Saturday, 27 June 2009

Thai pop music

Thai pop music certainly different to what we are used in the West.

Despite my initial dislike of the genre, I've become more appreciative and I can even say I like a couple of songs.

What's unclear is why.

Could it be the result of an eight-month drip-drip effect (the same songs are played EVERYWHERE), me losing my music taste or is Thai pop actually good music?!

I'm all about enlightenment so will regularly feature a few of the most popular songs to give you a taste of what they call music in Thailand.

Here is the first - enjoy.

Thai pop isn't to be confused with Thai music. The latter is the country's traditional music which can be heard at ceremonies and festivals where it is accompanied by traditional Thai dancing.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Get to know Saraburi, Thailand (สระบุรี)

Few people know that my hometown in Thailand is Saraburi (สระบุรี). To those at home I live "just outside Bangkok".

Those living in Thailand have at least heard of Saraburi but generally it is a place they pass when travelling between Bangkok and the north of Thailand by bus, train or the motorway.

Saraburi doesn't make the cut of most travel guides, where it does the description is incredibly brief yet it has a lot going for it.So, without further ado, here’s my introductory guide to my home town formerly know as The Place Just Outside Bangkok.

For many Saraburi is just another town on a road sign [Credit]

I like Saraburi, whilst I realise I'm duty bound to say this, it is the truth. The city and its people are friendly and welcoming to foreigners as there are so few non-Thais living here. They are often genuinely interested in speaking to you in English, or better still Thai.

For a young family, like mine, the town offers an urban lifestyle without the constant hustle and bustle of a big city, like Bangkok. The city itself has ample shopping malls, sports centres, schools, superstores alongside more traditional Thai authenticities such as markets, temples, large scale festivals (like Songkran, Loy Krathong) and fantastic local cuisine.

Bangkok is close enough to commute so heading into the big smoke to visit the embassy, for work, for pleasure or to meet friends is entirely possible and easily done.

Away from the main city is a province filled with excitement and adventure, a visit to the Saraburi province is an ideal trip for anyone with an interest in nature or a desire to escape Bangkok and explore authentic Thailand.

SaraburiSaraburi is in central Thailand roughly 106km north of Bangkok. Thailand’s capital city is, in layman’s terms, a 90 minutes bus ride although the sprawling Rangsit suburb, with shopping malls, temples and Thammasat University, can be reached inside an hour.

Saraburi is thought to have been built in the 16th century, growing from a main road used by the Khmer for transporting goods and produce. The modern city’s importance is still linked to transportation, Highway Route 1, which begins in Bangkok, passing through the heart of the city on its way north to Chiang Rai and Highway Route 2 runs from Saraburi to Nong Khai, Issan, in the north.

Thankfully there is more to Saraburi than just transport links and closeness to the capital city, otherwise I might as well head back to Croydon.


The province is best known for its glorious sunflower fields (in season) and it’s for this reason that the sunflower is the province's symbol.

Saraburi sunflowers in bloom

Saraburi city and its province were important towns in the past so the region is rich with historical architecture and Buddhist temples, Wats.

The most notable temple is Wat Phra Buddha Bat which houses one of Thailand's most notable Buddha footprints. The temple is a recommended visit as it is rarely overrun by tourists, instead maintaining its authenticity and a fascinating and calm insight into everyday Buddhism and a typical Thai temple.

The Buddha footprint at Wat Phra Buddha Bat [Credit]

Further north of Saraburi city, the venturing traveller will find quintessential Thailand, and with it vineries, highlands, national parks, waterfalls - Namtok Chet Sao, the seven sisters waterfall, is typical of the area.
Namtok Chet Sao Noi is a small waterfall at Tambon Muak Lek, on the same route as Namtok Muak Lek and continue on for another 9 kilometres on an asphalt road. The waterfall flows along a stream and has 7 levels. The height of each level is 4 metres and offers a spacious shady swimming area.

After almost eight months here I’m still exploring and learning more about the province, but I love that authentic culture and adventure are so close to my door. I certainly recommend the wider province, in particular northern areas, for anyone seeking authentic Thai culture and an excuse to escape Bangkok.

The province is also famous for its marble and stone quarries, products are supposedly available at the lowest rates in all of Thailand. Though how you get a slab of marble back through customs without exceeding the baggage limit, I’m not entirely sure.

A nice concise list of major attractions can be found here.


Reasonable real-estate prices and the city’s close proximity to Bangkok encourage businesses to locate warehouses and factories in the province. For us locals, this brings a daily deluge of lorries and trucks hurtling down the highway and local roads and, sadly, added pollution.

