Saturday, 29 November 2008

Muay Thai: Thailand's national sport, and a good night out in Samui...

The history of Muay Thai - literally Thai Boxing - was lost when the Burmese army sacked and razed Ayuddhaya to the ground in 1767. The little we do know about Muay Thai's origin comes from the writings of the Burmese, Cambodian, early European visitors and some of the chronicles of the Lanna Kingdom - Chiangmai. What all sources agree on is that Muay Thai probably had its origins in China and began as a close combat battlefield skill, more deadly than the weapons it replaced. What is known is that Muay Thai was an essential part of Thai culture right from its dawn. It remains the national sport of Thailand and traditionally, the sport of Thailand's kings who've had great influence on its popularity and development over the centuries, being instrumental in moving it from the battlefield to the stadium ring.

Regardless of social position, many Thai people have practiced Muay Thai throughout their lives, if not as a combative skill, as a means of keeping supple and fit. It was part of the school curriculum until the 1920s and only withdrawn because it was thought that the injury rate was too high. Thais and countless foreigners the world over continued to practice Muay Thai in gyms, clubs and more recently - camps.

Muay Thai is now accepted as an official sport in Asian Games competition and, because of its increasing global popularity, there is pressure to have it included as an official Olympic sport.

In recent years Muay Thai has become extremely popular among many westerners, both men and women. Countless schools have sprouted-up throughout Thailand to meet the demand for those that desire authentic instruction and experience. Koh Samui has several of these Muay Thai 'camps' which provide enthusiasts the opportunity to combine a beach holiday with having the living daylights kicked out of them by skinny, long-limbed Thai kids.
Although recognizable as a form of boxing to westerners; bouts are fought in a square ring, with the protagonists having long ago replaced horse hair or rope bindings for familiar leather boxing gloves, any similarity ends there, as feet, knees, hands, elbows, and shoulders are all legal weapons. In addition to the fighting, there are numerous cultural aspects to a Muay Thai bout, including ritualistic dancing, ornamental head and armbands. And music, played somewhat tunelessly throughout each bout on a Pi Chawa, a kind of bagpipe, without the bag.

In ancient times, Siamese people believed in the power of incantations and protective amulets, the common belief was that everything was ruled and inhabited by unseen spirits. And that places were either blessed or cursed. Because of these beliefs, it was necessary to perform special rites before a fighter entered the ring, asking the spirits' permission to do so.

Even today, before entering the ring many fighters perform rituals. It is very much a matter of individual preference these days, with no prescribed rules. Some may kneel before the ring, others might pray with their khru muay (lit. boxing teacher) or perform a series of repetitive movements, such as touching the ring ropes 3 times and avoiding the bottom stair before taking the first step up to the ring.

Fighters always leap over the ropes into the ring, because the head is considered to be more important than the feet and therefore it has to stay always above the feet while entering the ring. Contestants will then go to the center and pay respect (panom muae wai) in all four directions to the spectators.

Nothing is as exciting for an aficionado than the roar of the crowd and the traditional music, played when fighters perform their 'Wai Khru', a respectful homage dance to their teachers. Bouts are of 5, three minute rounds with a two minute break between each round. Winners are determined by either by a KO or by points if the fight lasts all 5 rounds. Points are given for knock downs, take downs, blows (knee blows to the kidneys during a clinch are highly rated) and the execution of kicks. Kicks are more valued than punches. Typically a fighter who kicks more than their opponent will pile up more points.

Muay Thai is big business for the island. Koh Samui's Chaweng Stadium is the biggest in Thailand dedicated to the sport and is a regular venue for fights by the sport's champions and biggest names, as well as local grown talent. Fight nights are normally held on Tuesday's and Friday's, with occasional specials at the weekend, from 21h00 until midnight and include ten bouts, starting with youngsters of 8 - 10 years old. The last fights being the most anticipated by the alway raucous crowd. Fight nights offer the spectacle, decent seating, cold beer and cost about 500 Baht. There are also fights at Lamai on Wednesday's and Saturday's.

Muay Thai isn't for everyone, but from the many Baan Bophut guests that have attended a Chaweng fight night, I've only had reports of what a great experience it was. And I don't think our guests are any more brutish than normal.

Friday, 28 November 2008

WTF is that stink?: Durian - smelliest fruit on the planet...

