Stickman's Weekly Column October 17th, 2004

The Heart Of Isaan


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In the rainy season of 1998 I found myself stuck in Pam's Bar one night. There was Pam, a couple of her sons including Albert, the huge, but very affable fellow, a handful of girls, and an American expat who had been around these parts for many years. It was my first year in the Kingdom and I had only been working in Bangkok a few months. With the rain absolutely hosing down outside, we had the choice of getting drenched in a dash to another bar or a taxi home, or holding up in Pam's Bar, and shooting the breeze while we waited for the rain to ease. We chose the latter.

We talked abut this and that, most of it no doubt the usual barstool bullshit. Whatever the hell we talked about, I really can't remember, though I do remember that he did most of the talking. One thing he said though I do remember clearly. As a keen newbie to Bangkok I was all ears. "Go to Roi Et, you won't regret it. Go to Roi Et." Six long years later, I ventured off into Isaan on a journey to check out a few provinces I had yet to visit, but most importantly, I wanted to visit Roi Et.

Amongst many Thais, Roi Et has a less than enviable reputation, known as a bit of a backwater where the locals aren't too clever and some strange things go on. Roi Et is often called "LA" and while I am not sure as to the origin of this, I would guess that the Thais think of the LA in California as a bit of a wild place and thus thought such a nickname for Roi Et to be appropriate. Looking at a map, Roi Et is slap in the middle of Isaan. It is the heart of Isaan.

Isaan is the least touristed region of Thailand and many of the least visited provinces are in this region. Isaan has a funny reputation in Thailand and for more than a few urban Thais, it is an embarrassment, a blemish on their otherwise refined and sophisticated country. But to farangs, we have a completely different outlook on the region. Funnily enough – and of great curiosity to many Thais, is that a good number of farangs have not just visited Isaan, but most have enjoyed it!

My first destination was Khon Kaen, some 450 km from Bangkok. They say that Khon Kaen is the most developed city in Isaan though to me, I would have thought Korat was a little more developed. That Khon Kaen has the best university and medical facilities in the region problem contributes to this.

Comparisons between Korat and Khon Kaen are inevitable. The third and forth largest cities in the country and separated by a mere 190 km, they share many similarities. A crude comparison would be that Korat is much drabber on the eye compared to the relative colour of Khon Kaen, but scratch beneath the surface and to me, Korat has more life, and dare I say it, the people seem a little bit friendlier. But as look koey Korat (an adopted son of Korat) as my mother in law jokes, I am of course biased.

I had visited Khon Kaen before, but had usually just used it as a transit point between Vientienne and Bangkok, somewhere to break up what can be a long journey between the capitals of Laos and Thailand. My homework had shown that there was a rather interesting nine level temple a couple of kilometres from the city centre so after checking into a hotel, I was straight out to check it out.

I do get a little bored looking at Buddhist temples after a while but this one was fairly impressive. The style was sufficiently different from other temples that it really was rather impressive to look at. Still, you can only sit there and gaze at a new temple for so long and after firing off a few photos, I sneaked out the back door which led out to the local park. After a long drive, it was nice to stretch out the legs and go for a wander around. Within 60 seconds I had spotted two farang / Thai couples, in both cases, he was at least 40 years older than her. I had a quiet chuckle to myself and reflected just how entrenched the mia farang phenomenon is in this region. It was at this stage that that air of sadness that I feel from time to time washed over me, a feeling I just can't suppress. I was momentarily filled with sadness at seeing this completely mis-matched couple. In a moment of mixed emotions, I through the telephoto lens on to my camera and started firing off shot after shot. Later in the hotel room looking at the picture on my computer I realised that the mismatch wasn't 40 years, it was, quite incredibly, probably closer to 50. At that stage I couldn't help but laugh, hysterically in fact, Jack Daniels assisted laughter it was.

