Friday, June 28, 2013

A Million More Cars on Thai Roads

Welcome to Bangkok
Thai people are one of the few rare species in the entire universe that prefers to spend more time with their cars then with their families. Normally people only spend so much time in a vehicle when travelling to another galaxy. This trend is exponentially growing. Is it just me or has the traffic gotten worst in recent years? My recent trip to Hua Hin which I blogged about had me cinder in stress and anger, much different from the earlier years when I just moved over to Thailand. Driving to Hua Hin then was an enjoyable ride through the country.

Beating the traffic, is there a method? Drive a large snow plow and shove them all aside in a pile of carnage. That is my fantasy. I am pretty sure this idea had definitely cross other driver's mind. The fastest I ever got from home to work, some 30 km away, was in 30 minutes. That was when I left home at 5 am in the morning. Now, leaving at 6 am, it took one and a half hour. Leaving at 6.15 am, two hours. Leaving at 6.45 am reach work in three hours. Tried going to work late and left at 10 am, one and a half hour. Left home at noon, one hour. Defies logic ain't it. You gotta start building a profile of the travel times and then from there on choose a sweet spot in the middle of all those bitterness. The return journey home, you gotta pick a time too. Its either leave before 4.30 pm or after 8 pm for me. Now I understand why many are buying condominiums that are sold at ridiculously inflated prices dotted around the inner city.

The effect of school terms on traffic are also significant. When the schools are closed, you can generally take 25% off the travelling times. When schools sets in, it's like everyone is rushing out early morning to get reincarnated. In addition to all the daddies and mommies sending younglings to school, there is an influx of teenagers driving thanks to the first car ownership scheme introduced. True or not remains a debate. But I remember in my school days we can't afford cars. Here, consider the fact that in addition to legitimate parents buying cars for their spoilt legitimate sons and daughters, there are many sugar daddies out there sponsoring their sugar daughters. I no money, I no honey, I am not one of them daddies.

The basic criteria for driving is you need to have a brain. Grow one if you don't have. With heaps more cars on the road these days, there are exponential heaps more stupid drivers. If you ever been through a driving test here, you will know there are no such things as reading up on highway code and driving rules. Passing the test is a matter of if you can drive a bumper car in an amusement park, you can pass the test. Brain is not a criteria. There are no rules that you need to log learning hours with a legal driving instructor. Stupid drivers with bad judgments and little experience contributes to stupid accidents, which contributes to stupid congestions. Ok, not all of them are stupid, there are careful drivers who knows their limitations. But careful drivers equates to careful slow driving leaving huge gaps up front and a tail back so long which results in the same congestion. When it rains, stupidity triple folds. Driving in the rain, sometimes you will think a speedboat had just overtaken you in a furious wake of angry spray. Drivers here have never heard the word aquaplaning before probably because there is no Thai word for that. Most likely also, they have brain mass deficiency. So when they crash, the motorway jams for miles and miles behind.

I come from a time when a liter of petrol was way much lower than a liter of soda. When the petrol prices crossed that line, everyone was so much complaining back then. Humanity had accepted the fact that cars drink more expensive juice then us. No one in this era does a comparison like that no more. As we feed the hunger of our machines, petrol conglomerates' wealth just blossoms skywards in what seems to be a conspiracy. Look, in jams, cars ain't moving, they just burn petrol and this is energy wastage. So all the talk here about going green, save the world by reducing energy consumption and yet the traffic congestion which is purely in contradiction. Kinda feels like the authorities knows about the issue but they also know that on the other side of the same coin, the more petrol we burn doing nothing in jams, the more money they make. In jams, we actually have our own climatic system surrounding our cars. This is definitely not global warming friendly but who gives a damn about that here really?

