What Thailand Really Needs is…

Baby elephant in dire situation thai-car-accident 4 Thais on a motorcycle

I had an interesting conversation with Catherine of Women Learn Thai last night that really made me sit back and think about what I would like to see for Thailand in the future.

Catherine is very passionate about a number of things in Thailand but one of her biggest passions is the law concerning seat belt use. I had thought it was the law that everyone in the car must have a seat belt on but Cat quickly corrected me to the fact that only the front passengers are legally required to wear a seat belt.  A lot of cars in Thailand don’t even come with rear seat belts. If something were done about this many more lives could be saved yearly in Thailand, even if some people still disregarded the law.

Obviously as westerners we are all coming from countries that over time have mandated certain aspects of life for health and safety reasons, while they haven’t always been in the consumers best interest they have definitely changed the way we live our lives.

With that in mind I started thinking about the things that I believe need to be changed in Thailand that would result in a better way of life.

  • Remove all elephants from city streets in all of Thailand and make it illegal for regular citizens to own an elephant.
  • Curb the use and manufacture of plastic bags. In a country with thousands of weavers and bakets for sale there has to be a way to become less dependent on plastic bags.  As Catherine pointed out to me, even Burma is enacting laws to curb the use of plastic bags and reverting to using news papers for a lot of things.Ban on Plastic Bags Extended to Rangoon
  • No more than 2 passengers on a motorcycle. How many times have you seen 4-6 people on a small motorcycle including babies and young children, all of which not wearing a helmet. I would think this might save a life or two over time.
  • All pet sales have to be through licensed shops and all animals such as dogs and cats must be spayed/neutered and licensed before given to the new owner. The stray dog and cat population in Thailand is a very sad sight that impacts everyone. How many people are bitten a year and have to go through rabies shots? How many animals needlessly suffer?
  • Removal of the Lèse-Majesté laws. They are archaic, abused and have no place in a democratic society.

This is my list and of course these things are much easier said than done but even the longest of journeys begin with one single step.

What would you add to the list?

More importantly what do you think you,  as a foreigner and an individual,  can do to make a difference in Thailand and possibly make it a better place?

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27 Comment(s)

  1. As Thailand and Burma are uneasy neighbours, I am wondering if Thailand could be nudged to get rid of their plastic bags to ‘keep up’ with Burma. It’s certainly worth a try…
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners: Marcel Barang =-.

    Catherine | Oct 29, 2009 | Reply

  2. Cat, there is probably a good chance that Thailand is buying up all the old plastic bag stock from Burma as we speak…would be nice though if they could take a cue from Burma.

    Talen | Oct 29, 2009 | Reply

  3. Thinking… maybe we could encourage a race between the two countries? Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao could be included also.

    (Hey, I can dream… yeah? :-)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners: Marcel Barang =-.

    Catherine | Oct 29, 2009 | Reply

  4. If Burma is making headway with the plastic problem then there is the chance that Thailand could follow.

    MAybe we can clean up some human rights issues in all the countries while we’re at it…since we’re dreamin and all.

    Talen | Oct 29, 2009 | Reply

  5. Human rights issues… pre 9/11, I would have mostly agreed with you. But until some western countries clean up their own human rights snafus, I would find it difficult to jump on that one.

    Catherine | Oct 29, 2009 | Reply

  6. So very true, Cat. Plastic bags, seat belts and elephants are going to be hard enough without muddying the waters more.

    Talen | Oct 29, 2009 | Reply

  7. Nice topic Talen.

    I’d go for the single virtue of discipline.

    Discipline can solve so many issues, be they of moral, judicial, ethical or political nature.

    I’m not calling for the indoctrination-style of discipline, just the kind of quiet adherence to simple basic rules of living together.

    This simple virtue would solve most of Thailand’s problems.

    Even road accidents. Most come down to not disciplined driving/maintenance/attitude.
    .-= BangkokDan´s last blog ..In Thailand It’s Real, Halloween =-.

