About Us

We are a married couple who retired and moved to Thailand in 2014. You are welcome to join us and our travel monkeys Sun Wukong and Malcolm Jr. on our adventures! We hope you enjoy the trip as much as we do.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Getting Our Thai Drivers Licenses

Let's get this out of the way first. Most of you know we have no plans or desires to drive in Thailand. That remains the same. So why should we get a Thai Drivers License?

Number one is that some places (emphasize the word “some”) who have dual pricing for Thai's and foreigners will accept a Thai Drivers License as showing you are not a tourist, but live here and will then give you the Thai price for entry. We will see how this works, and where it works and keep you posted.

Secondly, it sometimes (emphasize the word “sometimes”) gives you more credibility if you are needing assistance or are stopped for some reason by the authorities. Mostly we have been told that they will accept it as identification and not require your original passport to be carried on your person, although it is suggested to carry photocopies of all your relevant passport pages. Hopefully, we will never have the need to find out in a stressful situation. Hopefully, it will work for when you are asked for your passport information to arrange delivery of something to your home or sign up for one of the multitude of store cards that every store seems to have. Just show them the license instead.

Thirdly, if for some reason (some emergency) we needed to drive then we would at least be legal even though there are a lot of people who drive without a license and just pay the non-receipted on the spot fee when they are stopped.

Since we both have valid drivers licenses from Oregon and we both have a valid International Drivers Permit the rules for getting a Thai Drivers License are supposed to be easy. We should only have to provide the necessary documents to the Department Of Land Transportation, possibly take 3 tests at the DLT (color blindness, depth perception, and peripheral vision), pay the 205 Baht license fee and be on our way. No written or practical driving test is necessary. We'll see.

There are several things that are required.
  1. Fill out the application form for a drivers license. (the form is in Thai)
  2. Photocopy of passport pages showing identity and visa/visa extension stamps.
  3. Original medical certificate (less than 30 days old)
  4. Original Certificate of Residence from Thai Immigration or your Embassy.
  5. Photocopy of unexpired Driving License from home country and the original to show the DLT staff.
  6. Photocopy of International Driving Permit from your home country.
  7. Fee for Car License of 205 Baht and/or Fee for Motorcycle License of 155 Baht.

We started by applying for our Certificate of Residence from Thai Immigration on September 8. In Chiang Mai these are issued at the Immigration Department located across from Promenada Mall, not from the main Chiang Mai Immigration Office near the airport. We took the Promenada free shuttle from the Holiday Inn (near our condo) to the mall. From there we hired a songtheaw to take us to the Immigration office since you would have to walk across a 6 lane racetrack to get there otherwise.

There is no fee for the Certificate of Residence from Thai Immigration if you play their game. From the US Consulate the Certificate of Residence is $50 USD.

The Game 

If you want your Residency Letter the next day they charge you 500 Baht. If you want it next week they charge you 100 Baht. If you want the one that is FREE you pick it up about 2 or 3 weeks later.

We aren't in a hurry and don't want to support the “tea money” system if we can help it so we chose to pick it up in a couple of weeks after applying. They weren't really happy about that but gave us a small piece of paper with the date (September 26) to pick up our letter. Now, the question is “Are the fees they are charging legitimate or are they one of the many purported "tea money" scams that take place in Thailand?” 

I generally feel the fees are legitimate IF you are given a receipt for the fee, especially from government entities. For both the 500 Baht fee or the 100 Baht fee there are NO receipts given. To me this means there is no auditing of the “donation for services” and it probably does not reach the government's coffers as you would expect. You can decide for yourself if this is a legitimate government fee or not.

To file for the letter we had to provide them with a copy of all of our relevant passport information, show them our original passport, fill out the Application Form For Residence Certificate In Thailand, provide them with 2 passport size color photos, a copy of our TM6 departure card, and the rental contract for our residence.

On September 26 we went back to get our letters. We arrived at 12:50 (they are closed for lunch from 12:00 until 1:00). The gentleman saw us come into the waiting area and waved us up to his window (#2). We gave him our pieces of paper with the date on them, he had us sign a book next to our names and sign a paper showing we picked up the letter and we were done. In and out in less than 5 minutes and no charge for anything. 

