Stickman's Weekly Column June 27th, 2004

The Biggest Investment Of All


It’s nice to have somewhere to call home. For anyone who has settled in Thailand and is looking at staying long term, the thoughts of buying a place are inevitable.

What are the issues a Westerner needs to consider when contemplating the purchase of property in Thailand?

In the West one can assume certain characteristics in the property market over the long term. Property prices increase, on average, around 10% a year. Monthly rental is usually around 1% of the value of the property. And so on. The characteristics of the property market in Thailand appear to be less certain and from what I have observed, you can't count on out the aforementioned norms.

If you’ve read this column for very long you’ll know that I tend to err on the conservative side so it will come as no surprise that overall, my feeling is that for the average Westerner, buying in Thailand is not necessarily the best way to go…

Rent Is Cheap

Take the example of a good friend of mine. He rents a 4 bedroom, 2 level house in Nonthaburi, less than 15 minutes drive from the expressway at Ngam Wong Wang, meaning that he can leave his place and be in central Bangkok (read: Sukhumvit / Siam Square / Silom) in not much more than half an hour. Even at peak hour, it doesn't take much more than an hour to get from what is really the outskirts of the city into the city centre. The monthly rental on his property is 8,000 baht and the landlord is asking 2,800,000 baht for the property. At 8,000 baht a month, it would take almost 30 years to pay for the property, and that is assuming zero interest! With no certainty of the value of the property moving at all, and all of the headaches of home ownership left with the property owner, he is probably better off continuing to rent.

Ownership Issues

As a foreigner, you cannot buy a house and have it in your own name. It must be in the name of a Thai spouse, Thai friends or the Thai fellow who sleeps under the bridge, down the road. There is the odd exception but generally, the property cannot be in your own name. This is the red flag of all red flags. If things go bad, then the property is gone and you have no claim to it.

In the case of a condominium, you can buy in your own name as a foreigner. There are certain criteria which must be met such as which floor of the building the condo is on and the percentage of foreign ownership in that building, but yes, you can purchase a condo and have it in your own name.

The immigration laws in Thailand effectively mean that foreigners must renew their visa each year, every year – and this doesn't look set to change. What happens if for whatever reason, your visa is not renewed? Suddenly you have a property in a country which you cannot enter! Very unlikely, but again, not beyond the realms of possibility.

Maintenance

In the case of a condominium, unless it is a particularly well managed building, there are no guarantees that the building will be looked after for at the same standard as it was when you first purchased it. This seems to be the biggest complaint many farangs (read: the bunch who I know) who have purchased property in Thailand have. The building is left to the dogs and the value of their condo drops faster than.

The Market

There are no guarantees that the price of property will move in Thailand. I know of many houses in the outskirts of Bangkok that sold in the 2 – 3 million baht range more than a decade ago and guess what, that is still their market value. Having said that, properties in central Bangkok and anything close to the skytrain has soared in value over the last 2 years.

Another of the big issues with buying in Bangkok (or for that matter all of Thailand) is selling. In the West, generally speaking, if you want to sell quickly, you can. You just drop the price 10 – 15% and assuming no extraneous factors in the market, the property will likely move. In Thailand, it is not quite like this.

There are definite perceptions amongst sectors of the Thai population about second hand places. A lot of Thais simply don't want to buy second hand, period. And the fact that a farang may have lived there is a negative perception to many Thais. Yeah, really! The superstitious nature of the locals also means that if one of any number of events happen, then suddenly your property is no longer somewhere they would buy.

And quite frankly, some of the prices that property in Bangkok is going for are outrageous, by Thai standards at least. Yeah, you could argue that Bangkok is still cheap by international standards, but when you look at property prices compared with other things in Thailand, they seem a bit stilted.

Finance

In researching this article, I got a huge amount of conflicting information when it came to finance. It seems that you CAN get finance locally, though like I say, the number of conflicting stories here are huge.

But then there is also the old situation where property purchase by foreigners have to follow a very strict set of regulations whereby money has to be transferred in from abroad, into a special type of account, from which the purchase can be made. Like I say, a lot of conflicting info here.

My Overall Thoughts

It is scary that there are so many negatives one must factor in when considering making such a major purchase, so many things that could potentially go wrong. It can't be denied that all of these added up together can make even the keenest home buyer nervous at the prospect of essentially putting their life's savings into something with no guarantee.

