Elephant’s Leg


SIX OF THE BEST: BOXING EVENTS IN THAILAND

Continuing my “Six of the best” series marking my six years in Thailand, I present my pick of boxing matches and events I have experienced while living here (in date order).

1. PONGSAKLEK WONJONGKAM v SURIYAN SOR RUNGVISAI (October 8, 2010)

Pongsaklek and Suriyan have a domestic

Pongsaklek and Suriyan have a domestic

This rare all-Thai derby unfolded in deepest rural Si Sa Ket, with established legend Pongsaklek fending off a ferociously dogged challenge from young upstart Suriyan. It was expected to be a comfortable afternoon’s work for the massively more experienced WBC flyweight champion Pongsaklek, but Suriyan – little-known at the time, and fighting as Suriyan Por Chokchai – fought his heart out, pushing the older boxer to the brink over 12 exhausting rounds. Such was the level of desire exhibited by Suriyan – just 21 at the time – that when his body verged on collapse to the point that he vomited in the ring – and over Pongsaklek – in the midst of a draining 10th round, he took only the slightest of pauses before waging back into battle.

At the time, the feeling was that Pongsaklek must have past his peak to have been pushed so hard by the unheralded youngster, but in fact he would go on to score one of the signature wins of his career (see No. 2), while Suriyan would refine his crudely effective aggression and end up winning a world title of his own.

2. PONGSAKLEK WONJONGKAM v EDGAR SOSA (October 21, 2011)

Champ and challenger weigh in

Champ and challenger weigh in

I was privileged to be ringside for Pongsaklek’s last great performance. As ever, the vultures were circling, ready for the fall of an ageing champion thought to be ripe pickings. Sosa, a former world titleholder himself and top-5 mainstay, represented Pongsaklek’s sternest challenge in years, and was seen by the majority as favourite to unseat the greatest Thai champion of his time.

But Pongsaklek, at 34, put on a marvelous mix of effective aggression and crisp counter-punching, bulwarked by sharp defensive reflexes that had Sosa missing by fractions. By the end of the 12 rounds, the Mexican challenger had long since been drained by his frequently futile attempts at offence, and by the punishment he had received in return, and Pongsaklek was a handsome winner on the cards. It would be his last world championship victory.

3. ADRIAN HERNANDEZ v KOMPAYAK PORPRAMOOK (December 23, 2011)

Kompayak wins the war

Kompayak wins the war

There are some fights when one boxer just won’t be denied, regardless of what the form book suggests. Examples such as Ricky Hatton suffocating Kostya Tszyu  and, more recently, Marcos Maidana running over Adrian Broner spring to mind when thinking of how a lesser skilled boxer can beat one with seemingly all the advantages just by the sheer force of his will. And yet, Kompayak’s breathtaking rout of defending WBC light-flyweight champion Hernandez trumped even them.

Kompayak would go on to have a vulnerable world-level career afterwards, and Hernandez would gain emphatic revenge 10 months later, but the Thai’s title-winning performance was the result of one man just refusing to be beaten. Kompayak exhibited a cast-iron chin, walking through tremendous offence to land even better of his own, but Hernandez’s greater skill and sharpness threatened over and over again to put him on the ascendancy.

In an unrelenting contest fought under the unforgiving afternoon sun, Kompayak finally cracked the Mexican once their war dragged on into the deep end. A furious assault that should not have been possible after such effort had already been expended dropped Hernandez in the 10th, and having given so much himself, hauling his body back up was beyond his capabilities.

4. KOMPAYAK PORPRAMOOK v KOKI ETO (August 1, 2013)

Eto fends off Kompayak

Eto fends off Kompayak

Watching how Kompayak won his first title, and how he defended it, two things were clear. One, I could imagine him losing to a more skilled boxer, but I certainly couldn’t imagine losing to someone who worked harder than him. But that’s exactly what Eto did.

The Japanese challenger boasted a six-inch height advantage and a prohibitive reach, yet he inexplicably chose to slug it out with the squat Thai, trading rapid combinations. His edge in speed got the better of Kompayak’s extra power,  which at times threatened to cancel the looming upset. But Eto never wavered, and inexplicably never tired.