On Sunday afternoon I sent an email to Rajavej Hospital and asked if they perform the examination for the Medical Certificate for a Drivers License, how much that would cost, and if we needed an appointment or just needed to stop in?  The normal office hours are 8 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday so I was expecting to get a return email sometime this week. At 8:03 AM Monday morning I received an email that said we could come by between 9 and 5 Monday through Friday, an appointment is not necessary and the cost would be between 100 and 150 baht each.

We walked over to the hospital at 10:15 AM and Lin filled out new patient registration paperwork for herself (I had already been seen there so I didn't need to). It took her about 3 or 4 minutes to fill out the paperwork and we were immediately taken to have our blood pressure and weight taken. That took about 2 minutes each and then the nurse escorted us over to the Doctor's room and neither of us spent more than a minute with the Doctor. He asked if we drank, what color the number was on his calendar, if we take drugs, asked if our eyes are good, and listened to our heartbeat.

Then we were asked to sit and wait, which took about 3 minutes, before we were called over to the cashier to pay 100 baht each for our Medical Certificate to drive. This actually took longer than any of the other steps partially because all the receipts are printed out on an old dot matrix printer. We were home by 10:45 AM.

Today we took a songtheaw to the Department of Land Transportation on Hang Dong Road to apply for our licenses. We got there about 10 minutes before they opened. We went to the Information Booth on the second floor and showed her our paperwork. We had prepared the Thai application in advance knowing that they have been known to not accept anything but their form that you get there. Since the form was in Thai we thought that if they refused our filled out copy at least we would have something to copy onto their official form. Luckily she looked at our forms and said to go to window 28 to turn in the paperwork and get a number.

They started calling numbers at around 8:15 but first we were called into the testing room. This was for the color blindness test. Twenty or so of us stood in a line and took turns to take the test, one at a time. The officer pointed to the colors on the chart hanging on the wall and asked what color he was pointing to. You had to tell him the correct answer for 4 dots. Red, Red, Yellow, Green. You passed.

Then, because we didn't have to take the practical test we were excused from the other tests they give to applicants. We picked up our paperwork on a table and were told to go back to the Information Desk to get a number. I got number 014 and Lin got number 015.

We were told to take a seat and wait for our number to be called. About 5 minutes later we were called to a window, handed the officer all the paperwork again, waited while they looked it over and then gave them 205 baht. The officer handed back the paperwork along with 100 baht and told us to go to the waiting area to have our photo taken.

There was no waiting here. I walked into the area and nobody was waiting. The officer there told me to take a number. When I took the number from the pin it was sitting on she immediately waved me over to her desk. I gave her all the paperwork and the 100 baht, she took my photo and printed out my license. Done! What time is it? 9:05 AM.

That was easy. Our total cost to get our Thai Drivers License (for autos) was 205 baht for the license and 100 baht for the Medical Certificate. That works out to $9.47 USD at the last exchange rate we received when getting funds from the ATM.

If you need to be there longer, either because of crowds or having to take the practical driving test, they have a snack bar area on the same floor adjacent to the Information Desk.

Lin had a question and went to the Drivers License Foreign Service Center located to the left of all the windows to ask.  The women spoke perfect English and told her "I don't speak English, you need to go to Window 21."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

TEDx Chiang Mai

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, but TED is so much more!  A few of my favorite talks include topics about the ocean, overcoming adversity and nano technology!  So imagine my delight when I heard about a TED talk to be held in Chiang Mai.  TEDx events are independently organized and operate under the license from TED and held in cities all over the world.

It was an all day event located at the Le Meridian Hotel and the turn out was a full house of over 800 people in attendance.  We saw young teens, high school age and many college students as well as people from around the world.  We had the pleasure of meeting men from Russia and Puerto Rico.  And oddly enough we met a man from Berkeley, California and a woman from Portland, Oregon.

Lunch, drinks, coffee and snacks were provided and all the volunteers and staff of the hotel were marvelous.  There were several places to relax and watch large screens outside of the main auditorium.  Wireless receivers for simultaneous translation from Thai and English were available.

The topics from 22 speakers were varied and included:

The Hug Project Thailand - Protecting children from violence and exploitation.

Connecting Education and Social Responsibility - From the CEO of Microsoft Thailand.

Two Speakers from Penang, Malaysia speaking about Global Tourism and the Arts.

Vibratosax.com - The inventor of light weight, waterproof, poly carbonate alto saxophones. He even played them on stage and the sound was beautiful!

