“Last night another soldier, last night another child
No one seems to worry, no one sees his mother cry”

When I was a child I used to hammer nails into pieces of wood and tell people I was making a rifle, a nuclear bomb, whatever. What I should have told them was that I was making a bomb detector. If I had, I’d have been a very rich man by now.

The GT200 bomb detector was described by Professor Hood of Bristol University as being “a piece of plastic with a car aerial sticking out of it”. It’s been known since 2002 that the devices are useless, when they were marketed under the name “MOLE”; a double blind trial at the Sandia National Laboratories showed they were totally incapable of detecting explosives. Yet Thailand has spent more than $20 million on these devices.

Soldiers in the South have long complained that the devices didn’t work and have repeatedly failed to detect bombs, leading to widespread injury and loss of life.

The device has also caused misery for hundreds who have been imprisoned for being “insurgents” based upon the device’s readings (source: Working Group on Justice for Peace).

Following a warning from the UK government earlier this year some tests were carried out on the device in Thailand. It was absolutely conclusive that the GT200 is a con, an evil fraud.

Prime Minister Abhisit banned the purchase of further devices.

Cartoon from The Nation
[Cartoon from The Nation newspaper]

Yet, on 18 February, the Thai Army’s Chief, General Anupong Paojinda, in defiance of all evidence and logic, said that the devices were effective and that they would continue to be used.

The same day there was an explosion in Pattani from a bomb that the GT200 failed to detect. 13 people were injured.

And today two more soldiers were injured in an explosion from another bomb the GT200 didn’t detect.

“Can you hear the mocking laughter from the ones that gain by it
They’re not in line for the bullets, they’re the ones who started it “


Thailand and Cambodia share the same religion and similar cultures, yet there has long been a tension between the two countries. So where does this animosity spring from?

Cambodians have long memories. They recall that Cambodia was once a mighty empire, sprawling from what is now north eastern Thailand through to southern Vietnam. Some of Thailand’s most striking temples, such as Prasat Hin Phimai, Meuang Singh, and Phanom Rung and Prasat Meuang Tam were built when the area was ruled by Cambodia. Khao Phra Wihaan sits on the modern Thai/Cambodian border and though granted to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice, many Thais are deeply resentful of this, and consider it rightly theirs. Troops are encamped on both sides of the border, and occasionally take pot-shots at each other. Sovereignty over some land in the area is still disputed.

Towards the end of the 18th century Siam (as Thailand was then called) under King Rama I, invaded Cambodia and seized Battambang and Siem Reap (home of Angkor Wat and historical capital of the Khmer empire). At about the same time the Vietnamese took the Mekong delta in what is now southern Vietnam. The French decided to “protect” Cambodia, preventing further loss of territory, and in the early 19th century the French were able to negotiate the return of Battambang and Siem Reap to Cambodia.

When World War II broke out, Thailand sided with Japan and invaded Cambodia (again), seizing both Battambang and Siem Reap (again), though not the area around Angkor Wat, which remained under the French.

At the end of the war Thailand was required to return the land it had seized to Cambodia. As soon as Cambodia gained independence from the French in 1953, Thailand reoccupied the land around Khao Phra Wihaan (which is almost inaccessible from the Cambodian side, anyway).

At the same time Thailand’s Prime Minister/Dictator, Marshal Sarit Thanarat, did much to destabilise the regime of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The American CIA was also involved in the plot since it feared that Cambodia would fall under Chinese communist influence. In response, in 1961 Cambodia severed diplomatic relations with Thailand.

In 1962 Cambodia appealed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, who ruled that Khao Phra Wihaan belonged to Cambodia, not Thailand. The Thai army was keen to go to war to maintain sovereignty over the land, but His Majesty The King intervened and told them to respect the court’s decision.

The Thai army never forgot the humiliation, and covertly supported various opposition groups in Cambodia until Prince Sihanouk’s regime was ousted in 1970.

In 1975 the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. Thai communists set up bases in Cambodia and launched raids jointly with the Khmer Rouge into Thailand. The Chinese government eventually intervened to put a halt to these raids.