The folks here are generally blaming the first time car buyer's scheme for the traffic situation. This scheme allows first time car buyers to enjoy a tax rebate amounting to 10% on the value of cars under a certain specification - eco cars generally. But look to the streets and no we don't see an overwhelming percentage of boxy miniature Japanese or Korean makes that can sail along with the onset of gust. Thais are just getting richer, this is no more a developing country but a developed one. The scheme didn't turn out well for many. People did not really understood the rebate system and assumed they will get 10% in returns after purchase. So many had loaned money for down payment and booked their cars, only to realize later then that they have difficulty servicing the loan. The returns are on tax deductions only and are stretched over several years, not any near future full amount rebates to pay off their debts. So many cancellations on the million purchases made in 2012, this I hear from the circles I in.

Bangkok sizzles with cars and we are glad it ain't the worst in the world. Population increasing uncontrollably, we are the parasite of Mother Earth. The flood of automobile will only increase and soon Bangkok will top the records. Traffic, you live here and you will know. It takes a car to get around, it is a necessity. We just have to embrace the situation and live with it.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Documents for Work Permit

And so they changed the law recently within the last two years. We now have to get a medical certificate in order to get our work permits renewed. For the past decade, I have never needed one for the immigration. It's hard to confirm which regulations are for real and which are just there for the sake of making regulations looks like someone had put effort to come out with them. So here I am sharing my experience and this should hold valid for this year at least. Some say that we needed a chest x-ray and a whole onslaught of test which fortunately excludes anal probe. But the truth is, we only need a simple letter from the doctor, which for some reasons, we must also undergo a mandatory Syphilis test. Have we foreigners been rampantly importing Syphilis or what? As for the chest x-ray and such, the honest nurse told me, no it ain't true. All doctors here evolved from dolphins. She said the doctors have acute sonar capabilities which could detect tuberculosis just by listening and that will be enough. So my certificate which included a 45 minutes wait for the confirmation if my body is crawling with Syphilis cost THB750. I do not have Syphilis.

Photographs. My admin told me that I will need to provide 2 fresh 4 x 6cm of meself and warned me I must not used that which was used the previous year. Well, truth is, I had been getting away with it. I have been using that same photo from my stockpile which I acquired since many work permit cycles ago. The other set of photos required is that which shows you working in your office. So I had my HR take snapshots of me while I groped my female colleague's ass in front of the company signboard.

It's true, the "Notification of Residence Must Be Made Every 90 Days" chop in your passport. I never got to know how to notify them about my residence and so I can't share how that's done. As such, I was fined in one of the renewals some years back. But if you are a frequent traveler, every trip in and out of the country equates to a "notification" already when you get your passport chopped at the immigration. There is no need to sing the Thai national anthem in front of the immigration officer when he or she interviews you, this believe is for another type of renewals not related to work permits. They just need you to be present and see your face. There are actually two places we foreigners gets our work permit renewed. The one at Chamchuri Square can be reached by going to the Sam Yan BTS. This place is however meant for manager levels and above titles only. Ironically these are the same positions which the graduates who are produced from the Chulalongkorn University located immediately behind are known to expect and only accept.

The one at Chaengwattana is for all other lower levels and is notorious be very crowded. How to get there? Taxi. Chaengwattana is not in Bangkok, it's in another province called Nonthaburi. Whichever place you go, just make sure you go early, very early. Lots of government institutions here prefer the nostalgic approach and stick to paperwork. It can take up to 30 minutes for one number in the queue to be processed. Fortunately, for big companies, we outsource our work permit renewals. Our representative was there to take the queue number for us way earlier before the doors opened. There is no such efficient thing as drop your filled forms and come back another day to pick your renewed permit up because they have not taught about it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

VIP Parking in Bangkok

In Bangkok, you will see many of these privilege parking implementations. There are those for Chevrolets owners, for certain credit card holders, for certain insurance policy holders and privilege shopping card holders. They also have whole floor of reserved parking for "Pink Lady" where they let you in on the condition you have a vagina (no need to actually show them). That is where you can take your own sweet time to park without being harassed by impatient men revving up their engines, flashing their headlights and honking till you crash into a pillar in panic. I've also seen a whole floor reserved parking for LPG and NGV powered cars. So, when these highly unstable vehicles catches fire, the contagious fire only blows up all of the other equally highly unstable vehicles within. That a contained apocalypse hopefully without affecting cars on other floors.

