Stickman's Weekly Column November 28th, 2004

The Jewel Of The North


StickmanBangk ok .com


What a complete waste of time that was. I really didn’t like it up there. It was just like a smaller version of Bangkok. – A colleague of mine who visited last month.

Oh, it is so charming up there, you’ll love it. – Mrs. Stick.

I’m not sure if you’ll like or not, it is sort of like New Zealand with a Thai flavour. – A friend of mine from home.

Where were all of these people talking about? Chiang Mai of course! But with whom would I agree? Approaching 7 years in Thailand and I have never made it to the north. It is something that many people find amazing, especially of someone who likes to get out and about in to the countryside. I’ve ventured to many far flung corners of the country, visited obscure locations, but never visited the one place that many people truly believe is the highlight of a visit to Thailand, or even the place of choice to live nationwide, Chiang Mai. With so many cheap air flights now available, I had run out of excuses for putting off the trip to the north and I finally decided that it was time to remove Chiang Mai from my to do list. Mrs. Stick and I and spent the last couple of days in what’s known to many as the jewel of the north.

The reasons for visiting Chiang Mai are well known – the clean air, the pleasant scenery, the friendly people, the cheaper prices compared to the more popular tourist spots, the cooler weather and the range of outdoor things to see and activities to do.

Things weren’t promising on arrival. We arrived and the heavens were open and it was absolutely hosing down. The rain did get a little lighter but the drizzle just lingered. Many locals saying they have never seen such heavy rain at the end of November.

But in a city famous for the way that it embraces and celebrates Thai festivals, it was going to take a lot more than rain to dampen the festivities. A huge parade passed through the city with what seemed to be hundreds of floats, most with at least one, if not a handful of lovelies, all waving out to the crowd.

At one point I looked skyward and despite the falling rain, the sky was lit up by what I can only describe as largish floating lanterns. Apparently it is something of a northern tradition for the locals to send these huge, well, floating lanterns, into the sky while at the same time making a wish. One has to wonder just what happens to these lanterns, whether they burn themselves out or whether they eventually fall to ground, land somewhere, and perhaps even burn down the local farmer’s barn. But I’m being too practical, thinking too much, generally being like a farang, and I should just enjoy it all for what it is, a neat thing to do at festival time.

Fortunately the next morning the weatherman was kind to us and while it remained overcast, we weren’t to experience any more rain.

The first thing we did was head for Doi Suthep and the temple that overlooks the city of Chiang Mai. A long windy road makes its way up the side of the mountain as the city’s songtaew drivers all race to be first to get to their nervous passengers to the temple. I hate to think how many casualties there have been on that road though that said, the drivers in Chiang Mai seemed to be much more sedate than their counterparts from the other parts of the country, especially those from Isaan.

Arriving at the base of the temple on Doi Suthep, my mind went back to all of the stories of the notorious climb one has to make to get to the top. I have heard numbers of several hundred steps mentioned, suggested quite a hike to the top so I was pleasantly surprised to see that it really is not that far at all. No, I didn't count but really, it isn't many. Knowing Thais and their adversity to walking, I am sure than more than a few perfectly healthy individuals made it to the foot of the steps but never made the effort to make it to the top. There is also a cable car of sorts to get you to the top, I believe, but I never actually saw it.

There are various viewpoints on the way up Doi Suthep, all of which give a fantastic view looking out across the valley, but the view from the temple itself is magnificent. Making it to the base of the steps and not making the effort required to get up them really is a crime!

Once up the grand set of stairs to the top, there are two levels. The first level has a few shops and various parts of the temple, not really sure what you call them all, but it is the top level which impresses the most. Up there at the top is a golden chedi in the centre surrounded by statues of the lord Buddha in various poses. One similarity that Doi Suthep shares with the Grand Palace is the huge number of visitors there, half of whom I’d estimate were there for religious worship and the other half tourists. I’ve never seen so many people with digital cameras in one place at one time and it was ironic watching the vendors trying to peddle film to people with digital cameras. I guess they’ll eventually catch on and before too long such vendors will carry memory cards. Forget the Grand Palace which to me is somewhat over rated as a tourist attraction, this is THE nicest temple I have visited in Thailand. Even Mrs. Stick, herself not a Buddhist, was well impressed by this temple, and Thais are seldom impressed by such things the way we farangs are. I am sure you get the idea, the temple on Doi Suthep really is a must see!

