I can remember the hours I spent online before I came to Thailand, reading up on everything I could find that would make me more informed and less open to being ripped off or doing something silly. Unfortunately most of the advice forums are tourist orientated (understandably) and geared towards topics that are usually useless for those of us planning to spend time or live in the ‘real’ Thailand away from Phuket, Pattaya and the other more farang orientated coastal centres.

I have now lived here for over five years in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and now Isan and have picked up a few everyday tips & tricks that I have shared with readers on the blog and my Facebook page – link HERE. I thought it would be useful to bring these all together in the one place and this will also allow me to add new ones as I think of them. This post will become a useful resource for all newbies and maybe add the odd bit of knowledge to some of us oldies as well. If anyone reading has something they feel would add to the subject please include it in a comment below.

These are in no particular order or topic.

Fruit Juices HERE
Sticky Rice Baskets HERE
Electronic Float system to control water levels in holding tanks HERE
Ice and Water HERE
Paint HERE
Ants and Weeds HERE
Cleaning Window Runners HERE
Aircon Filters HERE
Transferring money to Thailand – a comparison HERE
Dry Salt and Tamarind Chutney HERE
A Lime Squeezer HERE
Fresh Lime Juice HERE
Coconuts and Rum HERE
Septic Tanks HERE
Cleaning Brick Paths HERE
Anti-Termites Paint termites


Added 16 Oct 2018 – Fruit Juice

You will find a large range of fruit juices in Thai supermarkets. The Tipco range say they are 100% juice, but I find some of them to be really sweet. If you enjoy a bit of a kick to your juice try the Tangerine or the Shogun varieties. Around 70 baht but often on special in Tesco Lotus.

Sticky Rice Baskets

Sticky rice baskets (sitting on the table next to my morning coffee) don’t just have to be for sticky rice.

Talking of clocks, that one on the wall in the above photo is broken. I won’t get it fixed because I don’t want to know the time when I am in the garden. What would be the point? However, you will note it is set to just after 6:00 (pm of course) so it is always just the right time for the first drink of the day 

They can be used for storing small items like mosquito sprays etc out of sight, if tidiness is on your list of priorities. 130 baht for a handmade medium sized one.

Added 10 Oct 2018 – Electronic Float system to control water levels in holding tanks

For anyone interested in moving away from a float value in their water tank, and that should be most of you. It is surprising how many people I talk to who rely on the old fashioned float valves to regulate the water levels in their holding tank/s. Floats are cheap and simple BUT every time you brush your teeth or flush the toilet your pump kicks in to refill the tank by the amount you have just used. This is especially wasteful if you have your main bore/well pump doing the work of filling the tank. Bore/well pumps usually have a huge capacity, which is then being used in effect to fill a bucket – expensive and results in additional wear and tear.

The solution is to fill an electronic float system, which allows the tank to empty to a predetermined level before turning on the pump once to completely refill the tank. They are cheap to buy (600 baht at Global?) and an electrician will charge you 200 baht to fit (or ours did today when we fitted a second one).

This is what you want to replace the float in your water tank. We’ve been using one for three and a half years and never a problem. Not all ‘electricians’ will be able to fit these as the village ‘tradesman’ will most likely never have seen one before.

We now have two of these electronic floats. One controls the bore/well submersible, which pumps into a 2,000 litre holding tank. This tank provides the water to the garden via eleven taps. pressurised by a separate surface pump. We also have another larger pump to power the 40 outlet sprinkler system, also fed from this 2,000 litre tank (we run it in three ten minute shifts).

House water is filtered through a water softening system, to remove calcium (hard water) and then pumped into a 1,000 litre holding tank. The house pressure is provided by a fourth pump that uses this softened water. This second tank as of today also has its water level regulated by a second electronic float and a solenoid valve. The valve is needed because once the tank is full the pump is switched off but we still need to be operational to pressurise the garden taps! All clear?

Many of us, like me, have come from an urban background where all of this detailed stuff was handled by council and you just paid the rates. I believe you need to be more involved and educated about water systems here to get the best result. This is my contribution to that goal.

For any of you who bought my eBook ‘Building a House in Thailand’ I cover all of this and more in chapter 26.

The tank is allowed to drop to about one quarter full and then the pump starts and refills it to the top.

