Around The Traps In S.E. Asia Part 6
A question I’m often asked, particularly by unattached Thai women, is why I’m single. “Why you like live alone?” is the standard line that’s thrown at me which, when one considers the type that seem to think it’s their right to do so, has an undercurrent of guilt trip psychology about it. I’d like to give to them between the eyes, the truth that is, but Thais are often not good with dealing with the truth. Particularly if it has them reeling in embarrassment. Face lost, and you’ve made another enemy for life. My standard reply is always, “Well I work overseas a lot, not good for relationship.” I think that sounds far better than telling them the farang only gets the Thai women that Thai men don’t want, essentially the leftovers, and I’m not interested in that. There are exceptions of course but that normally occurs when the farang can speak Thai fluently and is able to impress a better standard of Thai woman. For most farang of the older genre, such as myself, there are essentially two groups available to us. The first group are generally the ones the majority of farang end up with – Thai ladies from a lower socio-economic level, who are under thirty years of age, and who want a baby. The second group are also from lower socio-economic level, are over thirty, and who have children already from a past relationship with a Thai man. In both cases the question for the farang is simply whether he wants to support children in Thailand.
A few days before sitting down to pen this submission I deleted all my dating site apps. Thai-friendly, gone. Tagged, gone. Thai-cupid, gone. It’s my overwhelming conclusion the majority of ladies on all of these websites are there simply to find some sucker to give them a financial uplift in life. The remainder are hookers looking for some short time action but they can also move into the long game if the right sucker comes along. Their game is fluid. If you travel here from overseas to meet a twenty-year-old village yokel in Nakhon Nowhere, what do you think is actually going on? You’re going to engage in some meaningful conversation over a fusion food lunch before heading back to the hotel for some afternoon delight? Some people doing as much are either hopelessly optimistic, or unbelievably naïve. The penny normally drops when the whole family is sitting at an MK Restaurant waiting to be wined and dined, at your expense, on your second lunch date. It is entertaining though and provides many of us hardened old-timers a good belly laugh at the sheer innocence in the face of guile. Get a few more visits under your belt and you’ll wise up. As an experienced old hand recently commented “once the sugar cane goes into the elephant’s mouth, it’s not coming out.” My cynicism has reached the point where I’m now designing a T-shirt with the Thai language equivalent of “I am not a walking ATM” printed on the front and back.
As much as the dilettantes and occasional visitors to the LOS like to think they’ve got a handle on the game here, take it from someone who’s done a solid twenty-four years in country: you don’t. The fact you might have some fancy educational diploma hanging on the wall and you consider yourself an expert in the social interactions of divergent cultures counts for squat if you don’t live in the country or your experience is solely based on a few short holidays. It would be like me trying to promote the idea I’m an expert on the social interactions of the Eskimo because I’ve seen a few documentaries on the Discovery Channel. Furthermore, I stand by what I say in that if you can’t have a meaningful conversation with someone then the interest is going to wane fairly quickly. My take on why the majority of farang and Thai relationships fail is simply down to one thing; boredom. When you run out of things to talk about, or you can’t explain your own interpretation of a situation, or the other person can’t or won’t consider your side of the debate then indifference aint far away. That’s why I maintain that if you can speak fluent Thai you’ve at least got a semblance of a chance to break through that barrier of cultural indifference and get her to see your point of view. Without that what do you do, grunt and rant on in Tinglish while she maintains her petulant sulk/silence treatment because she’s lost face?
After recent visits to Pattaya and Chiang Mai it’s my considered opinion that mainstream tourism in Thailand is about as crass and artificial as one may find in any shitty, mainstream tourist location in the world. Regardless of where you go in the country the formula is always the same; massage shops, beer bars, tattoo shops, 7 Elevens, hawker’s carts, trinket sellers, artists shops, motorbike taxis, and Thai restaurants all lumped into a bunch of narrow, grubby little streets. What you see in Pattaya could be picked up en-masse, and dropped into Patong Beach, Chiang Mai, and Khao Sarn Road, and it would be exactly the same, apart from the beaches. The narrowness of the laneways and sois is harnessed to maximum effect and as you run the gauntlet, the same squawking little voices emanate from the shop fronts. “Massage, massage,” and “Hello, welcome,” can be heard at the same tone and level of ingenuiness in Pattaya, Patong, Sukhumvit, and Chiang Mai. It’s all the bloody same, utterly meaningless and trite. I’ve often wondered why they don’t just have a continuous, pre-recorded message to save them the effort. That way they could just keep their faces stuck in their phones.
