Stickman's Weekly Column January 22nd, 2006

Chiang Mai Revisited



It took me almost seven years living in Thailand before I made it up to Chiang Mai. Just a bit over a year later, this weekend to be precise, I returned.

Sitting on the plane while still on the tarmac at Don Meuang, I only needed a cursory glance to be reminded that the ladies of the north are much more pleasant on the eye than the average Bangkok girl. Of course that was hardly the reason for venturing to Chiang Mai, but it is always nice to be in a city surrounded by attractive women.

The reason for visiting Chiang Mai was to check it out in the cool season, the time it is supposed to be at its best. This was to be not just a weekend away, but a chance to get more of a feel for the northern capital, and see if it really is an alternative to Bangkok.

Given that it was only a year or so since I was last in Chiang Mai, as one would expect, not much seemed to have changed, but I did notice a lot of construction going on, and a lot of it would appear to be tourist orientated.

I absolutely loved Doi Suthep on my visit to Chiang Mai and that was the first place we ventured to. I remembered on my first trip photographing this little boy, donned in the traditional dress of his tribe. I don't normally pay to take someone's photo, but that time I made an exception. I had hoped to see this little charmer again but thought it very unlikely, given that that was some time ago. As we were climbing the steps up to the main temple at Doi Suthep, I saw a little one with his mother, bright eyed, staring at me. And there he was, the little charmer, at almost the same spot on the same flight of stairs! In many ways it was nice to see him again, but on the other hand I was a little sad, knowing that this poor little kid would be kept on these same steps until way beyond the age to start school, deprived of an education, basically there to make money for the family – and no doubt doing very, very well at it.

Doi Suthep attracts a huge number of foreign tourists and so it should. It is an absolutely fabulous attraction and a must see for all who make it to Chiang Mai, but one bunch of farang tourists are largely missing, guys with a bargirl in tow. I guess Chiang Mai is sufficiently far away from Pattaya and Bangkok, the bargirl centres, that few guys take their girl up there. And that the girls in the farang scene tend to come from Isaan as opposed to the north means that few guys will be visiting their bargirl girlfriend's family in Chiang Mai.

So there I was, sitting in the shade for a few minutes, catching my breath and soaking up the atmosphere, when a farang walks past with his Thai companion. She was a looker and I was damned tempted to pull out the camera, slap on the telephoto and shoot them. Well, actually, just shoot her if the truth be told. The light was at the right angle to get a nice shot but he didn't look like he would appreciated a voyeur like me photographing his woman. They strolled around and then headed over into the shade and sat right next to me.

She was obviously a bit sad or depressed about something, but he did his level best to cheer her up. He was obviously English, more Eastenders than Coronation Street, and he started telling her that she should be very thankful to Buddha for all that he had done for her. This kinda sounded interesting so I feigned an interest in the temple and stared into the distance, my ears pricked up, tuning into their conversation. "You came from a terrible background and Buddha's gift to you was to send you to Pattaya so you could meet a good man like me. You should thank Buddha. You're very lucky!" Fortunately she let out a startled sound at exactly the same moment I did so I was not sprung guffawing at this oddest of comments.

If you have even the slightest interest in Thai temples, then Doi Suthep is absolutely the best of all of the temples in Thailand that I have seen, and when you go there on a bright day, it is truly a photographer's dream.

After Doi Suthep we continued up the hill, past Phuping Palace which was closed, and on to a Hmong Village. Call me what you want, but I find these hill tribe visits are always somewhat less than pleasant. First of all, why is it that the village always smells like a tip? Whenever I have gone to such a place, the stench is often too much – which is all the more curious because Thais seem to get much more upset about bad smells than farangs do. Noise is the one that gets us, smell is the one that gets the Thais.

My everlasting impression of the visit to this particular village will be of clothes hanging. Every house seemed to have a huge amount of clothes hanging on the line. It was as if every person had done all of their laundry, of every piece of clothing, for every member of the family, on the same day. Yeah, there really was that much washing on the lines. Or maybe the amount of washing on the lines was due to the guesthouses in Chiang Mai that offer laundry deals at give away prices simply sending all of the guests' clothes up to the hill tribes to wash, cheap labour and all of that?!

