New Years Day- Zombie Apocalypse

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7pm, 1 January: what is normally a hustling and bustling street is deserted. No street food, shops closed, even the rats appear to be having a lie in.

The long holiday for New Years meant many street food venders and shopkeepers closed up and headed back to their hometown- perfect time for a long walk and pretending it’s zombie apocalypse time in the BKK. It’s fun to see Bangkok in a deserted state.

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Bangkok Traffic: The Silence

Traffic is terrible in Bangkok. Terrible. One thing you rarely hear is the honking of horns or the sirens of police or emergency vehicles. I have always been shocked at the lack of horn honking or sirens for such a large city.

I’m working in Ho Chi Minh City this week, the traffic here isn’t nearly as bad as Bangkok, but the horn honking is simply staggering. It is rare that a single minute will pass without the sound of horn honking, annoying doesn’t begin to describe the addiction Vietnamese have to horn honking.

Of course, Bangkok traffic will always have the sounds of the tuk-tuk’s revving their little engines and the joys of public buses spewing pollution and Bangkok will always have the traffic as the city wasn’t built for the massive numbers of vehicles currently on the streets.

But, sitting in HCMC with horns blaring, if there must be traffic, at least it’s a quiet traffic.

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Upside Down

This flower/tree has always fascinated me….

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Feels Like Europe

But it’s Chiang Mai, Thailand

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What’s on the Grill

Meat

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The Size of Bangkok Parks (Running Distance)

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The Bangkok Post published this helpful graphic detailing the size and shape of the parks in Bangkok. Sadly, there aren’t many parks, many areas of the city have precious few trees and very little greenery, but there are a few good parks for a bit of exercise or relaxing. My thoughts:

  • Lumpini park is the most popular park for exercising and visiting- there are loads of people (Thai and foreign) taking part in running, yoga, fan dancing and aerobics each morning and afternoon, good places to sit and bikes are allowed after 10am until around 3pm. It’s a big park and one of my favorite places to run.
  • Chatuchak Park has a good running loop, but not nearly the shade of Lumpini as it is bordered by a very busy road. It connects to the weekend market, but really isn’t a very compelling place to hang out and read a book (head to Suan Rod Fai).
  • Chuvit Garden is private and very small, but a nice place to sit in the shade; it’s small- small, I always had a chuckle at the people running in this park and wondered how they didn’t get dizzy.
  • Suan Rod Fai is a nice park- loads of shade and open to cyclists and runners all day. I was told this used to be a golf course, it certainly looks like it as there are wide sections of grass, nice ponds and beautiful old trees. It is very close to the JJ weekend market (and Chatuchak park), so easy to make a day of it. This park is frequented by Thais, it’s a nice place for a run or to thrown down a blanket and have a nap under one of the big trees.
  • Benjakaiti Park has a lake with a running course and cycling lane around it, but very little shade and very little to see, one side of the park is bordered by a very busy road, boredom sets in quickly if you’re running or cycling.
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The Do and Don’t List

Living in another country and culture you feel a responsibility to represent your own country and culture properly, well, some of us feel that responsibility. Properly is a highly subjective term, at a minimum you feel the responsibility to not be ‘that guy’ representing your culture.

When visiting Thailand I encourage you to feel that same responsibility, enjoy the “do” list and avoid the “don’t” list and, for me, you’ll be well on your way to representing both country and culture properly.