After another uneventful sojourn to Bangkok my estimation the place is now at peak phone zombie infestation, is hard to argue with. I’ve never seen so many people wandering around aimlessly with their faces glued to their phones. At the skytrain terminals, on the trains, on the stairs, in the middle of the footpaths, on the escalators at shopping malls, what is it about Thais and their phones?
I’ve often thought that customer service in Thailand, as compared with other parts of Asia, is bloody crap. A recent visit to Power Buy in Phuket Central Festival has confirmed as much and my estimation of the level of attentiveness shown by Thai shop assistants has reached new lows. After walking into a relatively uncrowded shop all I could see were shop assistants tucked away in corners, heads down, and madly tapping away on their iPhones. None of them seemed remotely interested in attending to my needs or enquiries. I guess business is so good that seeing people walk out of the shop, after being left to stand around and being ignored for ten minutes, isn’t an issue. I just put it down to “the Thai approach to business 101.” It’s hard not to be cynical but I reckon if I suddenly started throwing money around the shop floor, they’d be knocking each other out-of-the-way to get to me.
Something I’ve been ever mindful of over the years of residing in the LOS is the fact the law here, more often than not, is meted out arbitrarily. The extent to which it might apply to any individual under scrutiny, is often at the whim of the authority tasked with determining culpability. The laws of the land may be written down in black and white but are dispensed so subjectively, the point to which an outsider can only be left with the uneasy feeling there actually is no real law in Thailand. Not in the sense of the western ideology at least, or even in comparison to other nearby developed South-East Asian nations such as Singapore. That’s why I’ve always maintained one of the primary reasons for learning to speak Thai to a reasonable standard, is simply to be able to defend oneself. The sad fact is that in any situation where a foreigner has an issue with a local, even if there’s clear evidence to show the local might be in the wrong, the foreigner gets the blame and has to pony up. Inability to communicate effectively is a major determinant in this regard but a lack of nous in underestimating the guile of many Thais of a lower socio-economic background (the trailer trash) is also a big factor. A shit-kicker with nothing to lose can, and will, lie through his or her teeth to twist a situation to their economic advantage, particularly if they can see you can’t understand what is being said by them to the police. Add in the fact that most Thais will never admit to being in the wrong (the face loss factor) and you are seriously behind the eight ball when placed in a situation of confrontation, and dealing with the local authorities.
A few years ago in Phuket a friend, through no fault of his own, ran into an older Thai male on his Honda motorbike and broke the guy’s leg. The Thai ran out between two parked cars and even though my friend wasn’t travelling very fast, was unable to avoid him. He stopped to attend to the guy, as any normal responsible person would, and the vultures immediately began circling and demanding 200k THB for the old boy’s injury. Luckily my friend had some connections, his wife’s father was a major in the Thai police in Koh Samui. After many hours spent negotiating at the Chalong Police Station, through the assistance of his father-in-law and some bottles of black label, the compensation for the broken leg was agreed at 50k THB. The fact that it wasn’t my friend’s fault had no input on the final outcome. He was simply told by the police, “You are farang, you have money, the Thai man is poor, you must pay.”
Sadly, as is often the case in Thailand, the major determinant in avoiding culpability here is whether or not you can pay up. The law here will normally only apply if you can’t afford to buy your way out of a situation. Those with power, wealth, and influence – think Red Bull heir, enraged hi-so Mercedes driver, and mafia cliques on Koh Tao – can, and often do, get away with murder. That’s why I am always at great lengths to remind people to keep your wits about you at all times in the LOS and watch your Ps & Qs, especially if you’ve had a few drinks and are in a dodgy part of town. The wrong words said in anger to the wrong local will get you beaten to a pulp or worse, a bullet through the head from an off-duty cop. Another thing which I find rather unsettling about crime in the LOS is the number of times murder by locals also includes dismemberment and how the perpetrators, when caught, seem to have a general lack of remorse for their hideous actions. As if chopping someone to bits after killing them, is par for the course. The recent case of the “murder babes” is prime example of this. Where smiling, joking with the police, and applying one’s make-up prior to fronting the cameras is a perfectly normal thing to do in this country. The idea that one might be guilty of a heinous crime is hardly worth consideration when one must be looking beautiful for the press contingent. What a sad indictment of a shallow, pulp fiction society when such criminals begin to attain a cult status. “Oh, the leader of the group has a groovy striped handbag, I want one the same.”
