Author Archives: Richard Barrow

Using a Kindle e-Reader in Thailand

One of the hardest things about being an expat in a foreign land is losing contact with your family back home. You also lose easy access to media in your native language such as books, movies and television. But with the coming of the Internet and the digital era, all of that has changed. I’ve certainly seen a difference while I’ve been here in Thailand. Back then we had to nominate certain post offices two months in advance to act as our poste restante. Books were bought secondhand or bartered from other travellers. Music was limited to the number of cassette tapes you were willing to carry. Television and movies in English were also rare. Now we can use Skype to video conference. We have iPods that can hold 1,000’s of songs and e-readers that can download the latest book. With the Internet, we can also stream  movies and television.

I have been a bit slow with e-readers. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time but was waiting for them to officially come to Thailand. To be honest, I haven’t read many books in the last 3-4 years. I guess you can blame easy access to the Internet and then more recently smartphones and tablets. The price of print books is also off-putting. Even second-hand books are expensive. Back home in England you often see book sales and even “buy one get one free” offers. But, not so much here in Thailand. In the end, I gave up waiting and bought a Kindle from In the short time that I have been playing with it, I haven’t regretted the decision. In fact, I wish I had done it much earlier. I’ve already read a couple of books and I’ve also been inspired to try my hand at writing e-books.

The best thing about Kindles compared to reading books on say the iPad is that it uses the e-ink technology. This means that it looks exactly like a printed page. There is no eye strain and you can read it outdoors in the sunshine. It’s also small and lightweight and so is not a burden to hold as you read. In fact, it is much lighter than many of the thick books that you can buy these days. The best thing, of course, is that it has a hard disk that can hold hundreds, if not thousands of books. So, the next time I go on a trip, I will have access to almost unlimited amounts of books. Not only on the Kindle itself, but also from the store using a WiFi. Now we can download and read the latest Stephen King novel on the very first day it is released.

The costs of a Kindle vary depending on which model you buy. They are also cheaper in the American store compared to say in the UK where VAT is so high. You can also buy cheaper models that have advertising messages on the screensavers. But these are only available in the US. If you don’t have any relations in the US or Europe, you can buy direct from and they will ship to Thailand. I’m not sure how much the tax man in Thailand would want for that. A more cost effective way, is to have it sent to a relation or friend and to ask them to repackage it for the journey to Thailand. There is actually a website here in Thailand (just google “kindle thailand” to find it). But it is not official and they import it themselves from the US. Someone said you could also buy at B2S in Bangkok, but I think it is the same website and is not official.

Once you have a Kindle, there is then the issue of buying the books. I’m already a member of with a shipping address to Thailand. I use my Thai debit card to buy books. I also have an account for I bought my Kindle from the latter and it was automatically connected to my account in the UK. There is no problem to de-register this and change to your US account. The books on the Kindle stay there. The advantage is that sometimes books are not available in both countries. Sometimes the price is different too. For example, I just bought the latest Stephen King novel at half price compared to the US store. Another thing, yesterday I clicked on a link to a book that was free for a limited time. But on it said it was $4.99. I then realised that as my residence was listed as Thailand prices were different. To solve that, I just changed my residence to America and got the book for free.

If you look through the store for kindle books, you will see that prices are not always much cheaper than a normal printed book. This seems strange as the publishers are saving a lot on printing and distributing costs. But, in the UK at least, e-books, unlike printed books, are subject to VAT which adds 20% to the price. However, you still can find bargains if you look around. You will also find that some publishers will make their books either free or ridiculously cheap for a day or two. There are websites and apps to help you find these. There are also websites that have thousands of free books that are now out of copyright. You can download any of these to your computer and then copy it across to your kindle. You just need to make sure they are in the Mobi format though there is software to help convert it.

An advantage about buying a Kindle over other e-readers, is that the kindle has free software that you can use on your PC, Smartphone such as iPhone and tablets such as iPad. It even syncs across the devices. So, I can start reading on the Kindle and then open up on my iPad to find it on the same page as I had last read. Personally I wouldn’t buy a Kindle Fire as I already have an iPad. It was a much better choice for me to go for a Kindle Touch. Your other decision is between WiFi and 3G. The latter is usable in most countries around the world for free. Personally, I think I would never need that as I would download all the books I wanted before I leave home or I would just use any free WiFi that I found along the way. Of course, there are disadvantages to an e-reader. Nothing really beats the feel and smell of a book. But, at the end of the day, the advantages of an e-reader far outweigh those of a printed book. It is doubtful that I will ever buy a printed book again.

If you have any questions then please let me know in the comments and I will do my best to answer.

