Thailand

In total I spent 4 weeks in Thailand in 4 different places: Phitsanulok, Bangkok, Hua Hin and Phuket. There were some common threads to my experience in all 4 regions, which, backed up by reading and research, have formed the impression I outline below.

There are two notable pillars in Thai society: the Buddha and the King. 95% of Thais are Buddhist, and the King is also revered. Wherever you go, there are Buddha statues and portraits of the Thai King.

There are draconian laws against being outwardly critical of the King, but the majority of Thais have a true love and respect for the King, who is often talked of in demi-god terms. Understand that the Thai King is the longest serving living monarch in the world, and has been a constant in Thais’ lives throughout a politically unstable environment of 15 coups and 27 prime ministers, as well as a major economic transformation from an agricultural to an industrialised country in the last half century. The King has occasionally intervened in the political sphere, so he is not a neutral bystander, but he has largely overseen some impressive economic growth, as well as a few crises.

Thai buddhist monks are a common sight wherever you go, because they survive solely on what is given to them by the people. Their day largely consists of meditation, then going out barefoot begging for breakfast from the local community, a few domestic chores, more meditation, the remains of the food for lunch then no food allowed until the following breakfast, some schooling in the afternoon and more meditation in the evening. What is impressive is that the majority of Thai men (and some women) become Thai monks for a period (normally from 3 months to a year as young adults), much like military service in other countries. It is not compulsory but it is considered important to have served time as a monk when it comes to marriage and positions of authority. Some Thais go on to remain monks all their lives, but for the majority it is a rite of passage as a young adult. Perhaps because is it so widely pursued, it is not without issues. It has been reported that almost half Thai monks are overweight, because the community provide them with rich food (with good intentions of course) and the monks’ day is largely one of inactivity. Plus it is not uncommon to see them now with mobile phones or Ipads, despite the ideology of no possessions and a simple life. Nonetheless, in my simplistic view, it would appear to be a fruitful experience to go through such a humble, conditioning process as a young adult.

Thailand stands out in this part of Asia because it was not colonised like the other neighbouring countries. The result is a culture that is less diluted, with one notable barrier to entry being the unique language and script. In Phitsanulok, the least tourist-trodden of our destinations, we generally had to get by on gestures and signs, as zero English was spoken. Thais embrace ‘fun’ living and this has been a key factor in drawing in tourists, extending to an ‘encouraged’ sex industry (for revenues) and some of the party capitals of Asia having grown here. Massage is also everywhere and the cost of living cheap. Unsurprisingly therefore, it has become a favourite backpacker destination. So how about for a ‘flashpacker’ with family in tow?

Well, Thailand didn’t measure up to Singapore, Malaysia and Bali. In Kuala Lumpur I was amazed at how friendly and laid back people were for a capital city, Bangkok was all round more ‘edgey’. In Bali journeys around the island were a sensory overload of both interest and beauty, whereas land travel through Thailand was more underwhelming. Overall, I found Thailand to be more scruffy than the other countries on my route so far (accepting it is a developing nation), and this would apply to both the natural and the man-made. Thailand was one of the fastest growing countries in the world in the 1980s and 90s but there have been some growing pains with such a rapid transformation. There is more of a crime issue than in the other countries I have so far visited and, to my eye, aesthetics have been rather overlooked in the country’s rapid development. One image that will remain in my mind is the jungle of telephone wires everywhere we went (see images below). A lot of these cables are put up illegally at night, until there are so many that some of the telephone poles start to lean over. I can only imagine that the spaghetti wiring is not considered an eyesore in Thailand, and maybe it isn’t to other travellers. But travel is a personal thing, and I found this to be a dominant ‘blot on the landscape’.

I enjoyed the food, the cheap living and the glorious weather, and we met some very friendly Thais. But overall there was more effort required to gauge people and their motivations than in Singapore, Bali and Malaysia, and in Bangkok we certainly came across a few unpleasant types. Honestly, I wouldn’t have expected otherwise, but having been spoiled with collective warmth and friendliness in those other countries, Thailand didn’t quite measure up.

