It was around this time last year when the Bangkok Post ran an unbelievably naive and poorly researched article on Lars, the Swede behind the infamous Thai Visa. Lars was reported as being some sort of magician who made the whole bureaucratic process of obtaining a visa or work permit incredibly easy. For a small amount of baht, he would get you whatever visa you required, something that can be more than a hassle if done through regular channels. The bottom line is that what he was doing was totally illegal but the Bangkok Post seemed to overlook this minor detail and anyone reading the article would have wrongly believed that Mr Lars was offering a bona fide service. Not that long after the article ran, poor old Lars, procurer of visas for seemingly half of Thailand's expat community, was arrested, his business closed down and the rumour goes that he was thrown out of the country, all the way back to his native Sweden. Plenty of other visa agents continue to operate, many of them Thai run, funny that. Back at the time, the strongest rumour was that Lars was SO successful and was getting the majority of all dodgy visa business, that some of the Thais operating competing businesses alerted the authorities as to what was going on and Lars was subsequently arrested and removed from the scene, thus resulting in a huge increase in business for the rest of the operators.
While those that know exactly what happened are few and far between, this was the first sign that the Thais might actually start to look more seriously at the way that visas are issued. Since then there have been policy changes, incidents and trends that indicate that change and perhaps even full restructuring is on the way, including:
– The Thai consulate in Penang is getting much tougher with issuing visas, specifically non-immigrant B visas. This used to be where everyone went for a new visa but it is now much tougher and stricter.
– Problems have been experienced by some folks applying for visas at the Thai embassy in Singapore with that embassy not issuing a tourist visa to anyone who had just come to Singapore, direct from Thailand. (Seems to vary from person to person, day to day.)
– The immigration department cracking down on English teachers and some teachers at some schools have found that their English teaching credentials have not been accepted as adequate proof that they are suitably qualified to teach (!!!) with Immigration insisting that a degree be required. Again, this varies from person to person, school to school, day to day.
– Enforcement of a policy meaning that when a contract is finished before the work permit has expired, the work permit has to be officially cancelled and the permit holder given just seven more days in country.
– Some folks having trouble even getting work permits through totally legitimate means, sometimes with companies that they have been at for quite a while.
– Visa agents disappearing or no longer offering certain services. Other visa agents who used to advertise openly are now far more discrete and where full contact and details of the service used to be listed, now only an email address, often a hotmail address, is listed.
Genuine visas have been procured through illegal means for many years, but how long will this all last for? If you know the right people, it is still possible to send your passport on holiday while you lay on the beach at Pattaya, or straddle a girl in one of Bangkok's many gogo bars, all without having the hassle of traipsing across the country to the nearest visa check point, or worse still, all the way to a Thai embassy / consulate in a neighbouring country. I can't see these visa services disappearing totally, but there is another issue that does concern me. In Taksin's Thailand, that is Mr Nationalism's country, what is the future for foreigners who choose to live here? Every week, amongst the relatively small number of expats that I know, I continue to hear about people who are moving to Thailand, coming here to live, or to retire. 90% of these people are not planning on working, they have money already so earning an income is the least of their worries. Fair enough, Thailand is cheap, they have the money – so why not? These people ARE contributing to Thailand, bringing in money from abroad and spending it in Thailand – and often spending a lot. So long as they are good boys (few are girls, funny that) and most are, and continue to add to the Thai economy, one could surmise that this is just the sort of foreign investment that Thailand needs.
But what if someone wants to go to your country? Can they just up and move there? And what if they are Thai?! More often than not, no, they can't just up and leave on a whim, as many farangs do in the opposite direction. A Thai going the other way has to go through the full set of immigration procedures which often includes a huge amount of applications, several interviews and even extensive medical tests. And at the end of all of this, the Thai's application may well turned down and the embassies being a law unto themselves needn't even give the reason for the application being turned down. What about a Thai going on a tourist visa and extending that indefinitely – as many farangs virtually do in Thailand? Obviously, it varies from country to country but in some countries, the Thai can do this for up to 9 months, but once they have been there for 9 months, they have to leave and cannot return for at least another nine months. If the flood of foreigners moving to Thailand continues, and the current government decides that it really wants to get nationalistic, just who knows what could happen? Obviously tourism is a phenomenal money spinner and the government is downright petrified of doing anything to damage the money machine, but the current government is also fiercely nationalistic, and there is every chance that the protagonists of nationalism and the protagonists of tourism will clash. The outcome could be very messy.