Son, Dominic's description of his durian eating experience, as "Like eating custard in a sewer", lacked the allure necessary for me to want to sample it for myself at that time. But many Thais (and foreigners) describe it in reverential terms as the 'King of Fruits' and eating it, a beautiful, not-to-be-missed experience, although not one easily described for those that haven't tried it. The texture of the aril - the fleshy pulp encasing the (normally five) large seeds - is likened to a slightly fibrous custard. The taste is unique; unquestionably so, as no two descriptions are exactly the same. Custard, almonds with a hint of garlic. Or perhaps: banana, papaya, vanilla, and rotting onions.

At least as many others are repelled (like me) by its malodorous pungency and grateful that it's banned in every hotel that cares about its guests and from all public transport, including airlines.

Durian does stir up strong emotions. One either likes it or hates it and there seems to be little in between. I find this polarisation intriguing enough to summon me to the table, so to speak, and I pledge to sample durian for myself, nose pinched, when next I have the opportunity. So, in the absence of any personal experience, I share with you, my research:

Durian belongs to the Bombacaceae family and is native of south and east Asia being grown in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, southern Philippines and other Asian countries. The durian tree grows to a towering 50 meters high and bears fruits after 4 or 5 years. The tree can live for centuries if not damaged by lightning, disease, soil erosion or human intervention eg. being chopped down. The fruit grow from 20 to 40 centimeters (average size is comparable to a football) and weigh from 1 to 8 kilograms upon maturity, which takes about 3 months after pollination of the flowers. There are hundreds of known cultivars of the durian, but the Durio zibethinus is the specie most widely cultivated and sold commercially. The fruit bearing season of durian is from May to October.

A fallen, ripe durian announces its presence to the world by a pungent aroma that spreads for a considerable distance. As I noted previously, the smell is so repugnant to humans that there are signs up througout South-East Asia prohibiting people from taking the fruit into hotel rooms or onto public transport.

There are several distinct durian aromas. The fresh, young durian has one smell, a ripe durian that has just cracked opens smells rather differently, and after that the stench of decomposition starts to dominate the durian’s aroma. Durian pulp has its own smell - though this is perhaps not so penetrating and intense. Both are rather thick, foetid, penetrating smells - that hint of moisture, decomposition, and, I'm told - somehow - of sex.

I was interested to learn the impression of a 19th century naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace, after he ate his first durian in Borneo:

"A rich, butter-like custard highly flavored with almonds, but intermingled with wafts of flavour that call to mind cream cheese, onion sauce, brown sherry and other incongruities. The more you eat of it, the less you feel inclined to stop."

That last line perhaps holds the key. Too frequently a first encounter with durian is in the form of a tiny bite. This small taste only serves as an introduction to an exotic flavour unlike any other one has ever experienced. If we're bold enough to continue until we've eaten an entire piece of fruit, our opinion may change as we becomes more acquainted and learn to discern the depth of its flavour.

I can imagine that encountering a durian for the first time is not unlike encountering Munster, that most smelliest of smelly French cheese. Its vomit-inducing odour a pretense, a mask which acts to fool the senses before tasting what is a delicate and most delightful character. Put another, less laborious way - thank goodness it doesn't taste as bad as it smells.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Getting around: a few options...

No tuk-tuks on Koh Samui
A strong taxi operators' cartel (some would say mafia) have, so far, managed to prevent the introduction of tuk-tuks to the island. Given the noise and pollution we have seen they can create in Bangkok, I don't know that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it has reduced the options for non-driving drinkers and has certainly strengthened the grip that taxi operators enjoy on point-to-point fares. Samui's taxis display the familiar taxi meter sign on their roof, but drivers refuse to use a meter and consequently are able to charge the highest fares in Thailand. It's important that you agree a price for your journey with the driver, before you go.