Foreign Inmate Secretly Uploads Thai Prison Videos to Youtube

It’s not every day that we get a sneak peek of what it is like inside a Thai prison. That is exactly what we are getting now from a 58 second video that was originally uploaded to Youtube in October 2011. It shows a conversation between two foreign inmate, one called Jeffrey and an unidentified Nigerian. It was shot in Bang Kwang maximum security prison, just to the north of Bangkok. You are only sent here if you are serving a long sentence. In the case of these two guys, they are more than likely serving time for a drug offence. The area here is along one of the inner walls where the prisoners go to relax, wash clothes and use the toilets. It is most likely shot at the weekend as there are plenty of Thai prisoners around. During the week they spend most of their time in the workshops. At the weekend, there are less guards on duty and prisoners are left to their own devices in the prison grounds.

The first video talks about the prisoners doing illegal activities such as doing drugs. The Nigerian has lit a fire and he says he is burning old letters. In the second video, Jeffrey talks about his house which can be seen. As the foreigners do not work, they have huts which they can hang out in during the day. Some of them are well equipped with easy chairs and cooking equipment. Some foreign prisoners even hire Thais to be their cooks. Although this is all old news (I wrote about it on last year), it has only just come to the attention of Thai authorities. Just this week it was posted on the British based website where it got many comments both on there and on Reddit. The Bangkok Post have now picked up on the story and prison authorities have called in to question the foreigners seen on the video.

According to the Bangkok Post, Jeffrey told prison authorities that he recorded the clip in “October 2010” and that he sent it onto an American friend. He said he did not know how it got on the LiveLeak website. I think the date was probably wrong as a user called  uploaded it to Youtube in October 2011. It is possible that Jeffrey is this person who did the uploading as only two videos have been uploaded to this account so far. It is not uncommon for prisoners to have illegal cellphones. Many of them are smartphones with internet connections. In one month alone, nearly 500 cellphones were confiscated at Nakhon Si Thammarat Prison. It is not far fetched to believe that prisoners have uploaded to Youtube. They have even been known to have Facebook pages where they post photos. Some of the confiscated cellphones showed prisoners taking drugs.

As a result of this video, the prison authorities at Bang Kwang have downgraded the two inmates to the worst grade. This will mean that they will miss out on things like the annual contact visit. They also won’t be eligible for a collective king’s pardon. Personally I think a part of the blame should be directed at prison officials for allowing this to happen. Although some cellphones are smuggled in by the prisoners or thrown over the walls, prison wardens have also been known to have sold phones to the inmates. According to the Bangkok Post, 28 prison officials were dismissed after it was found they were involved in illegal activities. As to how many cellphones are being used by prisoners, let’s just say that within just 6 months, prison authorities have confiscated 9,513 cellphones! And if you think there are none left then think again. Inmates are still calling their girlfriends even today.

Watch both of these videos over at >>>

Morning Alms Offering to 8,000 Monks in Bangkok

During March 2012, there will be a series of six alms giving ceremonies around Bangkok involving an estimated total of 100,000 monks. The purpose is to celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of the Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. The first event took place early this morning, 10th March 2012 along Phahonyothin road near Ying Charoen Market. It was difficult to estimate the number of monks present today, but I reckon that there were at least 8,000.

Monks traditionally go on alms round near their temple. Usually they leave the temple in the early hours of dawn while it is still dark. The Buddhist faithful are waiting for them in front of their houses. On Wan Phra days, which is the Buddhist sabbath, the monks stay in the temple and the lay people go there to make merit. However, these days it is not always easy for people to make merit in this way as they need to get up early to go to work.

There are two other kinds of alms giving that I have witnessed. One is often held on special occasions such as New Year’s Day or the King’s Birthday. The lay people line the side of the road in groups and as hundreds of monks pass, they offer the food. With the mass alms giving that I attended this morning, that method isn’t practical. After chanting and a short sermon, the monks walked down the rows in front of the seated lay people until everyone was in position. Then, after a signal, everyone offered alms at the same time.

As a foreign tourist you are welcome to watch this event. You can even join in if you like. Set up along the road there are many tables where vendors are selling bags of food for offering to the monks. As there are thousands of people, you need to arrive early to get a good spot. The ceremony starts at 6:30 a.m. and so it’s best to arrive before 6 a.m. if you can. The roads will be closed so its best to go by public transport or by taxi. If you are taking part you need to wear white clothing.

