Books on Travelling to and Living in Thailand. Ask Me Anything

Matt Owens Rees
Mar 10, 2018

I live in the Land of Smiles and have published several books on Thai related subjects, both fiction and non-fiction. Three Thai universities have asked me to lecture and hold courses on Thai Culture and Lifestyle. I set up a Thai Focus Group (mainly Thai nationals) to openly discuss topics of interest.I show both the side of Thailand that is a paradise on earth and also the more seedy side. Ask Me Anything.

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I posted this earlier, Scott but it is not easy to find as AMA has an usual way of sorting posts made as responses to replies. Anyay, here is what I wrote.

Thailand and America have a special relationship, both countries need each other. The US wants a foothold in the Far East and of course had bases here during the Vietnam War.The Muslim population  may be anti-American but not those that see thenselves more as Thai than Muslim.

Mar 13, 8:26AM EDT0

Thank you for the book list. There are a few there that I haven't read yet, including yours. Do you have an opinion on Thailand Confidential by Jerry Hopkins?

Mar 13, 8:16AM EDT1

It's welll worth reading and accurate. Stephen Leather's "Private Dancer" is in a similar vein. 

Sometimes fiction conveys a great deal more truth than non-fiction and avoids libel problems. Frederic Forsyth's "Day of the Jackal " is the classic example. I wrote "The Death of a Thai Godfather" to make some valid points which I could not have made if it was classified as non-fiction.

Mar 13, 8:33AM EDT0

If you had to evaluate the record of the Tourism sector in Thailand as a whole in Asia would you say it is positive, neutral or perhaps negative?

Mar 13, 2:26AM EDT1

If the criterion is the number of tourists it attracts, then the answer is that it is positive.

It's not answering your question but I think the government should regulate it better. Tourist scams are worldwide but that does not mean the Thai government cannot control them.

There is a Bangkok blogger who, although not paid by the Tourist Authority of Thailand, plays down the negative side of dangers and scams to such an extent that his advice is misleading. He has been criticised for that by both Thais and foreigners but he still persists in giving only a one-sided rosy view. I think he should be regulated.

Tourists and holiday-makers deserve to have unbiased and honest advice.

"Ask Me Anything" could be a sound vehicle for that.

Mar 13, 3:26AM EDT0
How can travelers see the islands in Thailand in adventurous ways?
Mar 12, 2:35PM EDT1

Visit with Thai friends. Try to strike up an acquaintance with Thais and visit one of the smaller islands.

They will know the better islands and avoid the touristy rip-offs

Mar 12, 7:41PM EDT0
What other country are you interested to know more about and write about?
Mar 12, 12:41PM EDT1

There are many. I'd like to visit every country in the world. Each is different I am sure. But life is too short.

I have visited several countries in the Far East and compared and contrasted them with Thailand. That allows me to put Thailand in perspective in my books. Not to do so would, I think, make my writing too narrow and Thai-centric.

I will be in France next month. That always gives me an opportunity to make comparisons about the lifestyles of two very diffeent cultures.

Mar 12, 7:48PM EDT0
What are your current and future writing projects?
Mar 12, 6:20AM EDT1

Currently I'm working on a second volume of a Thailand Diary. To be published in the fall.

I am also doing more reseach on how foreigners "fit in" or not in Thailand, how Thais view them, and how problems of non-integration can be overcome.

Mar 12, 6:31AM EDT0
In your experience, can tourism in Thailand create enough quality jobs? What could be done to speed-up the job-creating abilities of tourism?
Mar 12, 5:20AM EDT1

Tourism creates jobs both directly and indirectly. The Revenue flows into private companies and the state ensure that.

Hotels, tour agencies, restaurants, and theme parks, all employ more staff the more toirism increases. Most universities have courses in toirism and beverage. There is an accreditation system for tour guides but it is not compulsory. It should in my opinion be better regulated. There are many scammers in the industry. 

