Home »   Book Reviews


Book Reviews

Occasionally I find a book that is very appropriate for people thinking about living in Thailand.  Chiang Mai City Life magazine is good enough to print these as companion pieces to my A Retiring Attitude column that I write for them. The following are a few of these reviews.


Retiring in Thailand

(Live in Paradise for Pennies on the Dollar)

Phillip Bryce and Sunisa Wongdee Terlecky
Paiboon Publishing, 2006, 263 pages, 495 baht

I approached this book with jaded curiosity and the arrogance of one currently retired here thinking I already knew all the answers. I looked to find all the things that the authors got wrong or left out. I was quite disappointed. Retiring in Thailand is an excellent guide and source book for anyone considering making Thailand their home.

What questions are foremost in the minds of prospective retirees? Any good guide would tell me all I would want to know about obtaining visas, and the kinds of housing available, and the food, and the weather. Medical and dental care is a big question. How good will communications be? And maybe most important of all, how much will retiring to Thailand cost and do I have enough to retire yet? With this list in mind I went to the book ready to do some research.

Visa worries when living abroad can at best be a headache and at worst a nightmare. For 30 pages or so the authors help ease the pain by giving us all we ever wanted to know and more about whatever visa you might be interested in (tourist, retirement, spousal support visas and work permits, etc.) as well as details on how to make visa runs to the borders.

Finding a comfortable and affordable place to live out our days is a difficult thing to do in a new and confusing country. The book does a good job explaining the complicated issues surrounding foreigners owning property in Thailand and covers the different options and costs one has in choosing a place to live. A very nice feature is a complete chapter on the different retirement locations in Thailand. There are good descriptions of what life is like in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket, the northeast, and the gulf islands. The testimonials of foreigners living in each location bring the descriptions to life.

Medical and dental care is well covered from chiropractors to cosmetic surgeons. A list of insurance companies and another of hospitals that cater to foreigners are included as well as two charts giving medical and dental costs in Thailand compared to the US and UK. The section on making out wills and dying in Thailand kept everything in prospective.

I found the charts on expected retirement incomes at various ages very helpful in the chapter ‘Planning Your Retirement’. They would be a big help in determining whether we have enough to retire yet. The section on, “How Much Money Do I Need to Retire in Thailand?” is maybe the place I would go to first. The authors give us a very useful list of the cost of common items in Thailand from hair cuts to nose jobs.

Questions on communications are answered by giving us the low down on cell phones, and dial up, DSL and satellite internet. But they unfortunately leave out cable TV access. Don’t they think retirees want to watch football (American or otherwise)? But lots of helpful websites and telephone numbers are included.

Retiring in Thailand packs a lot of information into its 263 pages but here is a wish list for the authors to include in the 2nd edition: Besides just the few references to how the weather in Thailand can become “insufferably hot” I would like to have seen a section on what to expect in the different seasons here and comparing the differences in the weather in the different parts of the country. The section on health care could include something on prevention and care of typical health concerns found in Thailand including the ubiquitous gastro-intestinal problems, infections, fungus, insect bites, STDs, and HIV. I was hoping for a discussion on Thai food and the availability of western foods in country. Although the small glossary included could easily be expanded.

It took a lot of hit or miss and a lot of time for me to learn even part of the information that Retiring in Thailand gives us all in one place. It would be a great start to anyone’s retirement planning.



Thai Law for Foreigners

By Benjawan Becker and Roengsak Thongkaew
Paiboon Publishing
There are countless blogs out in cyberspace for foreigners living in Thailand that contain question upon question about situations farangs find themselves in where they need to understand Thai law. These range from visa regulations to divorce procedures, to adopting Thai children, to how to obtain legal representation in criminal or civil law cases. Up until now, other foreigners’ opinions and experiences were about all they could rely on to answer these questions.

One feature of this book that makes it extremely useful is the fact that the first half of the book is written in English while the second half is translated into Thai. So many legal problems occur where two parties, a Thai and a foreigner, are involved. This book will give both parties access to the same information.

When I am considering buying a reference book I usually start with a list of questions I have and then look to see how thoroughly the book answers them. Here are a few questions I came up with and how Thai Law for Foreigners deals with them.

What is a person’s individual rights under Thai law? If a person is accused of a criminal offence he is entitled to a lawyer, to meet with that lawyer in private, to get an interpreter if needed, to receive visitors and be treated if sick. An accused is also entitled to bail and will be provided with a lawyer if he can’t afford one.

How does one adopt a child in Thailand? Anyone thinking of adopting a Thai child, whether they be foreigners living abroad, or a foreigner married to a Thai and wanting to legally adopt their Thai spouse’s children as their own, will find a good starting point here.

