Stickman's Weekly Column July 15th, 2007

The Rainy Season


The rainy season puts more people off visiting Thailand than many of the natural phenomena that have hit the Kingdom in recent years. SARS, the tsunami, bird flu as well as the less natural phenomena like the recent coup d'état and the southern terrorist insurgency have all been contributors to some otherwise Thailand bound visitors choosing an alternative holiday destination.

But it is the rainy season which more people seem concerned about when booking their holidays than anything else.

The period of the rainy season in Bangkok is not clearly defined. It can start as early as June, as it did this year, or can arrive as late as August. My personal definition of the start of the rainy season would be the period at which the afternoon rain falls every day for more than a week.

During the rainy season it tends to start raining around mid to late afternoon and rain falls heavily, typically for a period of an hour or two. During this relatively short period the rain falls very heavily indeed. I have no idea how much falls in the heaviest hour or two of a rainy season shower but it is enough to flood major roads and sois – and bring the city to a stand-still.

This is the worst thing about the rainy season. With the rain falling mid to late afternoon, it often hits the start of the first wave of the rush hour (when Mums are picking up their kids from school). Traffic gets backed up and Bangkok’s fragile traffic infrastructure is brought to its knees. By the time the second wave of the evening rush hour begins, when people leave their places of work, traffic can be at a complete standstill.

Getting wet is the least of your worries in the rainy season – although if you are allergic to rain it could be something of a concern. The bad thing about the rainy season is that you just cannot get anywhere.

City-wide traffic jams are not unusual and over the years I have heard stories of it taking some people up to 6 hours to get home. Six hours! Remember, the skytrain and the underground only serve a very limited area although many people do live and work close to skytrain stations. Yes, even the expressways jam up.

The heavy rain combined with the local driving standards results in a sharp increase in the number of fender benders. And with that crazy law whereby you must leave your vehicle in its position at the scene of an accident until it has been inspected by a policeman, traffic just becomes a nightmare.

Of course, if you get caught out in the rain, you’re going to get soaked. Rain is usually preceded by heavy winds, a natural warning sign that you have a couple of minutes to get indoors quickly. It's not just the rain that you want to avoid, but the wind. Even the sturdiest umbrellas can’t withstand the strong, swirling winds of the rainy season.

Flooding as a result of the rainy season is a very real issue in the capital. Some areas are more prone to flooding than others, with the neighbourhoods closest to the Chao Praya River, especially in the northern parts of the city, suffering each and every year. Last year the Chao Praya River was at its highest level in decades and the flooding went a fair way inland! Anywhere that is flat is likely to get at least some flooding and once the water recedes there's a good chance you'll see all manner of dead critters – and the soi dogs have a field day feasting on them!

The worst flooding I have seen was the first week of October 2002 when the city ground to a halt one weekday morning. Pictures from TV and the newspapers the following day showed people knee deep in central parts of the city, including Silom and Sukhumvit.

Funnily enough, that very day I was driving out of the city. Heading north, (pictured here under a skytrain station on Phyathai Road), by the time I reached Saraburi the rain had stopped and by the time I had reached Isaan the skies were blue and cloudless – and they remained like that for the best part of a week!

So while the rain may be falling heavily in the capital, elsewhere can be fine. My understanding, and I am no meteorologist, is that the monsoon season heads south, so that the north and the northeast get it first, followed by the central region and Bangkok, and then it heads south. The rainy season can finish in the north and northeast several weeks before it has finished in the south.

If you have satellite TV, the signal drops out often in the rainy season – which can be a real pain if you're watching your favourite sport live. Of course, power cuts occur much more often in the rainy season. And don't forget that your favourite street vendor will either close early or may not even set up shop some days in the rainy season.

If you hang your clothes out on the balcony of your apartment to dry, they might not be there when you get home. There aren't many sights sadder than watching a balcony of clothes being blown away, a sight I have seen many, many times! And the lovely ladies of Bangkok are less likely to pull out their finery in the rainy season for fear of it getting wet.

In Bangkok, the rainy season can end as early as the start of October, or can run through to the end of November. I have always felt that Chulalongkorn Day, that is October 23, marks the end of the rainy season.

There are many positives that come out of the rainy season. The first is that the temperature is cooler immediately after it has rained. This can last for several hours. I would not know how much cooler exactly, but a guess would be 2 – 3 degrees. It might not sound like much, but the difference between say 30 and 33 may be the difference between sweating and not sweating.

