Stickman's Weekly Column November 13th, 2005

The Bangkok Property Market



I'm not sure if he is model material or not, but Roland Phillips' mug shot is perhaps the most seen of any farang in advertisements across Bangkok. Take a peek in the newspaper and you'll spot Roland in the classifieds, his face next to the ads for any of a number of properties that Sunbelt Property have on offer. Take a leak at any of a number of auspicious spots around town and there is a chance you'll have Roland smiling at you at the urinal!

Interviews on this site try to delve into the person's character and find out what drives them, but it is my thinking that you're more interested in finding out about the Bangkok property market than you are about Roland Phillips himself. So when I got together with Roland this week we chatted more about the market than about him.

I f you do not know who Roland is, check out a couple of the Sunbelt Property ads below which have had many expats in fits of laughter. Roland is the star of all of them. My favourite is the one of him being chased out of this home by a Thai woman with a frying pan!

Roland Philips heads up Sunbelt Asia's property division and is someone who I thought would be able to answer a few questions about what is happening in the local property market.

What exactly does Sunbelt Property do in the property market?

What we do is provide real estate service for foreigners who want to live here. 99% of our clients are foreigners. Many are looking to relocate here and have acquired a business through our Sunbelt network.

What services?

We provide everything from initial apartment / home / real estate search, all the way through every phase of the process. We are staffed with 16 Thai lawyers so we take the process all the way through to the Land Department if it involves investing in a property. Sunbelt does its best to provide very fair and precise time management of our clients’ time so I as a Director get a good profile of what their requirements are and being a westerner – and 99% of our clients being foreigners themselves – we relate well to them and understand what their needs are so we basically cut to the chase. We don’t try to waste their time showing them properties that we clearly know will not suit their needs.

I don’t want to hurt anyone out there, but some owners are so proud of their properties and have set the goal at a certain price and they will leave it empty until they get the price they want. If you look ahead just 2 months as an owner, while you may want 60,000 baht a month in rent, you might be able to get 50, but you don’t take it. If it is empty just a couple of months then you have already lost. I negotiate very hard for my buyers who are my clients, in a number of cases; I have gotten the rent or price to 50% of the asking price. Landlords cringe when they see me because we drive a hard bargain for our clients, but we do earn their trust that it's better to get a good tenant rather than have the apartment sit empty. But still some owners are stubborn.

These have to be Thai owners.

Yes, but they’re not all like that. We had a client who spent 700,000 baht getting his house ready AFTER the clients had signed up. He is an exception, an exceptional owner.

I’ve also known of some owners who will make every excuse to peek through the window and see what is going on with the tenants in their property! I’m working through something like that right now.

One of the big questions people have about rental property, or perhaps one of the big complaints, is about deposits. What can people do to protect their deposit?

Use a good real estate agent to support you. They will do their best to fight on your behalf.

This deposit issues shows how you may think you’ll probably get a better deal if you search for and find a rental property yourself, but in realty you may not. We do the contracts, the follow up, making sure everything is ok not just before, but also after you move in. We do not forget about you after you have moved in!

So anyone who got a place on their own is on their own as far as deposits go?

Yes, they are on their own unless they hire a lawyer.

It's generally not worthwhile to do so for a month or two's deposit, especially at the lower end of the market. There’s not much they can do, is there?

No, there really isn’t.

A few years ago you could get a very nice apartment in a central area for no more than 50,000 baht a square metre. Now that will not get you so much. What I would term “decent places” are now going for 60,000 – 70,000 baht a square metre and the best places are over 100K baht a square metre. What happened?

Yep, the new Met is going for over 100,000 baht a square metre. The demand is there and the demand is going to continue to be there. I don’t believe supply is going to overlap demand. Prices are going to continue to go up over the next 2 or 3 years, just like they are all over the globe. Bangkok is a not a lone ranger here!

The developers are using more sense, with less built in furniture, something which really is a pet beef of mine.

Me too!

