Stickman's Weekly Column August 26th, 2007

The Far North, Nakhon Phanom


Many Westerners retire not to the capital of Thailand, nor one of its major centres, but to the very poorest part of the country, a region where many Thais have never ventured – nor care to. Many of these retirees find their way to Isaan, the northeast of Thailand, and they do so almost exclusively for one reason – they married one of Isaan's maidens. It's an undeniable fact that the majority of Westerners married to Thai women married a native of Isaan.

I've travelled throughout the Isaan region and know parts reasonably well. Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Ubon Rachathani, Nongkhai, Korat, Roi Et…the list could go on and on. But you know what? None appeal, at least at this stage of my life. Anywhere in Isaan is ok for a day and a night, a chance to take in the local highlights and then hunt for the local entertainment area – but a day and a night is usually enough.

When I look at the map of Isaan, there are only three major provincial capitals in the region that I have yet to venture to – Sakhon Nakhon, Yasothon and Nakhon Phanom.

Sakhon Nakhon is known by some for dogs, dog served on a plate, that is. Now I am no fan of canine beasts but eating them doesn't appeal either, so Sakhon Nakhon, and dog, is off the menu.

Yasothon is famous for the rocket festival in May, but it's not May. It's August.

That leaves Nakhon Phanom, a bit of an unknown. It's supposed to be a pretty spot and being a keen photographer, I figured that Nakhon Phanom could be worth checking out.

Nakhon Phanom has been described as one of the most pleasant spots in Isaan, with the provincial capital nestled in against the mighty Mekhong, a spot with pretty views over the river towards Laos just a few hundred metres away.

I have always enjoyed my jaunts into Isaan and felt it was time to explore somewhere new. It was time for a road trip. Set the GPS for Nakhon Phanom!

The provincial capital of Nakhon Phanom province is 700 km away from Bangkok, drivable in a day, but frankly, a little further than I prefer to do in one run. The natural place to head to was Khon Kaen, a spot I have stayed at numerous times, and am rather fond of.

The drive up into Isaan is easy these days, with all of the road works that were the bane of the Saraburi to Korat section long since completed. There is little to say about that stretch of the journey that has not been said before. It's dull, boring and apart from the dam about 60 clicks south of Korat, there's little to look at.

We left Bangkok late afternoon and it was dark by the time we hit Korat, where being the adventurous laymen that we are, we stopped for a piece of American culture, McDonalds.

We hit the road again for the rapid journey 200 km up the road to Khon Kaen. That's a fast road and even at night, we managed it in well under 2 hours.

Khon Kaen might be Isaan but don't go thinking that it's sleepy, at least not the provincial capital. Well into the Isaan evening, the traffic in the city centre was jammed, and the rapid pace we had set since leaving downtown Korat was no longer possible. It must have taken almost half an hour to reach the centrally located hotel from the southern city limits.

Before we had even made it to the hotel, I saw that Khon Kaen, which has always seemed to me to be the most developed centre in Isaan, had changed. Farang after farang after farang could be seen strolling around the streets on a cool, breezy night of the rainy season. All could have been cut from the same mould. Of retiree age, they were invariably slim, and accompanied by a local woman. I don't remember seeing anywhere near that many other Westerners in downtown Khon Kaen in the past.

After checking into the hotel and freshening up, we headed out in search of an entertainment spot, and a couple of quiet beers. Below one of the city's larger hotels we discovered the Zolid Disco. I was disappointed to find that it played my least favourite genre of music, the perennial Thai favourite – LOUD! In fact it was so loud that your ears hurt before you'd even had a chance to order a drink. We decided against staying and made a quick exit.

Searching for an alternate venue, we wandered down the lane near the Sofitel where many nightspots could be found but was amazed to see that more than half the venues were in complete darkness. No, they weren't just closed for the evening, but closed down permanently! Some were in a haphazard state. There were few punters around. One of the few joints open was a karaoke lounge where girls screamed out to us, inviting us to join them. No thanks, that is not what we were looking for. So some time since my last visit to Khon Kaen, earlier this year, a number of the entertainment venues closed down.