Forget affordable and even forget inexpensive, Chiang Mai is cheap. I was amazed at how cheap various things are in the northern capital. While we weren’t bargain hunting at all, we just kept seeing prices cheaper than I have ever seen anywhere in my entire time in Thailand. Sticky rice and mango – and a decent sized serving too, for just 20 baht. The air-con bus to Bangkok for only 120 baht and photocopying for only 45 satang a page.

Of course a city the size of Chiang Mai has the obligatory farang oriented bar area which appeared to be centred around the Ta Pae Gate ad Loi Kroh Roads. There might be more actually but that was the only one we spotted. There were many beer bars and one bar, Spotlight, which had signs suggesting that it was of the gogo variety. The beer bars actually looked pleasant enough and while we never stayed for a drink, the signs outside listed very reasonable prices for drinks. I think it would be safe to assume that extras are available.

On the subject of bars and thus women, it has to be said that the women of the north are, in my eyes at least, very attractive. I guess this must have been fairly obvious to the Mrs. because she made the comment that she would never let me go to Chiang Mai alone!

All of the people we met in Chiang Mai, without exception, were friendly, nice and helpful. Unlike in other parts of Thailand, especially in the main tourist spots like Bangkok and the beaches and islands, you really get the feeling that people only want to interact with you because there is something in it for them i.e. money. That didn’t seem to be the case in Chiang Mai with people happy to chat, or to help you, without necessarily looking for anything in return. This is one area where much of the rest of Thailand could really learn something. In fact, the way that many people involved in the tourism industry in Thailand deal with foreigners is a major embarrassment and I often cringe when I am showing friends or family members who are in town around. The downright rudeness from many of the locals involved in tourism is appalling. They’ll be all sweet right up until the moment that they have either determined that you’re not going to buy something OR they have made the sale, and then they cannot wait to get rid of you. Not once did we experience anything like this in Chiang Mai.

While the northern capital has its drab areas as all cities do, there is a certain charm about the place, its northern influences clear to anyone who has travelled to the different regions of the country. Extra care seems to be taken on many things and I get the feeling that the people of the north have a definite sense of pride that I have not seen elsewhere in the Kingdom. Everything seems to be well kept and looked after. The songtaews of Chiang Mai are not in the same sorry state that they are in most other parts of the country. The tuktuks too are much better maintained than anywhere in the country. Street vendors seemed to be operate much cleaner, tidier stalls than you see anywhere else AND most vendors in the central areas had signs in both English and Thai. The roads seem to be that little bit tidier and which gave the feeling of a most pleasant place. It is quite clear that Chiang Mai is prosperous and no doubt tourism is a huge contributor.

At one point I noticed that the Mrs. was not quite herself and her usual cheery nature had disappeared. Subtly probing as to what the problem was, she pointed out that unlike most neighbourhoods in Bangkok, som tam is not available on every corner! The Mrs. needed her Isaan food fix! I also noticed that there seemed to be a real lack of motorcycle taxi riders. Maybe they were there and I just didn’t see them, but they were conspicuous by their absence. It is this type of thing that makes one realise that Chiang Mai is not just a small version of Bangkok at all and really is quite different.

Chiang Mai has a lot going for it, it really has, and I have to laugh to myself that it took me so long to make it up there. I’ll be back for sure, no question about that. Two days was not nearly enough. I reckon you could easily keep yourself busy for 4 or 5. Don’t make the mistake I made of putting off Chiang Mai for so long.

Chiang Mai’s nickname of the ‘jewel of the north” is a little deceiving. I really think that the “jewel of Thailand” would be more appropriate.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE?

It was the Marble Temple.

Thailand in the past…

Last week's pic was of the Marble Temple, also known as Wat Benjamaabhophit. This week's picture was taken many years ago…so good luck getting it right. Actually, it isn't that difficult in my opinion. Each week the first reader to correctly state where the pic is by email to me wins a 500 baht credit from 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

More to life than drinking.