The following are the locations for the alms giving events in Bangkok this month:

Sunday March 11th, 2012 – Kaset Junction – Ratchayothin Crossroad
Saturday March 17th, 2012 – Ladprao 5-Junction – Saphan Khwai
Sunday March 18th, 2012 – CentralWorld Department Store, Ratchaprasong Road
Saturday March 24th, 2012 – Yaowarat Road – Charoenkrung Road
Sunday March 25th, 2012 – Ladya Road – Wongwian Yai

I have prepared a google map of these locations

Two New Floating Markets in Hua Hin

Hua Hin Floating Market

During 2011, two purpose built floating markets opened in the seaside resort of Hua Hin. Surprisingly, not only did they open during the same year, but they also can both be found down Soi 112 which is about 6 kilometres away from the city center. I visited them over the new year holiday and both of them were very crowded with tourists. I’m not sure at this stage which one will survive.

Hua Hin Floating Market

The first one that you will come across is Hua Hin Floating Market (see map). You can’t miss it. When we arrived the queue for the car park went out onto the main road. My first impressions were good. All of the shops were built in a retro style to remind you of the olden days in Hua Hin. The boardwalk around the lake is wide which allows you plenty of space as you explore the shops. There are no cheap or tacky souvenirs here. Most things are good quality handmade products that you won’t find elsewhere.

Hua Hin Floating Market

Hua Hin Floating Market is open Monday to Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. They have stage shows during the day at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. You can also join a boat tour which is 200 Baht for four people. It seems to be a good place to do some shopping for a few hours and then sit down for a meal. Most people came here by private car but I heard that there is a public songtaew from the town for 20 Baht.

Hua Hin Samphannam Floating Market

If you drive a short distance away from this market, and then turn left at an intersection, you will see almost immediately Hua Hin Samphannam Floating Market (see map). Like the other market, this one was also very crowded. But as Samphannam covers a much bigger area, I would say that there were far more people here. There are 193 shops and 40 vendor boats. The floating market is built around a lake that was already there. The buildings might not be as stylish as at the other market, but it had its own charm.

Hua Hin Samphannam Floating Market

I like Hua Hin Samphannam Floating Market more than the other one. This is mainly because they have many more activities that you can take part in. It isn’t all about shopping. The boat trip here is only 20 Baht each. You can also join a train trip around the market for the same price. There are also daily shows. At one end there is a replica lighthouse as well as beached fishing boats. Plenty of photo opportunities here which Thai people love. The best thing for me was the wide variety of food available.

Hua Hin Samphannam Floating Market

Hua Hin Samphannam Floating Market is open every day from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Most people come here by private car. There is enough parking for 1,000 cars and it was full when I visited. Like the other market, you can take a public songtaew here from the town for 20 Baht. You probably don’t want to do both of them in one day, but if you are in Hua Hin for a week then it is worth visiting both. But, if you only have time for one, then go to Hua Hin Samphannam Floating Market. It has a much better atmosphere.

Making Merit for HM The King

Today, people from all around the country are coming together to celebrate the 84th birthday of H.M. The King. Many of them are wearing pink which is an auspicious colour believed to help make the King better. The Thai monarch has been in Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok for several years now. About 1,000 well-wishers gathered at the City Hall Plaza in Samut Prakan to give alms to 99 monks in honour of His Majesty.

View the Photo Album on my Facebook page >>>

The ceremony was opened by Wanida Bunprakhong, the new Governor of Samut Prakan. She first paid homage to a Buddha image and then took part in chanting. Attending the event were many local government officials who all came together to pay homage to His Majesty. A similar event was being held at the same time all around Thailand. H.M. The King is regarded as a father to all Thai people as they love him so much. This day is also celebrated as National Father’s Day.

After the chanting had finished, the Governor led the local people in giving alms to several hundred monks. Tables had been set up around the parade ground and local people had gathered behind them since early morning. They did this to make merit on behalf of H.M. The King. To make the most merit, the food should have been prepared by themselves before they arrived and not bought at a food stall. Leftovers from the night before must never be given to monks.

The local people stood behind the tables as the monks slowly made their way down the row. People were giving fresh food as well as pre-prepared packages such as pot noodles that you can see in this picture. As some of these items were too big for the alms bowls, each of the monks were assisted by temple boys who carried big sacks. The monk then emptied their bowls into these sacks. By the end of the alms giving event, the pick-up trucks from the temples were full with sacks of food. Local people also gave the monks purple orchid flowers and also envelopes containing money.

After the alms giving had finished, Wanida Bunprakhong and local people made merit for H.M. The King by releasing 1,000,000 sea creatures into the Chao Phraya River. This is a common event done to make merit for birthdays. People usually release birds or fish. I thought that 1,000,000 was a staggering number to release in one go, but it turned out to be very small shrimps. These were in plastic bags which people emptied out into a large tub of water. From this there was a pipe which washed the shrimps out into the river below. This evening, Wanida Bunprakhong will lead the local people to light candles to wish the monarch a happy birthday.