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I first went to Thailand with Michael Toon in November 1989, after our trip to India.  Compared to the poverty of India, Thailand was a whole new experience!   Lots of sun, friendly people, good food, beautiful beaches.  We stayed at the wonderful Oriental Hotel in Bangkok - I've been back many times since.    Michael is now married to his Thai wife Patcharin and lives in Thailand. 

     Author's wing & lobby, Oriental Hotel    |Jim Thompson house|       Grand Palace      |Oriental Hotel driver

  • Bangkok is 24 times larger than the next largest city in Thailand.  It's a huge city!   In all that area, there are just two block-long streets with girly bars.  But unfortunately that is often the impression that people have of Bangkok.  The Thais are a gentle, respectful and polite people.  They will not hold hands in public, and certainly not kiss. No respectable Thai girl will date without a family member as a chaperone.

  • The Oriental Hotel is often rated the best hotel in the world.  It is on the banks of the river, and still has the original 'Author's Wing', used by Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, and others.  The library is now dedicated to Jeffrey Archer.  The hotel will not let in anyone with a backpack, wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts, or sandals.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is my favorite Thai city.  It's in northern Thailand, not far from the Burmese and Laos borders. It's an hour's flight from Bangkok.   There is a busy 'night market' with some of the best shopping in Thailand.  Nearby in the countryside there are elephant camps, rafting, villages and temples to see.

Don and I always stay at the Royal Princess, an inexpensive hotel right in the center of town.

 A tuk tuk is a great way to see the town, if you are not going too far!  Tuk tuks cost about $1.  The driver will also wait for you - asleep in the back of his tuk tuk - and bring you back to your hotel, for less than $3.

The sleepy Ping river runs through Chiang Mai.   It is too shallow for most boats, but you do see fishermen walking across it.  On the banks on the Ping are several good restaurants.  Our favorite is 'The Riverside', where you can relax for an hour over lunch beside the river, or go and listen to live bands with a young Thai crowd in the evening.


Half an hour outside of town is the Four Seasons Chiang Mai.  This is a world-class hotel, with rooms in individual teak houses built around a rice paddy.  Every afternoon, white water buffalo are led along the paths through the hotel grounds.  At 5pm drumming starts beside the lake, and all of the grounds workers walk to a teak house and play Thai instruments for a while before going home.  There is also a very good cooking school in the hotel grounds.

  • Chiang Mai has probably the best shopping in Thailand.  For tourist items, silver, and Thai handicrafts, the Night Market in town is best.  For non-tourist items, there are two nice branches of Boots the Chemist, and a big Tesco/Lotus superstore outside of town.  There is also a four-floor computer mall. (Saffron robed monks with cell phones and laptops!)  If you need to ship Thai handicrafts home, there are UPS and Fedex branches in town.

  • One good tuk tuk destination is the Whole Earth restaurant, an Indian restaurant upstairs in a teak Thai house.  You leave your shoes downstairs before entering.  You also have to ride an elephant, at least once!

  • The best Chiang Mai guide is the tiny 'Luxe' guide, published in Hong Kong, written by locals, and updated twice a year.   From the latest guide:  A new hotel about to open, The Chedi, with a colonial bar and restaurant.  Siam Celadon, an excellent tea room with polished teak floors, cream walls, and a leafy courtyard, where you can enjoy your tea in china cups.  Raffles has come to Chiang Mai!


Phuket is a tropical island in the south of Thailand.  I have been there several times - fortunately not when the tsunami hit the island in 2004.  Sidney and I were last there in 2003, when we met her mom and relatives there - they were visiting from Singapore.  Amanpuri, one of the original Amanresorts hotels is in Phuket.  They gave us 'Amanjunkie' tee shirts as frequent visitors!   Nearby is 'James Bond Island', used in one of the Bond movies.   We explored the islands in small boats.

Some years ago, Don Burnell and I were in Phuket, and a we got to know a girl named Su Li Latt who worked at our hotel.  Every day she would borrow the business section of our Bangkok Post for a moment, then hand it back.  We asked her why that was, and she said, "My father he has lobertrees".  We looked at her blankly.  "Laboratories?"    "No, lobertrees.  Lober trees!"   "Oh, rubber trees!"   She was checking the daily price of rubber!   You see large areas of rubber tree plantations in Phuket.  On our next trip to Phuket, several years later, we asked about Su Li Latt.  She had gone to Japan to work, and never been heard of again.