While I didn't see or do too much else in Khon Kaen, largely because I was tired after a long drive, I just can't help but feel that Khon Kaen is a good point to stop off but there really is not a lot to see or do there for tourists.

Every major centre in Isaan, and even some smaller ones, have the obligatory farang owned and run bar. These places tend to be the meeting point for farangs living in the area and those passing through tend to find these spots too. Some of these bars are pleasant spots with a nice vibe, like the place (The Meeting Point?) that the late Australian ran in Nongkhai and a couple of spots on Suranaree Road in Korat, one run by a Swede and the other by a Lebanese fellow. But some other Isaan centre bars are not quite so nice and seem to be a bit rough. A couple of years ago myself and my usual travelling buddy stumbled upon such a place in Buriram which we were not at all keen on.

Being a city of some size, it is no surprise that Khon Kaen has its own farang bar, Seven's Corner, run by a Dane. The gentleman in question wasn't there the night that I visited, and just two other farang customers were. A bunch of dodgy young Thai blokes were drinking, not paying and having worked out that the Danish owner was away in India for ten days, I can see why they were drinking so much and not reaching for their wallets! As far as farang bars in the Isaan region goes, it was quite nice. A few TVs, a dart board, a collection of English language books and plenty of seating. The staff assured me that while it was very quiet when I was there, at the weekend it gets very busy. I guess there must be a fair few farangs in the Khon Kaen region.

The Khon Kaen night market gets set up. The nine level temple. Rather nice on the eyes.

Leaving Khon Kaen for the heart of Isaan, I reflected how 4 years ago I had been offered a teaching position in Khon Kaen. At the time I thought long and hard about it before turning it down. That decision is not one I regret.

The road from Khon Kaen to Galasin is not one of the better inter provincial stretches in the Kingdom with some fairly decent sized potholes. But what I noticed more than the road itself was some of the moobarns, that is villages, close to the main road. Some of them, or at least what I could see of them, looked very basic indeed, much more basic than what I have seen in other parts of Thailand. As I approached the heart of Isaan, people seemed to get poorer and poorer. I was headed to Galasin to check out the dinosaur fossil centre located 30 kilometres north of the city.

Into Galasin province, one notices huge dinosaur models everywhere, the province obviously very proud of the fact that such fossils have been found there. Stopping in Galasin for lunch, the few people I met and chatted with were very nice indeed. Friendly and interested in what the attractions were there for a farang. Continuing on my way north of the city, I came across plenty more dinosaurs and they even have signs in Thai warning of dinosaurs crossing the road, something which no doubt brings a chuckle to Thai kids. The fossil centre was nice enough though having no real interest in dinosaurs, I don't really think that it was ever going to excite me. After that, it was time to double back through Galasin city and down to the heart of Isaan, Roi Et.

It was a pleasant journey south down to Roi Et and once again, I noticed how poor some of the rural areas were. Passing by the city garbage dump just outside the city of Roi Et, I was sorely tempted to go inside and take photographs of the number of people rummaging through the junk, but unsure as to whether my presence would be welcome, I decided against it.

Eventually arriving in the city of Roi Et, I was very pleasantly surprised by just how nice the city is. In the city centre is what appears to be a man made lake of which in the middle is a pleasant park. On the lake are small boats for hire, much like at Lumpini. With a nice park and lake, the city has a very pleasant feel about it.

After going for a stroll around the park and meeting yet more M6 (grade 12) girls who had come to the provincial capital to sit their entrance test, I wandered around and took more photographs. I was approached by many people in the park from the aforementioned students, to a couple of local businessman, a photographer and lastly a cop who came up to me and said that he heard I spoke good Thai. We chatted for about 5 minutes about Roi Et. Everyone was friendly, everyone smiled, everyone seemed genuinely interested in the farang and I immediately decided that I was going to stay for more than one night and use this as a base to explore the surrounding countryside and provinces. I had a good vibe about this place.