Strolling back to the hotel, we passed a couple of fairly innocuous looking pubs where there were repeated invites in English to join the locals for a drink. We politely declined, although in retrospect it might have been fun to have a drink with the locals.

A motorbike whizzed by and three girls all yelled out "Hello handsome man" in unison. It was almost as if they had practiced saying it and I'm quite sure I wasn't the first guy they'd said it to. In Bangkok they base themselves in the Biergarten or the Thermae but perhaps on the back of motorcycles is the operandi in Khon Kaen?

My travelling companion, a newbie to these parts, commented that this was not what he expected being so far away from Bangkok and for sure, it is not how Khon Kaen used to be. The farang influence on Khon Kaen has increased.

Back in the lobby of the hotel there was no shortage of smiles from women milling around who looked like they could be accommodating. Sleepy Khon Kaen, a favourite overnight spot of mine in Isaan, and a town I must have stayed in several times, now has a number of farang-friendly, maybe even farang-hungry, girls – and the message must be out because there was no shortage of farangs around.

In the morning we briefly visited the 9 level temple and then it was on our way to our destination, Nakhon Phanom.

As we drove deeper into Isaan, and further away from the what I have always thought of as the capital of the region, my friend started to open up about the previous night. "You remember that girl at check in?"

"Yeah."

"Guess what?", he says with a mischievous grin on his face.

"No way."

"Yes way!"

Well, you hear stories of randy ladies but this takes the cake. I remember thinking that she was very attractive, early 20s and cute. Goodness only knows how my friend managed, given that he is a fair few years older than me, his Thai ain't good, and well, let's cut through the crap, damn it, I'm much more handsome than him! What did I do wrong?

The route to Nakhon Phanom took us through Sakhon Nakhon. We never found the so-called famous dog restaurants and frankly, we found nothing remarkable in Sakhon Nakon. We saw no real reason to stay there, so we continued on our journey to Nakhon Phanom.

Something of a surprise, we came across a few churches en route, sizeable structures, as well as some schools with Christian names, all on the main highway, really in the middle of nowhere. I guess a few missionaries must have stumbled upon these far flung parts of Isaan in days gone by.

It's a challenging drive from Khon Kaen through hilly terrain and on some pretty poor roads. We eventually reached our destination, one of the most far flung corners of Isaan, and a spot that is not on many farangs' itinerary, a little after midday.

After driving around and getting a feel for the centre, first impressions were that Nakhon Phanom was kind of like a cross between Nongkhai and Roi Et. Nongkhai for the river, and Roi Et because it's pretty. The provincial capital, that is the main city of Nakhon Phanom, would be about the same size as those two centres, at least that is how it feels. But with that said, it really is kind of quiet. There is a medium-sized Tesco Lotus. I didn't see a Big C, and I could not find a plethora of the usual American fast food restaurants. I don't think the same can be said of either of the aforementioned provinces so I guess Nakhon Phanom really is true blue Isaan.

There's a pleasant waterfront promenade with nice views across the river to Laos. There are a few temples around, but really, that's about it.

Nakhon Phanom might be a pretty town, but there is little to do, and from what we could make out, little of historical interest. It'd be a great place to chill, but I imagine it would get boring after a while. The people are pleasant enough, as they are all over the Isaan region, but that usual Thai sanuk feeling didn't seem to be there like it is in, say, Udon Thani. Nakhon Phanom actually felt quite conservative, like the socially conservative Thailand we read about in newspapers and guide books, but don't often see. I guess being 700 kilometres from the modern day evils of Bangkok might have something to do with that.

To be honest, I didn't chat with many of the locals. It's Isaan and if you walk around looking like a tourist you'll get the obligatory local lasses yelling out hello as they ride by on their motorbike. A few approached me and flirted and I got the feeling that any Westerner living there permanently would be made to feel like some sort of celebrity. Ahhh, despite a few grey hairs and an ever increasing girth, the charm remains.

