Stickman's Weekly Column October 19th, 2003

The Lower North, A Trip Report



I have been away from Bangkok for much of the last week. The opening part of this week's column is therefore a lengthy trip report. If such travelogues bore you or perhaps you are only after news and views from Bangkok, scroll about half way down.

Stick

Last year myself and my travelling companion, the effervescent Whosyourdaddy, formerly of Canada, made our way through the southern part of Isaan and I wrote all about that trip in the weekly column of 13/10/02. With that area now under our belt we set our sights on another part of the country that neither of us had yet to experience, the lower North. What follows is a trip report of our adventure through the Thai countryside, a couple of young farang guys exploring parts of Thailand.

The adventure was supposed to begin in the lower north, but we had yet to leave the big, bad city when it all began. As we approached the toll plaza beyond Don meuang on the expressway out, there they were once again, the men in brown. With all of the mention in the press recently abut how the police would be checking vehicles on the Don Meuang highway for weapons that could be used by terrorists to attempt to bring down a plane, we didn’t think about them considering any other angle. Given that all vehicles were just being waved on, I was more than a bit surprised when we were waved over to the side and a cop approached. In my very best Thai I wished him good morning and told him that we were on our way to Sukhothai. He was completely disinterested in this, more interested in reporting to me that we had been speeding. How fast I asked him. 110 km/h he responded. Now, I knew immediately that he was lying because we had been sitting at 130 – 135 the whole way. I protested and he said that officers back along the motorway had clocked us doing that speed. I said I saw them and that clearly they did NOT have a radar which was, as far as I could tell, true. Ahhh, this cop had met his match. He started to write out something on a ticket and I said that I wouldn't pay it as I hadn't committed the said offence and without evidence, I would appeal it as far as I could. Mai pen rai, it must all have started to sound like hard work to him and he returned the driver's licence and sent us on our way, without a donation to his mia noi fund.

The main highway heading north is much better to drive than the road up into the northeast, Isaan. The road doesn’t make its way through nearly so many intersections, or villages, there is less traffic and few of those horrible highway U-turns. The scenery is less interesting, but you can sit on the highway at 120 km/h most of the way. In fact you are quite likely to get passed by vehicles moving at a much higher speed than that. Perhaps it was just what I experienced, but driving standards in this part of the country seemed to be much better than in Isaan, where people really are all over the road. The journey north was largely uneventful and I noticed my Canadian travelling companion getting nervous at the speed we were doing. It wasn't that fast. Hell, don't they have decent highways in Canada? In around 4 hours driving time, we reached Phitsanulok, a bit earlier than scheduled.

We had only really thought of Phitsanulok as a stopover venue, a place to break up the journey but unbeknownst to us, there was a very nice temple complex in the middle of Phitsanulok which we wandered through. Upon exiting it, we realized that we had accidentally walked in the back door and had not paid, and that shock upon shock, the ticket both had closed! I'm not usually one for back doors and this really was an accident! Never mind, there was a big sign at the entrance that stated "Admission For Foreigner 40 baht" while admission for locals is free. All guilt disappeared right then. Yep, even up in the far flung provinces, they hit the foreigners with the double pricing. It should also be noted that in the evening, we had a very nice meal at the Barn Kahn Por Restaurant, right across the road from the something or other hotel, which had two menus, one in Thai only – from which we ordered, and the other in English, Thai and Chinese. Needless to say, the prices in the Thai only menu were cheaper than in the multilingual menu. Man, this sort of thing pisses me off.

There are some things that you expect to happen in Thailand, and being offered a girl in provincial hotel is on of the list of things guaranteed to happen. So, it came as no surprise that upon confirming that yes, we would like a room, the bellboy offered the services of ladies. Obviously, he could see that the long drive from Bangkok had taken its toll on this guest to these parts and he wanted to see us looked after. I turned it down but it was at this point that my companion suggested that we get separate rooms. Hmmm, isn't he married? Well, I don't think he misbehaved, but he was damned tired the next morning, so who knows what he got up to?