The idea that migrant Burmese workers are murdering foreigners or that young, healthy backpackers are taking their own lives on Koh Tao, has reached peak nonsense level now. The place is quickly earning a reputation where young travellers are legitimately at risk of losing their lives if they happen to be alone, on a secluded part of the island. What is also becoming apparent is that the local constabulary conspire to cover things up and are protecting certain powerful individuals there. Or if they aren’t, they are hopelessly incompetent. Koh Tao is rapidly going down the gurgler as a safe place to visit, it has a growing reputation of a place infested with a drug culture, and has recently earned the nickname of “death island”. The truth of it is the place is shithole, infested by criminal elements and should be boycotted by all travellers. In that regard Koh Phangan is a far better option.
I’ve been away on an overseas work assignment for a while and in doing so have not been able to access the weekly column, due to lousy internet connections. The first few days back in town finds me doing a catch up on the weeklys and have noted the change in format; readers are now able to leave comments at the bottom of the page. A recent column had many commenters venting their spleen over what they consider the “low-life farang elements” who find their way to the LOS and how they’d like to see them all thrown out. What a bunch of sanctimonious, judgemental, miserable assholes. By what, and on whose authority do you claim a right to pass judgement on others who, for the most part, are doing no one any harm? Yeah, we’re a bunch of older guys and we come here to avail ourselves to the younger, available sex workers of this country. But so, what? Have the Thai authorities issued an edict to say we can’t do it or that it’s bad for the Thai economy? What business is it of the anally retentive killjoys if older, single, lonely guys want a bit of female company, even if it is paid for? And yeah, we’re not 30-year old studs anymore who can pick up the glamours back in the western nightclubs, that’s why we’re over here you fxxking schmucks. There’s even one pompous ass claiming, “They don’t want the type of foreigners who come here trawling the streets for pussy.” Seriously? The mythical “They.” Who or what are “they?” Is it some legitimate law enforcement agency in Thailand? Please provide links and substantiated evidence of what “they” have stated. The reality is there is no “they.” It’s just the opinion of some asshole who thinks his opinions count for more than the rest of us. Well as a wise man once said, “opinions are like assholes, we’ve all got one.” Bottom line is if you can’t back up your argument with solid facts or links to legitimate statements from Thai authorities, it’s better to keep ones mouth firmly shut.
And as for the idea that there’s so much more that’s beautiful to see in this fair land. Is there really? Perhaps if you could get away from your plush, high-rise apartments in Sathorn and out into the provinces you might get a reality slap. There are upwards of 30 million tourists visiting Thailand annually now. If you go to any of the outlying areas – Samui, Phuket, Koh Chang, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and even parts of Mae Hong Son – you’ll find crowds in abundance. Everywhere in Thailand, except for the most remote areas is full to the rafters. The word has been out for a long time about Thailand, it’s no longer “off the beaten track” and is rapidly becoming an expensive, mainstream, conveyor belt tourist destination devoid of any real sense of adventure. But for those who want to get away from the maddening crowds of Chinese bus tours, and get to the more remote areas, check out my new, Thailand exclusive website. There’s in-depth info on how to get to the destinations reported on.
One of my favourite “off the beaten track” destinations in the region is Phong Nha National Park in Northern Vietnam. The area boasts huge tracts of thick jungle and some of the biggest, most spectacular cave systems in the world. Being in the north of Vietnam it can be decidedly cold in the months of December to February and in June to August (the summer) it is scorching hot (daily temps often over 40 deg C). The small town of Phong Nha has some good, cheap accommodation and many good Viet restaurants along the strip. Hire a motorbike for around USD 10 per day and do the ‘loop trip” through the national park (which also includes the spectacular Paradise cave). For a more detailed report check my website.