The first day in Chiang Mai was spent cruising around in a minivan, for which we had agreed a figure of 1,200 baht for the van for the entire day, a fairly good deal really given that there were too many of us to fit in a car. The driver went well out of his way to make our time in Chiang Mai as enjoyable as he could, including filling the van with an ice box and a dozen bottles of water, all of this included in the already very reasonable charge. Anyway, we agreed where we wanted to go and he set about taking us everywhere. Towards the end of the day, we told him that we were not so keen to visit the umbrella village and would be happy to be dropped off at the hotel, and that he would not have to go out of his way to take us there. He would have a few hours off to himself. We were then awfully surprised when he said, "If we no go umbrella village, you must to pay extra 200 baht." Frowns all around, thinking that we must have misheard it, and then he repeated it, both in English and in Thai. Thinking this was some sort of scam, I then figured it out. Many of the drivers get petrol vouchers if they take groups of tourists to certain sites and factories, irrespective of whether they buy anything or not. He had simply factored into the price that we would be going there and when we didn't, it meant that he would effectively be getting less. This has to be an only in Thailand scenario.

The last time, that being the only previous time, I was in Chiang Mai, the city experienced unseasonal rain so I didn't have a chance to check out the city's famed night bazaar. I have to confess that I really am not a fan of such things, and night markets in Thailand tend to bore me. Patpong, well, no-one really goes there for the market, do they? And then there is Lumpini Night Bazaar, which sort of reminds me of a more expensive, slightly upmarket version of Chatuchak – and I hate Chatuchak. We went for a stroll through the night bazaar on couple of evenings and I guess it is pleasant enough, certainly the merchandise they have for sale is much more appealing than so much of the nonsense that you get at markets in Bangkok. And the vendors were so much less pushy, so much more pleasant. My one major gripe would be that like so many markets in Thailand, the passage through which you walk was very narrow and all it needed was for one person to stop and look at something or negotiate price with a vendor and there could be an impasse. Still, this night market was pleasant enough – and I guess the fact that I went there two nights in a row means that it was more than bearable.

I didn't get a chance to check out the naughty bars but I could not help but laugh at the setting of one food vendor right next to a massage parlour. That really did make me chuckle loudly. You could easily find yourself going out for a meal, but seeing these pictures of the hot women could convince more than a few guys to slip inside for a quicky.

I have to say that there did seem to be a heap of bars around Chiang Mai though, and it seemed as if we passed one bar area after another, after another. At one point we went down this lane, somewhere in the central city area, and there were a number of bars clearly targeting Japanese men, with battalions of local lasses waiting outside. I say they were local because they were of the fairer skinned variety, exactly the archetype that appeals to Asian men. Perhaps there were some Burmese amongst them? Rumours of serious numbers of Burmese girls smuggled in across the borders to satisfy the local men's desire for fair skinned maidens are often heard. The lovely pictured here in the traditional headwear was not one of them though!

There were a number of farang oriented beer bars, and in a short excursion in that neighbourhood at night I noticed that the bars near the Tapae Gate area, the bars that tended to be favoured by Westerners, that a good number of the women seemed to be Isaan, by appearance at least. My hypothesis is that they end up there, not because they specifically like foreigners or because foreigners specifically like them, but more because both the locals and other Asian tourists are not thrilled at their look. That applies to much of the naughty nightlife industry, doesn't it?

As with many places in Thailand, the locals thrive at the opportunity to tell you how they get around certain rules or regulations and Chiang Mai was no exception. The story I found most fascinating was the one about the best places to buy various fruits, which are imported from China, via Burma, and come into Thailand via an unmanned, unofficial border crossing, meaning that there is no duty payable. What I had to laugh at though was that the final price paid for them at the market was only negligibly cheaper than those which had apparently been imported through the proper channels.

One new spot we ventured to this time around was Doi Inthanon, the highest spot in Thailand. Inthanon is a national park and pleasant enough, but if you're coming from a Western country with really spectacular national parks, you'll probably not be so impressed, but for us lot who madly choose Bangkok as out place of residence, it does make for a pleasant few hours with nature. There are the obligatory waterfalls, and unlike so many of the waterfalls in other parts of Thailand, you do not have to go traipsing along a seemingly never ending trail, through uninteresting dense bush, to get to a waterfall that would impress no-one in the West. The waterfalls are, while not spectacular, still a pleasant enough diversion and well worth the short detour off the main road.

And there are these two gigantic jedis that are shrines to their majesties, the King and Queen. They are on two small hills, opposite each other, just a little down from the top of Doi Inthanon. The whole area is very well done, with lovely gardens – something the Thais do ever so well, wide walkways, and everything is very nice. Its remote location doesn't seem to have kept the crowds away and like so many attractions in Thailand it is absolutely crawling with people.

There is something about the preservation of many aspects of Thai culture that can make Chiang Mai rather enchanting for anyone who has spent much of their time in Bangkok and had perhaps mistakenly thought that Thailand was almost as Western as Farangland. It is nice to be reminded that Thailand does have its own unique culture, much of which is quite different from anything found in the West. If for no other reason, visiting Chiang Mai provides a soul cleansing break from the daily grind, dirt, pollution, Western ravages and general nonsense that are all unavoidable in Bangkok.

But Chiang Mai is not without its faults. That there is so much construction work going on in central areas at the height of the high season was something I found a little peculiar. And while it is cleaner than Bangkok, there was a dense blanket of haze hanging over the city and just as many tuktuk and songtaew drivers wore a face mask to protect themselves from the pollution as you would find in the capital. Chiang Mai's pavements are no better than Bangkok's, in fact you could argue that they are worse, and just as in most major centres in Thailand, whenever you walk out of virtually any hotel you are greeted by the most obnoxious and downright rude people you could imagine, offering you everything from a city tour, to gems, to young girls.

While this weekend was planned as a break away from Bangkok, I also wanted to get a better idea of Chiang Mai as an alternative to Bangkok, in terms of a place to live and work. Bangkok has a lot going for it, but deep down I know that if I am going to stay in Thailand, a move out of the capital will have to be made, at some point.

I remain unconvinced that many places in Thailand offer a true alternative to Bangkok as a place to live, at least if the idea of being close to some Western comforts, other Westerners, and a variety of things to do and places to go are important to you. Korat, I have mentioned before, is just too dull, and too Thai and the rest of Isaan doesn't interest me. The south doesn't interest me at all – it's too hot and I don't find the people as pleasant as those from other parts of the country. Pattaya has a clear attraction, but that sort of thing doesn't appeal to a married man. Phuket is very nice, but there is something that I cannot put my finger on that makes it lack appeal as a place to live.

Last night, as the Mrs. and I were relaxing at one of the very relaxing restaurants beside the Ping River, I said to her that Chiang Mai is one of the few places in Thailand outside of Bangkok where I think I could live. Happily. I really think I could. Chiang Mai has a lot going for it and this trip I realised something that I didn't the first time around. One visit a year simply isn't enough.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was Apache Bar in Soi Cowboy.

Where is that?!

Last week's pic was taken of the girl sitting atop Apache Bar in Soi Cowboy. Rumour has it that she can't be barfined. Only a handful of people got the picture correct, something which rally did surprise me! This week's first prize is a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. Prizes number 2 and 3 are a 600 baht dinner voucher for 2 to be used at Sin in Sukhumvit Soi 4. The prizes are only available to people in Thailand now – either residents or tourists, and must be redeemed within 2 weeks. You MUST say that you are in Bangkok and able to claim the prize or I will consider you ineligible.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

100 baht for a "nice" pair of shoes!

Re: the guy who lost his shoes at a temple. One of my Thai friends used to live in Samui where he would wander around looking for shoes 'left' on the beach (while the owners were in the sea). He would then proceed to buff them up and sell them at a tidy profit. There is also another Thai guy I regularly see on one of the walkover bridges who sells second hand shoes. I don't know where he gets them from, but you can have a nice pair of shoes, all polished and buffed up, for 100 baht.

Is Phnom Penh an alternative?

Feeling somewhat nostalgic for the 'good ole' days when I used to get attention from girls in bars, yes even here in Phuket believe it or not, I went to Phnom Penh for the weekend with a friend who needed a visa run. After two days of constant attention i.e. having my palms scrawled with fingernails, my body hair pulled in tufts and my nipples tweaked, I was so happy to get back to Thailand and being ignored.

Not a fan of gogo bar music.

I was in a bar in Cowboy the other day and the music was appalling techno crap. I paid my bill and left. Long Gun is always packed and has a good atmosphere but the music is the same old American rock stuff we have heard a zillion times. Deja Vu sometimes plays good music i.e. something up to date like hip-hop, R & B etc. but I can't find a bar where I like the music most of the time. I have been in bars sometimes where the music was really bad, then the DJ played some good music the girls and the customers all responded with much more enthusiasm. Why don't the DJs play that kind of music all the time – surely he must realise that it is much more popular? Are customers content with the music they get in gogo bars or is it the case that they are there for the girls so the music doesn't matter?

Expensive Bangkok!

I discovered Bangkok in the early '90s and have been a regular visitor since, for the simple reason that all the things I enjoy doing there are CHEAP. But I think I may just have made my last trip. The locals are clearly not as friendly as they used to be, but that's understandable with the massive increase in tourist numbers. A beer and a lady drink, barfine and short-time at Nana Plaza, in US dollar terms, comes to about $70 these days. This is ridiculous. That's the same as Berlin, and not far off that dreaded benchmark figure of $100 that applies in the world's most expensive cities like Copenhagen or Tokyo. Damn it, I can have fun with a nice Thai girl for LESS in Istanbul or Athens, without having to travel halfway round the world.

Asian product names, and products.

Some years ago I happened upon an STD awareness booth at a local market. They were offering free condoms and passers by were encouraged to help themselves. Being part Scottish, I obliged. The curious thing is that they were condoms I had never seen before, anywhere! They were made in Japan and went by the name "Beyond Seven". At the time, I didn't pay much heed, as I find most Asian product names inscrutable but I later guessed that it was for the Asian who liked to differentiate (or delude) himself. The irony was that soon after that, I had occasion to need a condom on short notice. After some rummaging, I found these same condoms in my car console. After much earnest and jovial effort by myself and my lady friend, we finally fell about laughing and just gave up. I was as if some sadistic sod had a surplus of latex finger cots and pawned them off as party hats. Ah well, live and learn!

What did you do to your butt?!

Last September I attending the Pan Asia Hash in Kuching. While running in the jungle I slipped and got a tiny scratch on my right cheek – the lower cheek that is. I didn't pay much attention to it but it soon turned into a roaring infection. By the time I got to Bangkok it was a mess and I could hardly sit down. I was staying with friends in Chong Nonsi and they took me to BNH for an exam. I walked in and could not believe how clean and nice the lobby was. The staff was very efficient and within a few minutes I was escorted into the emergency room with my new BNH card and yes, by a beautiful staff person of the female persuasion. Two gorgeous nurses dressed in old-fashioned nursing attire with starched white hats were waiting for me and asked me to undress and hop on the bed – every western sleaze male fantasy coming true. The fantasy ended when the doctor walked in, took one look, and exclaimed in perfect English "what did you do to your butt?" I explained my behavior and he went to work with scissors and other cutting instruments trimming the dead meat. Please note this was all going on within 10 minutes of walking in the front door of the hospital. I called my buddy in to take photos which he did with no problem from the staff. Afterwards I was given detailed instructions on how to take care of the wound, escorted to the pharmacy window, given my prescriptions and bandages, and then released. I opted to return to BNH every day to have the dressing changed, and every day I was treated with courtesy and always promptly treated and released. To further my appreciation of BNH, one of the days it was raining. I didn't have an umbrella and one of the hospital staff gave me her umbrella. I cannot believe how nice everyone at BNH Hospital was to me. The staff was excellent and the service fantastic. I keep telling my countrymen in Los Angeles, California, that I have never been in such a nice hospital. They find this hard to accept but perhaps when I show them your article they will begin to believe.

The bible thumpers standing outside Nana refuse to leave, despite the furious scowls from many customers and even some of the farang bar owners and managers including Dave The Rave, Matt, PJ, Johnny et al, none of whom can see the humour in their customers being told that they are sinners, destined to a life of hell. But if the expression "as hot as hell" is accurate, perhaps the bible thumper was himself the devil, because I have never seen anyone dripping so much sweat in all my life – and this was at night time! Bible thumpers are one of those things that I hate seeing in Thailand, something I thought that we'd left behind upon moving out here. Just to digress for a moment, missionaries often speak the best Thai of all farangs in Thailand because the church usually sends them to a language school for several months before letting them loose on the locals.

The last week was reportedly bad for a large number of the bars in Nana with the only money makers purported to be Rainbow 2 and 4, Angelwitch, G Spot and funnily enough, Cascade! Many bars are way down on the same period as last year, some as much as 60%! Is the bible thumper's presence keeping customers away?

Or maybe the problem at Nana is that no one can get into the damn place? One night this week there were exactly 7 motorbikes, 1 vending car and 1 pick up truck parked right in the middle of the one and only entrance way into world famous entertainment complex. The impression this gives for a first timer is that surely, the place must be closed for why else would someone block the entrance like that? Try parking your wagon like this in Cowboy and you'll be lynched by the bar owners!

Next time you see Johnny from Hollywood, ask him what the significance of the number 350,000 is. Just make sure you are out of arm's length and have your running shoes on…

The most attractive bar in all of Nana Plaza, Big Mango, has hired a few very nice, attractive girls to play pool with at their bar or, if the mood should grab you, they could play with balls elsewhere. The problem the guys running this excellent bar have are the ridiculous ugly and aggressive door girls from Mandarin and Silver Dragon – they sure look like dragons. The job of these girls is to entice punters into their bar and they try everything to block the way for customers who actually want to go to The Big Mango – and the weak punters never made it. But this is a problem all the bars have, and this bar is just unlucky to be located in a corner where the one and only way in can be blocked easily.

Carnival on the third floor is really having a bad, ummm, few months. Most of the most attractive girls have gone and on a Saturday night you can choose between 20 ladies, many of whom were about as old as me – and Stick ain't no spring chicken any more! Perhaps the Crown Group should take a few lasses from some of their other bars to make up the numbers in Carnival?

Closing times remain at 1:00 AM in Nana for most bars and showing only occurs when the security guys out the front of the bars showing are on DEFCON 4, fully armed with radios and other stuff to be faster than you know who…

There has been a huge influx of Japanese customers into Soi Cowboy. The Japanese have long been fans of Patpong, and started hitting Nana in serious numbers in the late '90s where their custom was embraced by a number of bars, particularly Rainbow 1 and 2 bars which are now truly Japanese strongholds. In Soi Cowboy the free spending Japanese's custom has been welcomed and while strolling through Cowboy this week I was surprised to hear girls from one bar calling out to Japanese customers, in Japanese! Rumours of bar owners in Soi Cowboy erecting new neon signs in Japanese and tripling prices are for the time being just that, rumours.

The blood of some Pattaya locals is boiling at the antics of a number of tourists who have been observed putting 500 and even 1,000 baht notes into the garters of girls table dancing in these quasi gogo / table top dancing bars that are all the rage in Pattaya these days. Some girls have been seen with over 5,000 baht in their garters – and presumably that is just what they have earned that evening! One reader emailed me about 5 different girls who were approached with a view to their barfine being paid, and all turned it down – no doubt due to the huge amounts that they are getting, just from dancing. Table top dancing bars are turning out to be quite a phenomenon in Bangkok and a huge earner for the girls. How long until they come to Bangkok?

It has been learned from some Patpong bar owners the reason for the early closing times – an investigative team of reporters from the local TV station ITV has been snooping around using hidden cameras and undercover reports along with obvious in the open camera teams. They started it all for an expose of the queer section on Silom Soi 4 and got some sneaky shots of the bad boys waving their weenies around. And this being Thailand someone in the crew let the word out to people on the Pong. The crew was on a roll liking the footage they got so they decided to head up the road to the more popular section of the Pong, where the girls are. Naturally the boys in brown nearly passed out into their bowl of rice and sent out the word that everybody has to toe the line and not cause anyone to be sent to Siberia, or at least one of the far flung corners of the Kingdom due to any wrong doing caught on tape while the cameras were around.

So according to the type of license they have, the closing hours for drinking and entertainment venues at Patpong is as follows. Disco license, which most of the music venues have, allows them to stay open until 2 AM. Gogo bars can only stay open until 1 AM, and beer bars only until midnight! So it will be the letter of the law enforced with an iron fist for the time being on the Pong at least until the TV camera crews disappear.

Following the post of last week, imbibers in The Red Parrot pool hall wanting to help the local economy and purchase a drink for any of the workers there better beware because the cheapest price is 150 baht for workers drinks. The good news is the management has the smarts to know that the shock of that high price may cause customers to pass out so they have instructed the staff to verbally warn the customers of the high price before getting the requested drinks. You have been warned.

It appears that the promise of high season this year in Pattaya will remain just that – a promise. Undelivered was the return of overflowing bar and nightclub customers who in past years helped support owners through the much longer low season. Pattaya had a fair number of visitors, albeit fewer than years past. But the make-up of tourists now in Fun City assumes different characteristics. More families, more visitors from the former Soviet Union, more Chinese and Koreans. Hardly the big spenders who frequent gogo and girlie bars.

Adding to Pattaya’s woes this year are the growing number of gogo bars and growing demands of dancing girls for higher and higher salaries. This represents a double threat for owners, inasmuch as clubs are competing with one another on two levels: both for the dwindling number of tourists and for the available stable of Isaan girls willing to trade in their baggy clothes and sandals for high heels and nothing else.

But as clubs – new and old – find themselves forced to offer higher wages in order to lure dancers as well as showgirls and waitress away from other establishments, they are forced to push up the price of drinks and bar fines. Hardly a combination that will attract those sought-after customers. In fact, with beer and alcohol prices hovering around and above 100 baht, bar fines surpassing 500 baht – to 600 and 700 baht – and ladies demanding 1,500 to 3,000 baht for the pleasure of their company – even visitors from Bangkok are thinking twice before venturing down for the weekend.

The depressing picture seems to have taken its first casualty. Teasers, the gogo that launched operations a mere three months ago, closed its doors last week. No one could be reached to explain the club’s demise.

If higher prices are not enough to ward off business, attitudes are contributing to the problem. Girls are making so much money in many gogo bars that they have less reason to flirt with customers. This weekend, visiting a dozen Walking Street clubs – most of which were hurting for business – the overwhelming majority of male patrons were sitting by themselves while dancers, idle between sets, mixed only with their own – ignoring the obviously willing clientele. Instead of buying another round and a lady drink, the overlooked customers bolted after their first drink.

Furthermore, Walking Street clubs seem to have toned down the glamour, despite now needing all the resources they can muster. Shows at most gogo bars have become tedious, there is less showing, and the quality of dancers and showgirls has suffered a marked decline.

Even such new and promising venues as Angelwitch and X-Zone leave a lot to be desired. Interesting decors and layouts, to be sure. But that is not enough to overcome a les-be-friends show featuring fully dressed performers, or every dancer fitted with white cotton ankle socks. Where’s the fun in that?

X-Zone, featuring scores of overpaid gogo girls, has missed the mark on design to the extent that customers’ views are restricted – with structures impeding one’s vision of the stages, and show areas scattered around the sizeable room. Novel is an elevated glass dance floor – where girls forgot their britches to the delight of a half dozen gazers beneath them – as well as a working shower and separate sudsy bathing area. But again each is visible only to those in their immediate areas.

Fortunately for those new clubs, they packed in curious imbibers while many other bars saw Friday and Saturday business at recent lows. Even the once popular Carousel gogo had only a handful of customers by midnight, matched by a like number of dancing maidens.

Walking Street itself suffered a long night of low numbers from South Pattaya Road to Soi 16, where the half dozen or so Covent Garden beer bars fail to draw, despite being adjacent to four gogo bars, three of which are quite popular (Catz, X-Zone, and Club Bouschet). The fourth, Babe Watch, has been redubbed locally as “Dog Watch.”

A party at Diamond brought a crowd but much-too loud banging music – heavy on the bass – drove many away. On that same soi (Diamond), The Sea had a good number of ladies but few are attractive and fewer still seemed interested in connecting for the night or even for a drink.

Fans of Sukumvit Soi 7/1 will be pleased to hear that Absolute 7 bar has started a happy hour between 4:00 and 6:00 PM. Buy one drink and you get the second absolutely free.

From Pattaya I can confirm that it is 120 baht for a beer at the Collosseum, oops, I mean Angelwitch. They are doing a decent trade, but things will need to pick up a bit more before you see a grin on Matt and Pim's faces. Pim even said that it will take two years to get it up to speed with all of the other bars in Pattaya. I am sure they will get there much quicker than that.

I could not help but chuckle when I heard that one gogo bar in Nana Plaza has redesigned the drinks menu and added a message to it that they are looking for new investors. I guess this isn't as tacky as Hollywood which at one time had notices in the toilets asking for investors.

Construction on Chuwit Park on Sukhumvit, next to soi 10, where the old Sukhumvit Square once was, would appear to be complete. And it should come as no surprise that right down the end of the park is only what can be described as a monster phallic symbol. Remember, Mr. Chuwit used to be the owner of a number of successful massage parlours.

Were you in Bangkok last week visiting your Thai wife? I just hope you weren't one of the three guys who is supporting a girl in one of the Nana Plaza outdoor bars. Yes, that's right, she has three husbands, who between them send her 200,000 baht a week. She isn't the prettiest or youngest (she is putting her two children through university) but she has a great figure and speaks perfect English. Her worst nightmare occurred last week with a triple overlap, all three husbands in town and all with keys to her apartment. After some frantic lock-changing, she managed to keep them apart. Just shows you how much these girls can earn, and she doesn't even dance. Why does she work with so much money coming in? Because she is always on the lookout for husband number four….

Bookazine's Chiang Mai outlet has Bangkok Inside Out for sale to go along with a Pattaya branch which does too. I've not had a chance to check one of the Bangkok stores yet, but would it seem to be the case that Bookazine have made the decision to stock this book?

Quote of the week comes from the driver of a minivan in Chiang Mai who said to me, "I would never marry a woman from Isaan because all they ever do is sleep and spend their husband's money".

Word coming out of Phuket was that it was very busy for a few days before Christmas and up until New Year and then bang, everyone left at once and it has been quiet since. Occupancy rates in some of the bigger hotels are well below 50%, about half what they would typically be at this time of year. It would seem that Phuket is still struggling to get anywhere near the number of tourists it attracted pre-tsunami.

For the last several years banks in Thailand have offered very low rates of interest on savings accounts, much to the ire of Westerners with money on deposit here. Typical deposit rates offered by banks are .75% per annum, yeah you got that right, not even 1%! Things have changed recently and Standard Chartered seems to be leading the way with over 5% offered, paid monthly, on term deposits of 1,000,000 baht upwards. Whether this would appeal to many, I do not know, for you can get deposit rates higher than this in some Western countries including Australia and New Zealand. What it does do however is protect you from any currency fluctuations, if you are in Thailand for the long term. This does however assume that the Thai baht is going to remain at its present level. Just to give you an idea, a 10 million baht deposit at 5.25% would pay over 40,000 baht a month interest, enough for a frugal retiree to live on, especially outside of Bangkok.

If you find yourself in Panthip Plaza and all of the goons in the corridor keep saying "Anna", "Anna" to you, don't think it is some new Thai word that means contraband, or bootleg software. Anna is the name of a second grade Thai singer who frankly, I had never even heard of until two weeks ago, when a naughty video of her started doing the rounds. It features her and what is apparently a university boyfriend of hers from two years ago, doing the dirty. The gentleman who made it did quite a good job and it would appear that he used auxiliary lighting, so unlike many of these home made naughty movies that do the rounds, everything is bright and clear. The story as to how the video was found and released is somewhat humorous. Apparently the guy's computer died and he took it to Panthip Plaza to get it fixed. While it was in the shop the technician saw that there were a video on the hard drive, had a look at it, saw what it was, and copied it, passing it on to mates at which point it was distributed to all and sundry. I don't know many people who haven't seen it, and it only started being distributed the first week of this month.

When I first came to Thailand I used to listen to 105 FM a lot. At the time I think it was the only English radio station, with perhaps 90% in English, and just a little Thai. It went through a couple of changes and the most recent guise of Virgin FM was perhaps not the best, but it had decent DJs, farang newsreaders and did aim at the farang market. I went to tune in recently and found that it had gone. Finito! It's a shame that there is one less "farang radio station" to listen to.

Positive feedback has come in from people who like the links that I occasionally include to newspapers around the world concerning items of interest to us fans of Thailand. Ideally, it is nice to include links to articles at the more serious papers, like The Times of London, the New York Times etc. So, if you are aware of any such articles, do let me know so I can include the links each week. I won't bother including links to any of the Thai newspapers as I assume that people know the addresses of them already.

Here's an article from the Observer in the UK about Samui. I expect the Tourism Authority of Thailand will have a fit when they read this… And another from The Times. I'd say one more incident like these reported around the world and Mr. T will be having kittens.

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: In North America, young women do not usually wear a ring on their left ring fingers, unless it's an engagement ring or it's from their current boyfriend. While in Thailand, I noticed many young women had a gold ring that resembled a wedding ring on their left ring fingers. When I asked if they were married, they always said yangi and mai mee fan. Buy they could not elaborate just who gave them the ring and what meanings the ring convey. What's the deal?

Mrs. Stick says: Most Thai people are aware of and follow the left hand ring finger convention but there are some however who do not adhere to it, and some who believe that it is not an aspect of Thai culture and so they do not need to follow that. Of course it is possible that you met a married woman who fancied you and who did not want to reveal that she was in fact married!

Question 2: I will be returning to Thailand for a month long holiday and my girl has invited me to come and meet the parents. The family live out at Sa Kaew and it has been difficult to find out much about this area but after following this site for a while now, I have an idea of what to expect. I am not about to propose or going out there to ask her father for his daughters hand (although I'm sure this issue will come up), rather I just want to see where she grew up and find out more of her and her family's way of life. My question is, I cannot for the life of me think of what would be an appropriate gift upon meeting the folks and for them having me in their home. I have tried getting an answer off my lady but she continually says "I don't know". I don't want to bring the house down, just want to do the right thing, extend them friendship and courtesy. Any ideas or suggestions would be a great help.

As I was away with the mother in law this weekend, I thought she could answer one question, so this answer is from the mother in law and not Mrs. Stick.

Mrs. Stick's Mother says: The most appropriate gift, and you can do this when giving a gift in any situation in Thailand, is simply to put some money into an envelope and give that. These people are in the country and you may not know what they like, or what they need. They will in no way think bad about receiving money as opposed to a specific gift and will be very grateful that you have offered them the chance to purchase something they can choose themselves.

Question 3: I am taking a non-bargirl Thai lady out for dinner soon and I was just wondering what the usual etiquette is for these meetings regards paying the bill. In the UK I would normally pay all bills and nothing would be said by the lady until further dates where she would probably suggest 'going Dutch' (A saying I hate!). Would I be correct to assume that if I pay all bills then this is the right way to start off the potential relationship, or do Thai ladies like to show their status and help out with costs?

Mrs. Stick says: Thai women will look at a man and examine his ability to look after them. That means that you might not just pay the first time, the second and the third, but every time. As it is you who invited her out, you will be expected to pay almost every time, until the relationship reaches a point where, at some point, she should offer….but this is not a given! If she hasn't offered to pay or to at least take you out somewhere, even if just a cafe for coffee and a snack, then you may have to raise the issue with her. I do have to admit though that a lot of Thai women, from all walks of life, will never offer to pay or contribute, and this is not isolated to any one social group or income bracket. This is something you need to consider when dating a Thai woman and I know from my husband that it is something which does bother some Western men.

Wow, with the wonders of modern technology, including wireless internet, a taxi driver whose final name must be Schumacher I somehow managed to beat the 6:00 PM deadline and get the column online on time. I really didn't think we were going to make it but it looks like I beat it with about 15 minutes to spare. Yeah, I do actually take the 6:00 PM deadline pretty seriously!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper, Mr, Write and Claymore.