Poor Circulation - 28,000 miles, 28 Countries, £20 per Day ... and that was just the beginning


In 2008, I finally realised that working in London as a Despatch Rider had lost much of its charm and all of its financial viability ... So I resigned. I sold all of my worldly goods and invested the proceeds in a previously enjoyed Triumph Tiger Motorcycle. With a travelling budget of around £20 per day, I set out from the Ace Cafe in London with the aim of riding around the world.


In November 2008, having completed my first circumnavigation of the globe, 28,000 miles across 28 countries, I returned unharmed to the Ace Cafe in London. That should have been the end of the journey, but it actually marked a new beginning. The world that I’d found beyond the BBC and News Corp wasn’t the world that I’d expected to find. I’d arrived back in London with far more questions than answers. I clearly wasn't ready for the adventure to end, so unburdened by wealth or shackled by property, I engaged first gear and kept on riding



Post 405: Part 3: A Beginner’s Guide to Thailand: 5 Must Do Things in Bangkok

So, you’ve arrived safely in Bangkok, checked into your hotel and discovered the best ways of getting around this amazing city. The next question is: Where to go first? Well, I’ve lived here for quite some time and over the years I’ve visited most of the places that any tourist would ever want to see. Some of those places deliver a better experience than others, but if you’re only here for a few short days, then none of them will disappoint you. Here, I’ll scroll through what I feel are the absolute ’Must See’ attractions of the city, the venues that are guaranteed to leave a lasting and favourable impression. If however, you’re looking for more detail, then send me an email and I’ll help where I can.

1: The Grand Palace

Bangkok's Grand Palace
 
In the Phra Nakhon District of Bangkok, a gentle walk from Khao San Road, you’ll find Bangkok’s most famous landmark: The Grand Palace. It’ll be clearly marked on your map, right at the edge of the Chao Phraya River, and any taxi driver will know how to get you there. However, what most people think of as the Grand Palace, is actually Wat Phra Kaew, or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Palace, and the Wat (Temple) are located in the same complex and the entry ticket, 500 Baht for foreigners and Free for Thais, gives access to both areas.
Wat Phra Kaew - Temple of the Emerald Buddha
 
Despite what the loitering Tuk-Tuk Drivers and Tourist Guides tell you, this complex is never closed to the public. It is open daily, but on normal days the latest time for entry is around 3pm in the afternoon. It is a Temple, so you’ll need to dress appropriately. The general rule is no bare shoulders and legs fully covered down to the ankles. But, if you’ve arrived wearing shorts, don’t worry because just inside the main gates they’ll happily provide you with a sarong, or a pair of long pants, for a reasonable fee. It’s a huge complex with much to see, so allow yourself a few hours to enjoy this place. It will be busy, but take your time to enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to enter the Temple, after removing your shoes of course, and the locals will be happy to guide you in the lighting of candles, the burning of incense sticks and the placement of ceremonial flowers. The entry price includes a small guidebook that will explain the basics of what you need to know about each room and structure, and small information plaques will fill in the blanks. If only have time to visit one site in Bangkok, then this is the one to head for.


2: Wat Saket
Wat Saket - Golden Mount
 
A fifteen minute walk from The Grand Palace and Khao San Road, Wat Saket is better known to tourists as Golden Mount. Just look upwards and you’ll see a huge hill crowned by a golden chedi, that‘s the top of Golden Mount. The hill isn’t a natural feature, it’s made entirely by man, but the guidebooks will give you all of the history you’ll need. Once again, it’s a temple, so you’ll need to dress appropriately. Grab a bottle of cold water, climb the steps towards the summit, ring the multitude of bells as you go and feel free to chat with any monks that you meet. I love this place, it’s always a lot quieter than Wat Phra Kaew, the views from the summit are stunning and the monks are some of the friendliest that you’ll ever meet. Don’t be afraid of them, they genuinely appreciate your interest and the opportunity to practice their English.
The Summit of Wat Saket
 
At the base of the golden chedi, the tall round pillar that is said to contain a relic of Lord Buddha, feel free to kneel down and pray. It really doesn’t matter what religion you follow, or if like me you have no religion at all, it’s just something that you’ve probably never done before, but something that might stay with you forever. Many tourists are nervous, but providing you’re respectful of your surroundings, people will be on hand to guide you.


3: Chat u Chak Weekend Market
Entrance to Chat u Chak Weekend Market
 
If you’re in Bangkok on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, then a trip to Chat u Chak Weekend Market is an absolute must. Chat u Chak is often spelled Jat u JaK, even on the official signs, but that’s just the start of the confusion. This is the worlds largest permanent market and as such, should be highly placed on everyone’s bucket list. A few short years ago, you’d come to Chat u Chak Market and Thai’s would outnumber Westerners 100 to 1, but Chat u Chak is now firmly on the tourist-trail and the numbers have certainly evened out. As a result, the authorities have cleaned the place up, the fake Rolex watches and caged animals have gone and the experience is all the better for it.

To get there, you simply take the BTS to Mo Chit Station and then follow the flow of people across the walkway and down the stairs. It’s hot, it’s crowded and it’s amazingly random, but it’s an experience that no tourist should miss.
Chat u Chak Map
 
The market is divided into two main sections, the inner and outer triangles on the map. These triangles are separated by an open Walking Street: Kamphaengphet Road. Start by walking left or right, it really doesn’t matter which direction you choose, and just keep on browsing until you return to your original starting point. Along the way you’ll find kiosks selling everything that anybody could ever possibly need, and all at reasonable prices. Along this walking street you’ll also find the food vendors and beer bars. Street food of every variety is cooked to order in front of you and if you need to rest your weary feet before attacking the inner triangle, then grab a stool and a cold beer or soda at any of the busy bars.

The inner triangle is a warren of tight alleys, hot sweaty and crowded. At busy times, which is just about anytime, the masses of people around you will dictate which direction you travel in. If you see anything that you’d like to buy, then buy it when you see it. Don’t make the mistake of making a mental note to return, because although every kiosk has an address written above the store, you’ll probably never find it again. You have the usual array of mass-produced goods; tee shirts, shoes, bags, crockery, army surplus, jeans, jewellery, phone accessories, trinkets etc., but you’ll also find stalls selling artistic one-off products that are generally reasonably priced and Thai artefacts that are generally not. The things that pique your interest may be genuine, but this is Thailand, so buyer beware.
Chat u Chak Outer Triangle
 
As the sun sets, the inner market begins to close down and the younger trendy Thai crowd migrate to the outer triangle at areas 3 through 6 on the map. This area is fashion heaven, but as a Westerner, if you’re anything larger than ’Average’ in size, then you might struggle to find anything suited to your frame. The exodus towards this trendy fashion street is usually my cue to leave the market, but if you’ve bought anything that you’d like to ship back to your home, then there are several outlets, DHL etc., who’ll help you with door-to-door shipping.

