Everything wrong with Thailand

I have only spent 2 weeks in Thailand and my experience was limited to Phuket and Bangkok. This post is not a comprehensive analysis of Thailand – it’s simply my experience.

The cornerstone of a strong economy is trust. However, trust in Thailand is somewhat of an issue. One big example I saw was the massive use of fictitious prices (where you always need to haggle) – I could never trust listed prices. Another “trick” taxis used was to list prices and not specify that these were per person and not for the ride. The mentality seems to be that you’re a sucker if you pay the advertised price.

One annoying thing was the taxi mafia, who have claimed various territory and other taxis are unable to pick people up from the “wrong” territories. This means that if you had a longer journey booked, you would effectively have to pay for the journey to your destination and back as the cab driver is unable to pick up any customers from my destination. It also bothered me that one taxi driver kept his hat on the meter during most of our journey, preventing us from seeing the price. This all left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Similarly, at some tourist attractions, they charge foreigners more than locals. One example was The Grand Palace in Bangkok where locals had free entry but foreigners had to pay £12 (500 BHT). This kind of discrimination rubs me the wrong way and if Thailand wants to be in the 21st century, they should end this practice.

Another example is the lack of trustworthiness. When we booked a taxi in advance to take us to the airport, it simply didn’t show up and nobody made an attempt to notify us. We had to book an alternative taxi. Similarly, we stayed in a hotel which advertised they have reception open 24/7. However, when it came to our check-out time (around 6 AM), nobody was at the reception and nobody picked up when we called the numbers on the door to contact staff. We had to say goodbye to our room deposits. I hope the scum hotel staff buys themselves something nice.

I also heard a lot of stories about getting scammed when renting something as they’d claim there’s damage to the scooter/jet-ski/car etc and you could end up with massive bills to pay. I heard the police seemed to always side with the locals in this kind of matters, which means it’s better to simply avoid renting anything.

I’m sure you have heard of geo-arbitrage i.e. moving to a low-cost area when retiring so that your money lasts longer. However, based on the above, I would not recommend Thailand as the destination.

COVID-19 concerns

My two week holiday in Thailand has now come to an end. I am so relieved. It is amazing to be back in London and in a “proper” country.

The COVID-19 situation was a massive bummer during the entire trip. I developed a small-scale paranoia over each cough or sneeze I heard. I was on the edge all of the time. I’d hold my breath every time I passed someone who coughed or sneezed or spoke Chinese (I know, I know… it’s actually Mandarin – but you get what I mean). This was relatively stressful.

It didn’t help that the news was all about the virus doing its thing all day long. I even got an email from HR, which said that they may require me to stay at home for 2 weeks upon my return as a precautionary measure even if I am asymptomatic. This worried me a lot as it would also impact my girlfriend, who would also need to self-quarantine – otherwise what’s the point if one of us is at home potentially spreading the infection and the other one continues with her life as usual potentially sharing the love.

I was allowed to go to work by HR as I was asymptomatic and deemed a low risk for COVID-19. However, at times it’s relatively unpleasant to be back. My colleagues, naturally, worry about whether it is safe to be around me or to converse with me or if it is OK to sit next to me. It makes me feel unwanted and uncomfortable.

The entire 14-day self-quarantine thing might all be insufficient anyway as there have been cases where people were asymptomatic for much longer. Also, if I catch a normal cold (as there are people coughing their lungs out in my office every 2 minutes – it’s a big office) I’d have to self-quarantine anyway. I am on edge as I need to stay healthy for 14 days… otherwise, I and my girlfriend will be locked up and need to contact NHS and do whatever they ask us to do. This is all very frustrating.

The other big development is the sell-down in global stock markets. My relatively large gains for February 2020 have been completely wiped out and this month might end in red. Sad. I was looking forward to registering one of my best investment performance months.

I’m not going to make any changes to my portfolio because of the COVID-19 volatility. This is because my investment strategy never had a rule which said “if we have a coronavirus outbreak in South-East Asia, then sell to cash an move to bonds” or anything like that.

The way I see it, the virus situation is a temporary event and largely noise. I will ride it out and stick to my long-term investment strategy. In fact, right now could be a good time to add more money into the portfolio.

Enjoy the ride!

Haggling

Alright, I’ve made my way to Phuket, Thailand. The journey was long and I’m happy to have arrived.

Most of the journey was with Qatar Airways, which was my first experience with them. They flew me to Doha, Qatar and after a 90 minute gap I connected to another flight to Bangkok, Thailand. I got a very positive impression of them – the staff called me “sir”, each flight included a meal with drinks (I always opted for Heineken beer) plus teas and coffees. None of that cheap budget airline shopping or lottery ticket crap required.

The staff asked me if I enjoyed my meal and later one girl took an interest in the book I was reading and asked me about it. The overnight flight provided an eye mask to hide any lights, earplugs, a toothbrush and toothpaste and of course a pillow and blanket. This was all very nice.

The onboard entertainment was good – I watched three movies, listened to music and enjoyed my book. I could get used to this…

I met up with my mates at the airport in Bangkok. And within 2-3 hours we were on our final flight to Phuket. That was a short journey (1 hour in the air) with a very cheap budget airline. It was nowhere near as nice to my previous two flights but OK due to the short duration.

We got to the hotel, which is a bit of a dump. We expected better but maybe it’s what it should be for £33 a night in a twin room. For example the bathroom seems to be someone’s “project”. The showerhead has been plastered or fixed an ungodly amount of times. I’m too scared to adjust it as it’s likely to fall off the wall. We have similar issues with the tap over the sink – the metal tap part hasn’t been secured to the porcelain sink. So every time you turn the tap the entire thing moves. Also, the picture on the TV is horrendous – how do you mess up that? Finally, the walls seem to be very thin – we can hear all the noise from the hallway and neighbouring rooms.