For the witless and desperate, motorcycle taxies are also available. The riders are distinguished by yellow coloured tabards. As with four-wheeled taxis, negotiate a price before setting off. Top tip? Don't! If you must - focus Zen like concentration on being as low a centre of gravity as possible. Don't hold the rider around the waist. With hands behind your back, grip onto the bar at the back of the seat or press your open palms down flat on your thighs. Don't try to sit upright when the bike is turning or racing around a bend; mimic every leaning movement of the bike and rider. Good luck!

are the closest thing there is to public transport, a kind of shared taxi that acts as the Samui bus service. Usually maroon in colour, songthaews are covered pickup trucks with two long bench seats (
song - two : thaew - row) facing each other in the back. Operating from early morning, songtheaws follow set, circular routes to and from most resort towns around Samui, their destinations advertised in English. There are no official stops. To pick one up between destinations simply flag it down and tell the driver where you want to go. Drivers will try to squeeze in as many passengers as possible, leaving latecomers to hang onto the steps at the back.

Day time rates are vary between 30-50 baht per person depending on how far you are going. After 6pm the rate increases. Normally, after 9pm, songthaews morph into taxis and you will be expected to charter the whole vehicle. The price will depend on what deal you can strike with the driver, but will, anyway, be several hundred baht.

Given the limited transport options it's not surprising that many visitors choose to rent a bike or car to get around. Unless you're an experienced biker the best option is to rent a car.

There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of small family-owned rental outfits on Samui, as well as most of the big name international car hire operators, such as Avis and Budget. Mobility in its most basic four-wheel and popular form, among visitors, is the Suzuki Jeep, costing from around Baht 700 (US$ 20)/day, depending on season. Bigger, safer, more comfortable options from Toyota and Honda are available at two or three times this price for those that don't mind spending more on their transport, than they do on their accommodation.

In theory, you should possess an international driving licence, but a lack of one has never denied me the dubious convenience of hiring one of these ubiquitous pieces of crap.

Bikes, typically 100 or 125cc Hondas or Suzuki are available everywhere for around Baht 125 - 175/day. Newer, fully automatic versions are offered for a bit more. But whatever the model, they share equally in lethality and the potential for self-harm by inexperienced riders.

Thailand has one of the World's worst road accident rates and Samui has the highest accident rate in Thailand. The island's poorly maintained, steep, sandy roads combine with a largely untrained biking population to result in most accidents being caused by motorcycles. And the majority of these involve foreign visitors.

Novice bikers seriously need to keep their wits about themselves to remain unscathed. The opportunities to sustain injuries on a motorcycle are not limited to traffic accidents. Most injuries are self-inflicted, with the notorious Samui Tattoo, a burn to the right calf from a hot exhaust pipe, caused as a result of de-mounting on the right side of the bike, the most common.

Unusually good advice from the Highway Department

If you still intend to take to the road, note that insurance doesn't exist for motorbikes on Samui and whomever was the cause of damage in an accident, it is always the foreigner who will pay. Similarly 'bargain' car hire deals are a risky proposition. Mainly it's the international rental operators that will include comprehensive coverage in their (more expensive) rates.

Remember to drive on the left, and bikers: you must wear a helmet or risk a fine of Baht 500.

Baan Bophut reception will show you what's on offer and try to get you the best deal, including collection and drop-off at the hotel.

Safe motoring

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Traditional Massage - no happy endings with the real gig...

I will never forget the face of a young guy, a guest at Baan Bophut, who earlier in the day had asked me sotto voce where he might find a good Thai massage close to the hotel. Later, he told me, sheepishly, the recognition that a Thai massage was something very different to the salacious event he had imagined, took fully two hours to register, so convinced was he that, at least, there would be 'a happy ending'.

Make no mistake. Traditional (or Ancient) Massage: nuat phaen boran, as the Thais know it, is a revered, integral part of local traditional medical techniques. It should not be otherwise confused.

Traditional Thai massage is based on Ayurveda and yoga, and it's believed came from India along with the expansion of Buddhism and Indian culture into Thailand some 2500 years ago. Some scholars speculate that through the trading relationships over a long period, the Chinese influences on Thai culture, also played a part in the development of Thai massage.

Traditional massage is still taught and practiced at many Buddhist temples and massage schools throughout the country, the most famous of all being the School of Medicinal Massage at Wat Pho in Bangkok.

Ancient tablets at Wat Pho depicting Sen and acupressure points

Thai massage is applied to a system somewhat analogous to Chinese medicine's energy meridians or 'sen'. One of the pillars of Traditional Chinese Medicine, meridians are invisible lines through the body that carry energy to every organ and system. Traditions teach that there are an infinite number of energetic connections throughout the body, arranged into lines of energetic influence. The Thais consider ten of these lines to be the largest channels from which all others branch, and it is these ten sen that are treated in Thai massage.