The question was recently posed if “1,500 THB is an insult?” My take on it is that if it’s a barfine then yes, it is an insult. Those who might be surprised to know that a bar-fine of such magnitude exists, should take a trip to Patong Beach. Currently the bar-fine system in place for go-go bars along Soi Bangla are 2000 THB before midnight and 1000 THB after midnight (note, that doesn’t include the prostitute’s fee). Just another example of “Thai economics 101” at play again and the girls are having a hard time understanding why so few punters go into the bars before midnight and if they do, it’s to drink only. If it it’s a fee for a hooker then it may depend on the circumstances and just exactly who the hooker is. As far as I’m aware there are still 1000 THB short time skanks hanging around the Nana Hotel carpark. A 1,500 THB fee would be bonus for them. If a guy was offering 1,500 THB to one of the show girls from a popular go-go bar then it’s probably understandable they’d turn their nose up at it. Most of those girls have sponsors and their short time rates are pegged at 3000 THB. Not that it means you’re going to get anything worthwhile for your money. My experience is that the hotter they are, the worse they are at providing a decent level of service. Hot go-go dancer generally equates to a bitchy little attitude and starfish qualities in bed. Even more so if they are under thirty years of age. Take it as a given, Thai hookers under thirty are clueless when it comes to providing value for money and it wouldn’t matter if you offered them 10,000 THB, the service would still be crap. The hotter ones, in their twenties, are always in a hurry to get things over and done with and move on to the next customer, so there’s no value in any amount of money you might offer them. In that regard, you’re better off trying to offer as little as possible because that’s about the level of service you’ll get in return. If you want a decent level of service, with less attitude, go for the ones that are over thirty-five.
After experiencing the fleshpots of Singapore, Saigon, and Angeles City I’ve began to consider that Thai women shouldn’t enter a career as a prostitute. Due to their inherent laziness, and inability to accept that they’re a hooker, most of them are lousy at their jobs. The primary focus for most of them these days is all about doing as little as possible, and drinking as much as possible. With lady drinks along Soi Cowboy currently going for 220 THB a pop, there’s good money in just sitting in the bar all night and getting the punters to buy as many drinks as possible. I stopped going to girlie bars quite a while ago as the expense of the drinks hustle is just way over the top. And it’s not much different down in Patong these days, with lady drink prices equal to or slightly more than what one would find along Soi Cowboy or at Nana Plaza.
Having recently entered my seventh decade on this planet I’ve found the urge to ejaculate, compared to even just five years ago, has begun to diminish somewhat. Coupled with my dislike of overdoing things with the alcohol, I rarely visit a bar these days. And if I do, it’s normally a sports bar rather than a girlie bar. To be honest, I haven’t set foot in a go-go bar for almost twelve months now. I just don’t see any kind of value in them anymore. If I feel the urge I’ve found a visit to a soapy massage venue to be much better value. When I do the occasional weekend visit to the big smoke (Bangkok) I normally arrange to meet with one of number of hookers I’ve known for a few years (who provide a reasonable service) and pay them for a couple of days companionship. My provided rate for twenty-four hours is 4000 THB which also includes any bar fine they might have to pay. I normally meet them at a pre-arranged spot, such as a coffee shop in a shopping mall, and then go for a low-cost meal at a Fuji or an MK restaurant before heading back to the hotel. Any suggestions of going “shopping” by the lady (as hookers are prone to doing) are rejected by a firm but polite, “I don’t do shopping.” As an added bonus, the ladies also cook breakfast for me in the morning. One of them has become quite adept at knocking up scrambled eggs and bacon, and has even developed a taste for Vegemite.
