|My photos connected to this vignette are located HERE.
I guess this tale starts at the beginning, though where exactly the beginning is is a bit cloudy. I had a 1:35pm flight out of Lisbon to Dubai, connecting to Singapore, connecting to Phuket in Thailand. This meant catching a 5:45am bus from Lagos to Lisbon. This meant no sleep the night before, as I had a fantastic last evening in Lagos, great dinner with a friend and then a party celebrating the 2nd anniversary of one of the local bars. I didn’t get to bed until 1:00am and I was afraid to fall asleep because I knew I’d never wake up in time.
Of course, the plane left Lisbon over an hour late due to fog. Of course. Of course we were over an hour late getting into Dubai (the connection time was just over an hour). They actually held the plane to Singapore up for the 6 of us on my flight that needed to catch it.
Flying to Dubai on Emirates Air was fabulous. I’ve never flown on such an airline. I’ll fly Emirates any chance I can in the future. It was nighttime and our flight path took us just south of Cairo, Egypt. What a sight to see Cairo at night from the air all lit up. I’ll never forget it. Flying into Dubai and seeing the Palm Island and the incredible towers reaching to the moon was amazing. The Dubai airport is something to behold, though it doesn’t hold a candle to Changi in Singapore. That, to me, is the Gold Standard of airports.
I slept 90% of the time. What else is there to do? I had 5 hours of layover in Singapore, so I grabbed one of the chaise lounge type seats in the airport and slept. Tired doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt.
Upon landing in Phuket, I was shocked by the rudeness of the customs/immigration officials, all of them. Never a smile, never missing a chance to refuse someone entry for some stupid slight. The only place that compares is the US, which specialises in rudeness in customs/immigration. The official only gave me a 2-week visa when the rules say I should get 30 days. I asked him why and he told me to ‘go away’, waving his arm angrily at me. I saw another family of 5 at the next customs/immigration station. They were only changing flights yet the official insisted on treating them like they wanted to enter the country, refusing to let them in because they had no local address. Shit like that. Totally shocking because it is totally the opposite of what the Thai people are like. Anyone is uniform is not Thai, it would seem. They all seem to have a Napoleonic complex.
When I went through baggage check, they pulled me aside (what’s new, right?). Apparently the whole leg of smoked ham that I brought with me for Pascual was not allowed. After an interminable discussion, they decided to let me bring it in, but only after paying a ‘tax’ of ~$40. Jeezus.
For reference, 100 Thai Baht is approximately $3/€3.
I got to my hotel after an F1 taxi ride that had me literally thrown from door to door in the back seat as the cocaine sniffing driver proved to me that he could really drive. He was laughing his ass off, talking on the phone, probably telling whoever it was how much fun he was having watching me fly around the back seat. Totally crazy, yet also fun in its own way. Red lights seemed to be a signal to go faster and just go through them. Very Kafkaesque.
I had just enough strength to go out onto the street to find something to eat, a killer seafood soup, one of the best I’ve ever had. I had the hotel arrange a 5am taxi for me so that I could catch my early-morning flight to Hat Yai in the south. I was going to visit an old friend who lived in Songkla. I had to pay the $30 taxi fee in advance to the hotel. Of course, they didn’t wake me up and the taxi never arrived. After a bunch of bullshit, I managed to get a seat on the only other flight that day in the early evening at a $25 penalty. That flight I caught after sleeping for most of the day and then taking a long walk on Patong Beach. What an incredibly beautiful place. My first time there, though I was in Thailand back in 1981.
From the airport I caught a taxi to Songkla and finally met up with Pascual. It has been 10 years since we last saw each other. He had arranged an hotel for me nearby to his place and I checked in and crashed, totally wasted from my day.
I slept until 1pm and then made my way to Potato Bar, Pascual’s home/business. He took me on a bit of a tour on his scooter, showing me the beautiful views that Songkla has. Very relaxing, but I finally realised that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when we had to slow down for all of the monkeys that were on the road.
Pascual was throwing a sort of party that evening, wanting to show off and share his ‘jambon’ (ham in Spanish). He made potato tortillas and had some Italian bread, so he was in Spanish heaven (even though the ham was Portuguese). 7 years on Thailand has made him yearn for tastes of ‘home’.
A little description of how the bar business works here. Pascual has some ‘bar girls’ working for him. They get a commission on every drink they sell/get someone to buy. If the customer also wants one of the girls to accompany him from the bar, the customer has to pay the bar a fee of 500 baht, 200 of which goes to the girl, plus whatever she charges for her ‘company’, usually in the range of 1500-2000 baht for ‘short-time’ pleasure (until orgasm - long-time pleasure is the entire night). The girls are in their 20s and seriously cute, nice, and really fun to hang out with. Personally, I have no issue with sex as an industry, though it’s not for me. Just not my thing.