The Thai SET stock index was one of the best performers of 2012: the 5th best returner in the world. However it is now one of the more expensive in terms of p/e valuation at around 18. Thailand reached one of the cheapest ever valuations in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, reaching a p/e of just 3, shown here:

26oct20127

Source: Cnx Translation

This has since been beaten by Greece in the recent Euro crisis, which got to p/e sub 2. The Thai SET history shows that a brave purchase at such a cheap level would have been rewarded handsomely with time, and I believe Greece prove similar for those who took the plunge at the extreme (not I). At current p/e 18, I don’t want a holiday souvenir of a stake in the Thai SET. Instead I’ll settle for a few pictures below.

Long live…

P1030367

Cape Panwa, Phuket:

Panwa

Insect snacks:

P1030652

Monks on walkabout:

P1030618

Those wires…

phone-wires-thailand

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18 thoughts on “Thailand

  1. Me being a semi retired Electrician, and looking at that photo, they have got Hi Voltage (on insulaters), Medium voltage, (domestic). and telephone (extra low voltage) all on the same pole, all mixed up. not allowed in uk, dangerous practice, what voltage is used in the domestic premises ? John

    1. Another photo that speaks volumes. The imagined hookup history is fascinating as is, unfortunately, the disaster waiting to happen.

      Interesting how the value of youth monkhood service is potentially being diluted via fat monks with ipads. Similar concerns have been raised here in US re mormon youths and their missions.

  2. Great post, John! Thanks. Really good to get your impressions of the 4 places you’ve been. Will be helpful to the rest of us who someday want to do a similar trip.

  3. Great to see and hear about your travels John (as well as you being able to spend the time to update your market commentary 🙂 ).

    Chinese GDP figs released this Friday could give commodities a boost, especially if forecasts are as expected or better and we see a turnaround from the last several months of data.

  4. reposting this because I see it’s awaiting moderation, probably due to two links in one post, so I’ll split the post…

    John,

    Here’s a post I thought you’d enjoy looking at: http://lunatictrader.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/about-the-solar-cycle/

    According to his analysis, the peak in the sunspot cycle does not consistently mark a bull market top, which sounds contradictory to your analysis and conclusions. I wonder whether his data might be incorrect?

    Here’s what he said after looking at the data:

    “In the 19 solar cycles that were covered by data, there have been 6 occasions where the solar peak coincided with a clear stock market peak (March 2000 and November 1968 are the most recent cases), on 7 occasions the solar peak produced a market bottom (December 1979 and March 1958 are recent examples), and in the other 6 cases the solar peak came more or less in the middle of an ongoing move.”

  5. $USHL rolling over from a high level of 2844 so a mult-week correction is entirely possible fitting to the call of weakness into Feb.- March.

    I am in no rush to add to my equity position waiting (hoping) for $USHL5 to turn (extremely) negative.

  6. John
    There might be a correlation between the three remaining fiscal cliff deadlines and the high and low dates in the Geomagnetic Model for stocks in 2013, the COT, the 45 year Cycle, and the Dow Jones Post Election Years chart. For the most part the predictive tools all have March lows, June/July highs, October lows, and December highs except for the 45 year Cycle which has an August low.

    The three remaining fiscal cliff dates are as follows:
    1. Debt Ceiling – Congress must raise the debt ceiling by early March.
    2. Sequester – March 1 automatic cuts in federal spending that will reduce the budgets of most agencies and programs by up to 10%.
    3. Continuing Budget Resolution – Congress should pass a budget by October 1 because that is when the fiscal year starts. But this congress has not passed a budget in years and instead passes continuing resolutions which are band aids that postpone passing a real budget. The deadline for the current continuing resolution is March 27.

    Notice that all three fiscal cliffs have March deadlines. It’s no surprise that Congress does everything at the very last minute, so we can expect all three cliffs to go down to the wire which fits in with the predicted March low. It might be that all three cliffs are resolved by March which could propel the market higher into June/July. As for the October low, maybe Congress finally passes a budget in October that would propel the market higher into December 2013 predicted high.
    Jack

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