If Taksin stays in power, I predict big changes to the way that visas are issued and possibly even law changes that will detrimentally impact upon certain groups of foreigners residing in the Kingdom. Folks procuring visas through illegal means will find these doors slowly closing and there are signs that this is happening already. It would not be a surprise to see regulations introduced limiting people from coming and going indefinitely on tourist visa after tourist visa, and the non-immigrant B may well become an elusive baby to get. My advice? Get legal NOW – they will not backdate. In reality, this means getting an investment visa, a retirement visa, a marriage visa or God forbid, a job! If things do change and people begin to experience problems entering the country, the girls of Isaan will be over the moon because the solution will suddenly become obvious – you have got to marry a Thai = virtually automatic issue of one year visa! Dodgy-Marriages-Are-Us will spring up all over the show and where the Bangkok Post used to be full of ads from visa services, the new ads will be the 24 hour marriage brokers…offering a full marriage and visa service, price inclusive. Hey, there may be an opportunity there…
Keep an eye on the press for changes, but I predict that things could get a bit messy. This could well effect a huge number of Westerners in Thailand. As always, there will be ways around it, but they will cost money….lots of money. Interesting days lay ahead of us…
Remember my friend from the Weekly a couple of weeks back who got robbed by a bargirl? Well, that said fellow has developed his own little system to ensure that it doesn't happen to him again. Rather than take girls to a short time hotel, or only take girls when he is sober, or only take girls short time and kick them out while he is still awake, he has implemented the copy the ID system. When the girl gets inside his apartment, he takes her ID and using the photocopy feature on his scanner, he takes a copy of her ID card and prints it out, showing her that he has a copy and knows exactly who she is. While it may be a good idea in terms of security, I can see the mood being lost, for he is showing her that he doesn't trust her one little bit. And as we all know, the bedroom Olympics with a girl who feels that she is not trusted may not produce any gold medals.
I was kindly invited to the FCC this week to the "Bangkok Novelists Panel" which featured Stephen Leather, Jake Needham, Colin Piprell and James Eckhardt. It was fascinating hearing these four authors initially talk about themselves and then field questions from the audience. To the question, "why do you choose to live in Bangkok?", you could see at least a couple of them squirm and I just loved the British panellist's answer! Another Bangkok based author who was in the audience and who absolutely should have been on the panel had the best answer to that question when we talked about it afterwards – but I don't think the woman who answered the question would have appreciated his answer. "I stay here for the gogo girls" that honest fellow said to me.
Stephen Leather (smiling!) with the interviewer from
Nation TV in Starbucks Sukumvit Road.
Steve Leather, author of many superb novels including "Private Dancer", a story about a farang who falls in love with a bargirl was in Starbucks in Sukumvit Road signing autographs and chatting with fans on Saturday the 21st. At the same time, Steve was also interviewed by Nation TV and I gather the interview will not only screen on that channel but will also feature on Thai Airways flights into the Kingdom in their Destination Thailand feature.
Shirtz Bar in Soi Cowboy has done away with the DJ and they now use pre-programmed MP3s via a computer instead. A new piece of software is being installed so that the songs will run together and not fade out, have a pause and the new song start as they do when using WinAmp. It will be interesting to see how this trend develops, not only in the gogo bars but also in other regular bars too.
Another classic example of how the price you pay does not necessarily have anything to do with the level of service you receive in Thailand. The winner: a no-name street vendor selling freshly squeezed orange juice. The villain: A 4 star Hotel (though they did satisfactorily redeem themselves).
Starting on a positive note, I was strolling along Petchaburi Road. It was as hot as hell, the street was packed with sweaty smelly tourists fighting their way through to the bargains at Pratunam Market. There out of the corner of my eye I spotted an oasis, a vendor squeezing orange juice and selling it at the very reasonable price of 20 baht a bottle. As I was juggling some bags, the vendor popped the top of the bottle for me, dropped in a straw and asked me if I was hot, all with a pleasant smile. An exchange of fifteen seconds, all with a smile, and my smile had returned because of this persons positive demeanour. The next time I am in that area, I will cross the road to buy my OJ from her, even though it is a little out of my way. The short skirt and curvy legs had nothing to do with it, of course!