So the evening was spent at Potato Bar, meeting the ex-pats that are Pascual’s regular customers that came by. At one point, one of the girls asked me to play pool. I haven’t played pool in 15 years. She killed me. I was playing like Stevie Wonder. :) It was a fun evening. I have to admit that I found/find it a bit disgusting to see 50-80+-year-old men pawing young girls, but each to their own. It’s life and everyone has a right to survive. The girls didn’t seem to mind at all, so it’s a win-win all around.
I finally called it a night around 1:00am and walked the 5 minutes to my hotel. I wasn’t crazy about the hotel, so I moved to another one a bit more expensive which was much closer to potato bar. Much nicer. Pascual toured me around Songkla a bit on his scooter, showing me the sights (there aren’t very many). Songkla is a gas-oil town fallen on hard times due to the collapse of the price of oil. Not really my kind of a place.
For whatever reason, I had misread my visa stamp and it was really for 30 days. I didn’t realise this until I got to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to go to the Thai embassy to get a ‘real’ visa. Stupid me. I felt like the rankest of amateur travelers, especially when I could have gone to Penang for much less money and far closer. Kuala Lumpur is a HUGE city of 8m people. I hated it immensely. I was amazed at the literally dozens of skyscrapers being built, 20, 30, 40, 50 floors high. Dozens. Crazy.
I got my hotel to wake me at 6am so that I could be at the embassy at 7, which I thought opened at 8. Apparently there are very long lines for visas. It turned out that it opened at 9:30, so I had to wait, very tired, for it to open. Once it did — I was first in line — I quickly learned that I didn’t have what I needed to get a visa. I was so sick of the whole process that I blew off the next 2 days that I had paid for in the hotel to leave and get back to Thailand. I was willing to take the 30-day visa and then deal with it somehow.
The flight was KL to Phuket to Ko Samui. Phuket is a shithole of an airport. No signage, no directions, almost nobody who understands or speaks English. It took me 15-20 minutes to find a transfer bus to the domestic flight terminal. I finally arrived in Ko Samui around 9:30pm. I knew the name of the place I was going, but I didn’t know where it was, what city. Again, total amateur traveler. I did have a phone number, so the taxi people called G House, where I was going to be staying to find out where it was; Ban Mae Nam on the north coast. I finally got to G House and checked in. My room (bungalow) was 10-20m from the water. WOW!!!
G House is right behind Baan Kookai, a bar-restaurant. Kookai, the lady who runs it, is a wonderful woman. The bar is outside, on the street. I had a beer, then another, and met some great people; Stee from Norway, Kitee, a fantastic Thai and his mother, Wan-Wan who works at the bar, and then various tourists. I was in heaven. I slept better that night than I had in longer than I could remember with the sound of the water susurration onto the shore right outside my door.
The next day it was time to find a place to stay for the next 3 months and rent a scooter and get a Thai sim card for my phone. I found a visa help business who also helps with anything else you might want. They drove me around all day looking for a place. Very difficult with Christmas/New Year being the busiest time of the year. When I told Kookai about my day, she said that she had a room upstairs that she sometimes let friends stay in. For whatever reason, she offered me the room starting Jan 2. I am blown away. It just couldn’t get any better than this.
The next day I sorted out a scooter and got a sim card. Everything accomplished so I could actually really relax. I celebrated by getting a massage on the beach 20m from my front door for 300 baht with a 100 baht tip. Unbelievable! Great massage. It’s going to be a daily thing as far as I’m concerned.
The next day (today), I decided to start seeing some things, so I jumped on my scooter and went to Fisherman’s Village in Bo Phut, the next town east of Maenam on the north coast. Very touristy, very nice, much more expensive, 50-100% more for anything and everything than it costs in Maenam. Then it was back to Maenam for my afternoon massage. Have I mentioned yet that this place is as close to heaven as you can get without dying? :)
Now I think I’ll wander down the beach and pick some place at random for dinner. Please don’t feel sorry for me for all of my suffering. Somehow I’ll manage to bear it.
I’ve continued to do as little as possible, sleeping, then eating more incredible food. Very therapeutic all in all. The weather changed a few days ago with strong winds out of the N-NE, resulting in a rougher sea with waves crashing on the shore instead of gently susurration. The beach has lost about half of its depth.
My friend from Lagos, Peyoti, showed up on the 29th. He’s doing a New Year’s Eve gig at the Secret Garden in Bankrak, about 15 minutes east of Maenam on the north coast. Through Peyoti, who played here 2 winters ago, I had the very good fortune to meet Jaap de Jonckheere, a fantastic Dutch guitarist (Urban Heroes). Jaap has been coming to Ko Samui for the past 20 years for half of the year and is a fount of information about what to do and what not to do here. He plays with a trio locally here in Maenam a couple of times a week.