High-so Cars Only
But Central Plaza really tops it. If this ain't discrimination, then I don't know what is. Spotted recently at Central Plaza Rama 9, a whole row of empty slots reserved for so called "Super Cars". The parking was full at peak evening, only 2 Porsches were parked within all the empty slots reserved for certain makes of high-so cars. The rest of us in our "common" cars had to go round and round in circles just like Sputnik did around Earth. Kinda get the feeling from them that "If you are not rich, please try not to come to Central". You need to be rich then they will warmly welcome you.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Infestation of Hua Hin

Evason Hua Hin

What Happened to the Easy Drive

The Route
Getting to Hua Hin is a straight drive along Rama II till the end where one turns left on to Phetkasem, and from there on straight pass Cha-am and into Hua Hin. I remembered that getting there used to be an enjoyable drive of less than three hours. I remembered the smooth flowing traffic under pollution free crisp blue skies. Music accompanied our chit chats, the ever present hint of tyre noise permeating into our cabin. A pleasant drive with occasional stops at petrol stations for that snack or that toilet break, smiles on everyone's faces you met. I left home as usual on this trip, but this time I reached my destination only after an agonizing four and a half hours. The jams, started on Kanchanapisek, way before turning right on Rama II. Trucks laden the roads, pregnant with payload and slow, they do not stick to left lanes. They dominated all lanes without regards to faster moving agile cars. What was supposed to be a nice journey, turned out to be an antagonistic obstacle course. On Rama II, still the trucks infested the lanes, and on Phetkasem, the traffic filtered down to hordes of cars on a snail's pace. Why? Because of the long weekend where Vesak Day fell on a Friday. Discovery Channel can make a Great Migrations episode out of this in fact - Mad Thais on Long Weekends.

Within those hours, anyone would turn from pleasant driver to devil on wheels. We need to forget all the civic manners and adopt a combined performance made up of all the appalling driving behaviors from Kuala Lumpar, Jarkata and Ho Chi Minh city, with Bangkok inclusive of course. That way, you will move, if not, you become permanent parts of the roads most of the time. Most cars I witnessed executing amazing feats on the road are Beamers and the Benz, for some reasons success in business also showcased in success on roads. The worst traffic behavior, it is no wonder why in some countries, Asians behind the wheel are notorious for their disorderly manners. Drive wicked, use the service lane, cut into everyone's path and force your way in if it even means gaining just one car's length. Climb, the horizontal ladder of traffic that's what many did. Be wicked, reach your destinations in shorter times. We ended up stressed, angry and upset, the expression of the exhausted sprit I seen at petro kiosk. Be good and your trip to Hua Hin could take you into the night. Road rage or do a Driving Miss Daisy, your choice, your time.

Evason no longer Exclusive

The crowd at Breakfast
Evason, just a little beyond Hua Hin, on corroded shorelines she resides. A road separates the compound from the sea. Mention the word Evason and the picture of peace and tranquility comes into mind. No, not on a long weekend. What happened was a zoo. Coupled together with the sub two thousand Baht packages Evason is so widely promoting through websites such as Ensogo, the pickup for many of their most fundamental rooms resulted in a serenity breached. Bangkok families squeeze more than two into per room. Officially or unofficially remains an uncertainty. I was told the entire resort was actually fully booked for the weekend. I had trouble finding a spot to park my car.

Breakfast, it was a market. Crowds picked up and gathered in numbers when chefs were spotted ferrying the bacon to the stations. We wiped them out in no time, leaving many behind the queue with none. What's with Asians and bacon? Well, we perceive bacon as a precious rare food item from the western realms. The big pool viewing the sea, under scattered tall trees, the cast of bendy shadows. The breeze hot, of white clouds contrasting the blue skies the vista. Pleasant above but below the mayhem was. It was more like a water amusement park. And so I forgo that dip, and in my own villa pool a restful calm I had seek. This trip, for one night we picked the Evason Studio, for the next we picked the Pool Villa.