Many foreign boxers have wilted under the Bangkok sun in these draining open-air afternoon fights, but Eto not only lasted the distance with ease, he even finished stronger than the local. Perhaps all the hard fights finally caught up with Kompayak, but it was a magnificent effort from both men, with Eto’s workrate at times jaw-dropping, and Kompayak pouring Arturo Gatti-like levels of heart and resiliency into proceedings.

In some ways, I selfishly wanted to see a rematch, but in other ways, it is a relief that Kompayak hasn’t fought since, enjoying a very well-earned rest, or perhaps even an as-yet unannounced retirement.

5. FINAL NIGHT AT LUMPINEE BOXING STADIUM (February 7, 2013)

The infamous "bear pit" inside Lumpinee Stadium

The old stadium

Lumpinee Stadium was one of the country’s two most historic muay Thai venues. It closed earlier this year, but not before hosting a gala farewell promotion.

The name and championship lineage continues at a new site, but a modern facility can’t possibly replicate the history and atmosphere of the creaking old stadium.

I covered the last night at Lumpinee in full detail in a previous post.

6. BANGKOK THROWDOWN 2014 (June 13, 2014)

Me (blue) vs Felix

Me (blue) vs Felix

For personal reasons, this was a landmark event (and the reason for the pause in posts in my Six of the Best series). This night represented my return to competitive boxing after 17 years out of the ring. While I have trained on and off for most of my adult life, I’d not had an actual match since way back in 1997. My more relaxed working schedule in Thailand, combined with the number and quality of boxing gyms in Bangkok, combined to allow me to pursue the sport diligently once again after moving here, culminating in a match at this inaugural promotion at The Lab gym on Sukhumvit Road.

Bangkok Throwdown was the latest boxing event staged to raise money for the excellent children’s charity Operation Smile Thailand, the local branch of an outfit which provides free surgery to poor children afflicted with cleft lips and palates. Previously, three annual gala events have been held at the Dusit Thani Hotel, and while The Lab’s fight night was of a smaller scale, it nevertheless did handsome business for Operation Smile and proved a popular night out for those in attendance.

As for my part, I fought a stablemate called Felix Schrick. In case you don’t know the result, I won’t spoil the video below, but I enjoyed the match and all the training leading up to it, and felt honoured to do something for a humbling charity which does such good, literally life-changing, work. With The Lab now expanding its combat sports schedule, as well as the recent opening of Lion’s Head, a rarity in that it’s a gym dedicated to western boxing in a land where there’s a muay Thai facility in every neighbourhood, amateur boxing is finally on the up in Bangkok, and I’m very happy to be a part of it.

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See also: SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES

SIX OF THE BEST: BANGKOK RESTAURANTS



SIX OF THE BEST: BANGKOK RESTAURANTS

Continuing my “Six of the best” series marking my six years in Thailand, I present my pick of restaurants in the Bangkok region (in no particular order).

1. GOLD BAY LEAF (upper Sukhumvit)

Hidden gem

The power of word of mouth is evidenced in this excellent eatery which, if you didn’t know it’s reputation, you’d probably walk straight past, thinking it just another of the thousands of shophouse diners found all over the country.

Folding tables, check. Plastic chairs, check. Barely decorated walls, check. So far, so unremarkable. But tiny, open kitchen capable of whipping up miracles from a menu of more than 100 items, both Thai and international? Check, absolutely.

Chef Chai Boonlert is classically trained and has worked at several top-notch hotels, but the pride he takes in his work dictates that he no longer wishes to cook someone else’s recipes, or follow someone else’s menu. Consequently, he set up the Gold Bay Leaf – a modest affair, for sure, but one that he has absolute quality control over.

With no advertising budget and no big-name print reviews, Gold Bay Leaf succeeds on personal recommendations and social media buzz. In other words, the kind of reputation you can only earn with results. Try it for yourself.