I’ve also met a local Thai who lives up in the hills on a river next to a waterfall. Now I have a nice supply of local Thai green ‘tea’. :) Very nice indeed. Life is good!
Went cruising around Chaweng on the scooter with Peyoti. Chaweng is “The” party area/town on Ko Samui, though it’s primarily much younger. Didn’t like the energy at all and couldn’t leave fast enough. Maybe it’s more interesting at night when it’s all lit up. All in all, I really like Maenam and I’ve learned that I live in what is called Chinatown. The tourists here are older and more laid back, in marked contrast to the hard partying, drug & alcohol, sex tourist-oriented Chaweng.
Peyoti and Jaan played a New Year’s Eve gig in Bangrak at the Secret Garden. Very fancy place, especially price-wise. The crowd was mostly indifferent at best, but we still had a great time. Peyoti & Jaap were great together. We laughed a lot. Got back to Maenam at around 2am and went to My Bar, a local ex-pat’s kind of bar where Jaap plays once a week. Lots of bar girls and the obligatory pool table. More beers and socialising, then we went to the bar next door — don’t know the name, but I’ll find out. It was a Thai bar with a Thai band. It was like being in outer space to watch the people and the band. I had to consciously stop my mouth from dropping open in astonishment. There was one 12/13-year-old girl who was being fed glass after glass of some sort of alcohol by her friends. The dancing was other-worldly. It was like a bad video gone worse. I totally loved it. :) 4am or so and the party was still going at Baan Kookai and there still remained some food when we got there. We were famished and stuffed our faces. By the time I got to bed at 5am, I had had at least a dozen beers. This really shocked me, as I felt totally sober. I knew the headache to come would tell me otherwise, but all in all, I don’t remember ever having had so much fun on a New Year’s Eve before. Must be the right people in the right place at the right time kind of thing.
January 1st started late for me, 4:30pm. The ibuprofen that I had eaten did the trick and the headache was minimal. Almost no businesses were open at all and those that did open, didn’t open until evening, mostly the massage parlours, bars, and restaurants. Every other business here is a massage parlour. The price seems to be 300 baht/hour.
I found a new place to live, thanks to Jaap, 30m from the ocean — I can hear it and see it — 3 to 4 times as large as my bungalow at G House with an attached kitchenette and a nice garden filled with frangipani of all colours and other tropical stuff. As crazy as this sounds, the price is only 5500 baht/$154/€146 month, including water, electricity, and internet (WiFi). I’m in the middle of Chinatown, right on the main road, but behind the businesses fronting the road. It is totally quiet. I hear no traffic or people from the street. There’s a grocery across the street, 5 massage parlours and 10 restaurants within 50m. I cannot believe my luck.
The largest tourist population is Russian. It seems like every other person is a Russian. Lots of French, too. The funny thing is that the signage is all in Thai and English. The Russians — and everyone else — is required to speak English to get by if they don’t speak Thai, and nobody speaks Thai but the Thais. And sort of surprisingly, the Russians don’t speak much English. You’ll see a group of them and one person speaks English. The frustration on their faces is obvious. One thing I haven’t seen is old Russian men with young Thai women, unlike the Germans & English who come here for just that reason. The price is about the same as it would be back in the west, so I just don’t get it. It’s not like it’s hard to find a prostitute anywhere in the west. But that’s what it’s like here in that regard.
The weather has been unseasonably WET; lots of monsoon rains. Last I heard, 41 people have died as a result of the flooding that has occurred. Today is better with some real sunshine (January 18th), and it is expected to improve. Normally the monsoons are finished by November. With the old king dying and the playing of music and partying curtailed and/or totally forbidden for almost a month in December, the beginning of their high season, then the non-stop rains, the tourist sector has taken a major hit with tons of cancellations.
I went to see about opening a bank account here, to find out what red tape I have to satisfy to open one. 1) Passport, 2) Photocopy of passport, 3) 2nd photo ID from country of passport, 4) receipt/rental contract from landlord, 5) copy of landlord’s ID/passport, 6) a Thai citizen to vouch for me as ‘worthy’. I need to open a bank account to be able to qualify for a Retiree’s Visa, the most advantageous type of visa that a foreigner can hold here. When the woman helping me at the bank looked at my passport, she mentioned that my visa expires tomorrow, the 19th. I had no idea. What a clueless idiot I can be. So I left the bank and headed to immigration, which just so happens to have an office in Maenam. Lucky me. I’ve heard horror stories about the place 3-5 hour lines, etc. But I had no choice. Was surprised to get through the entire process with a 30-day extension in less than half an hour. There were perhaps 6 people ahead of me in line.