If you have a lot of money, you could end up with a very nice place indeed and there are some bargains to be had. And with a young population and improved education, it is likely that demand for property in Bangkok will soar, meaning prices will move accordingly. But this is Thailand, and as much as we enjoy living here, I have never had enough confidence in things here to make that big step and buy property. A car, yes. Property? Not yet.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic.

This week's pic.

It was the Chao Phaya 2 Massage Parlour.
You've been there before!

Last week’s pic was of the Chao Phya 2 Massage Parlour on Sri Ayuthya Road, the shot taken from the top of the Baiyoke 2 Tower. Remember, you have to be the FIRST person to get it right to win the prize.

Each week the first reader to correctly state where this week's pic is wins a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. Please note that the credit MUST be claimed within two weeks. So, to claim that prize, you must be in Bangkok at some time in the next two weeks.

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

No such thing as far as I know.

I was interested in your latest with regard to divorce. Two years ago I went through this process. It is quite an interesting experience to sit in a court in the North of Thailand with farmers that have just been dragged from prison to appear in court in chains for drug running! Anyway there is I believe an important point I wish to make. I know an English teacher in Thailand who has been living with his ex-bar girl for four years. He says he will never get married and is in total denial that his 'girl' was ever in the 'business' (he met her in a bar in Patpong when she was a service girl – he called her a 'drinks manageress'). They seem very happy although there have been a couple of BG-type mini scams. Last year I took some trousers for his close friend back to the tailors in BKK to be altered. The Thai-Chinese boss asked after them both. "How is the teacher's wife?" Wife I said? Wife!? "Oh yes, she live long time with him in Thailand she his wife now, absolute sure!", said the lady owner of the tailors. Now we come to my important point = COMMON LAW WIFE STATUS? Is there such a thing in Thailand and is it enforceable? This teacher has just inherited a tidy sum. I have a friend who lives near a beach resort in Thailand who has also come into a few quid via a house sale. He has been with his girl for about three years. Similar situations? If either of these relationships went wrong do the Thai girls in question have recourse to law as COMMON LAW WIVES? How many farangs have lived with their girl for more than two years and what are the consequences should things go badly wrong? I just keep thinking of the words of the tailor lady, "Oooh they live together long time, she wife in Thailand now!"

Cold Canada, a Thai girl's worst nightmare?

Thai woman are ten times better than these North American hippos I have to deal with. I have been to Bangkok, and I loved it. I want a Thai wife so bad it's freaky. I think I'm obsessed with the little darlings. I'm wondering how to get one of those little obsessed babes over to Canada.

Anyone for Thai music?

Last night I stopped by Soi Cowboy. Went into Suzie Wong's about 1:15 AM last night. Not many customers another slow night on the cowboy. Girls dancing listlessly going through the motions to Western rock. A server sat down started talking to me and giving me the rundown on each girl. Taking it easy tonight, no barfine. Now the bar is down to four customers including me and maybe 24 or so girls. Most still in work clothes because they have not been barfined. There are some BGs in street clothes still hanging around. The bar is very slow and subdued. The DJ now plays Thai music. The place just erupts with energy. The girls on stage start dancing for their own entertainment, things get wilder. Girls in street clothes climb on to the stage and dance. A server even climbs on to the stage. The servers start rocking out to the Thai music in the aisles. Girls get together and put on mini shows for each other. Just watching the girls, experiencing the dancing energy, the Thai girl sexual allure, and the fun these girls were having is a show to rival any other in LOS. One little petite dynamo of energy attracted my attention….I could not take my eyes off her dancing…..I could not help myself….I barfined her and the show she put on for me in private was just as hot. So when it's slow, close to closing, you have time, stop in, the show is just beginning.

Same story, different place.