I can never work out how much money is in these small provincial towns. You see the odd big Mercedes Benz all kitted out with an AMG kit, mags, exhaust etc. and it has Nakhon Phanom plates, so you think there may be a bit of money around, but then when you go into a 7 Eleven right in the heart of downtown to buy a top up card for your mobile phone the largest denomination they stock is 100 baht!

It has to be said that the local women were not nearly as attractive as other parts of Isaan. There's a certain look to the locals of Nakhon Phanom, with definite Laos and even Vietnamese influences. The local gene pool is not entirely Thai I'd suggest.

Being on the Mekong River and with Laos just a few hundred metres away, you would think that there would be a number of Laotians in town, and a lot of signs erected in the Lao language. Well, you'd be wrong. Unlike Nongkhai where signs in Lao can be seen all over town, I saw very few in Nakhon Phanom. Curiously I did see a number in Vietnamese though!

As far as nightlife is concerned, there's a small square in town, not far from the river, where much of the action is centred. There you can find a number of venues, predominately pub and restaurant type venues, most of which have music – Thai music. The staff are friendly, if a little loose-lipped and gossiping seems to be the local sport. There is enough culinary variety offered to keep someone staying a few nights happy. But for anyone who enjoys the nightlife, there is a limited choice of venues.

There is also a popular, sizeable venue in another small entertainment area, opposite the bus station, maybe a mile or so away.

I didn't once see the stereotypical older Western guy walking around hand in hand with a young Isaan lady, as is so common in the larger centres of the region. But when I ventured to what is supposed to be the city's finest hotel, the River View Hotel, for a meal, I saw a few such couples. We thought the hotel had the best Western food in town. The River View Burger, essentially a cheese and egg burger, which comes with salad, pickled vegetables and a generous serving of chunky chips is only 100 baht – and there's no ++ either. Excellent value for someone used to paying 200 – 250 baht for similar in Bangers.

Being so far away from Bangkok, the weather in Nakhon Phanom is quite different to what you experience in the capital, and at this time of year was a few degrees cooler. It was nice enough during the day but at night it felt rather chilly! And it was made worse when I found myself on the back of one of the motorbike driven tuktuks being whisked between hotel and entertainment venues late at night. Thank Lord Buddha I'd had a few brews to numb the senses.

In even the most far flung corners of Isaan you find Westerners. In many places you even find bars run by Westerners for Westerners. Some are ok, but many are rather macabre, and sort of make me wonder if the undertaker is out back measuring everyone up for a coffin, so close are some punters to meeting their creator. One of the curiosities of Isaan is that while you see many, many pretty, single women – and many of these women aren't shy in saying hello to Westerners, even if you're obviously a tourist in town for just a day or two, just why is it that the Western residents of these towns so often have ugly girlfriends or wives? I don't want to sound cruel, but it's true. In a country known for beautiful women, this just doesn't make sense! Or does it? I think the answer to that question is quite simple. Westerners don't usually just end up in these towns by choice. They are taken by their girlfriends / wives who they met elsewhere. And let's not beat around the bush, many of these romances began in the bars of Bangkok or Pattaya. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Choose where you want to live first and then you'll have the pick of the prettiest ladies in town, many of whom would love to be your girlfriend – and hopefully your wife. Don't do it the other way around!

As pretty as Nakhon Phanom is, and it really is pretty – and well-kept too – no doubt the influence of Nakhon Phanom's favourite son, former prime minister Chevalit, has something to do with that, the city has little in the way of attractions. There is no real reason to stay there, unless you want to do very little and just chill out. For that it would be ideal. The temples are much the same as you find elsewhere in Thailand and while the river is pretty, you can only sit and gaze at it for so long. Nightlife and entertainment options will be more enjoyable for those who speak Thai.