Gold Bay Leaf, Sukhumvit Soi 101/1, Bang Na, Bangkok

Nearest public transport: Punnawhitthi or Udom Suk BTS Map: click here

Open: 5pm-3am daily, except public holidays

Tel: 02 747 6381 Web: https://goldbayleaf.wordpress.com/

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2. TRAJAI STEAK HOUSE (Sathorn)

Bucking the trend

Bucking the trend

You may have read in a previous post how I think steak is one of the foreign foods that Thailand does very badly. Of course, such claims usually carry disclaimers, and there are indeed exceptions to the rule. And while places in Bangkok that do good steak tend to be pricey, Trajai boasts both good quality western meals and prices closer to Thai costs.

Steak of all denominations can be found here, from beef classics to chicken and fish and even more exotic offerings such as crocodile and ostrich. You can try them individually or in combos. My favourite item, though, strays from the western path and into Thailand’s northeast. Yes, Thai steak disappoints more often than not, but Trajai’s Isan steak is a satisfying plate of tangy comfort food.

The poor quality of the average Thai steak is not in the meat itself, but rather the amateurish cut selection. But Trajai knows its meat, and the grilled tenderloin is cooked just right and dished up with fiery jim jaew sauce and sticky rice.

If the oddities of crocodile and ostrich pique your interest, they’re also well worth an order.

Trajai Steak House, 3 Soi Sribamphen, Thung Mahamek,Bangkok

Nearest public transport: Lumpini MRT Map: click here

Open: 11am-11pm daily

Tel:  02 679 7889 Web: Facebook page

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3. NAMUSKAAR (Lower Sukhumvit)

Hot stuff

Hot stuff

Similarly to my Thai steak rant, I have also bemoaned the poor standard of Indian curry often found in Thailand. But, again, there are exceptions, and the best of these is Namuskaar, off Sukhumvit Soi 8.

Housed in a low-key place tucked down a tiny, nondescript alley, no fanfare is made of Namuskaar, unlike its brightly lit yet invariably inferior counterparts in the main tourist strips. The menu is not extensive, but it doesn’t need to be, as quality over quantity is the key here.

For anyone already au fait with Indian food, none of the menu items will be new to you, but they are all very well done and, importantly, the spicier offerings deliver the kick that is missing elsewhere.

My personal favourites are the chilli chicken, the madras or vindaloo. Deboning the meat costs more, but it is recommended to save yourself the hassle and to get more meat. The garlic mixed naan is a perfect accompaniment to a curry, and the salted lime juice or lassis are more refreshing than they sound.

If you’re tired of the bland, disappointing Indian fare that is so typical of Bangkok, head to Namuskaar.

Namuskar, 9 Sukhumvit Soi 8, Khlong Toei Neua, Bangkok

Nearest public transport: Nana BTS Map: click here

Open: 11am-11pm daily

Tel:  02 255 1869 Web: Facebook page

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4. BAIYOKE SKY (Ratchathewi)

Sky-scraping

Sky-scraping

Dining (almost) atop Thailand’s tallest building is a must-do experience. No, the food is not hi-faluten, but it’s perfectly acceptable, and the international buffet boasts enough variety to hold the interest. Yes, there are plenty of other sky-high dining establishments in the city, but again, this is the very highest, and importantly, it’s very affordable.

720 baht will grant you a window-side table on the 83rd floor, two hours of all-you-can-eat fare (but no drinks) and access to the revolving viewing platform at the very top of the 304-metre-tall skyscraper. The food on offer includes Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Western, salad, fruit, ice cream, a grilling station and a personal table-top nabe hotpot stove. But the main course is the feast for the eyes that accompanies your meal, be it lunch on a sunny day or at night with the full scale of the city evident as its illumination stretches to infinity.

After the meal, head to the viewing deck and watch Bangkok revolve beneath you, spot landmarks and be amazed at how small the other buildings look; even those which look enormous from the ground.

If you don’t want a full meal, you can also buy a ticket for the observation deck only for 300 baht, which includes one drink at the bar on the 83rd floor.

Baiyoke Sky is an ideal date location for those familiar with Bangkok, and a striking visitor attraction for tourists.

Baiyoke Sky, 222 Ratchaprarop Road, Ratchathewi, Bangkok

Nearest public transport: Ratchaprarop ARL Map: click here

Open: 11am-11pm daily

Tel:  02 656 3000 Web: http://baiyokesky.baiyokehotel.com/

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5. SALA RATTANAKOSIN (Rattanakosin)

Wat Arun from Sala

Wat Arun from Sala

A list of best restaurants is perhaps incomplete without something a bit more high-end, and while there are glut of such establishments in Bangkok, few of them boast enough character to separate themselves from the crowd. Sala Rattanakosin, though, stands out for the several reasons, and for one reason most of all – the view.

