Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

When I first started traveling there were only seats in travel agents offices, telex machines, long distance trunk call boxes located in a cities largest central post offices, no tourist hotels, guest houses or hostels to speak of, and no guide books. In the decades since there has been the introduction of an avalanche of disruptor technologies like cellular smart phones, email, the internet, Face Book, Instagram and GPS location, and lets not forget the backpacker guide book industry that lists every aspect of what another set of travelers has seen a thousand times before you, etc etc etc. When none of these things existed, travel was difficult, arduous, painful, scary, exciting as hell, dangerous. The world has become a much easier place to travel.

Since all of the things I just listed are taken for granted we seldom talk of their existence, unless you’re unlucky enough to be with a old school traveler like myself. I make traveling historically sound like I rode around on the back of a dinosaur. But, I try to adapt, even though I sometimes catch myself grousing over the numbers of tourists and the negative effects I see are the result of mass tourism on once pristine gems.

There are things I love about the latest disruptor technologies and systems that have evolved to make the travel life so much less hassle than it used to be. A few of these ‘agents of change’ have been very useful to me recently. I’ll focus on Grab Car, Grab Taxi, Uber and Air B&B. Let me start with the fantastic new car transport services that were in the past a horror for travelers to use. Everyone, of a certain age, has horror stories about how a local taxi driver ripped them off somehow. They were taken on long winding freeway drives, past seafood restaurants, tailor shops, jewellery stores…or just sat in angst and horror as the meter ran up while the cabbies drove around in circles for a hour or more. This was a particular problem for us and our friends in Bangkok, where the cab drivers are notorious for gouging everyone, but especially the tourist.

Grab Car, the latest entrant into the transportation space is eating the cabbies lunch, and deservedly so. With a free download of their app, you can call a car to your location, usually have it arrive within minutes, pay a pre-set price for a predetermined distance, and be driven by a driver who has no financial motivation to drive you around in circles as there is no meter. The cars are driven by local persons who use the service to earn extra money.

In Bangkok it has become fashionable for young people to drive the family cars and collect passengers. The cars are new, they use GPS to determine the shortest distance, and practice their English with a smile. I haven’t had a bad experience to date. Nor has anyone we know who are piling into this service to avoid the dreaded Bangkok Cabbie. And just so you know, only fools and drunks use the Tuk Tuk. You’re just asking for trouble if you do.

Grab Car is different from Grab Taxi in that they are private cars as opposed to Grab Taxi who are still Taxi Drivers linked into a reservation system. Grab Taxi is still a taxi service and there is a financial incentive not to avoid the worst traffic areas, so be forewarned. Uber works in a similar fashion except there is no cash exchanged and everything is paid by Visa in advance. But…there is still a KM charge. So far Grab Car has worked the best for me.

Renting a condo in Bangkok used to be a horror show. It’s got easier than the bottleneck that existed between property managers and real estate agents who controlled the exchange between owners and renters. At first renters were obliged to use a word of mouth system of small ads in travel offices and on the outer doors of favorite cafe’s. When the internet arrived and large numbers of travelers arrived wanting to stay for the entire duration of the validity of their visa, property managers and other professional sharks and hucksters saw an opportunity and seized it. Agents and property managers used internet sites and began to control large numbers of rental offerings and used this power to increase rents in popular areas and introduce hefty ‘security deposits’.

How the ‘security deposit scam’ begins is when the agent/property manager demands a ‘first month, last month..and security deposit’ to move into a rental property. The longer the lease period the agent can entice you to sign up for determines the amount of commission they take home. So be wary of agents who’ll tell you that there is a ‘set period of time’…ie: six months, one year ( now common) or two years. It’s the latter demand they use when they think you’re a complete idiot ready to be carved up.

