Stickman's Weekly Column January 18th, 2004

A Place For Everything


In the early days in Bangkok, I spent too much time in the naughty bars. It wasn't that I really liked them (stop laughing you cynical sods!), it was more a case that I didn't really know where else to go. Too many of the alternative venues such as regular nightclubs and discos I considered too expensive and besides, they seemed to be Thai only venues where farang who ventured out alone were not really unwelcome, but neither were they truly welcome either. The naughty bars were always an easy place for a farang. Pretty girls would talk to you and many of the other customers were in a similar situation, so you'd often end up chatting with a few other farangs too.

But truth be told, there are a zillion entertainment options and while I spent a lot of time at such bars, I avoided one of Bangkok's best known areas for many years. I never really liked Khao Sarn Road and felt that it was just too farang for me. I had come to Thailand to meet Thais and experience Thai culture, but back then, Khao Sarn Road seemed to be very much a slice of farang culture and the only Thais you met there were the vendors.

After the expense of the previous week venturing out to Spasso’s, Mrs Stick agreed with me that the wallet needed a rest so this week we decided to venture to a slightly more affordable venue and headed out to Khao Sarn Road, the backpacker's haven of Bangkok.

If the image in your mind of Khao Sarn Road is one of a tangle of stereotypical long-haired backpacking farangs staying in a farang ghetto with cheap accommodation, cheap eats and all of the services needed by budget travellers, then you would not be wrong. Just as it has done for almost two decades, this is what Khao Sarn Road serves the budget traveller. But while all of this is available as ever before, Khao Sarn Road now offers so much more.

Even just a couple of years ago, you could name all of the decent nightspots in Khao Sarn Road in one short, sweet sentence. Suzy Bar, Gulliver's, Austin, Buddy Bar and that was about it. But Khao Sarn Road has been a hive of activity and construction for some time now and this 400m stretch which used to see a ration of perhaps 5 farangs to every Thai is rapidly changing. There are so many new, interesting places that you would need a couple of sheets of paper to write them all down on. No longer is KSR an area where a Thai felt they almost needed a visa to enter, it is now one of the favourite haunts of young, hip Thais and with that, stacks of new venues have opened and a lot of old favourites have moved upmarket.

There are several new bars and nightclubs that are totally dominated by Thais – so much for this supposedly being a "farang only area". In fact there are so many good bars that I can't even remember the names of them all – and every time I go there always seem to be new bars opening. The Club, Lava, Silk Bar and more, all nicely decorated and not the slummy backpacker style venues that were so popular before. And it is not just Khao Sarn Road itself where all of the good bars are. The surrounding streets and the lane around the nearby temple also have some interesting spots to hang out at.

And unlike other parts of town, the prices for most things in Khao Sarn are very reasonable indeed. At most of the restaurants on Khao Sarn itself, Thai dishes are generally under 100 baht. And don't think that the restaurants often farangized food because most don't. And drinking on Khao Sarn is very reasonable indeed. At most of the restaurants that open out on to the street, a large Heineken will cost you around 100 baht, a small one around 60 baht. While not my style, these mini booze carts with cheap cocktails can be found all over the place. Even Gulliver's in Khao Sarn Road is cheaper than Gulliver's in Sukhumvit. And if you really are on a budget, you can get still get pad Thai for 10 baht on the street.

Mrs Stick and I enjoyed sitting at one of the streetside restaurants, having a few drinks and watching the farang guy / Thai couples walking past, each of us trying to guess if she was on the take or not. Yep, you get all sorts of Thais going to Khao Sarn Road. With some universities in the area, there is quite a number of university students. There are a lot of "farang curious Thais" and more and more, there is the working girl contingent. It is a young Thai crowd. Older Thais don't seem to have caught on to it in any great numbers.

Khao Sarn Road has really grown up. While still the backpacker's favourite stop in Bangkok, it now offers so much more. Perhaps the only thing that Khao Sarn has against it is its location. For many farangs who stay in the Sukhumvit, Silom or Patumwan / Pratunam areas, it can be a bit of a hike to get to Khao Sarn Road. But don't worry, even though it is not on the skytrain line, every taxi driver knows it. I guess what I like most about Khao Sarn is that you can do virtually anything there – and if you go out in a big group, there really is something for everyone there.