Back to the villain. After a very tasty lunch at Henry J Beans in the basement of the Amari Watergate Hotel, pictured here, they really do have some nice set lunch specials and the food really is excellent. both myself and my friend received our bills, separate as we had requested. My bill was ok and was settled quickly, but the problems arose from my friends bill, the charge for which was 400.18 baht. As it happened, he had the right money, 4 X 100 baht bills and a 25 satang coin. Handing over a 25 satang coin to the waitress had the same sort of effect as handing her the world's biggest, ugliest and smelliest turd. A look of utter contempt, bordering on disgust crossed her face and she suddenly seemed speechless, not knowing what to do, BUT looking at me as if *I* was the villain! Knowing that I could speak Thai, she told me in the local lingo that a 25 baht coin would not be accepted. Ok, I said, well round the bill to the nearest baht, i.e., down to 400. With this poor waitress's logic, bless her heart, 400.18 gets rounded to 401 baht. Always one for an argument, I said that no, we would not be paying this extra baht, on principle. We would pay 400.25 or 400. Things got messy, time is money so I slipped her a one baht coin so we could get out of there, but vowing to take the whole thing further.
As I have far too much time on my hands (and so do you if you read all of my nonsense ramblings), I sent off an email to the Amari Watergate asking for clarification of the bill. Emailing a Thai company and expecting a reply is often a dead loss and the first email, unsurprisingly, went unanswered. Finally, a second email to the GM, a farang no less, telling him that 22,000+ (number of hits this site gets in a month) people are going to read about the less than satisfactory service at his hotel, finally drew a satisfactory response. They have acknowledged the issue and have resolved it. Well done Amari, my faith is restored. I did a bit of checking up and vendors MUST accept the 25 and 50 satang coins, though there may be a limit to how many they have to accept, but no-on could tell me this.
Speaking of Henry J Beans, the same restaurant in the same hotel has recently increased the prices on their menu something chronic – 30%+ in some cases. My favourite, and one dish that they do that is unparalleled anywhere in Bangkok, their chicken fajitas used to cost 240 baht ++ but this now costs 290 baht ++. The beef fajitas used to cost 360 baht but now costs 520 baht ++! That everywhere else I go has not raised the prices of any chicken or beef dishes makes me wonder if the Amari has raised its profit projections for the year…
Thinking of getting a sex change and getting a nice new pair of tits? Better you than me but I know there are some strange folks out there so….whatever you do, don't go to the same surgeon that did one of the katoeys who dances nude at Bottoms Up bar in NEP. While she / he / it obviously spent good money on getting her umm, err, tackle removed, the doc who inserted the new tits put in two that are not quite the same size, so her left breast is somewhat bigger than her right. Maybe the silicon bag burst or some other nasty shit like that, but whatever the case, add the one tit is bigger than the other as another sure way to help you spot a katoey.
Rock Hard A Go go has opened a new beer bar in Clinton Plaza. It is right opposite the Rock Hard and Crack House gogos and looks like a fairly standard beer bar, on the small side with one pool table. They also have plans to move the Crack House to, get this, ABOVE the new beer bar, literally right on top of it and have access to it via a staircase to be built up the side. The plan then is to knock out the wall between Rock Hard and Crack House and essentially double the size of Rock Hard. This is all very well but it would be nice if they actually employed some ladies to dance at Crack House instead of the current bunch of ladyboys.
The new Rock Hard beer bar in Clinton Plaza.
What is it with the farmer boys in security guard outfits on the platforms of the BTS stations? I reckon they must have been to the London underground for training and heard that crazy voice bellowing out, "mind the gap, mind the gap, stand clear of the doors please". As this lengthy string of English is a little bit beyond them, they have a propensity to get most stroppy when anyone stands on or, God forbid, goes beyond the yellow line. Blowing their whistle with extreme exasperation on their faces, usually the expression reserved for the worst case of constipation, makes you wonder if they lose a few baht from their salary for each commuter who steps on or over the line. And who gave them that God awful uniform? Tucking one's trousers into one's boots?