Chat u Chak Weekend Market can sometimes feel like a good work-out, but the investment of energy is worth it. It’s an experience that you’ll never forget and all future markets will seem tame by comparison. Well, almost all other markets.


4: Chat u Chak Green Weekend Night Market 
Entrance to Chat u Chak Green Weekend Night Market
 
Three years ago, this weekend market migrated from Lad Phrao to it’s new location behind Chat u Chak Park. Back then it was Bangkok’s best kept secret and my favourite place in Thailand. However, in the last twelve months things have changed quite dramatically. Young fashionable Thai’s have discovered this place and taken it to their hearts. It is without doubt the coolest market in all of Asia, perhaps the world, and while you’ll probably still be the only Westerner here, you’ll certainly never feel lonely.

To find Chat u Chak Green, come out of Chat u Chak Market, keep the market perimeter to your left and Chat u Chak Park to your right, and just keep walking down the road. The entrance to Chat u Chak Green Market will open up on your left, so just take a deep breath, take your partners hand in a firm grip, wander inside and enjoy the eclectic experience.

The market is divided into two distinctive parts, permanent stores at the rear and pop-up stalls to your right. I always start with the pop-ups, and if I need anything for the SuperCub C90; whitewall tyres, pimped-out 72 spoke rims or a replacement indicator cover, then this is where I‘ll find it. It’s part trendy Auto-Jumble, part Hollywood Memorabilia and part 70’s Kitsch. Everything you never really needed is here; movie props, old advertising signs the size of your house, iconic posters, vinyl records, 1920’s barbers chairs, vintage clothes and giant WWII search lights. If Chat u Chak Green doesn’t have what you were never looking for, then you’re probably walking around with your eyes closed. This is a ’Holy Shit’ kind of market, a place where you actually need nothing but want to buy everything. But, don’t expect to grab yourself the bargain of the century here. Sure, the clothes and trinkets are reasonably priced, but when it comes to genuine collectables, the Thai’s understand not only the price, but also the true value of everything. Chat u Chak Green Market isn’t cheap, but that’s not the reason that you’re going there.
Some of Chat u Chak Green's Eclectic Merchandise
 
After browsing the pop-ups, follow the sound of music and move towards the rear of the market. Here you’ll find trendy clothes, modern one-offs and genuine vintage, and a wide range of music bars and eateries. This place is more than alive, it’s positively buzzing with energy. And the people here, well, they’re just visually beautiful, it’s as if they‘ve been sprinkled with handsome-dust and released into the night. They must have Beauty Police on the entrance, and I somehow manage to sneak passed them without being noticed. This must be the liveliest open-air venue in Thailand. For Bangkok’s trendy hipsters it’s the place to be seen, and despite that, I absolutely love it. Do yourself a favour, sit down in a converted oil drum chair and listening to the live music. Grab yourself a cold beer and a genuine bowl of Pad Thai, and just watch the world walk by you.

5: Baiyoke Tower II    
Bangkok's Baiyoke Towe II
 
In the Ratchathewi district of Bangkok, close to Platinum Mall, you’ll find Thailand‘s tallest building. At 1,000 feet tall and with 85 floors, Baiyoke Tower II provides the most amazing viewing platform for Bangkok. It’ll cost 500 Baht to visit the rotating observation deck, but if you enjoy watching sunsets over amazing cityscapes, then this is certainly the place to do it.
View from the rotating Observation Platform
 
Arrive before sunset and remember to bring your camera, and if you have one, a tripod. Spend an hour or two slowly rotating high above Bangkok watching the cityscape transform as darkness descends. There’s a bar and restaurant close to the viewing platform, but there are certainly better roof-top dining venues in the city. No, don’t come here to eat or drink, just come to experience the amazing views. 500 Baht will buy a lot of food and beer in Bangkok, but a viewing experience like this is absolutely priceless.

.... Bangkok is a city of 14 million people, one of the most visited capital cities in the world, it has the richest of cultures and I’ve only mentioned five different attractions. Of course, there’s so much more to see and do here, but I’ve only listed the essentials. Provided you arrive here with an open outlook, then you can’t fail to enjoy yourself and create memories that will stay with you for life.

Post 404: Part 2: A Beginner’s Guide to Thailand: Getting Around in Bangkok

So, you’ve arrived safely at your accommodation, the room and hotel aren’t quite what you’d seen in the photographs, but let’s face it, you’re only paying £20 a night and have you seen what £100 a night will buy you in London or New York these days?

The first task, is to get a map of Bangkok and find out where you are in relation to what you want to see. Most maps of the city are free, they’ll give them away in reception, but you’ll have to work your way around the array of misleading adverts in order to pick out any of the details. You’re probably staying somewhere around the Silom or Sukhumvit Road areas, or if younger, then maybe even Khao San Road. Wherever you are, you’ll have lots of transport options available.

1: Taxi Bikes
For short trips, less than a mile, hop onto a Taxi Bike and you’ll get there quickly, and usually still in one piece. They’re actually quite safe, crashing is bad for business, but please, ask for the crash helmet and fasten the damned thing properly. Depending on the length of the journey, most trips will cost 20-40 Baht, or outside of the tourist districts, 10-20 Baht. Just look for a group of guys on a street corner wearing matching jackets, they’ll be more than happy to help you.

2: BTS Sky Train
Bangkok has a Sky Train, or ’BTS’ as they call it here. It’s like the Tube in London, except it’s above the ground and it actually works quite well. Check on your map and find a station close to where you want to visit. The BTS is easy to use and all of the announcements and signs rather helpfully employ both Thai and English. Arriving at your nearest station, change your 100 Baht note into 10 Baht coins at the glass window - just look for the queue of people and that’ll be the window you’re looking for. Then at the ticket machine - look for the other queue of people - identify the price for a ticket to your destination, press that number button, insert your coins and the ticket will magically appear. Then, just follow the signs to the platform, jump on the train and listen for the various announcements: ‘Suparni thor pai Ari - Next station Ari‘. If the BTS station is a mile from your final destination, then let a Taxi Bike take you the rest of the way. Or, be brave and walk there. If you get lost, everybody you pass will be willing to help you, in fact, they’ll see it as an honour to assist. The maximum one-way ticket price on BTS is currently, I think, is 50 Baht ($1.50).

Now, if you’re staying around the Khao San Road area, quite possibly the most ’unThai’ street in Thailand, then the second piece of bad news is that you’re miles away from the nearest BTS Station. However, you’re fairly close the Chao Phraya River. The river cuts through Bangkok and is dotted with ferry stations. To get to the nearest BTS station, just jump on a big ferry, 5 Baht, and jump off at Saphan Thaksin. From there, it’s about 100 yards to the BTS Station, appropriately named, Saphan Thaksin.