There was this one crazy Russian woman; tall, blonde, easy on the eyes, who seemed intent on cutting line, but nobody was having any of that. When it became my turn to be waited upon, she actually tried to shove in front of me. I stiff-armed her and said, “This isn’t Russia. Here you have to wait in line.” I struggled to keep the smile off my face as I heard the laughter around me. The Russian says, “But I’m in a hurry!” “We’re all in a hurry,” some older woman with a thick German accent said to more laughter. The Russian waited behind me in line. People are really hard to believe at times.
Riding a scooter here can be a life-threatening experience. Thailand has lanes and traffic lights, but I get the feeling that they’re only suggestions, as the main rule of driving here seems to be if you can get away with it, just do it; drive on the wrong side of the road (very common), run the light (VERY common). On the way to the bank this morning, only a 10-15 minute ride, I had 6 instances where I thought I was going to get creamed, none of them because I was doing anything wrong or risky. Each instance was some Thai driver thinking “I can do this” and totally breaking the ‘law’. I like the anarchy in traffic. It suits the taxi cab driver in me. Everyone understands the rules and everyone is on the same page, so it’s sort of predictable. A lot like southern Italy. Any accident involving a scooter or motorcycle is ALWAYS the fault of the other vehicle, no matter what. Like it matters when the scooter/motorcycle rider is a splat on the road. There is a helmet law, though I’ve yet to see it enforced. I’m told that every once in a while, when they need some money, they’ll put up a roadblock and fine everyone without a helmet. I always wear mine. Seeing 3, 4, even 5 people on a scooter with dozens of bags from shopping is totally normal. Of course, none of them will be wearing a helmet. There is no age restriction; you only have to be big enough to ride. I’ve seen what looked like very young children riding scooters, barely able to see over the handle bars. Crazy.
I finally got to move into the new house yesterday. The place is a mess. My direct landlord, Trevor, has been using it as a place to store his stuff. But cleaning is impossible in any event, as there was no running water when I moved in. That lasted until this afternoon when we ‘fixed’ the problem. It seems that the owner’s son didn’t realize that the house was rented and notified the water authorities who came and removed the meter, thereby shutting off the water. It will take at least 4 days to get that situation rectified. We got around it by tapping into the well water in the house next door — owned by the same people — thereby obviating the need for water from the town that you pay for. The only kicker would be if the electricity went off, then the pump wouldn’t run. We’ve decided to let the town put the meter back in, then we’ll install shut-off valves so that we don’t use that water except when we need to. Win-win.
The house is amazing, an old, wood-frame, traditional Chinese-Thai house, about 30m from the river and 100m from the ocean. There’s a huge tree of some sort in the back yard, under which is a hammock. On the ground level there is a living-room, bedroom (in my mind for guests, with A/C and a brand-new king-sized bed (still in the plastic) and a brand-new wardrobe), a huge kitchen, bigger than my entire last place, and a separate shower and a separate toilet. The upstairs is a huge loft area, totally open with 4 screened windows on 3 of the walls; lots of ventilation and air flow being up in the air. I plan on living in the loft, as I also have a king-sized bed there. The house also has 2 massage tables, one of which I get to keep and use. I’ve put it in the loft and made an arrangement to get my massages here instead of going to a massage parlor. Same price, but the therapist gets to keep all of the money instead of splitting it with the house. Win-win. I was able to pay someone to run an ethernet cable from the modem in Trevor’s house into the loft area. Now I have fast (50/10MB) hard-wired internet instead of WiFi. What a difference.
It was nice and quiet in the night without a hotel full of noisy Russians right next door. Some of the windows don’t have screens and there are mosquitos here, so I’ve arranged to have screens made for the windows missing them. The same person who fixed the water problem, Arnon, a really nice Thai, is doing the work, while his wife says she wants to do the cleaning of the house (tomorrow). It is in desperate need of a top-to-bottom cleaning. The going wage for a full day’s work here is Bt500/$15/€14. And they actually work, not quite like the way it is in Lagos where they talk about working but don’t actually do anything.
Some interesting background on Ko Samui. When I was last here in 1981, the entire island was mostly owned by about a dozen families. There was no tourist infrastructure at all; no paved roads with the exception of parts of the ring road around the island, nothing built with anything but wood, bamboo, and palm thatch. There was no airport or ferry. You got here by hiring a fishing boat to bring you from the mainland at Surat Thani. There were just a few thousand local people making their living from the sea and farming coconuts. To give the women something to do, they were gifted with ‘useless’ (for agriculture) land on the beach while the ‘valuable’ coconut-farming land inland was given to the men. Fast forward to the 1980s when the airport was first built and tourism started happening. Now there are 25,000 permanent residents and that swells to 50,000 during the high tourist season. Those Thai women who were given all of that useless beachfront land are now multi-millionaires, while the men farm coconuts for peanuts.
Check out the new photos at http://www.ronen.net/gallery/asia/thailand_2017/ and see some videos of the Chinese New Year celebration at http://www.ronen.net/gallery/asia/thailand_2017/video/.