In a general treatment, all the sen are worked equally to cultivate and promote even energy flow. The more specific therapeutic use of the lines involves additional treatment on one or more sen. The nature of the illness or condition determines what sen are treated, as they are all associated with having specific effects on the physical, mental and emotional selves.

The massage recipient changes into loose, comfortable clothes and lies on a mat or firm mattress on the floor or raised platform on a Samui beach and is arranged into many yoga like positions during the course of the massage. In the northern style of Chiang Mai, there is a lot more muscle stretching movements, whereas the southern style includes more acupressure.

The massage practitioner, who may be male or female, leans on the recipient's body using hands and straight forearms locked at the elbow to apply firm rhythmic pressure. The massage generally follows the Sen lines on the body.

Not just the hands are used by the practitioner. Legs and feet can be used as a fulcrum or lever to hold or stretch the body or limbs of the recipient. In other styles, hands hold the body, while the feet do the massaging action to which there is a standard procedure and rhythm. A full massage session typically lasts two hours or more, and includes rhythmic pressing and stretching of the entire body; this may include pulling fingers, toes, ears, cracking the knuckles, walking on the recipient's back, and includes arching the recipient into the bhujangasana or cobra position. Oil is not used in traditional Thai Massage.

In Koh Samui a two hour massage might cost around baht 350 (US $10 currently) depending on location, or less for a quicker version (it could cost ten times more a posh spa or five star hotel).

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Bargaining for that...uh bargain

In the West, shops display the price alongside their goods and that's the price we must pay if we want the item. This Western retail model has been emulated by Thailand's department stores and shopping malls and many other established shops, such as pharmacies, convenience stores and supermarkets. On Thailand's streets and markets, however, it is a very different story.

No bargaining here

In Thai markets, you're often buying right from the owner of the goods or one of his immediate family; an entrepreneurial unit operating a rental stall. Bargaining is expected, and the merchant is eager to close a sale while still making money.

This bargaining process may intimidate first-time visitors, with perhaps, memories of haggling over prices with a used-car dealer and coming away feeling burned. Don't worry; it's very different in Thailand. Here's what to do.

First, decide if bargaining is appropriate here:

  • In an open-air market, with no prices posted, you bargain. In a department store with marked prices, you do not.
  • If you're dealing with the owner, it's appropriate to bargain. If you're dealing with a salaried sales assistant, it's probably not so appropriate to try and drive a hard bargain. He or she will have a permissible discount limit of 10 - 15 percent. But this may be enough to make the wares attractive enough that you want to buy, especially for low ticket items.
  • It should be worth everyone's while. Farangs (westerners) have been known to try to bargain over the price of a 10-baht (30-cent) bottle of water or 30-baht bowl of noodle soup. That’s bad form.

Once you've decided that you would like the item and determined that bargaining is expected, you need a sense of how much you can expect to drive down the price. You should also have an idea of how much you would be willing to pay. Make a counter-offer too low, and you look bad. Too high, and you'll pay more than you need to.

Typically, at an outdoor market you can expect to get the price down by 15-30 percent. However, if you’ve been pegged as a rich farang, a vendor might have raised the price by a factor of 2 or 3 times. Don’t buy the first thing you see. Look around. Get prices from a few merchants. You’ll soon get a sense of what’s reasonable. Only bargain for an item that you want. It's very bad form to wring major price concessions out of the vendor only to walk away.

Need sneakers? Go for it!

Some other tips:

  • You'll do better if you learn the Thai language for the numbers needed to name a price.
  • If you don't know Thai numbers, be alert to one potential confusion: The Thai-accented pronunciations of twenty and seventy — tsventy — are easily mistaken.
  • It's never appropriate to get overly emotional about bargaining, nor to insult the merchandise or seller. Smile, don't raise your voice. Be respectful.
  • Don’t let it become a point of pride to get the lowest possible price. This is business; perhaps it's a game to you; it's certainly not a war. Saving yourself a few bucks could make the difference as to whether the guy's family have just rice for supper, or something to go with it.
  • If you make an offer and the merchant accepts it, the unwritten rules require that you make the purchase at that price. Same as Ebay — but Thailand had the system first.
  • Don't bargain seriously if the final price is only of casual interest and you don't intend to buy the item.