As a keen photographer, I used to think that the cool season, from December through to February, was the best time to take cityscape and landscape photos, for that is the period when the weather is settled and when you often have clear blue skies. But in retrospect, that is not the best time at all. Far preferable are the clear days of the rainy season, after a really heavy downpour. Visibility improves greatly and everything just looks that much more “true” in colour. You don’t get the grey / beige drab haze to photos that you get for much of the rest of the year. I’m guessing that all of the crap is removed from the atmosphere – so it has got to be better for our lungs too.

For many resident Westerners who get annoyed at busy bars and restaurants full of tourists, the rainy season coincides with the low season for tourism. This is perhaps less noticeable in Bangkok than in other centres, but it does mean that many establishments busy throughout the year are quieter in the rainy season.

Of course this means that hotel rooms are not only easier to come by, but tend to be cheaper in the low season, although that said, many Bangkok hotels charge the same rate year around, different to most of the beaches and islands which have much more clearly defined high and low season rates.

Not living anywhere near the skytrain or underground, the biggest issue for me in the rainy season is my lack of willingness to make plans. Invariably when going out drinks will be consumed so I have to use a taxi, sometimes a motorbike, but if it is raining, it can take long and unpredictable periods of time to reach your destination. And frankly, in a scenario where it might take an hour and a half to cover a 5 km distance, I would rather stay home. So planning to meet people and making arrangements can be very difficult. This is one reason why in the rainy season I tend not to get out and about so much. It can be hard to be on time for arrangements and I’m a real stickler for punctuality.

And motorbike taxis become a lottery in the rainy season. Not only is it scary on the back of them, but with the roads wet, even if it has stopped raining, you get sprayed with dirty water off the roads and can end up filthy. Like I say, getting around is the big challenge in the rainy season.

If you’re thinking of visiting Bangkok in the rainy season, there is still plenty of fun to be had. It is usually clear through until mid afternoon so if you rush around and do your sightseeing before then, there is little to worry about. You needn’t be put off by the rains. For tourists it really is not that big a deal. Of course if it's a beach vacation you're seeking then the rainy season is without doubt the worst time to come. But for all other types of holidays, the rainy season isn’t that bad.

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was of the clock tower at Nonthaburi pier, the last stop for the Chao Praya Express Boat on the Chao Praya River heading north. There are four prizes each week and the first four people to identify where the picture above was taken and email me with the answer win a prize. You can choose from a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod OR a 500 baht credit at Lennie's OR a 500 baht credit at Catz Gogo OR a 500 baht credit at Octopussy Bar in Hua Hin. Each of the prize providers is in a different area so please specify which prize you would prefer. Oh My Cod – Khao San Road area. Lennie's – Pattaya. Catz – Pattaya. Octopussy – Hua Hin. This week's picture is back in Bangkok.

FROM STICK MARK II'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick Mark II)

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – A poor man gets his say.

I bought tickets to the show at Tiffany's in Pattaya. Usually 500 baht each; now 800 baht each and at 33.5 this equates to $23.88 per ticket. I would pay that much here in the States. I sat at the booking desk in the hotel lobby stunned. I am a poor man and Thailand is no longer inexpensive (hell, the airfare to get there was over $1700 – think about that). A LOT more money for everything and absolutely no increase in what you receive.

How to make Thailand cheaper.

The hotels are also raising their prices in baht, not just dollars. That is a double whammy. To compensate I have been cashing in the frequent flyer miles I have banked from years of previous trips and can now continue my trips for free, including this fall and again in the winter. I will still have enough frequent flyer miles left for another two visits. Find a cheaper hotel, book part of your high-season visit to begin or end in the low season, stay in your room one extra day a week. Do these things and you can ignore the higher costs of dining out or other entertainment.

Effects of the dollar's decline.

The decline of the dollar has to affect many local businesses in Thailand. Many American expatriates will certainly be spending less money. I have a five hundred dollar limit on my credit card if I go to an ATM machine, which I usually do, and I punch in 20,000 baht. Then one day no money came out and I realized that I had to punch in 19,000 baht for my five hundred dollars. And as time went on it was 18,000 and now I am punching in 17,000 baht. I figure I am down three thousand baht or about ninety dollars before I even turn away from the machine. I am not complaining, just an observation or two.

Cheaper to drink Stateside now?