The Thai government has shown great courage and common sense in enforcing early bar closing times. As we all know it makes no sense in economic terms, but it is good to see public welfare being given precedence over profits for the leisure industry and tax receipts for the government. You only have to look at other countries to see the social damage that is being caused by "flexible" licensing hours. Contrary to popular belief, having later bar closing times does not mean that people will drink the same amount at a slower pace, but that they will get even more hammered than would normally be the case. In England, city centres are virtually no-go areas at weekends as drunken revellers rampage and fight till the early hours. Police and hospital casualty units are overstretched and the public disorder is of a scale that has not been recorded since the gin riots of the 18th century. Ireland and Australia are having similar problems and are reconsidering the issue of granting late licenses. Measures suggested are increasing the price of alcohol consumed on licensed premises and closing down places which are known as trouble spots. There is more to life in Thailand than drinking.

Do we bring it on ourselves?

I started reading your columns 3 years ago and I came here partly as a result of what you had written. I came excited and anticipating great adventures. My head was full of stories of crazy girls armed to the teeth, thieving conniving bitches who would screw you over every chance they got, locals scamming every last penny from the poor dumb farang. Now, 3 years later, I find myself feeling a little cheated. Where are MY anecdotes? Where are my stories to pass on to the grandchildren? Almost without exception, my girlfriends have been honest, sweet and polite. We have parted amicably and I still keep in contact with most. I never felt taken for granted or like a walking ATM. My schools have always been accommodating, paid me on time and helpful. My apartments have all been clean and well staffed. I have never had a taxi that didn't switch on its meter. All in all I feel let down… I came for adventure, I found everything is just fine. I feel for the people who have these anecdotes to tell, but I can't help thinking that most must have done something to bring it on themselves…or maybe I have just been lucky so far!

The reputation has stuck.

Has anyone else noticed this or is it just me? A Saturday evening trip to the cinema and I found myself watching the new Bridget Jones film. I'd heard rumours that part of the film was based in Thailand, but hadn't really thought much more of it. I was amazed to see that the Thai based scenes were playing on the Thai sex industry! I thought Thailand was trying to move away from this image? One scene is on Soi Cowboy with Hugh Grant asking a crowd of bar girls to say hello to the camera. A second scene shows Hugh Grant in a Thai massage parlour. Lastly a third scene shows a Thai girl in underwear knocking on Hugh Grant's hotel door for bedroom Olympics. Don't get me wrong, its all in good fun, however with all this big deal being made to turn Thailand away from the naughty nightlife image and into the family orientated holiday destination, it seems insane to me that the government allowed the filming to go ahead!

From the Land of Smiles to The Land of Scams.

I loved Bangkok for many years however I am not missing it since leaving for Nigeria. I am going to go out on a limb here but Abuja Nigeria is for me, a whole hell of a lot more fun than Thailand. There is no tourism and thus no tourist traps. This alone makes it worth a visit but also means you have to know where you are going and what you are doing at all times. The nightclubs are brilliant, from dance clubs to fantastic live music. The people have endless energy for partying. Work opportunities abound and it's relatively safe, Lagos and the far south being the obvious exceptions. Here in Abuja I can do the activities I enjoy such as outdoor sports but also enjoy the best elements of Thai nightlife. The weather is warm and the women quite beautiful, far easier to talk to than in Thailand and extremely available. There is no anti western sentiment or xenophobic government. Ok I'm talking about expat living, not a two week holiday. They say other parts of Africa are even better but I am yet to visit. The things I miss in Thailand are the culinary opportunities, the facilities such as good theatres and of course the friends.

Employing johns.

There is one issue that the teachers in this discussion have not mentioned. And that is who pays? Now I, like your previous correspondent, am a father of a teenage daughter in an International School. In my own particular case around sixty per cent of my annual salary is spent on giving my child the best possible education. And since I am the one who pays, I am the one who, ultimately, decides what goes. We are not talking about a state education system, here. Most of your contributors in this debate doubtless have gone the various state systems in their various countries, either as pupils, undergraduates and then as teachers. We are not talking about state-provided education here, we are talking about a private service, privately paid for. I want my daughter’s teachers to be morally sound. More, even than the average person. They have a duty as role models to the children they teach, and bouncing a hooker on your knee in a sleazy bar does not indicate that you have the right character to teach in the school where I am sending my child. If you want to hang around with prostitutes in your leisure time then that is entirely up to you. But you will not teach my kids during the day. Since I am buying the education service then you, my friend, are not part of it. Let me go further. You will attend school dressed conservatively, you will be neat and presentable. You will be a non-smoker and will not consume narcotics. I do not believe that you can assume another identity after school hours. Your character is carried twenty-four by seven. What you do in the evenings reflects your daytime personality. And if you are found lurking in brothels and pickup joints, or discovered to have illegal substances when police make their urine tests, then I and most of my fellow-parents will be lobbying the school for your removal. Believe me, no serious international school will want a reputation of employing johns.