 
3: Metre Taxis
 


All around Bangkok you’ll see brightly coloured Toyota Corollas; pink, yellow, green etc. These taxis are very reasonably priced. However, make sure the driver uses the metre and understands exactly where you want to go. If a driver refuses to turn on the metre, then make sure that you agree a firm and fixed price before setting off. Taxi drivers will generally know the major destinations and landmarks but they’ll often struggle with small hotels and private addresses in distant districts. Unlike in London, taxi drivers here in Bangkok don’t study the ’knowledge’. So, if you’re going out drinking for the night, and you’re staying in an obscure place, then it’s advisable to carry a card from your hotel or guest house with you. Just hand it to the taxi driver and they’ll get you home safely.

4: River & Canal Boats
 
I mentioned the big Ferry Boats plying their trade on the Chao Phraya River, but Bangkok also has a million smaller canals, called ‘klongs’. Navigating the main river is relatively easy, and although journeys are slow, they’re cheap and show you parts of the city that you‘ll never see from the streets. On the klongs however, navigation is more difficult and even now, I tend to get horribly lost, usually by jumping on a boat that’s heading in the wrong direction. But, to be honest, getting lost in Bangkok is fun and at these prices, not too expensive.

5: Tuk Tuks
 

Tuk-Tuk’s, where to begin? I understand, you’re in Bangkok for the first time and the image of a tuk-tuk is so iconic that you simply have to ride in one. Actually, they are fun, but be warned, every tuk-tuk driver who’s willing to carry you anywhere is also looking for a payday. Flag one down, or find one at the side of the street, give the driver your destination and set a firm price. Whatever happens, don’t allow the driver to make a detour to a Gem Store, his brother’s Tailors Shop or any other place that you really don’t want to visit. The price you pay will be more than the price of a taxi, but provided the driver goes only where you’ve initially asked him to take you, the journey will also be more memorable. 

6: Local Buses
I’m assuming that you won’t be trying to drive yourself around Bangkok in a rental car, but if you are, then good luck with that, it ain’t easy. That leaves three other major forms of transport in the city; Baht Buses, Public Buses and Mini Vans. Baht Buses, or Songthaew, are little more than Isuzu pick-up trucks with benches in the back and a canopy above. You’ll probably never see them in the heart of Bangkok, and if you do you’ll have absolutely no idea where they’re going to take you. So for all but the most adventuous of tourists, they‘re probably best avoided. Public Buses, these are the Flintstonesque charabancs with loose wheels, open windows and belching black smoke form their exhausts. They’re cheap, and you'll see them in central areas of the city, but unless you can read and speak Thai, then you‘ll never know where the hell you‘re going. 
 
That just leaves the Mini Van, the silver or white 15-seat Toyota’s that fly along the road at twice the speed of sound. They’re cheap, and if you know where you’re going then they’re amazingly practical, but, they’re also ever so slightly dangerous. Thai’s use Mini Vans all the time, for both long and short journeys, but most Thai’s are Buddhist and have several future lives to look forward to. You on the other hand, probably only have this one life to enjoy. So, enjoy you’re time in Bangkok and please, avoid the Mini Van.

Post 403: Part 1: A Beginner's Guide to Thailand: Arrival

Recently, yesterday in fact, a friend sent me a text message. In January, he and his new wife would be travelling to Thailand on their honeymoon, with a limited budget, and could I possibly give them some advice?
I get a lot of requests like this, different circumstance and different countries, but when ‘Thailand’ and ‘Limited Budget’ are mentioned, I feel better qualified to respond. The posts that follow are not specifically designed for my friend, but more a ‘General’ overview of arriving, staying and then leaving Thailand, the must do and the must avoid in the amazing Land of Smiles.
There’s no delicate way to say this, so I’ll be blunt. If anybody reading this is considering coming to Thailand for a Sexcation, then go look at some other person’s blog, because you won’t find what you’re looking for here. On second thoughts, go look at Craig’s List and save yourself the cost of the airfare.

Now, for those who’re still reading, I’ll assume that you’ve never been to Thailand before and that you’ll be flying from your home country into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. If your from the USA, UK, European Union and several other countries, a list is available on your local Thai Embassy website, then on arrival in Thailand you’ll receive a 30-Day Visa Exemption stamp in your passport. If you intend to stay for longer than 30 days, or you’re from a country not on the Visa Exemption list, then you’ll need to obtain a visa before travelling here. However, in every case, at airline check-in you’ll need to show an onward or return ticket out of Thailand that shows you leaving the Kingdom prior to the end date of your official stay. If not, there’s a very high chance that the airline won’t let you board the flight.   

So far so good. On the final or only leg of your flight to Thailand, the cabin crew will provide you with, and ask you to complete, a basic immigration form, a TM6. Name, passport number, date of issue, address in Thailand etc. If you have a visa, then enter the visa number, but if you’re using Visa Exemption, just leave that box empty. 
 
It’s all basic stuff, and after landing you’ll take this form and your passport to the immigration arrivals hall which is well signposted. For smokers, on the walk - it's actually mostly horizontal escalator - between your arrival gate and the immigration hall, you’ll pass at least two small smoking rooms; important for some, not for others.

Immigration should be a breeze, smile, be polite and look into the camera when asked to do so. With your passport stamped, you’re now officially in Thailand and you’ll walk forward to the carousel and wait for your bags to arrive. If I need local currency, the Thai Baht, then this is where I first buy it. NEVER change your money at a British or American Airport, you’ll get a much better rate, +20%, if you change it on arrival in Thailand. However, if you’re bringing cash notes in $ or £, then make sure they’re in good condition, no tears of fading, otherwise most places in Thailand will refuse to accept them.
With your bags collected, wander through the correct customs channel and you’ll emerge in the arrivals area of one of the world’s finest airports. Taxi touts may be plying for your business, but please, for the love of all that is good, just smile and ignore them. Turn to your right following the overhead graphic sign for a Taxi and take the escalator down to ground level. At the end of the escalator, walk out of the closest exit on your left and then turn to your right. Before you will be the official taxi ranks and an assistant will ask for your destination. Hotel X Street Y. The assistant will give you a ticket and a taxi number. Walk to the appropriate taxi, load your bags and climb aboard. The driver will switch on the metre, which starts at 35 Baht ($1), and he’ll confirm your destination: Hotel X on Street Y? He’ll then ask if you want to use the ’Motorway?’. If he suggests it, then just say ’Yes’ and hand him 100 Baht ($3). Bangkok traffic can be horrendous and your driver spends his or her life circumnavigating the city, so go along with their judgement.
Now, I don’t want to worry you unduly, but when it comes to the world rankings of road deaths per capita, Thailand is second only to Namibia. I’ve never been to Namibia, but I’ve travelled thousands of miles across Thailand and along the way I’ve learned a few valuable lessons. If you feel that your Taxi is travelling too quickly for the conditions, then don’t be afraid to say something to the driver. But, be very careful how you say it. Don’t criticise their driving, because no matter how bad it actually is they’ll probably take offence and the results could be unpredictable. Instead, you might want to gently suggest that you’re enjoying the view of Bangkok’s skyline, it is beautiful especially at night, and that a lower speed would allow you to take in more of the details. He’ll slow down, because now he’s not being insulted but he’s doing his customers a great favour. If you haven’t been to Asia before, then this is your introduction to ‘Face’. Don’t worry, you’ll work it out.

