Stickman's Weekly Column March 23rd, 2008

My Faith Restored


I looked over at her in the passenger’s seat and couldn’t help myself, “I thought you said this place was just outside Hua Hun.”

“They told me it was, maybe about 20 kilometres.”

I frowned and while not about to cast more consternation her way, I was quietly fuming. She had asked me whether I wanted to attend the celebration or not. The plan had been to drive down on the Saturday and return the next day. She knows that when we go away I like to have at least one day where we wake up in one place and go to bed there again at the end of the day. Is one full day, a whole 24 hours in a location, too much to ask? I glanced at the trip meter and saw that we had covered almost 300 km since leaving Bangkok.

“There it is, Ao Manao.” At long last, a sign for our destination had appeared and we veered off the main road.

Ao Manao can be found about 20 km further down the coast from Prajuab Kirikhan, the provincial capital of the province that is home to Hua Hin. I had only passed by once before so this was all new.

As we made our way through the crowded and rather narrow roads of the small town, we came upon the entrance to an air force base, the sign for Ao Manao indicating that we would have to pass through the base to get there.

Entering the air force base was as easy as entering most military installations in Thailand, you just drive in and smile at the guard who fires off a crisp salute! We shortly found ourselves driving across – yes across – the runway and passing through barracks and what appeared to be officers’ housing. Another couple of kilometres and the road opened out to a beautiful beach, perhaps a 2 km long crescent, sheltered by headlands on each side with a couple of islands in the bay. It may have been the weekend but there were few people on the beach and the limited number of parking spaces suggesting that despite it being one pretty spot, this was one beach that isn’t frequently over-run with tourists.

So we’d finally made it, about an hour later and 80 km further than planned. The beach looked nice and our spirits were raised. But the journey had just begun and with the organising in her hands, God only knows what would happen next. The next disaster on my mind was the accommodation that she had organised. I quietly thanked the almighty for choosing not to get a room in Hua Hin and being forced to make the 80 km commute between a hotel there and the wedding party venue. That would seriously hamper the fun.

Reality dawned on me. The room was booked and paid for, a mere 800 baht a night. Now if you do not read the readers’ submissions section of this site you would not have read some of the recent trip reports from a certain Hans Meier, a German who pens engaging tales of his travels throughout Thailand. Hans has written recently of his visits to various Thai islands and beaches where 1,000 baht a night got the most basic of rooms – without air-con and with uninvited guests, the local insects and other creepy crawlies. What sort of dive was 800 baht going to get us? The Mrs. tried unsuccessfully to allay my concerns and as we descended on the building where we would be staying, the damned place didn’t even have a sign! Not even the words hotel or guesthouse could be seen! What was I getting myself into?

She leapt from the car and had checked us in before I had even unloaded our junk from the trunk. Meeting her in the lobby and playing bell boy – there was no-one to help us cart our stuff – she announced that we were on the 3rd floor of what was a 4-storey building. We walked through the main lobby and saw that there was a large group waiting for the lift. Great, that leaves the stairs and so lugging all of our gear, we trudged our way up to the third floor. The atmosphere between the two of us was not icy, but with her well-honed Thai sense of perception she knew that I was not thrilled that the journey had taken much longer than I’d been told and the fact that where we were staying may well be a dive.

Standing outside our room, I snatched the key from her and unlocked the door. The heavy portal was pulled open and we peered inside. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Was this our room? Was this where we were supposed to be staying? Was there some sort of mistake?

The room was bright, modern, well-appointed and immaculately clean. Both our sets of eyes went straight to the balcony which looked out over the bay. There were two chairs on the balcony, not your typical, tacky plastic deck chairs but proper wooden chairs with cloth upholstering. Stepping inside, I had a puzzled look on my face. 800 baht for this? This was more like a 4,000 or 5,000 baht a night room. I stepped into the toilet and all the usual toiletries had been provided including some sort of boutique shampoo. I grabbed the towel. It was thick, luxurious and better than what we have at home in Bangkok. I walked through to the main room and sat on the bed. It was comfortable. Very. The pillows were good. I couldn’t work it out. 800 baht for this? What’s the story?

It turns out that this was not a hotel as such but accommodation built by and maintained by the air force. Ao Manao is actually located on an air force base and the military had built the building as a place to stay to be used by any military or police personnel who wished to holiday in the area. Yep, even the boys in brown were welcome which I found kind of amusing given the fierce rivalry between the military and the police in Thailand.