I am not at all into this pseudo hippy, discover-yourself, rebel-against-society bullshit backpacker culture, but every night I go to Khao Sarn I have a great night out.

Where is this pic?

Oh, come on, guys, you're not really
going to arrest me just because I farted?
Last week's picture was taken in Pattaya, at the point where Beach Road loops around and meets Second Road, not far from where the songtaews leave for Jomtien. The prize was for the person to come up with the best caption. Given the hassles that a lot of farangs seem to be getting these days, I thought the above caption was great and have chosen that as the winner. Ok, back to guessing where a pic is. Where is this week's pic, above? The first person to correctly state where it is wins a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. Please note that the credit MUST be claimed within two weeks and it can only be used by the prize winner, although that winner can also use it to buy lady drinks. So, to claim the prize, you must be in bangkok at some time in the next two weeks to venture down to Tony's Bar to claim the prize. So, just what as being said…

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Surprise inefficiency.

I have read several times that the national park fee has gone to 200 baht. I just spent New Years week on Koh Samet, and went in and out of the parks and beaches for a week. I even went by the signs saying it was 200 no one said anything to me or my Thai traveling companion or anybody else that I could tell. The only exception and I don't think they were collecting money was the songtaews entering, when the guard talked to the drivers. What's up maybe they figured they got enough out of me doubling the prices for New Years.
The shape of things to come?
One big problem regarding legalising prostitution in Thailand will be whether the pimps (bar owners) can be trusted to pay the correct amounts of tax to the government without ripping off their employees. A scenario is easy to imagine. A gogo bar with 30 employees decides to leave half of them off its books. It pays tax for 15 but continues to deduct money from all 30, plus a bit extra for itself. As the girls' take-home pay decreases because of deductions, the girls start charging their customers more. When the girls find out they are getting a raw deal, some move to other (independently owned) bars where they are better treated. These bars then get busted on a "technicality" and forced to close down. Within a few months, all the gogo bars in Bangkok are owned by two large groups, who form a cartel and increase prices even more. This has a knock-on effect all over the country. Gogo bars become a luxury which only rich expats and tourists can afford. I sincerely hope I am proved wrong.
5 baht to take a leak? Where is the nearest tree!
About half way between Udon Thani and Nongkhai there is a right hand turn to an amphur of Phen. The main town is totally farang free, although it's neighbour of Ban Dtat is the reverse with 50% of the female population working in Patong Beach!! In Phen there is a delightful, but typical, market place on the far side of which is the toilet with an entrance fee of .. yep .. 5 baht !! 'Fraid bog excess is not subject exclusively to F.A.T. (Farang Added Tax) but is nationwide. In short, stop whinging and get your hand in your pocket, it's us Brits that are supposed to be the international moaners !!!!
No working girls, no business.
Back in April 2002 Spasso decided to keep out the working girls. They strictly enforced it. Business immediately went down 40%. This lasted about 3 months. They decided to let the WG’s back in, but restrict it to only the higher class girls. Therefore, they charge the working girls 1,000 baht admission. This way, the plain plump farm girls cannot afford to get in, as they will never command the price to recoup the money. The high class ones will pay that without hesitation, as their fees of 4-6,000 baht per night will make it worth their while.
I would have left nothing.
I just had dinner with my girl at the Vientienne Restaurant, Pattaya 2nd Rd., and was extremely pleased in all respects except one. The place was pretty full, as usual, but the tables are set well apart, so we didn't feel crowded at all. It's a nice, big, open-air restaurant with tasteful decor, soft Isaan music and pretty waitresses in traditional costume. From the menu of about 345 items, we selected five, plus rice and drinking water. The food arrived amazingly promptly and was cooked to perfection. I t was one of the best feasts I've ever had in Thailand- absolutely delicious! When I asked for the bill, I was pleased to be charged a very reasonable 440 baht. I paid with a 500 baht note and waited for