Executive chef Tony Wrigley reckons his restaurant boasts the best view in Bangkok, and he might be right. While there are myriad sky-high eateries around town, Sala sits right at ground level, riverside on the Chao Phraya, and so close that the water almost laps at your feet. And slap-bang across the water looms the magnificent Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), one of Thailand’s most iconic buildings. After dark, the temple lights up in all its glory, while silhouetted boats float by in front of it. It’s a location and a sight that can’t be beat.

The food, too, is well recommended. The menu offers a balance of Thai, western and fusion, and Thai diners who’ve eaten at Sala will attest that, indeed, a farang can rustle up local fare just as good as the natives can make. The prices are below average for the standard of food and style of restaurant,  making it an ideal spot for dates or special occasions without breaking the bank. Or, if you just want drinks, the upstairs bar offers the same grandiose view. Sala is also a boutique hotel, and situated as it is in the heart of the old city and all its tourist attractions, it would make for a great starting point for any newly arrived holidaymakers.

Sala Rattanakosin, 39 Maharat Road, Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok

Nearest public transport:  Tha Tien Pier Map: click here

Open: Noon-11pm daily

Tel:  02 622 1388 Web: http://www.salaresorts.com/rattanakosin/

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6. JAREUNG (Rangsit)

Fried crocodile

And now for something completely different.

Jareung is the only restaurant in the Bangkok area that offers aharn pa, or, literally, wild food. While its produce actually comes from farms, Jareung aims to replicate the fare you might find in the deepest jungles of southern Thailand. Such communities live off whatever they can catch in the forests and rivers, and the food is usually highly spiced so that it keeps longer where electricity – and thus refrigeration – is not available. So expect oddities such as crocodile, frog, eel, wild boar, wild chicken, rabbit, deer, goat and the restaurant’s showpiece, cobra, cooked up in curries, stir-fries and broths using herbs and spices you might not find in standard Thai fare. Less adventurous diners can try the recipes with ordinary chicken, pork, fish, and so on.

The “wild” experience is enhanced by Jareung being a little out of town, in a leafy suburb, tucked away from the noise and traffic, and quite hard to find. Jareung is situated in Phathum Thani – Bangkok’s neighbouring northern province – down a side road off Phahon Yothin Road, a major artery out of the capital that stretches all the way to Burma. The nearest point of reference is Future Park Rangsit, a huge mall. Your best bet if unfamiliar with the area and/or if you can’t speak Thai is to go with a local friend or take a taxi and ask the driver to call the restaurant for directions.

Jareung, 39/14 Moo 3, Khlong 1, Phahon Yothin Road, Khlong Luang, Phathum Thani

Nearest public transport: Don Muang SRT Map: none

See also

Tel: 02 516 9274 Web: none

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See also: SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES

SIX OF THE BEST: BOXING EVENTS



SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES

With late April marking the anniversary of my move to Thailand, and with this year marking my sixth anniversary, I have decided to compile a series of “Six of the Best” features encompassing my hobbies and interests, which I have enjoyed during my time here. I will start with films made in, or set in, Thailand. The list is in chronological order of the year of production.

1. MUAY THAI CHAIYA (2007)

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The first Thai film I saw after moving here remains one of my favourites. I watched Muay Thai Chaiya (simply Chaiya/ไชยา in Thai) almost as a token – “I’m in Thailand so I should watch a Thai film” – but I had a similar experience to when I watched Fight Club for the first time. Expecting a simple beat-’em-up, I was given so much more. Chaiya is, on the surface, a martial arts movie, but its narrative charts the coming of age and moral corruption of three pugilistic brothers as they move from the idyllic southern district of the film’s title to ’70s Bangkok to chase big bucks in the ring.