Localalike.com - A community based tourism platform dedicated to connecting local communities with travelers looking for a more meaningful and authentic experience.

Mink Prada Techavijit is 37 years old and Thailand's first astronaut!  She competed against mostly men in the grueling physical and mental competition to gain a coveted spot to leave the atmosphere!    AXE Apollo Space Academy - Facebook

Mink is the tiny woman in the front

Out of the four women and 105 men who competed at the space academy, Mink is one of two women and 20 men from 21 different countries including Canada, South Africa, Thailand and China.  They had to take mental aptitude tests, combat training in a fighter jet and zero-gravity flights to distinguish themselves as the most worthy for the free flight.   SXC manages trips aboard the reusable XCOR Aerospace Lynx Rocket Plane, a commercial space plane that is expected to begin flying customers in 2014 or 2015 at a cost of $95,000 each.

Tables were set up with interactive exhibits.  Slack Line, paint a ceramic elephant, student tech projects and mystery bags to use your creativity using recycled materials put in the bags by citizens in Chiang Mai.

From tree to magazine and back to tree

We were taken by songtheaw to The Glass House Restaurant for the after party where dinner and wine was provided along with live music.  We had a wonderful time.......I only wish there were more coconut filled chocolates!
Sun loves pink elephants

Foreign Men = ATM

There are many expats from numerous countries that come to Thailand looking to boost their ego and have created an economy of supply and demand of said economy. It is the end of September and still the low season for the number of tourists visiting Chiang Mai and Thailand in general. We can see the lack of income for taxis, songtheaws, tuk tuk drivers and tour operators because we are getting pitched for tours and being quoted higher than normal rates for transportation.

Learning to speak a little Transportation Thai is helping because they know we are not tourists and they resign themselves to giving us Thai price. It is a very lean time for all businesses and of course they are trying harder to put food on the table.

Vince and I walk most places and have on occasion decided to walk home at night. Our route takes us past a few bars where the women are perched on stools near or just outside the door waiting to pour drinks and converse with customers. I joke with Vince that if he were walking alone I am sure he would be approached to have a drink with them.

The opportunity for us to be apart from each other has not come up so this was not put to the test. Until we attended the TEDx Chiang Mai talks at the Le Meridian Hotel. This was an all day event and we found comfortable lounge chairs outside of the main auditorium where we made our nest for the day.

I decided to make use of the craft area making recycled goods into something that popped into my head. It was great fun and I was also listening to the talks and frequently seeing if Vince needed anything. At a break I took him some coffee and a snack and went back to my project. I will estimate he was sitting by himself for 30 or 40 minutes.

Throughout the day we met many people and would strike up a conversation of pleasantries like where are you from, are you on vacation, etc. Vince told me a Thai woman asked if the seat next to him was taken, he said no and she sat down. The conversation was pleasant and normal for the day except, he said, when her eyes lit up upon hearing he was from America and she asked him if she could get him something to drink and eat. He told her his wife just brought him some coffee. “You are married?” He said, “Yes” and she immediately excused herself.

We talked about it at length and we wondered how long he was being watched. Unlike some other men, he was extremely uncomfortable and was very happy when my project was done and I was back at his side. I asked him if her attention made him feel happy, needed, sexy, wanted or if his ego got a boost from a 30 something woman hitting on him. He said, “No, it made me feel like an ATM!”

Everyone needs to put food on the table.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sun Wukong Goes To The Dentist

American Dentistry is, like other medical care, overpriced. Even though our dentist in the US was a nice man, there were many times we had to make our own choices to not have a procedure he recommended. We were not in pain, did not have cavities or gum issues and he would invariably find something wrong that, in his expert opinion needed an expensive procedure like a crown or replacing an old filling. I always felt like we were helping make the payments on his new yacht, summer home or sports car.

Due to the advice to have our teeth cleaned every 6 months along with partial x-rays and full x-rays every couple years we were diligent about our appointments. We skipped our checkup and cleaning when we moved to Chiang Mai and knew it was time to figure out how to do this in an unfamiliar country.

There are many forums with advice on where to go if you are an expat and I just became more confused and conflicted each time I read someone else's opinion. So I asked a friend from Hawaii who came to Chiang Mai for extensive medical dentistry two years ago for her opinion. She recommended Chiang Mai Dental Hospital. It was easy to make appointments in English for the next week for Vince and I and they called the day before to remind us of our appointment.