Those things aside, we have a working air conditioning unit and water comes out of the tap.

After making ourselves beautiful, we decided to go check out the beach. As we walked, we discovered how dirty and smelly Phuket is. I expected it to be more Westernised as it gets many tourists but I was wrong. We also decided that we need to buy some travel essentials – beach towels, flip-flops, sunscreen, sunglasses etc.

It wasn’t easy to find flip-flops for my size 45 feet. They didn’t have anything my size in the first few shops. Somehow, as a joke, we decided to haggle with the price when we kinda found something we’d like to buy.

Haggling was very entertaining. For example they asked for 450 THB for flip-flops, I say 250, they counter with 350, I say 275, they say “350 is good price”, I start walking away and then they drop it to 300. I didn’t buy, it was good fun though as we discussed what our next offer would be each time they moved on the price. I did the same in two more places as they priced flip-flops similarly.

Eventually, I ended up with flip-flops at 120 THB (£3) where the lady asked for 150 THB (£3.75) originally from a shop a bit further away.

Out of curiosity, I walked into a few tailor’s shops as well. I wanted to know if I was able to snatch a bargain custom tailored suit for myself.

The first tailor was a poor fit as the chap struggled with English and I didn’t feel comfortable doing any business there. He said good suits start from 6,000 THB (£150).

The second place was similarly priced but the chap had decent English. I spent at least an hour there talking about suits, styles, materials, sampled fabrics etc. I had a much better feeling about this chap even though we noticed he had a massive cockroach roaming around in his shop as we discussed business. He said it would take about a week to get the suit.

His initial price for my selected suit with Polish linen was £200 (the alternative with the cheaper linen material would cost £145) but I got it down to £175. He took my measurements and I gave him a deposit for half of the cost. I will need to come back in two days for “fitting” and then later again to pick up the final product.

In retrospect, I think I should have paid a smaller deposit and visit another two or three tailors before making my consumer purchase decision. Although the Polish linen felt much thicker and the texture was nicer, I’m not sure if it actually is any better or should be more expensive than the thinner type of linen. I will keep you posted.

I must say, although haggling started as a joke and that normally I feel hugely uncomfortable when somebody suggests I should try to get a discount on something, I had a lot of fun and it was so easy. I think the locals expect it and everything is up for negotiation.

Try some haggling, I’m sure it will help you on your FIRE journey. You might even have some fun with it.

Keeping my mobile phone bills low

Every six months I go to comparison websites to check if there is a mobile SIM-only deal, which is better than my current one.

You’ve probably heard that loyalty isn’t rewarded these days. The best deals tend to be available only to new customers, not long-standing clients. As a wise man once said:

These hoes ain’t loyal
These hoes ain’t loyal
Yeah, yeah, let me see…

I keep a recurring 6-monthly reminder in my Google calendar to notify me when I need to have a check for new offers. This works for me. It takes a quick 5-10 minute Google search and a browse on a few websites to see the latest offers.

I used to pay around £55 p.m. when I first bought my Google Pixel more than 3 years ago. This was the very first Pixel phone and I haven’t upgraded yet. #frugal There’s no need to upgrade it as it does everything I need it to do – my only concern is that the battery life isn’t that great anymore. I might invest in a new battery soon but it seems that would set me back £60, which is roughly half of the price of a brand new version of my phone. I find it difficult to pull the trigger on that one. I will probably wait until the current phone dies on me before I replace it.

Once my old £55 p.m. contract lapsed and my mobile phone was all mine, I decided to switch to a SIM-only deal for £7.50 p.m. That deal included 2Gb of mobile data. I was getting a £1.25 bill discount for each unused 1Gb of data (measured in Mb for the discount calculation).

A year or so later I switched again to another SIM-deal with a monthly cost of £6 and 2Gb of data. It also has a data rollover feature, which means the unused data from my monthly 2Gb allowance is available for use in the next month. So, hypothetically I could have 4Gb of data in a month where I only used WiFi in the previous month. This continues to be my current SIM-only deal.

Also, I was able to keep my number every time I switched contracts and the whole switching thing is really straightforward.

I had a browse on comparison websites a few days ago but didn’t find anything better than what I already have.

Good luck!

PS: Watch out for exit penalties when you try to get out of a contract early. As a result of not switching mobile contracts millions are overcharged in the UK.

Grocery deliveries

Groceries – we all need to buy them, regularly. There’s nothing exciting about it and it’s more of a chore (for me) than something I would look forward to doing.

Years ago, I discovered that I have the option of getting my groceries delivered home. I tried it out and have never looked back. This was such a lifesaver – no more carrying heavy bags upstairs and wasting time at the supermarket looking for the things on my shopping list. Now all I do is pick the stuff out on an app, pick a delivery slot and checkout. The only caveat is that you need to forward plan things as the delivery slots tend to be at least 1 day in the future.

I can also repeat the same shopping basket from previous deliveries or load the previous basket and amend it slightly before checking out again. 21st-century technology baby!

It costs a little bit extra to have my shopping delivered but I figured that my time is more valuable than a few pounds.

Some supermarkets also offer delivery passes, where you pay a one-off fee of £30 (or similar), which will ensure you get all deliveries say on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for free for a full year. This represents great value as I order something every week (for Wednesday mornings before I go to work). Each delivery would normally cost around £3 without the annual pass and therefore I’m saving 52 x £3 – £30 = £126 each year or around £10 each month.

Yes, the monetary benefit of the delivery pass isn’t huge but if you add in the saved time and reduced hassle, it becomes a fantastic deal.