Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

Someone asked a question today about what the inflation rate in Thailand is, both the official rate and the gut feel rate. That got me thinking because I know that the official rate is mentioned now and then in the Thai media and from what I recall it has been around 3.5 to 4.0 % for the past few years. My gut feel is that seems about right but maybe a little on the low side, that maybe it has been running higher based on my own sampling of prices. I ended up finding this chart of the offical rate:

Chart of inflation rate in Thailand

It has fluctuated wildly over the last 10 years, over 9% in 2008 to a negative 4% in 2009. That’s the official rate. And yes it does look like it has been flat at a little under 4% for the last couple of years. I’m not sure what the big drop to negative inflation rate means because I sure did not see any price reduction at the time.

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Trip to Chiang Mai

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Thailand

Took the family on a trip to Chiang Mai last week. We rented a mini-van (รถตู้) and drove. It was me, my wife, son and nanny. The adults didn’t have much in the way of luggage but the kid stuff amounted to a lot. The drive up there is pretty boring. I think you would call it fly-over country like we refer to the midwest in the U.S. where you would rather just take a plane from source to destination as there is little to see in between. We had searched for intersting stops to make but couldn’t find anything that wasn’t far off the route we were taking north.

We did stop for the night in Lampang which is just a couple hours from our destination in the Chiang Mai area. My wife and I thought that Lampang was a bit of a tourist destination with at least a few interesting things to see and do. But after we got there and looked around we found little of interest. We took a ride in a horse buggy that departed from right in from of our hotel, thinking they would take us to the old town of Lampang. But all we got was a ride through the streets full of cars and the standard ugly shop houses that are the same all over Thailand. Our buggy driver stopped two places – at the old railroad station and a temple – both kind of boring. We asked him if there was an old town area we could visit and he said there was some stuff down by the river but nothing like a preserved old style part of town. So Lampang was a disappointment and I wouldn’t recommend it as a destination or even a stop-over point. Our hotel, Lampang Wienthong, was ok, a large older building in the center of town. 1,200 baht for two people included breakfast that was ok.

The next morning we departed for Chiang Mai. We visited the Chiang Mai Zoo which was just ok, not nearly as good as I expected given all the hype about it I had heard. They have some pandas but so what, they just sleep all the time in a boring looking enclosure. Feeding the giraffes was a highlight. Lunch was good at a little local place near Chiang Mai University. In the afternoon we headed to our boutique resort in Chiang Mai, a nine room resort on the side of a hill in Mae Rim called Baan Mon Muan. It’s a very nice little place, small and quite, built of old hardwoods and decorated with many Lanna style items. No TVs and slow internet connection there so it’s a place to relax and leave the rest of the world behind, although you do have a good cell phone signal but I could only get Edge rates and not 3G. The resort is at an elevation of 1,160 meters so it is dry and at night quite chilly.

We really liked the resort. Staff were very nice, most of them Hmong girls from the nearby village. Food was really good. It’s strawberry season so we had smoothies every day. They do some homemade jams and salad dressings that were really good. For dinners we had typical Thai food like แกงสัม (that orange sour and spicy stew with cha-om and shrimp), stir fried bean thread with pork and veges, fried rice, that kind of thing. Just typical dishes but all were very tasty. They had some tasty deserts, too, like blueberry cheesecake and a warm fudge brownie with whipped cream.

On our second day we went to an elephant camp in Mae Sa. It was pretty fun, especially with our son who had never seen elephants before and who now does an impression of the way they grab and eat food with their trunks. After the elephants camp we went to an area called Baan Tawai which has a big market area where vendors sell their northern style crafts and furniture. There was a lot of intersting stuff there. We ended up buying a piece of furniture that just barely fit in the van with a lot of pushing and manuevering.

One of the negatives of the trip was that we were there during the annual big burn where all the villagers and farmers all over the north and in neighboring countries burn off their fields. The air pollution is horrible, visibility so bad that some years they are forced to close the airport. For us it meant a lot of views that were limited. We could make out nearby mountains but beyond that it was a smoky grey haze. I can only imagine that it must be quite pretty in the mountains at other times of the year. After that back to Khao Yai and clean air.

During the Thailand flooding last year there were many events organized for volunteers to make EM balls for treatment of stagnant flood waters. At the time I was following a lot of action about the flooding on Twitter and kept seeing tweets about people joining the EM ball making parties. I have previously experimented with EM and had read about the use of EM balls for stagnant water treatment so I already knew it was bogus. But few Thais knew anything other than what organizers told them and besides they like to feel like they are doing something to help regardless of whether it actually helps. So thousands of EM balls were produced and tossed into areas where flood waters were trapped and beginning to turn black, rotten and smelly.

The searches I did at that time turned up several independent studies in which EM had been used to treat several types of stagnant water. In all cases the EM actually made the water worse because it depelted dissovled oxygen, resulting in more anerobic decay and worse water quality. One of those studies had been done in Thailand and had been publised but that didn’t stop the Thai government from going ahead with the EM ball parties.

The day before yesterday Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok held a press conference and presented the results of a new study they did. The researchers took water samples from Rangsit and Pathumthani where there were large volumes of trapped flood waters that were terribly stagnant and disgusting. They treated the samples with EM balls. The results were decreased levels of dissolved oxygen and worse water clarity than untreated samples. Basically they confirmed what earlier studies had shown.