    BangkokDan | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  8. I can think of a few things but since I am not Thai I would be reluctant to suggest the locals change too much since its their country etc.

    In a way I think Dan has the answer when he talks about discipline. The roads immediately spring to mind. In fact I was going to post on one of my pet hates i.e. motorcycles.

    In my opinion Thais are not bad drivers anymore than any other country however what they do not do is follow the rules of the road and have no driving discipline. In the main this problem is caused by motorcycles, the drivers of which often have never had any formal driver training let alone hold a valid licence or indeed insurance.

    I regularly see kids as young as 7 or 8 “practicing” around where I live. Not to mention the family outings where everyone including the dog are on board a Honda 50!

    Of course this then brings one round to traffic law enforcement-since the Thais have perfectly good traffic laws-but lack a professional police force to enforce them consistently.

    Perhaps on second thoughts I will stick with my opening paragraph since my opinion is hardly likely to affect anyones thinking. Eventually I am sure that Thailand will catch up in a lot of areas. However I am not sure that that will be the Thailand I want to live in.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Loi Krathong Sai Festival Thailand 2009 =-.

    Mike | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  9. Very good choice Dan. I think you’re right that discipline would solve a lot of issues and not just in Thailand either.

    Talen | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  10. Mike it’s funny you mention law enforcement enforcing the law inconsistently…over 600 Bangkok police officers recently failed the motor vehicle laws test and have been sidelined from giving tickets until they re-take and pass the test.

    I also agree that when and if Thailand does catch up to the rest of the world it might not be the Thailand I love now.

    Talen | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  11. ‘I also agree that when and if Thailand does catch up to the rest of the world it might not be the Thailand I love now.’

    So true. In that case, limit your wishes to what would help the country.

    I do like BKKDan’s suggestion of introducing discipline into the country. And Thais are sure to come up with their own tweaked version, making it their own.

    I have my own version, but lately it is not working for me…
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners: Marcel Barang =-.

    Catherine | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  12. No plastic bags ??

    How will I tie my pop to my motorcycle handlebars ?

    What will I put my 7-11 Dim Sum into ?

    Solve these problems and I am on board !

    ChuckWow | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  13. Hmmm Okay Chuck. Zip ties for pop and from now on all dim sum must be eaten while inside the 7/11. To make up for the inconvenience dim sum will now be served off the flat stomachs of beautiful native girls.

    Talen | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  14. Hi Talen, good post, the seat belt in the back thing is a source of aggro personally, I’ve pointed out on numerous occasion that not putting one on will likely help to kill the person in front as well, although when dealing with those more informed it has fallen on deaf ears….

    Whenever talking about ‘changing Thailand’, I am almost instantly confronted with the fear of where this will lead…

    Coming from UK, I love the fact that you have more general freedom in Thailand, although this is purely selfish. I would never want loved ones to be at increased risk when on dodgy roads / people driving around drunk etc

    I defo would like to see more regulation for animal welfare in general, including ones on their way to slaughter and dogs roaming wild etc.

    But all this regulation maybe a ‘slippery road’, to a society more like we have in the West…. Is that a bad thing..? Maybe not, but it certainly isn’t Thailand as we know it.
    .-= Ben Shingleton´s last blog ..A British Baby in Thailand =-.

    Ben Shingleton | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  15. I think that the use of plastic bags isn’t just a problem in Thailand, I am a regular traveller to the states and every time I go to the super market I am shocked at the way the bags are packed, a bunch of bananas and a tin of tuna and the bag is full? It’s unbelievable. I dont mean to say this is the case in every store right across America but I think it’s so simple to change that everyone should be on board.

    Sarah | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  16. Ben, I share the fear of where it all might lead but whether we like it or not Thailand is changing. With the influx of fast food shops and supermarkets it began some time ago. Now I hear Krispy Creme will have 22 franchises in Thailand soon…just what Thailand needs.