Our two holding tanks plus the salt flush tank.

Salt is used to flush the water softening filter (resin ball filled) which gets clogged with calcium. Salt displaces the calcium. If you do have hard water and don’t have a softener your pipes with eventually get clogged with calcium and your toilet flush system will stop working. Bad for hot water heaters too.

The solenoid valve fitted today to allow the second electronic float to operate without cutting off pressure to the garden taps.

Once again a bit of a specialsed piece of electronics that many locals couldn’t so. Luckily I have an excellent electrician who lead the subcontracting team that built a lot of our house. The valve had to be ordered from Bangkok.

The control box for the bore/well submersible and the three surface pumps (sprinklers, water softening/garden taps and house pressure).

Ice

You are very safe with ice and water in Thailand but always make sure you have the type of ice with a hole in the middle (see on truck). This is commercially made and is delivered everywhere in trucks like this or vans. You can order a sack of ice for around 40 baht (A$1.60). Every local shop has ice and you can get a bag from 5 baht.

Paint

We built our own home here in 2014/15 so I know a bit about paint. I started off using Dulux paint at 1,800 (?) baht for 9 litres. I then changed to a brand Global House has called SuperCote at 750 baht. The thing is paintwork gets dirty quickly here that I don’t see the point in paying extra for something that is rated to last 15 years (?) when you’ll be repainting regularly if you are interested in keeping your home looking the best.

It’s a bit like paying for a car that is rated to last 50 years when you buy a new one every year! I will be repainting the outside of our place every year, now using Pit and son, but I am a perfectionist. At a paint and labour cost of 5,000 baht ($200.00) why wouldn’t I?

Ants and Weeds

This post is mostly for expats living here but others may find it interesting as an insight to life in the tropics. The two things I find you have to keep on top of all the time are ants and weeds (if you are garden orientated).

Ants are everywhere both inside and outside no matter how well you construct your house. If you have a well sealed home you will probably only encounter the tiny sugar ants, which enjoy sweet things obviously but also go for water, so a mug left on a draining board may have a few inside. The internet recommends baking soda (readily available in Tesco Lotus) mixed with sugar to attract and eventually kill (they explode). I find that a plate with a little bit of honey on works very well and then you drown them. Just keep on keeping on until they stop coming. It is a never ending process. Don’t wait – as soon as you see a few take measures otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed.

If you do go down a chemical route then get the spray Chaindrite. About 80 baht a can in Tesco Lotus. It has a thin nozzle attachment which is really useful for getting into the cracks these ants come from. It is also very effective.

Outside there’s a whole range of ants from the large orange ones you see mostly on mango and longan trees. They bite but don’t infect (with me anyway). The most deadly are the tiny red fire ants, which both bite hard (amazing considering their size) and that can become scratchy and infected. I have a zero tolerance on ants although I tend to leave the mango orange ones alone as Yuan harvest their egg nests (covered previously) to sell at the markets. Once I see a nest on the ground (only the red and black – you can pick them by the soil they bring to the surface so you get a sort of bare earth area) I use the mix you see in the photo and that seems to do the job. Get them early.

Weeds are another constant. Everything grows remarkably quickly here and weeds are no exception. Someone once said that weeds are plants just in the wrong place and there seem to be many wrong places in our garden. Our new 1,000 sq mtr block of land was pure weeds when we bought it, as you can see from an old photo in a recent post and it has been a challenge to bring it under control. We (Gaun) have done that by massed plantings of ground cover, which is really effective, a daily weed hunt, lots of rice husk mulch and a little bit of chemical help. Once again you need to take a zero policy on weeds. Even if you see a small one get it out because in a couple of days it will have taken over the world. Gaun and I do a daily 30 minute sweep through the garden first thing in the morning and we have all of the beds clear.

The weed killer I use very sparingly and mostly on larger areas as a first strike before getting in and doing the hard work clearing and then lots of rice mulch. If you hate gardening all of this is a chore but if you enjoy it then it is just part of achieving the results you see in the photos I publish.

Weed killer on the left. 450 baht for this litre bottle. Not easy to find (in Si Bun Ruang anyway). The normal farm shops don’t seem to stock it. We get ours from the guy who also operates the local radio station! Concentrated so it lasts. Ant killer on the right. 50 baht a box. Mix with water also. Widely stocked.

