Category Archives: General

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.

How much does a meal cost in Thailand? More than you think!

I often get asked the question how much does it cost to live in Thailand. That is like asking how long is a piece of string. The answer will vary depending on what and where you like to eat. Take my meal today for example. Mega Bangna is a new shopping mall that has opened up in my province. It is the biggest of its kind outside of Bangkok. Many of the shops cater for the more well-off Bangkok citizens as do the restaurants. From our point of view, it is nice to have some city restaurants in our neighbourhood. Which is why I decided to check out the Bangkok Burger Co. restaurant. I had a very nice and filling meal there and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to have a real burger. However, you do need to consider the price. Their gourmet burgers, with chips on the side, are 195-350 Baht. This one is called a Bangkok Dangerous and comes with crispy bacon, fried egg, Thai green curry sauce & jalapeños. The price was 320 Baht though I had to pay an extra 40 Baht for the curly fries instead of the regular kind. I also asked for a bottle of water that cost me 40 Baht. So, the grand total, including service charge, was 471 Baht.

For some people, that is the cost of an average meal. Maybe more if you factor in alcoholic drinks. Now, before you say that all foreigners are rich and can afford it, let me add that in the packed restaurant I was the only foreigner. Who said Thais are poor? The Bangkok ones are certainly not. Have you been on the skytrain lately? So many have iPhones and in the mall today I counted half a dozen Thai kids walking around with iPads. To go back to the original question, if someone asked me how much I spend on a meal, then I would say about 30-35 Baht and that includes the drink. The amount of money that I spent on that one meal today is about how much I spend on meals from Monday to Friday. For the three meals that I eat on an average day, I usually spend less than 100 Baht and feel perfectly content. Take the picture above of my dinner yesterday. I had khao soi gai which is one of my favourite noodle soups. It came with a succulent chicken leg. Did this meal cost 471 Baht? No, it was only 30 Baht. The drinks would have been free but they charged me 2 Baht for ice. And that is basically the kind of meal I have every day here in Samut Prakan. If I lived and worked in Bangkok then I guess the story would be a lot different. And I probably would be a lot poorer!

Caroline Wozniacki Goes to Thailand

Caroline Wozniacki, the world’s number one female tennis player, was back in Thailand recently to take part in the World Tennis Invitation Hua Hin 2012. This was her second time to take part in this exhibition match in the seaside resort of Hua Hin (see my report from last year). Caroline has really fallen in love with the country and the people. She didn’t just come over for the tennis match as she came here early with her parents to celebrate the new year. Her boyfriend, world No.2 golfer Rory McIlroy, arrived a few days later.

I thought that this was only her second time in Thailand as last year she was telling everyone that she had never been before. However, at the press conference she revealed that she has been back quite a few times. She told reporters, “I’ve been to Thailand six or seven times. I’m basically half Thai”. Caroline went on to say that she loves the people and the culture. During this trip she was able to ride horses on the beach at Hua Hin, play with elephants, cook some Thai food and enjoy a spa at the InterContinental which she described as “unbelievable”.

At the exhibition match, Caroline played against Victoria Azarenka, on the left of this picture, who is the world’s number three player. The event took place at the InterContinental Hotel’s Centennial Park in Hua Hin on New Year’s Day.  Both Victoria and Caroline entertained the crowd with their skills and also off-court humour. At one point they got together to do a little dance. Victoria won the match in straight sets 6-2, 7-5. After the match she told the crowd,  “Thank you so much for having me in Thailand. You know, it was the first time and I enjoyed my time I hope everybody enjoyed our match and I hope to be back soon”.

Also playing at the exhibition match was world number 18 John Isner from America and former world number 9 Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand. Paradorn has been retired for a few years now and although he looked lean and fit, he was sweating and was visibly tired. However, he played a good game against the American and surprised everyone by winning 6-4, 7-5. At the end of the match, John told the crowd, “I really had a good time here. I will stay in Thailand for a few more days and then go to Sydney to play in a warm-up tournament before the Australian Open.”

At the start of the World Tennis Charity Invitation Hua Hin, each of the players, and golfer Rory Mcllroy donated 100,000 Baht to help flood victims. In fact the whole event this year was in aid of charities helping with flood relief. You can view more of my pictures from this charity match on my Facebook Page. Later this week I will be writing about some of the places that I visited in Hua Hin on this trip. So, keep an eye on and

Interview with Mike Thomas on “Living with the Tiger”

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to watch a moving documentary called “Living With The Tiger”. It is about about Thai kids growing up with the stigma of  being infected with HIV through no fault of their own. Often these kids are abandoned by their own family. For many of them, Baan Gerda became their new home. What this documentary aims to do is to show Thai society that these kids are not dangerous. That they have hopes and dreams just like the rest of us. Hopefully the documentary can get the exposure that it deserves and help, through showings at schools and universities, break down the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

Not long ago I was lucky enough to meet up with film-maker Mike Thomas and I asked him how he came to make this film.