my change, planning on leaving it all as a tip, since the meal and the service were so especially good. The waitress returned with my change in a folder, set it on the table, then STOOD AND STARED AT ME. She was waiting to see how much I would leave as a tip. I have been through this countless times before at Thai restaurants. Why, oh WHY must they do this? It is SOOOOO damned rude! I refuse to give in to their psychological pressure. I don't give a damn if my girl (or the waitress) think I'm "kee nio." When they pull this shit, I leave little or nothing behind in the change folder. So, instead of the 60 baht I was planning on giving them, I left only 20 baht instead. (If the meal hadn't been so good, I would have taken ALL my change).
LODP – Land Of Decent People.
I really believe Thai women are overall very decent females. I can understand, after meeting Thai people, how you can easily become attached to Thai women. I've travelled all over the world, but Thailand, was the first place I met people who were really decent. I dropped some money on the street and a Thai tapped me on the shoulder and gave me my money back.
Bareback killers.
It's time for me to throw in my tuppence worth on the condom issue. I'm staggered at the attitude towards non-use of condoms. There is a hard core of you who try to justify going bareback with a bar girl. I read recent submissions on this subject with disdain and amazement at your selfish and DANGEROUS activities….dangerous to everyone. Some of you have the attitude that you are at an age where contracting HIV will not be too much of a problem because of your advanced years. Others see the HIV problem as being not a problem because you think the chances of contracting it are small and that you think it is difficult to contract it from female to male heterosexually. IT IS EXACTLY THE PEOPLE LIKE YOU THAT ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RAMPANT SPREAD OF HIV. When you consider yourself to be too old to worry about catching HIV, you have a blatant disregard for the young women you may be passing it on to……and subsequently their future customers…..and so on…..and so on…..and so on….. You heartlessly factor out of the equation the families and children of these young women. You care not for the younger men who may also contract the disease that you have passed on to these girls. The HIV rate amongst prostitutes in Cambodia, for example, (many of whom come to work in Thailand) stands at 40 percent……and if you think it is much less in Thailand then you are naive in the extreme. You people who do not use condoms are making sex more dangerous for EVERYONE…..ALL OF US. Do the world a favour and chop you dicks off.
While the talk in the press has been about about mooted 1:00 AM closings, when it was discussed in Parliament, midnight was the time they talked about. Imagine that! Bangkok nightlife all being forced to shut down at midnight. Seems really hard to believe for a city known the world over for its party atmosphere. Common sense prevailed and, for now at least, the status quo remains. But, it would seem that this is not the end of the issue and that it will come up for discussion in Parliament again in March. Some Westerners concerned at the damage that this could do have set up a petition against a change to the closing hours at: http://www.thai-critics.com/ If earlier closing times were introduced, many establishments would suffer heavily. In the case of the ever popular naughty bars, not only would there be a likely drop in drink sales but barfines could well decrease as customers could much more easily arrange to meet girls outside earlier than before. With surrounding countries allowing later closings and some venues even running 24 hours, Thailand must realise that they could really harm the all important tourist industry. Hell, even in communist countries you have much longer drinking hours!

More and more bar girls are going freelance as opposed to working in a fixed establishment and this would seem to account for the large crowds that gather in the Nana Hotel car park after 2 AM. There usd to be a moderate gathering but now it is like a street party! All this government is succeeding in achieving is forcing working girls onto the streets in droves, out in the open where all and sundry can see them. Bangkok is rapidly becoming the largest open-air brothel in the world. The government's efforts to take greater control over the bars, especially the gogo bars, are forcing many girls to become common street meat. If the bars are stringently controlled, which a lot of people believe they are already, where is the sense in driving the working girls to the streets? Surely this is more damaging to Thailand's reputation?