But outside of Nakhon Phanom, 50 km down the road, is the most revered of all of Isaan's temples, Tat Phanom, pictured here. This very impressive Lao-style temple complex is most definitely worth going out of your way for. The central chedi is one of the largest in the country at approaching 60 metres, in fact the whole complex is very impressive. (For photography aficionados, this photo was taken with a 12 mm lens hence it looks much smaller than it actually is.) It's an easy drive, just follow the riverfront promenade heading south and you'll get there. Tat Phanom is a typical Isaan town with a bustling market, and a huge, most impressive temple. It's certainly one of the largest and prettiest temples I have seen outside of Bangkok or Chiang Mai. If temples float your boat, this one's well worth the journey.

Nakhon Phanom may well be the prettiest of all Thailand's riverside centres. It's a pleasant city which doesn't suffer from the intrinsic problems of big city living – namely because it isn't a big city. Pretty views, a pleasant night market, a varied inner city market, the Indo China Market, a nice river front promenade, friendly people and awfully cheap prices make me understand why someone would choose to re-locate there. This city truly doesn't feel like Isaan, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you want the quiet life, I can most definitely see the appeal.

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of the Sofitel Grand Sukhumvit and the photo was taken from the Nana BTS Station. It may be a new feature on Bangkok's skyline but MANY people got it right, which I hate to say, I was kinda surprised as – especially as the photo wasn't sharp. OK, so this week's picture is fairly clear in terms of what it is, but just WHERE was the pic taken from? The first person to email me with the correct answer wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod. I am looking for new prize providers in Bangkok, ideally restaurants or cafes.

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 – Coppers only target wrong-doers?

Yes, we are unfairly targeted by Thai policemen. Today I made an illegal right turn, directly behind a Thai couple, committing the same misdemeanor. A policeman stopped us both, but hurriedly waved them on, so he could concentrate on me. However, I HAD committed an offence. In fact, every time I've been stopped I had committed an offence. Sometimes trivial, sometimes obscure, but I always did something wrong. Now I enjoy the experience – I chat with them, give half-assed excuses and make them work for their money. I talked my way out of the last three tickets, but today I had to donate 200 baht to the police retirement fund. 200 baht? Back in the UK, I'd be looking at 3,000 baht and a trip to the police station.

No racism amongst Thai police.

I feel that in the section about police hassling foreigners, you have fallen in the same pitfall as minorities tend to do everywhere and call out about racism and ethnic discrimination where there surely are no such thing. Where I live, it is fairly common to bump into policemen on motorbikes working in pairs that will pat you down looking for drugs. I will say I get a check-up about once a month, and surely they target everybody, not only farangs. Last time I was checked while waiting for a taxi, and after they had finished with me, I watched for a couple of minutes while they stopped other passers by. That included people on motorcycle taxis and regular taxis, everyone but me native Thais. Not once was the driver checked, as has been the norm every time I have been stopped in a vehicle. Why is it so hard to believe that the police are actually looking for drugs? If they were looking to plant drugs, they would have done it, right?

Walk away from short cuts.

There was a submission to Stickman during the last week in which the writer described being the victim of a scam by local officials concerning a house he was building. Money was handed over to the local scum, who appeared later to be in collusion with other officials at the office to extort as much money as they could from the farang (a national sport). Two thoughts. If someone offers a shortcut in anything official, walk away. Or, if you do go ahead then you should video the transaction ("This is a momentous and special occasion for me and I want to record it for the future"). At the very least, photograph the deal. Either the guilty will walk away and then you've exposed the risk and avoided it, or you have indisputable evidence if anything goes wrong.

Living in a bubble.

Just read your weekly column regarding assimilation in LOS. I thought I'd mention that I know several expats doing a similar thing here and around Asia. I've been here a long time, have few if any local friends, no language skills (or any intention of learning, to be frank), do not watch or read local TV or any media, eat western 99.8% of the time, and generally live in a bubble maintaining a western lifestyle in Asia as far as possible, by choice. So it's not just expats in Thailand. More specifically though, your last sentence asks why Westerners based in Thailand appear to keep assimilation 'off the menu'. I venture to say that there is a (perhaps subconscious) realization that no matter what farang do and despite all the efforts, formidable in some cases, that it is inherently known that we are never going to be truly accepted there. Add to that the obvious climate of corruption, paranoia, xenophobia, and just plain outdated and distorted thinking none of which will change in our lifetime, why would anyone actually *want* to truly and voluntarily assimilate into such a society?