Well paid job opportunities are limited in the city. There are foreigners in town that are not employed as a teachers in the many local schools. Native residents aspiring greatness and financial wealth are likely to move to Bangkok, or take up one of the few high-flying, well paid positions at a local cement factory or legal firms.


Saraburi does have a bar street and a number of nightclubs but it’s unlikely to make anyone in Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai or Phuket move over anytime soon. Half a dozen late night bars and a handful of clubs make up the town’s nightlife area. Don’t expect to find go-go bars here,Whitehouse is the stand out bar with its young, attractive bar staff, just don't expect prompt customer service here.

One major one benefit/problem (depending on personal preference) of a lack of farang is that foreigners stick out easily. Expect to receive plenty of attention from the locals when out partying.


Saraburi FC is the city’s semi-professional football side, a newcomer to Thailand’s Division Two (the third tier of the national football league, which is divided into five regions based on geography). Competing in the Central & Eastern region, the team is sitting in 6th place, very respectable considering this is the team’s maiden season.

Away from the glitz and glamour of Saraburi FC, locals head to the city’s sports centre for a kick-about most days of the week. Locals are welcoming to rare foreign visitors.

The sports centre is also host to mass daily aerobics sessions, a number of gyms, a swimming pool and various other sporting pursuits. You can find more information in this post.

Sports centres are a feature of any major towns/cities in Thailand

Local grub

Curry puffs were born in Saraburi, first made by a local teacher looking to supplement her income. The delicacy, which looks like a small Cornish pasty, is available across Thailand and is usually filled with taro, chicken or pineapple.

Curry puffs are native to Saraburi [credit]

The puffs come highly recommended and definitely are worth a try although, like much of the culinary temptation in Thailand, excessive consumption will affect the waistline.

Likelihood of farang encounters

Low – non-Thais are officially 0.6% of the population.

Travellers seeking the sight of farang residents are advised to make for the city’s Tesco Lotus superstore where the curious creature can be observed.


Issues with Blogger are responsible for any repetitive posts you may have seen from this blog.

Apologies for that.

Once I'm finished wrestling with the format monkeys rest assured I'll have a piece on Saraburi, my hometown in Thailand.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Playing the numbers game with Twitter

Last week I was a little shocked to find that I'd doubled my follower counter over night, giving me a total of more than one thousand pairs of eyeballs to feed with my musings.

However, one click to check the validity of my followers confirmed that my sudden surge in popularity was a blip on Twitter's counters rather than fame or recognition. It had been a nice thought for a second.

A few days later my follow counter returned to 550 odd and my existence as a Four Figure Twitter Influencer was over. Although my followers had never grown substantially, the episode made a point with me.

I've been bombarded with articles detailing how to cheat Twitter and attract X thousand followers per day and use the power of Twitter for world dominance.

Ok, so the world dominance is over stating it but there are a lot of people who play the numbers game on Twitter to gain influence, channel web traffic and feel about themselves. The essence of the article is to add new followers every day in the knowledge that many will follow back, adding an extra number on the counter. After a few days, following numbers can be preened to only include those who've followed back, helping to balance the stats

I've never done this as the value of Twitter is in the network rather than the numbers. It's quality over quantity, an influence is far greater when an audience is captive and listening rather than just big - a group of 100 followers with mutual interests can be far more influential than 1,000 rag, tag and bob followers.

That said, I do appreciate that, for the likes of internet marketers and advertisers, every internet users is a potential captive listener, I'm sticking to my relatively strict rule of thumb when it comes to following - at the least, it allows me to follow conversations and avoid being drowned out by the noise.

So, whilst my brief dalliance with Twitter power was pleasing on the eye, I won't be frantically adding contacts to build my numbers back up.

**My introduction to Twitter for expats - complete with a list of recommended expats to follow - is here.

Monday, 8 June 2009

A tribute to the pancake man

Thailand is a wonderful place to live for a great many reasons - the weather, the low cost of living, the women, the smiles, the food...the list goes on and is well know to many.

A new one to add to the list is the pancake man.

First spotted cycling around the neighbour with his portable kitchen, honking his horn in the darkness of the night, our local pancake man is fast approaching the status of living legend in the Russell-Piankaew household.

Yes, you heard right, freshly made pancakes are practically delivered to our door.

I think part of his legacy is the mystery behind the man. Not one for conversation, he speaks neither Thai nor English and is incredibly timid although we've established he is from Myanmar.

Back to the important part, his pancakes are a delicious bargain at 9 baht (around 20p) each made fresh on the peddle-kitchen, smothered in sugar and butter.  

Mr Pancake Man, I salute you and your sinfully sweet goodies.

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There are, of course, more issues behind our beloved pancake man than just the deserts he sells.