And it is not only the Nana Hotel car park or Sex Tourist Alley (Sukhumvit Soi Zero down to Asoke) where you can find freelancers milling around on the street. They can be found in the Petchaburi Road area too. The Siam Hotel, so long known as one of the freelancer areas for Thai men, is also home to a midnight beauty pageant. A friend was there recently and the word is that there were some real babes milling around in the car park of the Siam Hotel. According to him, there's no need whatsoever to go into the grotty coffee shop but simply stand in the car park and let the business come to you, even if you are farang! But you might want to have a word with the relevant authorities about price fixing as all of the girls seem to have got together on a pricing policy and now they ALL charge 1500 baht for 3 hours, so this place is hardly English teacher friendly. Good lord, price fixing in prostitution, what is the world coming to?! There is no need to go to the hassle of hunting for a short-time hotel as you can get a room at the Siam itself for 440 baht for 3 hours. A one stop service shop! The bests are apparently Friday and Saturday nights between midnight and 2 AM.

Despite what I had been lead to believe, all is back to normal at the Tahitian Queen in Pattaya. It is still the usual 1 PM start, and the bar still has many people's favorite in-bar short time room. Clean large room, bed and shower, great piped in music, many mirrors and adjustable lighting including spot lights! The 300 baht fee is inclusive of barfine, and 3 condoms!

Nana Plaza is definitely not the place it was. There are fewer genuinely good bars and so many gogo bars are no fun at all. On the very odd occasion when I make it to Nana Plaza, I seldom venture beyond Hollywood Strip or Angel Witch. Yeah, I stick my head in a few more for the purposes of research, but seldom stay for a drink. I am told that a lot of the girls will only go short time – and many will even count the minutes you are with them. Apparently there is a competition between girls in some bars as to how fast a girl can leave the bar, service the customer and get back to the bar! I have heard of times of under 50 minutes! That i really moving when you think about it. The girl and the guy have to leave the bar and go somewhere, presumably to a nearby hotel. Presumably they both undress, shower, do the business, shower again, get dressed, make the transaction and then return to the bar. 50 minutes? Cripes, someone must really have hit the accelerator! I guess a lot of the girls, especially in the Rainbow bars, have been spoiled rotten by Japanese over spenders. There seem to be a lot of girls missing from many bars, this adds another headache for bar owners with a very serious lack of gogo dancers. One bar that used to have close to 120 girls work a night had a turn out of just 30 earlier this week, when we had some of the unseasonal rain.

Admittedly I haven't been there for a while but I hear that the bikinis remain firmly on down in Soi Cowboy. And the previous Friday I heard that one of the biggest and best bars in Soi Cowboy couldn't open until after 8.30 PM because only a few girls turned up for work! Have a lot of gogo dancers been shamed out of the gogo bars by the government's recent actions? If they have and have gone on to other employment and are happy, then I am thrilled for them and the government should be congratulated for such policies. But I fear many of these girls are now out on the street, making a menace of themselves. And just this week, some bars in Cowboy were visited, licences were inspected with threats of closure for bars without licences. Some bar owners have changed but the documents have not been changed yet. Get your A into G fellas because it seems that the authorities will use any excuse to shut you down.

Mandarin Bar have lost a mamasan to Erotica who also took some of the Mandarin girls with her. Not sure how it has damaged Mandarin – or if it has improved Erotica much. Remember, when a mamasan goes, girls will often follow, sometimes immediately, sometimes at the end of that month. While one girl going from one bar to another may not be such a being deal, it can be a really big deal when a mamasan goes.

Rumours abound about the new "Elite card", you know the one that purportedly allows you to buy land and gives allows various other benefits to foreigners living in Thailand. While it is available through the promotions company at one million baht, apparently you can get it in Khao Sarn Road extra cheap, just 100 baht! Yep, along with dodgy degrees, teaching credentials, phony press cars, drivers licences and the like, the Elite card can be had for just 100 baht. So now everyone can own land in Thailand without having to pay 1,000,000 baht!

Why do the bodyguards on the door at Gulliver's Khao Sarn Road ask to see ID from every Thai lady to verify her age, even when she is obviously a grandma? And with farangs, they will pat you down, but do not check any ID. I guess thy are patting one down, searching for possible explosives – so any nasty person could just get a Thai woman to carry a package in for them.