Thai dating at ThaiFriendly.com

Who's happy?! Anyone?

The piece about Channel 4 UK looking for happily married farang / Thai couples made me burst out laughing as there's no such thing! I have lived in LOS for 5 years and everyone I know who is in a relationship with a Thai woman has serious problems (including myself!) All my married friends warn me not to take the plunge (though I would probably still do it…fool that I am). Call me a cynic but that's my opinion.

The English Premier League debacle.

You are spot on about the football coverage on True / UBC, the picture quality is appalling. In this age of high definition I would be happy if what we received was just standard definition but it's more like LOW definition. They are broadcasting too many channels in too small a bandwidth with the resulting drop in picture quality. These pictures are coming from the UK (broadcast in High Def by Sky TV) and the images are truly stunning but by the time UBC have got hold of them and sent them to my Panasonic plasma TV they look totally crap. It was far better on ESPN / Star but still far inferior to Standard def digital broadcasts in the UK.

Are you trying to befriend the wrong people?

I disagree with anyone who believes foreign males cannot become friends with Thai males. I spent part of my childhood / early teens as an expat in Thailand and outside of school, had many Thai friends in Bangkok. I no longer live in the country but still maintain occasional contact with some of them, and they are genuinely good friends, equivalent to good friends I have in the west. I also have some Thai friends from the countryside, and their hobbies these days seem to revolve more around being lazy and drinking whisky. They are great fun when I do the things they are interested in (i.e. getting drunk), but otherwise, we no longer have much in common (and no, I am not buying their friendship – we take turns buying the whisky. They consider me a friend because we grew up together back in the 1980s). In more recent times, I have made new Thai male friends through my Thai wife. As with many of my original Bangkok friends, these people are educated, and some work for international companies. We work in the same or similar industries and therefore have a lot in common. I actually don't see any difference between them versus my Western friends. On the flip side, I have "friends" in the west that simply seem to want friendship in order to use me or for some benefit, and some of my friends from high school in the west I no longer have anything in common with and have therefore lost touch. I don't know why many foreigners today seem to believe a "barrier" exists, preventing friendship with Thai males. Maybe it's just a case that people are trying to befriend the wrong people?

There are no red circles on white backgrounds yet, but Soi Cowboy is hosting more and more Japanese customers and the ever inquisitive men of the Rising Sun have managed to find the best bars which for time being include Raw Hide and Long Gun. This past Friday the two Cowboy institutions had a good number of Japanese customers and one girl in particular said that now she only went with Japanese. "They pay money too much and they don't talk about things I no understand", were the reasons she gave. It's an interesting development, gentlemen.

Is Apache still named Apache or is it now Coyote? A new red neon sign along with new red neon has completely overwhelmed the front of the bar. The only sign that says Apache is a small neon sign over the door. Looking inside however, the girls are dressed for the name coyote. If you want to see coyote dancing you better go early. The new 60 baht happy hour until 9:00 PM pulls in a big crowd and the bar is often full as early as 8:30 PM!

The Big Mango in Nana will celebrate its second anniversary with a big party next Saturday, that is Saturday 1st September. There will be free food from the Big Mango kitchen and happy hour prices all night long. There will also be far more pretty women than usual with a few imports brought in especially for the evening. The first anniversary party last year was a ripper and this one promises to be much the same.

The closing time at Nana still varies from night to night. If the boys in brown decide to check out the comings and goings then it's lights out around 1 AM. But if they manage to find something more profitable elsewhere then the bars remain open until 2 AM.

There does seem to be a slight increase in the number of customers in Nana, but with that said, some bars are really hurting. No names, but even late on Friday night there were bars that couldn't even boast a handful of customers.

