Grapevine - July 3 - July 16, 2020
Future of the visa
Everyone is waiting with baited
breath to know the future of the immigration amnesty for foreigners
“stuck” in Thailand after it ends on July 31. Given the ongoing problems
with restricted flights and closed borders, expect some kind of
extension month-by-month. But the detail may well vary according to your
nationality/passport. And we hear that one year and Elite visa holders
will need to resume reporting their 90 days.
Airport ready by 2055
The mammoth, multi-billion baht
infrastructure to rebuild U-tapao airport and create a satellite city
over there will happen in stages. Expect a new terminal by 2024, a
high-speed railway by 2024 and a final countdown to completion by 2055.
The whole scheme which is central to the Eastern Corridor economic
project is funded by a consortium of public and private sources. In
other words, there may be some slippage in those dates. But you’ll
likely never find out.
Pattaya’s new hub?
Although we have got used to seeing
for sale and for rent notices all over town, the area in and around Tree
Town on Soi Buakhao seems to be doing better than most. It’s a lively
and competitively-priced entertainment district with some
exotically-sounding names such as the eateries The Hungry Hippo and The
Chunky Monkey. Parking nearby might be a problem at night, but you
should mosey on over there.
Tourists in a long queue
If you are in a special category –
such as an investor, a businessman, a medical tourist, a permanent
resident or a foreigner married to a Thai – at least you have been
mentioned by the government as a priority group sometime in the near
future. But ordinary tourists – especially from UK, Europe and the
United States – are not scheduled for permission to land in Thailand any
time soon. We are in for the long haul as it were.
Bring your wallet to Cambodia
You are welcome to go to the Land
of Dreams. Sort of. But you will need at the airport a Covid-19 free
certificate issued in the last three days and travel insurance worth
US$50,000. Then you will need to open a bank account there with at least
US$3,000 in cash which the authorities can dip into to pay for your two
weeks quarantine in a Phnom Penh facility. Did somebody say that
Cambodia is a cheap country?
Chess players neglected
The last time we looked, the cozy
chess alcove on the fourth floor of Central Festival Pattaya Beach was
still closed. Given the relaxation of the coronavirus rules and the fact
that chess players are hardly a crowd, it is surely time to reopen a
facility which used to serve a good professional purpose for lovers of
the game. A two-meter social distancing rule would not be a problem in
Bernard retired at last
Bernard Trink’s Nite Owl column was
dropped by the Bangkok Post in 2003 and with it the mini reviews of bars
and clubs in Bangkok and Pattaya disappeared forever, too. Bernard
soldiered on for a while with his own website and managed periodically
to write book reviews for the Bangkok Post. But the website was disabled
years ago and his last book review was in January 2020. Born in 1931,
Bernard is finally retired but it’s likely he doesn’t give a hoot.
Pandemic a fast learning experience
Awful though that pesky virus is,
it has taught us a lot about the English language. We now hopefully know
the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic and a travel bubble
versus a green tunnel. All of us are conversant with newly-learned
expressions such as Covid-19, new-normal, Covidiots, terminal procedures
and accidental impregnation. Six months ago, nobody would have believed
a world plague would contribute so much to our learning curves.
Booze thoughts for the week
“Actually it takes only one drink
to get me loaded. Trouble is I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or
fourteenth,” (George Burns). “A man is never drunk if he can lay on the
floor without holding on,” (Joe E. Lewis). “He died of cirrhosis of the
liver and I can tell you that’s something that doesn’t come cheaply,” (P.G.
Grapevine - June 19 - July 2, 2020
Makes you wonder
The director-general of the Thai
probation service has informed us that over 2,000 curfew breakers and
illegal party goers were not fined and sent to prison, but instead were
diverted to temples or community service. This is in line with the
policy of samneuk di or conscientiousness. Thai prisons are
overcrowded as it is. One wonders if any foreigners were included in the
A novel Covid-19 approach
A Brit signing in manually at a
Pattaya department store clearly printed his name and telephone number
but added “no calls between 2 pm and 3pm”. The security assistant did
her best to explain that he would be telephoned only if there was a
coronavirus outbreak. “Yes I know,” he said, “but not in the mid
afternoon because I always take a nap then.”
App ups and downs
The Thai Chana registration device
may be useful – we don’t really know what would happen if 10,000 people
all received SMS messages to go and get tested – but it’s not
fool-proof. Some people are forgetting to record their departure and,
more seriously, some people are just pointing their phones at the QR
code even though they are not connected to the internet.