I couldn't resist another shot at the Thai bars in Wanchai even with the horrendous price of the lady drinks, so off I went on the MTR. I got talking to a cracking 34 year old who has lived here for 7 years. She said her husband had died and left her with debts and 2 kids to support back in Korat (where have I heard this before). Despite this bullshit she was pretty and had a bubbly, chatty personality and said if I could wait till 5 AM (Gee I wish the bars closed at 2 AM). She would meet me at the local disco / pick up joint around the corner for free (the $HK 4,000 bar fine is a bit steep). All went according to plan and I went back to her place which is the smallest room I have ever seen anyone live. I spent the next day with her and met up a couple of times afterwards and she told me she liked me and didn't want any money… Hmmm really? Why is she jumping around on a stage in bra and knickers until 5 in the morning then. I sort of trusted her and she came back to my place for a night where she tidied up, sorted out the fridge and did all the washing and ironing (amongst other things). We went to the pictures on her night off and although still very sceptical she did a good job of playing the girlfriend bit which is all very tempting, as apart from the guys I work with I don't know a soul here. After seeing her off and on for about a week, the crunch finally came… 'You lend me $HK 2,000 (about 10,000 baht), I pay you next month". That was it…in the end, I gave her $HK 1,500 and said "well now I know I am a customer". Things started to go a bit sour here, she threw the money back and had a temper tantrum in a way that only Thai women can, followed by the tears. I stuffed the money in her bag and that was the last time I saw her. I don't want a freebie, unless there is something genuine and long term which it was not and the crap about a 'loan' is just that, I am sure the (never to be repaid) loan would just get bigger.

Mai Me Letterlaunt.

I had booked a very lengthy stay at the Amari Boulevard hotel just off Sukhumvit. I had never before visited this hotel, so a week or two before we were due to stay there and as we just happened to be passing, we decided to drop in and have a meal and check the place out. Admittedly, we weren't in our best clothing and we were tired after a long journey, so we didn't look too smart. Not a problem I thought. We approached the security guy at the reception entrance and asked him what time the restaurant closed. He replied that this hotel didn't have a restaurant! I looked directly above his head where there was a very large illuminated sign advertising the several fine restaurants within this fine hotel. I pointed to this sign and asked him again what time the restaurant closed. He just looked at me vacantly and repeated 'Mai me letterlaunt'. To be sure there was no misunderstanding, my Thai girlfriend asked him again in his native Isaan tongue. Same result. I asked him if he really expected me to believe that this 3/4 star hotel had no restaurant and AGAIN pointed out the large restaurant sign above his head. He remained silent. The following day, we cancelled our long term booking in disgust. The Amari group have lost one of their regular customers.

Bottoms Up in Nana Plaza of all bars was visited by the police this week and the clever boys in brown managed to slip in under the radar, the doorman whose role it is to signal that cops are coming somehow didn’t make the signal in time. When the boys in brown entered they found flesh on display. It’ll be interesting to hear what happens…if there is one bar in Nana Plaza with good connections then this is it.

Despite all the warnings, can you believe that there are still shows in the odd Nana bar? But that hasn’t helped to pull the crowds in…things are still very quiet in the Bangkok naughty bar areas and even Nana, the most popular bar area of recent times, remains quiet.

With England knocked out of Euro 2004, bar trade should pick up. Many people stayed home to watch the matches. Such sports tournaments are good for some bars, such as those that have sports tournaments coverage like The Londoner. But for the naughty bars, it is all bad news as few want to watch a sports match in a bar with girls distracting you from the all important action. Give me the All Blacks over a bunch of Thai working girls any day.

The good folks at The Londoner tried to remain open to show the late matches at Euro 2004 but their plans were thwarted by the government. They had a really neat notice posted outside explaining quite clearly why they could not open late.

One of the two remaining beer bars in Soi Middle East off Soi 3 has been demolished. The site of the two that were demolished previously is being developed with two tent structures and two portacabins. It is understood that it is going to be an Arabic restaurant.

Down in Phuket, Club Rio is now open. Their first (unannounced) night went very well yesterday. They've got 2 pool tables, 2 free DSL stations (up & running soon) a new menu and 80 baht beers which is cheap by Phuket standards. They were open until 4 AM last night and in what is one of the more sensible things I have heard recently, Patong seems to be heading in that direction.

Wanna get online but don't wanna pay for it? There is a an appliance store at the Patumwan Princess end of MBK on the 4th floor where you can surf the net for free. And there is not just one, but two terminals there.