Why do the DJs insist on playing music so damned loud in certain bars? This misbehaving and showing off by the DJs seems to happen when the owner or manager is away, or even when they briefly pop out. What the DJs fail to comprehend is that super loud anything to farangs has the same effect on us as super smelly has on Thais – we cannot stand it and would rather leave than be subjected to it. This was the case in Mandarin in Nana on Friday night. There I was, gazing into the eyes of a truly gorgeous dancer, in my eyes the most attractive lass in Nana, when the DJ turned the volume switch up to the max. It was just too much and I was out of there. Hell, it was loud at the bottom of the stairs, let alone up inside the bar!

I note that the Rugby World Cup is now being advertised on ESPN and it looks as though matches will be shown live on both ESPN and Star Sports. Next month's True Visions magazine has not yet come out so we haven't had a chance to check to see how many matches will be shown, but things are looking up. I would expect that a number of the matches may also be shown on the Australian channel, ABC, although that channel doesn't seem to be available to True Visions customers, but rather "other" cable operators.

Lots of bars in Hua Hin were raided by the police this week. Computers were removed and bar owners were told that the music was stolen! No checks were made as to where the music installed on the computers had come from. The fines paid by bars ranged from, get this, 30,000 – 70,000 baht with the average said to be around the 40,000 baht mark. Grammy was mentioned, but at least one bar owner felt it was "the annual Bangkok raid". The council says a license to play music is 5,000 baht, available from next month (So why the hell penalise the bars now, when a license isn't even available!), or 3,000 baht for Thai music. This sort of carry on is sad to hear. The bar owners are responsible for bringing many tourists to Thailand and thus money into Thailand, and they are stung like this. Very sad.

Is there some funny business going on in the Sukhumvit Soi 22 area? It would seem that that little neighbourhood is ground zero for Westerners being approached by policeman wishing to carry out what appears to be a random search of their person. Most of the stories of such sent in over the past month have concerned searches in Sukhumvit sois 20 and 22. This week another two people emailed me and reported being approached by policeman down there, one fellow in a taxi and one who had been on foot. This all got me thinking. Is there some sort of hanky panky going on down there that necessitates the boys in brown paying extra special attention or carrying out random searches of foreigners in that neighbourhood? I must have a word with Mekhong Kurt, Mr. Washington Square, and a keen observer of the comings and goings down there, and see if he has head anything. And as if we had not heard enough on the subject, there is a thread on the Ajarn site where people have reported being searched in that very same soi! Of course, at the southern end of Soi 22 is the Klong Toey slum, Thailand’s largest slum community and a place where drugs are readily available. Could that be related somehow?

It would be easy to merely explain it away as being due to the low season and rainy season blues, but I am not so sure. There are indications of growing disenchantment, even resentment, amongst many of the farangs who make up the Thailand Fan Club. Tourist numbers, amongst Westerners that is, are down. Farang owned businesses whose primary customers are Westerners may be experiencing a downturn. Fewer Westerners seem interested in buying property in Thailand and more and more are posting negative thoughts on discussion forums. More and more people warn of the dangers of buying property and investing heavily in Thailand. Some local webmasters have even mentioned to me of dipping traffic levels, although that is a seasonal thing – it happens every year. Has the tide turned? And no, I don’t think the international market turmoil caused by all of this sub-prime loan debacle has anything to do with it. What do you think? Have you become disenchanted?

A reminder to the balloon chasers, and other cheap Charlies, that Silver Dollar in Washington Square is the place for good, hearty American food. On Sunday they have a free lunch offered at 2:00 PM. On Monday a similarly good lunch can be had for a very reasonable 200 baht.

I just saw one of the new Thailand driver's licenses and a snazzy piece of plastic it is. Similar to a credit card, the holder's photo is digitally imprinted into the card, not unlike modern day passport photos. What is especially useful is that all of the details are listed in both Thai and English. This is useful because some countries allow drivers to use foreign licenses in their country (aside from an international license) if the license is in English. Apparently licenses issued in the provinces each look a little different. Mrs. Stick's has a picture of Phimai in the background, it being a well-known attraction in her province of Korat.