Evason Pool Villa - Bath
Evason Studio room, would not recommended it. If it is basic you want then the most basic room would suffice. The only different is the large balcony with a day bed outdoors, you lay in tropical climate and turn into a sweaty pile. Could be nice for wine in the night, but smacked tightly together the rooms divided by walls, little privacy there will be. But my second day was something else, the Pool Villa. Enclosed in high walls offering seclusion, an inviting pool was set within. Next to it the outdoor tub, encircled by a lotus pond she sits. The shower located next to the tub, in openness one baths under the stars. In the hot day not venturing anywhere to any attractions infested by the crowds, floating under the skies the cricks of nature accompanied my relax stance. One truly rest in a Pool Villa so this I highly recommend.

Great Breakfast Spread, Excellent Food

Asians and Bacon

Just too many People

Working by the Pool

Egg Station

Evason Pool Villa

Evason Studio Room

Evasion Studio - Day Bed Outdoors

Food Shortage

OX Restaurant

OX Restaurant - 12°24'16.20"N,  99°59'40.80"E
I had meals in this restaurant called OX previously. Where Evason is located, there aren't much restaurants around. So any establishments on a long weekend nearby will be packed like sardines. The non Thai and non English speaking crew guarantees to drive your frustration up a notch. The wait for food, two notches. When served the wrong food, that triples it. And when I tried to snap a picture of the rising moon set against the backdrop of the stunning horizon, the crowds kept getting in the way, so angry, so angry. This picture I shown, she (the big white one) was dominating the scene and refused to go away. For twenty full minutes she was posing away, like a mutant bull fly moving in circles on my LED screen while I watch a movie. By the time she went away, the best of lighting the dusky skies and the moon could offer was gone. And so I shall title the picture "Don't Eat too much at Hua Hin, or else...".

The Weekend Crowd

Gin Poo Restaurant

Gin Poo - 12°24'19.20"N,  99°59'30.00"E
The next day, we tried to lunch somewhere less crowded at a place called Gin Poo (meaning eat crabs). We ordered steam crabs. The waiter came back say "no crab left". We ordered fried fish in fish sauce. He came back later saying "fish finish". We ordered BBQ prawns, he came back later say "prawn finish". So we ate the only thing that was left - squid. Servings was small, taste was average, but the view of fishing boats moored along the river was great.

The Fishing Boats

Somewhere Good

Somewhere Good - 12°19'60.00"N,  99°59'51.00"E

The best meal I had was actually on an unknown restaurant, located at the corner of bend, a large wooden hut with several small straw roofed constructs. We were lucky we were early, at 11:30 we reached. The crowds soon came and many had to be turned away. The price was fantastically cheap for the quality of Thai food we have. I am a fanatic of fried rice, and this joint offers one of the best I had in a long time. The fragrance of the extra hot wok sealed the flavors of curry powder and crab into every grain of rice cooked to perfection for frying. In most places, the art getting rice cooked perfect for frying is scarce, fried rice usually ended up mushy but not here. Must try you must, must come again I will.


The Scene Beyond

The Limited Parking

So when is a good time for Hua Hin?

Never on a long weekend should one make any destination that needs to commute out of Phetkasem a choice for relaxing holiday. Unless, one leaves at ungodly hours such as 5 am in morning, the drive would turn you into a wild pile of fuming rage. The traffic had gone terrible lately with the increase of cars. This is thanks to last year's aggressive incentive schemes for first time owners, policy makers denies this of course. Anyways, all resorts will be cheaper during weekdays, quiet and private without the wild crowd. Heaps of resorts had sprang up all over Hua Hin, driving the migratory swarm even bigger. Trips to Hua Hin had always been good, too bad it is just not now.