Places are getting flasher, apartments with their own pool, similar to the Raffles, on soi 31.

A year or a year and a half ago, 5 – 6 million got you a very nice 90 square metre, 2 bedroom condo on Sukhumvit. Now that sort of thing goes for around 8 million baht!

In what other ways has the market changed?

The Bangkok Bank branches in Singapore are offering mortgages to foreigners which are making the Thai market more enticing for foreign buyers. Some Thai banks in Hong Kong are doing this too.

In December we at Sunbelt will be working with Hamptons International Mortgage Ltd which is recognised as the UK’s #1 mortgage broker. They will do loans up to 70% with 30% cash or collateral of other properties in Thailand or other parts of the world that the prospective borrower owns.

Another change is that a while back the law changed whereby in a condominium only 40% of units could be foreign owned, but it has now changed to 49%. That changed a while back.

Tell me more about how the loans for foreigners work.

The Singapore and Hong Kong loans are available to a maximum of 70% of the purchase price. The term of the loans is usually a maximum of 10 years and of course the repayments are monthly. With Hampton it will also be a maximum of 70% with a 30 year loan!

How is it arranged?

You actually have to go to Hong Kong or Singapore to do this. If you’re living or working here with a work permit that makes it a lot easier and of course you need all the documents you would need in the west such as employment history, tax returns and so on. There’s a processing fee which is around 25,000 Hong Kong dollars or 5,000 Singapore dollars, but I believe part of that is refunded once there is a draw down of the loan. The loan can be for between 1,000,000 and 5,000,000 Hong Kong dollars or US equivalent which is 5 – 25 million baht.

In Hong Kong dollars, the mortgage rate is the banks’ best lending rate plus 1%. Similar rates are available through Singapore. The above I just gave you are what you get if you go through Hong Kong.

Basically, that loans are easily available is a big change. With Hamptons it will be even easier. I can’t wait till their product launches!

What about the property market outside of Bangkok? Pattaya seems to be booming at the moment. Is it sustainable? Would it be good to buy into one of the high end places like North Shore?

Pattaya is booming and continues to boom, and with the new airport coming on board and future transport links are going to keep things positive down there. With all the cables being buried on Beach Road and other infrastructure improvements it is creating more interest in property investment down there. There are a lot of people getting property down there.

What about elsewhere?

Things are going up everywhere. Chiang Mai is doing well. Foreigners are not flocking back to Phuket in droves yet and that may not happen for a couple of years but prices are continuing to go up in Phuket and they do not look like coming down soon. Hua Hin continues to attract buyers. People are still buying their slice of paradise in Thailand.

You have to remember that the lifestyle you get here is getting harder and harder to find elsewhere in the world at this price.

Where are the best deals in the market at the moment?

I know Sansiri has put up a lot of projects around town. They have some low end projects and some upper end projects, but overall, they do very good projects. They build a good product and they continue to service the product, through maintenance which is very important for a long-term owner.

I guess it all depends if you want something to renovate or a property you can move into with just a toothbrush! I’ve owned several homes and I never really looked at it as having a good deal at that time, but when I sold them later down the road, that is when you get the good deal, at the end! It is when you sell it that the good deal comes into it and you make a capital gain.

What are some of the things to be aware of when buying locally, the sort of things that say, for example, may not exist, or be an issue, back in the West.

When you go to look for a place, you really don’t want anything over 20 years old. That is a good rule of thumb. Understanding what you want, whether it be a long term place or a short-term investment is also important.

Certainly you’d be much better getting an OK condo in a great building than a great condo in a so so building. You can do anything you want to the condo so long as it falls within the guidelines of the juristic agreement.

If the 49% quote of foreign ownership has been reached, there are still other ways to become an owner. The most common is to form a Thai company and have that company purchase the property. You need legal advice on how to facilitate that.

Patong Harbor View Condominiums

I am always dubious about buying a condo here. The buildings are not always maintained as well as they could be and I often see buildings start to go rapidly down hill when they are just 10 odd years old. Any thoughts?