I was bored silly last night and went to a local open-air beer bar here in Rawai. I ordered a Johnny Walker Black and soda, came to 140 baht. No complaints – that’s about the standard price. There was a girl sitting next to me and I bought her a drink too. It was really a quiet night and I figured she could use one. She ordered a Black and Baileys Irish Cream, ugh I thought – what a combination. Okay, the drink was 160, no problem. However when I paid the check, 300 baht plus a 30 baht tip, I’m thinking Jeeze, that’s close to ten bucks for a round of drinks. I could be living someplace in America and paying the same prices. Don’t have to come here for that.

They are women, we are told.

When talking or referring to trans-gender people, it is polite and appropriate (and politically correct) to address them by the gender they wish to become, or have already become. Therefore I always refer to my trans-gender contacts as women.

Setting oneself up properly.

The subject of how much needed for a decent retirement comes up from time to time. I think that I fall into a different category than the ones listed. I have lived here for 4 ½ years and live very well. I rent a large apartment, have no car, travel in SE Asia, drink too much and have a good relationship with a woman that is less than half my age. I give her 4,000 baht per week, half of which she sends to her mother upcountry to support them and her children. I don't own a car but since she wants a driver's license that may change in the future. My investments and entitlements create more money than I spend. I grew weary of life in the US and have more or less rejected the values that I was raised with: family, nice house and nice car. I am fortunate that I have no children and do not know what would make me want to return there even for a visit. I am attracted to Asian women but the Asian women that I had relationships with were less attractive when they became Americanized. I am not sure how many expats fall into my category but I know several that are in my same situation; money wise and no children. I am one of the few that I know of who does not make regular trips to the US. The others do so to see parents or children. I may build a house upcountry some day and get a car but that depends on the developments of this relationship. I am a big city boy and would keep a place in Bangkok. I hope that this does not seem like bragging. I worked hard all of my life and am now reaping the benefits in an environment that I could only dream of earlier.

The myth of culture shock.

Of course like so many first arrivals in the Land of the Smiles, I rushed out to purchase an edition of the book Culture Shock – circa 1989, to try and get a handle of the Thai ways of doing things. Armed with this knowledge I would then have a far greater chance in trying to understand, interpret and adapt to their customary ways. Unfortunately it had a very negative impact on me, far from making me feel more compatible and at ease with myself in this new alien environment, the reverse was true. I was at a crossroads, I either consciously gave up what I stood for, represented to the degree that my persona would have had no resemblance to the one I left behind. Or for better or worse, hang on to my beliefs, standards, morals and convictions of how I was brought up. Today, eighteen years later it has suddenly occurred to me that all this who ha about the Thai culture shock was and is a complete myth. In reality this doctrine is the equivalent to the little red book, whereby a nation's faults and fables can be neatly wrapped up and presented as some kind of exonerated dispensation for all their past, present and future failures. Accountability is not in their vocabulary, cop outs are the order of the day, and if anyone eventually gets around to telling you where the buck stops, you'll find the answer lies in fact that it simply doesn't, it just runs and runs.

Not a member of the MBK Fan Club.

I just hate the MBK. Hate it, hate it, hate it. This is the worst place to do business, since they just rip you off before you even talk to them. Thais get equally ripped off there. I mean it's ok if you buy ready made goods there, but if you order something, even just business cards, you probably better do it back home.

On Monday, July 23, Coyotes will be holding its 2nd Anniversary & Dance Competition Party. This is the biggest night of the year for Coyotes, and all are welcome to drop by for free food, prizes and fun galore. Dancers for the dance competition will be coming from Long Gun & Rawhide in Bangkok & from TQ2 in Pattaya. There will be other bars participating as well. Coyotes is located in right off Walking Street in Soi Marine Plaza, Pattaya.

A bunch of bars in Soi Cowboy are sporting a no pipe or cigar sign. They would be bars that are all under the same banner as Midnite. Customers seem to still be going to those bars so the fear of losing customers seems to be minimal.

This week saw the grand opening of half of Swan 5 Karaoke and Coyote Bar, half because it really is only half finished! The outside is nicely decorated with strings of balloons, wheel barrows, cement bags and off cuts of timber. Inside had an urban decay atmosphere, each seat carefully coated in plaster dust, as were the tables, floor and beer bottles! The toilets are nicely located at the end of an obstacle course of broken tiling and sand pits. Beer is on the expensive side at 120 baht for a so-called local brew – pricey for a bar well away from the heart of soi 4. At the back of the bar area are two stages – one for coyote dancers and one for live music. On the positive side there were three or four dancers who were more than pleasant on the eye but if you didn’t make it to opening night, bad luck, word has it that they were hired especially for the opening night and aren't part of the regular staff. This venue looks like it will appeal more to Thais than Westerners.