And what do you think I stumbled across in Roi Et? Why, what I thought was the local farang hangout of course! One on One Pizza is a pleasant little restaurant come bar with seating outside which looks out across the "Roi Et pond". There was one friendly Westerner there whose brain I picked. He claimed that Roi Et had a very small number of Westerners living there on a permanent basis. According to his numbers, there are less than 10 permanent residents and he actually put the number at 7. He then went on to say that in other parts of the province there were perhaps 20 or so permanent residents. These numbers seemed very low to me, but then Bangkok is a long way away so what would I know? While I had yet to see any other Westerners in Roi Et, what made me think that there must be more was that while wandering the streets of the lovely city mid afternoon, at least one book shop had more than 10 copies of the Bangkok Post available. OK, so they probably only arrived around midday, but still, if there are 10 copies there, who is buying them? The level of English spoken in Roi Et was very poor and it is hard to imagine many of the locals buying the Post. Also, my experience of Westerners living in Isaan is that many are on the bones of their ass and would rather traipse half way across town and read the newspaper for free in a hotel, than part with 20 baht for their own personal copy. Whatever the case, One on One Pizza seemed like a pleasant spot to wile away the hours.

Wandering around the town, I bumped into another group of teenage girls who were all starry eyed at the farang before them. I played dumb for a minute or so before leaping into the vernacular which drew out a huge round of applause. Like the girls I met the previous day in Khon Kaen, these girls had come in from one of the outer provincial districts to attend their entrance exam. There were eight of them and they were all very nice and incredibly interested in the farang before them. We chatted for a while and when I told them that I was an English teacher, we just about had an impromptu lesson with me explaining the difference between the past simple and the past perfect. Despite the fact that they could read and write English to a reasonable level – they have studied it for several years by this point in their schooling, they could barely speak it. Invitations were made to visit their school and that is something I'd love to have done, but the timing was all wrong. I left them and it was smiles all around. Boy, the people in this province are REALLY nice.

A tuktuk driver's house. Lovely park in the city centre of Roi Et.

If you're looking for somewhere to eat in Roi Et, I have just two words for you, White Elephant. This restaurant is easy to find as it is just over the klong behind the Roi Et City Hotel, the biggest hotel in town, and the White Elephant has bright neon signs that you can't miss. Let's just say that the White Elephant is lucky that I'm not a millionaire, because if I was, the chef would now be working for me. Yep, he or she really is that good. That was just about the best Thai food I have ever had, and that really is saying something.

But it's not just the food, everything about the place is nice. Nice layout, nice music, great food at good prices. There's the Bangkok Post to read and the German owner told me that the free internet they have there is the fastest connection in Roi Et.

Now it was amusing chatting with said German owner because I enquired as to how many farangs live in Roi Et and his guess was around 50. Given that there were about ten farangs there each of the two nights I visited, his estimate seems much more accurate than the 7 or so the fellow at the pizza joint reckoned.

Oh, the staff at The White Elephant, how could I forget them? Cutting through all of the BS, the people of Isaan rightly or wrongly have the reputation in some corners of being a little slow at doing things, and not being the quickest of folks. There were several young pretty things running around the White Elephant. In the two nights I was there, they all had big smiles on their faces and went about their job in a most studious manner. They literally ran around, taking orders, delivering food and drinks etc. They did their job really well, spoke passable English – and were really keen to practice it and it would be fair to say that The White Elephant was one hell of a well managed bar / restaurant.

That got me thinking as to just why they choose to work there, and not get on the bus. My best guess would be that they make around 3,000 – 4,000 baht a month plus tips, although I do get the impression that the customers tipped generously and thus pushed their wages up a K or two. Still, all of these girls were pretty and without wanting to sound crude, any of them would look great on a gogo bar stage. Roi Et is poor and accounts for more than its fair share of bargirls and thus all over the province the natives of Roi Et are likely aware of the potential money to be made in Bangkok or Pattaya. But these girls didn't take that option. They stay in Roi Et and work there. Great stuff, and it brought a big, big smile to my face.