Anyway, let’s assume that you’re staying in Central Bangkok and arrive safely at your intended destination. Motorway Tolls will be around 100 Baht ($1) and the price on the taxi’s metre will be less than 300 Baht ($10). That’s not bad for a 20 mile journey into the heart of a city where fuel and vehicles cost more than they do in New York. So, if your driver’s been polite, and safe, then give them a reasonable tip and say thank you… ’Kob Koon Kap’ (if you’re male), ‘Kob koon Ka‘ (If you‘re female). I usually tip 20%.

On arrival at your hotel or guest house, the receptionist will make a photocopy of the information page and entry stamp in your passport. Your passport will then be returned to you, so please keep it safe. If you’ve booked your room using a website; Expedia, Agoda or Asia Rooms etc., then having a printout of the reservation, or a photograph of the conformation on your phone, is always useful. Also, as you’re technically supposed to carry your passport with you at all times, but at certain times that might not be convenient, I generally ask the receptionist to make double copies of the pages, one set for them and one set for me to carry. Generally they’re happy to do this, but a genuine smile and a generous ‘thank you’ will usually get you everything you need here.

You’re now in Thailand…. Enjoy your stay.

Post 402: Thailand. Is the Land of Smiles losing its lustre?



For as long as I’ve been travelling, the holiday destination most likely to provide complete satisfaction, has been Thailand. Other places were generally good, but no matter what your nationality, age, sex or budget, when it came to providing complete satisfaction, and that’s not a metaphor, Thailand was always a nailed-on certainty. However, times and cultures are changing, other destinations are rising and Thailand, for many reasons, is losing some of its lustre. Tourism and Agriculture are mainstays of the Thai economy, but agriculture has faced recent challenges and the income from tourists is falling. Economically, Thailand is hurting.   
Shortly before leaving California, the Tourist Authority of Thailand embarked on a campaign designed to restore confidence in Thailand as a first-choice destination for travellers. I suspect that six months of political unrest, followed by the introduction of martial law and then a military takeover of government has done little to improve Thailand’s image. I can't remember the pithy strap-line that TAT employed in their latest campaign, but given other recent events in the famous Land of Smiles, the fall of a government and subsequent rise of the military was probably the least of their recent challenges.
 
For tourism in Thailand, 2014 hasn't been a good year. On the island of Koh Tao, the brutal murder of young British travellers Hannah Wetheridge and David Miller, and the subsequent investigation by the Royal Thai Police (RTP), has been well documented around the world. In the eight weeks since the horrific murder, there has been much speculation regarding the effectiveness of the investigation carried out by the RTP. I know nothing about detective work, and I certainly don’t watch CSI on the television, so unlike many others, I don't intend to play armchair detective here. But, I will point out a subtle but important difference between police investigations in Thailand and Great Britain. In the UK, the police are very selective when publically releasing information about on on-going investigation, but here in Thailand, the opposite is true. The more horrendous the crime, the greater the opportunity for officials to have their faces, and personal thoughts, aired on national television before 65 million people. Within hours of Hannah and David's bodies being discovered, a senior officer on the investigation announced that the assault had been so violent that it couldn’t possibly have been carried out by Thais. Thais it would seem, had been immediately eliminated from the investigation. As an observer, it also seems that here in Thailand, those officials tasked with investigating crimes develope an early theory on a solution to a case and then search for the evidence to support it.
Two undocumented migrant workers from neighbouring Myanmar have now apparently confessed to murdering Hannah and David and are currently in police custody awaiting trial. If found guilty by the judge, Thailand does not have trial by jury, these two young men could be sentenced to death. I've seen no evidence, so I won't speculate on their innocence or guilt, but many observers seem to think that the two boys in custody are simply scapegoats, patsies taking the fall for a crime committed by others. Time, and further investigation, will hopefully reveal the truth and provide justice for all. 




(Hannah & David, RIP) 
On the 31st December 2013, I chose to welcome in the New Year with friends in the rural village of Ban Noen Kum. I was the only person waiting for 2014 to arrive, everybody else was Thai and they were waiting to welcome 2557. It's complicated, but you gradually get used to it when you live here. At the same time, a thousand kilometres to the south on the island of Koh Tao, Nick Pearson celebrated the New Year with his parents and elder brother. On the first morning of 2014, Nick’s parents woke to the horrific news that in the early hours of the morning, their 25 year old son had fallen 50ft down a cliff and drowned in the ocean below. The local police quickly concluded that Nick’s death had been a tragic accident, closed the case and the incident received little lasting coverage in the media. Nick’s parents were unconvinced by the handling of the case, the lack of investigation and the untested conclusion that the police had seemingly reached so quickly. But the police, and certain local interested parties, had apparently been insistent that Nick's death was nothing more than a tragic accident that his parents ought to accept.
On returning to their home in Derby, Nick’s parents spoke openly, and on the record, about the tragedy and declared their dissatisfaction with the local handling of the case on Koh Tao. It now seems that certain local parties and places mentioned by the Pearson family at that time, have also been mentioned in relation to the Hannah and David case. However, Koh Tao is a small island, and such coincidences may simply be that, coincidences. In December, an independent inquest into Nick’s tragic death will be opened in England. Once again, time I hope, will reveal the truth.
(Nick Pearson RIP)
August 20th 2014, on the island of Koh Samui, just a short hop from Koh Tao, 46 year old local bar owner Schwartges Volker was leaving a popular nightclub on Chaeweng Beach with his girlfriend. In the car park of the nightclub, a group of Thai youths were sitting on Schwartges motorcycle drinking beer. He asked them to move on, but they refused and an argument quickly transformed into a brutal attack. Schwartges Volker died from stab wounds received in the attack. Fortunately there were several witnesses to the attack, the incident had been captured on CCTV and the police quickly tracked down the suspects. The youths aged between 15 and 17, sons of local families, confessed to the murder and handed the murder weapon to investigators. Case solved? Apparently not.