Can a foreigner get Thai citizenship? This is a question that is often asked, and a section of the book covers citizenship requirements. Another related question is will a child born to a foreigner/Thai relationship be able to carry Thai citizenship? The book contains a table which very clearly spells out who is entitled to citizenship rights. This will be useful information to any foreigner who has children in Thailand.

Judging by the way the book satisfactorily answered all of my test questions I would recommend it to anyone thinking of living or working in Thailand. It is great to have something like this waiting on your bookshelf just in case you have the need. If you have real legal questions then it is best to consult with a lawyer. But this book is a very good place to begin learning about how Thai law works.

How to Buy Land and

Build a House in Thailand

Phillip Bryce

Paiboon Publishing, 2006 (second edition), 273 pages

If you dream of owning your own piece of paradise and building that dream house here in Thailand then this book was written for you.  But be aware, those who read this extremely informative how-to book by Phillip Bryce, who built his own house overlooking the sea on Ko Phangan, and who shares what he has learned from that experience, the successes and the pitfalls, may come away with very different views.  One reaction might be, “That sounds ridiculous. I’d never do anything like that.” Another person might think, “Man, that sounds like fun.  When can I get started?”   

If you are contemplating building a house in Thailand it would be a good idea to start with spending a little time finding out about what you will need to know and do before starting.  If you don’t take the time, your dream could very easily turn into a nightmare.

Mr. Bryce tackles, two different subjects in his book, buying land and building a house.  The first subject covers 14 pages.  The rest of the book deals with the second.  Why so few pages on the topic of buying land?  The answer is easy.  For the most part, foreigners can’t buy land in Thailand.  But there are ways to secure the legal use of the land, and there are various loopholes, like long-term leasing, creating a majority Thai owned company that buys the land, or having the land title in the name of a “friend” or a spouse who has given you lifetime use of the property (the legal term is “usufruct”).  These are covered in depth. 

The rest of the book covers both general as well as Thai-specific building techniques, materials, and tools.  Even if you are an experienced builder, learning about the specific building methods and materials, common problems, construction philosophy, local construction workers, and the tropical weather one encounters in Thailand will make this well worth the read.

If, by the time you finish reading, you aren’t discouraged enough to give up then keep this book handy as a reference guide.  The one thing that struck me about building your dream home, not only in Thailand but anywhere, is there are at least 1001 things you have to remember and juggle in your mind in order to end up with a house somewhere near what your dream is.  It is a daunting undertaking but this how-to book has a number of features that will make the task, at least seem like, a doable project.

There are more than 100 photographs and drawings illustrating the concepts that Mr. Bryce writes about.  After each discussion he gives a couple of pages of construction vocabulary words, in English, Thai, and Thai phonetics.  You’ll increase your Thai (and for me English) construction vocabulary by more than 700 words.        

Besides covering a lot of legal material, how to find a good lawyer, tips on building contracts and titles, and money matters, Mr. Bryce then turns to the practical.  There are technical chapters on concrete, steel, wood, fasteners and hardware, building techniques, swimming pools, and finish work

 Mr. Bryce has a very readable style and explains things in a way that both experienced builders and novices alike will find very informative.  Since I know nothing about building a house I found some parts, like how to get air bubbles out of concrete, venting your sewage pipes, and getting the angel of your roof gutters right both instructive and, at the same time, intimidating.  One thing that seems clear is that someone like me, with no knowledge or experience in building anything bigger than a birdhouse, should probably think long and hard about whether to take on a project this size.

The book emphasizes that it’s all well and good to be experienced and to know what you are doing and know what you want.  It is another thing to get these ideas across to your builders.  Because of this you will probably have to spend lots of time at the building site, and even then, try not to blink too often or you’ll miss something.  Mr. Bryce spent 6 hours a day, 7 days a week at his building site, and he still spent days and days breaking down and redoing things that went wrong.   

Mr. Bryce ends his book reflecting on what he would do differently if he could do it all again.  One should probably read this part first.  He also includes what I think is worth the price of the book alone.  Chapter 20 contains check lists on every facet of the construction project from designing your house, to preparing to build, to pouring concrete, all the way to putting in stairs, plumbing, wiring, and installing a swimming pool. 

            The book’s last page has a picture of Mr. Bryce’s finished house.  It looks pretty spectacular.  I have a friend who is just beginning to build his home out in the countryside.  I am going to rush this book to him.  He’s going to need it.  I would recommend anyone considering building their own home to do the same.  It might just keep those nightmares at bay.