Do:
– Remember you’re in another country- it’s different from your country, that’s why you came, change your expectations, be happy when expectations are exceeded and understanding when they are not; remember the good, the bad and the indifferent are all part of the experience.
– Visit the big tourist sites- hit the Choa Phraya sites, check out a floating market, visit the weekend markets
– Visit the off-the-beaten path sites- the Jim Thompson house, the Golden Mount, ride the water taxi
– Sit by the Choa Phraya river, put your phone down, drop the selfie stick and just watch the world go past
– Drop the guide book, forget all the blogs advice and tours, just wander a bit and get a little lost, Bangkok is great for that.
– Smile- you’ll get 68.55% better service, Thais truly enjoy a foreigner that smiles
– Eat local- don’t visit Thailand and eat at McDonalds and just eat Pad Thai, try a bowl of noodles on the street, try anything that looks good, just point to what someone else is having
– Walk- yep, it’s hot, but you see, hear, smell and feel a lot more than cruising around in an air-conditioned taxi.
– Visit Lumpini Park in the early morning (like 7am)
– Be in a public place at 8am or 6pm for the playing of the National Anthem
– Take public transit- Skytrain and MRT are both clean, fast and feature great air-conditioning, oh and they’re cheap; busses and water taxis are also great ways to get around
– Use your hotel to help you book taxis
– Hire a taxi if you find one you like- if you take a ride in a taxi and like the driver, ask him if he’s for hire. Many times a driver can take you on various city tours and get you back to the airport- just as you appreciate a good driver, the driver appreciates a good customer.
– Act respectful when visiting temples and tourist sites
– Remember that feet are a big thing in Thailand, don’t show anyone the bottom of yours
– Remember that Thai’s are very open about questions of age and income
– Travel smart- stick to well travelled, well light areas, don’t flash your cash
– Imbibe responsibly- if you’re done, be done and go home, we’re not as funny as we think we are, save it for another day.
– Wear sunscreen
– Visit sights early in the morning to avoid the heat
– Visit a roof top bar to see the sprawl of humanity
– Stand on an elevated walkway (Asoke, Sathorn both have good ones) during rush hour and marvel at the traffic, do appreciate that you’re not in it (BTS stations near to the walkways) and learn that Thais can practice the art of patience during each rush hour; notice the lack of horn honking, always amazing when compared to the likes of HCMC, NYC and just about all other major cities.

Don’t
– Expect to understand all aspects of the culture and don’t judge the culture
– Act an expert on the culture just because you read a blog or guide book, you’re here, watch, listen, learn, ask questions and take back some good memories
– Judge the culture- different doesn’t equal wrong, different doesn’t equal inferior, different is different.
– Take pictures of poverty- I hope you don’t do it in your country, don’t do it here
– Think your selfie is important enough to make an ass of yourself, important enough to walk or climb where you shouldn’t or important enough to put someone else in a compromising position. A better ‘don’t’ would be: enjoy the sites and sounds and make memories for yourself, you know you came here, don’t take selfies.
– Expect absurd discounts at markets and street stalls- yes, bargain and discuss pricing, but don’t expect 90% discounts
– Discuss politics if you’re not well informed and know who you are speaking with
– Discuss the royal family
– Get frustrated if someone doesn’t understand your English- English is a second language to Thais with many Thais learning English ‘on the job’. We English speakers have many different accents, speak slowly, be patient and don’t expect the lady selling noodles on the street to understand all accents and verb tenses.
– Use taxis that are just sitting on the street- why is a taxi sitting idle? Hail a taxi that is rolling.
– Wear shorts and sleeveless shirts into temples
– Touch monks
– Be surprised to see toilet paper on the meal table
– Expect to find a knife or salt on the meal table
– Wear Singha, Chang and Redbull tank tops- unless your goal is demonstrating that you’re a tourist, if you insist on wearing any tank top, please don’t raise your arm to hold the hand rail on BTS, the only thing worse than a sweaty tourist in a tank top is that sweaty tourists’ sweaty underarm in your face.

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After Midnight: Bangkok Locals

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Thailand Statistics: International Arrivals in 2014

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Much has been made of ‘teflon Thailand’- no matter the news, people continue to visit and holiday in Thailand. But does that still hold true?

The Nation newspaper published the YTD arrivals from Jan-Sep 2014, the data is attributed to the Immigration Bureau and is based upon arrivals at Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

The chart shows a substantial drop from 2013 arrivals- a 19.5% drop- the majority of the drop came from Asia (-27.4%) with Europe moderately (-5.3%) and the USA dropping 11.3%.

To note- this is only for Suvarnabhumi airport- many of the regional airlines use the smaller airport- Don Meaung- so these are not representative of total arrivals.

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Foreign Investment in Thailand & Exports

Today @chomsowhat posted some very interesting charts and statistics on twitter, showing foreign investment in Thailand and the top 3 countries for exports.

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Of course the purchasing power of China has been increasing dramatically across the globe, China becoming the number one country for export is no surprise. Exports to Japan being almost even with exports to the entire EU was a bit surprising.

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Japan has long been the biggest investor in Thailand, think about the automotive sector, and Japan’s level of investment has remained consistent and is rising from a few years ago. The United States and EU have seen the level of investment falling over the past few year, while China’s investment remains very low.

Interesting to see the United States as a significant investor, but the Unites States is not a top destination for exports.

The media have detailed the new government in Thailand is very close with China, the export numbers and potential for China to invest in new rail networks throughout Thailand provide support for discussions that ties between China and Thailand are very strong and will continue to grow.

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