A large banner erected from one side of Nana Plaza to the other states that a party will be held to celebrate Khun Toy of Hollywood Rock’s birthday on Tuesday July 17. There will be special coyote shows, cabaret, comedy and funny games. I can’t help but think that this party is more Thai oriented than targeting farangs. Cabaret and funny games are typical Thai party fare. With no free food and no cheap drinks mentioned, there's not the usual lure for Westerners.

Starting this coming Wednesday and every Wednesday from then on, The Big Mango Bar will be doing 60 baht Beer Lao ALL NIGHT. They're arranging for special Beer Lao gear for the ladies as well, something sexy of course. 60 baht Beer Lao and the girls in yellow and green sexy Beer Lao dresses. Ok, I'll be there more often! 60 baht for the best "local" beer available in these parts with a great view of the plaza is a steal.

Cocktail lounge in Cowboy has 60 baht Heineken until 9:00 PM. The line up has improved but do make sure to keep an eye on your check bin.

People have been talking about Spice on Soi 11 a lot. A sign on the wall inside says the bar is open until 6 AM, something which will please many. The coyote dancers are said to be very good. It is 120 baht for a Heineken early in the evening and 170 baht later into the night. One note is that the entrance is sometimes only by walking down the car park ramp.

This week the nongs were holding up signs on the ground floor of Nana offering 100 baht drinks in the three Hollywood bars all night long, last night. Is this a sign of price competition in Nana?

I guess Thailand is the only country in the world with a chain of "bj" bars, but business might not be spectacular if Lolita's foray into Patpong is anything to go by. The latest branch of the infamous chain lasted just a few months and has closed, presumably due to a lack of patronage. Have no fear, there are still a number of famous bars where similar services are offered in the area.

Shock, horror, Beer Lao might become hard to come by in Bangkok for a while! At least two of the local suppliers of possibly Laos' most famous export report that they are going to be out of stock of it for two months. A number of venues still have it in stock so be quick.

And the fine brew can be had all night long in Mercury Bar in Nana for just 90 baht. And yes, they still have it available.

Sometimes it is the little things that make a difference. There is one bar in Cowboy where the dancers have a flower in their hair. A single white flower. And with the lighting in the bars it has a lovely glow to it that provides quite a contrast against their dark hair and skin. It makes the women look that much more attractive.

There's a new burger joint on the 7th floor of Central World Plaza, opposite the cinemas, which is getting great raps. At Triple O, the burgers are said to be excellent and one friend even commented on the politeness of the well trained English speaking! I have yet to check it out but will try to do so this week.

A reader asked me by email to explain the differences between the Crime Suppression Division and the Special Branch Police of Thailand and their respective responsibilities? I could not answer – can any readers assist?

There's a growing disenchantment with the bars in Thailand from guys who have been visiting the Land of Smiles for a long time. One strategy to try and recapture the lost feelings is to venture to bars other than the gogos. Try out the likes of Hillary Bar, Gulliver's and some of the bars of Soi 7/1 where the staff tend to be friendlier and less mercenary. Most of the complaints concern the attitude of the ladies in the chrome pole palaces.

Shame on the Thaniya Shopping Centre in Soi Thaniya for the state of their toilets. While the toilets are kept clean, there are no provisions to clean your rear end! Upon entering one of the hong nam this week, there was no toilet paper, either freely available or for sale at the entrance, and neither was there a hose to clear your rear end! If you find yourself in the area and need to take a dump, I would go to a nearby branch of Starbucks instead. (Unlike much of the rest of the world where McDonalds is the place to go for a clean toilet, McDonalds branches in Thailand tend not to have a hong nam.)

Different things turn on different guys, and different things turn off different guys. But what turns me off is, I bet, quite different to most guys. I am quickly turned off by women who speak poor English. In fact I find little worse than a dollied up Thai woman who has obviously spent a great deal of time, and perhaps baht too, on her appearance, but who cannot string a grammatically correct, correctly pronounced, English sentence together. In fact I think any Thai woman who is trying to look sophisticated but who cannot speak decent English, is something of an imposter! (You always knew I was odd, didn't you?!)