My personal experience and the anecdotal evidence I hear from friends and fellow travelers is that the agents and property managers have been making it impossible to return your ‘security deposit’, instead they have been pocketing the amount, after telling you to wait for the last day before your departure, that something has gone wrong with your transaction and the deposit is being held back. The excuses I’ve heard and that other have told me about are legion. Here’s a few…”The owner went to China and took the money”….”The owner had a family emergency and has gone back to their village”….”We found ants behind your cabinets and you must have brought them in with your books”. Or…as my friend Hiroku has told me after going back to the property manager every month, “It’s coming”….. but it never does.

This is why I now only use Air B&B to rent my condo in Bangkok today. I am able to meet the owner. The condo is ideally located in a new building purpose built for this type of investment. I am able to inspect the condo if I like before occupying. The transaction is paid through Air B&B , there is no money in someone elses hands for me to have to chase down if something goes wrong. And as it is a VISA payment they will act as the final insurer of services rendered and return my money in the event of any scam. I am finding the Air B&B offering is proving to be a fantastic ‘disruptor agent’ to the traditional condo rental market. I do not have to pay three months rent up front…..nothing up front in most cases…unless specified.

I can rent the Air B& accommodation for days or months, whatever I choose to work out with the owner, but pay the same, without the ‘last month and security deposit BS. My Air B&B host will have provided me with a full suite of conveniences, much like a hotel service. I enter a condo full of all the towels, sheets, pillows, dishes, glasses, TV cable, wireless internet connection, …unlike in the old condo rental days, where landlords provided nothing but bare walls.

A great thing about #Air B&B for me is that I’m free to come and go as I please. I can leave for a trip to the southern islands or northern mountains and leave my contract by paying for the time used, and then come back and rent all over again without having to pay for time I’m not in the condo as you would have had to do under the old scheme. I’m finding that #Air B&B offerings are straight up competitive with traditional rentals, dollar for dollar, on a monthly/daily basis. And this is why I think that #Air B&B will eat the traditional rental agents lunch and throw them on the trash heap of history before long.

I believe that just as guide books and the internet replaced the travel agent and tour guide, and smart phones replaced the long distance call box and telex machine that these new entrants into the travel market, like Air B&B and Grab Car will replace the outmoded rental agents and taxi system, and none too soon in my humble opinion. The old guard deserve to have their lunch eaten by companies and technologies offering better, more efficient and honest service to the traveling public.

the people have spoken

the people have spoken

Advertisements

I was talking with my buddy ‘Aow’ in a clothing market up the street from my Bangkok condo. He sells jeans and t-shirts from a stall alongside hundreds of other vendors. Aow and his wife ‘Kid’ have been friends and neighbors for twenty years, where we have lived, on and off, in this tiny Thai suburb of Bangkok. These are closely knit communities, where families of a clan or particular Baan, Tambon or village, have lived together, and intermarried, even fought bloody battles together for various political causes, over generations. Bangkok is made up of thousands of these invisible villages. Outsiders are not accepted out of hand. Foreigners stick out like a sore thumb.

We helped Aow and Kid arrange their first family vacation, by booking their flights and hotel on-line, with my wife’s laptop, while sitting in a modern KFC franchise, to a resort in Thailand’s southern island of Phuket. They’d heard so much about tourism and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. They’d never flown on an aircraft before, their three kids were thrilled. To afford a vacation meant success, a step into the modern era, it was a proud moment, and made Aow and Kid local celebrities. We were ‘acceptable farang’.

Because there is little direct contact between foreigners and average Thai people, they look at us through the lens of a narrow stereotype based on sensational stories passed through by the media. ‘Farang’ ( foreigners) are known to do tasteless, strange and often unseemly things according to the media. Thai people in these outlaying area’s, outside Bangkok, treat foreigners with reservation, temerity, and suspicion.

Contact between Thai and Foreigner is limited to persons working in the tourism industry. Most Thai happily will spend a lifetime without meeting an outsider and never learn more than a few words of English.

What is a ‘farang’? Why is the word used as a derogatory pejorative these days? The colloquialism is the distillation of a Thai accent, describing the original white travelers from France, who were the first foreigners to present themselves to the court of the King. ‘Francia’, pronounced as ‘Falangset’…(Falancia) and shortened by slang to ‘Farang’.