The three brothers’ fates take differing turns; one’s boxing career is cut short through injury, another pursues legitimate championship aspirations, and the third is drawn into Bangkok’s lucrative but increasingly dangerous underground fighting circuit. Organised crime influences all three, and their competing egos and influences make for a blood-soaked morality play of love triangles, sibling rivalries and childhood bonds. Chaiya culminates in an absurdly violent climax that some of Japan’s more notorious splatterhouse directors would be proud of, yet it is testament to director Kongkiat Khomsiri’s work that it somehow doesn’t come across as unrealistic. (Kongkiat would later direct another of my favourites, Slice – see next entry).

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FINAL BELL TOLLS FOR LUMPINEE BOXING STADIUM
The infamous "bear pit" inside Lumpinee Stadium

The infamous “bear pit” atmosphere inside Lumpinee Stadium

One of the world’s most iconic sports venues closed last Friday, with the ringing of the final bell for Bangkok’s Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.

It was to muay Thai what Madison Square Garden is to boxing and wrestling – a venue steeped in history that fans would make pilgrimages to and competitors would dream of fighting in.

Opened in 1956, Lumpinee would go on to rival the older Rajadamnern Stadium in terms of prestige, both as a venue and a championship (the championships of Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums are among the most respected in the sport).  However, I always preferred Lumpinee. My first visit there remains one of the most vivid cultural memories I have had.

Back in 2005, while backpacking with my step-brother Andy, we attended a Lumpinee fight card just days into our two-month stint in Thailand. On a budget, we opted for the cheapest tickets, the so-called third-class section, and we were so glad we did. Continue reading



ANOTHER YEAR IN PARADISE

Sorry to use a cliché, but the past 12 months have continued to be spent in tropical Thailand, and while Bangkok lacks the beaches and tranquility that most would associate with an earthly Eden, it has, for the most part, been a year that was good to me.

What a shame that the country’s political scene is once again threatening to spoil 2014 almost as soon as it starts, but for now my focus is on what did happen, rather than what might, as I sum up 2013.

FAMILY

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

Thankfully, all my loved ones remained fit and well last year, including my three 80-something grandparents. Most importantly, my Scottish Grandma, who has always been full of vigour, has remained so since the death of Grandpa in 2012. If anything, she has thrived, having now been freed from the duties of caring for him virtually full time in the decade or so before he passed away. She has travelled, met her great-grandchildren and been busier than ever in her community. On top of this, when I visited her in June, we enjoyed some brisk walks amid the glorious Highland scenery and she set a pace that would put many people half her age to shame. Long may this continue!

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MY BOOK DEBUT: TO THAILAND WITH LOVE
To Thailand With Love

To Thailand With Love

Having been published in newspapers and magazines, I have now, with the release of To Thailand With Love, completed the trinity of print media.

I have been referring to it as “my book debut”, rather than “my book”, as I am just one of several contributors to TTWL. It is the latest in the “With Love” series, edited by Nabanita Dutt and published by Things Asian Press of San Francisco, which combines travel writing with guidebook-style pointers and listings. Typically, the writers provide features on travel experiences in the country and append info for the reader to visit the destination for themselves, should they wish to. Previous “With Love” books have focused on Burma, Cambodia, Japan, Vietnam and North India, while a Nepal edition was published concurrently with the Thailand release.

Quite apart from my involvement, I would recommend any of these books if you plan to travel to one of the countries covered, or if you generally have an interest in them. The “With Love” entries offer a slew of out-of-the-ordinary stories and ideas which you might not find in more traditional guidebooks, nor hear from “ordinary” tourists.

I have three stories in the Thailand book, covering a wander around Khlong Toey Market (a totally authentic fresh market with lots of weird sights and smells), a trip to Bangkok’s Middle Eastern quarter (you can be transported to Arabia for three Sukhumvit sois and eat some things you won’t find elsewhere in Thailand, including sheep’s testicles), and dinner at a “jungle food” restaurant in Phatum Thani (crocodile, cobra and much more is on the menu).

There’s plenty more to digest from the other writers too, divided into chapters covering food, must-see attractions, spirituality, hidden treasures, shopping, remote destinations and tips on local life, volunteering and more. Complementing all this is some quite charming photography by Marc Schultz.