Happy Shopping!

Thai language...basics

You're unlikely to learn Thai before visiting Thailand, but a simple understanding of how the language works, and by learning a few easy phrases, will pay real dividends in enriching your travel experience.

When speaking in Thai, it's good practice to end your sentence with a word that (doesn’t translate easily or neatly) conveys politeness, much as 'sir' or 'ma’am' would in English. In Thailand, however, the word reflects the gender of the speaker rather than of the listener. Men end a sentence with khrap; women with kha. In the examples below, we’ve alternated between the two.

Ask someone in Thailand to help you with the correct pronunciation of the basic expressions below. You won't need to be perfect, however, as these phrases are so common and expected that you can mangle the pronunciation quite a bit and still be understood.
  • Sawadee khrap. Hello. Also good evening, goodbye, and even good-night
  • Kop Khun kha. Thank you
  • Mai Pen Rai khrap. It doesn't matter; It's OK, I'm cool about it, no problemo etc.
  • Mai auw kha. A polite refusal - I don't need/want
  • Arroy. Delicious!
  • Mai Phet khrap. Not spicy. But don't be in too much of a rush to make this request. Thai restaurants that cater to tourists tone down their dishes, anyway.
The Thai alphabet uses a script-like amalgamation of some 48 consonants and 32 vowels – more or less, depending on who’s counting. Different letters may be used to represent largely the same sounds. Worse, entirely too many Thai consonants look similar to readers of English.

There is no single, widely accepted formula for transliterating Thai into a Roman alphabet. Nor is one likely to appear soon.

Part of the problem is that English and Thai sounds aren’t really comparable. Take just one sound as an example: P. Hold a finger in front of your mouth and say 'Spain'. Now say 'pain'. You’ll probably notice more air coming out the second time. We use the same letter 'p' to represent both the more - and the less-aspirated sounds; the Thais distinguish between them. This is why the island in southern Thailand is variously spelled Phuket and Puket. The 'ph' (pronounced as an aspirated 'p', not as the 'f' sound of 'photograph') is sometimes used to represent this sound.

The unaspirated P, on the other hand, sounds almost like our letter B, and can be found transliterated as either B or P. Likewise, there’s a sound that can be represented by K or G; another that is between a T and D.

Consequently, items like street maps and road signs can be quite confusing for a Westerner visiting Thailand. If you’ve got two maps on which names have been transliterated into English, they may use different spellings. The same happens with proper names. The King's name is variously spelled Bhumibol and Phumiphon

Wait ... It gets worse. When you speak Thai, a single syllable can be spoken with any of five vocal pitches. Low, medium, high, rising, or falling pitches each have different meanings. The sentence mai mai mai mai, mai, often quoted in language books, means new wood doesn’t burn, does it? Each mai is spoken with a different intonation.

Since tone changes meaning, Thai speakers don’t raise their voice at the end of a question, as English speakers do. When necessary, a question word such as where, how much, or why, is inserted at the appropriate point in the sentence.

And one other thing: Thai offers ten ways to say 'you', depending on whether you’re speaking to a friend, a family member, someone higher or lower than you by age or standing on the social hierarchy, and so on.

So, is there any good news for someone wishing to learn Thai? Yes. The grammar is a lot simpler than for most European languages. Thai has none of that hard-to-remember masculine-feminine stuff for inanimate objects, no past or future tenses of verbs, not even plurals. The tonality is the trickiest part, and if you've got an aptitude for music, you'll have a better chance than most of mastering this language. Chok dee! Good luck!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Social Etiquette - do's and don'ts and some useful tips...

This is going to be a long one. I really should have posted something like this right at the start of the blog, to make it somewhat more useful for visitors to Thailand.
The Thai people are well known for their tolerance, hospitality and cheerfulness. They will ignore the small blunders of social etiquette that you are certain to make. For the average tourist it’s very difficult to go wrong. Just smile a lot, avoid confrontation, and don’t insult the religion or monarchy of the country. Here are a few specific do’s and don’ts worth pointing out.

I've modified and added to the text and included photos, but I thank for the inspiration and much of their original article.