The lingua franca was applied to describe every foreigner who came in later years, whether British, Dutch or Portuguese. All foreigners are now collectively known as ‘farang’. In recent years it is a term spit out by the Thai people rather than spoken. Thailand was never colonized by foreign powers and the Thai have always looked down their noses at those who were over run.

What is the difference between ‘acceptable farang’ and ‘falang spit spit spit’? Ask any Thai and they will tell you. When Aow and I had become close enough to have an informal honest, personal conversation he asked me, timidly…if I had ever been to ‘Patpong Road’, the notorious red light district.

I replied honestly, “Yes, but not for over forty years”. I told him that when I had first come to Bangkok as a young man on business in the early 1970’s there were only two bars on Patpong Rd, in use by American soldiers, deep cover spooks and diplomatic workers, on R&R from the Vietnam War. The now notoriously mob controlled Pattaya Beach was a dusty village beside a minor naval base for shallow-draft American ships patrolling for communists and smugglers along the coastline of Cambodia. I told him how I had ‘discovered’ a pristine Phuket before a single hotel had been built.

Aow was obviously relieved, that the trust he’d placed in his judgement to accept me as a friend and sponsor into his community wasn’t misplaced. I told him that I would never take my wife or family any where near a place like that. “Yes” he said. “That’s what I think”.

Aow nodded in agreement. “We don’t go there”, he spoke of the red light tourist areas that had sprung up after battle crazed soldiers refused to leave ‘exotic’ South East Asia for the bleak perilous streets of Detroit and Chicago. I understood Aow’s comment to be a general statement, true of all Thai people he knew. Nice Thai people just don’t visit the human toilets that grew out of infamy and corruption to shocking notoriety.

Today, the area of downtown Bangkok, between Soi Nana and Asok, which represent the worst of the human spirit, isn’t overtly recognized by any decent Thai. They block it out and don’t recognize the existence of such places. Thai people who reside for work or business in towns like Pattaya and Phuket will not admit to living there. The mere mention of these places is an embarrassment to polite Thai people.

But, whether by road or transit through these bleak tourist ghetto’s you’ll see sidewalks crowded with ‘farang…spit spit spit’, stumbling out of go go bars with desperate prostitutes, vomiting in the neon lit gutters, passed out in the darkened alleys, biker gang members from global crime groups, wearing full regalia, marking territory. You’ll see the most disreputable scum in the world, Caucasian, Arab, Asian, all within spitting distance, as if tiny cracks in the gates of hell had opened and the devil was showing his bum to the world.

Yesterday, in the Central Park of Bangkok’s version of Manhattan…Lumpini Park, my wife and I were listening to the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra playing The William Tell Overture in the band shell as part of an annual concert season. We were surrounded by Thai families, living the modern moral life most Thai enjoy.

During a break we were approached by a group of timid students, asking our permission for a video interview, as part of a project for the business course they were taking. We agreed of course.”We so happy you can speak to us”, one of the youngsters said. “We’ve been walking for an hour and couldn’t find a single foreigner willing to talk to us”.

Our interview was extensive. The kids were very happy to finally speak to foreigners who could teach them honestly about world affairs. They had stereotyped outsiders into a narrow range as we had expected, and they were delighted to turn the subject away from a focus on ‘Thailand’s Developing Nation Status’ and dependence on tourism.

Our perspective on Thailand had changed over forty years based on observation of the  visionary development that has taken place over the years we had been ‘in-country’ . This was the Thailand they could be proud of. As if on cue, the six o’clock chime from Lumpini’s famous clock tower rang out and from speakers set throughout the park the national anthem rang out. Every one stood up, the joggers stopped running..in silent respect for the nation.

The kids were knowledgeable about how many kinds of Eskimo’s there were in Canada and how Thailand also hosted many indigenous peoples. Of course, our polite conversation didn’t enter the ugly territory of the vice and corruption existing a mile away.

