This is Thailand

 |  August 31, 2009

For those of you with any questions regarding Thailand, Thai culture, history, tourism, laws, rules, food, nightlife, sub-cultures, dating; generally anything as long as it is relevant,
we have a panel of three experts who will respond to your enquiries.

1. I watched a film lately about farang in Thailand – US director I think. Not the staple Thai flick where all farang are giant idiots in fights, but a fairly decent film about young backpacker foreigners getting in trouble here. It was called Elephant King. Do you know any other thoughtful films about foreigners living in Thailand?

A new film that made the Cannes Festival called Soi Cowboy looks interesting. A Brit director – Thomas Clay – who is apparently quite dark and cerebral. Reviews say the film captures the dullness, monotony and depressiveness of some farang stuck in a box condo room with a wife who plays videos games all day and constantly harasses him for sin sot. Aware of the ‘contract’ style relationship his dreams of a utopian Thailand diminish. Nothing new for us, but novel for Cannes. You can find the film on the Cannes website.

Just recently I saw the best Thai film I have ever seen and I recommend it to anyone. The name of the movie is Chang, which means ‘elephant’ in Thai. It is a silent film made in 1927 in a pseudo-documentary style, by the same team that later went on to fame after making the 1933 classic King Kong. It is about Thai villagers who live on the edge of the jungle and was filmed on location in Nan Province. The actors are all real villagers. They do a great job and there are lots of scenes that show traditional village life and also Thai wildlife from 80 years ago. It was a huge hit in New York in 1927 and won many awards including an Academy Award nomination. Take a look at the reviews on You can pick the DVD up from many Bangkok street vendors for about 100 baht.

2. Can I have a retirement visa and still work or volunteer work legally?

The following is part of the definition of a ‘retirement visa’. “This type of visa may be issued to applicants aged 50 years and over who wish to stay in Thailand for a period of not exceeding 1 year without the intention of working . . . If you do any kind of work in Thailand without a work permit (this includes working for money or volunteering) you can be arrested, fined, and even deported.” If you really need to work or feel you must volunteer then go about it the legal way and get the correct visa. You can always reapply for a retirement visa later.

3. Is there such a thing here as fairly good quality cheap wine in Chiang Mai, everything I buy under 500 baht stinks?

In my opinion, a Kookaburra red wine I’ve seen sold in Chiang Mai, only 350 baht, is the best cheap option. It won a few awards in Thailand in the last couple of years, well it got bronze. For those whose wallet is as important as their palette, it’s not too bad. Available at many outlets in Chiang Mai. You may also try Wine Connection at Nim City, they often have cheap wine that isn’t too bad.

4. I just heard Thai tourism revenue numbers have taken their biggest plunge in 49 years! Why? And where can I find statistics?

Why, is the big question. Some think the international economic crisis, some think the political mess here, some think the exchange rate, some think the weekly bad publicity like shoot-outs on Patong beach, airport scams or 100s of refugees being dumped in the ocean, others blame pestilence, tsunamis, pollution . . . the list goes on. Tourism Council of Thailand chairman, Kongkit Hiranyakij said in the Bangkok Post late July that political turmoil was a key factor. These are some numbers I found from the Office of Tourism Development’s website. Grand total of international foreign tourists that entered Thailand:
2008: 14, 536, 318
2007: 14, 464, 228
2006: 13, 821, 802
2005 11, 567, 341
2004 11, 737, 413
2003: 10, 082, 209
2002: 10, 872, 976
1997: 7.22+ million
Monthly stats of foreign tourists entering Thailand 2009 compared to 2008.
Jan 2008: 1, 437, 686
Jan 2009: 1, 267, 029
Feb 2008: 1, 481, 458
Feb 2009: 1, 138, 092
March 2008: 1, 407, 629
March 2009: 1, 237, 507
April 2008: 1, 222, 253
April 2009: 1, 085, 351
May 2008: 1, 172, 310
May 2009: 923, 918
What the BKK Post’s 49 year biggest plunge means is that the yearly expected increase didn’t come, it decreased instead. That means the infrastructure that was designed to accommodate the perceived ‘increased’ numbers is suffering, hence all those empty hotels, laid off staff, etc. Domestic tourists are also a large part of the tourist revenue and people in Thailand are travelling less too.