    Maybe the change will be prolonged and while I don’t think Thailand will change into the U.S. or U.K. in our lifetimes maybe some things can change with a positive impact while still preserving the culture and lifestyle we all love so much.

    Talen | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  17. Sarah I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately Americans have been pulled into the great hoax of going green and green house gasses. So they have forsaken pollution and waste for the fear of cow farts and global warming.

    People Like Al Gore can’t make money off of pollution so they sell the fairy tale they can profit most from.

    Talen | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  18. Talen I had a good think at work today about this one so thanks for keeping my mind active. Now to what I would like to see.

    I not sure if Thailand has any proper drink driving laws but if they have then I’d like to see them enforced in a serious campaign to rid the drunk drivers from the roads.

    I remember a couple of years back around New Year time when a drink driving purge was going on. We were in the countryside of Udon Thani and passed an unmanned roadblock and I glanced right to see a good half dozen policemen sat around a couple of tables drinking beer.

    My wish is for a serious purge on drink driving in Thailand.
    .-= Martyn´s last blog ..Thailand’s Famous Floating Market =-.

    Martyn | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  19. Another great addition to the list Martyn. I saw many similar checkpoints during Songkran this year, some manned and some not.

    Considering New Years Eve is quickly coming upon us I fear we’ll see all too well the evidence of drunk driving in Thailand yet again.

    Talen | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  20. I strongly recommend that those foreigners who want Thailand to change in accordance with their wonderful proposals put forward those ideas and see how the locals react. Let us all pray that the people who want to offer their unsought advice to (I’m sure) very grateful Thais on how they should live their lives will meet with a desirable outcome! I guarantee it will go down very well with Thai people! This is going to be just great!
    .-= Oneditorial´s last blog ..Thai nicknames =-.

    Oneditorial | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  21. Oneeditorial, I think you might be missing the point. No one is suggesting that anyone tell the Thai’s how to live their lives.

    And contrary to what you may believe foreigners are working with Thai’s already to change some of the things mentioned here.

    We’re not talking about forcing people to change religions or stop eating som tam …we’re talking about things that would positively impact Thailand and the Thai people as well as tourists and expats.

    Talen | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  22. Oneeditorial, of course I cannot speak for all expats… but… it does not matter if westerners are living in their own country or elsewhere, some feel a social responsibility towards where they chose to call home.

    Because for some, it is not enough to just enjoy a country, they are driven to give back too.

    When I lived in the west, I campaigned against pay toilets. Don’t laugh, but at one time women had to pay but men using open urinals peed for free. We changed the laws.

    I also fought against the chain Safeway, who were tearing down the beautiful Alhambra Theatre to put in yet another grocery store. We lost, but our campaign opened the eyes of many. It also became more common to preserve a beautiful heritage.

    In my own industry (design) I continue to be involved in a daily campaign to be paid for what we do. A novel idea, yes?

    And here I am in Thailand… and no matter which way I look at it, I cannot see how requiring taxi drivers to put working seat belts in the backseats of their cabs can be construed as a negative.

    A passenger not buckled in (front or back) can die in a 30 mph crash. Especially the little ones. In addition, passengers that are not buckled in become killing projectiles, defeating the purpose of requiring seat belts in the front only.

    Add to this mix the penchant for some expats males on holiday and Thai youths to go speeding around on motorcycles while intoxicated, with those driving buses and trucks doing the same… and … well, there you go.

    I don’t care if a passenger chooses not to use the seat belts, I only care that they are made available.

    I only care that I am given a choice. That we are all free to choose.

    In the meantime, I have taxi drivers on speed dial. Taxis with seat belts in the back. But sometimes it is not practical and I’m waving down whoever… and personally, I’d rather not take the chance.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners: Marcel Barang =-.

    Catherine | Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

  23. To oneditorial.

    If your comment were on a forum I would suspect you are a troll. However I took the time to check out your blog which suggests you are a Thai male living perhaps in the UK.

