassy to get him out of there. At that point he said he had been there a month and that the embassy didn’t know he was there. I didn’t know the details of his case at that time. I felt it best not to ask. I wasn’t there to judge him. Just to see if there was anything I could do to help. I promised him that I would ring the embassy. On the way out, I bought him some food in the prison shop as well as some cigarettes.

When I got home I immediately rang the British Embassy. I asked to be put through to the office that dealt with British nationals in Thai prisons. A guy called Jeff Mitchell picked up the phone. I told him that I wanted to report a British national who was in Samut Prakan Central Prison. “Oh you mean John?”, he said. It turned out that they knew all about him and had already been to visit him several times. Jeff was very helpful though obviously he couldn’t give me any details of the case. I said that I didn’t want to know, but was only ringing because I was concerned about his mental health. I told him that I thought he should be having medical treatment. Jeff said that they were aware and were doing everything in their power to help him. He said that on his third visit that John didn’t even remember who he was. At the end of our conversation, I felt assured that the British Embassy were doing some excellent work in looking after John. Before I said goodbye, I asked for the email address of John’s father as I wanted to let him know that I had visited his son and that he was basically alright.

Since that time, I have been in contact with John’s parents quite a few times. Both by email and telephone. They gave me some background information which helped me understand what caused John’s present condition. I then passed this information on to Gor who said that he would try and look out for him. But, he said that it is difficult to help someone who refuses to help himself. A few months later, I was at the prison visiting an American who had just been incarcerated for passport problems. During our conversation I asked him about John. He then told me that his condition was getting worse. He said that everyone was trying to help him. They had to literally force him to do everything from eating to taking a shower. I had sent him some English novels, but John just couldn’t concentrate on anything. Earlier this month, John’s lawyer went to visit him in prison but he refused to come out. Gor had to literally drag him there. In the end he only agreed to go when Gor bribed him with some cigarettes and said that he would go with him.

The Thai courts are very busy and sometimes it can be up to a year before people go to court. John’s lawyer tried to rush this case because of the circumstances of John being far from home. They were hoping for an April date, but in the end they were given a date towards the end of May. John’s father had already been over here in Thailand during that first month he was arrested. But he was unable to go for the court trial as his mother was ill and had been in hospital. So, I promised him that I would go to represent him in the court and also to give John some morale support. That is why this week I found myself back in the criminal court. I won’t call myself an expert, but I am now starting to know my way around the place. Maybe too much. Everyone already knows me at the prison. Now it is going to be like that here at the courthouse.

The sound of sirens announced the arrival of the prison bus shortly before 9 a.m.. It backed into the holding area and the prisoners, who were chained at the ankles, hobbled down from the bus. I hadn’t seen John for a while so I wasn’t sure if he would recognize me. I pushed my way to the front of the crowd of relations who were waiting to see their loved ones. John was the eighth person off the bus. I called out his name and he looked over to me and nodded. At least there was some recognition. Inside I met up with John’s lawyer. His father had already told her that I would be coming and so she was looking out for me. She spoke excellent English and she filled me in with the details of what would happen on this day. She said that she had just gone in to see John and was able to ring his parents so that he could speak briefly. We then went up to one of the courtrooms on the second floor.


I will give you a description of what happened in court in part two. I will also try and give some background information to the Thai court system. The intention of these blogs is to help people understand the process in case they ever find themselves in this situation. After listening to the stories of some foreign prisoners, I believe that any one of us could so easily find ourselves in their position. So, before we judge them, lets please see what we can do to help them. At the moment, Gor has said that it would be good if people could send English novels as there is nothing for the foreigners to do day and night. For more details, please visit our sister blogs at

Exploring the MRT Subway in Bangkok

Shopping mall in Bangkok

A shopping mall in Bangkok

I have used the BTS Sky Train in Bangkok many times. It is very convenient for me and goes to many destinations that I am interested in. On the other hand, I feel like an awestruck tourist when I travel the new MRT Subway (also known as the Bangkok Metro). Compared to the sky train, I find the underground electric train to be less crowded and quieter though equally clean. However, I don’t think that the stations are as useful to tourists. Or are they? At present there are 18 stations along a route that covers only 20 kilometers. There are plans to extend the network to several hundred kilometers. But, the eventual completion will take many years. In the meantime, I want to give you some ideas of places you can visit. I will give you a tentative list today and then over the coming weeks I will explore the subway and give you more details on what there is to see.

1. Hua Lamphong Station – Exit 2 takes you right into the railway station of the same name. This is convenient for people wanting to catch a train north, south, east and northeast. This is also on the eastern edge of Chinatown. About ten minutes from here is Wat Traimit with the impressive Golden Buddha.

2. Sam Yan – Leave by Exit 2 for Sam Yen Market and the Snake Farm.

3. Silom – This has an interchange with the Sala Daeng BTS station. There are also many hotels and shopping malls nearby. For example Central and Robinson. The Patpong night market is not far. Take Exit 1 if you want to get some fresh air in Lumphini Park.

4. Lumphini – The park is also close to this station. Take Exit 3 for direct access to the popular Suan Luan Night Bazzaar (sadly to close one of these days). The Lumphini boxing stadium is not too far away.

5. Khlong Toei – This area is famous for the slums. It is also home to Bangkok Post!

6. Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre – Exit 3 takes you straight into the convention center. I come here often for the book fairs and holiday fairs. Parking is terrible so I like to come by MRT.

7. Sukhumwit – This has a direct access to the Asok BTS station. Not too far from shopping malls such as Robinson and Times Square. Exit 1 will take you close to The Siam Society.

8. Phetchaburi – Not much of interest here. I will have to go and take a look myself.

9. Phra Ram 9 – This is convenient for the large shopping mall at Fortune Tower and IT Mall.

10. Thailand Cultural Centre – There is a large Robinson here as well as Carrefour and Home Pro. The Cultural Centre is not far away. I visited there a few years ago and they had an interesting museum.

11. Huai Khwang – A number of major hotels but not much else.

12. Sutthisan – There is a night market here not far from the station.

13. Ratchadapisek – Not much here for tourists.

14. Lat Phrao – No, don’t get off here for the famous shopping mall!

15. Phahon Yothin – Exit 3 is a short walk to the popular Central Lat Phrao shopping mall. I quite like this mall. Sofitel Central Plaza is not much further.

16. Chatuchak Park – This is the interchange station for Mo Chit BTS. Chatuchak Park and Queen Sirikit Park is close by. The famous weekend market is also a short walk. In the area is also the Railway Museum and the Kids Discovery Center.

17. Kamphaeng Phet – This station is more convenient for the weekend market. Use Exit 2. The Farmer’s Fruit and Vegetable market is on the opposite side of the road.

18. Bang Sue – This is the last stop. Here you will find Bang Sue Railway Station.

There is probably more places of interest than that. I will get my walking shoes on and bring you some more reports soon. The cost for the MRT is about 15 baht per stop. So that will cost me 270 baht if I decide to get off at every stop. To go from one end to the other without stopping costs 39 baht. You can buy a one day pass for 120 baht.