As a immigrant from Burma, he is unlikely to be short of a tale or two and is probably living and working in the country illegally. Hopefully he is aware that, as recently posted, the Thai government has arranged an amnesty on illegal stayers until early next year.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Curious about Thailand? Check out Thai blogs

My move to Thailand was relatively straight forward as The Missus is Thai, yet, being the inquisitive type, I searched the web for information about aspects the life I was likely to find in Thailand. My first point of call, courtesy of Google, was Thai Visa - probably the most popular Thai forum on the web.

Where to surf before you fly?

I'm not alone in doing so, anyone curious about life in a foreign land will hit the web, type in a few key words and let Google do the rest. When the country in question is Thailand, Thai Visa strong SEO position brings in a lot of traffic, and with it eyeballs intent of learning about life in the Land Of Smiles (LOS).

To the information seeker, Thai Visa appears to have it all. Years of content rich with information of life in LOS and a web board to prize advice and answers from foreigners already living the life in Thailand.

The perfect resource? Well actually, no.

Shortly after moving to Thailand and gaining my own insight into life here, I fully understood the dynamic of Thai Visa in more detail.

Undoubtedly it has its uses (notably advice for administrative processes, which can be complicated in a land where English is not the first language) but all too often the 'insight' from Thai-based expats is vitriolic and heavily biased. Posts which discuss topics such as Thai women, the immigration system, police, education paint a less than rosy picture and suggest Thailand may not be the type of life aspiring expats seek.

A land of temples awaits...

It saddens me to think that people are using Thai Visa to form opinions of Thailand, you can cut out the cynicism, arguing, half full glasses and bullshit but reading genuine accounts of Thai life in the blogosphere (where the blogs live).

First port of call should be FrogBlog Thaidings, an excellent blog from Peter Garwood, a Brit who divides his time between work in France and a fiancee and baby daughter in Chiang Mai.

Pete's just written a comprehensive post on the subject of expat life in Thailand focusing on, amongst many things, the population destinations foreigners move to. A great read for anyone contemplating a move.
Pete's post lists a number of other Thai blogs (see blogroll to left of page for mine) all of which link to other Thai blogs. From these links you can build a comprehensive list of blogs which collectively provide insight on just about any aspect of life as an expat in Thailand.

And if you're on Twitter, check out my list of recommended Thai-based users.

The information is out there, don't rely on Thai Visa to give it to you.

Update: all forums are not evil, a couple recommendations from a recent commenter (Peter Garwood again, who else?) are Teak Door and Expat Forum.

Other Thai blogs can be found at Expat Blog, under the Thailand category.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Much ado about crossing

There's been a fair amount of hoo-ing and ha-ing about Thailand's latest measure to regulate foreign nationals entering the country.

Foreign nationals who enter the country by foot at border crossings are granted a 15 day visa. Previously there was no limit on the number of consecutive entries possible, however under new legislation, enforced from today, four consecutive re-entries (a total stay of 60 days) is the maximum number possible.

After 60 days of short-term visas, the traveller is only permitted to re-enter the country on a plane - which will grant an automatic 30 day visa.

As usual, the biggest moaners on Thai Visa have kicked off with arguments that Thailand is mistreating residing farangs and tourists. 

Anyone with any experience of living in Thailand can tell you this isn't the case.

The 15 day visa is pretty obsolete to anyone, be they traveller or expat [unless changing from a 3 month to a permanent stay - see below for more]. There are many other options with less hassle, reduced costs and, ultimately, a longer stay.

It seems likely that the 15 day visa will die its death very soon. It is little more than a reduced remnant of days gone when expats could stay in the country making unlimited 30 day border runs.

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Off the top of my head here is a list of different visas available to long and short term visitors to Thailand. Please feel free to highlight any others I may have missed out.

Permanent Residents

Anyone residing in Thailand on 15 days visas is a few coconuts short of a tree. Apart from the hassle, and expense, of commuting to the border every two weeks there are a number of relatively hassle-free options including:

- Work permit: one year stay through employment, must report to immigration office every 90 days

- Retirement visa: one year stay based on applicants age (50 years +) and a regular income (I forget the exactly figure which changes year on year)

- One year visa: not entirely sure how this one works but a friend recently shopped his in for a work permit, he'd had it for 2 years with no problems renewing annually.

- Marriage visa: for those married to a Thai national who can show regular income (I believe)

- Child visa: over 50 with a Thai child, there is a clause which allows you to stay for a year, if you can show proof of a regular income (not 100% on the details of this one)


- Holiday makers: those arriving on holiday (no more than a month) by plane need not worry as a passport will receive a 3o day visa when stamped at airport immigration.

- Long stayers: anyone planning on staying longer than a month can (easily) arrange a 3 month visa from a Thai embassy. Different types are available to allow for a variety of stays, including multiple entry/exit.