In Phitsanulok, while looking for an internet café, we stumbled upon the Phitsanulok Bazaar as it was called. It was a lane of bars, Thai style, girly bars that is. After we had visited the net cafe and I had cleared out my email account which had maxed its 2 megabyte limit in less than 12 hours, damn it, we returned to the bars to have a nosey. Each bar had 10 – 15 girls and truth be told, some of them were attractive. We entered one bar and were joined by a couple of ladies who chatted with us for a few minutes before telling us the modus operandi of the place. If we wanted them to sit with us and chat with us for forty minutes, we had to buy them a drink. The cost of the drink, a mere 40 baht! Just like in the capital's gogo bars, the drink was very small and they barely touched it, but unlike in the gogo bars, the girls stayed there the whole time and chatted – and didn’t once get up to go and dance! When one goes to a bar like this and compares it to the situation in a farang oriented gogo bar where you pay 100+ baht for a lady drink and then after a few minutes the lady gets up to dance or even goes and sits elsewhere, it clearly demonstrates how the gogo bar girls are taking the piss. Oh, and Heineken is nice and cheap up there, 80 baht a bottle, that is the big size of curse! Oh, and the girls are available for take out. We were told that it is a flat 1,500 baht for which the girl will stay with you all night and will leave the next morning. I repeat that the girls up there were attractive and of the two girls who sat next to us, one had a bachelor's degree and one had studied until grade 12 – which is a MUCH higher level of education that the girls in Bangkok.

Overall, I found Phitsanulok to be a very pleasant town with genuinely friendly people and worthy of a stopover. I’m not sure I I'd visit there again as there is little to see and do apart from the river area are the main temple complex, but it is a pleasant place to break up one's journey nonetheless. Furthermore, the people there are really friendly and seem to be more sincere than the locals in other areas.

Next stop was to be perhaps the highlight of the trip, the historical ruins at Sukhothai. I really enjoy visiting all of the old historical places around Thailand and had been excited at the thought of visiting Sukhothai for the preceding month. I have never really thought that much of Ayuthya and a couple of trusted friends had told me that Sukhothai was much better, hence my excitement.

Sukhothai to me was much more impressive than
Ayuthya although my travelling companion didn't think so.

Approaching the main temple area, we saw that the prices were once again in favour of those with almond coloured skin. Us white boys were asked for 150 baht for a 30 day pass that would allow entry to all temples in Sukhothai including Sri Satchanalai 50 odd clinks to the north. We managed to negotiate the Thai all day pass at the Thai price after showing the ticket people our employment ID. 30 baht instead, a nice little saving, or so we thought…

The temples at Sukhothai are in one main area, a somewhat smaller than at Ayuthya and are very easy to get around. You could walk it, though even at this time of year it was hot, damned hot. Ideally, a car is the way to go although a lot of Westerners were cycling around. Not my idea of fun but maybe it is for you. Anyway, we wandered around, took the obligatory few hundred photos and generally soaked up the atmosphere. One disappointing aspect to the historical park is that the signs really do not give a lot of extra information. They give you the usual Buddhist shrine commentary without actually saying exactly what this part of the complex was, say a house, a storage facility or what have you. I felt like one was looking at an historical place, but really would have liked a more precise commentary to better understand it all. This complaint is one that I think is valid all over Thailand. They often translate literally what it says in Thai, and what the Thais want to know and what us farangs want to know are often two different things. Oh well.

The way you get into the park and each of the individual temples is all a little strange. There is a main gate into the park which one should enter, but as with many temples in Thailand, it is quite possible to inadvertently walk in one of the back or side doors which are often unmanned (as we did at the central temple in Phitsanulok). We did this in Sukhothai too but being a couple of honest fellows we went straight to the main gate to buy our tickets. Anyway, as stated a little earlier, we bought the pass which allows entry into all temples in the area for a period of 30 days and the ticket was sold to us at the Thai price. At each of the temples we entered in the park, we weren't once asked to show our tickets and at some of the temples, there wasn't even an official at the entrance! So, one could come and go as they liked on the cheapest ticket, not that any Stickman readers would ever do that…hehehe. But when we got outside the main temple area and went to enter some of the other temples where officials were checking tickets, we were told that the ticket we had bought was the ticket for a Thai national for a single entry to one temple, a ticket which should have cost just 10 baht, but which we had paid 30 baht for! So while we believed that we had got a good deal, the vendor had in fact pulled a fast one over us – and it was them who was laughing! Still, the friendly vendors at the other temples kindly sold us tickets to get into the new temples at the Thai price, 10 baht, and not the foreigner price, 40.