Weeds? Definitely in the wrong place in the middle of a path but this is ginger sprouting so no weed killer here! I think we will move them. Root based plants such as galangal and ginger will be sprouting as we head into the wet season.

For ant bites use one of the many menthol/peppermint based salves. Effective and cheap. Don’t rub your eyes after 🙂

Massed planting plus a lots of pots. The occasional weed will still poke through but their root system is very weak so they are easy to extract.

The cover at the front is all cuttings. These plants are impossible to kill. Pick off extra growth after a few weeks and stick them in the ground and they are off growing in two days unless it is very hot. Only buy a small initial batch and then you are set for life.

Lemon grass is a super cheap (these are all free cuttings), easy to grow and a great ground cover. Steven James not $2.00 for a couple of stalks as they are in Australia as you well know.

Cleaning Window Runners

If you have heavy duty window and door frames as I do then keeping the base channels clean is another Thailand challenge. A vacuum cleaner is one option but this alternative is cheap, easy, quicker and equally effective.

This is what you don’t read about in the Thailand tourist brochures!

We get periods when thousands of flying ants hatch in the evening and swarm around lights dropping their wings leaving a mess like this. For houses that don’t have insect screens (most Thai houses) where this lot could get inside this is not my idea of how life should be lived. We are well sealed with good quality windows and insect screens but it’s not a good look on the outside.

Buy a small paintbrush and fold a piece of paper like this.

Fit paper into channel and brush the dirt onto it.

Give it a wipedown with a damp cloth and you’re good to go until the next attack. Leaving ants aside I find these channels get dirty regularly just with dust, other insects and general dirt and require a regular clean.

If you have a vacuum cleaner then this attachment from Lazada.com at 97 baht is recommended by a reader (thanks Ken).

Kobwa Brush Cleaner Dust Remover Universal Vacuum Attachment As Seen On TV For Air Vents/Keyboards/ Car/Tools/Crafts/Jewelry/Plants Etc No Warranty

Aircon Filters

The air quality here is woeful I suspect. There seems to be high levels of dust in the air and of course the sugar/crop burning season Dec – Apr each year, which puts us into a smoky haze, doesn’t help.

I have a high quality, double skinned, insulated house with decent windows some of them double glazed, which is mostly kept closed to keep the heat out and yet after a week everything is covered in dust. I was especially concerned about the quality of air in the bedroom, where we run an aircon most nights resulting in a higher quantity of dust than elsewhere, where we mostly don’t use the aircon.

The filters in the aircon, an expensive Mitsubishi Electric Inverter, looked pretty useless and although they picked up some dust plenty was obviously getting through. A friend recommended a filter material, which you cut and place over the manufacturer’s filter, and today was it’s first change. What a difference. In the photos all that dust collected is AFTER the “filtering” by the aircon!

Recommended. I think the cost was about 500 baht for 15 metres and if you have a local Home Pro then that would be your best chance of finding it.

The blue standard filters have trapped practically nothing. The white roll is the unused material and the other the ones out of the aircon after a couple of months!

Yuk. A worthwhile investment in my opinion. Better than breathing that in all night!

Transferring Money to Thailand

This was worth its own post and you will find it HERE. A real life comparison of the end result transferring money from Australia using the Commonwealth Bank and TransferWise.

Dry Salt and Chutney

the photo I have included shows two cooking-related tips. Firstly add toothpicks to your salt shaker to stop the humidity clogging it up. Better than rice as toothpicks are less likely to fall out into whatever you are using the shaker for. I’ve had mine in there for months and never had to change them.

Secondly do try making a jam/chutney from tamarind and sugar, which is what’s in that jar. Gaun’s mama made this batch and when I tried it I asked for a jar-full. It is a sour/sweet combination and I think delicious. As a plus tamarind is supposed to have a lot of health benefits, which might balance up all that sugar  Read about them HERE.

BTW the greenery I have included are Chinese celery (don’t bother looking for the thick stalk farang celery here), basil and eggplant, all picked at the farm this morning.

A Lime Squeezer

If you see one of these in the local markets it’s worth buying.