For anyone looking for great value accommodation in Bangkok, the Somerset Lake Point – on Sukhumvit Soi 16 is highly recommended. Their 52 square meter, tower B studio apartments run at 2500 THB per night (approx.) and also include a fully equipped kitchen and washing machine. When it comes to the quality of hotel breakfasts throughout the South East Asian region I‘ve found, unless you stay at a place like the Holiday Inn, most are of a distinctly Asian flavour. Which is not surprising due to the fact Asian travellers tend to outnumber westerners by a significant margin. It seems many hotels in the region just can’t do a western breakfast very well. The Somerset Lake Point is ideal as there’s a Family Mart on the premises which has plenty of eggs, bacon, sausages, butter, and bread in stock. A 500 THB purchase will keep the fridge stocked for three days.
A recent stroll through the Exchange Tower in Bangkok revealed the curtain had finally come down on the True Fitness empire. The fact it closed quite suddenly, and in doing so left a lot of members out of pocket, was hardly surprising. I learned a few years ago that the foreigner who ran True Fitness was good mates with the scam artist who owned the California Fitness chain in Bangkok. No doubt the same fly-by-night business model applied when it was time to cash up and move on i.e., taking memberships right up till the day before the doors closed. These kinds of rip-offs make one realise that there are some dodgy S.O.B.’s out there involved in business in Thailand, even at a level one might consider beyond reproach. Thailand, a magnet for fly-by-nighters, schemers, time share operators, and boiler room scammers. Bottom line is unless it’s a condo with a highly regarded developer, don’t invest any serious money in Thailand.
A simple formula for finding a Thai girlfriend is to get one who takes an interest in who you are and what you do, and who seems happy in your company. Someone you can have a laugh with and has no issues sitting in a bar with you, sharing a beer and watching your favourite sport for a couple of hours. Sadly, I see so many farang around Thailand, especially in Bangkok, with ladies who aren’t in the least bit interested in them. Case in point a few days ago at the Kiwi pub on Soi 8. A mid-40s farang walks in with his grumpy Thai girlfriend. The place was packed and they were looking for a good spot to perch, except there wasn’t any apart from two seats at the bar. The farang points at the bar indicating they should take the two only available seats to which he gets a scowl, and a few nasty words, before the bitch stomps back outside. Obviously, the idea of sitting at the bar is beneath her station in life. The farang meekly follows but less than two minutes later they’re back alongside the bar, and eying up the two high stools. The farang gives a shrug and sits down first and the bitch, begrudgingly, sits down next to him a few seconds later. As if to show her disapproval and contempt, she spends the next hour with her face planted firmly in her phone and completely ignores the guy. I can’t for the life of me understand why any intelligent farang would put up with this kind of petulant, childish nonsense for more than a few minutes. Women of this type are complete and total cxnts, and should be kicked into touch without hesitation. The bottom line is they are borderline psychotics and it doesn’t matter how much you pamper them or how nicely you talk to them, they’ll always be the same; fxxked in the head. There’s nothing a guy can do with them because they are never satisfied and never know what it is they really want out of life; apart from never-ending supplies of money. I know because my ex was one and seven years later she’s still the same, a complete and total cxnt. Another thing to consider is if some Thai women spends an hour continuously chatting on the phone you can be damn sure she’s keeping in touch with a few of her other suitors. If she’s got a Facebook account and refuses to post pictures of her with you, you can also be damn sure she’s got other suitors and sponsors tucked away in the background and doesn’t want to derail the gravy train.