Just as last year, we got a little lost and we had to pop into a police station to ask for directions. The policemen were very friendly and helpful and were most impressed at our ability to converse in the local lingo, though their friendliness was no doubt assisted by the Mekong bottles there on their desks. If you had blindfolded me and led me into that police station, I would have sworn that I was in a bar. All the cops were well on their way to happiness courtesy of Thailand's best whiskey.

Our next stop was to be an unknown waterfall in the hills because my travelling companion had already become bored of temples and wanted a change. Up into the hills we went, through rice fields, along dirt roads, passing all manner of buffaloes before we finally reached the waterfall which we were told was just a 700 metre walk away. After traipsing through the bush alongside a river for a good 30 minutes, we finally reached a point where we could go no further, unless we wanted to swim. I had all my camera gear and my travelling companion was in jeans, so a swim was not really on the cards. This was not the first time we had experienced this type of thing in Thailand. Walking bush trails, you are seldom told that at some point, you are in for a swill, which may or may not be practical. Cursing the park rangers for failing to post a sign stating that you could not get to the waterfall without a swim, we made the descent back to the car park. Despite some fine natural attractions, the locals are generally not good at posting detailed instructions about the walk you are about to make, although coming from New Zealand, I am a little spoiled in this respect.

Getting back to the car, my travelling companion offers the idea of a jaunt to Mae Sod, to the border with Burma. This was never part of the plan and I umm and arrr about it, knowing that to venture there would mean I would not get to Sri Satchanalai. We decide what the hell, we have seen enough temples and a bit of variety would be nice, so off to Tak province we head.

The road through the hills from Tak to Mae Sod was windy and was enjoyable to drive despite the fact that my car is more like a lumbering elephant than a sleek cheetah. In addition to the road being windy, up and down, there are several other challenges. The locals drive on any part of the road that they see fit and for a lot of the journey, signs inform us that there have been major rock falls and that the inside lane cannot be used. Bloody excellent. Not!

As the sun gets lower and lower in the sky, we notice that that the clouds have formed this pinkish haze and we look for a spot to stop to take some shots. Just a minute or so later we round a bend and see a small market area so we pull the cover over for a break, a chance to grab something to eat and a chance to fire off a few more shots. We have barely got out of the car and I feel this strange feeling wash over me. These people look different. Their facial features are different from the Thai people I am used to in Bangkok or my frequent trips up into Isaan. Many of the people are wearing funny clothes and bugger me if most of the men aren’t wearing skirts! No, it is a not a fag’s paradise but what I guess must be the local traditional dress. And when they talk, just what the hell is coming out of their mouths? Despite studying Thai to a high level, I suddenly find myself tuned out and missing most of the conversation, something that really doesn’t happen often at all. It is a weird feeling, and one that I really don't like. It is like we have crossed into another country, but we haven't. I look around and see a Thai telephone booth, a Thai police station with real Thai cops, and cars with Thai registration plates. But these people look a bit different and sound really different. Yeah, we are still in Thailand, but just what is going on?

Back into the car, it is an exhilarating journey through the mountains for me, and I do not let on to my passenger that we almost lost the back end of the car into the ditch a couple of times when I backed off in the corner….bad Stick, bad!

After ending up in the wrong part of town, firstly in the slums and then in what was a major Muslim area, we finally found ourselves at LP's recommended Porntip Hotel. At what is supposedly Mae Sod's finest hotel (but really is a bloody dive), my travelling companion is asked if he would like someone sent to his room, while I m not. I guess he looks much desperate than me. Despite my pleas to him to indeed pull a girl up to his room (purely so I can extract info from him the next morning and subsequently let you lot know just what is available in Mae Sod) he decides against it. I still don’t know whether it is because he is married or he is aware of the HIV stats in this area, the reported stats, that is, but his Stickman deputy badge could be stripped for is lack of dedication to the cause…

Mai Sod, not the nicest place in Thailand.

There is something about Mae Sai that I do not like, something that I cannot put my finger on. Few people smile, and smiling at them gets you much the same response it would get in the West, a surly reaction as if to say, “What the hell are you looking at”! Of all of the places that I have been to in Thailand, I have to say that I dislike this place the most. In fact there are few such places that I actually dislike and this may even be the first. The people are dull, the town is dull but perhaps worst of all, I felt really uncomfortable walking around at night, as if people were looking at us in a sinister manner. There is also something odd with the signs in Burmese (or should I say Myanmarese?) everywhere. This town doesn’t feel like Thailand at all. Actually, let's get this right – I REALLY do not like it. We didn’t see any other farangs – which wouldn't normally bother me at all – though we did see a pile of 20 or so Bangkok Posts in a local newsagent suggesting that farangs do come through here.