Today, 18th November 2014, those same youths are due to be released from custody without charge. Apparently, due to the retraction of witness statements, it seems that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute the youths for the crime to which they’d already confessed.

(Schweartges Volker RIP)  

In the early hours of 15h November 2014, a man identified only as Michael S, a 25 year old German language teacher, was sitting with two friends at the public park in Udon Thani. At the same time, three Thai youths who’d spent much of the night drinking beer, were roaming the area on their scooters. The young Thai’s had with them a garden hoe, a similar weapon to that used in the brutal murder of Hannah and David on Koh Tao. Without any provocation, the youths attacked the young man and his friends.
While the young man remains in critical condition on ICU, the police have found and arrested the three youths, aged between 17 and 18. According to the senior police spokesman, the youths had seen the German sitting in the park and simply ’dared each other to imitate the murders of the two British backpackers on the island of Koh Tao’. According to the Khao Sod English news agency, at the press conference the police colonel then stated that ’this action is a typical case of youth recklessness’.    

  "A typical case of youth recklesness". I’m not sure that the police colonel’s choice of words is appropriate, or perhaps it’s the translation that’s misleading, but Thailand is certainly becoming more violent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Thailand is any more violent than other places, it’s just that all places seem to becoming more violent these days.
 
(Two suspects in the Michael S. assault) 

When I first came to Thailand in 1987, I began reading the Nite Owl column in what is now the Bangkok Post. Nite Owl was, and hopfully still is, an American character by the name of Bernard Trink, a journalist who’d moved to Thailand in the early 1960’s. In Trink’s weekly multi-page articles, he often reported on the darker underbelly of Thai society; prostitution, pimps, drugs, organised crime, extortion, corruption, gangland feuds and random acts of violence. At the time, much of what Trink mentioned went unreported in the English speaking media, but those were pre-internet days, a time long before social media could send bad news viral in a matter of hours. Trink went on to become a legend here in Thailand, and while I disagreed with much of what he said at the time, his columns were often hilarious and I loved the way that he said it. Reading those same articles today, many of which are still available in the archives of the Bangkok Post, suggests that violence and crimes, particualrly those perpetrated against Westerners, is far from a new phenomena in Thailand. 
 
(The legend that is Nite Owl aka Bernard Trink) 
 
By choice, I now live part of each year here in Thailand, a volunteer with the ability to relocate at any time. Aside from some minor petty incidents with authority, and the odd local eccentric, my time here here has been positivie and trouble free. However, in recent times I’ve become much more aware of how my actions and words might be interpreted by others. I’m not saying that I’ve changed my ways because of an increasing fear of violence, I’m just more inclined to think for a few seconds before I speak, especially when something is angering me. In the past, an angry Thai might be inclined to punch my lights out, but today, he or she is just as likely to reach for a knife or a gun. That, unfortunately, is not perculiar to Thailand, but more a reflection of how this whole world is changing.




For anybody considering visting Thailand, I'd certainly encourage them to come and enjoy the experience. My only advice is to be sensible, to learn a little about the culture before you arrive, what to do and what not to do, to avoid confrontation and to smile and walk away from any situation that makes you feel uneasy. Sure, there are certain things that should be avoided here, like renting a Jest Ski on any beach or taking a Tuk-Tuk in Bangkok, but aside from that, just arrive, relax and enjoy your time here. Every year across the world, tourists and expatriates will be conned, be assaulted and in very rare cases murdered, but when it happens in a Kingdom as seemingly gentle as Thailand, the tragedies seem to be amplified.
To steal Nite Owl's now famous closing quotation:     TiT - This is Thailand.


Post 401: Returning to Thailand - Posted 16th November 2014

All in all, it’s been one of the finest summers on record...
 
I’ve spent almost six months, months of uninterrupted sunshine, writing and relaxing in the redwood hills above Boonville, Northern California. I could tell you all about it, the endless social events and the carefree rides on the KLR650 to the coast and up into the hills of Mendocino County, but I won’t. That’s because you probably already hate me and adding fuel to the fires of envy, well, that would do little to improve our relationship. 
So, as October began fading into history, Virgin Atlantic whisked me painlessly out of San Francisco, and eleven sleepless hours later, deposited me at London’s Heathrow Airport. My mission in England was simple, I had a full week to complete a few simple tasks, but the more I travel the more elusive ‘Simple’ seems to have become. 
Every page of my three-year-old passport was full, no more room for visas and stamps, so I’d made an appointment to obtain a speedy replacement at the UK Passport Office in Eccleston Square SW1. To be honest, over the years I’d lost a certain amount of confidence in government bureaucracy,  all governments, but aside from a few issues with my passport photographs, which were in turn too big, too small and too shadowy, the UK Passport Office did exactly what they said they’d do. Four hours and six happy-hour pints of lager after presenting my application form and existing passport, I returned to the office and collected a shiny new 45-Page version.
With my faith in government bureaucracy partially restored, my second task was to obtain a new double-entry 60-Day Tourist Visa from the Thai Embassy on Queen’s Gate SW7.  Since leaving Thailand in April, certain things in the Land of Smiles had changed. The government was now a military concern, martial law was still in place and the new General at the helm had announced a serious crack-down on tourists staying in the Kingdom for far longer than would be expected of normal tourists. The Thailand Forums on the internet had been awash with horror stories of people being denied entry, and when applying for my last visa in Vientiane, a Thai official had placed a cautionary stamp in my passport.  I do tend to worry about things like that, probably because I’m lucky enough to have very little else to worry about, but such things do concern me. Needless to say, I’d once again been worrying about nothing. After less than three minutes of waiting in the Thai Embassy, I’d handed over my single-sided application form and two correctly sized photographs, paid my £20 and was asked to return the following day to collect my passport and visa.   
 
The weekend was spent in Braintree Essex, a little precious time with my daughter and too much time making arrangements for the future storage of the Triumph Tiger. I should sell the damned thing, I’ll probably never use it again and it just stands outside collecting years and rust. But, I guess that after so many miles and countries together, we’ve become sentimentally attached and I just can’t bring myself part with it. One day I’ll do something about it, but in the meantime it’s going to live in Norfolk, a vacation by the sea. In the coming week, SilverX Motorcycles in Braintree will collect it from its current home and store it until A2B Motorcycle Transport can move it to its new home in Wells-Next-The-Sea. On the face of it, this should be a simple process, but when the movements take place I’ll be several thousand miles away in Southeast Asia. What could possibly go wrong?