Christopher G Moore has beat me a couple of times. I've bought five of his books, finishing three but the other two were not really to my taste and I didn't, no, I couldn't, finish them. While flicking through a few books in Asia Books, I came across "Chairs", a collection of short stories by Chris. Flicking through it in store and reading a couple of pages, it looked good so I bought it. I haven't quite finished it yet but what I have read so far is excellent and actually well worth the somewhat pricey 475 baht they charge for it. It's full of wonderful anecdotes and analogies such as this: Short and dark, with large feet and splayed toes, she clearly originated from Isaan peasant stock.
With most establishments forced to close at 2:00 AM, what are folks going to do if they wake up in the middle of the night with an urge that just has to be satisfied? One might just have to improvise in their search for a little late night company and I offer you a couple of suggestions. Go to Sukumvit Road around Sois 5 – 13 and pick up a girl off the street, a girl who may just be there because she has been booted out of a bar because she was found to be HIV+. Alternatively, she may be someone that the Thermae staff will not allow inside because she is known to be a thief. OR how about waiting in the lobby of your apartment / hotel in the middle of the night after all the bars have closed for a short time artist to come down from someone else's room, and to grab her and go back upstairs with her so you can now enjoy the sloppy seconds? Streetwalker or sloppy seconds? Beef or chicken?
Speaking of the currently enforced 2:00 AM closing time, a few girls in Cowboy told me that it is really hurting them. I have always enjoyed the slow walk from Cowboy to Thermae, best at around 2:15 AM, when a lot of the Cowboy girls who were without a customer at bar's close head on up to the Thermae, trying their luck for a customer in what is, or rather was, the last stop for the evening. Well, I did the 2:15 AM walk on Thursday night, and I did it alone. No Cowboy girls on their way up to the Thermae because by the time they get there, most folks are leaving the Thermae. The other night, Country Road on the corner of Cowboy was still going and the staff said it would be going until 4:00 AM, but not too many girls seem to get picked up in there and it seems to be more a place for them to go and wind down after work. This 2:00 AM time is not just irritating the punters, it is affecting the girls too.
Not far up Sukumvit Soi 3 from the main Sukumvit intersection is Les Chevaliers (spelling?), a French Restaurant where I had the pleasure to dine with Baron#2 of Baronbonk fame this week. French cuisine is often a little too sophisticated for a simple lad like me, but I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the food, and at 245 baht for a 4 course set lunch menu, it is OUTSTANDING value for money. On top of this, they bring you as much French bread as you can eat (for me, that's quite a bit…) and the price includes VAT. Better yet, they do not push upon you a compulsory service charge, which I personally despise. If you have the good fortune to make it there, check out the "Rules Of The House", three hilarious paragraphs about the way the business operates. I wanted to pinch the sheet of rules from the menu and include them in the Weekly, but as Baron#2 dines there often, I thought better of it.
Why is it that whenever I walk past the tourist information booths in Bangkok that they are never manned and upon closer inspection, it seems that no-one has set foot in there for quite some time? I guess, the powers that be at the TAT know that every Thai citizen speaks fluent English, knows where everything, including all tourist attractions is, knows all about transport, accommodation etc and can assist visitors with information and general advice on life in the city etc. The only tourist information office that ever seems to be manned is the office way over in the middle of nowhere towards Banglamphu. Oh well, I guess even if the booths were manned, odds are that the attendants would speak lousy English and wouldn't know where the important places like Nana Plaza are anyway!
3:00 PM on a Saturday. The sun is shining down on thousands of tourists and
the tourist information booth outside WTC is closed…
The heat continues to beat down on the Kingdom so here are a few of Stickman's hot season tips: Are you sick of getting out of the shower and 30 seconds after you have towelled down, you find that you are covered in sweat again? Very easy solution – shower with cold water – you really don't need hot water at this time of the year. And if you suffer groin itch from walking around all day, use either Nizoral Shampoo or Cannesten cream – both will cure your groin itch quickly and are available over the counter in any decent pharmacy.