We walk around Mai Sod at night for about half an hour, exploring, but it is an ugly town with quite frankly, not particularly pleasant people and after a long day in the sun and 300 km or so in the car, we decide that we would rather get an early night's sleep and a good rest than explore this town.

So, the next day it is off to the Myanmar border which is just a few km away from downtown Mae Sod, 6 km to be precise. Parking in the border area, we see lots and lots of Burmese, and man, do those poor sods look poor. They are all wearing rags and while they do not look malnourished, they really do not look healthy, like most Thais do. They look jaded, tired and you see a distinct lack of happiness in their eyes. I get a bad feeling about things, something I am once again unable to pinpoint. What's worse than the way they look, unlike Thai people who generally have very good personal hygiene, the Burmese stink and I try not to get too close to them.

Just at that time a paddy wagon comes past, little more than a pickup truck with a cage on the back and what I guess must be a bunch of Burmese illegals, packed in like sardines, no doubt about to be shipped back across the border. Whosyourdaddy decides that he wants to go across to Burma, and I decide that I don’t, but I encourage him to go over nonetheless. These people look as poor as hell and I'm carrying a shitload of photographic equipment. Hmmm, no thanks. So, off he trots to Burma and I set off to survey the area. I spot a sign that says “sale of goods in this area prohibited” as I am approached by a bunch of Burmese offering to sell me imported American cigarettes and Burmese liquor. I explain to them that I do no smoke and that Burmese liquor is not top of my is things to buy. Their Thai is basic and their English virtually non existent, but we still manage to communicate and I do my best to ask them about their lives. Each day they swim across the river from the Burmese side, a short stretch of perhaps 60 or so metres. They pointed to a few people swimming at that moment and also some coming across the river on a huge tyre inner tube! Illicit goods are put into plastic bags to stay dry and they try and sell them to anyone who wants them on the Thai side. These entrepreneurs are not at all worried about being picked up for entering illegally because all that will happen is that they will get sent back. However, they are concerned about being caught for selling goods for which tax has not been paid. They do not want to explain to me what will happen, despite me pushing the point. Goods confiscated? Fine? Prison? Who knows, but they seemed genuinely scared. At that very moment, a cop car comes towards us and the Burmese scramble, me left chuckling quietly to myself, and happy that I had not bought anything from them.

There is a Burmese slum area on the Thai side of the river which seems to be a place where Burmese are allowed to live in squalor and sell their products (dried fish, crab, spices, various basic manufactured goods and some truly unrecognisable stuff) to the Thais, on as I said, the Thai side! From what I could work out, it was all illegal but it was tolerated because there was an advantage to the Thais in that the goods could be obtained at less than half price they would ordinarily cost of bought from a Thai vendor. The area was small with perhaps 100 or so people living and trading there, and I was a little unsure whether I should venture in or not. It looked a bit dodgy but then the thought of getting some excellent photos in amongst the slum made me realize that failing to venture forth would be something I would later regret. As I made my way into the illegal zone, I saw a series of makeshift slum style huts with various Burmese posters and decorations, and a bunch of Burmese eating what I assumed was Burmese food, and talking in what I assume was Burmese. My presence was noted but no-one seemed to be too bothered, in fact they all seemed a little scared of me. When I pulled out a camera from my bag, they seemed to take notice and when I started snapping a few shots, they seemed to be a little nervous. But then a young girl came over to make and motioned for me to take her picture. I did so and with the camera being of the digital variety, I was able to show the pic back to her. This created a storm and before I knew it I had Burmese all around the camera, looking at the picture of the girl, and asking me to take pictures of each of them. I took a few pictures of a few people and now we had a crowd. This all had the very unfortunate side effect of me being surrounded by a bunch of really foul smelling folks. Somnumnar, Stick! (Translation: You deserve what you get!)

The Thai side is at the bottom of the picture and that is
Burma at the top where the three on the inner tube are headed to.