 
The last time I flew with British Airways, it was ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’ and Margaret Thatcher was slightly miffed about the recently introduced international emblems displayed on the tails of the fleet.  That was several years ago, but when I’d purchased the return ticket to Bangkok, British Airways had been the cheapest carrier available. Arriving at Terminal 5 in good time for my flight, not because I was well organised, but because the reasonably priced hotel I’d been staying in had a very unreasonable check-out time, the smiling assistant at the check-in desk had asked me if I’d be prepared to delay my departure until the following day. ‘Let me think about that’ was my initial response.  Nowadays, you seldom board a flight with empty seats, and in order to maximise capacity, airlines overbook their busy flights. Statistically speaking, they know that a certain percentage of passengers will fail to arrive for the flight, but if everybody with a ticket actually turns up to check-in, I guess that the shit hits the fan. To cut a long story short, British Airways offered me £492 to relinquish my seat on that day’s flight. To put this into perspective, £492 is almost as much as I’d paid for the original ticket and was slightly more than my maximum monthly budget when I’m living in Southeast Asia. Foolishly, the ‘worrier’ in me took a few minutes to look for the catch. Delay for 24 hours and receive one month of living expenses? It was a perfect no-brainer, but sadly, my thought process took too many valuable minutes and during that time, a group of happy-back-packers had accepted the deal. Opportunity closed, revert to Plan A. 

British Airways no longer claim to be ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’, but judging from this experience, I have to say that they’re still pretty damned good. The 12-hour flight was painless, but once again sleepless, and I arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport exactly on time. With my TM7 landing card completed, and with a shiny new passport to present to the officer, Thai immigration was a breeze.  Walking through the Green Channel dragging my 20Kg world behind me I’d officially returned to Thailand, but in my absence, how had Thailand changed?                      

Post 400: 'Homeward Bound' Poor Circulation II ... Posted July 30th 2014

This morning we left an old and dear friend behind us. We turned our backs on the Pacific Coast Highway and turned inland on Highway 128: ‘Boonville 25 Miles’. It’s a sweetly paved ribbon of road that’s bordered on both sides by giant redwoods. They’re the tallest trees that I’ve ever seen and quite possibly, the oldest too. They look like a ceremonial guard, pencil-straight with dark red tunics and pointed green helmets, proudly standing to attention and welcoming us into California’s Anderson Valley. With the constant twisting of the asphalt beneath our wheels and the sweet heavy scent of the early morning forest, the dappled shade from the giant trees and the total absence of traffic, we’re discovering another valid contender for the world’s best motorcycling road. It’s another road that I never want to end, but sadly, that desire for infinity has little to do with its beauty or suitability for motorcycles.  
BOONVIILLE A Novel by Robert Mailer Anderson. Most books that I’ve read have had little to do with the reality of my life. They’ve generally been works of fiction, stories set in times and places that were a thousand years, or a thousand miles, away from me. But, this book was different and it’s proximity had disturbed me. After turning the final page, I’d returned to Amazon and found myself agreeing with exactly half of the reviews. I’d found five stars and one star, love and hate with absolutely nothing in the middle. If novels were food then Anderson had written the literary equivalent of Marmite. Anderson’s BOONVILLE is a small community of seven-hundred and fifteen ill-sorted souls in Northern California; peace loving hippies, gun loving rednecks and self-exiled Mexicans who’d possibly avoided the official count. The novel had introduced me to a disparate cocktail of humanity, on-third depression and two-thirds insanity, shaken for decades before being gently stirred and violently kicked into an unwelcoming twenty-first century. BOONVILLE was a town that had once been dominated by hard-drinking loggers, and then by hippies who’d arrived in search of love and togetherness, but discovered marijuana and stayed on in the hills long after the music had ended. Anderson’s writing was almost as quirky as the town, and as edgy as the people he’d portrayed, and long before turning that final page I’d concluded that for any traveller with the luxury of choice, BOONVILLE would be an easy town to avoid. However, on this particular journey, spending a certain amount of time in Boonville was never going to be optional.
I should be enjoying the final few miles of our journey together, but I’m not. My mind’s in a strange place right now, ignoring the beauty of the road and concentrating instead on the darker images of Boonville. They’re images that Mom had failed to mention, that I’d totally missed and that Dad had never had the opportunity to see. I adjust my nearside mirror and get a clearer view of the topbox behind me. Dad’s offering me his most unconvincing smile and Mom’s just telling me not to worry. Their efforts are kind and well meaning, but they’re not really helping. I can already see Anderson’s characters preparing to greet us, rolling their joints and combing their beards, tuning their banjos and liberally greasing the prettiest pigs in town. We’re twenty miles from Boonville and we’ve travelled twenty thousand miles to get here, but I’m mentally unprepared for arrival. I back-off the throttle, slow down the pace and encourage my mind to concentrate on the present.

The road continues to twist but the redwoods gently thin as the bleached golden hills transform into luscious green vineyards: Handley Cellars, Roederer Estate, Husch Winery and Navarro Vineyards, all regimentally green and rustically polished. Between the numerous vineyards, sheep and horses graze in dusty meadows, and in ancient orchards, apples thrive on gnarly trees. Roadside signs, hand painted with lots of love and random apostrophes, announce the sale of fresh organic produce; apples, peaches, pears, figs, olives.  This is clearly an abundant valley with good food, fine wines and more importantly, a soon to be united family. In perfect unison, we bank to the left passing a large wooden house and an invisible cloak of marijuana adds substance to the damp morning air. Life seems to be good around here.

 Five miles short of Boonville, we slow to 30mph for the small town of Philo. The Post Office, Libby’s Mexican Restaurant and Lemon’s Market line one side of the street and on the other, a small gas station and a random cluster of slightly neglected wooden huts. The huts probably act as cheerless homes for migrant workers, Anderson’s uncounted Mexicans, those who toil in the vineyards in the hope of building a brighter future for their families here in land of opportunity. There are perhaps five or six assorted huts and a couple of small single storey houses on either side of the road, but surely insufficient homes to justify this tiny no-horse town having its own bloody Post Office?