A trick that I have heard employed on several occasions is a tuk tuk driver telling a tourist that, for example, the Emerald Buddha is closed today and he suggests taking his customer to a nearby gem shop where he will arrange a special price. The gems are fake and the shop owned by a brother or friend of the tuk tuk driver.

There are strict rules of employment in Thailand which prevent foreigners being employed in certain industries. Even with a work permit, the law requires a cerain ratio of thai to foreigner emplyees. That may not be in the best interests of quality tourism.

Mar 12, 5:48AM EDT0

what is the most unique feature of Thailand culture?    

Mar 11, 8:46AM EDT1

That it is enigmatic.Thais can be very caring yet sometimes ruthless. But always with a smile.Family is all-important. Accepting one's role in the hierarchy, not questioning the opinions and ideas of others yet doing your "own thing" anyway.  Very enigmatic.

Mar 11, 10:38AM EDT0
What are some places within Thailand that tourists should not visit? Are they unsafe in any way?
Mar 10, 4:27PM EST1

Not really. Be as cautious as you would be in any other country.

Avoid public demonstrations. Don't walk down dark streests at night paericularly if alone. Don't get into arguments. That sort of thing 

Mar 10, 7:36PM EST0
Show all 5 replies
Are you planning to write any more novels in the future? If so, have you started on any?
Mar 10, 4:26PM EST1

I probably will but nothing planned yet. My current project is writing on how some foreigners integrate and some do not.

Mar 10, 7:37PM EST0
Are the beaches in Thailand as beautiful as everyone says they are? Clear aqua waters and white sandy beaches?
Mar 10, 2:29PM EST1

Most are. Try to find one where there are not too many tourists

Mar 10, 7:39PM EST0
Are your Thai Focus groups an in person session or online?
Mar 10, 11:50AM EST1

That's a good question Originally, We would have an informal meeting with perhaps 4 or 5 participants. That was how I envisaged a focus group working as I wanted to encourage a broad exchange of ideas.

But Thais are basically shy and do not want to comment in front of others and especiallyt not in front of their elders or those they see as higher than them in the "hierarchy". So, it now works on a one-to-one basis where they feel more inclined to comment and debate. Usually face-to-face but occasionally by email (but only rarely by telephone)

Mar 10, 7:48PM EST0
Mangoes in Thailand are said to be one of the best. From personal experience, do you agree?
Mar 10, 11:08AM EST1

I don't thionk you realise how apt your question is!!!

Thais invariably use nicknames when referring to each other. I know the "real" names (cheuh jing) of hardly any of my friends. They use those only on official documents and of course they appear on ID cards etc. Even your boss would call you by your nickname (cheuh len)

My wife's name in Thai translates to Mango. So, yes, to answer your question, mangoes are "one of the best". Truthfully, my favourite fruit is the banana which grows plentifully here. We have several plants in our garden.

I like all Thai fruits except Durian. I don't like the smell. Many hotels forbid you to bring durian into their premises.

Last edited @ Mar 10, 8:32PM EST.
Mar 10, 8:00PM EST0
Aside from your career of writing and speaking about Thailand’s culture, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Mar 10, 10:32AM EST1

Gardening and Thai dancing.

Plants (and weeds) grow quickly here. One needs to be careful where to plant new shrubs. Some love the hot sun, some do not. During the hot season, which we have just entered, I give all my plants a thorough soaking once a week. But you have to water pretty much all year round.

If you watch Thai dancing, you'll notice a lot of hand and body movement but no touching. Even when dancing western styles (waltz, cha cha rumba etc) there is minimum holding of your partner. That does malke it difficult to lead properly.

Mar 10, 8:08PM EST0
Do you prefer non-fiction or fiction? Which do you enjoy writing more?
Mar 10, 7:50AM EST1

Another interesting question.

I'm fascinated and intrigued by Thai lifestyle and Culture, so I would have to say non-fiction.