The only studies I have found that support the claims that EM can be used to improve the quality of flood waters were done by they manufacturer of EM or people selling the product. All independent studies I know of show it actually makes the water quality worse.

Following on to my previous post with me wondering just how much longer Khao Yai land prices will keep climbing, I saw today that Khao Yai Dreamland project expanded yet again. I think this is the fourth or fifth phase of expansion of that project. The previous phase I blogged about had 18 plots that sold out before the project even started advertising. I drove around there several weeks ago – it’s nice land, with nice views of the peaks of Khao Yai National Park and also good views toward the west where there are nice sunsets over the mountains. It was the new price point that surprised me, 9000 baht per square wah, which is a lot higher than earlier phase of the project. My in-laws are sure happy with the deals they got on property they purchased in the first phase of the project.

The newest phase of the project still has a few plots left. I think the developer got smart with how he is dividing the land, making smaller plots of one rai that are easier for middle income buyers to purchase. I have somewhat mixed feelings about that – I don’t want to see high density neighborhoods springing up all over the Khao Yai area. I think one rai is the absolute minimum and as long as people don’t cover the entire plot with a building and concrete then maybe it is ok.

I’ve been wasting a lot of time for the last couple of weeks on Twitter watching all the tweets about the floods in Thailand as the water slowly creeps deeper into Bangkok. Twitter is very useful for this kind of event when people all around the region report and post photos as the disaster unfolds. You just need to manage your filters to eliminate the noise and trolls which are plentiful.

I’m not in Bangkok during all of this, although I still have a house there that has remained dry so far. I’m at my home in the Khao Yai area which is one of the places a lot of evacuees have fled to. It hasn’t been people’s first choice because the main road to get here was cut off by the flooding, requiring a lengthy detour and drive time of six hours or more when it normally takes two or so from Bangkok.

Something I’ve been wondering about is how this disaster will affect property markets in Thailand, and Khao Yai in particular. I’ve heard a couple of relatives already say they are going to sell their house/condo and get out of Bangkok after all this flooding is over. I’m thinking a lot of people have that idea now but most will forget about it after it’s all over and the rest won’t be able to get a decent price if their home was hit by the flood waters. It seems like property prices in Bangkok will be depressed as a result.

Pattaya was a major destination for people fleeing the Bangkok floods. News reports said it was jammed and many hotels were offering special deals. I wonder if any Bangkokians would be considering a getaway home in Pattaya as a result of the floods. Perhaps, but it seems like the effect on property prices there would be minimal as it is already so overbuilt and overpriced in response to targeting foreign buyers.

Living in Khao Yai I do like to see news on the local market but I don’t find much online about so when I saw this chart of Khao Yai land prices from early last year I thought it was interesting to note the apparent exponential rise that was occurring. When you start seeing graphs that look like that you wonder if a bubble might be forming. The question is whether there is some unsustainable factor that is driving up prices, like easy lending ala the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the U.S., or if there is some change in fundamentals that may be sustainable. I don’t see easy lending as a factor here because the banks are typically quite unwilling to loan money on empty land. The buyers tend to be people with money who pay cash. And there are a lot of people in Bangkok with money.

That chart is a year and a half old and I haven’t seen any updates to it so I’ve been wondering what the next data point will be and how the flood disaster may affect the shape of that curve. I think the site has a new data point that sets a new standard. It is mentioned in this post about Khao Yai Dreamland which immediately sold out 18 new plots at 3.6 million baht per rai. That’s interesting because it sets a new high for land prices in that area at the present time in the midst of the flood crisis. The question is, should this be considered one data point or 18? Because that is a bunch of plots that sold quickly at a new price point. Another question which I won’t be able to answer is what motivated those buyers – were they thinking the time had come for a safe place away from the giant flood plain known as greater Bangkok? There was some of that effect in past years when the riots hit Bangkok, and there are always people who discover Khao Yai for the first time and decide they need a vacation or retirement home here. So it will be interesting to see if there is increased buying demand in the area after this disaster.

The floods in Thailand are a huge catastrophe for the country. Nevertheless, we do have some entertainment to lighten things up a bit, mostly some of the people in charge running around like Keystone cops or making nonsensical statements. One of the better ones followed the report that a bunch of crocodiles had escaped from a farm north of Ayutthaya. “No problem” said the man in charge. They are farmed crocs so are not dangerous to humans like wild crocs. Shortly after that this photo circulated of a croc entering a home at the water’s edge. I don’t think it is actually a flooded home because if you look closely you see that is a floating ramp attached to the house. Looks like this is water-side home during normal times. Still a great followup to the “crocs are dangerous” comment.

I posted a while ago about the 73 MW solar PV plant being built in Lopburi. At the time that was the world’s largest solar PV installation. Not sure if that is still true. However, I just read that the plant will be expanded.

EGCO, the second largest private power producer in Thailand, is going to invest one billion baht to expand the plant to 84 MW. One billion baht is quite a bit even in real money. Solar PV is pretty expensive, still not even close in cost to other power production methods. So I’m wondering what the economics are in this project. There must be some pretty sweet government incentives to invest so much.

You know, I was going to tour that plant. I asked my brother-in-law to arrange it – he’s a highly placed director at PEA. He said sure, but it’s just a big field of solar panels, pretty boring to look at. There is no visitor center with flashing lights or fancy displays. Oh, well, I guess I won’t bother him with it in that case.