My visa was about to expire, so I had to do a ‘visa run’ to Malaysia, this time completely differently in every respect. Instead of ~$1,000 — the disaster in Kuala Lumpur — it was $50. Instead of having to fly and deal with airports and staying in a hotel because the schedules don’t quite work out, it was $50 and it took 16.5 hours, door to door. And it was pure hell. Got picked up in a nice air-conditioned mini-van. There were 5 other people, 3 empty seats. 15 minutes got us to the ferry at Nathon to Surat Thani on the mainland. The driver dealt with the tickets and getting us on board. That took about an hour and was uneventful; calm seas. At Surat Thani we were met by someone who recognized the day-goo patches which had been put on our shirts. We were herded into another air-conditioned mini-van for the 4-5-hour drive to the Malaysian border, through the ‘devastated’ areas of the south. I didn’t really see much evidence of any of the recent flooding. And it was very beautiful. This whole country is a mountainous jungle with areas sort of cleared for human inhabitants. So green. So verdant. I really like it.
About halfway to the border we stopped for a toilet/food break. The driver took care of everything, to my surprise. Apparently included in the cost. The border was actually fun. On the Thai side there is a small wooden structure. One side is marked Leaving, the other, Entering. There are 2 good-sized signs explaining the penalties for overstaying a visa and/or being arrested and convicted of any crime. It basically amounted to not being allowed into the country for increasing periods of time, depending upon the severity of the offense. Up to 10 years.
After getting stamped ‘out’ of Thailand, I turned and walked 50m to the exact duplicate of the building on the Malaysian side. There I was stamped ‘in’, moved 1m to my right to the next window and was stamped ‘out’. I then walked back to the Thai building and got stamped ‘in’ again for 1 month. It took 5-10 minutes in total and it was relaxed, even friendly. No cost. There’s an amnesty on visa fees for the time being because of the death of the king.
The 4-5 hour drive back to the ferry to Koh Samui was hell. The roads suck; lots of bouncing. My back and neck were killing me. We had one 15-minute stop for fuel and food, then it was to the ferry. There must have been more than 100 cars and trucks in line for a ferry. We drove by them all, right up to the boarding ramp. As soon as we were on board, it set sail. The driver had made a phone call a few minutes out, so I wondered if they hadn’t held it up for us. I’ll never know.
The return crossing was uneventful, but we didn’t return to the same port at Nathon, we docked at Lop Noi, a few minutes to the south. The mini-van wasn’t there to meet us, but did show up within 5 minutes. I guess you have to count your blessings. Then it got stupid, to my way of thinking. We had to backtrack to Nathon to drop off one of the passengers, which put us 10 minutes from Maenam. Instead of going that direction, the driver chose to drive to Lamai first, a 30+ minute drive around the south of the island. This is Friday night. It was SLOOOOWWWWW. Driving through the heart of Lamai. Then on to do the same thing in Chaweng. The slowest drive I’ve ever been on. It took 90 minutes before we finally got to Maenam.
I was absolutely beat and in pain, but I was also hungry. There is a single traffic light in Maenam, at the entrance to the Big Walking Street in Chinatown. On one corner is a noodle soup stand that is open until very late at night. I had a wonderful bowl of chicken noodle soup for 60Tbt/$1.75/€1.65. I considered a second, but was full. Love the food here. Then it was stagger home to bed. This is a typical description of a ‘visa run’, one that had no problems. I’ve heard of the other kind, too.
I wish I could say something nice about the reliability of Thai workers, but this guy who is supposedly fixing things really pushes the limits. He must have some Portuguese blood in him or something. They always need some more money for something, then they disappear for a week with no contact. Frustrating doesn’t exactly cover it. That aside, living in this huge house is very, very nice. The downstairs is nice and cool all of the time. I’ve gotten used to the various noises at night; farm animals, barking dogs (I’d eliminate all of the dogs if I were Trump…err, God). The neighbor across the way in the oldest house on the island only starts listening to TV at full volume around 6am, so nothing to complain about there.
What I really like is having struck a deal with Aeuu, an extremely talented massage therapist, for a daily massage at my house. The house comes complete with a massage table, so why not? In addition to her very talented hands, Aeuu speaks good English (worked 10 years in a tourist hotel) and has learned certain chiropractic ‘things’ that I’ve taught her like she was born to it. Basically I’m getting a full chiropractic treatment and a massage every day. I used to dream about what I’d do when/if I won the lottery. At the top of my list was a daily chiropractic adjustment and a massage. This is like winning the lottery.
I went to the guy I rented my scooter from to see if he also sells them 2nd hand. He had one exactly like the Yamaha that I’ve been riding, same colors, that he was willing to sell me for Bt18,000/$514/€488. New, it is closer to Bt70,000/$2,000/€1,900. It has only 7,400km on the odometer. That Bt18,000 includes him refunding me for the days I wasn’t going to be using the rental. Blew me away. The Thai people are not known for returning money that they’ve gotten their hand on. To take it a step further, he told me he’d deal with registering it for me. Amazing.