As a white man, when we travel anywhere in the world where whites are a minority, and let's face it that is most places, the locals will always look at us a little differently. In Thailand, the average Thai, an I do not mean this in a derogatory way but that generally means a poor person, looks at us with envy, envy at the money we have. In Cambodia I felt that more than a few of the people look at us with frustration and that they were thinking of ways to try and part us with what we owned. In Laos, I always felt that the locals looked at us as special guests and treated us accordingly. The Burmese were different again. They seemed to be scared of us. A sudden movement in their direction and they were off in the opposite direction, lightning fast! Trying to photograph a few of the Burmese, admittedly on the Thai side of the border saw them dart off in all directions! I do not know what it was but they seemed to see us as some sort of ghost or monster, for they really were that scared!

So, the next stop was to be Kampeng Pet, a city we didn’t know too much about, but a place which the map had indicated also had a few historic temples and so forth, a place we thought would be worth a look.

The imaginatively named Kampeng Pet Historical Park is sufficiently different from Sukhothai so as to warrant a visit. It is not nearly as spectacular and is very, very quiet. I got the feeling that very few foreign visitors would make it there. Certainly, in the time that we cruised through the temple area, we didn’t see one other visitor, Thai or farang. The temples are set in a thinly forested area and thus, less light gets through contributing to give it all an eerie feeling. Most of the paths were overgrown with moss indicating that few visitors had passed through recently. The ruins in Kampeng Pet are just that, ruins.

Nearby Kampeng Pet Historical Park is Wat Pra Keow which is worth a quick nosey too, if you aren’t templed out by now. As keen as I am on looking at all of these temples, it doesn’t take too long before you get bored of it all. They are, after all, much the same. If you want to see just the most impressive temples in this part of the country, Sukhothai is probably the place to go. We never did make it to Sri Satchanalai which is also supposed to be very impressive.

At the hotel in Kampeng Pet, I was not asked if I wanted a lady which is just as well, because that was the last thing I wanted after a long drive and besides, I could never look Mrs Stick in the eyes again. My travelling companion was up until all hours, so just who knows what he got up to?

Looking for a place to eat in Kampeng Pet, we approached a tuktuk driver and asked him to take us to a good restaurant. After establishing the type of place we wanted to go to, Khun Noi as he was called, took us to an absolutely fabulous place called Pee Yai. If you find yourself in Kampeng Pet, check out this place. Great food and very reasonably priced. If you're coming from the city centre, it is a bit past the hospital on the right. Excellent.

Khun Noi was quite concerned that we would not be able to get back to the hotel so he gave us his phone number to give him a call to pick us up when we were done. We did, and back he came. He seemed genuinely concerned that he had chosen an appropriate place and that we had enjoyed ourselves. Needless to say, this friendly fellow got a very generous tip. I have to say that the people in Kampeng Pet were amongst some of the nicest that I have met, in fact everywhere in the lower north that we visited they were like this, apart from Mae Sod, which is a strange sort of a place..

I enjoyed what I saw of the lower north a lot and would happily return to check out other parts. Perhaps one day I’ll finally make my way up to Chiang Mai. One day.


Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

This week's pic

It was the intersection of Sathorn and Narathiwat!
Somewhere in Bangkok…tricky!
Last week's picture was taken at the intersection of Sathorn and Narathiwat Roads, looking out south east (I think?), along Narathiwat Road. There was no prize offered last week but I am very pleased to announce that that super nice guy, Dean Barrett, has offered a prize this week, and for the next couple of weeks too. The first person to get this week's picture correct wins a copy of "Skytrain To Murder", Dean's excellent new PI story set right in Washington Square and other locations popular with Westerners in Bangkok. Due to the cost of postage out of Thailand, the prize is only available to the first person to get it right who can provide a postal address within Thailand. So, if you think you know it and want to claim the prize, make sure you state clearly that you are Bangkok based. When I finally get off my lazy ass and update the book review section, I'll include my (very positive) thoughts on this novel. To find out more about Dean's books, check out: http://www.deanbarrettmystery.com/

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Work permits for foreigners to be prostitutes?

