Books by Matt Owens Rees

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A Thailand Diary is a lighter read than my flagship book on Thai lifestyle and social culture, Thailand Take Two, which is a more detailed work of 10 chapters and with 42,000 words.

The diary is a lighter read. With short entries for every day of the year, it still covers the important aspects of Thai lifestyle and social culture as Thailand Take Two. Some readers have chosen to read both books in parallel.

In reading the Diary, you can take a virtual look inside the everyday lives and experiences of the Thai people. It portrays a rich and sometimes humourous picture of Thai lifestyle and social culture. All the entries are from real life and are true. Only the names have been changed to avoid any embarrassment.

Inside its pages, the reader will meet bargirls and bankers, poor rice farmers and rich élite entrepreneurs, government officers and members of the armed forces.  

Who should read it? The traveller to Thailand, readers who want to learn about the Thais from the comfort of their armchairs, the expat who has made his home here, students studying on cross-cultural courses.

How is it different? It “tells it as it is” and pulls no punches, Thai society is explained through real life examples, the book reveals what really makes the Thai tick.

With 365 entries, there is something for every reader.

Sometimes humourous, sometimes more serious

Thailand Take Two looks at Thais and Thailand in a unique way. It is not a politically correct travel guide written to promote tourism and showing only the rosy side of Thailand.

Real characters are introduced in the book to show how Thailand’s culture is so different from Western concepts. Readers will meet bankers and bar-girls, the young and the old, the rich and the less well off. And get right into their lives. It describes a Thailand that is not always that transparent to the casual observer. It takes the reader away from the regular tourist spots and explores the real Thailand.

Enjoy the usual tourist attractions, but don’t miss the opportunities to socialise with the Thais and understand their real culture at first hand. This book will help you do that.

We start by looking at the strong unbending class system in the country. Through the words of the Thais themselves, you will see how strict hierarchy rules influence their everyday lives. You will get to grips with why their apparent laid-back life style and their constant smiling is such an essential characteristic in everything they do. We come across situations involving the Eastern concept of face and how foreigners can best deal with it. Family feuds, weddings, funerals, community activities, all are seen from a more intimate angle. The reader will feel as if he or she is personally present.

The bar scene and the Thai mafia are seen in a different light when the social and political reasons of corruption and cheating are explained. Readers will be able to compare their own observations with the scenarios and characters appearing in its pages as we discuss how Thais see most foreigners who visit or stay here.

To link with the main themes of the book and to give perspective, a short 6000 word appendix is attached on Thailand’s political journey over the last 775 years.

Escape to Thailand is an account of an Englishman’s dream of emigrating to Thailand and how it turned out. There are twists and turns throughout the 14 chapters. He first “met” Toy, a Thai teacher, on an internet dating site. Three times she asked him to join her. Three time he declined. After a lonely Christmas following his divorce from his English wife, he relented. We take up his story when he is on the aircraft on the runway at Heathrow. It was then that he seemed to have his first doubts about his decision to fly out to meet Toy and her schoolgirl daughter from her first husband.

At first, he seemed happy to have made the choice to visit. But talking to other expats and thinking more closely at what Toy was saying and doing brought some doubts to his mind. One day he was convincing himself that he could make a new life here; the next day he thought he had made a big mistake.

Was he going to fit into an entirely different culture from that he was used to?

Following a bitter divorce and a forced early retirement from his job, Derek struggles with making the final decision to leave England for good and settle for the rest of his life in Thailand. We begin to understand the turmoil going on in his head when he realises what he is leaving behind in the land of his birth. We see from his questioning that he is still unsure whether he is doing the right thing or not.

One moment he is confident and contented; another, full of doubt and fear. He explains how he felt about some of the cultural differences that awaited him and how he coped with them. He compares them with the very different experiences that some of his expat friends encountered. Culture shock is not the same for everyone.

You see him getting to grips with his new life but is he really settled here? Are there going to be some unpleasant surprises in store for him? Who is wearing the trousers? Derek or his wife Toy? Was he seeing only the acceptable parts of Thai life? Certainly, there are travel bloggers on the internet who turn a blind eye to the unacceptable side of Thailand.

Escape to Thailand is biographical and not judgmental or critical of anyone. It looks at how a relationship between a farang and a Thai is not the same as that which would exist between two Thais.

To understand Thailand and to integrate better with the Thai people and their culture, it’s important to observe and listen rather than doing all the talking oneself. After all, God gave us two eyes and two ears but only ONE mouth. Reading Escape to Thailand is a way that the reader can be those two eyes and ears.