1. How did you first become involved with Baan Gerda?

Actually, it was by accident! An American friend was visiting Thailand to do some research on orphanages for infected children. I spoke to someone I knew in the Thai Red Cross and he recommended Baan Gerda. My friend asked me if I wanted to accompany him on a visit so I decided to go along. I was profoundly moved by what I saw and it was nothing like I expected. These kids were happy and healthy and it was obvious that they were well cared for. I remember feeling a strong sense of injustice that they could be born into this world with a deadly disease through no fault of their own, and then abandoned by society to die. I offered to help out as a volunteer and designed a new website for them.

2. What knowledge did you have of people with HIV before you arrived?

My experience with HIV was limited to what I had learnt over the years through the media. I didn’t know anyone that was infected and that undoubtedly shaped my views. I was cautious when I first met the kids but that changed after just a few hours. I see the same thing regularly with first time visitors to Baan Gerda. They always come away with a different attitude to when they arrived.

3. There are certainly misconceptions about the dangers of being in contact with people with HIV. We saw that in your film. How safe is it really to be with them?

It’s a lot more difficult to get infected than most people realise. You can’t catch it from touching, sharing a glass or a meal, or even kissing. Having an infected person in your home or workplace presents minimal risk. Unfortunately, there are still many people who will avoid any kind of close contact with an infected person and this is why there is so much stigma. The kids in Baan Gerda are very tactile and this helps when there are visitors and they start playing together.

4. In what way did the children and people of Baan Gerda change you personally?

When you put a human face to a disease it changes everything, especially when they are kids and they haven’t done anything wrong. Unfortunately, HIV is often seen as a STD and that always carries with it a certain shame and moral baggage that the person has behaved inappropriately. We need to review our way of thinking because this is not always the case, just as a loyal housewife who has been infected by her husband should not be judged.

5. What was the original intention of doing a documentary film?

In the beginning, we never had a plan to make a documentary film. The first several months I spent filming were to record the music lessons that Bruce Gaston had organised for the children. When he decided to write an opera for them to perform, we started to take it more seriously.

6. How did that change into what we have today?

The turning point was when I found out about Oy’s tragic past, and how he had been abandoned by his uncle and aunt. They sent him to a well known AIDS hospice that did not provide ARV medicine. Obviously they didn’t expect him to survive. Luckily for him he ended up in Baan Gerda which, at the time, was one of only a few places that could provide the medicine he needed.

I asked Lee (the Baan Gerda manager) if she could contact Oy’s uncle and aunt and ask if I could interview them. I didn’t expect them to want to talk about what happened so I was surprised when they agreed. They sounded keen to see Oy so we arranged for him to go there with us. It was the most intensely emotional experience for everyone and many people from the village came to welcome him back. You could see the shock, disbelief, regret and joy in people’s faces. Only a small part of what I filmed that weekend made it into the documentary but I think it conveys the depth of feeling that was apparent. I knew we had something incredibly powerful and that’s when we decided to make a film to show the stigma and discrimination that affects these children and others like them.

7. Did you have sponsors right from the start? The equipment needed, for example, must have been expensive

We had very little money to make the film and mostly relied on the good will of other people. Film crews are normally hired for a specific amount of time to do a job, but the fact that this was filmed over nearly 3 years would have made it prohibitively expensive. I hadn’t intended on volunteering full time but the more things progressed, the more I realised how important it was to bring this story to the attention of others.

We were very lucky to meet a guy called Alec Ceschi after he made a visit to Baan Gerda. He was interested in sponsoring one of the children and then I found out he has video production and post production studios in London. He has been incredibly supportive and helped us in many ways. I think it was fate that we met.

8. The film centers on two of the boys. Was that the original intention?

The focus on Bla and Oy was mainly because they had the lead roles in Bruce’s opera at the time. It obviously meant that I had lots of footage of them so they became our lead characters when we became more serious about making the film.  It wasn’t for any other reason. In fact, there are 83 other children in Baan Gerda and they all have heart wrenching stories.

9. When we photograph or film Thai youngsters they like to play up to the camera or strike poses. How long before you got beyond that?

I think the kids just got bored of it after a while because I was always filming. After a while, they stopped noticing me and their behaviour became more natural. At this point, I was able to follow them around and go into their homes and record some very personal and touching moments. For me, the interaction amongst the children and the support they show for each other is very noticeable. I wanted to be able to capture and portray this in the film for others to see.