What is the oldest profession, why prostitution, for anyone to think that prostitution will go away in Thailand is in need of a reality check. It has not went away in any other country I know of, even in few Muslim countries it is alive and well (Iran is a good example). Where you have a population of poor women, whose only skill is between their legs and in some cases lack of skill, you will have people doing what ever it takes to survive. A friend went to Cuba a few years ago the people he stayed with had a neighbour who was a doctor and also had several children to support, well Joe was fixed up with the neighbour for the duration of his trip, of course for a price. A doctor makes about 50 dollars a month in Cuba give or take a few dollars. One would ask why all of those Burmese girls end up in Thailand. In Burma they make 700 kyat a day on the road crew. In January that was 70 cents a day or about 30 baht. When the Thais become wealthy enough as a whole then the Thai prostitutes will be replaced by the Burmese, Cambodians, and Filipinos, just as the Japanese whores have been replaced by some of the same people, in Japan.
A psychologist's dream?
I hate to say this, but I truly believe that spending too much time in gogo bars can cause irreversible psychological damage. You get to see so many naked female bodies that, after a while, you become pretty accurate at predicting what any girl anywhere will
look like without clothes on, taking away one of the main joys of anticipation in a shag. Sex is so easily available and the girls so down-to-earth about the whole thing that the act is reduced to its crudest animal element and any mystery that there was about it destroyed. For me, the worst thing of all is that those great hits of the 70s which used to remind you of the joys of your youth start reminding you of gogo bars instead every time you hear them again. Get me out of here!
Not sure I agree with this…
Before I ever knew where Thailand was, I had heard it was a place where people spiked your drinks and robbed you when you had passed out. 30 years on and this shit is still going on. It could happen to anybody I know, but from my experience of all the victims I have met or heard about, there does seem to be one consistent strand – they are usually cheap charlies! The most common victim is the man who picks up a freelancer rather than pay a barfine somewhere. The other type is the young backpacker staying in the cheapest shithole establishment he can find in Khao San Road, which does not have a safety box at reception. He (or she) is befriended by a Thai, if not another scumbag farang, who administers the dose when their guard is down. I knew a bloke who woke up in an alleyway somewhere 16 hours later wearing only a pair of pants. If there is any advice I can offer, it is to pay a little more for a hotel, not necessarily an expensive one, which has adequate safety box facilities, and do their shopping at bars where the girls can be traced. Otherwise you are asking for it, especially when pissed out of your head.
Estimates range from 200,000 to 2,000,000.
I saw an interesting programme on telly in the UK the other day. It was talking about attitudes to the oldest profession in the world, around the world. I'm sure your aware prostitution is legal in Holland and parts of Australia, its illegal in England but tolerated, in Japan there is no social stigma attached to working in the vice industry etc.. The programme stated that 20% of women from Korea – (At least I think it was Korea, it was late, I was drunk.. but I do know it was a Far East destination – Philippines?) have been involved in prostitution. Anyway, the point I'm getting at is what percentage of Thai girls have worked in the vice trade? Would you care to hazard a guess? Has anyone ever done an official survey into this?
The ORIGINAL Hollywood was not in Nana…
I noticed that the Crown Group is opening the ORIGINAL Hollywood Bar. Well, in my humble opinion, the ORIGINAL Hollywood Bar was on Petchaburi Road, 1 block east of Soi 3 outside the Prince Hotel. I was billeted there with the U.S. Army in 1968 (until I moved into a klong shack in Bang Na). I frequented the Hollywood Bar countless times. They had a live band, with beautiful Thai girl singers that were also TWINS. Life was good. So, in my opinion that was the Hollywood Bar circa 1968-1970.
This story comes to me from a friend. If Thailand wants to be taken seriously as a family holiday destination, then it has to be seen to be dealing with this sort of nonsense.
For the last few weeks I have been backpacking around Thailand with my son. Last Saturday night (11th Oct.) we took the first class overnight bus from Chang Mai to Bangkok. At Chang Mai the bus hostess made us place our small backpacks down stairs next to the second drivers bed. (Normally I take it upstairs with me). When we arrived at Bangkok at 6.00 am our bags were by the door and everyone picked them up and took off. My son, however, noticed a pocket was slightly opened and on inspection his new digital camera was missing. At that point I knew it was an inside job. We remained with the bus, refusing to leave until a policeman was summonsed. He duly arrived and after explaining the situation he suggested we hop in the bus and would be driven to the station (I though police station but actually we went to the bus depot). I was told by the driver that the office would open at 8.00 and he told me the police would be there. While waiting the hour for the office to open my son and I searched the bus. Meanwhile the bus driver and colleagues had disappeared, leaving us totally to our own devises (great customer service) – I insisted they came back and they did so after about 15 minutes. When the office opened I explained the situation it the woman inside. I was the asked to hop on the back of a motorbike taxi and go to the police station – I refused. They then arranged a taxi but when both of us hoped in they tried to close the door and make us go on our own. I jumped out and insisted the bus driver came too. (The very good taxi driver helped at this instance once I told him what happened and he reminded the people of their responsibilities). So off the three of us went to the police station – just as we arrived the bus driver had a telephone call that we were to drive back to the bus station. This we did. As I got out of the taxi the depot boss asked me if my son owned a small or large cameras. When I said small he took me back to the bus, lifted up the mattress and surprise, surprise there was out camera. I got an apology and a sheepish wai as we headed off home. We had already searched that area and the camera was not there – it had been returned once they knew I would go through with my complaint. This is an obvious targeting of farang bags, during the night, by the staff of this bus. Most farang do not have the time to do what we did, are not stubborn like me nor can speak Thai (all conversations were in Thai). Normally they would not realise they have lost anything until it was too late. The bus driver initially tried to blame the customers which I rejected immediately and blamed his people. These people need to be exposed. What worries me is that someone else has lost a big camera – and what was most worrying in our case – all their trip photos. This is organised targeted theft against tourists.