Locating the wife
Of all the odd excuses offered by
motorists when stopped by police during curfew hours, the weirdest may
be the guy who said he was searching the area for his wife who was
mentally ill and needed constant medical attention. An officer shone his
torch onto the back seat and found the wife fast asleep.
Just worth noting that several Thai
companies are offering insurance policies specifically against the
disease with ages permitted from just born to 99 years. Farang must have
resided in Thailand for at least six months or have a work permit. Of
course, there are loads of restrictions and get-out clauses, but it may
be worth the resident oldies checking out on the internet.
Airport delays ahead
Nobody knows when normal service
will be resumed on the mass tourism front. But current government
thinking seems to be leaning towards very substantial documentation. To
get into the country, you may need your passport, a health certificate
and insurance paperwork as well as subjecting yourself to quickie
temperature and virus tests. Then there’s the growing likelihood of
needing to download an app which can trace your movements whilst in the
kingdom. Is this the new normal and how many people will opt out of
New expressions abound
Every day witnesses one or two
phrases which we had never heard of before. New normal is a case in
point. One of the latest is “travel bubble” which seems to mean you are
in a pilot tourist group from a favoured country (such as China) but
will be whisked away to one of the Thai islands without stopping
anywhere en route. Since Pattaya is not usually considered an island,
local businesses won’t benefit from these particular bubbles.
Immigration amnesty choice
Just because you don’t need to
report your 90 days in the period March 26 to July 31, that doesn’t mean
you cannot. The local immigration is bureau is not busy at present, so
many resident farang are keeping their paperwork up to date. That’s not
compulsory but could save you queuing up after the amnesty comes to an
Queuing for food
Some cynics believe that the long
queues for free eats contain many free-riders who simply want something
for nothing. Seems unlikely. Standing in line for an hour or two with
the hot sun shining down or risking breaking the curfew by queuing in
the middle of the night for a 7 a.m. rice handout sound like genuine
Grapevine - June 5 - June 18, 2020
Some common questions about dying in Thailand.
How does anyone know?
Nearly all deaths occur at home, in
a hospital or in a roadside accident. In all cases, the police will be
notified by witnesses. They will in turn likely inform your embassy. But
a friend or relative is well advised to make contact as soon as
possible. Embassies need to know who the next of kin is.
Is an autopsy automatic?
It is a police discretion, but
autopsies are necessary unless the dead person died in hospital after a
documented illness. Most autopsies are performed at the police hospital
in Bangkok. They are not necessarily detailed procedures and it is open
to close relatives to organize and pay for a second one.
What do embassies do?
They can contact next of kin in the
home country and provide information sheets on funeral directors and
lawyers, if required. They issue a letter of release to the next of kin
or the executor of the will so that the body can be hygienically
What are the options?
Most foreigners are cremated in
Thai temples, but transport back to the home country can be arranged. It
is very difficult to arrange a traditional burial in Thailand. The cost
of a Thai cremation can range from 20,000 baht to well over 100,000 baht
depending on location and requirements. Repatriation of the lead-lined
coffin back to Europe can cost several thousand US dollars or
What if there’s a will?
A Thai will must be submitted to
the court for a judge to issue the necessary probate authorization. This
is the first stage in disposing of the assets of the deceased. If there
is a separate will drawn up in the home country, the authorities there
will need to see the Thai will and probate. This is to ensure the two
wills do not contradict each other.
What if there’s no will?
A Thai court has the power to
dispose of the assets of the deceased. For example, a Thai wife with a
marriage certificate will be in a strong position. But it is not a good
idea to die intestate as the proceedings can be expensive and open to
challenge. The same thing applies to wills in the home country. Legal
fees can be enormous.
What happens to the deceased’s
Some embassies want it returned and
others are unconcerned. The passport will have been cancelled anyway. It
is a courtesy to visit the local immigration office but not essential.
Can a Thai widow obtain a
The situation on state pensions
varies country by country. For example, the British pensions authority
gives no financial support of any kind unless the Thai widow has worked
in UK and has a national insurance number. But the widow may be able to
claim a benefit from her husband’s private or occupational pension. This
depends on the policy document.
What are the most common
Dying intestate or with a poorly
drawn-up will is the main issue. Whilst you are still well, it’s best to
seek the services of a recommended lawyer here who can draw up the
document in both Thai and in the first language. Costs vary according to
how complicated the text is. Budget between 10,000 and 20,000 baht.
What happens if nobody claims
Thai authorities will eventually
cremate the body, perhaps collectively with others in the same position,
or hand it over to a charitable organization such as Sawangboriboon.
Sometimes unclaimed bodies are buried in designated cemetery areas which
are cleared every few years and the bones cremated.