Matt has written this true account of the activities of a Welsh Godfather in collaboration with his childhood friend, Johnny Illsley. Neither knew anything of those activities until after Johnny’s parents had died and personal letters of the Godfather, J.O.Williams, were available.

Because the UK and Newfoundland governments were involved in J.O.’s activities in Port Hope Simpson, a new settlement in Newfoundland, and because there were other vested interests, not all the archive material has been released following freedom of information requests.  However, many facts and data have been pieced together from sources who knew J.O.’s family to make this book an interesting read. Expect many twists and turns in the narrative and watch out for some cliff-hangers.

A Welsh Godfather shows how J.O. manipulated politicians in the UK and Newfoundland. He sought friends and influential contacts and avoided making enemies whenever he could. J.O. wanted people on his side. We see how politicians had difficulty in dealing with or controlling him. They claimed the cover-ups were in the public interest. But, was it not also in their interests to construct a cover-up?

J.O. had a sharp business-like and analytical mind and a gift for clear thinking. He did things his way. He did not suffer fools gladly. He outclassed most people with whom he came into contact.

From his personal observations and experiences, Matt Owens Rees sees a mafia as a benevolent dictatorship run essentially as a “family” concern. The violence portrayed in movies has been overplayed. The only deaths in this true story were that of three family members of J.O.’s family in the 1940 fire, and they were probably committed by the loggers who had grievances over working conditions. They took the law into their own hands. That in itself is a typical mafia strategy.

J.O. wanted to create a wealthy and powerful family. There is no evidence that he ever used violence. He was, as far as Matt was aware, not involved in drug smuggling, protection rackets, human trafficking, illegal gambling, boot-legging or the other oft-quoted activities of mafias. It’s not illegal to outwit international governments and make a great deal of money doing so.

Provided that you showed him respect, J.O. would be benevolent towards you and you would be regarded as a member of his extended family. Although he was open to discussion and would listen, his decisions were final. J.O. Williams saw the crookedness and unfairness of much in society. He knew and experienced at first hand the corruption, bias, and self-serving of the political and judicial establishment.

We think of mafia as a corrupt organised crime family not following the law as we know it. In that sense, mafias are examples of a dysfunctional and broken system. The mafia businesses themselves, of course, have a different view. To them, it is the establishment, the government, which is corrupt and dysfunctional.

As portrayed in film, we are told that they are violent crocked criminals with no redeeming features. We need to view them in a different perspective when reading the narrative of the J.O.Williams family.

The Thai academic Ubolwan Mejudhon submitted her dissertation, “The Way of Meekness: Being Christian and Thai in the Thai Way” and was awarded her doctorate in 1997. It remains a model and thorough examination of the problems Christian missionaries faced when trying to spread the teachings of Christianity in Thailand.

Despite its long title – not untypical given university guidelines on thesis submission – it is a well-researched work. The list of references cited is itself ten pages long.

Meekness in Thai Culture is a commentary on her thesis and attempts to put some of the necessarily academic jargon into layman’s language. Her title is a little unfortunate as her work is really about how cultural and lifestyle differences between Thailand and the West affected the Christian missionaries work in Thailand.

What is significant about the thesis is that it reinforces and confirms the importance of understanding that Thailand’s culture is not the same as that of the West. Her purpose was to analyse, highlight those differences, and show that the failure of the early Christian missionaries in Thailand was due to their lack of that cultural awareness. These were lessons that the early missionaries failed to grasp to any degree. Dr Bradley, (1804-1873), one of the most notable of the early preachers, made just one convert.

Although Ubolwan had to write in an academic style, she does include some personal experiences. Her references to Carol Hollinger’s classic, “Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind,” are an excellent introduction to the differences between the Thai and western ways of life making her ideas on the Thai way of meekness livelier and strengthening her main arguments.

The thesis is a thorough examination of the subject. The list of references is itself 10 pages long!

She describes the characteristics as: Ego orientation, Grateful relationship orientation, Smooth interpersonal relationship orientation, Flexible and Adjustment orientation, Religio-psychical orientation, Education and competence orientation, Interdependence orientation, Fun and pleasure orientation, and Achievement-task orientation.

Matt’s “Meekness in Thai Culture” shows in just 24 short pages that her characteristics are the same cultural and lifestyle aspects of the Thai that he describes in his books. Matt gives many real-life examples in  a readable format . Doctoral theses do tend to be harder to understand though covering the same ground.   Ubolwan had to be more academic in order to get her doctorate.