Koh Samui

The island of Koh Samui is much smaller than Phuket.  It's also on the opposite side of the Thai/Malaysia peninsula.  Koh Samui used to be a backpacker's destination, but they have now built some good hotels.  I've been there twice with Michael - it's always fun to go to another part of Thailand.

Koh Samui is a beautiful small island.  We stayed one time at 'Poppies', a Thai-style hotel.  The road outside flooded every day - not a tsunami!  The bar and restaurant are right on the Gulf of Thailand.

Thai Orphanage Project

While at Telmar, I organized two fund-raisers for orphanages in Thailand - one to build an orphanage their own well.  Social services in Thailand are almost non-existent, and orphanages are pretty much on their own.  Most are run by monks or religious orders.

Since that time, Michael and I have organized a donation to an orphanage every year - not always the same orphanage.  Usually this takes the form of a truckload of rice, food or drinks.  But we have also been to the orphanages with friends to help feed the children.  These photos are of a big orphanage near Bangkok, run by monks.  We were introduced to the aged abbot with much ceremony, sitting low on the floor, and being careful not to point our feet at him.  The children were all very polite and well-behaved, and seemed happy and well-cared for.

  • Thai used to take 19.5 hours to fly from Los Angeles to Bangkok, with a stop in Tokyo, where you would get off and have your hand luggage searched by nice Japanese policemen!  They now fly nonstop using the new Airbus A340-500, in 'just' 17 hours, and a breezy 13 hours 50 minutes coming back.  The difference is supposed to be because of the jetstream, though my theory is that it's due to the direction of rotation of the earth!   Even with faster flight times, you cannot get over the 15 hour time difference, so you will have jet lag for several days when you get there, and when you get home.

  • If you go to Thailand, the Thais will certainly wai you, from the time you step onto the Thai plane, at your hotel, in a restaurant.  (Hands together at chest height as if in prayer, head bowed)  A wai doesn't mean 'hello' and you should not wai back!   It's a sign of respect.  You should not wai people of 'lower social status' than you, or people younger than you, unless they happen to be monks or members of the royal family!  Don't wai doormen, flight attendants, or waitresses!  As you can see, the rules are quite complicated.  Best to not wai at all, but smile back politely, which is always correct.

  • British English is always used in Thailand, in signs and newspapers.  'Cheque', 'colour', etc, and the first floor in a building is one floor up.  Unless you happen to be staying at an American hotel like the Marriott, in which case everything is spelled the American way, and the first floor is now the ground floor!

  • Thai is a difficult language, as it is tonal.  You cannot read Thai of course, as the alphabet is quite different.  Some Thai phrases are useful, like 'Mai pen lai', which means 'never mind' or 'that's OK'.   Thai people finish almost every sentence with 'ka' (spoken by a woman) or 'kap' (spoken by a man).  These words do not translate into English, but are a polite way to finish a sentence.  "If you please sir" is the closest I can get to it.  They like ka and kap so much, they will add them to English sentences, like, "Have a nice day kap", or "Your change ka".

  • In restaurants, eat your food when it is served, don't wait for everyone else to be served.  Food does not come for everyone at the same time, just when it's ready!  Drink only bottled water, even to brush your teeth (important)!   But take Immodium with you, as you will probably need it at least once.  Wear slip-on shoes (no laces), as you often have to take your shoes off, in temples, houses, and even some stores.

  • Almost everyone in Thailand seems to have a mobile phone.  There are 3,500 branches of 7-11, and in some cities a Starbucks on almost every corner.  In Haagen Dazs, you sit down and a white-coated waitress takes your order, then brings you a bill!

  • Driving in Thailand is not too difficult - they drive on the left, as in the UK.  At one time all of the road signs were in Thai, but now most have English translations also.  You would not want to drive in Bangkok - one wrong turn and you can be stuck in a traffic jam for hours!

  • Computers and cameras are more expensive in Thailand than in the US.  The best places to buy these are Hong Kong (good) or the Akihabara district of Tokyo (world's best), both an easy stop-off on the way to or from Thailand.

  • Police action:   I was once checking in for my return flight from Chiang Mai, and two girls from the hotel came running up to me, "Mr Robert, Mr Robert, you no pay for mini bar!"  They whipped a credit card machine out of their bag!    One night, Michael was very upset with a taxi driver who was very rude to his wife, and ended up punching him.  We were hauled off to the police station and the Chief of Police.  He was impressed when Patcharin told him that her family name had been given to them by the king!   After some discussion, he held Michael's hand across his desk, and said, "You cannot do that in Thailand!"  The taxi driver apologized and we said we were sorry too.  In Thailand, anything can be resolved with a smile. 

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This site was last updated 04/22/06