Samui Wining & Dining
On Site Insight
The humbly-named thaivisa.com is not only a wealth of information
but also Thailand’s only up-to-the-minute newspaper!

 

On Site InsightWhat’s in a name? ‘Pookiesnackenburger’ has nothing to do with food; it’s a dance group. And ‘Angels and Demons’ is a book about anti-matter. And so the temptation when faced with a website entitled ‘Thai visa’ is to presume that it’s all about visas in Thailand. And that’s hardly gripping material by anyone’s standards – excepting one or two specialised employers, perhaps. But that’s not what it’s about. Not even close.

 

Yes, it does contain what’s undoubtedly the most comprehensive and up-to-date insight into the evasive complexities of the dozens of different visas obtainable for Thailand. But this has developed gradually over the course of the last nine years. It also has forums and information on international and local news, real-estate, teaching, banking, flights, businesses, jobs, religion, the internet, technology, sports, entertainment and health, too. And that’s not even brushing the surface of all the regional forums which contain information and topics relating directly to 13 local areas of Thailand, including Samui and the islands.

 

It’s the most comprehensive and detailed directory of news and information in Thailand that you’ll find anywhere. It currently has more than 123,000 members – and rising. On several occasions it has topped more than one million hits in a month. It has members in all corners of the world, as well as the thousands of ex-pats who live here. And, for old hands and newcomers alike, it has long established itself as the place to look and/or inquire if you need any information about any region of Thailand, whether it be about pets’ quarantine regulations, how to buy a Harley, where to rent a wheelchair or the current state of Chaweng Beach Road.

 

Newspapers? Well, yes, Samui has two. And very good they are too. But they only appear once every month. Whereas the Samui forum is known for telling it like it is (mostly!) and as it happens. Either way, if there’s a flood or an accident somewhere (or if one of the supermarkets is selling Kettle crisps at half-price) you’ll get to know about it within minutes.

 

For anyone who’s coming here for a holiday or longer break, it’s a vital resource. Take something simple like booking your place at a beach resort. What do most experienced travellers do? They Google-around for an hour, cross-check their favourites against Trip Advisor and then make an on-line booking with their plastic. The problem is that there are hundreds of small, quiet, inexpensive locally-owned resorts that do not have an online presence and don’t accept credit cards. And a series of enquiries and replies about such a thing on the Samui forum opens doors that would otherwise remain unknown. Plus the information is bang up to date, too. And that’s just one very specific example.

 

I expect that in your mind you’re picturing all this being started up by some insurance company somewhere: a group that does accounting and tax returns for businesses or helps them with their visa problems. But not so! It all began back in 2002, with a collection of just three people who were experimenting with effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in Bangkok. They created a website and, by trial and error, set about to maximise its search engine potential. They would create dummy topics on the forum and then the three of them, plus helpers and friends, would make-up replies to this as if it were an actual web-presence. In the process of all this it came to the attention of one of Thailand’s largest business services networks, Sunbelt Asia, who expressed their interest in the website as a means of advertising. One thing led to another and the thaivisa.com website became a serious concern and started to attract sponsors.

 

The guys that began it all were ‘George’, ‘Dr. Pat Pong’ and ‘Huski’. Yes, they are real people. As one of the site Administrators, ‘sbk’, told me, “There’s now a disturbing amount of genuinely unbalanced people out there. We have all had irrational threats on different occasions and one guy became obsessed with me a few years back and wrote all sorts of scary things until he was finally blacklisted. That’s why, nowadays, none of the admin or moderators maintain a public identity,” sbk explained. And, if you were wondering, just to give you an idea of the scale of things, the site maintains a team of 10 administrators and 30 moderators.

 

Prior to 2008, sbk was in charge of keeping the Koh Samui forum in line (and that includes Koh Pha-Ngan and Koh Tao). But today the task has fallen to ‘Rooo’. “We have to keep a sharp eye out for anything that’s illegal or irreverent,” he explained, “and in particular anything connected with racism, politics or the Royal Family. Posting defamatory comments in these areas carries a least a censorship and at worst an immediate ban. But most of the time the people on the forum are pretty responsible. The only occasional downside is that some of the contributors are living here full-time and the initial excitement about Samui has started to wear thin. They can be a bit negative sometimes, but I’ll let them have their say. It’s up to other contributors to balance their opinions. But anyone reading the forum from outside needs to be aware of this and learn to read between the lines every once in a while!”

 

And there really is a lot of lines to read between. A quick scan of recent topics includes: news of a new internal airline serving Samui; how to handle losing your passport; high-tide areas; a new road over the mountain from Mae Nam to Lamai; enquiries about the weather on Koh Pha-Ngan in December; where to get a traditional bamboo tattoo; and information about those public holidays when there’s an alcohol ban. And if you’re planning to be here for just one week the last one might prove particularly useful! And, as well as these more general topics, there are also the daily musings of a local and international community all of whom want to know what’s happening on Samui – now!

 

It’s not a name that makes you sit up. You may not even be aware how useful it is or how it could help you. But when it comes to what’s going on in Thailand, thaivisa.com is packed full with current ‘on site insight’.

 

Rob De Wet

 


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