“We don’t go there”, the Thai will say of the tired prospects of the tourist who comes for vice. There are ‘Falang spit spit spit’…and ‘Farang’ who are part of Thailand’s accepting culture. The old Thailand is obviously behind them, the kids were on track to a better future…they are hungry for knowledge and communication with the outside world. The biggest problem said one ‘was a lack of English teachers outside Bangkok’.

I left the children with a word of advice, much the same as any parent would anywhere in the world. “Be careful who you talk to”. But… I suspected these kids were well aware of the pitfalls of dealing with certain ‘Farang’…as they were media savvy and modern, and had read all about the sordid behavior of some visitors. The fact that my wife and I are mature as well as being a couple was a signal they could feel comfortable approaching us.

The Thai are too polite to mention such things in conversation…but it isn’t if anyone isn’t aware of the sex tourist industry as being problematic and distasteful, let alone out of place in the modern age of this rapidly evolving Asian Tiger nation… within the vision these children see as the inheritance we will leave behind.

 'El Rey'

‘El Rey’

I woke up staring down another Christmas on the road, just weeks away. Trish and I have had our Christmas’ in some fairly exotic places. Bangkok Thailand ranks right up there. Luckily we can buy a fuzzy Chinese faux tree and glitzy decorations next door at an American owned grocery chain store. In the past I’ve packed a fold up tree in my suitcase to have a proper Canadian Christmas where ever in the world we found ourselves.

Today’s modern technology makes it a lot easier to communicate back home. Not like the old days where a traveler had to find a post office with a long distance call box and wait between crackling sentences as voices echoed thousands of miles back and forth down a rubbery trunk line. You don’t have to send your gifts home by sea six months in advance anymore. In many countries the happy holiday was a bit anti-climactic when there was nothing resembling western culture for thousands of miles in any direction. Today’s travelers have it easy.

The Thai people have embraced Christmas as a shopping/commercial opportunity. They love everything western, so Christmas trappings are ‘exotic’ and ‘modern’ , like nonsensical English words  and slogans on T-Shirts and hand bags. People love the giant Christmas tree’s standing outside the mall entrances and can’t get enough cheesecake pictures. They do a decent job of decorating. This years theme at the mall closest us is ‘Snoopy in Space’ all in white and silver. I’m fairly sure something has been lost in translation, and there’s no reference to Baby Jesus, but…it gives us travelers a bit of Christmas cheer and nostalgia for days gone by.

The huge growth in backpacker tourism and telecommunications has initiated more awareness of Western Culture in diverse countries. There aren’t many destinations you won’t find at least a hotel bar with sparkly lights and tinsel. I’m listening to Christmas songs on my favorite Texas radio station online, 95.3 The Range. I spent my last two Christmases in Texas and the fine music got under my skin. I guess while I’m at it  I’ll admit to having a soft spot for Christmas. No matter where we find ourselves on December 25th….we celebrate Christmas…and remember why.

We’ve only been back in Vancouver a week and already the walls are closing in. Fortunately we have only 8 more sleeps before we bug out to our traditional winter perch in Thailand via Hong Kong. I can’t fault the weather in BC in the time we’ve been back. The West Coast has experienced a ‘hundred year summer’ where the weather has been the best in memory. It has been warm and sunny as opposed to what we are accustomed to as normal when it rains and is mostly cloudy except for a few days now and again. It is normal for summer to occur the last two weeks of August and be raining the rest of the time. So…we got super lucky this year.

I would like to cheerlead for what has been my home town…but it’s hard to do when so little happens here. For a variety of reasons people in Vancouver tend be miserable. There’s a dearth of cultural activities and those are primarily administered by the social engineering wonks at city hall. Vancouver is not famous for it’s spontaneity. Now that the beaches have been closed due to fecal matter ( high coliform count includes hospital waste and viral waste) making the beaches and ocean a no-go zone for health reasons it’s hard to enjoy the coastline without that in mind. This is all because Vancouver continues to loose approx., 800 million liters of raw untreated waste into the waters surrounding the city every day. Yuchhh !!