An Isaan style tuktuk gets ready to try and leap the Mekong all the way to Laos, across the river.

The tallest Buddha image in Thailand, 67+ metres.

Confirming my hotel for another night, I decided a day trip out to the border with Laos was in order. From Roi Et, the journey across to Mukdahan was slower than anticipated due to a foolish choice on my part to take route 2136, parts of which were jut awful. At times I thought I was in Laos, so bad was the poverty, and so bad was the road! What I thought would be a 90 minute journey took more than 2 and a half hours but all the way, I consoled myself with the fact that two people I know had told me that Mukdahan is a beautiful spot.

Arriving in Mukdahan, I searched valiantly for the beauty that friends had told me about, but quite frankly, I just couldn't see it! In some ways it reminded me of the town of Nongkhai, nestled against the Mekong River with a major Laos town on the other side. There was the same type of market selling all the same junk imported from or through Laos, and there were the obligatory folks from Laos who can be easily picked out of a crowd from the Thais by their choice of fashion and the different way they carry themselves.

I wandered around, took a few photos, got a bit to eat, watched a few fortune tellers, visited a couple of wats and tried to soak up the atmosphere of this far flung corner of Thailand. But I couldn't get into it. There was something about Mukdahan that I just didn't like and I'm still not sure what it was. It was sort of like the standard provincial capital with the usual shops, temples etc and despite the fact that it was located on the Mekong, it was just a bit nothing for me. My friends who had told me it was beautiful can't have ever been to Roi Et.

Like a few places on this trip, most of them very rural, in Mukdahan I noticed the odd young look kreung, that is a child who is half Thai and half farang. In every case the child was surrounded by a bunch of older family members, all Thai, but conspicuously, neither the mother nor the father appeared to be present. Perhaps it is presumptuous of me, but I think we can guess the circumstances under which these respective children came into the world. In a couple of cases, both with young boys of around 5 or 6, my eyes met with those of the child, and I saw what I thought was a genuine sadness, a feeling that they simply didn't belong, that they knew they were different, and that they were no doubt reminded of it by their peers. It was almost like the child was longing to get away from it. I saw 5 or 6 look kreungs on my very short trip. Just how many are there in the region?

Heading back to Roi Et, I managed to avoid the 2136 and found the roads on the return journey to be much better. It is quiet in that part of the country and you can drive for a minute or two and not see another person, house or car, a rarity in Thailand.

Back in Roi Et, I decided that at over 500 km from Bangkok, I did not want to drive all of the way back in one day, and would rather overnight in Korat. I called my mother in-law to ask her if there was anything she would like from Roi Et, the suggestion being anything of a food nature. It is the Thai way to bring an item, or items, of food as a gift when visiting people or when people are good to you. My mother in law said that there was no need to buy anything, but to be sure, do not buy any meat. She then went on to tell me that she didn't completely trust some of the people in rural Isaan and was sacred that I might inadvertently bring her back some neua mar (dog meat!) and she'd cook it up for us, not quite sure what it was! We both ended up in hysterics on the phone at the thought of us eating dog and thinking it was something else!

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Roi Et photographing the temples including the impressive, tall Buddha image there, which at 67+ metres, is the tallest standing Buddha image in all of Thailand. Once again the evening was spent at The White Elephant and once again it was excellent.

One of the most accessible tourist attractions in Isaan is the historical site of the Khmer ruins at Phimai, although ruins is a little rough because the site is fairly well intact. It's only about 10 km off state highway 2, about 50 odd kilometres north of Korat, on the way to Khon Kaen. Even though I have visited several times, I never get bored there. A beautiful spot and really well run with official teenage guides practicing their English, offering to show any interested farangs around for free. I dropped in for a couple of hours on my way to Korat and enjoyed it as I always do.