Three-Way Thai–English English–Thai Talking Dictionary for Windows PCs

Benjawan Poomsan Terlecky, Chris Pirazzi, Paiboon Publishing and Word in the Hand, $24.95

I know a little about dictionaries.  I have 7 Thai/English dictionaries at home and I use at least three online ones as well.  I write the column Thai Language/Thai Culture for the popular website www.womenlearnthai.com, so I am pretty dependent on a good dictionary.  Since Paiboon’s new PC based “talking dictionary” has resided on my desktop I find it the most convenient of the group.  I love my “book” dictionaries of course and have them scattered in most of the rooms of my house.  But with a PC based dictionary I don’t have to be logged on to the Internet nor leafing through thousands of dictionary pages.  For the serious student of the Thai language, especially up to the intermediate level, you couldn’t start with a better nor more convenient tool to enhance your studies.

Ajarn Benjawan Poomsan Terleky, well known for her excellent Thai language study materials, Thai for Beginners, Speak Like a Thai, Improving Your Thai Pronunciation, etc., as well as Thai and Lao compact dictionaries, and lots more, is the force behind this new PC based Thai language learning aid.  Two years in the making, this dictionary is full of the stuff that I have long had on my wish-list of features.  Ajarn Benjawan’s linguistic expertise, along with the computer genius of her collaborator, Chris Pirazzi, have created what I feel is a must have addition to my Thai studies library.


The current Three-Way Dictionary has 42,000 entries and as they do in their other dictionaries Paiboon has added the really useful feature of including the Thai classifiers for all the nouns.  But it is the special features packed into this software that makes it really fun to use.  Here’s just a few.

It’s a talking dictionary

Each word is accompanied by a high-quality sound recording of Ajarn Benjawan giving you its correct pronunciation.  Look up a word, clicked on the speaker icon and there will be Ajarn Benjawan saying the word to you in her perfect pronunciation.  It’s good to be in the 21st century. 

Triple threat

          The same system developed for Paiboon’s  Three-Way Pocket Thai Dictionary is used here - English to Thai, Thai to English, Sound to Thai.  Besides entering an English word and getting the Thai returned, and vice-versa, you can also enter an approximation of a Thai word’s sound (Search-by-Sound™) and the dictionary will guess which word you might be looking for.  It usually gets it right. 

Multiple Pronunciation Systems

Although it is probably best to learn to read Thai, many beginning students will start using phonetic pronunciation and transliteration guides.  There are dozens of them and it is a dilemma when writing language learning materials to decide which system to use.  The Three-Way Dictionary has a very good solution to this dilemma.  It uses all of them.  You can toggle between the transcription systems of thai-language.com, thai2english.com, Mary Hass, as well as Paiboon’s own pronunciation guide systems, and many more, and end up using the one you are most comfortable with.

 Instant Search

          This is a feature used by some of the latest search engines as well as Windows 7 which begins to search as you are typing.  In putting this dictionary through its paces I found that all I needed was to type a few letters, in either English or Thai, and the word I was looking for would already be displayed.  One example, I needed to look up the Thai word for “maid”.  By the time I got to the “i” the dictionary had already found the Thai word I was looking for.  This is a big time saver especially when looking up Thai words.

Typing in Thai

          Let’s say you want to look up a Thai word.  If it is a word you found on the Internet all you need to do is copy it and paste it into the search box and the translation will be returned to you.  But what if you need to type a Thai word into the search box.  Typing in Thai is

probably the last thing you want to do.  The dictionary solves this problem by giving you a fairly easy to use typing tool.  All you need to do is click on the Thai letter and it will automatically appear in the search box.  Click a couple of more letters and the word will probably already have been returned.

Thai Keyboard.jpg 


            42,000 entries sounds like a lot but when you reach an advanced level of Thai you’ll probably find that this is a lot less than you will need for your studies.  If you are trying to decipher a Thai newspaper then you most likely will be relying on a large paper dictionary or some of the better online dictionaries.  Up to intermediate level, the dictionary will satisfy most needs.  Beyond that and there will be problems.  The good thing is that there are plans to double the number of entries by the end of the year, and the updated version of the dictionary will be downloadable for free.


The Three-Way Dictionary is downloadable.  For a closer look go to http://word-in-the-hand.com/thaidictwin , where you can download a trial version for free. Plans are to double the number of entries by the end of 2010, and for a version for the iPhone later this year.  Currently, all purchasers will be allowed free upgrades for life.

My advice, get the trial version and see what you think.  If you are a serious Thai learner and, like me, are on the computer for a large part of your day, I think you will put this dictionary to good use.