Grapevine - May 22 - June 4, 2020
Bizarre defence 1
Some folk offer the most odd
explanations of curfew breaking. A Rayong guy was stopped after police
noticed he was driving slowly down the highway in the wee hours. He
explained he was looking for his wife who was very absent-minded and
frequently wandered off. Police then asked who was laid out sleeping on
the back seat of the vehicle. You are right – his wife!
Bizarre defence 2
Police raided a “mua soom” or a
group of five people drinking beer, laughing and joking contrary to the
state of emergency regulations at the time. Their defence was that they
were drinking from cans and bottles in the garage which were so old that
the alcohol content had evaporated. One of their number then drew
attention to an internet site which said exactly that. It seems you
can’t believe everything you read on the world wide web. It’s a pity.
Open for booze
When the dry season ended on May 3,
there was a shortage of hard information about the new opening hours for
off-sales. Some stores thought we were back to the good old days of 24
hours opening. Others thought the authorities probably meant 6 am to 6
pm, or maybe 11 am to 6 pm. Then again they might have meant to go back
to 11 am to 2 pm and then 5 pm to 6 pm or even to 8 pm. Or maybe a
cut-off time at 10 pm to coincide with the start of the curfew. Not
surprising that a suspicious public decided to stock up in a rush whilst
Corona balance sheet
Many people have commented that an
upside of the pandemic has been environmental improvement as smog clears
over cities and the turtles come back to lay their eggs on the beach
devoid of humans. Over the entire world, pollution may be down by 10
percent or so. On the downside, there has been a truly gigantic increase
in the amount of plastic used in the packaging of takeaway food and
temporary knives forks and spoons. Whatever happened to that campaign?
Fake news breathes
Following a comment in Pattaya Mail
that one of the silliest fake news stories about Coronavirus was the one
suggesting you hold your breath for three minutes, a reader wrote in to
point out somberly that such a practice is dangerous as you will die
rather than recover. Thanks for that. But not sure if holding your
breath longtime is any more stupid than the notion from a senior
American source that drinking or injecting bleach might be a cure-all.
Either way you meet your Maker sooner than you might like.
Future of take-aways
Some argue that the April closure
of sit-down eating opportunities in cafes and restaurants, now sort-of
rescinded, means that people have now got used to home delivery of food
and will not resume their eating-out traditions. Certainly possible, but
let’s remember that add-on charges mean that delivered meals by
motorbike can work out more expensive than taking your seat in a
restaurant. The jury is out on that one.
Technology takes over
Even people who have never learned
to send an email nor even to turn on a computer will surely agree the
Coronavirus scare has provided some mind-boggling developments.
Temperature testing by hand-held device at the entrance of the Bangkok
Pattaya Hospital has been replaced by a walk-past machine which
silhouettes your whole body and gives an instant temperature reading
without a human pressing a button near your head. On Pattaya’s Beach
Road these days you might hear a drone overhead barking out the latest
orders where you can sit or asking you to move along.
Toilet paper shortage jokes
The pandemic has given rise to many
jokes on that subject. Here’s a couple. “If you need 144 rolls of toilet
paper to survive 14 days’ quarantine, you should probably have seen the
doctor long before Covid-19.” And, “I spent yesterday trying to explain
to my kids why a guy eating bat soup in China led to a toilet paper
shortage in Liverpool.”
Grapevine - May 8 - May 21, 2020
Applying for Thai
One of the most common questions
asked about Thai immigration is the procedure to apply for permanent
Thai residency. Assuming you qualify – not a foregone conclusion by any
means – what then are the advantages?
Well, you can live permanently here
without needing an extension of stay. This is an improvement on visa
extensions for one year at a time and also on the Elite visa. The latter
is technically for 5-20 years, depending on the type and cost, but
requires some kind of action every three months.
With residency, you can also have
your name on a blue (not yellow) house registration document and can own
a condominium unit in Thailand without proving the cash was brought here
from abroad. Work permits are easier to obtain and you can even become a
director of a Thai registered company.
The most likely candidates
But you cannot vote in Thai
elections. Nor can you own freehold land in your own name. The
immigration bureau handles all permanent residency applications and
there is a quota system of 100 persons per country in a calendar year.
Applications are made between October and December but the exact dates
may change from year to year.
The next question is whether you
qualify to apply. You must have held a Thai non-immigrant visa for a
minimum of three years prior to application - three consecutive yearly
extensions – and be in possession of one when you send in the forms.