I wouldn’t hurry to be a tourist to Vancouver due to the bedbug infestation of most major public buildings including hotels and hostels. Public health officials are warning people about possible rat borne diseases such as meningitis etc affecting children (and adults) due to an explosion in the rat populations. Sickening that rats have got out of control…but the famous ‘Mayor Moonbeam’ has no interest in tackling such things it seems. Video’s of the out of control rat population are abundant on YouTube. Not something any one locally is proud of…but the cities tourism mavins and politicians would have you focus on other
things…of course.

8 More sleeps….and we will wake in the Land of Yim (Smiles) …away from the malaise of Vancouver…The Land of Nod.

Wayne 2

Our flight out of Vancouver to Dallas has been cancelled for the fourth day running. As American Airlines tries to reschedule it’s massive network of flights and clear up the back log of stranded passengers, Vancouver is an after thought for the schedulers right now. Even though other international flights are beginning to land at DFW after the massive ice storm …flights from Vancouver are getting the rump treatment….think of that next time you try and fly out of this place if there has been a disaster…..Vancouver is the last place that flights will start up again…as our experience has shown us. My advice..be prepared for a long stay…and remember…hotels, car rentals and restaurants are hyper expensive in Vancouver. The airlines do not give you vouchers for weather delay and the entire cost of being stranded will be borne by the stranded.

We’re not aware of YVR giving any comfort to stranded passengers during the three day delays. In Dallas they have given out thousands of cots, toys and food vouchers…Vancouver has given the hundreds of stranded passengers nothing that I saw while there. YVR, for those of you who know it, is one of the least comfortable airports and most disorganized or welcoming  on the planet. There are no suitable stations or special areas ( like Singapore has for ex) where passengers with long stopovers can make themselves comfortable. YVR is cavernous and barn like. It’s just one long cold hallway with no comfortable chairs or suitable areas for children or passengers in distress.

The only attached hotel starts at $240 per night if you need a shower. Arrivals are chaotic and there is no visible information for the first time traveler to know where the transportation access points are. The few signs there are tell the traveler nothing about which buses to take or where the teensy train goes. Frankly the train looks like a model left over from a tourist attraction. Oh..and YVR…thanks for letting the newly arrived traveler have to be greeted by the smokers at the front exit…..nice welcome…not.

This is a typical experience for anyone coming to Canada. It’s all smiles until there’s an issue..then they turn on you…and you realize that you don’t matter. Thats the true face of the Canadian experience.

Have you figured out how to travel for free yet? Have you got a plan to get you out and never come back? There’s lots of ways of doing that, you just have to apply yourself. The lucky ones will inherit an obscene amount of money from a parent or grandparent, that’s number one on everyone’s list. And believe me, there are more of these types than most people imagine possible. Next, there are plenty of people who have defined benefit pensions whose cash flow will never fail due to the crazy courtesy allowed by a broken system of government. Some of us have to be smarter and more creative to achieve our goals.

I began to see the possibilities when as a young traveler I spied opportunities to trade goods between countries where things were abundant and cheap and transport them to locations where they could be sold as rare and dear. I stole that line from Adam Smith who had this figured out in 1722 and wrote about international trade in The Wealth of Nations, still a best seller. I was very impressed by this philosophy as a teenager and applied it as a young adult wanting to travel and escape. In most western countries there are open city markets, with the exception of commercial dead zones like Vancouver,  where goods from all over the world can be sold for a profit. A simple way to increase your travel opportunities is to buy trade goods in the third world and sell them to people browsing away their boredom on the weekends. Trust me, bored shoppers will buy any kind of crap that reminds them of the holiday they had in the past.

I paid off my travel lifestyle for decades doing exactly this. My first purchases were leather products in South America.  I later branched into manufacturing jewellery from India and Thailand…even selling Indian goods in Thailand using all the same dynamics of trade I had learned along the way. I sold these items all over the world. I acted as a purchasing agent for people who wanted a steady flow of such goods to their home countries. I traded goods from Pakistan to Afghans in exchange for items of value hard to find in India. I also carried bales of cloth from one boutique to the next selling items in countries as diverse as Switzerland, Spain, Canada and the USA. Shopkeepers need unique products to draw the shoppers into the store. The more unique your products, the higher the margin you can ask. Only during major global recessions did my business ever fall off and I was forced to hunker down.