Samui Visa Run is the company that is helping me get my Retirement visa. It is an amazing process, very full of LOTS of paperwork and needing at least 6 months of time, and either Bt800,000/$22,820/€21,679 in a bank account or proof of a retirement income of at least Bt65,000/$1855/€1762/month. One of the contradictions in the process is that you need a Thai bank account to get the visa, but by law you can’t open a Thai bank account until you get the visa. Kwan at Samui Visa Run got around all of this somehow and helped me open a bank account. There are at least 30 pages of paperwork that she has accumulated for my ‘case’. One of the hard parts for me is needing a valid rental contract. The word valid is key here. That means from the actual owner with a copy of their ‘house card’, a sort of registration for the house.
The house I am renting, I am renting from an Englishman, Trevor, who is renting it from the owner who isn’t interested in giving him a valid contract because they’re not interested in paying taxes, etc. It is illegal in Thailand to sublet, so in theory Trevor is breaking the law by subletting the house to me that he is himself actually renting. To make it short, I can’t get a valid rental contract for the immigration authorities for the house in which I live.
Enter Samui Visa Run. The silent partner is a Russian guy who practiced law in Russia for 10 years after getting his law degree before deciding that he didn’t want that life and moved to Koh Samui. He has given me (Bt1,000) a ‘valid’ rental contract to use for immigration. He gave it to us blank so that we can clone it whenever we need to to make another one. Part of proving your living arrangements is to provide photos of yourself in the house. We did that yesterday. So weird. I also had to get 2 letters from the bank guaranteeing that I had such & such amount of money in the account for such & such amount of time. Also a certified copy of my current statement.
This morning (3/3/17) we went to the immigration office with all of the paperwork. Kwan has been talking with them regularly, to the point where she gets to talk to the top dog manager now. We put the VIP processing fee (bribe) in an envelope, Bt35,000/$1,000/€950, and Kwan went in. 30 minutes later I was asked to come in to sign some papers and to pose for an official photo. In about a week to 10 days, my 30-day tourist visa will be converted to a 3-month non-resident O visa. Then in April or May, that 3-month visa will be converted into the Retirement visa. So it is said…So goes my continuing Thai adventure.
Some interesting facts about Thailand…
Out of a population of 67m, the government is projecting that 14-15m will qualify for Welfare.
The bribery rate for Thailand is 41 per cent (I just paid a $1,000/Bt35,000 “VIP fee” for my retirement visa) compared to rate for Cambodia and Myanmar 40 per cent. Vietnam’s rate is 65 per cent, while rates for Indonesia and Malaysia are 32 per cent and 23 per cent respectively. The bribery rate for China is 26 per cent.
The head of the local immigration office is a former policeman who was also formerly the head immigration officer here before being fired/reassigned due to how massively corrupt he was widely known to be. He appears to be in his early 40s. He has now managed to get himself reassigned as the head of immigration here in Samui again.
On Koh Samui there is a building zoning code that prohibits the construction of any building taller/higher than a coconut tree. Wherever you are on this island, that’s all you see, verdant green covering everything with seldom a building intruding. That’s as good as Alaska’s no highway billboards or advertising.
Back in the 1890s, Britain and France were competing in SE Asia for control. Britain had India and Burma, the French had Cambodia. They were both trying to get Siam, as Thailand was then called. The Russians were crucial in helping the Siamese to repel both groups. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and Czar Nicholas II had a personal friendship and the Czar didn’t want to see either the British or the French any more powerful than they already were in SE Asia. But in order to settle the 1893 Franco-Siamese war, Siam had to give up what is now known as Laos to the French. The Chakri dynasty was saved, of which the current king (Rama X) is the latest to succeed to the throne.
Summer is definitely here. It’s very warm, in the mid-30Cs during the day and the high 20Cs at night, which actually is very nice, along with high humidity. The upstairs loft is an oven during the day, so I’ve retreated downstairs to the air-conditioned bedroom during the day. It’s still perfect upstairs at night for sleeping.
I had the best sushi meal of my life the other night in Chaweng at a place called Fuji. I’m still in shock at how incredibly delicious it was. The sashimi boat had pieces of fish that were 2-3 times as thick as anything I had ever seen before in my life. The miso soup was by far the best I had ever tasted. The only down side was the price; expensive. I can’t wait to go again, but will have to do it sparingly.
Life goes on, better and better every day. I cannot get over how cool it is to live life mostly without pain. Just amazing.
My massage therapist/girlfriend Aeuu (yes, things have progressed), has been offered the job of spa director at this incredible place, http://www.nikkibeachhotels.com/koh-samui. In Thailand you need a special license to be a spa director. I had no idea that she has been the spa director at 2 different 5-star resorts here in the past. We went there today for a meeting with the management. A week ago, their personnel manager and head of housekeeping came to Maenam for a massage from Aeuu. They had heard about her from another friend of ours, Apple, who owns a restaurant and also has a cooking school and massage school. I adjusted both of them before they got their massages. After the massages, they left, then came back about half an hour later and asked her about her experience and licenses. After a bit of talking, they asked her if she’d be interested in the position. She told them that she would do it for 3 months, to help them get everything set up, then she’d decide if she wanted the spa director’s job long term. It’s a dream job. No responsibility other than setting the place up, determining the menu and product line, and training the staff so that everyone is doing everything the same way, and then running it. They have their own advertising department so that they do all of the promotion and the spa gets to just do spa stuff. And the pay is at least twice the normal salary someone could expect to earn in Thailand plus crazy cool benefits.
While waiting for the meeting to start, they offered us complimentary Sunday brunch. This brunch is famous on Koh Samui and now I know why. Fucking wow. I was blown away. Mango mimosas to start, then the most incredible selection of food, including oysters on the half shell, green-lipped mussels, THICK sashimi, HUGE shrimp, and so on. Drinks were extra. We thought we would have to pay for our drinks, $60 for 3 Long Island Ice Teas, but they wouldn’t hear of it and picked up the tab for everything, a total of about $150. Crazy!!! I’m still full and it’s been 6 hours. The place was full of Russians — it’s one of their favorites places — and they were drinking $1000/bottle champagne like it was water. I saw several tables being served full 1.5L bottles of Grey Goose vodka at $500/bottle. The place is 5-star + with semi-naked table dancers included, all Russians, of course. Normal massage anywhere is Bt300/hour; at this place it’s Bt1500/hour plus 10% service and 7% tax, so about $50 instead of $8 anywhere else.
It doesn’t seem to matter where I live on this planet, people are amazing, just in different ways. It’s now ‘low season’, but to me there seem to be plenty of tourists, maybe about half of what I saw in the ‘high season’. The weather is hot, hot, hot and humid; 30+C/90+F with 65%-100% humidity. The best part of that is the ocean is now warm enough for me to get wet. My circle of Thai acquaintances continues to grow, due to Aeuu’s friends coming to visit and those I meet because of another friend, Apple, sending people to me who have back problems. Either way, it’s a social life and I have constant contact with people, very unlike Lagos. That’s the biggest difference between the two places, other than the cost of massage.
I’m heading back to Lagos on June 1 to get my apartment in renting condition and to ship some of my stuff to Thailand. Not really looking forward to it, but it has to be done. I do look forward to a couple of my favorite restaurants and walking Meia Praia, though.
I’ve always said that I thrive on change, the more dynamic, the better. Well, I’ve been putting that to the test lately.
On June 1, I flew back to Lagos to close up my life there so that I could completely transition to Thailand. It’s about 31 hours door to door. Sucks pretty much covers it and I only had carry-on baggage; nothing checked.
After 6 months in The Land of Smiles, I was totally unprepared for the Portuguese experience of negativity, which somehow I had forgotten about. I needed to get from the airport in Lisbon to the Oriente train/bus station. It is only 2 metro stops away, but I have never been able to figure out how to use the automatic metro ticket machines, and there is no other way, so I always opt for a cab.
Well, the cab driver was furious when he realized that it wasn’t a fare to London. He did nothing but moan and groan and shake his head in a very negative way the entire way to Oriente, a whole 5-minute drive.
After waiting in line for 15 minutes at the bus station, I was informed that the next bus to Lagos left in 5 hours. NFW (No Fucking Way). So I headed to the train station ticket office and there was a train leaving NOW. If I ran, maybe I could catch it. Lucky for me, it left 20 minutes late and I got on 2 minutes before it pulled out. The connecting train in Tunes actually waited, which surprised me to no end.
Then started my month of hell. I needed to arrange to ship my stuff to Thailand, which meant packing. I eliminated about a third of my stuff which I wasn’t going to ship, but that had to be gotten rid of somehow. Some to be sold via a friend who does such things for a business, the rest to be donated to the local charity shop that uses its proceeds to take care of the stray cats in Lagos. I love pussies.
It was great to see a few friends, better to eat in my favorite restaurants again. Damn if Lagos doesn’t do some of the best seafood on the planet.
After finally cleaning out my apartment on the 26th, the Realtor was finally able to come take photos on the 27th so that they could put it on the market for sale. Of course, I managed to lock myself out of my apartment without a phone at 8am. I had picked up the wrong set of keys and only the building key was correct; no front door key.
So I banged on my neighbors' door, waking them up, and asked them to please call me a locksmith to get me into my apartment. He said he’d come at 10, which was fine, as that was when I expected the Realtor for the photos. Well, the Realtor showed up on time, but the locksmith was on Lagos time and didn’t get there until 10:45. But I’m finally able to get into the apartment.
The cable provider generously shut off my service 2 days earlier than I requested, leaving me with no phone (land line), internet, or television. Never seen anything in Portugal happen that efficiently in 4+ years.
At 6am on the 28th, Alex came to give me a ride to the airport in Faro, about an hour or so away. I got my checked bag plastic wrapped. It was full of computer stuff that I didn’t want disappearing. It also weighed a lot, 34kg I later learned. They were happy to check the bag, not saying anything about the weight, which really surprised me, but they would only check it through to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (arriving 3:15pm), not all the way to Koh Samui because there was a 15-hour delay between the flights (9:15am the next day). This meant that I would have to pick up the bag in Kuala Lumpur and then check it in to Bangkok Airways for the flight to Koh Samui the next morning.
I had booked a room in the airport hotel that wouldn’t require me to have to go through immigration. When I got to the hotel, I was informed that the reservation was only good for 12 hours. 12 hours after checking in, I had to leave. This meant a 4:30am wake-up call to be out by 5:00am for a 9:15am flight. Fucking wonderful.
So I checked in. I was exhausted and wanted to take a shower before going to find my checked bag. Now begins the bad LSD trip. In order to collect my checked bag, I needed to first go through immigration. That meant a 2-hour wait in line with thousands of other people to clear passport control. Then I was able to retrieve my bag.
When I went back around to go back into the airport to my hotel room, they would not let me into the airport without a boarding pass for my flight the next morning, which I couldn’t get until the next morning. Catch 22.
The security person who was dealing with me, Marsheila, was amazing. She went to someone she knew who worked at one of the other airlines and explained things and got her to issue me a boarding pass for my flight. She then took me and my checked bag for a security scan, telling me that she was going to ignore the fact that it was 4kg over the weight limit. They freaked when they saw all of the electronics in the x-ray scan and had me open the bag. They were suitably impressed with what they saw and gave me their blessing in the form of a Customs sticker on the bag. Marsheila then had another person escort me and my bag through the 4 layers of security and passport control and then to my hotel where I was able to collapse. The whole ordeal only took 4 hours after more than 24 hours of travel. I don’t ever remember being so exhausted. I got not a minute’s sleep the entire night in the hotel. I have no idea why specifically, other than I have no idea.
One thing that I did for the return trip that paid dividends over and over again was to take my cane with me instead of sending it with the shippers. I got to board every single flight first. Everyone went out of their way to help the poor, old crippled man with the stick. :)
I got kicked out of the hotel at 5am as promised and was lucky to find a seating area next to my departure gate where I could stretch out across 4 seats and finally get some sleep.
Bangkok Airways didn’t bat an eye when I showed up with my huge check-in baggage, they just issued me a new boarding card and took care of things, then got me on the plane first. You cannot imagine the sense of relief I felt as I settled into my seat for the short hour-and-a-half flight to Koh Samui.
It felt so good to finally be back. Getting through immigration — head of the line with my stick, of course — was a breeze. It took maybe 5 minutes. It was a great idea to come in from KL instead of going through Phuket or Bangkok and clearing customs in either of those places. There was zero baggage inspection. 15 minutes later I was home, to a home that had no running water.
Now, if this were Portugal, it would take a month to get the problem fixed, but this is Thailand. Aeuu made a couple of phone calls and right away one of her friends, Seng, was there to get things working. By the time I went to bed, I had running water. It only involved getting a pump and hooking it up to a well and running the output line to intersect with the house’s system. Seriously. The next day we discovered why the city water wasn’t getting to the house and fixed that in 30 minutes. Now I’ve got a redundant backup system.
So, I’ve closed the Lagos chapter of my life and now begins the Thailand chapter. It’s going to be interesting to see how many pages this chapter ends up having. Lagos was 4-1/2 years. Holland was 7+ years.
When I got back, I was suddenly confronted my a large, unfriendly Thai woman who wanted to know what I was doing in the house. Since I had been illegally subletting the house from Trevor, who had gone insane and gotten kicked out of the country with a 5-year ban on returning, I had nothing to prove that I had paid for a year.
After a lengthy discussion/negotiation, I ended up with an agreement to rent the house for 5 years, getting a crazy good price if I paid the entire 5 years up front.
I had Kwan from Visa Samui check all of the paperwork so that it would be good for immigration and the deal was done. What a great feeling.
My stuff finally showed up on September 15th. I'm 95% unpacked, but what a PITA (pain in the ass). I really hope that I never have to move again. I really do hate it almost as much as grocery shopping.
It's now monsoon season and slowly but surely the rains are starting. I'm expecting that most of the ex-pats who spend half of their year here will start showing up this month. I feel very much at home and am counting my blessings that I ended up here.