a wonderful oasis of tranquillity—and another glimpse of how things used
ground to prevent flooding, the 200-year-old wooden houses were gathered
from across central Thailand. Re-erected on today’s site in 1959, they’re
chock-full of antique Buddhas, statuary, and curios. (Look out for the
palace” and the frog- and cat-shaped chamber pots!) The raised wooden
boards at each doorway weren’t designed to trip up human visitors—they’re
baffle boards to keep out ghosts and spirits.
intelligence agent from Delaware, Jim Thompson is credited with reviving
Thailand’s hand-woven silk trade. (Hard to believe now, but after World
War II, it had dwindled to cottage-industry status.) The story of what
happened to Thompson is strange. He was born in 1906—and an astrologer
warned him to be careful of events during his 61st year. Leaving no clue
as to what became of him, Thompson disappeared during a visit to Malaysia’s
Cameron Highlands in 1967.
To avoid city
traffic, the best way to reach Jim Thompson’s House (6 Soi Kasemsan 2,
Rama I Road) is on the Sky-Train—get off at National Stadium station. It’s
well-sign-posted; opening hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is around
second city, Chiang Mai feels more like an overgrown village. Enclosed
by a moat, its old quarter is a beguiling warren of laneways, teakwood
houses, and temples. It’s impossible to see all 300 temples, but don’t
miss Wat Mahawan with its fearsome dragon guardians.
main attraction is its mammoth Night Market. Any songtaew taxi (songtaews
are pick-up trucks with benches) takes you there. From sundown until late,
hundreds of booths and shops open for business. Hill-tribe people in native
dress—tribes such as the Akha, Lisu, and Karen—also converge upon the market
with loom-spun fabrics, silver hash pipes, amulets, and other wares.
If it’s made
anywhere in Thailand you’ll find it—and at a fraction of gallery prices.
(Though it’s worth noting that things are even cheaper if buying directly
from craft and hill-tribe villages.) Even so, prices in the Night Market
If you have
$1 to $5 to spend on a gift, you can choose from woven bags, cushion covers,
hand-painted umbrellas, opium-smoking artifacts, snake and monkey puppets,
magic tricks, lacquer-ware boxes, fish mobiles, bamboo fans painted with
golden dragons, and hemp serpents that can be twisted into a variety of
shapes. Even genuine silk scarves are only $2.50.
to spend as much as a dollar? Well, 50 cents buys a key-ring with a carved
wooden elephant. With most items—though not 50-cent key-rings—haggling
is the order of the day. And don’t be shy. My advice is to offer a quarter
of what the vendor is seeking—and never pay more than a third of the asking
price. Thankfully the market also has luggage shops selling bags to transport
Mai, you can take excursions into the surrounding provinces of mist-cloaked
hills and jungle. Go elephant-trekking, go white-water rafting, visit hill-tribes
and craft villages. Day-trips don’t have to be by coach. For an equivalent
$50 apiece, we hired a private guide and driver for a 12-hour trip to Chiang
Rai and the Golden Triangle. The car was air-conditioned, and a hotel buffet
lunch was included in the price.
poppy fields and opium production, the Golden Triangle is where Thailand
meets Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. But this trip packed in far more than just
an opium museum and views across the mighty Mekong River. Visits to Yao
and Akha hill-tribe villages...farmers planting rice...a Buddhist temple
and a food market in the sleepy town of Chiang Saen...Ban Pong Num Ron
where villagers boil quails’ eggs in hot sulfur springs...shopping for
Burmese jade in the border town of Mae Sai…
the tour through the excursion desk of Chiang Mai’s Lotus Pang Suan Kaew
hotel. This four-star hotel offers excellent value. Booked through the
price of a double room—including breakfast—is $25.
In A Hill-Tribe Village
An hour from
Chiang Mai, Lisu Lodge is an eco-tourism project. It lets you combine a
stay in a Lisu hill-tribe village with elephant trekking, mountain-biking,
oxcart-riding, and river-rafting. If the thought of venturing down backpacker
trails makes you shudder, this is as comfortable as it gets. The lodge
and its “soft adventures” is aimed more at pampered souls than rough-and-ready
students—but you will experience mosquito nets and chickens underfoot.
A two-day/one-night stay costs $117 per person—www.lisulodge.com.
None of the
Lodge’s activities are compulsory. I certainly wasn’t prepared to suffer
an eight-mile bike ride. Thailand has venomous snakes, and I had nightmarish
visions of falling off into the embrace of a King Cobra. Riding in a truck
to the elephant camp seemed a safer prospect. But it’s as much a cultural
tour as physical high-jinks. You get to take tea with a shaman, visit an
Akha hill-tribe village, and meet the Lisu people living next door in Dton
Not so long
back, Lisu families derived their income largely from opium production.
