My blog provider (WordPress.com) allows me to see lots of search phrases that bring people to my site.  I thought I could occasionally take the opportunity to respond to some of these in a regular blog posting.  Search phrases like “the cost of living in Thailand” and “studying Thai?” have been answered in detail in past posts.  But here are some responses to search topics that were just mentioned in passing. I have put the search inquiries in the form of questions.

What is the winter like in Thailand?

My winter officially started on November 1st when at about 11am I was riding my motorcycle down a country road here in Chiang Mai. There was a nip in the air, temperature 21° C (about 71° F), and not a cloud in the sky. The word “glorious” kept going through my mind like those scrolls running on the bottom of a CNN broadcast. The nights are now in the Celsius teens or 60s F. Enough to require a nice warm blanket.

It will be like this for the next 4 months, every day the same, clear skies, cool days, chilly nights. But remember, this is the north of Thailand. Although Bangkok and the south will be cooler than they usually are, they won’t be “heavenly” like it is here. Why “heavenly”? Because, when you die, and if you have lived a really good life, and you’re lucky enough to enter those “Pearly Gates”, you couldn’t ask for better weather than the weather here in Chiang Mai in the cool season.

Are dogs a problem in Thailand?

If you are older and your ears cease to hear high frequencies, especially if you were like I was and bought the first Walkman in the 70s and every other personal music system invented since, including the latest MP3 players, and you blew out your hearing, then maybe you won’t be woken in the middle of the night by your neighbor’s barking canines. For others, dog barking can be a serious disturbance in what otherwise should be a tranquil Thai night with only the sounds of tree frogs and cicadas lulling you to sleep.

But dogs can pose a much worse problem. My son, who works in Phuket as the manager of the Friendship Beach Resort in the winters and as a sea kayaking guide in the San Juan Islands in the summers (I really want to be like him when I grow up), was getting down from his motorcycle the other day when a stray dog came right up and bit him on the ankle. It drew a little bit of blood. So he called me and asked my advice.

If you do a Google search on “endemic disease of Thailand” you’ll see that prominently mentioned is “rabies”. It has been that way here for as long as I can remember. Years ago a schoolmate of my wife’s got a small scratch from a dog. She neglected to tell anyone including her physician father. A week later she came down with a high fever. By the time she was brought to the hospital she was dead, a victim of rabies.

So it was off to the hospital for my son to get a series of 5 anti-rabies injections (Thank you Louis Pasteur.) Years ago the stories of the extremely painful anti-rabies series were known to all. They had to inject you in the stomach because they had to give you around 15 injections and they hurt really bad. There were also serious side effects. Later they changed the rabies horse serum to one made from human serum, which was better but still a huge bother and quite a bit more expensive. Today, there are quite good drugs with few side effects. The cost in Thailand is about 500 baht per injection.

So, if you are bitten in Thailand by any mammal that you don’t know, dog, cat, rat, mongoose, it’s time to get to a doctor. The alternative, you would probably agree, is quite unacceptable.

What is the Loy Krathong festival?

Seems like all around the world at this time of year there are “festivals of light”. There’s Diwali in India and of course there’s Chirstmas. It’s probably been this way since early peoples leaned about the winter solstice coming at this darkest time of the year (Yes, it even gets dark earlier here in the tropics.) Loy Krathong is one of these festivals of lights, and coincidentally (or not) comes at the time of the highest river levels, and the height of the rice harvesting season, and the beginning of the cool season and the 8 month dry period.

Floating krathongs down the river

Chiang Mai is one of the best places to see the Loy Krathong celebrations (called Yi Ping in northern Thai).  Thousands of people from all over, many coming up from Bangkok, go down to the river on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month, usually in November, with their “krathongs”, small rafts  adorned with flowers, incense, and candles (the lights), as well as their sins for the year, and float them all down the river. It’s a beautiful sight, seeing thousands of tiny lights on the darkened river. The sky will be filled with floating lanterns (Khom Fai) which are really small hot air balloons made of paper with a burning light in the middle.  Looks like the whole sky is full of red stars.  Fireworks sail through the air and all over people line their sidewalks and walls with lit candles.