One of the funny things about travelling around Isaan is all of the signs. The first thing to get you is the distance signs. Coming back from Mukdahan to Roi Et, I passed one sign which said Roi Et was 45 km away, and then the next, a kilometre or two later said 47 clicks, before the next, just a bit down the road said 48! It made me do a double take and me wonder if somehow I was going the wrong way, but no, it was the signs which were wrong.

The other anomaly is the signs leading to historic sites or tourist attractions. You'll get signs for literally hundreds of kilometres, all in English, giving directions to such and such tourist attraction. But when you get really close, say within 5 km or so, the English signs seem to end and one can only find signs in Thai! Now for me that's not so bad because I am comfortable enough reading the local lingo, but for most foreigners, it poses a bit of a problem. And given that this is deepest, darkest Isaan, the level of English spoken ranges from poor to non-existent. No doubt there have been a few foreigners who have got close to their intended destination and then struggled to actually find it!

Phimai, always worth a look if you're passing by. Isaan, wherever you go, you see bright colours.

A few comments about travelling in Isaan. If like me you travel with a laptop and like to get online frequently to keep up with what is happening in the world, Loxinfo has dial up connections in every province which really is the way to go. I keep the entire list of Loxinfo nationwide numbers stored on my hard drive and I just put in the local dial up number for whichever province I happen to find myself. Faultless connections everywhere without long distance charges and it sure beats using provincial internet cafes which invariably have ten or so computers sharing one dial up connection. Broadband does not seem to have taken off upcountry yet.

Throughout Isaan, the best hotel in each centre is the way to go, with the exception of Khon Kaen where the Sofitel really is rather expensive, but then again it does look gorgeous. This means that for around or a little under 1,000 baht you'll get a nice room with all the usual facilities such as air-con, cable TV, direct dial phone and buffet breakfast included. A good deal indeed and there is no need to have to hunt around comparing places. If you're on a tight budget, you can usually get something just about anywhere in Isaan for around or even under 200 baht a night although the couple of times I have stayed in such places, I found them to be fleapits. In the 350 – 450 baht range you can get some adequate places, clean and tidy with hot water, air-con and Thai TV.

I just wish it was possible for me, as a farang, to work legally in the tourism industry in Thailand. I love the Isaan region and I love the people. I'd love to conduct guided tours up there, taking Westerners from all around the world up into the region, showing them the highlights and introducing them to the people and the lifestyles they lead. As unlikely as it is, if they ever relax the regulations that prevent foreigners from working in the tourist industry, I'll be the first to offer such tours. For the time being it is but a dream…

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic.

This week's pic.

It was Narathiwat Road.
Somewhere in Bangkok…

Last week’s pic was taken from the Chongnonsee skytrain station looking out over Narathiwat Road, towards Rama 3 Road. The fact that it was taken with a telephoto lens which compressed the perspective seemed to make it difficult and only a handful of people got it right. If you want to win the prize you really had better be quick, although this week's picture might pose a little bit more of a challenge. Each week the first reader to correctly state where the pic is wins a 500 baht credit at that fine establishment, 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 EMAIL INBOX:

Ladyboys explained.

The reason you see so many tall ladyboys is that you don't notice all of the short ones. Thai people are kind of finicky about ladyboys: If you look good, and "fit the part", then obviously you were supposed to be female and are treated as such (given a job, a modicum of respect, et cetera), but if you are tall, then you are an outcast in every way possible. Therefore, the tall, ugly ones are out on the street while the small pretty ones are home in bed so that they can get up early to go to their regular jobs. There is a genetic point to it though, although nobody has ever confirmed it: Transsexuals are, on average, slightly taller and thinner than the average male…but not to the point where you could say that all or most of them are that way. (For example, in the Tiffany's show, I would guess that 2/3 of the girls are my height (5' 6") or less, and only a small handful (5 or 6) are over 5' 9" tall.)