Most successful applications in
fact are holders of non-immigrant “B” (business) visas and an up-to-date
work permit issued by the Labour Ministry. Tax returns and other
relevant documents are part of the application procedure. Minimum income
levels also come into play. After 10 years, you can apply for Thai
There are several other categories
for application, although it is fair to state they tend to take longer
or even fail on technical grounds. These include a steep cash investment
category, an “expert” category (although there is a separate working
visa for hi-tech experts) and a special “humanitarian” group who has a
close blood relationship or marriage with a current Thai citizen.
The devil is in the detail
The list of documents required
depends on the category of application. The period of waiting can be
lengthy, 1 to several years. If finally successful, a blue book for
residence will be issued which in turn enables you to register it with
the local authority and obtain a house card. Shortly afterwards, you
will apply for an alien red book at the local police station (not
immigration this time) which has to be re-registered from time to time.
In effect, the bureaucracy
associated with permanent residency is lighter than with one year or
elite visas – for example no 90 days reporting – but has by no means
disappeared. Re-entry permits are always required with residency.
After accepting an application for
permanent residence, the immigration bureau will grant a six months’
extension of stay from the actual date of submission. Additional periods
of six months are granted until residence is granted or until the
application is refused. It may be necessary to have a series of
interviews with Thai immigration officers and the applicant’s knowledge
of the Thai language is likely to be probed. Expect health checks too.
The actual cost of the whole
process is difficult to state as there are umpteen variables. Between
250,000 and 350,000 baht would be a fair estimate - all aspects
considered. If the successful applicant is under the age of 20, the
charges are maybe half.
Not suitable for everyone
In summary, most expats probably
won’t get into the detail as they may well not qualify or feel that the
bureaucracy isn’t worth the trouble. But it is worth emphasizing again
that most successful applicants are from business executives who are
married or have close blood relatives who already hold the residency
Expats who simply like the idea of
having a longer visa than 12 months are probably better suited to the
Elite visa which is very flexible, easy to obtain and requires only a
cash payment at the time of application of between 500,000 and one
Otherwise, it may be best to remain
with your annual retirement extension or your visa based on marriage to
a Thai citizen or your annually renewable non-immigrant “B” if holding a
| Grapevine - April 24 - May 7, 2020
Corona fake news
There is nothing new about fake
news, especially in times of crisis. In the first world war, it was
widely believed that the Germans were bayonetting babies to pass the
time. In the second, many Brits believed that the Nazi radio
propagandist William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) was accurately predicting the
demise of Britain.
The Covid-19 crisis obviously is
producing limitless opportunities on social media for nonsense to be
published. Does this mean that people are hopelessly gullible? Not
really. We are all titillated by overblown stories. So when you read on
social media that you cannot catch the disease if you drink large
quantities of boiling water (to stop the virus leaving your throat) or
that Bill Gates financed the Wujan laboratory where the virus was being
developed, you might well smile and move on. Hopefully!
A recent internet falsehood
suggested that holding your breath for 10 seconds is a good test for the
virus whilst another proclaimed that a product to clean fish tanks was a
cure because it contained the wonder drug chloroquine. In truth,
hundreds of millions of people have heard that chloroquine is a miracle
drug but they are mostly skeptical pending the outcome of proper medical
Is vodka a cure?
In the vast majority of cases,
people either ignore the supposed curative aspects of certain substances
or use them to justify behavior they want to engage in anyway. Thus, if
you are a chocoholic or an alcoholic, you are more likely than the rest
of us to believe that consuming large numbers of Mars bars or swallowing
vodka by the bottle will keep Covid-19 away from you. The best of luck!
A reliable clue to whether you are
reading fake news circulating on WhatsApp and the rest is the claimed
source. So when you read, “This comes from a relative who actually works
in the Chinese laboratory” or “My father works in a New York hospital so
he knows what he’s talking about,” you should already perceive that what
follows is bunkum.
Corona has much in common with
other crisis situations. The main issue is not that people gullibly
accept whatever they are told, but that they fail to carry out
recommendations from authorized sources such as their government. People
collectively tend to mistrust politicians which is understandable as
they do tend to lie unashamedly on a daily basis. So when Boris Johnson
tells people there is no shortage of food in the supermarkets he starts
a panic buying spree.
Who can you trust?
Panic reactions, such as
stockpiling toilet paper or pasta, reflect a lack of trust in the
promise of the leadership that supply lines are safe. There is also the
worry that, even if you refrain from stockpiling, maybe your neighbours
and friends will be unable to refrain. Stockpiling is perfectly rational
when looked at from this point of view.
The most basic point about fake
news is that, when evaluating information, we first compare what we are
told or have read with our existing beliefs. Fake news takes an enormous
advantage here by reinforcing our prejudices. If you are racist by
nature, you are more likely to believe COVID-19 is a Chinese conspiracy
to bankrupt the West. If you are a drinker, it’s comforting to think
alcohol is a cure for whatever.