Originating in eastern Tibet, the first Lisu settlers arrived in Thailand
early last century. Many Lisu men wear western-style clothes, but women
and kids wear bright blue and green pants and tunics. They have their own
language—one useful phrase is “ah koo boo moo” meaning “thank you.”
intense blue skies, Phuket satisfies those winter-time fantasies of white
sands, coconut palms, superb seafood, and soothing spas. Roughly the same
size as Singapore, it’s Thailand’s largest island and richest province.
as a sophisticated vacation paradise, it’s circled by 32 small islands
rich in caves, cliffs, lagoons, and seabirds. The seascapes are surreal.
Rising from waters that gleam jade, emerald, and deep turquoise are countless
limestone pillars and bizarre outcrops smothered in jungle vegetation.
Movie-makers drool—and it didn’t all start with Leonard di Caprio and The
Beach. Phang-Nga Bay was chosen for the James Bond film The Man with the
Even in February’s
“cooler season,” it’s hot—really hot. And humid. Washed by the Andaman
Sea—part of the Indian Ocean—the island is only 8 degrees north of the
Equator. That means a tropical climate, but sea breezes generally keep
daytime temperatures to between 85° F and 90° F.
Sea is an aquatic playground, a yachtie’s dream come true. Swish marinas...big-game
fishing for marlin and other monsters of the deep...sea-kayaking...snorkeling
and diving trips...boat excursions across the bay to Krabi on the mainland...pearl-farming
islands...sea-gypsy islands...completely deserted islands where you can
beach-comb for exotic shells.
numbers around 300,000, so don’t think it’s a slumbery island for castaways.
Flights to Bangkok take an hour, and it’s linked by bridges to southern
Thailand’s mainland. Around 8,000 expatriates of all nationalities are
resident here, including a few Americans.
Patpong, Kata, and Karon attract hordes of north European package tourists,
but it’s easy to escape them. My favorite part of the island is in the
south: Nai Harn. It has a white-sand beach, small bars and seafood restaurants,
and a lagoon where locals go night-fishing and the cicada chorus erupts
in full song. Sunsets are incredible. Fiery trails burnish the sky, and
the red lantern of the sun dips slowly into a shot-silk sea. Absolutely
You may be
tempted by the idea of not returning home ever. You don’t have to. Phuket
has an international school and hospital, good communications, and large
supermarkets. Whether it be CNN News or shelves stacked with Pepsi-Cola,
you’re rarely far from home comforts. Having bought a home and a car, a
couple can live comfortably for well less than $20,000 per year here—and
Phuket is one of Thailand’s most expensive provinces—go north, and costs
How much for
a home on Phuket? $20,000 to $4 million. A furnished studio in a condo
in Phuket’s largest resort, Patong, lists for $20,440. In the island’s
center, small and simply constructed two-bedroom homes are often listed
for less than $50,000. Between Patong and Phuket City, a two-bedroom home
in a development with pool, tennis court, and sauna can be had for less
For homes of
better quality and finishing in an up-and-coming beach area like Nai Harn,
$140,000 for a 1,300-square-foot house or condo is the norm. The Rawai/Chalong
Bay area has three- and four-bedroom options for $89,000 to $100,000. Although
more built-up, it’s only a short drive from Nai Harn.
For a luxury
house built of tropical hardwoods with dragon-necked roof gables, verandah-like
salas (living pavilions), sunken Jacuzzi baths, and a swimming pool, you’ll
have to increase your budget considerably. Depending on location, it’s
generally $250,000 upward for a modern pavilion palace of 2,000 to 2,500
square feet. Needless to say, beachfront locations and ocean views dramatically
A good contact
for Phuket properties is Lifestyle Properties (Ken Abday), 99/31 Chalemprakiet
Ror 9 Rd. (Bypass Road), T. Rasada Muang, Phuket, Thailand 83000; tel.
(66)164-935-57; e-mail: email@example.com.
can be owned freehold, but buying land in your own name is problematic.
One way around this is to set up a Thai company with a Thai partner or
shareholders and then to purchase through the company. However, as a foreigner
can own only 49% of shares, you have to be absolutely certain your partner
A building (as
distinct from its land).
A registered leasehold
of up to 30 years for titled land and/or a building. With extensions and
purchase options, a lease can be tantamount to freehold ownership.
Or you can
lease land. Leases can be structured on a 30-year + 30-year + 30-year basis.
Most foreigners who “own” land and houses opt for 30-year leases with two
30-year renewals. Along with rights to sell/transfer the property, such
leases generally include clauses that allow freehold ownership if laws
cannot own land freehold, you can own a house—or build one. Although
you’d have to lease the land it’s on, the building can be owned freehold.
New villa developments also have structured leases to ensure continuity
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