What's better, being a sex tourist or a sexless tourist? I guess most would prefer to get their share – so is being a sex tourist so bad?!

The 8th book in Chris Moore's Vincent Calvino series of books can't be too far away. Thailand's favourite PI will once again hit the streets of the big, bad city. I enjoyed the last one, "Minor Wife" so must admit that I am looking forward to the next. I don't think Chris has given it a name yet, or at least announced the said name.

Despite threats of closure or worse, they weren't lots of sets of balloons hanging out in Voodoo in Nana Plaza this week. Once Nana's most popular and arguably best bar, the girls were told to show the customers a bit of flesh. My mobile phone went crazy as half of Bangkok's crazies sent me SMS reporting in that knockers were out on display in Bangkok!

Club Electric Blue will open a new branch in in Bangkok on Patpong Soi 2. They will take over the location of the old Rififi Bar which will close down on the 31st if this month with one promises to be a huge party. Micky has been there for 20 years! It is anticipated that Club Electric Blue 2 should be modelled by mid March and there will be a huge opening night with the Nanapong boys organising one of their chaotic dance contests! Mark this one on your calendar.

From a Canadian comes the quote of the week. "I am just staying on in Thailand for the money. If my job stops, it'll be time to go back to Canada." Are salaries really that bad in Canada? Is that why so many Canadians go to the US?!

International Living is a newsletter that basically researches, investigates and writes about the best places in the world to live and to retire in. They base their ratings on ten categories: cost of living, leisure and culture, economy, environment, freedom, healthcare, infrastructure, risk and safety, and climate. Their latest newsletter put Thailand at #10, which is quite believable to most of us – and a very respectable showing indeed, ahead of such desirable places to live like Australia or Spain. The #1 country? Hmmm, well Canadians always tell me that their country is repeatedly voted the best place in the world to live (despite the fact that some of their population have to go to Thailand to earn a decant living!) didn't even make the top ten. No sir, the top country according to International Living is…..Stickman's homeland, New Zealand. I think I'll stick with Thailand for now, thanks.

Despite rumours to the contrary, I do not hold the biggest collection of dead, injured or otherwise invalided buffalo photos in the Kingdom. Actually, I probably have the biggest collection of perfectly healthy, happy and remarkably well fed buffalo photos though.

I was quite surprised to see how interest is waning at the beer gardens around the city. When first erected at the start of the misleadingly called cool season, one can struggle to find a seat. And making my way over to the World Trade Centre this week I was expecting to have a fight on my hands to get a seat. But not only has a good chunk of the seating been taken away, there was only a small number of people and finding a table was even easier than finding a prostitute in Nana Plaza.

If you see a crazy looking farang screaming obscenities into his mobile with a Kiwi accent, odds are you have spotted me cursing one of the many incompetent mobile phone users who call me and ask for some or other Thai who I have never met. This past week, there was only one day when I DIDN'T receive a call for someone else. It is starting to drive me up the wall. Perhaps one should be forced to take a test in Thailand before they are allowed to own and use a phone.

If you are not in Thailand and / or do not read the local press, you are probably unaware that Thailand will host a major world AIDS conference in the middle of the year. At the time of this conference, there is talk of condoms being handed out to people as they enter the country. My God, I thought they were trying to shed the image of Thailand as a major destination for sex tourism? While the idea might is no doubt to promote safe sex and the prevention of disease, distributing condoms would give many people another message, one which the Thai authorities desperately want to shake off.

CD burning is the big service offered in Khao Sarn road right now. Most places seem to charge around 100 baht to burn your pictures from any digital media to a CD, the charge including the CD. Damned good value really. I imagine that soon this will be a standard service offered by a range of different businesses, especially as card readers and CD writers can be had very cheap.