Thailand might be going mad over the Euro 2004 football tournament but one of the major sponsors, Carlsberg, is not getting the coverage they would expect here. Not that it really matters because their fine product is no longer available in Thailand. With the dispute between Carlsberg of Denmark and the Thai operation ongoing, Thai TV stations have pixilated the Carlsberg advertising boards at the match so that viewers can't see them! The worst thing though is that they have not just isolated a small part of the screen and just pixilated the Carlsberg advertising board, but often about 1/4 of the whole TV screen, which makes watching the replays a real pain. Obviously they cannot do this when the matches are live and only replays are affected.

The Duangtawan Hotel in Chiang Mai is open and at the lobbies and pool areas are absolutely magnificent with much marble and wood. Also from the northern capital, new pedestrian lights have been installed which seem to give you barely 10 seconds to get across the street, that is if the drivers even slow down. Some actually seem to see it as a challenge and speed up – double points for farang, I guess. The bars are still closing early and nobody seems to know why. Thanks to various policies there aren't many customers anyway.

Are all songtaew (known as baht buses to some) drivers a bunch of so and sos? Certainly in the heavily touristed beach resorts of Phuket, Pattaya and Samui, they are the least pleasant people you meet. What about in other parts of the country? What are they like?

Big John's have added a few farang favourites to their menu, like meatloaf, meatballs & chicken casserole. Now the great thing about Big John's is that his prices are VERY friendly so even if you are on a tight budget, you'll find his prices affordable. Check out his website at www.bigjohnsworld.com.

I received an email from the owner of a new restaurant called Confusion which sounds very interesting indeed and just reading what he had to say made me hungry. They are located on Sukhumvit Soi 23 serving "Continental Thai fusion cuisine". To quote the owner, "here you can enjoy excellent Thai, fusion and continental dishes in a relaxed, friendly and sociable atmosphere." The specialties include NZ Lamb Chops marinated in Thai red curry, stir fried ostrich with black peppers Thai style and Cajun chicken with coconut. Owned by an Irishman and run by his Thai girlfriend (who he met in the same restaurant 3 years ago) Confusion sounds like it is worth a visit. Free parking is available in the Japanese club directly across the road.

Following on from the piece in last week's column about the requirement to lodge your bag / belongings at the Nana Disco, one needs to remember that in some of these naughty nightlife venues, not all of the staff are as honest as is, shall we say, desirable. One needs to be aware of the remote chance that something – read drugs – could be planted in one's bag. This could be a very nice little earner for a potential perpetrator who plants drugs into an unsuspecting foreigner's bag and then tips the cops off. That is not to say that I have heard of such things happening but hell, I would not chance it.

Have you seen the most distasteful commercial on Thai TV? I am talking about the one for Twin Lotus Herbal Toothpaste. It starts off showing a little Thai girl whose balloon is stuck in a tree or something. This big black dude gets it for her, but when he hands it to her, the little girl's mother panics and orders her daughter to stay away from the big "bad" black man. The poor black man (with sad music playing) walks back home. He opens the door and stuck to his ceiling are many balloons. He then lies down to sleep on his bed, only his bed is the head of a toothbrush! The announcer comes on and says in Thai, colour black but quality good! This is a fxxxing outrage. I swear, Thais are the most racist nation on the face of the earth. What is it exactly that Thais are trying to express here? Could it be that they think they are the superior race? When I see this ad I really believe that all of the people involved with it from whoever came up with the original concept to everyone who worked on it must have the most narrow and shallow minds. Part of what makes a civilized culture is the ability of the people to evolve into a modern society. Thailand hasn’t been able to do this. They want to be recognized as a civilized country, but how can they ever be civilized when they do shit like this? Here’s something for Thais to think about. If they look down so much on people with black skin and people from Laos, then they are looking down on themselves. Just look at Isaan. Most Thais don’t realise it but there are likely more people speaking Laos in Thailand than in Laos! It makes me wonder just how xenophobic this lot are. Have you ever seen any of the Ed Carabao Daeng commercials? They show stuff like a Thai boxer beating the crap out of a Burmese dude…or the one showing Thai soldiers killing all these Japanese soldiers…or how about the one showing the school under attack and the school teacher rescuing all the children from these incoming mortar shells. Yep, true legends…in their own minds.