10. How did you get the kids to open up to you and sound so natural on film?

This was undoubtedly the hardest and most important part of the film. I always thought that the story should be told by the children as much as possible, rather than adults who often think they know better. I never imagined that Bla would open himself up in the way that he did. It took a long time to get to that point where there was trust and a strong bond between us.

It was really difficult at the start because whenever I tried to interview one of the kids they would just clam up and give 1 word answers. In the end, I found that by engaging them in an activity that they liked, preferably with a friend, they would start to relax. I used a small radio mic that was clipped to their shirt which they soon forgot about, and positioned the camera as far back as possible. It felt less of an interview and more of a friendly chat whilst they had the distraction of another activity.

When Nis (my assistant) started working with us, I asked him to spend time getting to know Bla socially. They both like to play the guitar and Nis used to be in a band so I suggested they jam together. Later that day when I was walking to the dining hall, I saw both of them playing a song with several of the smaller kids watching on. What was surprising was that Bla was singing confidently – a feat that Bruce had been unable to achieve after months of trying. I’d never seen Bla so animated and happy. Nis had made a deep connection with him and I knew that this was going to be significant for the interviews.

They were just about to have lunch so I ran back to my room to fetch the camera and managed to film the last part of them playing. It’s such a beautiful moment. Cindy (our editor) also thought it was strong so we decided to put it into the film.

People who know Bla have a new-found respect for him after seeing the film. He talks about the problems he faces with a courage and dignity that is beyond most of us.

11. Were there other worthwhile stories from the kids that never made it to the film due to time restraints?

There was heaps that had to be cut! When Cindy edited the rough cut, it was more than three and half hours long and I had no idea how we were going to lose over half of that. We could easily have made a film solely on Oy or Bla or the opera. It was a big challenge to weave together so many different elements into a cohesive story. In fact, Oy’s backstory is only half told. He actually has a brother who lives with another aunt and she refused to let them meet. She told the brother that Oy had died already. Oy’s mother was also forbidden to visit him as she had legally adopted him. When she was sick she made one last effort to see her son. she never made it – she became very iill on the journey and was hospitalised and died soon after.

12. What ratio of shot and used footage in the film?

I shot about 180 hours of footage in total and the film is 84 mins long.

13. Any plans for putting outakes on the website or showing in a different form.

I definitely want to make more of the footage available because people have been asking to see it. I’ve edited several short features on Bla, Oy, Baan Gerda and stigma that are part of an educational DVD set for schools. There is also an exclusive video of the kids playing for the prime minister which you can watch by ‘liking’ our Facebook page. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post more on the website in the future.

14. Will you be doing a follow-up to show the situation of the kids now and in the coming years?

We did talk about doing a follow-up to show where the children are, in say 5 years time. The biggest problem would be finance and I certainly couldn’t afford to repeat  this process again! It’s a huge undertaking and even with a few sponsors onboard, it doesn’t cover all of the costs. Maybe someone will commission a follow-up…

15. What are your plans for Living with Tiger for this year? (festivals, private screenings etc.)

Starting from December, we will be touring the country and taking the film to schools and universities. We feel that the film is especially important to students because HIV infection rates are increasing in the younger age groups. We had a recent screening at Prince of Songkla University (Phuket), and more than 90% of the 323 students surveyed said they had learnt something about HIV. More importantly, nearly 80% said they are more likely to interact with someone infected after having watched the film.

Despite the impact it is having, we are struggling to persuade state schools to show the film. The reaction from a lot of Thai teachers is disappointing and it’s clear that they don’t know how to deal with the issue of HIV. It’s easier just to ignore it. This is frustrating because I feel they have a duty to educate and protect their students. We had a much easier time of organising school screenings last month when we took the film to Singapore. Early next year, we are planning for a trip to Hong Kong. After that, who knows!

For more information, please visit their website at or become friends with them on Facebook. If you cannot make it to a screening, it is possible to buy a copy of the DVD on their website.

What to Expect if you have to go to a Thai Court

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. 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 years ago I was in court for the trial of a defendant who had been accused of attempted murder.

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., the defendant 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. 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.  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 gesture 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.

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.

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. The prisoner was then escorted back downstairs to the holding area to await the prison bus. I have been in that holding area a number of times to visit different people. It smells really bad. But their relations are allowed to visit them and also buy food for them from outside. The Thai courts are very busy and sometimes it can be up to a year before people go to court. And once the case starts, there can be a number of delays which sometimes means it might be several months before the verdict is finally read. In the meantime, if the defendant is not given bail, or cannot afford to pay it, he has to stay all this time locked up in prison. I will tell you about what to expect if you are ever sent to a Thai prison another time.