Hormones.

Regarding your question about tall ladyboys in your recent column the answer is quite simple – hormones. Bone growth is one of the side effects in addition to breast enlargement, lower sperm production, less body hair and temper tantrums. Many of the "girls" start getting involved in the naughty nightlife in late adolescence when they are still "growing boys". Pretty soon they start earning enough money for hormone shots and then -boom!- up they go. You have to ask a doctor what the exact physiological reason is. Personally I've seen many young guys go from 5'6" to 5'9" in a year.

Take away the nightlife and it is little different?

I spent three months back in the States this summer. While I was somewhat happy to return to Thailand, I would have been happier in some respects to just stay home. Except for food and a couple of other items, I probably spend more money here in Thailand than back home. In order to keep from becoming bored here, I have a number of hobbies. However, it's very difficult to enjoy western style hobbies here due to the price and availability of imported items. Once you stop going out for the nightlife here, Bangkok is just another big city with a lot of hassles.

Poontangtaya!

The new airport will increase the flow of mongers to Pattaya, allowing them to give Bangkok a miss altogether which is not a bad idea with the city becoming increasingly monger unfriendly. Since most regular tourists come on package tours, the travel companies will continue to send them to Bangkok because of its splendid hotels, wonderful temples and fantastic shopping markets. With a bit of luck the Nana Plaza, prime terrorist target and fire hazard, will eventually go out of business and take Soi Cowboy down with it. That would leave Patpong as an increasingly expensive tourist trap and nostalgic reminder of the golden age of Bangkok A Go-Go. At the same time, new venues will emerge to accommodate the huge increase in freelancers, and Thailand's lax morality and constant poverty will ensure there is always plenty of poon to be had.

The illusion.

When us farang get together we frequently discuss what's good and bad about LOS and why is it that way. Yesterday I think I finally figured it out (at least for me). Thailand is an illusion. It is a magicians bag of tricks. It is Disneyland. Walk down the street and see the tailor shop. It is a stage set. Bolts of fabric, half finished suits. Not a tailor in the place. Just an expert salesman who can bullshit you and take some measurements to send out. Look! Genuine Thai silk. Illusion, it's polyester. See the bar beer, not a place to relax with a drink, it is really a house of prostitution. See the waitress all sweet and demure, another illusion, she's just a whore. See yourself all trim and handsome strutting down the street with your beautiful tilac. Another illusion, you are the same bald slob you were before you got on the plane. Hear the phone ring and she says "Just a friend and she wants to go shopping". Really her boyfriend who wants to know if she got the tip yet. Illusion, delusion, self hypnosis.

How to get 100K baht a month.

I think there is a way to make 100k in BKK, but you likely know it. Make the money in the West and arrange it so you get investment income of 100k Baht via current exchange rates. I came to the conclusion that this is best accomplished by working in the West, thru various concerns you and others brought to my attention over the years: 1. Always make sure your money is in Western currency, so you can go home one day if you tire of or get kicked out of Thailand. 2. Always make sure you have a retirement intact, as being old and poor is the worse thing….being young and poor isn't so bad. This fact is even more true in LOS. 3. Western currency is always worth more than Thai currency, so unless you have extreme taxation in Farangland, you will generally be much more equipped to save for the investment capital to get that investment income in Farangland.

Do we ever overcome homesickness?

There is one other criteria that a person needs to take into account when assessing Farangland vs. Thailand: How much do you really miss farang culture? The ease of communication, sense of belonging etc. I moved here from the States a year ago and though I've been visiting since 1986, living here is a totally different ball game I've found. I miss 'home' a lot in spite of its many shortfalls.

It seems to be very much a case of the Bangkok blues – I always try to give you news reports but there seems little that I know of going on. I think the general concern is that considering we are supposed to be just weeks away from the start of the 'high season', it seems desperately quiet in many bars and restaurants too. I think only the most popular venues are doing well and even then trade is nothing compared to the good old days.