In 1979 Vietnam invaded Cambodia to put a halt to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. (Some say 2 million Cambodians died under Pol Pot’s regime, others 3 million – we’ll never know.) The leadership of the Khmer Rouge fled to Thailand en masse. Hun Sen was installed by Vietnam as the Prime Minister. He faced a difficult task, opposed by the remnants of the Khmer Rouge, supporters of the Royal family and others. A long civil war ensued, with plenty of aid coming from Thailand for the oppositions. Eventually the United Nations intervened and a general election was held. It was won by the royalists, but an uneasy coalition was formed with Hun Sen’s party. Hun Sen subsequently seized full power in a coup in 1997.

In 2003 there were anti-Thai riots in Cambodia, sparked by a Thai actress’ alleged assertion that Khao Phra Wihaan should belong to Thailand. This was widely reported in the Cambodian press. The Thai embassy was set on fire, and Thai business premises were attacked and destroyed (including those of Thaksin’s Shincorp). (It’s speculated that this is when Thaksin and Hun Sen first met and became friendly.)

Last year Hun Sen provocatively appointed the fugitive criminal Thaksin as “economic advisor” – a move clearly calculated to offend the Thai government and people.

More recently, Hun Sen launched a foul-mouthed tirade against the current Thai Prime Minister on a website.

And now, a massive build up of Cambodian troops along the border.

So there you have it: animosity rooted in centuries of distrust.


“Where do I begin
To tell the story of how great a love can be?”


Yes, it’s another memorable Thai TV advertisement.


I decided towards the end of last year that I wanted to move. The house I’m living in is getting increasingly run down, and the new neighbours are truly neighbours from hell. I also decided that I wanted to move to Bangkok – closer to supermarkets that stock Western foods and with cinemas that show films in English. However, I don’t like living in large cities, so I needed to find a house in a moobaan on the fringes of the city. Thanks to the wonders of the Interweb I was fairly readily able to come up with a shortlist. Next was to spend a day visiting the likely suspects.

The first moobaan I visited was in a strange location. To explain: many main roads in Thailand have smaller roads running parallel to them on both sides (known as “frontage roads) for local traffic. Often these roads are one-way. This moobaan was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields and small villages, off such a one-way frontage road. To get onto the frontage road I had a nightmarish drive through a series of complex junctions in very heavy traffic.

At the sales office I was greeted with a cold drink and there was some discussion about the type of house I wanted. Then it was onto an electric cart to view a few houses in various stages of development. None of them was quite what I wanted. (I was particularly keen to have a bedroom to use as a study since I spend way too much time in front of the computer.) The sales agent then suggested a house type that wasn’t on the website. And it was cheaper than the two house types I’d short-listed. It had a downstairs study – perfect.

The moobaan was quite attractive. The gardens of the completed properties were very pretty. The roads curved and the properties were varied so the place didn’t look too regimented.

The next moobaan I visited wasn’t right for me. None of the properties was quite large enough, though on the plus side it had a communal gym and a clubhouse.

The visit to the third moobaan started with a shock: there was a kerfuffle amongst the security guards at the gatehouse: there was an enormous (and I’m told poisonous) snake which soon slithered off into the gutter.

I must say, I loved the setting. I could have had a house overlooking a large pond (and I love living close to water). However, the study was pretty small, and the developer very inflexible. (This particular developer is Thailand’s largest, so can do as it likes.)

All the houses I looked at had features in common, such as lots of windows (I’m going to spend a small fortune on window treatments) and tiny, inconvenient kitchens. Rather than usual cabinets, the work surfaces are Thai-style, made of concrete, tiled. And there’s nowhere for an oven.

To be more precise, each property had two kitchens (both tiny): an outer kitchen for preparing food, then an inner one (with good ventilation) for the actual cooking. (The toxic fumes released by frying garlic and chillies together is quite overwhelming.)

Something for me slightly strange was that you were expected to keep your washing machine outside. What’s to stop the neighbours climbing over the fence and using your washing machine whilst you sleep?

Anyway, a week later I was back at the first moobaan paying a reservation fee for a house that will be completed at the end of May. (Thai builders, unlike British ones, do actually complete on time, so I’m told.)

When finished the house will look something like this (minus the large garden):

House in Bangkok