Having lived and worked in the South-East Asian region for a good number of years it’s interesting to see the effect the global downturn in the oil and gas industry is having on some of the oil town fleshpots. Where there was once plenty of action in places such as Singapore (Orchard Towers), Vung Tau, Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, Bataam, and Shekou, just two to three years ago, these days things are a lot more subdued. With many companies having shut up shop and moved back to the U.S., or down manning and relocating their headquarters to more economically viable locations (a lot of companies with regional offices in Singapore have moved to Kuala Lumpur) there’s a lot less cashed up oil workers trawling the strips at night. Recent trips to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Vung Tau have confirmed this. Where bars such as the Red Parrot (Vung Tau) and the Ipanema (the towers) used to rock with wall to wall punters and freelancers, there’s a lot more elbow space these days. So much so, the bars in Vung Tau are empty most of the time. A work colleague reckons it all goes in cycles and each place seems to have its good years and then things taper off. He reckons Singapore was the place to be 15 years ago, then the action moved to Bangkok, and things are now tapering off there as well. The influence of the petro-dollar was probably less significant in the big mango but, even so, a number of big companies did have regional offices there which have down manned or closed. When the effect of this, combined with the changing tourist demographic in Thailand (the Chinese hordes) and the negative influence of higher prices in the bars, is taken into consideration it’s not hard to understand why the bar scene in Thailand is doing it tough. The old model as we know it will always be there, albeit with less attractive ladies, but I think the heyday of the girlie bars in Thailand is a shot duck. My prediction is the hotter looking girls on the game will continue to drift towards the on-line dating sites or escort agencies. The attractive ones who one may occasionally see in the go-go bars are probably new and are just biding their time until their English language skills are good enough to enable them to jump onto the dating sites. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if, within another few years, the pay for play scene in Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy goes down the gurgler completely due to overpricing and the talent on offer being generally of a poorer quality i.e., older, uglier, and substance abusers. It may well be that go-go bars in the future are staffed entirely by agency dancers (coyotes) and most visitors are there just for a look. <Bingo, that’s exactly what I have been saying for a while – Stick>
With this in mind the question on every monger’s lips might be “Where the next pay for play hot spot might be?” My guess is it will probably be the Philippines (not that it isn’t a hot spot already in places such as Angeles City). The advantages, when compared with other countries in the region (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore), is the lower pricing, English language ability of the local population, a fairly progressive mindset when it comes to business and service, and, last but not least (from a personal point of view) the current absence of the dreaded Chinese tour hordes. This part of the equation can and will change of course, as the standard of living begins to rise in the Philippines, but at the moment its current comparative advantage is underpinned by the general widespread poverty throughout the country. When the number of modern shopping malls throughout the country begins to increase substantially, expect a rapid increase in the arrival numbers of the Chinese tour hordes. My take on this obnoxious rabble of humanity is that they’re only happy to go to places which are easy to get to (travel which doesn’t involve long, uncomfortable bus rides) and where there are modern shopping malls, with supermarkets, at their disposal.
According to a recent economic report on the BBC, the Philippines has the second highest growth rate in the Asian region (China is still number one) and the expected increase in the GDP for the coming financial year is 6.4%. Whether or not this equates to a discernible rise in the economic growth of the country is still to be determined but the report did emphasise the main focus of future government spending will be on infrastructure development. With that one may see an improvement in road and transportation systems, airport upgrades, and more emphasis on the improvement of tourist destinations. And if that was the case, one might expect to see a mass exodus of expats out of Thailand to the peens. The current perspective on the comparison between both countries is that even though the Philippines is a cheaper place to live and the population has superior English language skills, Thailand still wins out due to better infrastructure and a better standard of living. If that was to change significantly over the next few years, and the standard of living in the Philippines began to approach that of Thailand, I’d be gone from the LOS in a heartbeat. The truth is that while the Philippines may be perceived as a potentially unstable country with the ongoing issues of terrorism in Mindanao and a state of Martial Law, the underlying social issues in Thailand have the potential for far greater problems. Not only that, I really believe that as a viable tourist destination Thailand is a shot duck in all but the remotest places. Thirty million tourist arrivals a year make it so and the proof in the pudding is that the airports at the major centres such as Bangkok and Phuket can’t cope with the influx; 50% of Thai Airways and the majority of budget airlines flights don’t arrive at, or depart from, a gate these days. Flights are always delayed, or at least 40 minutes late, as passengers are bussed to and fro from their planes out on the tarmac.
If I could pin the comparison between both down to one single, significant thing then I would say this. The Philippines gives the overall impression of a largely undeveloped country which is young at heart, vibrant, and forward-looking. Thailand on the other hand gives the impression of a tired, irritated nation, backward-looking, fixated on the past, and governed by an archaic ruling class who haven’t a clue how to move the country forward into the future. The only guy who actually had an idea of what it might take to move Thailand forward was outed 11 years ago for being a threat to the ruling clique.
With that in mind I’ll be heading to the peens at the end of the year for an extended look around. Until then it’s a continuum of sunrises and sunsets while I’m offshore.
The author can be contacted at : [email protected]