The dodgy visa scam that I wrote extensively about a couple of weeks ago continues to be hot on the lips of expats, particularly some of the dodgier expats. What follows is FACT, and not the crazy hysteria that is being discussed on some of the internet message boards. At least one Westerner caught with dodgy stamps has been found guilty in court and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment. This is FACT – 100% confirmed! All embassies that I know of are advising any of their citizens with dodgy stamps in their passports to surrender that passport to the embassy and apply for a new one, which when accompanied by a letter from the embassy can be taken to Immigration and a new visa stamp obtained. If there is overstay to pay, it must be paid, but it would be a fraction of the cost of defending yourself in a court of law, to say nothing of punishment which may follow. People with dodgy stamps have been arrested at many different border points and it is not just those people leaving via Don Meuang who have been arrested. Most caught with dodgy visa stamps have been caught on visas issued within the last 6 months.

It is business as usual down in Pattaya which I guess is to be expected. Bars which usually show, are showing. Tits are on display in Cowboy, which is a bit of a surprise. How long it'll last, who knows?

I heard a serious rumour which I tried to verify but couldn't. Anyway, the story goes that the Crown Group missed their pay day this past month meaning that all of the girls were paid late. I tried to verify this but my email was not responded to. There is also a very nasty rumour going around that another round of drinks prices is about to come into effect and the new standard drinks price will be 135 baht. It is hard to believe and if it does eventuate, things will be getting silly.

Soi Cowboy may soon be known as "Walking Street 2". What is sometimes a hazardous place to stroll along has been cleared of all cars, motorbikes and even food vendors since Wednesday past until this coming Wednesday, so a wander through will be more leisurely now than ever before.

And speaking of damn, at least one visa agent has stated that will be getting back into business before Xmas. Good God, this is absolute madness. While the agency involved may (or many not?) have contacts with the right people in the right places, so too did some agencies from the past – and we know what happened to them.

Central calls it a "tourist privilege card" but they are now quite clearly marketing it towards expatriates. Various posters up in Central branches state that expats can apply for this cad which will give them 5% of all purchases in central. Given the number of expats who can be seen in Central branches, especially the excellent flagship branch at Chidlom, it makes sense to apply for the card. Applications are free. Of course, it is also available to tourists. Sort of bizarre really that they offer this 5% discount effectively to all Westerners, but not to the locals!

From Nana, Angel Witch are now also charging 125 baht per drink. Playskool and Rainbow 1 are doing quite good trade lately and they have a lot of cute girls. Much of the same bars doing reasonably well under the circumstances – Rainbow 1 & 2, Playskool, Angel Witch, Hollywood Carousel and Hollywood Two.

Rumours coming out of Pattaya suggesting that Angel Witch may be about to spread its wings, and a popular bar in Pattaya, on Walking Street to be a little more precise, may soon become Angel Witch 2. It doesn't look like it'll happen for now. But let's hope that the mamasan from Angel Witch stays at the Bangkok branch and doesn't go down to Pattaya. The said mamasan has been hounding customers to pay bar for the girls and trying to negotiate the price for the girl, there and then in the bar. While the intentions may be good (or may not, I couldn't be sure) such aggressive behaviour doesn't endear the customers to the bar at all.