Nowadays we have become more sophisticated, we are technical specialists and visa holders practicing our trade and getting paid well for it. I miss the old days of being a traveling merchant, but that’s not to say I have foregone my old habits. In every town I go to I visit shopkeepers and ask them what they want. I go to trade shows and find out whats available. It’s best to collect as many business cards as you possibly can. There are opportunities that sometimes appear from out of nowhere and you want to be the one that takes advantage of those opportunities.

Do you hold an undergrad degree or similar certification? If so the world is at your feet. Teach English in Koh Samui with a simple TOEFL certificate. The add on is a weekend class on line but is recognized world wide. There is always a lot of turn over in teachers, and there is a hungry world wanting English teachers….from Spain to China and all points in between. Teaching English is a no brainer and less complicated than trading but not mutually exclusive…..we’ve done both simultaneously. Are you headed for a place where a great many foreigners congregate….have you thought about finding work as a rental agent or a real estate agent selling local properties? Your ex pat community has special requirements that a local doesn’t understand and your knowledge of the language is in demand. Working as a bartender or waitress is a thing of the past in places like Thailand or Mexico…but have a skill and you can obtain a legal visa to work.

At the top of the food chain are the technical specialists who can reside legally. Even the rich ex civil servants on a pension can’t live in Thailand or elsewhere permanently…they will have to abide by the short term of a tourist visa. These types have to leave the country on a regular basis to renew their status. If you are trading in a country don’t mention this to the immigration police at the border, a working visa is difficult to obtain. However, if you can achieve an ‘ex patriot’ status, where you are paid, your bills are covered and the visa is taken care of by the company you work for, then your troubles are behind you. Trisha and I have done all these things, and enjoyed every one of them. The travel lifestyle can be yours. You just have to want it.

IMG_4036-Optimized

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4035-Optimized

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ex pat perks abound if you plan your life around travel

IMG_0010-Optimized

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1991

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

trade goods can be found in every country…almost

 

IMG_1768

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and by all means…enjoy yourself along the way

 

Argghhh… I flew into Vancouver Canada last night and guess what….pouring rain and freezing cold…. as always. I knew what I would be getting into…after the Texas sunshine this dreary berg seems like hell on earth. We woke up this morning to dark grey skies and pounding rain on the windows….definatley not sexy. Luckily I only have to stay here 12 days. I regret leaving Dallas… this is the best time of year for weather ( under 100 degrees is better for pool time believe it or not) …and the skies are pristine blue.

Landing in Vancouver, if you have to rent a car, it’s like a soviet nightmare from fifty years ago. The facilities at YVR are  antiquated, disorganized and unfriendly . Luggage carts seem to have been banished from the arrivals facility. There is no car rental kiosks inside the airport, you have to take your luggage and walk down a dark exit ramp with sketchy sidewalks in the rain…and there are no signs btw. The city itself feels loathsome and creepy. People present themselves as anal and self-conscious.

Our Texan suntans attracted jealous glares rather than smiles. Our rental rep in Vancouver, once we found them underneath a parking garage some ways away,  accused Dallas of being ‘focused on customer service’…as part of his explanation as to why the service was so poor…as if that were a dirty trick played on Vancouver’s argumentative and ‘a-hole’ style of receiving guests. There is no comparison between the service we get at DFW compared to YVR….night and day…..apples and rotten fruit.

OK…Texans are overly polite as a culture…I get that. In fact they are so friendly, welcoming, receptive and complimentary that a Vancouverite is shocked by the initial experience of open handed civility. Coming from the critical and covetous culture of Vancouver…the friendliness and high level of customer service in Texas is at first overwhelming. Having to fly into Vancouver on business is like getting a rectal exam….you want to get it over with and get out.

Wayne 2