Older places may have a little more character. There is often more possibility to do something with them in terms of renovation. Newer places tend to be smaller.

Ok… What about the common fees in condos? They can add up, can’t they?

You need to look at how old the building is. Does the management have a proven track record? You should check with existing tenants to see how well things are maintained. How much will it be every year? The average is about 30 – 40 baht per square meter per month.

You also need to check if the condo management have set up a sinking fund. This is a one time payment that you make when purchase. But some condos require a sinking payment each year while yet others require it on demand. You need to check just what it will cost you!

Also, does the condo have an annual insurance policy which would cover things such as building fire etc.

You also need to find out who pays the transfer fees on the property.

How much are they?

It is now 2% transfer fee with a 0.05% stamp duty, 1% withholding tax, and a 3.3% business tax if selling within 5 years. The good news is that it is now under consideration that houses will be in the future at 0.01% transfer tax.

I believe it is better to rent here than to buy, for a number of reasons. What do you make of this?

I tend to agree with you because it seems sometimes the sell price can be up to 200 times of the “rental price”, if you were to rent a unit. I heard an example of a shophouse that was 2,000,000 baht and the rent was about 10,000 baht a month.

It is great to have ownership and not be throwing your money away and the slice of the pie and all of that, but the ratio of the rent to the purchase prices makes you question things. The key is to look at the yield, higher than 8% I would own, less than that I would rent.

However I like to point out when looking at a property with a business, the ROI will be much higher by renting than owning. For instance a restaurant my boss owns makes 200,000 net per month. His investment was 4 million which gives a 60 % ROI. If he bought the shophouse it would cost 50 million baht and he would save rent of 255,000 baht per month. His net then would be 455,000 baht per month or around 11% ROI. But that doesn’t take in account capital appreciation. Real estate fluctuates on average 10% in a year so with this the standard deviation would be a return that year of 21% or if real estate went down 10%, just a 1% return. His great business that has a 60% ROI is more a real estate investment than a restaurant investment. Figure out how many restaurants he could invest in with that same 50 million and do the math. Renting simply makes more sense in this case.

What's the deal with this investment visa I have heard about, whereby you purchase a property and can get a long-term visa based on the property purchase?

An investment visa allows a foreigner to live indefinitely in Thailand without doing visa runs every month or even every 3 months. The only criteria is you must invest 3 million in a government bank such as the Krung Thai Bank or buy bonds issued by a state agency or government enterprise or invest in a condo. Any combination is allowed such as a 2 million baht condo and 1 million in a bank account.

We are doing a special promotion whereby the legal and government fees for the investment visa is free when a client invest in a condo using our property service. Otherwise it's 7,200 professional fees and 2,000 in government fees.

Do you own here?

No, I rent! I’m tickled with my little apartment, it’s a great little place.

A close and trusted friend tells me that buying in the local property market is only good so long as you want to live in your property for a long time. He says that it can be very difficult to sell. What are your thoughts?

Depends on location, which is the most important point to consider. It may be a nice area now, but what is that area going to be like in 10 years from now.

Making a capital gain from your investment may be a bit tough. It could be hit and miss and being at the right place at the right time is part of it.

Thais are not known for buying second hand property of any sort. Any thoughts on this and how it relates to the market here?

They want new. I’ve heard that from many, many people and not just in condos but also with cars.

There seem to be more real estate agents here than ever before. What advice do you have for the uninitiated on dealing with an agent – what should one look for?

If you’re a foreigner, or an English speaker at least, you want to go with an English speaking agent. If you’re from the West, you want to deal with a Westerner, with someone who understands your needs and wants.

You want someone who is straight and will negotiate the best price for you. Ask for referrals from your friends. At Sunbelt we have an excellent reputation. One type of agent that you should avoid and found mostly in Pattaya is one that asks a seller what price he wants. Then lists it at a higher price and pockets the difference when it is sold at a higher price. This type of agent is scum! Make sure you negotiate the best price before you sign the closing documents.