Khom Fai filling the sky

Khom Fai filling the sky

We’ll have a party at our house and since we have a small stream flowing in the back we will all float our krathongs after the sun goes down.

A friend just sent me this link of some of the large floats we saw last night around the city moat. Loy Krathong Floats

Thirty nine years ago this Loy Krathong my wife and I were married. We specifically chose Loy Krathong Day to do this, and now, as well as back then, we love it when the whole country celebrates with us.

What is the current exchange rate?

This is beginning to be a problem. As of yesterday when I checked at the bank, I could get 29.15 baht to the dollar (46.91 baht to the British pound). Check here for the latest rates.

This is about 25% less than when I began this retirement sojourn. I saw the Thai minister of finance on TV the other day saying that he didn’t think the rise in the baht was a problem and that it would only have a small effect on the country’s GNP and didn’t see any reason for intervention.

Not a problem? Tell that to someone on Social Security (which will not have a cost of living increase again this year), or some other government pension plan, who has to continually bring in money from abroad to exchange for Thai baht. I do hope the dollar’s slide (It’s really not a rise in the baht.) will end soon but with the amount of paper money the United States is printing, I am not going to bet on it.

I can’t really complain though since in Thailand I live at a much more comfortable level than I would in the U.S. on my Social Security. (Consider the difference between living in a comfortable 4 bedroom house here as opposed to living under a bridge somewhere in America.) So we will just have to tighten our belts – which is now more work for me since I have lost so much weight.

And speaking of losing weight

What is the best thing about your weight loss?

One of the rarest sights you will see is an American man in his 60s where his chest sticks further out in front of him than his stomach does. Usually the stomach leads the way. Don’t believe me? Just look around. I am happy to say that after about 20 years, my chest now is in the lead.

More Q and A in a later post.

Money

The unit of currency of Thailand is the “baht”. The baht is divided into 100 satang. 1 salung = 25 satang. Thai coins come in 1 baht, 2 baht, 5 baht, and 10 baht. The colorful Thai paper money comes in 20 baht, 50 baht, 100 baht, 500 baht, and 1,000 baht notes. All notes and coins are adorned with a picture of the current king.

 

Thai Bank Notes

 

You’ll also see smaller, copper colored coins of 50 and 25 satang but they are not easy to spend. I just seem to get them as change at the supermarket and never know what to do with them. They remain in a jar on my dresser.

BTW, the idiom “3 salung” (the equivalent of 75 satang or ¾ of a baht) means “crazy” or “intellectually slow” since 3 salung is not a complete baht, as in the English idioms “not all there”, or “not playing with a full deck”.

Originally a baht was a unit of weight and for certain things, namely gold; it still is. Nowadays a baht is the equivalent of about 15 grams. The price of gold in Thailand is not given in ounces as it is elsewhere but in how much per baht weight. As an example, as of today the price of gold is 19,100 baht per baht, where the first baht is a unit of currency and the second a unit of weight.

Bank Cards

ATM, debit, and credit cards are all available from most banks. You can also use your ATM from your bank from back home at many local ATM machines. What fees you will be charged depend on which ATM machine you use, which bank you have your home account with, and what the current exchange rate is.

I use a local bank’s ATM card to withdraw money that I use to pay everyday bills. I use a local bank card to pay for more expensive items. The card I have is sort of a combo credit/debit card. It is officially a credit card so the payment isn’t immediately taken out of my account but at the end of each month the bank will automatically pay off the outstanding balance. So I never have to pay a late fee or interest on the card.