In a flash, the town of Philo is behind us and the road ahead begins to straighten. Beyond the eye catching white picket fence of Goldeneye Winery, we begin our final descent into Boonville. Arm doors and cross-check for landing.

www.justgiving.com/geoffgthomas

Post 399: Thailand Democracy RIP? - Posted 29th May 2014


‘A week is a long time in politics’. It appears that in Thailand, a week is also a very long time without politics, or at least without government. Since the military announced a state of martial law on May 20th 2014, closely followed by a coup, it seems that much in the Land of Smiles has changed, including perhaps, my own views on democracy. 
As an individual I firmly believe in democracy, and as a liberal standing somewhere to the left of centre, I firmly believe in freedom of speech, fairness and equality for all citizens. So, after less than two weeks of military leadership in Thailand, why do I now feel that it’s probably the best thing that could have happened here? Don't get me wrong, that's not a personal show of support for military intervention, but a reflection of how bad Thailand's alternatives really were.
A few years ago, I was deeply in love with my latest motorcycle, a BMW R1100SS. Deep red paint with bags of torque and a lusty exhaust note, it was a bike that constantly reminded me of everything that was good about motorcycles. I was working as a motorcycle despatch rider in London, a difficult test for any bike, but that BMW turned every working day into an absolute pleasure. Sadly, a despatch rider’s income and BMW ownership were never an ideal pairing and as the mileage mounted, things started to go wrong. Small things at first; electrical niggles, brake issues, suspension glitches - things that didn’t stop the bike in its tracks but issues that I really ought to have fixed as they arose. But, being amazingly lazy and ever so slightly broke, I decided to ignore them and ride around the problems. Finally the clutch, which had been slipping for weeks, finally gave up on the task of delivering 100bhp to the rear wheel. On many bikes, replacing the clutch is a relatively simple task, but this was a BMW. Off came the exhaust system, the catalytic converter and the rear wheel. Then, out came the sub-frame and the shaft drive assembly, followed by the swing arm and rear suspension unit. Finally, I reached the burned-out clutch and set about replacing it. My journey towards the depths of the BMW's problematic clutch was a journey into the unknown, a true mechanical voyage of discovery. With BMW tools being unique to a BMW, and my own tools being universal to everything but a BMW, the process ended up taking two weeks to complete and during that time, I was forced into using a slightly different mode of transport.   
To non enthusiasts, all motorcycles are recognisable as motorcycles, but as enthusiasts, we know that beneath the visual outer skin, or the identifying symbol on the tank, they’re all amazingly different beasts. Democracy is the same. In Thailand the democratic clutch had burned out and no amount of cursing, kicking tyres or adding fresh oil was ever going to fix it. To the outside world it still looked like a democracy, but in mechanical terms it was absolutely unrideable and the only option was to rebuild it. If Thailand's democratic problems had arisen in Europe, then I'm confident that the courts and media would have done their jobs and called-out the politicians long before things had been allowed to deteriorate that far. But Thailand’s in Asia, a continent where democracy has a certain ‘uniqueness’ and is often seen by politicians as having little, if anything, to do with following the law or abiding by the decisions of the courts. 
For those people following the current reports and editorials in much of the Western media, you’d be forgiven for believing that the ousted government had no sins, and that once elected they'd followed a true path of democratic rule. You’d also be led to believe that democracy in Thailand was now dead, but it’s not, it’s just temporarily off the road and undergoing much needed and long overdue repairs. In two weeks, many good things have happened in Thailand and the military leadership seems to be gaining increasing support from the people, North, South and Central, but the Western media seem to be concentrating only on the negatives. The negatives certainly exist, and small groups, so far, have certainly taken to the streets to show opposition to the coup, but the true feeling within Thailand is far different from the West’s portrayal of it. Of course, most people fundamentally disagree with military intervention in a democratic country, but those living in Thailand are painfully aware of the alternatives. Without intervention by a third party, Thailand was undoubtedly heading for a bloody civil war, and ultimately, secession. If the West had been half as observant and critical of Thailand's elected politicians as it now is about the unelected military, then I firmly believe that the need for military intervention would have been avoided. 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing'. Burke, Aked, Kennedy? There's doubt as to who first uttered this famous sentence, but there's no doubt that it's applicable to Thailand's spiral into democratic immorality.

In time, working democracy and free elections will return to Thailand, and when they do, suspension, engine, electronics, brakes, gearbox and clutch will hopefully all work far better than they ever did before.   

Post 398: Martial Law to Military Coup in Thailand – Posted 23rd May 2014

Within 72 hours of declaring Martial Law, Thailand’s Army Chief, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, has dismissed the caretaker government and placed the military in control of Thailand, another Military Coup in the famous Land of Smiles. Three days ago I said “It’s still early days and I'm not certain if there's a measureable distance between Martial Law and Military Coup, so things may quickly change”. However, I really didn’t expect things to change quite as quickly as they have. So what happened in those 72 hours, and, what made General Prayuth feel the need to take control not only of the Kingdom’s security, but also control of its government? 
On Tuesday, following the imposition of Martial Law, General Prayuth invited all leading political figures to attend a meeting to be hosted at Bangkok’s Army Club. This was the first meeting of all relevant parties since the start of the political unrest seven months ago. The aim of the meeting was to find areas of common ground and compromise between the two main political parties, the governing Pheu Thai Party (PTP) and the opposition Democrat Party, and their supporters, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). After the meeting was adjourned, it was announced that all attendees had been ‘given homework’ and would return on Wednesday to continue their discussions. I suspect that the Generals had noted that recently ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and former executive of Shinawatra Corporation and current Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, had failed to attend the meeting.
On Wednesday, the second meeting began with Yingluck and Niwattumrong still absent. Reports suggest that after having twenty-four hours to consider the situation carefully, the various parties and factions were unable or unwilling to compromise or reach any sort of agreement. Several media channels also reported that governing Pheu Thai Party attendees stated that having discussed the content of the previous day’s meeting with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, they were unable to accept any meaningful electoral reforms until after another election had taken place. The validity of these reports is uncertain, but if General Prayuth had received direct confirmation that Thailand’s Government was indeed taking council and directions from a wanted criminal, a man living in self-imposed exile in order to escape a jail term in his native Thailand, then perhaps he’d considered that any hope of finding a direct political solution to the troubles was gone. Whatever happened, at some point in the meeting Prayuth announced that given the obvious political impasse, and the real threat of an imminent escalation in violence on the streets, the Army would be taking control of Thailand’s Government. After the meeting, representatives of the political parties and their support movements were detained by military police and placed under temporary house arrest. Several of those detained had long outstanding arrest warrants for crimes including, but not limited to, arson, incitement of terrorism, acts of terrorism, and murder. An announcement then called on 150 other officials to report to the Army Club within 24 hours and all international travel for all of the named people was prohibited. The list included the names of Yingluck Shinawatra and Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan. Thailand had just witnessed its thirteenth Military Coup in eighty-five years as a Constitutional Monarchy.
The announcement of Martial Law on Monday was swiftly followed by action. The military quickly uncovered several caches of arms in and around Greater Bangkok. The arms, described as war weapons were confiscated and the owners, mostly pro-government supporters, arrested. New investigations have been ordered into the murder of civilians during the recent political conflict and teams of military police have today confiscated thousands of documents relating to what seems to be significant money transfers by important political figures to their off-shore bank accounts. Today, the ruling military has also vowed to pay the beleaguered rice farmers all of the money that’s been owing to them from the deposed Government’s controversial and corruption fuelled Rice Pledging Scheme, a scheme that has so far cost the Kingdom, and more importantly its rice farmers, an estimated Bt450 Billion. With thirty unanswered murders and eight hundred serious injuries, many of which were caught on camera, and with weapons of war being openly stock-piled and even flaunted on the streets of Bangkok by all sides, and with billions of dollars being stolen from the mouths of the Thai people, one has to ask the question - What have the Royal Thai Police Force been doing for the last seven months?   
Since news of the Military Coup spread on Thursday, USA’s John Kerry and UN’s Ban Ki Moon have been quick to condemn the General’s action and have warned of future sanctions against Thailand if democracy is not quickly restored. Since the announcement of the Military Coup, a curfew exists across Thailand from 10pm until 5am and it’s uncertain how long this will remain in place. Initially taken from the air, TV channels are now returning and the internet has so far remained operational. Media and demonstrations now appear to be strictly controlled by the military but so far there has been very little in the way of a violent reaction to the Coup. Again it’s early days and things could quickly change, but the general feeling from friends in and around Bangkok is that they now feel far safer than before. I’m not sure if that feeling of safety qualifies as ‘hope’, hope for a resolution to the seemingly never ending problems that plague Thai politics, but it may be a good start. 
Democracy is a very emotive term, but democracy can take many different forms. North Korea, PDR Laos, Egypt, Cambodia and Zimbabwe all have democracy, but I don’t remember such outrage from the West when the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi was recently overthrown by the military in Egypt. Should Robert Mugabe be removed in Zimbabwe or Kim Jon Un in North Korea, I wonder what the West’s reaction would be? Perhaps it all depends on how ‘friendly’ the elected leader is towards the USA and its allies, and it’s safe to say that Thaksin Shinawatra and his successive proxy Governments have over the years, been very good friends indeed. I'm not suggesting that a Democrat led Government would be any better, at least under the current legal system, but I maybe they'd be less likely to waii so low to the West and spend a great deal less on lobbying.    