    I hope you read my earlier comment on this post since I like many of the correspondents here are certainly not Thai “knockers.” Far from it we enjoy living in your country or visiting it just like (I think) you live in mine.

    All places we chose to make our homes in have things going on we don’t like e.g. the BNP in the UK but its a fact of life. You even blog about it and the racist way they behave.

    Perhaps I could gently point out that your criticism is welcome by me as a UK citizen, so if I or anyone else has an opinion about Thailand than surely its something to debate not necessarily defend. For example I could and have written much about the racist attitude of some Thai people.

    I can see that it would be easy to hijack this post and turn it into something Talen did not intend. However in the main comments have either been fairly light hearted, (we all like sanuk don’t we), or constructive.

    Personally as I pointed out in my earlier comment, change is down to the Thai people, not foreign residents like myself. I quite like things the way they are which is why I choose to live here. That said I still have an opinion having been brought up in a land were free speech is encouraged.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..October in Thailand-A Lot of Hot Air. =-.

    Mike | Oct 31, 2009 | Reply

  24. Not too sure the wife will like the Dim Sum solution but I do – count me in.

    Any idea how they used to wrap the food given to the monks during their early morning walks through the country side. Lots of bags used there. Could be a good example and a good place to start with the plastic bag issue.

    ChuckWow | Oct 31, 2009 | Reply

  25. All very nice thoughts, but I think our strongest suit is to lead by example. I’m sure that farang owned businesses are having their effects on Thais as they absorb a little bit the idea of good practices. An example is Starbucks. Service is generally very good in the shops, a considerable improvement on the mass of Thai retail service, which is pretty much non-existent. Maybe more and more Thai graduates of best practices will spread the word, or at least take something with them to their next job.

    Another example, is when Cat takes a taxi and wants to use a rear seatbelt. I’m sure the odd driver will tell his buddies how a silly farang got out of his taxi because he didn’t have a working seatbelt. As more farangs insist on safe rides, it just might become a taxi industry standard. We can wish!

    So it will be a slow and arduous process. But as we interact with the Thai people and talk with them, we are, without knowing it sometimes, spreading some of our ways into the general population.

    But yes, Mike, I’m with you. I don’t want to see Thailand become a western copy. The thought makes me shudder. (Like a proposal here in a district of my Canadian province where they’re considering banning smoking in condos and apartments, your private personal space!)
    .-= SiamRick´s last blog ..Asian dating sites, part 3: Looking in Thailand =-.

    SiamRick | Nov 1, 2009 | Reply

  26. Rick, I think you are right to some extent but there are many falang owned businesses that give up after a while and settle in to what they feel they can’t change.

    Talen | Nov 1, 2009 | Reply

  27. Rick, I bought my favourite taxi driver seat belts for the back of his taxi. When we talked on the subject, turns out that his opinion was formed from lacking the facts of back seat fatalities.

    His excuse? ‘It is not the law’. And that was good enough to look no further.

    These days we joke about him having seat belts because of his luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuv for his passengers :-D

    For taxis without seat belts, I thought of leaving business card sized facts.

    And for those with seat belts in the back, a card thanking them and explaining why I left them such a big tip.

    Contributing in small ways is not changing ‘Thai ways’, so having misplaced feelings of guilt is not going to happen with this lass. But doing nothing would.

    Years before I was born, my great grandmother saw a need for school children who went without, and was instrumental in bringing hot lunches into schools (at times, the only meal of the day for those kids). I saw the same need here, so donated my skills to getting lunches to Thai children.

    My mindset? Doing nothing for Thailand (where I live), yet continuing to do for my mother country (where I have no intentions of returning) would be out of character for me.

    Thai society (like others) is in constant change. Will there come a time when they ask why we enjoy the advantages of their country, yet keep all of our thoughtful efforts for our own?
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners: Marcel Barang =-.

    Catherine | Nov 1, 2009 | Reply

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