Firstly, some explanation of the photo below. Fashion-wise, yellow was the new black in Thailand in 2006 when this photo was taken, and wearing of yellow shirts has continued until now, mainly on Mondays. Yellow shirts honour the country's beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the 60th anniversary of his ascension to the throne.

Ordinary Thais, showed their allegiance to the king by heeding a government-encouraged 2006 campaign to wear yellow shirts. Yellow is the king's birth color, traditionally corresponding to the day he was born, a Monday.

The King recently left hospital dressed in a pink blazer. Within hours, pink polo shirts emblazoned with the royal insignia were available on practically every street corner in Bangkok. Pink, however, has so far failed to replace yellow as the preferred royalist hue.

  • All members of the Royal Family are held in the highest reverence in Thailand and visitors should show similar respect. Negative remarks about the monarchy may be considered lese majeste, an offence carrying severe punishment in Thailand. When the national anthem is played, at 8.00 am and 6.00 pm everyday and at public events or in cinemas, for example, you are expected to stand. The best guide is to check what other people are doing and follow suit.
  • Do not insult religion in any way, whether it be the majority religion, Buddhism, or any of the minority faiths. It is an offence to commit any act that may be considered insulting to a religion. For the traveler, this means respectful conduct in temples or any location containing religious images.

  • All Buddha images, large or small, are considered sacred. Don’t climb atop or pose for photos in front of images of the Buddha. Adopt a comic pose in front of a Buddha image and you risk arrest. Always dress neatly in temples – shorts and sleeveless or strappy tops are considered inappropriate. Do not wear shoes inside the main chapel of a temple where the principal Buddha image is kept. It’s OK to wear shoes in the temple compound.

No matter how far you've traveled, posing in front of a Buddha image is a no no.

In Samui and big cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Western customs are well known and widely accepted. Upcountry, traditional customs and social behaviour are still used. Here are a few customs to keep in mind.

  • Thais greet each other with a wai, a prayer-like, palms-together gesture with fingertips touching in front of one's face or chest, not a handshake. The wai is a greeting, and a way of showing respect or thanks. But it's more complicated than that. If you return a wai to a child or someone of much lower social status, for example, you may feel you're striking a blow for equality; actually you're just embarrassing the person. Generally, a younger person wais an elder or senior person, who may then return the gesture. If you're unsure whether to return a wai or not, you might be better off just smiling instead. Even though most Thais are familiar with the Western handshake, a wai is always appreciated.

  • Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body, literally and figuratively. Don’t touch Thais on the head, even playfully. If you accidentally touch someone’s head, offer an apology immediately.
  • Similarly, the foot is considered the lowest part of the body. Don’t use your feet to point at either people or objects. Don’t touch anyone with your feet. Don’t rest your feet on tables or chairs. Don’t step over people – always walk around or politely ask them to move. When sitting on the floor, try to tuck your feet underneath and to the side so they’re not pointing at anyone.
  • When handing objects to people, use both hands or the right hand only. Do not slide or toss objects across the room. Get up and pass them in person, no matter how inconvenient this may seem.
  • Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Some Thai couples may be seen holding hands, but this is the extent of public affection in polite society. Kissing in public is not acceptable behaviour.
  • In Thai society, losing your temper or even speaking loudly is a sign of poor breeding. Keeping ‘face’ is of paramount importance. Never raise your voice or show anger, it will get you nowhere. Keeping cool, hiding your emotions and smiling is far more productive.

  • The Thais place great importance on personal cleanliness and appearance. Tank tops, singlets, shorts and the like are considered inappropriate dress everywhere except at a beach resort. Going topless or nude at the beach (or anywhere else) is seen as disrespectful to the local people. It’s also illegal.

  • Closer to home, Speedos should not be worn on the beach or in public areas of Baan Bophut - Lucy has banned them. Want to test the system? Go ahead, wear your budgie-smugglers and open yourself up to public ridicule.

Thanks to for the pic: We're not the only hotel in Bophut to ban Speedos

  • When visiting someone’s home or at certain offices and shops, it’s polite to remove your shoes at the entrance. If you see shoes arranged on the floor at the door, don’t wait to be asked– remove your shoes before entering.
  • Monks are forbidden to touch or be touched by a woman. A woman wishing to present something to a monk or novice should put it directly into the bowl or place it on a piece of cloth that can be retrieved by the monk. Alternatively, she can give the offering to a male who would pass it to the monk.