If you thought the Thais were getting bigger, you wouldn't be wrong. And they are going to get bigger and bigger with McDonald's now offering a breakfast menu in some branches. The big problem is, McDonald's breakfasts to me means pancakes but locally they're not doing pancakes! WTF! McDonald's breakfast without pancakes is hardly a McDonald's breakfast at all! And McDonald's hash browns are the closest thing to cardboard you can eat. Hell, maybe it is made of cardboard!

Legendary expat "Blackie" is hoping to return to Bangkok around Xmas. Blackie took a break away from the Mango for a couple of years but is set to once again leave his native Australia and return to Bangkok soon. Get ready for the hurricane to storm back into town. Watch out, soi 33!

For those of you who know Sam of Office Bar fame, this might not be “new news” so to speak, but for the many people who have had the pleasure of meeting Sam over the years, this might come as something of a shock. Poor Sam has been holed up in Bumrungrad since February of this year. He had some back problems but in an incident which was unrelated to the initial back problems the poor fellow had a fall which damaged vertebrae and he is paralysed from the waist down. Sam can be found in room 1017 in Bumrungrad where he is undergoing treatment. Since being hospital bound, Sam opened a new bar, down in Sukhumvit Soi 71, and was ambulanced out on the meet and greet night where he spent a short period of time. It’s not possible to make phone calls to Sam's room but visitors are welcome if they check with the nurses' station first – any time after 5:30 PM. He's doped up a lot with Pethadine every 4 hours.

A new organization, something like a Better Business Bureau for the ELT world, where teachers and schools can resolve their differences through binding arbitration is being set up. The website is not up yet, www.esljudge.com. They just want to help teachers and reputable schools resolve disputes in a clear and fair way. But they need your help. They are looking for 100 people from all areas of ELT, from the teacher to the DOS to the school owner, to participate in the dispute resolution process. With enough volunteers they hope that you will only be committing yourself to 5 or so hours per year. If you're interested, please email them at [email protected]

Magnums, the ice-cream, not the gun, now sell for 40 baht. Yikes, I can remember when they were just 17 baht! Checking out the wrapper they come in reveals that they are imported from Indonesia. I seem to recall they were previously made locally, although I could be wrong on that. Could that account for the most recent increase which took the price from 35 to 40 baht?

The latest edition of the excellent Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand is out now, that's the 12th edition, all 820 pages priced at 975 baht. On page 171, under Bangkok "Entertainment, Gogo Bars" it says, "One of the more palatable documenters of Bangkok's sexy underbelly is Stickman's Guide to Bangkok, which offers tips and perspectives on 'doing' Bangkok." Browsing through the Silom branch of Bookazine there are a heap of novels and other interesting literature set in Bangkok. I don't read as much of the locally produced stuff as I used to, unless it has Needham, Moore or Leather on the cover – but there were a couple of interesting sounding titles, it must be said.

The police get a bit of grief in this column. The way they go about their duties is somewhat different to what Westerners are used to in their homelands, and the fact that most Westerners don’t know what their rights are doesn’t help matters. But spare a thought for a Thai woman who got clobbered by her live-in boyfriend recently. I was shocked to hear that the police were unwilling to assist her when she made a report against her boyfriend for what sounded like a prima face case of assault. When an incentive was given to the coppers they acted. What was most unusual about this case was that the accused was a foreigner! So it's not just foreigners who get the run around.

I notice that one of my favourite venues in Soi 33, Tenderloins, has a special deal on their burgers. They're very good down there, some of the best in Bangkok in fact, but can be a bit pricey. They're advertising a special where a burger plus a salad is 249 baht – a good deal for a great burger which usually goes for over 300. The venue is a little sterile, but the food is top notch.

The world is full of blogs but this one ought to catch the interest of many readers. It concerns the exploits of a high class Thai hooker in London and is very well-written.