Apparently it is a non-profit venture (but I bet a profit is still made), hence the very reasonable prices charged. You will not find it advertised in any travel brochures nor will any online hotel reservations service have it listed. But if you have any local military contacts, or should you simply find yourself in the area then yes, these wonderfully inexpensive rooms are available to Westerners. While there, which was admittedly only a day and a night, we saw one other Westerner with what appeared to be his Thai wife.

We’d left home a little after 7 AM and it was still early so now was the time to kick back after the long drive, relax on the balcony and enjoy the wonderful view.

It was a chance to reflect on Thailand, Bangkok, my life and the true pleasure one feels when they get away from the madness of the capital and enjoy the beaches. I reflected that we don't do this enough and when we do, we seldom stay anywhere like this because, quite frankly, accommodation at most beaches isn’t cheap these days. But this was a gem. 800 baht was perhaps less than a quarter of what you‘d pay for similar elsewhere.

The afternoon was spent relaxing and taking it easy. A stroll down to the main food area, just a few hundred metres away, near the centre of the beach, revealed a number of food vendors, all offering tasty seafood at giveaway prices. I get so annoyed at getting gouged at some of Thailand’s beaches and islands – that I simply refuse to return. I vote with my feet. I’ll never forget Mrs. Stick and I ordering two plates of chicken fried rice and two Cokes on Koh Larn, the island a 30 minute boat trip from Pattaya. The price? 300 baht. And the friend rice wasn’t even that good! (And the only reason we had chosen that dish was because others were astronomically priced.)

Back to Ao Manao, two plates of shrimp fried rice cost 50 baht. That’s for the two plates. 25 baht each. And it was good!

This was the Thailand I had read about, perhaps even dreamed about. Regular readers often comment that it appears I have become seriously disillusioned with many aspects of life in Thailand. Significantly increased prices, deteriorating attitudes and aggressive visiting yobs sometimes make me feel like Paradise has gone bad.

Now Ao Manao may not be paradise, but it's a pretty enough spot. And unlike other beach resorts popular with the locals, like Cha Am and Bang Saen, it wasn’t packed. In fact you couldn’t even call it busy. If you’ve dreamed of a quiet beach resort with a lovely bay, adequate facilities and not over run with visitors, then surely this is it.

Funnily enough the main reason for making the trek to Prajuab was not for the beach but to attend a wedding, or rather a wedding party.

Early evening we departed our little temporary slice of paradise to join the more than one thousand others all converging on the open air party that in some ways felt more like a mini concert.

These village wedding celebrations are a lot of fun. Imagine a temporary stage complete with its own lighting and an impressive sound system fronted by 150 tables, each with 8 – 10 people. And then imagine all of this set to the background of palm trees behind and around the venue and mountains off to one side marking a geographic boundary with hated neighbours, Myanmar. And let’s not forget the dancers and performers on stage, any of whom Dave The Rave would give a job in a heartbeat!

Truth be told I have never liked Western weddings – am I the only one who sometimes feels like I am at a funeral, not a wedding, so sombre are many of the guests? To say that rural Thai weddings are rather different is an understatement. They are full of colour and fun, a carnival atmosphere and everyone has a good time!

The wedding was a lot of fun although the food was, as is often the case in rural Thailand, a let down. Never mind, it was still a fun affair.

Checking out of the accommodation facility the next morning, we decided to explore the small nearby town of Prajuab Kirikhan. Driving around it was clear that it was off the main tourist track. There were few hotels or guesthouses and even fewer white faces.

The town seems to be a port for fishing as much as anything. The main landmark is Khao Chong Krajok, a small Buddhist temple atop a hill, which can be reached by climbing the 396 steps. But wait, there’s an obstacle. The hill and temple are home to thousands of monkeys. Yes, thousands.

Now the Mrs. was none too thrilled that I decided it would be a good way to work off our breakfast by climbing the hill.

No sooner had we got out of the car than we were approached by a local selling bags of nuts and bananas to feed the monkeys. I had seen him spot me, the token farang, and was sure he saw me as easy prey. His faltering English was no match for my Thai and I told him in no uncertain terms, and in retrospect much too brusquely, that we were just fine, that we had eaten and that we didn’t feel like eating any nuts or bananas. It wasn’t lost on him and he smiled and responded “ bra-chot” (sarcastic).