There are many reasons why relationships between Western guys and Thai women don’t succeed, but one we seldom hear about is the experiences of the control freaks. I cannot re-iterate enough that in my humble observations, guys who try to control their Thai other half, or who try to impose certain behavioural limitations or constraints on a Thai woman just drive her crazy quickly. Of course control freaks have troubled relationships in the West, but it should be noted that such approach is even less successful in Thailand.


The best Thai dating experience

In last week's column I wrote about the effect of the US dollar on Americans living here in Thailand. What I have since found myself wondering about is just what is best for Thailand? Is the baht at 40 to the US dollar good for the country or would the baht at 30 be better? What about a number outside of this range? While I have a decent understanding of the effects that a strong or weak baht has, bringing all of the variables together and then deciding at what value is best is much more complicated. Any ideas as to the value of the baht that you think is best for Thailand?

It would seem that the Customs Department is taking their responsibilities very seriously indeed and are strictly enforcing duty free allowances at Suwannaphum Airport. For your information, the duty free limit is 200 cigarettes and 1 litre of alcohol per adult. The fines for exceeding this quota and failing to declare are EXTREMELY harsh.

The Dutch beggar who is often mentioned on this site can be seen in this interview. Unfortunately, this is only viewable to readers outside Thailand.

There was a great headline this week which read as "Bangkok Named Third World's Best City". Now does that mean that Bangkok is the third best city in the world, or the best city in the third world? Bit of a difference between the two I would have thought!

This report appeared on the BBC website this week about trafficking in Thailand.

Remember the Welshman who was tossed into the jungle by his Thai family where he was later bitten by a scorpion? Sadly, he is no longer. RIP.

A Thai woman in Canada was sent to the monkey house for knowingly infecting her husband with HIV. From what I hear about Canada, she'll probably end up with half the house and half his pension plan!

And to round off the links to unpleasant news reports this week, this story is big news in the US at present, involving a Thai and incest. Very nasty business.

Miss Udon is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Feel free to send questions in for her to answer and get the perspective of a Thai female. You and I may well disagree with what she says. The purpose of this section is to provide a Thai woman's perspective!

Question 1: I recently visited my girlfriend's family at their family home in Saraburi. They are nice people and from what I could tell are middle class. I was however very surprised at the way they decorate their house. It was full of junk. There was plenty of space in the house but they seemed to fill it up with all sorts of stuff that I wonder whether they really need! When I have been to other Thai family homes (which is only a few times) the houses are always decorated the same. Literally full of junk. Why is this?!

Miss Udon says: Actually we don't have style to decorate our house with junk. We just keep things which we think one day may be useful. As we have strong family honour so some things which have memories we keep very carefully from generation to generation such as Grandmother's chest, Grandfather's fish net etc. You might think those things are junk and not worth keeping but for us they have value and we keep them as long as we can.

Question 2: Are there any things in relationships that Thai women really like, and also things that they really don't like. I am not asking about the obvious things, but what you think the average Western man might not know about. I guess I am asking about any secrets that can help me meeting the perfect Thai woman. What should I do and what shouldn't I do?

Miss Udon says: When we are in relationship we like to spend time and do things together sharing feelings – sad, happy, or giving advice. We like our guys to think that we are a special person and take a good care of us. As we are jealous girls we would like our guy to show us that we can trust him, no matter what he does, where he goes we don't have to worry about anything. When we go out we like holding hands just to remind us that we are special still. We don't like it when our guys show attentions to other women especially with our girlfriends. Don't even ask about them or start talking about them before we start otherwise you will cause a big problem. We are very sensitive about this! When we feel like our guy has lost attention we will do something to remind him that we are still here and get back to us quick otherwise we will go. We like sex. Sex is one good thing to show how much you love us. When you start to get used to us and sex is getting less than usual that would upset us and make is think that we are not a special person any more. I can say that if you want to finish a relationship with us what you have to do is just stop having sex with us then you will get what you want. You don't even have to say anything. We will be gone right away. We may have different lifestyles, Western and Thai, but if there are any problems in relationship we'd like to talk rather than walk away. So any things you find wrong please talk. We are more than willing to solve problems together.

This week a reader gave me a good ticking off for the use of a highly derogatory term in last week's column. In fact when I went back and re-read what I had written I was more than a little angry at myself, to say nothing of being embarrassed, for using the term in the first place and not picking it up and removing it when editing. I make no excuses. I got it wrong. While I do not want this column to go PC, neither do I want it to be derogatory or offensive. So if I include something that is "off", so to speak, do let me know. The beauty of the internet is that such errors of judgment can be edited quickly.



Yours,

Stick Mark II