  • By all means visit a mosque, Muslims will welcome your interest. Men should cover their head and women should be well-covered with slacks or a long skirt, a long-sleeved blouse buttoned to the neck, and a head-scarf. Shoes or sandals must be left at the entrance and the mosque entered barefoot. Worshippers should wash their feet, hands and face in the prescribed manner. Non-muslim visitors need not.
  • Tipping is customary in Thailand, although perhaps not to the extent or magnitude that is practised in many western countries. Other than in Koh Samui, public taxi rates are metered, and both Thais and local expats commonly round off the fare upwards as a tip. Koh Samui taxis operate a cartel and have agreed have minimum charges between towns, making it advisable to agree the price before your journey.
  • High-end tourist oriented restaurants and major hotels may include a ten percent service charge in the bill. At all restaurants except for soup shops and roadside food stalls, Thai people will leave a tip of coins left over from paying a bill. If a restaurant is more upscale, with professional waiting staff, a cash tip - perhaps less than ten percent - is usually offered.

  • For hotels in busy tourist areas, it's customary to tip hotel staff. Upcountry hotel staff may not expect tips, but of course they always welcome a few baht in appreciation of their efforts. For example, it is customary to tip the bellboy 10 or 20 baht for carrying a load of heavy baggage up to your room, and this is practised by Thai guests even at smaller upcountry hotels and resorts.
  • Bear in mind that the majority of workers in the hospitality and service industries in Thailand earn very little, so a small tip goes a long way. Of course, if the service is unacceptable (which is unlikely) then don't tip. It doesn't hurt to give a little. And the smile of appreciation will light up your day.

  • The temperature in Samui can sometimes reach 40 degrees with high humidity. If you’re sightseeing, take along plenty of bottled water to avoid dehydrating. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must at all times.
  • Be wary of the ice in cold drinks outside of resort areas. We've never had a problem with outsourced ice on Samui, but upcountry ice can be 'homemade' or come from unhygienic sources and is best avoided. Commercially produced ice cubes with holes through them are generally OK.
  • When you’re eating out in the evenings, watch out for mosquitoes. Ask the waiter to put a mosquito coil under the table to discourage them. Wearing pale coloured slacks and DEET based mosquito repellant will also keep the varmints at bay.
  • Sightseeing or shopping in the heat all day can be exhausting, physically and mentally. It's a good idea to rejuvenate yourself - all of you, or just your feet - with a traditional Thai massage at one of the many shops close to the hotel. A two-hour massage costs less than ten dollars at one of the massage parlors in the Fisherman's Village. Upcountry and in Bangkok it costs even less. It's a good idea to select a masseuse that displays a certificate from the school of medicinal massage at Wat Pho, Bangkok.

  • A good way to escape from the heat for a while is to go in a barber's shop and get a haircut. Most places will include a soothing shampoo and scalp massage. The cost? About five dollars. Visit Jo in the village, just past 7-11 and, for a bit more, you can also get a manicure or pedicure.
  • If you're approached you on the street by someone offering to sell you something, particularly gems or jewelry, just smile, say 'Mai auw khap' (or ka) - a polite 'I don't need' and walk away. Go to a shop and buy them instead. They’re more likely to be genuine and you’ll probably get a better price.
  • Don’t get angry if someone on the street shouts 'Hey you!' to attract your attention. They don’t realize they’re being impolite. 'You' is translated from the Thai word 'khun' which is a normal and polite form of address in Thai.
  • Don’t be surprised if someone addresses you by your first name, like Mr John or Miss Jennifer, or the by the Thai version. Thais normally address one another using first names only, usually with the title 'Khun' in front. Surnames are not commonly used as a mode of address and, so difficult is it alter this mindset, that we've given up trying to persuade our Receptionist. Inevitably, guests are booked into the hotel by their first name.
  • You’ll notice after a short while in Thailand that Thais have three names—a first name, a surname and a nickname. The nickname, usually something short and catchy like Noi or Lek, is given at birth and is used universally among family members and friends. These diminutives are frequently unflattering. At Baan Bophut the nicknames of our three housekeeping girls - Som, Moo and Gluay translate to Orange, Pig and Banana.

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