So, back to the question, why execute a Military Coup now? Could it be that General Prayuth saw little hope of any side giving an inch, or that the ruling government was being openly directed by the exiled Thaksin Shinawatra from his home in Dubai? Possibly, but I doubt that this alone would have convinced a seemingly reluctant General to execute a coup just three months before he was due to retire. Was it that recent calls for pro-government supporters to raise arms and fight the perceived injustice of Thailand’s courts had gained traction, and likewise the oppositions determination to stop them, and that the newly discovered arms caches were evidence that such action was moving closer and closer to Bangkok? Possibly, and allied to the first point, this might have been enough for General Prayuth to take such action. But, there may be another reason, something that is sadly inevitable but something that none of us care to mention.             

A statement from Prayuth’s spokesman early on Friday stated that ‘the General had not met with the King and had no wish to burden him at this time’.

Post 397: Once again folks ... Martial Law in Thailand - Posted 20th May 2014


On Monday 19th of May 2014, armed troops took to the streets of Bangkok and Thailand’s Army Chief, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, declared a state of Martial Law across the Kingdom. Almost immediately, the Western media expressed outrage at the General’s actions and called for Democracy and the Rule of Law to be followed. However, here in Thailand ‘Democracy’ and ‘Rule of Law’ are seen as totally unrelated concepts. Thailand has Democracy, basically a two party system similar to that in the USA, and it has Rule of Law, but each of the political parties seems to believe in one, but not the other. Actually, to call them Political Parties would be wrong. They’re actually nothing more than huge business conglomerates. On the left you have the new-money Shinawatra Corporation and on the right, old-money Bangkok PLC. In fact, the best thing that I could say about Politicians in Thailand is that they make Western Politicians look trustworthy. Well, almost.   
Over the course of seven months, Thailand has been transformed into a dangerous powder keg, a huge stick of dynamite searching for a match. This coming weekend, 24th - 26th of May, it’s likely that the coming together of Pro and Anti Government movements in Bangkok would have lit the deadly tapper. During this current period of political unrest, with thirty deaths and eight hundred serious injuries, the police have done little to stem the violence, or to bring those responsible for the violence to justice. When the Constitutional Court recently decided, unanimously, that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was guilty of abusing power for the benefit of her own family, something that’s becoming a bit of a family tradition for the Shinawatras, and she and half of her cabinet were removed from office, the scene was set for an escalation in the already bloody conflict. Government supporters openly called on their followers to raise arms and march south to Bangkok while Anti-Government leaders called on their own supporters to prepare for the final battle.      
It would be a battle that neither side could win, but a battle from which neither side could ever step back from. Retreating from a stated position would mean losing face, and to be honest, most Thai’s would sooner lose their lives than lose their perceived standing in society. Thankfully for them, this being a political dispute between wannabe billionaires, the leaders would have allowed their foot-soldiers to take the bullets on their behalf, but I think you see my point.

With neither side willing to give an inch, and the police force dormant on the sidelines, the only real alternative was the army. By stepping in with a show of military force, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha has allowed leaders and activists from both sides of the political fight to avoid further confrontation and at the same time, to come to the conference table without any loss of face. To the Western eye, this might seem like a strange and radical solution to a political problem, but if Western standards were applied here, then the majority of Thailand’s current and former politicians would already be banged-up in jail.   

It’s still early days and I'm not certain if there's an official distance between Martial Law and Military Coup, so things may quickly change. However, since the imposition of Martial Law the deadly grenade and gunfire attacks have ended, at least four large illegal arms caches have been confiscated and representatives of all political parties have come to the meeting table for the very first time. But, with the current caretaker Prime Minister and former Prime Minister not attending the meeting, and there whereabouts currently unknown, it's uncertain if any side will be willing, or authorised, to compromise or accept an alternative point of view to their own, but it's hopefully the first small step on a very long road to peace and stability for the people of Thailand. The fact that these talks are taking place has taken a little of the wind from the sails of many Western journalists, but still searching for the negatives, they now seem to be concentrating on the suspension of certain satellite TV news channels. Suppression of the media is certainly detrimental to democracy, but a biased and corrupted media can be severely detrimental to peace.I suspect that very few of these vociferous journalists are familiar with the offerings from Thailand’s BlueSky or Choice TV, because real journalists mourning the temporary demise of these particular ‘News Channels’ would be like Mozart mourning the failure Jedward’s third album.
For myself and my many friends in and around Bangkok, the presence of the army is the first sign that a solution to the Kingdom’s plight may at last be insight. Politicians have proved incapable of helping anyone other than themselves and the streets today feel an awful lot safer than they did a week ago. Media images showing close cropped photographs of heavily armed soldiers are somewhat misleading. It’s not how the streets of Bangkok really look and the photographs have been cropped for a reason. On the other hand, a new industry in Soldier Selfies seems to be flourishing .. mai pen rai kap