Life Design, Hua Hin, Thailand Update 2011 (Mark Stephens Interview Part 2 Of 3)

  • More superb tips, advice and information for those who are interested in visiting, putting down roots for a longer period of time or even considering living  indefinitely in the royal beach resort of Hua Hin, Thailand. Not only does guest Mark  Stephens offer advice and give fantastic tips on Hua Hin, but also on Thailand in general.
  • For 8 years now Mark Stephens has lived in Hua Hin, Thailand, finally making this his home after extensive world-wide travel. It must seem a long time ago now having also spent the best part of 10 years living in Australia, but Mark was  originally from Ipswich, Suffolk in England.
Mark Stephens
Trevor : If you were to split life in Thailand by living 4 days a week in one place and 3 days a week in another where would it be and why? Of course one of those places might well still be Hua Hin.
Mark: That’s easy. All 7 in Hua Hin. I haven’t found another place with the great vibe of Hua Hin and I miss it when I’m not here. I am where I want to be. But that may also be because I don’t get to travel around Thailand much these days!

Hua Hin

Trevor: What would you say were the three most important tips for new arrivals with regards to adjusting to life in Thailand?

Mark: Thais have a different set of values that apply to life and business – less emphasis is put on things like punctuality and getting things done with maximum efficiency – and more emphasis on the heart that goes into something.

Take your time and be patient. Don’t make any rash decisions. You’ll get smiles, but you won’t win the trust of Thais until you prove that you’re worthy of it. Nor should you be overly trusting of them any more than you would with someone in your own country.

Learn the language, eat the food and spend time with Thais. Good Thai friends are irreplaceable if you live over here. You cannot get anything done properly without making this effort. Don’t shut yourself off in a walled city of foreign dwellings and whisper about the country where you are just a guest, as some people do.

Trevor: It’s quite amazing how many foreigners I know that actually do that. They must have the bacon and eggs with toast and marmalade for breakfast and go to meeting places every day to converse with fellow countrymen. Then that dreadful comment of  ”this is just like being at home” gets spun out by one of them. I don’t know about you, but the reason I go somewhere else is to experience something different. I know you did, the difference was you just never returned.

Building Good Relationships

Trevor: Since the last time we spoke have you noticed much of an increase in the cost of living in Hua Hin?

Mark: Actually mate yes I have. It’s quite noticeable how much food has gone up especially. I would say many things have gone up 25% in the past couple of years – basics like milk and sugar and vegetables. I almost died the other day when I was charged 70B for a pad pak ruam (stir fried vegetables) in a small non-descript restaurant outside of the tourists area!

I think public transport has stayed around the same but the cost of running a car has gone up with the worldwide petrol price increases. Petrol (at 35 Baht a litre) is more expensive in Thailand than the USA – and if we adjust that in terms of average earnings it would probably make it around 5 times more expensive here!

With the cost of petrol going up that pretty much increases the price of every good and service around. So Thailand isn’t the cheap place it was once considered to be.

When we add in the poor exchange rates for the GBP and Euro against the Baht that adds to the expense for holiday-makers especially, as you would have noticed on your last trip here in January.

Trevor: Yes, I did notice that on the last visit, in fact the last three visits have steadily declined in terms of poor exchange rates. You know when you were charged 70 baht for a pad pak ruam (stir fried vegetables), did you have a word with them? (Ha Ha Ha)

Beautiful Surroundings Of Hua Hin

Once again since the last time you spoke with us have you noticed much of an increase in crime around the Hua Hin area?

Mark: Only in Billy’s Bar when people try to “squeeze in” (private joke.)

Well I have to say that there was a spate of unconnected serious crimes last year – by serious I mean murders, no less – involving several expats in Hua Hin. There were also some problems between property people (expats) which turned nasty. I keep well away from all that, believe me. It becomes something of a talking point around town for a while, then it just goes away generally.

At times like that Hua Hin takes on a “wild west” feel to it; but unless you ruffle the wrong feathers Hua Hin is one of the most un-threatening places to live in. I felt far more threatened as a teenager in Ipswich, in the UK, where I grew up, than I do here.

Wonderful Vegetables Hua Hin

  • Trevor: Do the plus points still out weigh the minus points for you with regards to living in Hua Hin?

Mark: Yes. Without question. Or I wouldn’t be here.

  • Trevor: Could you give us a couple of your favourite nice quiet places to grab a beer and watch the live football in Hua Hin?

Mark: Billy’s Bar and Berny’s Bar are both good places to catch the footy. I can also usually persuade the owner at I-Rice to put a match on if I’m there.

For next season my wife, Kwang, and I have found a new place though, called “Fan Club”. It’s run by a couple of Thai Liverpool fans. I watched the 2011 Champions League Final in there and it was a brilliant night full of mirth and merry-making at Man U’s expense. So I’m thinking I’ll watch a few of the Liverpool matches in there next season – you’re more than welcome to join us Trevor!

(Absolutely no editing of the above comments please, Trevor )

Trevor:You will have to excuse us for a moment as football banter has kicked in. Mark is a Liverpool supporter and I am a Manchester United fan. I am going to do my best to side step that comment , but can’t and will say that Fergie will be doing his best to catch and knock the men from Catalonia off of their bleeding perch in the future. Admittedly that could take a while, but perch knocking off is very much a step by step process.