They're still just trickling in. Many beer bars in Pattaya only have around two to five farangs on week nights (compared to being empty a month ago). And it is not that much different in Walking Street… Pattaya is busy but not with customers for the gogo bars, there seems to be more and more Russians and more and more groups from other parts of Asia. Most all hotels are booked but bars are not crazy as they should be at this time of year. At least one major Pattaya gogo bar is 20% down on this time last year and according to the management, 1 AM closing is killing things down there with many people getting pissed off with the whole thing.

This is in contrast to the business that some bars are doing in Nana Plaza. At least one bar manager reports record business, so while some bar owners are moaning and groaning, others are doing very well indeed.

The construction crew are hard at work at the old Vixens in Nana and they promise that it will be complete on 12/23. All customer drinks will be free on Christmas day from 7 PM – 1 AM at the new Boss Hogg's – a great Xmas present to all who attend on Xmas Day.

There seem to be quite number of young (read 3-7 year old) children in Nana plaza selling who knows what. I think we are all against this and that the common view is that they should be kept out. To top that off, one can now see hilltribe garbed woman selling their wares in the daylight in the plaza…and no, they didn't hitch a ride in my suitcase on the way down from Chiang Mai.

Cameras are now monitoring Beach Road in Pattaya ostensibly to thwart crime and help capture criminals. But they are scaring away the working girls who just know (in their paranoid state) that they are recording the moves of prostitutes and johns. Many are staying away. Moving to Second Road or waiting to meet a Mr. Right or two when discos open at the new earlier hour of 10 PM.

Safari Bar in Patpong was raided on Friday night by the police. They drug tested all the girls but did not pester the customers, however everybody exited Safari which was very busy at the time. This all happened after midnight. Patpong bars are currently closing at around 1:30 AM.

Speaking of which, Nana Plaza was closed at 1.30 AM Saturday night which was a bummer for all concerned because it was very busy…

The good guys at Flowers To Thailand whose link appears right above this paragraph have got a nice special this week, only for Stickman readers. All customers who use their service this week get a free Photoback. Now just what is that? Well, that is where they take a digital photo of the recipient when they receive their flowers or gift and email that back to the customer along with a message from the recipient. If the customer wishes they can also email us a digital picture of themselves which we can attach with the order to give to the recipient. No naughty pictures mind you, they don't wanna see a picture of you starkers being forward to your loved one. All customers need to quote "Stickman Photoback" when ordering to claim this.

The naughty stuff continues at Soi Cowboy. I can name the bar I doubt the management would want that so you'll have to hunt for it yourself… At around 10:30 the lights are dimmed, the doors are closed and guarded by bar staff and 4 dancers do a nude show for 10-15 minutes. Lots of showing and the use of, shall we say, "lotion". Sort of like going back in time 2 or 3 years.

A friend mentioned that he has been facing increasing hostility from Thai guys when taking photos of Thai girls in public. No, it is not quite what it may seem and it's all above board. This fellow is a keen photographer and simply enjoys taking shots of Thai women who actually approach him to take the shots and who ultimately get a great set of photos of themselves for free! All shots are clean, no hanky panky or anything untoward. Anyway, said friend says that more and more, he is getting comments from Thai lads that range from abusive to aggressive. Is this further evidence of something of a backlash by some Thais against foreigners or is it nothing worth worrying about?

A reminder that in certain parts of the country you cannot get petrol between midnight and 5 AM. One reader reported that he was very lucky to manage to find a gas station who secretly sold him some gas at an ungodly hour – otherwise he would have run out of gas somewhere in the south, which is not a good idea these days.