It’s a lime squeezer and really efficient. Cut the lime in half, put face down in the part with holes and squeeze. This one is made from hardwood and cost 70 baht (?) about $3.00. Gaun has fresh mint growing in the garden so Mojito cocktails are on the menu if you wanted to pop in. Forget expensive imported rum. Use Thai SangSom rum – I think it is better and at $12.00 a bottle that third cocktail won’t strain the retirement budget.

These lime shrubs are three years old and this year is their first big crop. What would this lot be worth in the western world?

Fresh Lime Juice

With limes at practically giveaway prices (my apologies to non-locals) why not put some homemade lime juice in the fridge? So easy to make:

Squeeze enough limes to make 1 cup of juice (6 – 8 medium ones) and set aside. In a saucepan add I cup of sugar (more or less to your taste), the zest of one lime and one cup of water. Bring to the boil slowly. Strain this mixture and the squeezed juice and combine with 2 cups of water. Cool and drink.

If you want a ready made mojito type of drink add some mint and as much SangSom (a great Thai rum) as you enjoy into the bottle. Pour over ice as required (often).

Cost – limes 20 baht i kilo or free from your own trees, sugar 5 baht, SangSom 100 baht (?). 1.250 litres of yumminess for $5.00.

Coconuts and Rum

I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts – not the 1950 Merv Griffin song, which you can find HERE  but a real treeful of them.

A massive crop as with most other things growing in the garden.

They look huge but by the time you get to the core it is quite small in comparison to the original.

Think fresh coconuts, a cheap, yummy Thai rum called SangSom and what might you get? Malibu! A bottle of SangSom costs 270 baht v’s Malibu at 800 baht so it’s worth a try. You can find a DIY Malibu recipe HERE.

I will get a batch brewing and report back although my typing may be slurred 

For Septic Tank Enthusiasts

Everything you didn’t want to know about septic systems in this story. Most will ignore but for those of you planning to build here print this post.

One of the challenges when specifying a house relying on a septic system (and in rural Thailand that’s 100%) is what size should I buy? There’s a lot of discussion in the building forums about the options available and installation but not much in the way of guidance on sizes. I am here to help!

Your standard Thai rural house has a septic made from round concrete rings stacked on top on each other – two or three rings high. Because most use squat toilets not much water is involved, no paper is flushed and so they don’t require pumping out too often. Every day in the moo ban trucks will come around and you can tell they are septic tank cleaners because they beep their horn twice! Every service or sales person passing the front gates has their signature ‘advertising’.

Farang of course tend to have western flushing toilets with paper, or this farang does anyway, and the storage capacity needs to be larger as a result. I know some expats go with the ring arrangement because at a cost of 140 baht a ring it is a cheap option. Each to their own. I went with a proper heavy duty sealed plastic septic system as I wanted my house to be high western quality and the extra cost was no big deal. No problems with a properly sealed concrete version.

Today we had our septic pumped out for the first time, which allows me to give you some idea of capacity. We bought a 1,600 litre system and we moved in at the end of March 2015. So three people plus a few visitors for three and a bit years. That equals septic storage usage of around 180 litres per person per year. You heard it here first 

P.S. The cost for pumping a full septic tank – 500 baht or $20.00. Not bad for three years is it?

These are the concrete rings often used for septic storage here. These are one of our soaker tanks (NOT septic) this one exclusively for the kitchen waste. We have another for bathroom gray water.

Our plastic septic tank buried in place underneath that concrete ring.

The same view today. For those of you who know my wife Gaun through my posts can you tell where the septic is???? All of this growth has happened in three and a bit years.

The same view today. For those of you who know my wife Gaun through my posts can you tell where the septic is???? All of this growth has happened in three and a bit years.

That’s Gaun. The concrete lid access to the tank is under all those plants.

Cleaning Brick Paving

The brick paving we are laying throughout the garden looks terrific and I recommend it for those looking for character rather than boring plain concrete but here’s a warning, it is a pain to keep clean from mold and discolouration. Vlodek Skiba warned me about this when I laid the first 3,000. It’s not just bricks of course. Any concrete in the shade during the rainy season will get stained and sometimes slippery with mold.