Note on the use of checks: These are not very popular in Thailand and in fact have never seen them used except at a bank.  Yesterday I received Check payment for a column I write for a local magazine. It was made out to “cash” and I had no problem cashing it at the bank (had to have my ID though).  You might want to bring your checkbook from back home with you but it will be hit or miss whether a bank will accept them or not.

 

ATM machines are everywhere

 

Bank accounts

With Bt500 and a passport you should be able to open a bank account in Thailand.

The idea for this post came from a comment/question from a reader about whether I use a bank account here or one from back home. Here is the question and my answer.

Q: Do you use a Thai bank or do you use an overseas bank? I am wondering where and how to bank when we are in Thailand. When I’ve been there before I just used ATM’s and paid fees back home. Is there an option to eliminate or reduce fees while living in country? Thanks

A: I have both a US and a Thai bank account. My Social Security payment is directly deposited into my US bank. (Note: Bangkok Bank will allow automatic SS deposits but the fees are too high for me.) A few times a year I write a check on my U.S. account and deposit into my Thai bank account for daily expenses here. The cost is about $20. I use Bangkok Bank and they have accepted checks over $100,000, so the amount is no problem as long as they know and trust you. It takes about 6 weeks for a check to clear. A wire transfer would be much quicker, within 2 or 3 days, but the cost is much more; $40 or more each time. There is a limit of $5,000 for each wire transfer if you are not physically present at the bank in the US, but some people get around that limit by working something out with their US bank. I believe that Citibank will allow much larger transfers but there is a specific set up that you will have to go through to get that service.  To learn more about Citibank’s wire transfers go here www.citibank.com.

Automatic Bill Pay

Some banks in Thailand offer bill paying services. I get my water, electricity, and phone bills all paid for automatically by my bank. I can check online how much they were and whether they were paid on time or not. I have never had a problem with this service and have never had to pay a utility bill either.

BTW, if you don’t have this automatic bank service, most bills can be paid for at a local 7-eleven store, of which there are thousands all over the country. Thailand has the 4th most 7-Eleven stores in the world.

SWIFT Codes

In order to get wire transfers into your local account you will have to know your bank’s SWIFT code (Society for Wire Intercommunications of Funds Transfer).  All banks in the world have one. Check with your bank to see what yours is (My website’s banking page has a list of some international banks’ SWIFT codes (retire2thailand.com/retire2-banks.php).

Also, if you are going to get a retirement or a spousal support visa you will be required to have money in a Thai savings account (Bt800K and Bt400K respectively).

When you choose a Thai bank be sure to choose one that understands international transaction. And then make good friends with the bank manager. The better known you are in the bank the better service you will get. That works the same everywhere in the world.

Exchange Rates

Big problem nowadays is the Baht/Dollar exchange rate. It seems to get worse every day. Not great for one living off of dollar denominated Social Security. I am getting at least 10% less per month than when I first started collecting. We are waiting for a little improvement before writing the next check.

I really don’t know where the best place to exchange money is.  You’ll probably have to ask around depending on where you will be living. As I said earlier I just write a check and let the bank take care of the rest. The differences are quite small and most fees are okay. I don’t usually use money changers on the street though. But check them out and compare rates. To see what today’s bank exchange rate is click here.

Loans

Officially, foreigners cannot obtain bank loans. That makes buying a condo or car a cash only transaction; that is unless you are buying it in the name of a Thai citizen. Then it is they who have to obtain the loan – which is not that easy.

From my webpage

Things to consider when looking for a bank

  • Does someone there speak your language?
  • What is their customer service like?
  • Do they have online banking?
  • Do they have online bill pay?
  • How long do foreign checks take to clear?
  • Do they have ATMs and where are they located?
  • Do they offer debit and credit cards?

Weight Loss Update

8.5 kilos (19 lbs) and counting (in 2 months). I’m now wearing pants I had put away years ago because they didn’t fit anymore. Had to buy a new belt. Feeling great. Even had a scoop of ice cream yesterday. Look here to see Dr. Hugh’s Miracle Weight Loss Program.

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