What is it with Thai men in public toilets? Nah, I'm not becoming a pervert, nor bent, nor anything else sinister for that matter, but I wonder why they even bother installing hand basins in the men's rooms in Thailand. The average Thai guy, after going about his business, seems to go straight to the mirror and starts setting his hair, before exiting the hong nam. Watch next time you're there! How many actually wash their hands? Maybe that's why the wai is so popular and handshaking isn't?

In last week's column I mentioned about Thai women sending their passport back to Thailand and speculated about the odds of them getting their passports stamped on exit from the UK. Several readers from the UK let me know that the UK does not stamp passports on exit, so no overstay. Even if you have overstayed by years, no problem. Now I bet a few farangs wished that such was the policy here…

Just what is Bill Gates and his friends at Microsoft up to? Do they have some sort of issue with Thailand? Some months ago Microsoft announced that they would be extending the size of Hotmail accounts from the current 2 megabytes up to 250 megabytes. It had been announced that this would happen late Summer. Well, I sort of guessed they meant the northern hemisphere summer but as that has come and go, they must have meant the southern hemisphere summer…or did they? I received an email above this week in Thai which gave instructions on how, if you change your location address from wherever to the USA, you will get the promised 250 megabytes. It is said that if you change it to the USA, within 2-3 days you will have your Hotmail inbox extended to 250 megabytes. Weird eh? Is this a glitch in the system? Have Microsoft decided that the 250 megabyte inbox is only for US based users? Whatever the case, for anyone based in Thailand, or anywhere for that matter, try the above and I think you'll find that within 2-3 hours you will have a stack of email storage.

I'm still getting email every week from guys wanting to score a job in IT in Thailand. Read on gentleman, the following was sent in by a local company so here is your chance! AKCP Inc is a cutting edge computer engineering, development and sales organisation looking for a few very good employees to join our Bangkok team. Available positions are: Customer Relations Manager – input data and help administer our client data base, to ensure top service to our customers. Use the internet to find and develop sales leads from around the world. Must have excellent English reading, writing, and speaking skills. Applicants should have knowledge of email, and basic computer skills. If you are willing to work, we will teach you! Salary is negotiable. If you are interested please call Curt or Brad at: 02-617-8998 or E mail you resume and questions to: [email protected] or come visit us at: Wangdek Building 2, 9th Floor, Room 9A, 19/1-2 Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900. Check them out on the web at akcp.com.

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 have a Thai girlfriend from Nakon Sawan province. She had a baby at 13 years of age. She has level 4 schooling. She has no trust for me, yet I have not given her any reasons why not to trust me. She was 12 years old when she as married and became pregnant. Her husband was 25 years old. He left her without support. I feel that she does not trust any man. She is a good girl with a good heart. We have many problems with language translation. I like this lady, however, I am at a loss with her continuing silence to me. I have no idea what I have done wrong. Could you please explain to me why Thai women become silent. e.g. I touch her head and she is mad. If I look at people, ladies or men, she is mad. I am very confused. I like this lady but I am having difficulty with Thai lady customs.

Mrs. Stick says: This woman sounds like she never had a chance to grow up and I guess that she came from a poor background. She never had a chance to be a teenager and experience all that goes with that period in your life. This has to affect her social skills. If she has experienced all of this, I guess she is horribly insecure. In short, with this background ,what do you expect? I guess that if you like her and you really want things to work, try to understand her as much as you can but I can tell you now, it is not going to work. Are you sure she can make you happy? I really think that people who are very, very different will always have a hard time being truly happy together.

I get a huge amount of email and I do my best to reply to all emails in a timely fashion. From time to time a few might slip through, but on the whole, I'm fairly responsive. However, when it comes to doing favours, I really don't have the time. Every week I am asked to check out this or do that, or "just pop down and find this out, it won't take 5 minutes". The funniest one this week was someone whose whole future revolved around me checking out a shop in Bangkok that does hair pieces…you gotta laugh! Anyway, I'm happy to answer any questions you may have about life in Bangkok, the site, this column, or pretty much anything Thai related, but if you want me to go running around Bangkok for you, I'm sorry, I just don't have the time.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Mr Write and Dave The Rave.