We arrived 30 minutes early in case we needed to fill out paperwork. It only took a few minutes and they took me right into the room. Just like every other dental office around the world the items were the same. What was not the same was the three assistants for the dentist! The dentist asked me what I needed today and I told him, "Examination, Consultation, X-rays and Cleaning." OK!

One of the assistants took me to a small room for x-rays. She asked me to remove my necklace, and earrings and placed a long heavy lead apron over my head and upper arms which draped to my thighs. She adjusted the machine and asked me to stand near it and place my chin on a rest and bite with my front teeth on a piece attached to the chin rest. My forehead was also resting against a support and she left the room to take the picture. My eyes were closed , but Vince said the machine makes a complete rotation around your head and takes a digital picture.

As soon as it was done they sat me in a chair in front of a monitor and showed me the pictures. The doctor pointed out places on the picture to show me what parts were what. He was happy with how things looked with both Vince's and my teeth and then I was taken into the exam room again.

The next thing that was completely different from previous experiences in the US was the dentist cleaned my teeth. He was examining at the same time and scraped a small bit of tartar from a few places, polished my teeth and I was done. He said, "I don't know what to do with you" which meant that he was pleased at how everything looked and could do nothing more to improve on how my teeth were.

I wonder if the 30 minutes of cleaning in the US is also to make the dentists more money. I have had the new and latest gadgets using sonic water pulse to clean and of course the old fashioned stainless steel tools....I kind of like the old fashioned way. I felt special as I was being completely taken care of by the dentist and his 3 assistants and his expert opinion based on what he sees daily in his practice was reassuring. There was no high pressure sales pitch to come back in 6 months or to buy fluoride gels or fancy mouthwash.

Full mouth x-rays, consultation, exam, cleaning, polishing and tons of one on one patient care all for 1,100 Baht or $34.07 USD each.

They were even kind enough to take pictures with Sun Wukong!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Curly Hair In Thailand? What's A Girl To Do?

Living in Southeast Asia, with the majority of hair any stylist works with being thick and straight, I thought I would have a hard time finding a salon to work with my fine naturally curly hair. Enter my friend Angela Scott from the blog Tieland to Thailand and her recommendation of New York New York Hair Studio in Chiang Mai.

Like Angela said in her blog post  it was very easy to call and make an appointment in English. You can also see Angela’s before and after pictures of her gorgeous hair.

I showed up a bit early and the place was packed.....always a good sign. A very nice woman brought us some cold water while we waited.

My stylist was Vera and she asked me what I wanted. I told her that I love to use the expert opinion of whoever is working on me and I would let her decide. She said she loved my curls and wanted to work with them and not go too short or I would loose them all together.

Having my hair shampooed in the US was always a chore, pretty boring and uncomfortable. Not so here. The chairs have a leg rest that lifts your legs so you are reclining and your back is not stressed. The bowl is curved for your neck but has another platform for your head to rest on so your neck is very comfortable.

I was shampooed by an assistant and part of the service here is to massage your head and neck. When I say massage, it is unlike anything I have ever felt at a hair stylist in the US. This was thumbs and fingers pressing just the right spots all over my head and temples........really getting in there and giving a proper head massage.

So this is how it went.
Shampoo and massage for two or three minutes.
Rinse and massage for another minute.
Conditioner and massage for another two or three minutes.
Rinse and another product for another two or three minutes.

Yep, I was feeling like a nap by this time.

The assistant then took me to the station and she combed out my hair while someone else stood by with a towel to catch any drips of water, which he did by quickly reaching out with a towel to gently squeeze a piece of hair. I wanted to giggle.

The chairs probably raise and lower, but the stylists have rolling stools they sit on while cutting. It is so smart. She worked on me for nearly 40 minutes while several assistants stood by watching her concentrate on my curls. After the cut, I was taken to the shampoo area again where an assistant rinsed my hair. Then two of the assistants diffused my hair and gently scrunched and twirled till they were happy. Vera came over to check and see if she wanted to do anymore snips and sure enough she found some spots she had to make perfect.

The appointment took an hour and cost 550 Baht or $17.13 USD. I gave her a tip and she told me she would be giving it to her assistants. Nice!

So, the answer is yes you can get a quality hair cut, head and neck massage and be pampered like you are royalty at a fraction of what it would cost in the US. I am very happy and will be returning to New York New York.