Away from the primary Sukumvit nightlife area, The Pong has been quite busy the past two Fridays and it looks like the old days with lots of people walking the market and in and out of the bars.

One of the best, though least visited tourist attractions, the Ancient City, has joined the ranks of business which hike the entrance fee for foreigners. Not so long ago it was just 50 baht for anyone to get in, but now it is up to 300 baht for foreigners! Yep, this wonderful tourist attraction that I once recommended wholeheartedly is now on the "Stickman avoid at all costs because the so and sos charge extra for farangs" list. Entrance is 100 baht for Thais and for locals who can prove that they are resident in the Kingdom.

Contrast this with Wat Po which lets farangs who can prove that they work at local schools in for free!

This Friday some egregious violation of the rules had Electric Blue Bar closed by midnight. Even one of the silent partners did not know what had happened. One could hope that it was for the EXTREMELY loud music they have been playing for the last month. You could hear music from that bar all the way to Foodland. Why is it that far and away the loudest bars are all at Patpong?

October 21st is the birthday of Randy from Goldfinger and the normal party options are in order for that date.

Eden Club remains open and it is business as usual. The website for the establishment has been down for quite some time now, but any rumours about the club being closed are totally wrong. The latest rumours about the closure of the club have been doing the rounds in Hong Kong from where it is said there is a party interested in buying the successful establishment.

Lumpini police have been letting the Nana Plaza bars go until after 1.30 AM so this is much better than closing at 1 AM sharp, as it is believed they are supposed to. Bar closing time in Nana has been after 1.30 AM for most nights this past week until Friday when the police went into Nana Plaza and ordered things closed at 12.50 AM. This past Friday was not one of the busier nights for Nana bars.

Confusion, the Thai / farang food fusion restaurant on Sukumvit Soi 23 have a special free wine offer exclusively to Stickman readers. Order over 1,000 baht of food and say you are a Stickman reader and you get a free bottle of wine. Great stuff! Oh, and they do home delivery if you are within a 3 km radius of them.

One new thing was discovered in the Thai Room Restaurant and X-rated video game console. They have normal video games but also have Strip Poker where there are various farang models where you play against the machine and if you win the hand the women in the photos remove a piece of clothing. Another game has side by side photos of nude farang and on the right side a portion of the body will have a circle around it and you have to touch the screen on the other photo and keep going as the moves become faster. So if x-rated games are your thing, check out The Thai Room.

Well known former Bangkok bar owner / manager Anton was leaving TJ's bar in Soi Sea Pear about a week ago when a Thai man took a swing at him with a bottle. He turned so the blow was not as severe as it could have been but he still suffered cuts and bruising to his forehead. Anton and his family think it was a case of mistaken identity. Hmmm… Anton celebrated his birthday this week at his new Pirate Bar. Hollywood Rock Phuket is expected to open in about a week in the back of Soi Sea Pearl. It will be an open outdoor bar in a-gogo format which sort of sounds interesting. Bikinis are banned in Phuket behind closed (or even open) doors, but the girls seem to get away with sexy gear on the street and in the outdoor bars. Anton is supposed to be getting a string of dancers from Bangkok. Will be interesting to see what he comes up with.

If you feel tired after drinking in his bars Anton can provide you with a room to go and have a lie down for a couple of hours in Soi Sea Pearl, for a few hundred baht.

On the closing times in Phuket, 1:00 to 1:30 AM is being strictly enforced, but if one is really desperate for a drink, they can drink from tea mugs in Soi Sansabai restaurants until 6 or 7 AM.

Brits interested in Thailand might like to know about a new degree programme offered by Leeds University in the UK. It is a BA in South East Asian Studies with the Thai language. It teaches Thai language from scratch and includes one year intensive language study at Chiang Mai university. Because of this year abroad it is a 4 year degree programme. This may be the only university in the UK that teaches the Thai language, although the language element is only a part of the degree and the rest is the study of the politics, culture, economics, business etcetera of South East Asia in general.