There are many agents here, many with respectable names in the market. People seem to really like dealing with other English speakers. You also want someone with a good track record and that is hard to research. If you don’t like someone, go to another agent. As a smart consumer, I would hope that you do not put all of your eggs in one basket. You’ll know the right real estate agent if they work hard for you.

They should know what your requirements are and not waste your time showing you the sort of places you do not want.

Many readers of this website have a Thai partner and are interested in buying a house, but are scared of losing it, their understanding being that a property bought in their Thai partner’s name is gone the moment it is purchased and they then have no claim to it. Are there any practical, legal work arounds?

<BIG KNOWING SMILE!> You can get around that by forming a company. You can talk to our legal department about the ins and outs of that. Pre-nuptials cover that as well. You need good legal advice and a good lawyer who will use sophisticated strategies to protect you. You need to have a lawyer.

How do you think the market will change and develop in the future?

It is going to continue to develop and I think the demand will be there. Thais are different to us foreigners who tend to move around. They tend to buy and stay put.

There are a lot of housing developments on the outskirts of Bangkok. In my opinion, I don’t think there is a crash coming, as people have been speculating. I just think that now is a time to invest, because prices are going to continue to go up and the longer you wait, the smaller the slice of paradise you’ll have. More and more foreigners are moving to Thailand and now owning property, which is only 20% of what it cost back home! The cost of living is much lower and hence it is easier to retire here than in your home country.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was Wat Po Men near Central Rama 3.

Have you ever seen this place from the inside?

Last week's pic shows Wat Po Men temple near the Central Rama 3 shopping centre with the recently opened Lumpini Place apartment building in the background. 80% of responses were wrong this week, many people thinking it might have been somewhere near Chinatown. This week's prize is a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. The prize is only available to people in Thailand now – either resident or tourist.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Learn Thai and make new friends.

There is no doubt that speaking fluent Thai opens up a new dimension to living here. I was in Buriram a few months ago and at the market there were 3 young guys parked, sitting on their motorbikes. I walked past and as I did they stopped talking. I could sense a cool, almost unfriendly atmosphere. I backtracked and engaged them in my best Thai mixed with some Lao. The reaction was amazing. They became open and friendly and wanted to know all about me. I went and bought 4 bottles of M150 for us and now we are friends for life! It's almost as if some Thais think you are less than human if you can't speak some Thai. These guys told me that there is a certain amount of resentment over the fact that many of the good looking young women in Isaan go off to Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok looking for farang husbands and when they find one they bring him home and show off the gold chains, nice clothes, motorbikes, etc. which many of the local young guys could never provide. This of course makes more of the local girls head south to seek their fortune. The young men feel marginalised and second rate compared with the farang. As the amount of farangs living in Thailand is increasing rapidly, I feel this problem may grow and one way to minimise it is to learn to speak at least some Thai and talk to the locals.

Respecting our host country.

I think that the decision to at least try to speak some of the language of the country you are visiting or living in is pretty fundamental to the relationship you build with that country. If you are a one time tourist learning only how to say hello is alright, but it will certainly limit your experience, but I would think that those that don’t bother to learn any at all and are residents of that country are having a pretty shallow experience. From reading your column, and other sources, it seems to me there are a fair number of farangs that are there to take advantage of the cheap cost of living, the bar and sex scene, but really have no interest in Thailand. I would bet that there are a good number of readers that read Sunday's column and felt, or at least SHOULD have felt guilty at their lack of respect for Thailand. That’s what it boils down to isn’t it? Respect for the country you live in. I saw it while living in Europe; there where those that spoke none of the language, didn’t travel or have local friends and generally complained about it all of the time. Those that really made something of their visit got out, travelled, mingled with the locals and came away enriched.

It's different living here.