To Thailand With Love is available at Dasa Book Cafe in Bangkok, from Barnes & Noble in the United States, and can be shipped worldwide from Amazon. If you would prefer to order a copy from a bookstore of your choice, the ISBN numbers are ISBN-13: 978-1-934159-11-8 and ISBN-10: 1-934159-11-5.



5 FOREIGN FOODS THAT THAILAND DOES VERY BADLY
Yuck!

Yuck!

Thailand justifiably has a reputation for producing some of the world’s best food, and as with any national cuisine, the best Thai food can be found in the country itself. Thais who travel will often bemoan the inferior quality of Thai food overseas, while foreigners who have visited here will never look at another country’s green curry in quite the same way again. Hell, I once had the misfortune of ordering a plate of pad Thai in Manchester and finding they substituted tamarind sauce for tomato ketchup!

Yet exactly the same logic can be applied in Thailand – if you’re looking for good foreign food, you might be best off going to the country in question. Just because the local food in Thailand can be mind-blowing, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the kitchens of the Land of Smiles can perform similar culinary feats with dishes from abroad.

People who grow up with a certain type of food know it best. Add in the scarcity of certain ingredients in certain countries, plus how relatively new some foreign food is to Thailand, and stir in some peculiar local twists, tastes and takes on foreign dishes, and you have…

5 FOREIGN FOODS THAT THAILAND DOES VERY BADLY

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BALI HAIS AND LOWS – 5 DAYS IN INDONESIA’S TOURIST HAVEN
Balinese Hindu architecture

Balinese Hindu architecture

Last month I travelled to Bali, Indonesia, in what was primarily a social visit, as I have a friend who lives and works there. It hadn’t really occurred to me to visit Bali before, being that is an uber-touristy destination, but I figured that I would see more than beaches and bars with the combination of a local friend and my own inquisitive style of travelling. And so it was. As expected, the main tourist area of Kuta didn’t hold my attention, but some other parts of the island – unfortunately time constraints limited me to the south – were charming.

My thoughts on what I saw of Bali are as follows. It is not a chronological travelogue; more like a scrapbook of impressions and recommendations. Continue reading



THE VALUE OF VAGINAS
An acceptable way to wear fur

An acceptable way to wear fur

The amazing response to my last post was quite an eye-opener. Initially, my blog was just a way to share my general musings with friends and family back home after I moved to Thailand. I wasn’t bothered about page views, although I’d had some good critical feedback on some past pieces. Even so, the most views my site had had in a day previously was a little over 200. But my “10 ways expats can avoid being mistaken for tourists” post has now picked up more than 3,300 views!

Since I’d only posted it on my own Facebook page and sent an email to a few people I already knew, I was very pleasantly surprised by this. It was my own experience of something going “viral”, and while 3,300+ views is a pretty modest stat in modern internet terms, it was achieved through the branch of “shares” on Facebook, Twitter and the link being posted on various forums. While technology has changed a lot in recent years, the adage remains that the best kind of advertising is a recommendation, so for my work to be publicised by people I don’t know whatsoever is a nice seal of approval.

As I hadn’t had particularly big numbers before, I hadn’t looked much at the referrers, search engine terms, and so on, but when I got the huge spike in views, I had a look at the WordPress stats page to see how people were finding their way to the site. I had a few surprises and laughs at some of the search engine terms that had directed people here, but one word in particular stood out because it cropped up over and over again.

Vagina. Continue reading



10 WAYS EXPATS CAN AVOID BEING MISTAKEN FOR TOURISTS
Nice tan!

Nice tan!

Everybody needs somebody… to look down on, and few lifeforms get less respect than the lowly tourist. In Bangkok, they are easy to spot – bright pink skin, dripping in sweat, wearing a Chang Beer T-shirt and scratching their heads over folding maps and the BTS ticketing system. Tourists are naïve, vulnerable, confused and trusting – everything that the noble expat is not! But to the average Thai conman and opportunist, every foreigner is a potential tourist, and to every tourist, anyone of their same colour is likely one of their kin. But the resident farang is a wiser, nobler and all-round higher class of foreigner, and we must flaunt our status with our behaviour and habits. However, this is something that can only be cultivated over time, with experience – unless you consult my handy guide to…

10 WAYS EXPATS CAN AVOID BEING MISTAKEN FOR TOURISTS

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