The Death of a Thai Godfather is a fictional story spanning three generations of the Parin family in Bangkok and northern Thailand.

Sometimes there are traces of truth and reality in works of fiction.

Sometimes an author has to develop a plot that is based on true and actual observations by insisting that the characters and events are only the results of his imagination.

Readers may find that there are people and events in The Death of a Thai Godfather that show a close resemblance to their own observations of life in Thailand.

In any case, adopt a willing suspension of disbelief as if you are watching a thriller movie. Even some of the unbelievable scenes in the early James Bond films can now be viewed as quite creditable. A few of the “gadgets” produced by Q for Bond’s escapades have become fully functional today and we don’t blink an eye.

There are two sides to Mafias.

The violence, the murders, the utter ruthlessness, and the absolute contempt for law and order. And yes, there are examples in some of the true accounts in The Death of a Thai Godfather.

But there is a second side, showing family loyalty and respect to those who are involved in the various businesses of the Parin empire and who become friends of the Godfather.

I acknowledge, without giving names, all those who have assisted in providing actual material when I began writing this novel. Much is also from my own observations. I am sure that many of you have made similar observations, in whatever country you live.

Some Excerpts from My Books

A Thailand Diary.

Countdown celebrations are taking place all over Thailand tonight. Crowds have gathered at the Centre World mall in Bangkok to begin the festivities. Lots of music and booze while the large clock counts down the minutes and seconds to midnight. Everyone is in happy mood.

Earlier in the evening shoppers hunted for bargains in the stores. Sales and special discounted offers take place before the New Year in Thailand. Westerners abroad have to wait in line for the shops to open on the first day of January. Banks and stores will give out calendars or free gifts to loyal customers.

My local hardware shop gives me a T-shirt every New Year’s Eve. It has the shop’s telephone number on the back but it’s great for wearing in the garden when weeding or planting.

Gaw (Kaw) Pan gang traditionally hosts a full moon party on New Year’s Eve. We had a glimpse of the young enjoying themselves on this island on the southern tip of Thailand on 17 November. Tonight it draws the largest crowds of the year. As you can see, the only Thais are those working in the bars and restaurants.


The English language is rich in vocabulary. Thai has fewer words. You understand the precise meaning from the context. Sawatdee kap, for example, can mean hello or goodbye. When you meet someone it means hello; when you leave, it means goodbye.

I wanted an electrical plug at the warehouse and was shown a socket. I did not know the Thai for “plug” and for the life of me I could not explain what I wanted. Pushing three fingers into an imaginary hole to mimic a plug going into a socket was obviously amusing to the salesgirl but it didn’t get me very far. In another aisle, I saw what I wanted and called her over. Seemed odd that plugs and sockets were not displayed in the same place.

“This is what I want. I’ll take two. What are they called in Thai?”

“Plug.” We call them both “plug.”

There may be a specific word for socket but it is never used. Most Thais say plug.

I also needed some half-inch flexible hose to join some rigid tubes. I knew I was going to have trouble describing that to a sales assistant. Gesturing with my hands again, I eventually got what I had visited the shop for.

“What are they called in Thai?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a special word for it.”

She came back with my change and said the owner had told her the word was tek.

An interesting afternoon. It reminded me a little of the Ronnie Barker Four Candles sketch where there was amusing confusion in the shop with the words four candles being mistaken for fork handles.


Surachai is fed up with the lack of action from the local authority in repairing the many potholes in the sois around his home. The roads are well used so the inconvenience is not just a personal one. Traffic gets slowed down and care must constantly be taken when motorcyclists swerve out at the last minute to avoid a big hole in the road. Rightly or wrongly, the rider would not be blamed. The motorist would pick up the tab for any damage or injury. In this country the person assumed to have more money than the poor motorcyclist pays.

Directly and formally complaining wasn’t going to work; face must be maintained. After a night of heavy rainfall, Surachai sat on a chair next to one of the larger puddles and held his fishing rod over it. He was only there for one hour during which time he caused a lot of laughter and merriment from those passing along the soi.

Later that day a team of workers started filling in the potholes


Local and central government officers have uniforms, the formal dress uniform is of white and is worn with decorations appropriate to rank on special occasions and at public events. A village headman (pooyaibaan), who everyone would know and recognise, would only wear his white outfit at important events. These dress uniforms with their epaulettes and rows of decoration ribbons look most impressive.

They are worn of course to show rank, status and to impress. The pooyaibaan of this village promised to get me a white uniform, though added I had to be in Thailand for a further 100 years to qualify. Thai humour.


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