You can keep it under control with regular water pressure blasting but unlike smooth concrete, the bricks require each one to be cleaned individually, which literally takes hours if you have the quantity we have. I also take note of what someone wrote in a blog on the subject of water blasting:

‘I do NOT recommend power washing. Using water to get rid of mold is counterproductive. The force of the jet might “clean” it off temporarily, but it will ultimately inject moisture into the pavers, feeding the mold and never solving the problem. Without a thorough understanding of the “craft” of using a power washer, you will inevitably cause small divots in the cement. These divots collect the dust, mold and protect the water causing significant growth.’

There are suggestion for things you can do to remove the black mold from concrete/bricks such as vinegar, bleach, copper sulphate and chlorine butwith such lush vegetation overhanging the pavers I am reluctant to risk doing damage to the plants. I have tried pure vinegar but it seemed to have little effect.

So my experimentation is with some sort of sealer that protects the pavers and prevents moisture getting in and mold developing. I will report back on which one does the best job long term. Here I report on ‘BestBond Protector’ and will shortly be trying a TOA version.

The bottom half has been pressure washed while the rest haven’t.

I cleaned this path a month ago and we’re not even getting much rain so without treatment it is a constant commitment. You might like the mossy look but I have walked on bricks left untreated in a resort outside the city of Nan and they are deadly slippery.

This is the protector I have tried, which helpfully has Thai/English instructions. Cost from Thai Watsadu about 780 baht.

Be warned it does state:

‘it is not suitable for dense surface such as polished concrete, polished masonry, granite and marble because it will occur cloudy and white stain after dry’
I thought that this wouldn’t apply to bricks, which are hardy dense or polished, but some of them did turn white (see next photo), so I am not recommending this product for this purpose. Still some of this sealer is down and I will report on how well it does the job longer term.

Can you see that some of the bricks have been slightly bleached? Not the look I was after!

I can also recommend the Bison pressure washer.

This is only a mid-range one but works away without problems and I have had it for about three years now. I don’t remember what I paid for it but it wasn’t super expensive. Great for cleaning under the pickup after a dirt road run and I also use it to keep the pebblecrete driveway looking good.

Post clean, but not sealed yet. I am going to try the TOA (TOA is a paint brand) version on this area.

The bricks look great and I wouldn’t change them. You can see why I am worried about affecting the plants. Don’t they look beautiful cascading over the edges and softening the look. I will find a solution to the mold in time.

An update to the above plus a new one.

1. My battle to control mold on my brick paved paths continues. I was trialing cleaning product and sealing products sold under the BestBond brand, which is proving useless. I have now switched to a test using Nippon paint products. The cleaner is excellent easily removing mold with a light scrub. The sealer is quick to apply, doesn’t smell, and doesn’t affect the colour of the bricks, unlike BestBond, which bleached some of them.

The real test is still to come in whether this treatment has any effect on reducing the mold returning and I will report on that.

2. I am doing some work on the rice hut (yes I do work sometimes) and when looking for a piece of timber came across this sign of termites in action. Don’t be lazy about treating timber for termites in Thailand because you may regret it later. If you store wood on the ground it will most likely be inflected within days if not hours! As soon as you see this build-up of earth on wood you have problems.

I bought a timber window from Global House so you’d think that would be OK, but it already had termites in residence who made an appearance after it was installed in my house. So, don’t think it is just raw or locally sourced timber that might be a problem.

Berger have a product that’s reasonably cheap, which you paint on before any other treatment and it’s a good investment. I think Chaindrite have a product too.

The cleaner on the left I can recommend already. Very effective. 1 litre (it only seems to be made in this size) 115 baht at HomePro. I haven’t been into Thai Watsadu or Global House to see if they stock it and the price.
The sealer is still an unknown but it gets an A+ for application. 800 baht at HomePro.

It is easy to spot the treated and untreated bricks. The dark line isn’t just shade but mold.

A sign of termites. You can spot a few of them on the surface (they are tiny). Don’t wait to treat at this stage. They will chop through timber like you wouldn’t believe.

Once again easy to apply. This one is clear but I think you can buy a couple of stain colours if you wanted to do the job in one go. I don’t remember the price – 400 baht (?)

I have other tips & Tricks hidden away in the blog and some ideas about more to add, which I will dig out and share.

Thanks for reading

Tony