Much of the above can be
incorporated into a review of reactions in Thailand to the pandemic.
Thais who don’t much care for farang believe the foreigners are
responsible for Thais losing their jobs and wages. Foreigners who are
sweating profusely whilst walking a short distance are especially drawn
to the argument that strong sunlight kills the virus outright.
Fake news is said to have begun in
ancient history. Roman pagans, in their campaign against Christianity,
accused the followers of Jesus of drowning babies (baptism) and drinking
blood (transubstantiation). Of course, we have come a long way since
then. Or have we?
| Grapevine - APRIL 3 - APRIL 16, 2020
A potted history
of Pattaya water hurling
What no Songkran?
By no means everybody is
disappointed by the prospect of this year’s holiday and watery Songkran
being postponed. The obvious justification, of course, is the spread of
the Corona virus although the water shortage may have played a minor
role in the unfolding drama. Many spoil-sport expats here are likely
quite happy about the City Hall abolition decision which is in line with
all other local authorities in Thailand that we know of.
Over the years, many have
campaigned for Songkran’s suspension or abolition. As early as 1997
Pattaya Mail carried a reader’s letter arguing that throwing
buckets of water on passing motor bike riders merely created extra
business for local mortuaries. He added that if this practice was
allowed to continue, Pattaya’s tourist market would be doomed forever.
Yes, so many seers have prophesied that scenario.
In 2005 there was much talk about
zoning. This would mean that people could throw water to their hearts’
content in specially-reserved areas (Buddha Hill was one proposal and
another was the then-deserted Jomtien 2 Road) whilst the residual
population continued peacefully and dryly in the rest of the city. The
matter was even scheduled to come up at a Council meeting before, sad to
relate, a military coup in September of that year sank all such debates
for the foreseeable future.
Early modern times
In 2010 another letter appeared in
the local press demanding that Songkran be abolished on the grounds that
mobile phones were very expensive commodities and not at all happy to be
dripping wet. In 2012 a speaker at an expat club demanded action on the
grounds that he had heard from a confidential source that the white
powder might contain arsenic whilst the ice water might have been drawn
from dirty sources too shameful to mention.
The changing scene
In spite of the failure of these
campaigns, Pattaya Songkran is not what it was once. In recent years,
the whole thing has been toned down. Ten years ago, the April water gun
bandits were lined up on Pattaya’s Second Road as early as 8 a.m. These
days, nothing much happens before lunchtime because the will to squirt
has obviously declined. The reasons are likely linked to the decline of
youngish western tourists and the advent of the imperious Chinese who
don’t appreciate street warfare of the liquid kind.
One day wonder
Indeed, by 2019, Pattaya Songkran
was more or less restricted to the single day of mayhem which is
invariably April 19. But even that solitary day seems to have lost
momentum. Last year, the 19th was
more or less an ordinary day for business at the immigration bureau,
whereas in the past very few visa extenders dared to venture into
Jomtien. Contrary to popular belief, the 19th has
never been a public holiday. But it used to seemed like one. No longer.
When we say that Songkran has been
postponed this year, what exactly does that mean? Nobody knows for sure.
Official celebrations certainly won’t be held, not even the gentle and
historic blessings of pouring water over the hands. But the government has
made it crystal clear that the whole holiday period has been postponed. One
assumes that there won’t be a trace of what used to happen on splash days.
If Songkran really is missing a
beat, sadly some of the humour will be missed. Last year, an elderly
farang was walking towards Jomtien’s beach road when an old lady
drenched him with a small bucket of ice water. “You stupid cow,” he
yelled. “Excuse me,” replied the lady, “I know the word ‘stupid’ but
what is ‘cow’? Sadly, the historical record does not reveal what was his
reply, if anything. Learning new language skills has never been part of
the Songkran tradition.
Believe it or not, water hurling
goes back a long way. Apparently, the ancient Carthaginians threw water
on their elephants just before a battle both to refresh the pachyderms
and to alert them to prepare to charge the enemy. Unfortunately, the
Romans soon learned what to do in response. They banged their spears on
their shields, made a terrible noise which caused the terrified
elephants to turn round and mow down their own side.
Off to Cambodia
But if you really want to ensure a
wet Songkran this year, there is always the option of Cambodia where the
water hurling has got wetter as Pattaya has grown dryer. The best bet
over there is Siem Reap. But nothing happens in the daytime. Drenching
time starts as the skies darken. Note: The Cambodian
authorities have since cancelled this year’s April festivities.