However, to get my "message" across it is easier to use fiction as it enables me to write true accounts without fear of criticism. I change names, locations, and events of course but the "fiction" is actually reality.

For example,think of "The Day of the Jackal" by Frederick Forsythe. That's fiction but based on a real scenario.

I enjoy writing in both genres. Non-fiction allows me to go into some depth. Fiction lets me be free to develop an engaging plot.

Mar 10, 8:19PM EST0
Are your books available for purchase at any bookstores? Can you also purchase it in e-book format?
Mar 10, 1:15AM EST1

All books are available on Amazon as eBooks (kdp select) and Createspace (an Amazon company) as paperbacks. I will try to get other bookstores to stock my titles but that is extremely difficult.

Writers benefit from a wide distribution by Amazon but I know of no writer that likes the ethics of the company and the way they make it difficult for them to get their books on other platforms such as Apple iTunes and the other main outlets.

Last edited @ Mar 10, 8:33PM EST.
Mar 10, 8:25PM EST0
What languages are spoken in Thailand? Do they have an official language?
Mar 9, 9:19PM EST1

The official language is Thai. Some English is spoken in tourist areas. And it's amazing what a little sign language and a smilr can achive. The language is not easy to learn because it is tonal and the alphabet is unlike Roman script. Some signs are in transliteration but there is no single form as there is in Pinyin, Chinese. I've seen Sarapi, where I live, written as Sarapi, Sarapee, Sarapii. Though of course there is only one way to spell it in Thai.

In transliterated spelling, you may see "ma" but it can have 5 different meanings depending on how spoken and how it is writtren in Thai.

There are regional dialects but almost all Thais can understand central Thai, the language of Bangkok. The words and pronounciation can vary by dialect but are usually understood. Rather like the Geordie accent in the UK and the Midi accent in France. Official announcements on the royal familty are made in a more formal language and some Thais would need notices written in that language to be translated into ordinary Thai. Technically, you should use that language when speaking to a royal.

Mar 9, 10:28PM EST0
What drove you to start writing books on Thailand?
Mar 9, 6:05PM EST1

I've always enjoyed reading and writing.  And Thailand is a fascinating country. Always surprises. The Thais, as are other peoples of the Far East, have a different attitude to life than Westerners. As Kipling said, East is East and West is West and Never the Twain shall Meet. I enjoy writing about it.

The quote is not entirely true but it does have some validity. I have written five books on Thailand and have tried to explain, in a light readable way, the main differences between how Thais and Westerners think and live.

4 of my books are non-fiction and give a balanced - positive and negative -view of the country and its people. My latest is non-fiction. And there is a reason for that. Thais dislike anything that smacks of criticism or conflict and have strict libel laws. You cannot name and shame even if you can prove what you say or write is true. By writing a commentary as fiction, I can get round that.  Most readers can read between the lines and see that truth is often stranger than fiction and often just as accurate.

Mar 9, 6:44PM EST0
Are people nice over in Thailand? Are they welcoming of tourists?
Mar 9, 5:09PM EST1

Yes, they are. Always smiling and Thais like to please. You have to watch for tourist scams of course but no more than you would in other countries.

After doing the rounds of the usual tourist sights, move into where ordinary Thais live and work and integrate with them. Thais love having fun. Join them at a party or in a Thai dance. They'll make you feel most welcome.

Mar 9, 6:50PM EST0
Please explain the title of your book. What can one expect of reading it?
Mar 9, 12:07PM EST1

I have five books. "The Death of a Thai Godfather" is a fictional novel but explains much about how life goes on in Thailand. I won't spoil the plot but it exposes some myths about mafias while explaining why Thais have a different worldview from Westerners.

So you can read on two levels. Be intrigued and surprised at the twists and turns in the plot, never knowing what will happen next. And, at a second level, learn why Thai lifestyle is so culturally different.

Mar 9, 6:59PM EST0
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