I finally made it on to the Chao Praya Tourist Boat this week. This is run by the same company that run the Chao Praya Express Boat and is aimed at tourists. The comfortable boat runs conveniently from the Sathorn Pier which is right beside the last skytrain station up to Pra Athit Pier, meaning that it just covers the route with most of the highlights of the river such as the 5 star hotels, Wat Arun and the Grand Palace. There is a guide who gives a good commentary in both English and Thai and she is happy to answer any questions passengers might have. Even for someone who has spent a lot of time in Bangkok, the commentary is interesting, giving history of the city and explaining many of the highlights along the way. And at 15 baht, it is an absolute bargain!

One of the biggest turn offs for me in a Thai woman is someone who is dripping in gold. In fact just one piece of gold pretty much instantly turns me off them. In what is still a relatively poor country, I am surprised that so many people wear sizeable pieces of gold out in public. I remember when I first moved to Thailand and saw on TV various smash and grab robberies from security cameras mounted in gold shops. I always wondered why thieves targeted shops which have security cameras and often an armed guard – and instead didn't target individuals which would return a smaller yield, but would likely be an easier target. Well, it seems that exactly that is happening now. There seems to be quite an increase in crime and gold snatching (as well as mobile phone snatching) seems to be on the increase. If you wear a lot of gold, be careful!

Ask the Sticks

Mrs. Stick is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Please note that for general bargirl related questions,

Mr. Stick might answer them. In her words, "why should I answer questions about those girls when you know much more about them than me". Mmmm….the Mrs. was not happy when she said that! Mr. Stick will try and answer the questions which Mrs. Stick is not so sure about.

Question 1: I met Sarah on the internet. Immediate rapport. For 2 weeks, I enjoyed her company like no other. Then her tone changed, like it was a different woman, someone I couldn't relate to that well. Went to BKK, met by her and her friend Joy at the airport. Following week was exhilarating especially when Sarah invited Joy and her katoey cousin to join us (sightseeing, home visits). I truly loved Joy's company. Sarah I found to be evasive, petulant basically far less interesting than her friend. I became convinced by her manner, syntax (I'm a TEFL teacher) and warm response to me, that it had been Joy I had originally talked to on the net, acting as a stand-in for Sarah whose English fluency was far less than hers. How do I attempt to switch from Sarah to Joy without causing offence or discord between two good friends? A tough one, perhaps it's impossible but be glad of any thoughts you might have.

Mrs. Stick says: If you have the chance to do it, why not frankly raise the point with both of them and see just what the truth is. Suggest that you are not 100% sure who you talked to online. Try and get them to tell you the truth and then you can try and pursue the girl who you like more. You might have to subtly tell the other girl that you are not so keen on her. She cannot blame you because it was them who fooled you to start with so you have no need to feel any guilt.

Question 2: I found this week's section from Mrs. Stick quite fascinating, e.g. the dreaming about snakes section especially. Just wanted to clarify if that dreaming about snakes meant the same thing for either gender, or if it just was on the lady's side (shades of DH Lawrence)? Actually, I would find it interesting to hear more about Thai superstitions in general (or to be more PC, "beliefs"), might make an interesting column, not to make fun of – of course…there are many western beliefs that could be considered silly as well.

Mrs. Stick says: I think it is just for women who dream, but I am not totally sure. One old days superstition is that on your lover's birthday, you would not give a handkerchief or cloth. In the case of handkerchiefs, you use it when you cry and in the case of cloth, it is something that has to be cut and so they are both thought to be unsuitable for lover's presents. Anyway, these were in the old times and I am not sure if these beliefs still apply with many people today.

That's another week in the big city. Things are fairly quiet here for now but no doubt they will pick up soon…

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave and Phuket James.