What are the workmen doing to the elephants on the Saparn Hua Charng (Elephant Head Bridge) on Phyathai Road, just up from MBK / Siam Square. These majestic elephant sculptures were doing just fine until this week when I noticed that they had been covered in plaster and surrounded by scaffolding. Hmmm, how do you say if it ain't broken, don't fix it in Thai?
Are the short time rooms at Midnite Bar in Soi Cowboy the best in the city? They are new, with farang manager Mike having put the finishing touches on them recently. But the big question going around Soi Cowboy is whether Mr Mike was the first to use them and if so, who with?! The rooms are VERY clean and tidy and include the usual TV, video, VCD player and assortment of filthy VCDs. I wonder if the high number of Japanese porno movies is an indication of the number of Japanese customers that use the rooms? Speaking of Mike, he has turned Midnite Bar around from a nothing bar that most folks avoided to one of the current highlights of Cowboy. But can he keep it up? In a generous promotion, you will often find some of the pretty girls from his bar standing at either end of Soi Cowboy handing out free drink vouchers – and unlike other places that offer a similar promotion but give you watered down draught beer, Mike lets you drink any bottled beer or imported spirit. Midnite is great, check it out!
Tried a Pizza Company pizza for the first time this week and wow, I was impressed. The Chicken Trio that they offer gets a solid 8/10 from Stickman – and I feel qualified to comment because my gut is forever growing, proving that I am indeed a fast food connoisseur – or is that an oxymoron? Perhaps I should ask Trink – he seems more interested in oxymorons than anything else. Anyway, the pizza had lots of topping and unlike the muck that Pizza Hut serve, it was oozing with both cheese and sauce. It had this tangy taste, almost like a very mild spicy taste to it that I found more than palatable. That it was delivered in less than 20 minutes from the time I hung up the phone was a bonus. Great pizza, great service and I'll most definitely be calling them again.
Resplendent with an ear to ear smile at having pulled an exotic Asian beauty, the farang tourist travelling on the sky train doesn't realise that all of the Thais who look the other way when he catches them staring at him and his company, are perplexed at his choice of female company. The bargirl realises this and in an unsuccessful effort to hide the fact that her skin is dark, most bar girls wear black, or other very dark colours when they know they will be out and about amongst Thais from other levels of society during daylight hours. Have you ever seen an Isaan girl in white? Wow, it really makes their skin look dark but the dark clothes soften the effect a little. What colour is your bar girl wearing today?
Why is that we transliterate the word for the currency of Thailand as baht, and not bart? Isn't "bart" is more like it, as opposed to "baht". Is it A) Because some North Americans, those from the south-west of the UK and those from the deep south of New Zealand would pronounce it barrrt? Or is it B) Because "baht" conforms with the Royal Rules for transliterating Thai into English? On the subject of transliterating Thai words into English, why do most people spell "E-sarn" as "Isaan"? Don't you just love hearing guys in the bars say to the girls, "do you come from Is-Ann"?!
Down in Pattaya, a free Pattaya guide simply called "Pattaya", is distributed. It's well worth a look as it has ads for all sorts of places that you probably never knew existed and there's a decent column called "Out For A Beer", the rantings of one of Pattaya's long-termers as he does his rounds around the Pattaya bar scene. He writes with colour and it is well worth a look – though anyone who admits to drinking Mekhong-coke as he does, instantly loses some credibility. I notice the Dollhouse is getting a little carried away in its advertising, still the slogan will no doubt work with tourists who don't know that The Dollhouse isn't a patch on at least 15 other gogo bars in Bangkok. 60 gorgeous girls and 2 ugly ones? Hmmm, I won't say the obvious and say that the numbers were transposed, BUT, one thing is for sure, I didn't see 60 girls in there, and maybe 5 or 6 were pretty, 1 or 2 gorgeous. Still, the marketing man is doing his job, tourists will venture in – and that's what counts.
So, there was no money in the cave, no bearer bonds either. What a surprise…but I do feel for the very pleasant, but obviously poor taxi driver who truly believed that when Khun Taksin extracted everything out of the cave, his days as a poorly rice farmer / taxi driver would be over…
Your Bangkok commentator,