When you come to Thailand for a holiday, you can be wild and crazy because you are leaving and don't have to worry about the consequences of your actions so much. But, if you live in Thailand, you normally can not be as free. You can't afford to make enemies. You have a reputation to protect. If you live in an apartment, the security guards will know about girls you take back, and they might rat you out if you do something wrong. In fact, anyone near your apartment could cause that kind of problem. In general, you have to behave yourself to a much greater degree. You become a part of the community and the neighbourhood, even if you live on Sukhumvit Soi 4. I know several people who have become less wild when they actually settled here. They attribute this partially to these effects. You have to be much more careful about getting into conflicts or fights if you live here in Thailand. Most people have set patterns, and as a result, it is easy to track down most farangs. The police could ask a few people a few questions and could find you easily. You wouldn't be able to hide very easily.

The Land Of The Rising Sun is the new Land Of Smiles?

Just got back from Thailand after my 4th and possibly my last trip. The Land of Smiles was mostly FROWNS this trip. I have never experienced so many surly hotel employees in all my travels. We (the Mrs. and I) had stopped in Japan on the way over this time. The reason I mention this, is the Japanese were very polite and helpful when they were asked. I can't say the same thing for the Thais. Some were, and several weren't.

Bye-bye Thailand, hello Taiwan.

After 6 months of living in the nation's capital, I packed my bags and relocated to Taiwan. One man's meat is another man's poison and Bangkok isn't everyone's cup of tea. Like so many others I met here, I was attracted by the thrill of the nightlife, but surprised even myself at how quickly it took to get disillusioned with the whole scene and see through it to the shambolic and soul-destroying existence it entailed for everyone involved. For those with no interest in the nightlife, I feel there really is little reason to stick around in Bangkok at all. The other thing I couldn't handle was that the kind of people I left my native UK to get away from were everywhere I went, in an even more concentrated form, and just the sight of many of them made me feel ashamed to be British. But I guess that's Thailand in 2005 and things are unlikely to change.

Not a Thermae fan.

I wouldn't be disappointed to see the Thermae go away. It just didn't work for me – too dark and crowded. People love to criticise my picking up freelancers during the day time but I find that in the light of day, face to face, I can get a sense of what kind of person I am dealing with. Does she have a sense of humour? Does she have a brain? Do her eyes focus? Is the smile unforced? Is she unhurried and not desperate? I only pick up freelancers as a general rule during the day time when I can see what I am doing. I consider this type of behavior to be high risk behavior so I try to lower the odds.

The newly opened Catz A Gogo in Pattaya will have the owner's birthday bash this coming Friday, the 18th November. They are laying on a 40 kg porker as well as various other delights such as steak and kidney pie, cottage pie etc. Nice, not everyone likes the old pig on a spit. Additionally, the owners tell me that there are some new ladies starting this week that have not only never seen the inside of a farang bar but will need directions to Walking Street, so if you like the less jaded type of companion then there are a few to be found there. Don't expect to be discussing macro-economics or the like with these newbies though. Catz is located about 50 yards past Tony's Disco, opposite the Nang Nual restaurant.

Sunday 20 November is the date for the next Diamond A Gogo in house dance contest. This will be the last one for a few months so they are going to make it a special one with extra competitions in the "2 girl class". If you want to be sure of a front row seat arrive early. The party starts at 9.30 PM.

The Big Mango in Nana Plaza, one possibility for the best new bar of 2005, has a banner up advertising a 60 baht happy hour from 5:00 until 8:00 PM – as if their drinks prices weren't cheap enough already. They are also rather boldly talking up the quality of their hamburgers. You can get a cheeseburger and fries there for 99 baht, that is like Woodstock prices back in the early '90s! It might just warrant a visit and the taste test! They also have pool at just 10 baht a frame, which has to be the cheapest of any table in a farang bar in Bangkok.

The new branch of the Ball in Hand at Asoke had been due to open around now but sadly there has been a delay. First of all, there was some flooding there due to, from all accounts, some pipes that went pop. The floor was damaged to the point that it had to be laid again. And then there were some problems with the newly laid floor and it has to be re-laid again! I guess this is one of the few instances when getting laid so many times is not actually a good thing. With a bit of luck, the new Ball In Hand will open in a few weeks.

One of the most popular bar owners of all, Electric Blue Andy, is about to hit the big "five oh". November 19 is the big day. Always one for a party, Andy has got not one, but two parties planned. For all of his Bangkok friends, November 16 is the day at Electric Blue in the "second" Patpong soi. There'll be free food and loads of free shots. The second party and the one that is described as the big one will be held at Electric Blue Pattaya on Walking Street. Andy would love to see you all and to entice you, there'll be loads of giveaways and stuff. If you are a golfer they have a day of golf arranged on the 19th with tee off time at 10 AM at the Pattaya Country Club and rumour has it there might be a trip to a soapy afterwards. Email Andy at Pattayaleisure at yahoo dot com if you want to play. Being one of the most popular bar owners of all, there are a heap of people who have chipped in with free bar fines and drinks including Dollhouse, Living Doll, Hooty's, Peppermint, Super Model, Angelwitch, Suzi Wong, Playskool, Misty's, Beavers, Happy, Blues Factory, Sheba and Beach Club. Who said bar owners never talk to each other? Fosters beer is doing special deals on the evening of the 19th and there will be food from The Sportsman. For the man who has everything, Andy would like to advise all that he likes fine cigars, very good red wine and…….young ladies!

On Thursday night Korat was invaded by the boys in brown. A task force of around 12 – 15 pick-up trucks, each loaded with around 7-10 officers hit town. This was a serious task force and from all accounts they were out for the kill. They swooped on every type of night time entertainment venue including pubs, cafes, discos, karaokes, and even some restaurants! IDs were checked in some venues and urine tests conducted in others. Triple X, next to the Royal Princess Hotel, got hit very hard and resulted in droves of people scattering across the busy street to escape the police. A truck tried to avoid hitting people who had dashed out wildly but lost control and flipped over the median strip! Korat was the most alive it has been since the Vietnam war! As soon as they were done at one venue, off the police went in search of more prey at the next spot on the hit list. Even the K-Star Hotel got hit hard. But perhaps it was all overdue? Korat has always been lax on the enforcement of various laws. This whole ordeal is going to hurt Korat businesses even more as the American / Thai joint military exercises were cancelled this year, and held in Udon Thani instead. A number of local businesses anxiously wait for the American soldiers at this time of the year. Needless to say, there are less smiles than usual in Korat right now.

You hear some amazing stories in Thailand, but this one surprised even me. Bangkokchat has been getting a lot of press recently as the place to meet young Thai women who are interested in developing international relations. As I wrote recently, the average guy on Bangkokchat is aged somewhere from early 20s through to his mid 40s. This week I heard a confirmed story AND met the guy in question of a fellow who has been having a lot of luck with Thai women who play on that forum. The gentleman in question is 78 years old and is having as much fun as everyone else! AMAZING! This confirms what many people have said about Thai women. They are less concerned about a guy's age and the way he looks, and are simply interested in meeting new people.

But how long such websites continue to be a viable means for Western guys to meet Thai women remains to be seen. Perhaps the biggest of all such sites worldwide, AdultFriendFinder, is already blocked by some Thai ISPs including CS Loxinfo. True have not blocked them yet, but my guess is that they will not be far behind. Internet censorship and site blocking is nothing new and anyone with even a small amount of knowledge about using proxies should have no problem circumventing this. But the Thai authorities are aware of this and they are already blocking some of the web-based proxy / anti-censorship sites! It seems to be something of a game of cat and mouse at the moment. Whether all of this is a serious attempt to crack down on things or not is a moot point. I personally think it is sad to see websites being blocked and I never considered Thailand being similar to China in this respect, but more and more, it seems things are going in that direction. From all accounts, there has been an incredible uptake in the number of banned sites since earlier this year but I still find it interesting that the censorship does not apply to all ISPs. With this in mind, it is possible that there will always be certain (new?) ISPs through which some sites remain accessible. As for Thailandfriends, about 2 months ago, they put up a notice that they were eliminating "adult photos" from the site, a feature that was only available for premium members – read those who paid subscriptions. In fact, if you look closely at most websites related to Thailand run by farangs, you'll see that they have all voluntarily taken down any parts of their site that they felt may not have gone down well with the authorities. This site is no exception.

Question: Where do you buy tickets for Nok Air, one of Thailand's budget domestic airlines? At the knock shop, of course!

More and more Thai women seem to be concerned about personal safety at night. No, I'm not talking about the ladies of the night, but women who would not ordinarily be out in the evening. There appears to be either a greater number of attacks on women, or more reporting of this problem, or both. Chatting with Thai women who work until nightfall, they are getting more and more concerned about making their way home alone, even in a taxi. Many well-to-do Thais tell me Bangkok is getting more and more dangerous.

Thailand is home to quite a number of Westerners who receive some sort of disability compensation. Perhaps they can no longer work, through sickness, accident, or injury. Thailand's warm climate is easy on the body, medical care is very good and affordable, and living here is cheap enough that someone without a full income can still have a pleasant life. Down in Prakanong there was a Scandinavian who was in Thailand for those very reasons. The fellow was getting a disability allowance due to some sort of brain problems that came about from a car accident he had in his homeland. Apparently he dealt with his problems by drinking serious amounts of alcohol, bottles of the local Thai whisky in record time. A friend of mine noticed him and felt he was trouble. He disappeared and it was a couple of weeks before anyone heard. This past week he re-appeared and got so drunk that he could not remember which apartment was his, and he started smashing in the doors of various units in his apartment building, looking for his place. He woke up half the building before being thrown out on the soi. Wandering around screaming and making a hell of racket, a female vendor embraced him, trying to calm him down. Drunk sod thinks she wants a bit so pulls his cock out and starts playing with it in front of her. That was the end of that. He was pounced on by some of the locals, given a good working over before the police were called. And another Western country has one of its citizens incarcerated overseas.

And we're not finished with the naturists yet. Were you the nude farang in the Nana branch of Bangkok Bank this week? A farang was seen in the upstairs section and the way the staff was reacting, customers thought a celebrity was going to be walking down the stairway! But, NO, a naked farang was escorted outside by security staff. What happened to his clothes? Did he enter the bank clothed or remove his gar inside the branch? What is it with farangs going crazy this past week?

Loy Kratong is for me, the nicest of the Thai festivals. It is also a time when romance is in the air – and a lot of Thai women spend a romantic evening with their boyfriend. If you want to use a short-time hotel on Wednesday night, that is Loy Kratong night, be prepared to queue!

It seems there is an increasing number of visitors who avail themselves of the naughty nightlife scene are turning to assistance for their late evening activities. Hydraulics failure is not an uncommon occurrence after a night on the ale so pharmaceutical assistance is becoming more commonplace these days. However, the girls are becoming aware of it too – don't let your honey see you take your blue pill or she may decide that she'd rather sleep alone. A story came to me the other day of one such occurrence where a customer was given his barfine back by his lady as she was concerned he would keep her awake all night! The products are widely available from pharmacies throughout the kingdom although there are an increasing number of Chinese manufactured copies appearing on the streets. Another alternative is to get your supplies before leaving home. A long-standing advertiser in this column provides a discreet and reliable service at competitive rates. If you think they could come in handy for you then check out their website, right here.

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. It has to be said that Mrs. Stick is not your stereotypical Thai woman. She is not Buddhist and she is not shy to criticise things about her own country and culture, although having said that, she remains proud to be Thai. Mr. Stick will try and answer the questions which Mrs. Stick is not so sure about. Please do try and limit the length of questions to Mrs. Stick to about 100 words. We get many questions that are entire stories of several hundred words which I'm afraid are just too long to run here.

Question 1: My Thai fiancée and I are having very tough times. For the past two years we've worked toward getting a visa. The major hold up is always that for every task she must do (e.g. get police clearance) she claims, "this not easy" and so just filling out the relatively minor paperwork associated with the process is torturous. I've gotten mad a couple of times, and have told her that she apparently doesn't love me nor want to come to be my wife. Finally, I hired an attorney at great expense and yes, she got the visa, but the day of the interview, she didn't email me to convey the good news. Well, I got very angry and wrote to her that she must not care much about me after all. She feels I'm being unfair and often controlling with her (by demanding that she write me a couple of times each week). Are Thai women (from Isaan) particularly sensitive and stubborn at the same time?

Mrs. Stick says: If this woman is not so worldly, then this might be a somewhat typical reaction. She might be the type of person who lacks basic sensibility, as some Thai people who have led a sheltered life may be. I wonder if she has ever actually had to try and make much of a serious effort for things in the past, or if perhaps most everything has been given to her – and she is simply not good at getting things done? Two years is a long time and if she is still dragging her feet on issues like this, then perhaps you have to look more closely at her. Forgive me for being so blunt, but this is a classic example of the sort of behaviour that you need to examine carefully as it is an indicator of how couple life will be with her. If she is not doing what she should be now, will she make her fair share of contributions to the partnership in the future?

Question 2: My Thai girlfriend and I want to marry in February 2006 here in Sweden. All formalities are arranged. We are both around 40 and have been married before. So we both wanted the marriage to be just a formal act – no celebration. In January I will fly to Thailand, visit her family, travel around, then take her back to Sweden for marriage and staying there. Today my Thai girlfriend told me on the phone that her family insists on a "wedding party" for us. She says "not full wedding, only half, only 100 people". She cannot stop that. My Thai girlfriend is a good girl from a poorish, but proud and decent family with a small but steady income. There are no questions about support or dowry. Now for that "half wedding party". If they want it, I can cope with it, I try to follow the Thai way if possible. But what should I expect? Will I have to bring my very best suit? Are there any difficult dress codes to follow? Must I / should I pay for that "half wedding party", or for parts of it?

Mrs. Stick says: To many Thai families, 100 people is a full sized wedding, although to many, this would not be such a big affair. You really need to clarify with your future wife all of the details. How big will it be? Who is arranging it? Is it at home or in a hotel or function centre? Who is going to pay for it? Don't let the details remain unclear until the last minute! It is best to be clear in advance. If the parents pay, then all of the envelopes that people attending the wedding give should go to them. If you pay for the wedding, then all of the envelopes should go to you. Just a note for you, even with a woman who has married before, there might still be some expectation of a dowry. Just something for you to be aware of so you should get that clarified now too.

Question 3: As an African American / Thai who grew up in the United States, what is the Thai take on hugging one another? When I see my family in Udon or Bangkok, they are delighted to see me but seldom does one volunteer a hug or a kiss which I think is quite normal stateside. Even after spending several weeks with them, when I leave it is awkward. Though they seldom hug, I will give them a hug to let them know I love them and will miss them. Mind you, until 2003, they hadn't seen me for 27 years and some of my cousins weren't even born then. However, since 2003 I've been back 5 times and try to make it a point to go every year so it's not like they don't know me. My Thai is very limited so I don't know how to ask them about this. I was just wondering if it is something cultural. I think I read something about Thais not being big on public displays of affection.

Mrs. Stick says: Yes, what you say here is true. I am sure that they will like what you are doing, but they might be too shy to express themselves similarly in public. Even between husband and wife, children and parents, such emotions are seldom expressed in public. As an example, my mother would seldom ever hug me in public.

And so once again the number of farangs in Thailand swells as the high season has well and truly kicked in. Hotel rooms are scarce and even in Pattaya, city of seemingly a zillion hotels, many hotels are booked solid all the way through to February. Even Phuket occupancy rates are high. A lot of negativity appears online about Thailand, but you can't argue with the numbers. Thailand continues to attract serious numbers of long-haul holidaymakers and my guess is that this year's high season will break records, yet again.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper and KK.