I forgot to buy some water yesterday and this morning I was forced to traipse out of the apartment and wander up the road to by some bottled water, long before i could have my much needed morning medical coffee. Mrs Stick asked me if I'd be happy if she just used tap water to which I replied in the negative, my reasoning being that water costs so little that I'd rather be safe than sorry. But I do know that more than a few Bangkok residents drink tap water. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if some unscrupulous restaurants served us tap water rather than the bottled, or at least purified, variety. So, what about at your place? Do you drink bottled water? Let me know. I bet there are a few people who drink tap water.

Oh, I was just joking about the Elite Card available for 100 baht – but will we see them there one day?

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Each week, Mrs. Stick answers your questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Mrs. Stick likes to think of herself as an open-minded Thai lady so go ahead, ask anything because you won't shock her. Please send questions for her, via me, at the usual email address. Two questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine although I may attempt to correct her English from time to time. Please note that I may not necessarily agree with what she says and unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email. Questions for her should be limited to 100 words. She seems to spend all of her time these days on the popular Thai website manager.co.th so doesn't have time to answer long questions.

Question 1: I'll be back in Thailand soon, and as Valentines Day will be near the end of my trip. Any good recommendations for a really nice place to take the Mrs? I want this one to be something special. Any recommendations, from a woman's point of view?

Mrs Stick says: Bangkok's nicest, romantic spots are often found down by the river. There are many different levels from the reasonably priced with local food through to some very expensive international hotels. You can eat beside the river, or in alternative places you can order your food and and then take it on a boat that is attached to the restaurant. Others again you can order food which is cooked on the boat. There are many different places so do some research online to fine what is best for you. Hope it works out well.

Question 2: Is there any way a man could tell if a Thai girl truly loved him. Is there anything he could look for not being familiar with Thai culture. Is there one thing he should look for?

Mrs Stick says: This is a really tough question! Even to me as a Thai woman, it is hard to articulate an answer to this question. Love means different things to different people and if you want to know the answer, you have to be really honest to yourself about the relationship that the two of you have. You might even want to test her in different ways and situations and see how she responds. Our mothers teach us that we should be faithful in marriage and for sure, any woman who is not faithful doesn't love you. I just don't think there can be any one answer for all Thai women.

Question 3: I have been trying my best to visit Korat with some Thai lady friends who seem to refuse taking me there. Not even as a tour guide which was my initial intent! Is it really so bad to be asked to be introduced to someone's family even though you are not romantically involved? I really just want to learn about the culture without having to go the relationship / marriage route!

Mrs Stick says: In Thai culture, Thai women do not usually introduce a man to their family until they feel they are genuinely serious, i.e. marriage is probable and this is so especially in the rural areas. Many rural Thai people do not understand "modern ways" and things could become big if a farang man was taken home and introduced. The neighbours would gossip like crazy, especially if marriage was not imminent. Have I told you this story of mine before? After Stickman and I had been boyfriend / girlfriend for a while, I was quite confident with him and I mentioned the relationship to my Mum and asked if it was ok to take him home to introduce him to Mum. Mum refused, not because she didn't like him or she was anti farang, but she truly believed that he should not come to the family home until I was sure that he would be the one I would marry. Looking back, I was glad that she not only refused, but she offered clear reasons and also a nice solution by coming to Bangkok with my Aunty to meet him and get to know him. In your case, if you really want to go to Korat, you can stay at one of the big hotels (there are lots of nice, reasonably priced hotels in the centre of town) and you can get to enjoy Korat and learn more about genuine, traditional, Thai culture as well without feeling awkward for either side. You could meet your lady friend somewhere in town during the day (as opposed to night) and she could show you some sights. This I think is a win : win situation.

I almost didn't publish this week's column. I had a brain block and for a while just couldn't produce anything worthwhile but today I somehow managed to actually fire something out. It seems that life gets busier and busier and sometimes it is hard to produce a worthwhile column, not so much hard to write it, but hard to know what to write about. Recently I haven't managed to research a lot of news myself so as always, if you know of things happening in the big, bad city, please do let me know. And you bar owners and managers, PLEASE do send me news – its free advertising! I can't be everywhere at once.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave