Stickman's Weekly Column May 14th, 2006

Ko Samui, 8 Years On



I'd only ventured to Ko Samui once before, when I spent two and a half weeks at Chaweng Beach back in 1998, soaking up the sun and not crawling too far from my bungalow. I did a loop of the island once, visited Lamai Beach, and made a disgrace of my football skills or lack of in a game of football. It was a fun time, relaxing but I pretty much took it easy and didn't see a whole lot of the island. I liked Samui, but I much preferred Phuket, where I had been for the best part of a month before arriving on Samui.

At that time Phuket had a far superior infrastructure. In fact in that respect Samui was something of an embarrassment. The photograph here shows a section of the main road that ran through Chaweng Beach. It was a dirt track and every time a vehicle passed, dust would be thrown up in huge clouds. Restaurateurs would stand outside their establishments with a hose, squirting water on the road to prevent these clouds of dust from floating through their restaurant.

I also preferred the Andaman beaches, and I much preferred the company of the people who holidayed there. Phuket had what I thought were real people, people just being themselves, whereas Samui, back then at least, was popular with pompous budget travellers who weren't at all shy in voicing their PC beliefs and attempting to push them on to others. Listening to some of the conversation on the beaches of Samui was at times nauseating. Woe be tied you if you were a Western guy with a Thai girl!

As far as the naughty stuff went, there was one lane of beer bars on Chaweng, and a bunch of beer bars at Lamai. There was, as best as I could tell, no gogo bar anywhere on the island. There was a thriving freelancer scene at a bar I remember as The Green Mango.

Truth be told, I have never had the urge to return to Samui, but the Mrs. and I decided to venture there for a quiet week away and what follows are my thoughts on Samui, 2006.

The only airline connecting Bangkok to Samui is Bangkok Airways which now touts itself as a boutique airline, though quite what that means I'm not so sure. At 7,500 baht for a return flight, they're not cheap, but if you want to save money, taking the last flight of the day almost halves the fare. A road trip to Samui from Bangkok would require putting your vehicle on a ferry because unlike Phuket, Samui is not connected to the mainland by a bridge. That'd be one big hassle, so air is the only real option.

Checking in at Don Muang and passing through into the Bangkok Airways lounge, the pain of the ticket price is eased when you see that unlike other domestic airlines, they actually maintain a user friendly departure lounge. Free newspapers, free food and free drinks. If they had had free wi-fi internet access in the lounge it would have been almost perfect.

It's only a short flight, 45 odd minutes before you arrive at Samui and that weird airport that I cannot make up my mind about. With grass huts for a terminal, all open to the elements, they have successfully recreated the feel of the island at the airport, but I don't know if that is necessarily a good thing. It just doesn't feel like a real airport, more like some kind of joke gone wrong.

The airport is conveniently located to the main beaches of Chaweng and Lamai, you can be at the northern end of Chaweng from the airport in about 5 minutes.

The first thing I noticed after 8 long years was that the infrastructure had improved markedly. A lot of building had been done, and Chaweng now looked like any other beach resort in Thailand, full of the usual tailors' stores, motorbike rental outlets, travel agents, dive shops, internet cafes, used bookstores and ice cream parlours. In fact I don't know if I have ever seen so many ice cream parlours in all my life. You name it, they had it. There numerous branches of Swenson's, Baskin Robbins, Eto, various gelato outlets – even the pricey Haagen Daz had at least a couple of outlets.

We'd got a good deal on the hotel – mid April to mid June is the cheapest time of year for accommodation on Samui and we'd managed to secure a room at just 1,700 a night, not bad for a 4 star place at the most popular beach. It seemed that there were a heap of new places to stay, some of them rather flash looking. As far as accommodation goes, all budgets are catered to.

Time to explore the island and it has to be said that the public transport situation really isn't any better than Phuket, and that is not saying much.

No, it's not a Bangkok taxi – it's a Samui
taxi on the main road at Chaweng Beach.

Songtaews go up and down the main road though just how they work, I don't know. The locals didn't seem to be using them which is never a good sign! There are metered taxis – just like in Bangkok they have a huge sign on top that says "taxi meter" but in another only in Thailand situation, they do not have meters. How daft is that?! That leaves you with motorbikes, but on the windy, narrow roads of Samui, do you trust yourself, let alone all of the other crazies on the roads? Basically, transport can be a bit of a pain if you're not happy paying the exorbitant fares asked by the cab drivers.

But you should do your best to have a look around because there are some great spots on Samui. The best beaches, in my opinion, are the smaller ones. The likes of Crystal Bay and Choeng Mon Beach are like small slices of paradise whereas the main beaches of Chaweng and Lamai, where most people gravitate towards, really aren't that special at all. The island is full of beaches so if it is a quiet beach you desire, you can find it.

As far as the naughty stuff goes, Samui has never been high on the list of places to visit. The problem with Samui, as far as the naughty stuff is concerned, is the small number of venues – and with that there just aren't that many girls. Whenever we passed the naughty bars there were precious few customers and I am sure the bar owners must be screaming at the lack of customers and any real trade.

The Samui scene is predominantly beer bar based with a couple of big venues home to hoards of freelancers. I am sure there are massage parlours around about but I wasn't looking and didn't see any. There was a gogo bar called Dream Girls but really, they have done a good job of hiding it because I wouldn't have seen it unless I had actually searched for it.

Two short sois run from the main road at Chaweng, both leading to the Green Mango Disco. On these two sois you can find Dream Girls and 20 odd beer bars, none of which seemed to have more than about 10 girls. There's also a smattering of other beer bars here and there on the main road like Happy Bar pictured here, but really not that many places. They are spaced out which would make it difficult to visit them all in one night. Despite the reputation that Samui has for less than attractive maidens in its bars, I would suggest that this isn't necessarily the case. A few pretty girls were seen. I never spent an evening at Lamai but gather that the naughty stuff is centred over there. I didn't fancy going over there at night as the best way to get there is by bike on a windy, hilly road – not my idea of fun.

Like I say, Samui is not the place for naughty boys.

But what are the highlights of Samui, other than just lazing at the beach? I couldn't actually put my finger on any particular attractions that I felt were worthwhile. People talk of Big Buddha, a temple on a small island a few hundred metres off the mainland connected to the island by road, but if you've seen temples in other parts of the country, it is not hardly spectacular.

There is Muay Thai, but that seems to be very much catered to tourists. There is buffalo fighting, but that sounds comical. And there are monkey shows, but again, they are all built for tourists. There's something about the island that makes me think of the term "manufactured tourism". If we compare with say Phuket where there is no shortage of things to see and do, Samui just all feels so man-made, with everything bolted on in a haphazard way.

Comparisons between Samui and Phuket are inevitable. In Samui's favour, it is more relaxed, about that there is no doubt. The Westerners resident on the island tend to be more laid back, and the locals tend to be in no real hurry. Most Western tourists – and they are the bulk of tourists – Samui is not that popular with Thais – seem to be there to relax and take it easy, without a specific schedule. I don't know that the same could be said about Phuket where many venture for a short time and scurry around, trying to see and do as much as they can in the limited time they have.

If one is interested in the bar scene goes, Phuket wins hands down. Of course, that is assuming that you are interested in partaking in the bar scene. If on the other hand, you wish to avoid it, Samui is one of the few places in Thailand where the bars are inconspicuous enough that if you were really ignorant, you may not even realise what was going on in them! Girls standing outside rows and rows of bars screaming out hello handsome man or my favourite, "hello, welcome please" is not a sight you will hear, at least not see very often, on Samui.

Many people on Samui tried to tell me how the island has caught up to or even overtaken Phuket as a place to dine. There are a number of really nice venues, but in this respect Phuket is very hard to beat. It has simply been established that much longer and there is much better choice. The Mrs. felt that Thai food seems to be more farangised on Samui than anywhere else in the Kingdom. She was not impressed! But good farang food and seafood were easy enough to find.

And the beaches. You go to these places for the beaches. If you don't like the beach and you end up at either Samui or Phuket, you've taken a wrong turn. Many people have tried to tell me that the beaches on Samui are better than those on Phuket. Now I am going to stick my head out here and tell you something that you won't read in any guide book. The main beaches on Samui simply don't rate at all. They're not that great! And as the main beaches of Chaweng and Lamai are on the eastern side of the island, you cannot sit on the beach and watch the sun go down. If beaches could laugh, Patong, Karon and Kata would be positively guffawing at the notion that Chaweng and Lamai are as nice. They're not, and it's as simple as that.

In many ways Samui feels like a bigger and better version of Ko Samet or Ko Chang. These two islands both have nice, quiet beaches which are great to relax at, but they suffer from over-priced, mediocre accommodation and a lack of really good places to dine. Samui is relaxing. Good accommodation is available at reasonable prices (at certain times of the year) and you can find plenty of places for a good meal. It's an ideal place to go to take it easy, but if you want vibrant nightlife, and greater choices of things to do, Phuket's still the place.



Where WAS THIS PICTURE taken?

It was Pra Artit Park.

Where is that?!

Last week's picture was taken on Narathiwat Road, heading towards Sathorn Road. That's Empire Tower on the left of the picture. This week's picture is NOT in Bangkok. The first prize is a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar and prizes 2 and 3 are a 600 baht dinner voucher for 2 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. If you do not explicitly mention you are local or that you will be in town in the next two weeks, you cannot claim a prize.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Unbelievable Thailand.

At about 3 AM, riding back home on my bike from a night out near Petkasem Road, I was cruising along a new stretch of road, which by all accounts was good to drive on, a three lane highway. Thinking I might be hallucinating I noticed in the distance there were a bunch of 'bikers' coming down the road the wrong way. This time they were not riding slowly at the side of the road, as motor bikers do when they are too lazy to go the normal way, but were actually racing each other through the on-coming traffic. Effectively, they were racing the wrong way down a motorway! I have heard of these street races, but didn't realise they would race kamikaze style against the flow of traffic. After avoiding several head on collisions I pulled in a bit further up the road where there must have been about 200 bikers waiting to begin their race. As I pulled in another bike screamed off towards on coming traffic weaving between cars like Trinity in the Matrix movies. Speaking with a friend who lives in the area he said it's a nightly occurrence on that stretch of road where they race for girls, money and drugs. I spoke with one of the 'fxxxers' (can't think of a more accurate description) hanging around, saying I had just about been killed and asked what the hell was going on. Sheepishly he said, 'Sorry'. Words cannot describe their recklessness. Given this is a nightly occurrence, where were the police? Nowhere to be seen of course. So if you're on the stretch of road past Sathorn and Taksin Bridge that extends towards Petkasem Road and intersects Rama III, beware!

Thai Town is big, but not that big.

I just want to point out a mistake that a reader made which was posed in the latest Stickman Weekly. I just want to let you know in case you want to post a correction. "After a year of living back in L.A., I finally made it to Thai Town (the largest city Thai population outside of Bangkok)…" Thai town in Los Angeles does NOT have the largest Thai population outside of Bangkok. It does have the highest Thai population outside of Thailand with 80,000. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_Town,_Los_Angeles,_California. There are dozens of other Thai towns and cities within Thailand that have a population higher than 80,000.

Will Nana ever be the same?

As you correctly guessed, the first week of May was Japan's annual "Golden Week" holiday when urbanites traditionally return to their roots to visit their families. Most if not all the Japanese companies in Thailand give their employees the week off to go home, but a large number preferred to spend the whole period in Nana Plaza. They used to frequent the Japanese-only bars but, having been taken to a number of these places myself, can vouch for the fact that the women working there are overpriced over-the-hill hags and not the Lolita teenage types the Japanese males prefer. It is not the Japanese tourists, who are as infuriated as everyone else at the short-time prices they are being asked to pay now, but these overpaid socially-inept Thailand-based Japanese expats who are primarily to blame for the overpricing situation, and there are an estimated 10,000 in the Bangkok area alone. As long as these Japanese car and plant manufacturers remain, Nana Plaza will continue to become a relic of a bygone golden age of poontang. The only thing the rest of us can do is give Bangkok a miss and go to Pattaya.

How well do you really know Thailand?

I spent last night in the company of a Philippine girl living and working here in Phuket.
She's an optometrist, so for a change the conversation had some depth and general interest, making some comparisons of her country and Thailand. I don't know how it came up but I stated that although I was here physically, for sure I wasn't here mentally, to which my friend who had also joined asked me as to where did I think I was mentally. My response was that I didn't really know. Maybe I've just become an extension to my cordless mouse. This in a way troubled me today as I reflected on this statement, and for sure I can't tell you anything about the Thai's television, news, current affairs, sports, cultural events, festivals, in fact outside of the women and food I really know nothing about what is going on in this country at all, to the extent that I could well be living on the moon. Sad reflection, frightening even but I'm sure I'm not alone.

Just how is the economy really doing?

The rumours going around Thailand's "Fleet Street" are that many advertisers are not paying their bills, causing big problems for many of the local newspapers (one newspaper – you guess the language – in particular is reputed to be in deep doo-doo and being forced to sell off its most vital assets – although much can be said for the fact that this company is very poorly managed). When companies renege on paying for their advertising, it is usually quite a good indicator that the economy is in trouble. It's a worry. Don't believe what the Bank of Thailand tells us about the expected growth in the economy for the fiscal year (which ends September 30). They're not independent enough to trust. Watch the real estate market. A certain gentleman who is very much tax-challenged has a lot to answer for, and I hope one day he gets his much-deserved come-uppance. Shades of 1992 and 1997. Mark my words.

Thailand, the land of amazing copies.

No matter what corner of Thailand you find yourself in you can always find copies. The practice often starts in school with students copying. As in any copy there are high quality copies and low quality copies. You can find and buy copies of almost any software as well as Hollywood blockbusters on the street just about the same day as they hit the silver screen. Copies are not limited to digital files. Copies of documents, copies of merchandise, and even when you wander around the nightlife venues you can even find copies of Thai women. Just another wonderful example of the amazing Thailand.

Bangkok's Angelwitch has joined the growing list of venues in the capital now selling the excellent Beer Lao. Just recently Dave The Rave has acquired a keen taste for it too. Poor old Dave The Rave has never been described as slim and after those Big Mango burgers ole Dave's hitting the Beer Lao. Dave, you had better watch the expanding waistline, mate!

Actually, Beer Lao seems to be popping up all over the place. The Swan, under the Asoke BTS station is another spot that has it – as do many others. If you're a lager drinker then give it a go, it really is good – lager style beers go down well in a hot climate.

Dream Girls, the only (?) gogo bar on Ko Samui is currently closed for renovations. That alone suggests that it does a reasonable trade. I can think of more than a few such bars in Bangkok and Pattaya that appear to have never undergone renovations.

Despite the fact that it was a major Buddhist holiday, Soi Nana was open Friday night. It may have been one of the few areas open. Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Soi 33 were all closed. The streets and sois of the capital were said to be very quiet, but not Soi Nana where Morning Night, Golden Beer Bar, Big Dogs, and Lucky Luke's to name but a few were all open. Cathouse was one of the few bars closed. Even the smaller bars like Farang Connection and Spankies were open. Some of the beer bars that are usually not that busy were brimming with customers, as a number of girls from Soi Cowboy came up to Soi Nana for the night. There was no sign of any police presence until closing time at 2 AM and booze was freely flowing all night.

PJ, the manager of Lucky Luke's, has suffered a stroke. Fortunately it was not too severe a stroke and PJ is currently recovering in Bumrungrad. We wish PJ a speedy recovery.

Silver Dragon are really promoting their "buy 1 get 1 free" deal from 6.30 – 9.30 PM. It applies to "regular" drinks only.

Pretty Lady remains closed and with it they must be losing a small fortune, to say nothing of their staff who by now must have all found alternative employment.

And in Nana the electric stairs are still not working. At least Dave The Rave will now get some exercise!

Young lovelies plying their trade along Beach Road are back in large numbers once again now that visiting travel agents, Boy Scouts, and – it seems – virtually everyone else have abandoned Pattaya. With gogo and beer bars closed across Pattaya on Friday night in honor of Buddha’s birthday, the beach girls did a bang up business, so to speak.

But the town won’t be quiet very long. This coming week brings yet another round of Cobra Gold exercises and with it thousands of military personnel from around the world. While the major participants in the annual exercise are the United States and Thailand, this year will include armed forces from Japan, Indonesia, and Singapore. Others invited include Australia, England, and other European and Asian countries.

On the heels of Kiwi Steven Miller’s murder, yet another Pattaya expat, 47-year old Britain Steve Parkinson, was shot and killed last week. Circumstances in the latest killing were not unlike those related to the killing of Miller. Parkinson was en route home with a bar girl on his motorbike when four men on two motorbikes tried stopping them. When he refused, they shot him four times. Because the 32-year-old bargirl was left unharmed, there is some suspicion she may be implicated in the crime. None of the four suspects have yet been identified. We reported two weeks ago on the tragic murder of expat Steven Miller, shot while driving his motorbike. His live-in girlfriend, a 30-year-old former gogo dancer who confessed to having her secret Thai boyfriend commit the crime, now is inexplicably out on bail. Neither we nor anyone else in the media could get further details. Ironically, it’s suspected that she used Steve’s money (500,000 baht) to arrange bail. Can you believe this?!

Babewatch in the Covent Garden Complex, Pattaya soi 16, will be holding its first gogo dance contest on Sunday 21st May. The girls will be competing for 25,000 baht in prize money. The contest will be in 2 parts, best dancer and best show (2 or 3 girls). So put the date in your diary as with all the new girls in the bar it should make for an interesting night. And starting this week in Babewatch, every Monday night will be bottle promo night. Buy a bottle of premium spirit such as Black, Jack, Absolute etc. and for 1,500 baht you get free mixers. Or on bottles of "not so premium spirits" such as Red, Smirnoff, Bacardi, Gordon's etc. it is just 1,000 baht and you get the free mixers. A good deal if you're there in a group, or a really big drinker!

I've never been a big fan of the mobile phone system in Thailand, with the exception of the cost of making calls which just seems to get lower and lower. Unfortunately the incredibly low rates come with a downside – more and more people are making calls meaning that it has become, at certain times, and in certain areas, awfully difficult to get a signal on the network. If you are a One 2 Call (or any AIS plan) user, getting a signal is becoming something of a problem. Ironically DTAC, which used to suffer from this problem, seems as good as gold these days.

About 5 or so years ago punters were stunned that the then owner of Midnite Bar, a Westerner, had a bunch of underage girls on the staff, including one who was 13 years old, and at least three others who were aged 16 or less. I called him on this and his response was that "if I sent the girls back to their village they would just end up in another bar, so I may as well employ them myself". Since then, Soi Cowboy at times has had an unenviable reputation as a place where underage girls are employed. Unfortunately stories coming out of Soi Cowboy right now re-enforce that reputation. One reader reports of a girl he barfined this week. He was on the way back to his hotel when she became sheepish about her ID. He quickly realised she was not of legal age and abandoned his mission. This particular girl was said to be very distinctive looking with permed hair, nose and tongue studs but no tattoos. It's all a sense of deja vu. I like to think of underage girls much the same way I think of katoeys. If you think they are, then they almost certainly are. Residents of Thailand may have seen the American who was released from a Thai jail this week after doing a year for sex crimes against young kids. He was filmed being handed over to US Government officials who were accompanying him on his extradition back to the US where he will be facing charges related to having sex with minors overseas. He was doing everything he could to avoid going, struggling and trying to resist being handed over. It was a very sorry scene indeed. You do NOT want to end up like that. Stay clear of the young ones. Surely 20 is young enough?!

But it's not only the girls who are young. I received an email from a 16 year old Aussie this week asking my advice on whether to send money to a bargirl… My God, some guys are starting early! Or maybe it is indicative of the women in Australia….?! (Hehehe, anything to have a joke at my Aussie friends' expense!) Hopefully the fellow listened to my advice to go out and have a bit of fun and forget her.

If you're looking for a good coffee, or a good cocktail, the naughty bars are generally not the place. I get more than a few complaints about the quality of such drinks in these bars. There are a few such bars that do mix good cocktails, but generally, if you want a really good cocktail in Bangkok, try one of the hotel bars – they're the best for cocktails. In the naughty bars it is something of a lottery.

If you somehow missed it, the results of the recent general election have been annulled and as was widely predicted, there will be another election held. So, if you have a holiday some time in the next few months and are only going to be in town for a few days, watch closely to see when the election will be held. That is going to be yet another dry weekend.

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 simply offers the perspective of one 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: What are the reasons a Thai woman may forgo the official marriage registration and what are the "many legal civil rights" lost?

Mrs. Stick says: She may have some concerns about the relationship being "forever" and therefore is worried about her future. If the relationship fails and she has registered the marriage – which gives her a farang surname, this is going to ruin any chance she has of getting another man, at least in her mind. Or perhaps she does not really want to be your wife but more just a mysterious girlfriend who can walk away at any time, having taken all of the benefits of the marriage ceremony, including the dowry.

Mr. Stick says: Just to add a little more here, the law that prevented Thai women married to foreign men from owning land in their own name was repealed a number of years ago and any woman who cites this as a reason not to register the marriage is either mistaken, or making an excuse. Also, a change in the law about three years ago means that married Thai women do NOT have to change their surname.

Question 2: Is it common for Thai woman to "test" their boyfriend's love for them? A scenario that frequently has occurred to me (and many of my farang friends) is that a Thai girl will claim she is pregnant (even though I use protection 100% of every time). One girl boasted to me that she falsely told her previous boyfriend she was pregnant just to see his reaction and learn his true feelings to her. I've never encountered deceit like this in Farangland. Is this a common theme in Thai movies or music? Or where do Thai women learn this? And why do they think there will be a favorable outcome from it? Thanks for any insight into this.

Mrs. Stick says: Women who do this have problems… It shouldn't happen, in my opinion, but I know it does happen. Sometimes I think farangs read a lot between the lines and Thai women have to be careful about things like this. One thing you have to learn in relationships where each person comes from a different background and speaks a different language is the need to look past the little things. I'll try and give you an example. My husband has told me that the word "kee-nee-ow" (meaning stingy) is insulting in English, whereas in Thai it is not, and it is perfectly acceptable to use this word any time. You have to understand that some things that your partner says or does might have a strong meaning in your culture, but not in hers, where it may be perfectly ok to say or do that. Establishing what is proper and what is not, in a relationship of different cultures, is never easy. Communication is very important.


Question 3: My girlfriend and I are making plans for her to come to America. We plan to marry, but of course we have to see how she likes life in America. We plan to spend a lot of time in Thailand also, several times a year. My girlfriend is always worried that I will find another girl and not need her any more. Is it normal for Thai girls to have such a STRONG fear of this?

Mrs. Stick says: Unless you're a really gorgeous, wonderful, successful guy, she shouldn't worry too much. However, you need to be aware that this is a real concern for her and if this feeling remains it could develop into a bigger problem. Nothing good comes from one person being suspicious or fearful in a relationship. You probably need to act and behave in a way that doesn't contribute to intensifying these feelings. In Thai, don't "jow choo" – which means don't flirt with other women!

It is never easy writing about the nightlife in Thailand, especially when it comes to the subjective. What I like might well be something that you don't like, and vice versa. It is for this reason that I try to report on factual stuff from the bars, as opposed to giving too many opinions. Take Angelwitch in Pattaya for example. I truly believe that this is the best gogo bar in Thailand at the moment – but more than a few readers tell me that they don't care for it at all and they can't understand why I rave about it. That style of bar is more typical of a show bar in Bangkok than a lot of the bars in Pattaya….so a lot of Bangkok guys quite like it, and a lot of Pattaya guys don't. Whatever, we're talking about something that is subjective. From time to time I'll stick my neck out and mention the bars that I like, don't like, and what not, but I think it is best to stick with the factual stuff when it comes to the bars. That way less people get their knickers in a twist. But if a bar really sucks, or is a rip-off joint, I'm going to tell you!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Thanks go out to Bangkok Grasshopper, Mr. Write and Dave The Rave.