Can Watch Football Here As Well At Mai Tai

  • Trevor: For the people looking for more of a party atmosphere where are a couple of good lively venues to spend an evening in Hua Hin?

Mark: Party atmosphere? You’ve definitely got the wrong guy! Late nights – yes. But parties? My idea of a party is listening to Bob Dylan or Sek Loso with a beer in my hand at 2 in the morning!

Late nights down by the karaoke bars between Mai Tai and Billy’s is about the closest I get to a party atmosphere these days.

If you want a taste of Thai nightlife then there are quite a few places around town that might have a live band and/or disco.

Nokka Chan in Kao Takiab is a good place for a drink and to listen to music in a laid back atmosphere. Music Room is very popular with the youngsters and plays good Thai music and has cheap drinks; Hi-4 is more upbeat and slightly more up-market and there are just enough beautiful women there to get you in a lot of trouble!

Trevor: Good grief, why is it that the combination of the words beautiful women and trouble seem to go hand in hand. I agree best to leave that place and head back to great cold beer, football chat in the safety of Billy’s bar.

Cross-Cultural Relationships

  • Trevor: What would you say were the three most important tips with regards to working with or for the Thais?

Mark: Don’t expect everything to be the same as “back home”

Take time to make the right connections – it’s very much “who you know” here.

Always treat Thais with respect and it will go a long way to winning their trust. If you don’t respect Thai people don’t even try to do business here as you’ll fail… or maybe worse.

Thai Life

  • Trevor: Knowing that you are married to a delightful Thai lady, but also knowing the differences in the Thai and Western mindsets, what would you say were the three most common misunderstandings in a Thai/Western cross- cultural relationship.

Mark: Let me preface my answers here with something. I really do not like to make generalisations as they are usually lazy and inaccurate. Unless you have some great oversight of the world that other people don’t have ( ie. you are God) you’re generally wrong to make sweeping statements and you are missing the fact that everybody on the planet is totally unique (as well, of course, that they are totally connected!) Having confused you thus, I will proceed…

1) The importance of family to Thais. This is often under-estimated because we tend to be more independent, mentally and financially, in the west; the expectation that the man should look after all the extended family – because he can – is a hard one for many westerners to comprehend. In the west we can lock ourselves away as a couple and see the family a couple of times a year on special occasions – for many Thais this would be almost impossible to imagine.

For reasons I won’t go into here, I have never felt this expectation from my wife but I know many people who have experienced these pressures and it’s been difficult for them.

2) Finances – always a big bone of contention! I will say here that I was one of those westerners that was unable to understand why Thai people bought gold instead of putting their money in the bank and saving, or investing it, as we’d been taught in the west.

I thinkmany westerners are now seeing the wisdom of that! This shows that perhaps we as westerners have to suspend our arrogance and the notion that “we know best”.

When I first met my wife-to be almost eight years ago I remember that one of the things I said to her when things “got serious” was that I never wanted us to argue about money. We’ve had a few run-ins but generally it’s a subject we don’t have too many problems about.

One thing that helps is that she has her own financial set up – ie. I don’t “support” her. This is perhaps not the norm in Thailand, but it was important to me at the time and it’s saved us from many of the problems that other couples have had and which I’d seen plenty of within months of landing in Thailand – I could see the damage the financial aspect does to trust and respect in a relationship. If she needs what little I have for something important, of course, it’s hers tomorrow. And I know she’d do the same for me.

3) The Over-Riding Importance of Thai Soaps – yes, of course I’m joking, but I’ve learnt not to come between my wife and her soaps. You thought people’s appetites for Eastenders and Coronation Street were huge! Wait till you get over here! What amazes me is that in these soaps they are always either talking excessively sweetly to each other or yelling at each other. In eight years of living in Hua Hin I’ve only ever seen a few Thais yell…yet I see it eight times a night when I walk into the kitchen at the wrong moment when my wife’s soaps are on….they’re all at it.

I have a nagging feeling that my flippancy on the 3rd part of this question is causing me to miss some glaring cross-cultural problem between Thais and expats… I just HAD to say something about Thai soaps. I’ll have to save my other observations for next time, Trev…I’ll know you’ll be back in a couple of years with more questions!

Great Markets In Hua Hin

Trevor: Great stuff Mark and I fully agree on and like all of this, some great tips and advice, apart from the football bit. Other than that see you in part 3 where you give us even more tips and insights in to life design in Hua Hin, Thailand .

Fantastic Links

Click here for Part 1 of the Life Design, Hua Hin Thailand update 2011 (Mark Stephens interview )

Click here for a superb bar in Hua Hin, where you can drink the coldest beer on the hottest day watching the sport of your choice, surrounded by great company at  Billy’s Bar.

Engaging Thailand Website

For more information on Thailand in the form of articles, tips, relevant links constant updating and new guest interviews ,please visit  the site where work will always be in progress.

Brilliant Thai Forum

Entertaining, friendly and very informative on subjects Thai. Come along and meet a welcoming crowd of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Americans, Brits, Thais and others and be in the know and inform.

Previous Mark Stephens Interview Posts   Part 1 (2010)   Part 2 (2010)      Part 3 (2010)                                                               Part 4 (2010)


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