I do not like to fill the column up with re-runs of what is reported in the Thai news, but a couple of pieces from Friday caught my eye. The first was the arrest of a local Thai guy who had published nude pictures of his ex-girlfriend online. This is a serious offence in Thailand, and one where both criminal AND civil charges are usually laid. There are a number of non-commercial sites where Western guys post nude pictures of Thai girls online. Be careful doing this as if it somehow comes back to you, you're in deep shit. The other article which made me chuckle was about the distribution of condoms at the airport during the week of the HIV / AIDS conference to be held in Bangkok next month. It was reported that two sizes of condoms will be distributed, the local size for Thais and the international size, a bigger condom, for visitors from other countries.

It goes without saying that one should look after their passport with great care. It seems that at least one unscrupulous operator is playing games with the passports of Westerners it employs. These operators who approach you in the streets of major Thai beach resorts and ask you a couple of questions before telling you that you have won some stupid prize which is really just an excuse to get some wise ass to give you a high pressure sell to buy some timeshare bullshit. Whatever you do, do not get involved with these outfits. It is one big con and word has reached me that these outfits do everything they can to get the passport of people who work for them and use that as leverage against them. Don't get involved!

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. Unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email. Questions for her should be limited to 100 words. Mr. Stick may answer the odd question in place of Mrs. Stick of he thinks he can do a better job. The questions for Mrs. Stick have been sow recently so instead I have answered a couple of the more interesting emails to me as questions.

Question 1: I just finished reading an interesting book by Barry Glassier on the culture of fear in America and how it is emphasized through the media. Basically the theory goes that more violence in America is perpetuated by a constant state of fear attributed to news media concentration on negative reporting…fires, crime, murders, deadly products, irresponsible companies, etc. So, I'm curious, as a speaker of Thai, what does the Thai language news report? Violence in the south? Corruption? Or is it more flowery with donations to monks and public service projects topping the headlines? On a scale of 1-10, how 'scary' is it to watch / read Thai news?

Mr. Stick says: I watch the Thai news for a short while on TV every other night and read the odd newspaper article. I understand 99% of what is on TV, but when it comes to newspapers, I don't quite understand everything in the lengthier articles. But I'm rambling. To me, the news reported on Thai TV tends to toe the line of the "national interests". It is not that often you get an investigative piece where reporters really get stuck into people in positions of power or influence. Seldom will they come out and say outright that this is wrong, against the national interests, or whatever. I believe that there was a bit more investigative journalism a few years ago but it seems to have gone by the wayside recently and one can only speculate as to why that is. My feeling is that many journalists are scared of the consequences of reporting certain things. I guess more than anything, I find the Thai news predictable. Once an article starts, you can almost guess what they are going to say. It is not that incisive, or at least what I have seen is not. There is the odd interesting documentary from time to time, many of which use hidden cameras, and they have all the usual things from naughty shows in Pattaya bars to corruption at every level, all inevitably followed by a police raid. To answer your final question, just look at the front page of some of the local newspapers for scary stuff.

Question 2: When you write a recent piece like, "Don't Make Me Angry. ….." this seems in conflict with other things I read about Thai people in general i.e. to show emotion or anger, causes one to lose face and dignity…? If the Thai woman turns into a monster, isn't she then losing face, which is to be avoided at all costs?

Mr. Stick says: First of all, I didn't write that. Rather, it was an email from a reader included in last week's column. The whole idea with face is that it concerns what is seen, and what is known. A Thai woman who behaves atrociously and commits terrible acts does not lose an ounce of face if the act isn't seen by anyone. So if in the private confines of one's apartment she goes crazy and trashes the place and does whatever else, she may feel, and indeed may be right, that she can get away from the situation without losing face. If one had a video camera set up in corner and captured it all, and that video was to be played to people she knew, then yeah, she would lose a tremendous amount of face. In fact her reputation would be shit. But what are the odds of that happening? Also, you'll find that many Thais give their fellow nationals a lot of latitude when dealing with foreigners and what would ordinarily cause a local to lose face, might be overlooked, if the other party in the dispute is a foreigner.

The bars are really quiet at the moment. Despite me seemingly annoying half of the bar managers in Bangkok, chasing them up for news or gossip, I can relay that there is little going on around town…it is the quiet season.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave, Russian Bob, Basil Brush and Sunpup.