It looks like John Burdett might have hit it big in the US, the author of "Bangkok 8" and its two follow ups.

Here's an article form Time magazine on the guy I truly hope becomes Thailand's next democratically elected Prime Minster.

Quote of the week comes from a Bangkok bar manager. "I couldn't work with Pattaya punters… The behaviour and attitude of plenty of tourists was terrible compared to expats in Bangkok."

And another great quote. This was said to a newbie in the Nana car park when he complained to a girl that she had left him at 7:30 that morning. "1,000 baht I decide when I go, 2,000 baht you tell me when to go."

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! * Miss Udon was disappointed that there were only two questions this week. She said she wants at least three a week! *

Question 1: I am a 32 year-old living and working in Bangkok. I have a good job and make a good income. I like to think that I am a good person, and am liked by people around me. In the two years I have been working in Bangkok I have met many pretty ladies, but I just don't seem to be able to find the type of person I am looking for a serious relationship and hopefully marriage. I would like to find a middle class lady with reasonable English who has a decent job. That is all. I simply want a good, honest lady. The problem is, I don't know where to find ladies like this! Can you please point me in the right direction? Where can I find ladies like this?

Miss Udon says: The girl you want can be anywhere around you, you just have not found her yet. I can not tell you where exactly she is but I can give you an idea. If you want the smart one you will see her around schools or institutes where she books a course for herself to make herself get a better career. If you want the confident one you can find her at the clubs as she likes attention and that's why she goes to the clubs, to get attention and enjoy her life. If you want a sweet housewife you can find her at supermarket or a Thai shopping area such as JJ Market in the gift shop part. Different characters can be found in different places. It's your choice now what kind of girl you like so go to the place that you think she might go!


Question 2: My Thai girlfriend of 2 years told me that two office co-workers (both Thai) are getting married. My girlfriend is more educated and has more work experience than the girl getting married. It was announced to everyone in the office how much the girl's sin-sot was. To my surprise, the amount was 2 times as much as what my girlfriend's sin-sot would be. (I know this because last year my girlfriend gave me an estimate based on what her father told her). The amount was almost 2 years salary, most of which he will need to borrow from family members. I asked my girlfriend if her sin-sot would now need to be equal to her co-worker's. To any foreign guy that would seem like a normal, innocent question. After all, she has always said her parents will give us the money back and the money is merely for show (i.e. gaining face). However based on her explosive reaction, my question was the rudest, most culturally insensitive thing I could have said. My defence is that no foreign man is going to be an expert in Thai culture or know how to deal with the topic as well as a Thai man would, so I should be given some slack. How could I have known such a question was off limits? Is there any correct response for me in that situation? Even if I would have had no comment, I know she would have insisted I have some opinion on that sin-sot. Does Miss Udon feel I did a horrible thing by asking that question and does she think that my girlfriend's [over]reaction was acceptable and normal?

Miss Udon says: She wants more money for her sin sod to make her be a happy girl, getting equal sin sod as her friends. I think this is a stupid idea but I do understand her as I am also Thai. But if she thinks carefully, being with a guy she loves is not enough to be happy? The parents might be the ones who want to gain face and she is the daughter so she has to do something to make them proud. So this is a simple story. It always happens in Thai marriages. When the groom doesn't have enough money the parents ask then the bride has to do something. Some may add their own money in to the sin sod to make her parents happy but she would not let them know that. And the sin sod can be changed if they hear that someone else in the village got a higher sin sod from a western groom. You should talk to her about this and let her know what you think. And what you have said to her, well, I think it's fine! If she loves you she will understand and try to make a solution for both of you.

Another week in paradise passes by. And a fairly dry week given the time of year. It's the rainy season officially but we haven't had any heavy deluges for a few days, at least not where I live, although that said, I was upcountry for a few days this week. What's the bet we get some really heavy rain – and the subsequent nasty traffic jams, real soon? September is usually the wettest month. Get your umbrella ready!



Yours,

Stick Mark II