Hooty's in Pattaya seems to have found a new lease of life and owner Andy must be rubbing his hands together at the profits that must be flowing in. He moved the seating and made many changes including bringing in even more girls and the bar that promised so much is finally doing well.

There is even more speculation as to what bars in what areas will have to close for the duration of the APEC meetings. The Thai Government seem as though they do not want to scare tourists off by keeping quiet, but it is expected that Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy and Patpong will be closed for at least one week. A fear of upsetting tourists takes priority over thousands of people losing a weeks business. Plus there will most probably be the inconvenience of an official decision being issued at the very last minute.

A Nana Plaza bar owner recently returned from Singapore hoping to get his one year business class B visa. He was refused and was only given 3 months and told that the Thai embassy in Singapore are not issuing one year visas. Singapore has always been a popular place for Westerners to go to get their yearly visas so many must be hoping that this "war against foreigners" will have blown over by then.

News from the wretched Soi Nana couple continues to come in. Apparently the female was in Hong Kong and Santos has been down in the South, both doing their best to hide from authorities. A little birdie told me that they are both wanted now by two separate police authorities and will soon have a second legal action taken out against them. Hunters has now become Bollywood. Do they really think that they can change the name and get away with everything?

Speculation is rife on the streets of the Big Mango, with the lead up to the APEC summit causing all kinds of headaches for expats and visitors. Many people are reporting being stopped and "grilled" by Thai police, some unlucky farangs say they have been approached by police several times. Random questions as to why they are in Thailand are followed by the usual demands to see their passports; this is becoming as common as urine testing bargirls! Quite a few expats who stay staying in the Soi Nana have had to show their passports. It is also common knowledge in the expat circles that their will be a mass exodus of resident expats as the APEC summit approaches. Regular visitors to Thailand may also postpone their trips, so this October is certainly expected to be a lean month in terms of tourist related businesses.

David Young, author of the two charming Thailand set novels, "The Scribe" and "Thailand Joy", is working on his next title called "fast Eddie's Luck 7 A-Go-Go". Not only is he writing it, he hopes to do all of the printing and publishing himself. David advises that his latest title should be in stores before the end of the year.

Asia Books seem to be stocking a lot more copies of Jake Needham's excellent latest, "Killing Plato". If you have been looking for a copy, check out Asia Books or Bookazine who for now, both seem to have a number of copies in stock.

Quote of the week comes from a reader. "I can get on any bus in Bangkok and there will be at least 5 women I would marry without asking their names…. how many buses in the UK would I have to get on to find a woman that didn't make me physically ill?"

Rumour has it that there is a shagging show at a certain bar, somewhere in the Kingdom. Actually, it has been confirmed. So, if you find yourself in a certain gogo bar, you might just see a couple going for it. Apparently such shows weren't uncommon in Patpong a long time ago but they were scrapped some time back and I personally have never seen such a thing. But it would seem there is a chance to view such a show at a certain bar now. Sorry, I cannot name the bar – it is up to you to find it.

There are two different stories as to why the Patpong bars are closed during the day time. The first one is that a local big shot cop was playing cards in a bar and the Bangrak cops came in and tried to arrest him and he got pissed off and told them if they wanted to play by the rules then all the rules should be followed and no day time bars allowed. The other story was a high ranking member of the Patpong Bar Owners association who it is purported was harassing the local cops over all the baksheesh he was paying and now that the "zoning" areas were settled, how come the rules aren't being followed and the bars be allowed to open until 4 AM. Perhaps the cops finally had enough and said OK we will follow ALL the rules.

No Mrs. Stick's Corner Thus Week, Sorry!

I am getting deluged with questions asking about just how Bangkok will be effected at APEC, many people asking about the status of the naughty bars and whether they'll be open or not. Word from the bars is that they are largely still in the dark and it looks like we will not know until the last minute – and even when an announcement comes (that is official word is given to the bars), it may change after that. To keep readers up to date, as soon as I hear something definite I will run an announcement on the main page of the site so you do not have to wait until the next weekly column to find out.

That's all for this week.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave.