This is page 6 of the story, “Living in Thailand” – the first page is HERE.
There is incredible variety to Thai food. If you’ve been to Thai restaurants in the USA you’ve no doubt tasted some tasty dishes. There is a very limited menu in these places. I knew though, that I could live on only what I found in a Thai restaurant in America because I loved it so much! I didn’t have any question about whether I could eat rice everyday. I knew I could.
When I moved here to Thailand I saw that there are so many other foods here that we never see in the USA. Some of my favorite foods are the fruits. There is incredible variety to the fruits here. Longan, Lumyai, Dragonfruit, Mangosteen. In the states I was able to find Lumyai for ten dollars a pound. Here I can get a kilogram for an average of less than a dollar!
The fruit is plentiful and good. I’ve heard that there are quite a few pesticides used on some of them – especially the watermelon and Lumyai. I wish I had a better idea about the truth of this, and what other fruits might get more than a light dose of them.
The food is spicy in the northeast – Isaan region. It is all spicy. If you say “mai pedt”, (not spicy) you will still get spicy enough that you might not be able to handle it. They spice everything there except deserts.
When I moved down to the south I noticed that there isn’t much spice at all. The spicy dishes, curries usually, aren’t really spicy at all. I’ve grown accustomed to the really spicy Isaan food. “Som Tam” which is spicy papaya salad, is one of my favorites – I have to tell them “pedt maak maa” here in the south so they get the idea to put as many peppers into it as they can. I think the peppers are of a different quality here in the south versus Isaan. Not nearly as hot. Som Tam is the favorite of Isaan natives. They are addicted to it – they must have it everyday. If my girlfriend doesn’t get it here everyday for lunch she must have it the next day without fail.
In Isaan there are quite a few small markets that have bugs for sale. Fried bugs of every variety. I’ve seen ants, spiders, frogs, tarantulas, rice bugs, grasshoppers, crickets, big black scorpions, and more. Anything that can be fried – meaning, anything!
In Isaan one time I had lunch with some top administrators from the department of education. The first thing the top guy ordered was some rice bugs for appetizer. Oh, and some beer for everyone. There is no stigma attached to those that order beer at lunch here in Thailand. Even among teachers! It’s normal. It’s easy to get used to also.
There are many beers in Thailand. Most of them are the 6% alcohol variety which, to me don’t taste all that great. In the USA our beer is 3-4% alcohol and tastes better on average. However, Thailand just came out with a new Singha Light beer, which I really enjoy. I think it has 3.5 % alcohol and it tastes a little bit like my favorite beer of all time… BEERLAO! If you get a change to go to Laos and get some Beerlao in a bottle… wow, you’re in for a treat. Laos also started making some dark Beer Laos recently that is really delicious. Either one will put a smile on your face!
See my wife’s Try Thai Food Cooking blog – she has many recipes with photos and videos!
I had a little trouble with getting my Beerlao over the border from Laos to Thailand one time. This was the first instance of a scam or extortion that I experienced in Thailand, but it happens to most of us that live here in one way or others.
Here is a post I put on a Thailand expat forum about it:
I cross-posted this in the general form as well, figuring that there are many visitors that end up coming up through Isaan and to Chong Mek to get to Laos…
Today at 1:15 pm a friend of mine (American living in Thailand, myself (American), and his Thai wife of 5 years were stopped by “excise” officials.
Excise Tax Officials’ Scam at Chong Mek
Here are the facts…
About 1:00 p.m. we stopped at the duty free alcohol shop on the Laos side of Chong Mek border crossing, intending to get some Beerlao like we usually do, and also pick up a bottle of something stronger. We had heard that the law had changed recently since Thailand was now heavily taxing the harder liquors.
At the package store they explained to us (long-time customers) that we were allowed to take a case of beer each and 1 bottle of whisky each. This is what we did. We asked the owner of the store as well as the clerks. All were of the same opinion. We don’t think that they would have scammed us by telling us the wrong amounts just so we buy more because we are in their store once every couple weeks buying over two thousand baht worth of goods each time.
We paid, got receipts and headed outside to find a guy with a pushcart to take the stuff to our car on the TH side. The store actually found us a guy to do it for twenty baht.
We walked alongside him until the border and we took the footpath and he took the road where his push cart fit easily. A border agent checked what he had in the cart and let him through.
We kept walking and met him on the other side and walked to our car. Upon arriving at the car a man came right up to us to look at what was in the cart. He said that we had too much alcohol and that only one liter per person was allowed. I didn’t understand as we had one 200ml bottle of red label, one 375 ml bottle of black label, and a 1.5 liter of baileys Irish cream. We also had one case of Beerlao dark and one case of Beerlao gold (regular). There were three of us, me, John, and his Thai wife, Dthia.
The guy was very low-key and had a tattered ID card – which I didn’t believe. I insisted he go get his boss or some police or somebody else and that we’re not paying the two thousand baht he suggested…
As he left to go get the rest of the party, he told us to remain there. We did – waiting about ten minutes. Then he came with three other guys. One had an “Excise” ID – #xxx/48… he was in charge. He explained that the guy at the border was “ARMY” and that he is under a different group of people. NOT the same. If the border guy said OK, it doesn’t mean it’s OK. He wanted to charge us one thousand baht excise tax on the liquor we had.
We argued a lot and tried to rationalize, when I realized and my friend did too, that they didn’t want to budge. We’d have to pay them off. My friend reaches in his pocket to get one thousand baht and asked that we get a receipt for the “fine”.
The excise official (ID – #xxx/48) said loudly that he couldn’t take a bribe! So my friend repeated, no, no bribe, we’re wrong, let us just pay the fine – give us a receipt and we’ll go.
Well the guy was embarrassed a bit now – or something wasn’t going his way, so now he said we must go to the police station to do the paperwork. He was going to go to court against US because we were saying he is trying to scam us. He also said that if this happened, my friend’s wife would have to go to JAIL because she is the one behind all this. THEY NEVER LOOKED AT MY FRIEND’S OR MY PASSPORT AT ALL, just hers.
We tried to pay there and avoid the police station – because who knows what could happen there, right?
Apparently we had no choice.
Reluctantly we went to the police station – we drove – the main guy (ID – #xxx/48) came with us in back seat. It’s close to the border – a three minute ride. The main guy starts writing lots of accusations about my friend’s wife. Calling her a smuggler and that when the court case comes up she’ll be put in jail and they’ll have to pay twenty thousand baht to get her out. He is threatening her with a lot of things – making her very afraid. We weren’t sure he wasn’t going to have her put her in jail right then.
The jail cell was visible from the front of the building where we were standing at the desk he was filling out the paperwork. Two guys were standing – one was getting strip-searched – I saw him strip to his underwear. There were 15-20 other men standing in the cell in their underwear. Who knows how long they had been there. I did not have a good feeling.
Before we left the car to walk up the police steps I walked back to shut the trunk of my friend’s car since I didn’t need these clowns planting yaba on us and upping the ante. As I did so, one of the policemen followed me. He began opening the car doors and looking under the seats in the front then the back.
Back at the police station my friend and his wife were still talking to the excise officials, the main official berated my friend’s wife and we continued to try to rationalize. They were having none of it and told my friend’s wife if we kept pushing it – she’d go to jail.
She paid the one thousand baht. Got a receipt. The officer then said he needed to get into the trunk to get our alcohol! We were told before we left Chong Mek that we would keep the alcohol if we paid the one thousand baht “fine.”
So one guy reaches in and grabs four Beerlao beers, and that was it. He shut the trunk.
We drove off feeling screwed, and yet happy that none of us were in jail.
What a farked up day at Chong Mek.
So, my question – what IS the law about the amount of alcohol we can take across the border? We did not see a sign at the border that the Excise guy said is there. The people at the duty free store said they would refund us the one thousand baht AND give us four bottles of Beer Laos when we return (we called and they remembered us). They said that this same excise guy comes and buys ten cases of beer and gets it across the border every now and then with apparently no problem.
We saw people get on the tour bus from Thailand with over ten bottles of alcohol for ONE PERSON.
Advising everyone to be VERY careful here. And even if you are – LIKE WE WERE, you may still be had.
This IS Thailand – corruption can be found most places.
It’s fun to drive out into the countryside in the northeast and just go back some dirt roads… there are tiny villages – groups of twenty or more houses where some really poor people live. They get all excited when the see farangs and some of them wave… but all of them stare. If you take the time to buy something at their little convenience store or talk to a child you’ll find them the nicest people in the world.
The northeast is really tops for people and how nice they are to strangers. They really go out of their way to be friendly and nice to others.
I think the coolest experience I had was when I was riding a small song-taew – a pickup truck with seats in the bed that many people take for short trips around town. I was in baan nawk (the countryside) and I sat down in the back. After a minute I looked at the other occupants who were all piss-poor and probably worked in the rice fields. There was a little girl about two and a half years old I saw looking at me and when I looked at her she got so shy and afraid that her hands went up automatically to wai me in the cutest way I’ve ever seen – she almost used her wai as a way to hide from my stare. It was priceless… guess I’ll remember it forever.
“Firsts in Thailand”
Last weekend was the under-celebrated anniversary of my first year in Thailand (this was written nine years ago) I was thinking about how many things that I did for the first time while here. I am in my late thirties and have experienced quite a bit of “life.” Variety both of good and bad times. Moving to another country can give you another level of good and bad. It was that kind of change that I craved when I sold everything and moved to Thailand a year ago. Anyway, here is my year of “firsts”… meaning – first times that I experienced these things…
First time I saw thin persons outnumber chubby, heavy, obese people.
First time I saw pretty or acceptable girls outnumber ugly or undesirable girls.
First time I saw fat, ugly, old white men folk outnumber the young, virile, stud puppies that seem to hang out in Tampa and the beaches.
First time I ate bugs. (rice bugs, crickets, grasshoppers, ant larvae, hellgrammites, giant Chinese cockroaches, silkworm larvae, and scorpions (which landed me in the emergency room!)
First time I ate such spicy food (yum woonsen) that I sweat profusely, felt violently ill, and recovered within an hour.
First time I had diarrhea more than ten days.
First time I saw a fight where a guy was cut in the stomach with a broken bottle and then his head was kicked and bottles were bounced off his face after he was unconscious. He died. So, first time I saw a murder too.
First time I threw water at people and had water thrown at me for twenty-four hours over a three-day period. (Songkran)
First time I had sex with two different girls at same time.
First time I saw ladyboys that were prettier than girls.
First time I spent less than 50 cents USD for breakfast and lunch and less than $1.00 USD for dinner.
1st time I slept on the hard floor; a hard bed; a wooden couch.
First time I had my crotch grabbed by anyone other than a woman.
First time I saw people dead on the street. I’ve seen about six people laying dead on the street after motorsai (motorbike) accidents. Many more very badly injured.
First time I worried whether a friend was killed in a natural disaster – Patong Beach Tsunami of 2004.
First time my best friend was over 50 yrs old.
First time I didn’t care whether my shirt ‘matched’ my tie.
First time I’ve had the hair on my arms ‘admired’ and touched by children and men/women alike.
First time I haven’t had pretzel rods or fished for more than a month.
First time I’ve taken a bus ride longer than three hours (it was ten hours).
First time I’ve met people from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Burma, Ireland, Scotland.
First time I was extorted from. And the second, third, and fourth time. Total over 250,000 Thai baht.
First time I had home-brewed whiskey.
First time I saw a live cobra in the wild (restroom in Phuket).
First time I slept on a train.
First time I saw people cut in line and nobody said anything.
First time I got annihilated on alcohol at a bar for less than twelve dollars.
First time I saw girls under 18 selling sex.
First time I saw a 75+ year old man with a fifteen year old dinner-date.
First time I had an oil massage.
First time I saw a fishbowl – where the girls are behind a clear glass pane and the guys come and pick one out like buying a pet.
First time I met so many virgin girls over twenty years old (in Isaan).
First time I heard Tokay Gekko Geckos (Thais’ say too-geh) that make a crazy sound)
First time I saw black and white (zebra) mosquitoes.
First time I saw a girl faint up close (I was teaching English to two young girls, private students, when one cut her finger a bit with a knife she was shaving a pencil with. She went to restroom and fainted, landing hard on the floor. Dad flipped out.
First time I’ve slept until five p.m.
First time I’ve seen someone passed out lying face down in the sand as I walked along the beach in the morning. (he was alive – someone woke him later)
First time I’ve had a stranger ask me to pay for their food at the fruit stand.
First time I’ve paid for dinner for three at a nice restaurant and the total was under $8.00 USD.
First time I’ve had girls ask ME to go home with them.
First time I’ve been twelve hours in time zones away from my family.
First time I’ve sent SMS, photos and video messages from a phone.
First time I’ve eaten rice everyday for months at a time.
First time I’ve had friends from England, New Zealand, Holland, Australia, France, Germany, and Singapore.
First time I’ve seen children that are NOT afraid of rats or bees.
First time I’ve seen more than two people on a motorbike. (5)
First time I’ve eaten black beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, silk worm larvae, queen red ant larvae, giant Chinese cockroach, and a huge Scorpion (which landed me in the hospital overnight).
Hospitals and Medical Care in Thailand
So far I’ve been fortunate and haven’t been in any major accident or had any serious injury while here in Thailand. I have seen many motorbike accidents – quite serious accidents. I’ve seen a number of people dead on the street, bleeding from the head usually after a motorbike accident.
I’ve seen victims of accidents thrown into open pickup trucks where they are rushed off to the hospital. Drivers who take injured to the hospital make a couple hundred baht for taking them so there is rarely any waiting around for an ambulance to arrive. People just pick up the body and throw them in the truck – not at all gently sometimes.
The worst insect bites I’ve had here in Thailand has been some red-ant bites that got me when I didn’t check a towel after my shower and they had infested it for some reason. I had bites all over my privates and literally everywhere. I’ve also had a large black wasp type thing fly up my shorts as I rode the motorbike at 110 km per hour (about 80mph). It stung multiple times – maybe seven – I can’t remember. I skidded the bike to a stop, dropped the kickstand and left my girlfriend sitting on the motorbike stunned as I ripped off my shorts and underwear, shaking them insanely and running down an embankment. Thais in passing cars had their faces pressed up against their windows. Understandable since they’ve probably never seen a naked farang on the highway! But, as I said, so far- nothing serious. Motorbike injuries are by far the most common thing to happen here.
I’ve escaped a couple tragedies on the motorbike over these two years. In one case I was going too fast and three girls on a motorbike pulled out in front of me – I locked up both brakes and skidded – sideways – without flipping over – for about thirty meters. I cussed them in English until my throat hurt. They hadn’t a clue what had even happened. Thais have a habit of just pulling out into traffic without looking – assuming that everyone in back of them will avoid them. That’s the way it’s usually done here. Unless of course some foreigners are driving behind – and we don’t understand the game yet.
Another time I was driving down the road – on the left side – close to some cars and a drunk teen on a motorbike just pushed his motorbike out backwards (backed up) right into traffic and in my direct line. I narrowly missed crashing into him at 70 km/hour. Good thing there wasn’t a car on the right side of me when I swerved, or I’d have been in the hospital or morgue.
Thais are usually very predictable in how they drive. In Isaan they are quite a bit more polite and drive slower than here in the south. I don’t feel safe here driving at all. There are young teens that are FLYING up the main road here – at 120 km/hour, racing as the sun sets. They have no regard for where they are on the road – sometimes far right side – sometimes passing other motorbikes on the left side. There are such horrible accidents here – and the Thais take it all in stride.
The Thais are Buddhist. They believe that fate comes when it comes. There is no sense worrying about it before it comes or after it comes. When someone dies, they die. There is little else to say about it. Their time came. When someone dies on the street in a motorbike accident those that are still alive and coherent aren’t even looking at their dead friend in the street. They are just happy to be alive. They don’t hug the dead person, cry over them, hold their hand, nothing. They just leave the person in the street and go over to talk to each other and laugh and smile. It’s so surreal to see it. I’ve seen this about four separate times during motorbike accidents that resulted in deaths.
After a night out one of my co-workers in Isaan had a bad motorbike accident at about two a.m. one night. I didn’t see it happen, but I lived with the after-effects. I wrote the article below and posted it at an expat forum:
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