We approached the main pathway up and this fellow decided to tag along, making conversation and giving us some background of the site. As we made our way up slowly, he pointed out landmarks and in an engaging and interesting manner, told us of the history of the temple and the area. Now starting to warm to him and embarrassed at my initial coldness, I gave him 50 baht for monkey food and as we slowly made our way up the path he kept the moneys at bay, much to the Mrs.’ relief.

It was still relatively early but only a quarter of the way up we were sweating like mad, no-one more so than me, the farang, who was positively dripping. But we battled on and before long we had panoramic views. To the West were mountains with Myanmar on the other side. To the east was the Gulf Of Thailand and we could see hundreds and hundreds of fishing vessels. They’re manned by the Burmese our guide told us. The Burmese will work for peanuts, just 200 baht a day. I frowned, thinking that many Thais earn less. What about the legalities of it, I asked him? They’re clearly illegals who enter the country illegally and they surely don’t have paperwork. The Harbour Police collect 1,000 baht per foreigner per vessel, he said, grinning away!

“Cannot do in your country?”, he asked.

“The Burmese can't swim that far!”, I responded.

We were regaled with stories of the area as well as of those who had climbed the mountain before us. As a couple of largish monkeys tapped my legs, I asked him if my camera was ok. He grabbed it and said it was probably too heavy for them but added that it might be a good idea to hold it tight, just in case!

He went on to tell us of an older Thai woman who earlier this month had had a 5 baht gold necklace ripped from around her neck. 5 baht in weight at current gold prices is over 70,000 baht in value, a small fortune to many Thais. A cursory hunt had been made but it hadn’t been found. The woman was, needless to say, distraught. There was also another case of a bunch of foreign banknotes found, obviously pulled from the clutches of a foreign tourist, almost $US 1,000 apparently. No report had ever been made and they had been exchanged at a local bank, the finder overwhelmed to receive almost 30,000 baht in real money in return.

Prajuab Kirikhan is 80 km down the road from Hua Hin and reminded me very much of Khao Tagiap. Comparisons are inevitable and it has to be said that the panoramic views at Prajuab Kirikhan are more impressive and there are even more monkeys – there really are thousands – making Khao Chong Krajok more impressive than Khao Tagiap – known to many as Monkey Mountain.

After taking the obligatory photos at the top, we made the long trek back down, our volunteer guide continuing to tell us stories of the surrounding countryside, the people of the area, the temple, and his pet peeve, all of the Burmese in town. Perhaps an hour after we had started the descent, we made it back down to the bottom with me thoroughly ashamed that I had tried hard to beat off this pleasant young man who had very much enhanced our experience. Grateful for his company, his commentary and for him helping to keep the monkeys away from both my camera and the Mrs. – I still haven’t worked out which was more important – I went to slip him a 100 baht tip. He wouldn’t take it! I pushed it at him, and he backed away. He finally relented when I said that if he wouldn’t take it, I would buy some nuts and bananas for the local populace. 100 baht buys far more than you can imagine and my final memory is the view from the rear view mirror of him surrounded by what may have been 100 monkeys or more, all scrambling to get a late morning snack.

With lunch time approaching, we headed out on to the main road and made a beeline for Hua Hin, or more specifically, Pizza Mia, the wonderful little Italian restaurant opposite the City Beach Road. If you like Italian and find yourself in Hua Hin, you have to try it. It justifiably finds itself in Thailand Tattler’s 150 Top Thailand Restaurants list but don’t take their word for it, try it for yourself. Great food at very reasonable prices.

We lingered in Hua Hin, found a nice coffee house, caught up on the news and with Stickman readers waiting for their weekly update, it was time to head back home to get the column done and online. It had been a wonderful getaway and it restored my faith in not only Thai people, but also the country as a whole.

Living in Bangkok, it is so easy to become disillusioned with many things. People aren’t always friendly, prices are high and everyone can be in such a hurry. But last weekend we found a nice hideaway, experienced a great little town and met some very nice people. My faith has been restored.

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken on Rama 4 Road, heading west, just before the Sathorn / Wireless Road intersection flyover. This week's picture might look obscure but really, it's not that difficult! The first person to email me with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British Fish And Chips restaurant and the second wins a free jug of margarita, valued at 840 baht from Charley Brown's, a well-established, popular restaurant, offering authentic Tex-Mex Cuisine and delicious margaritas. Charley Brown's is located in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11.

FROM STICK MARK II'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick Mark II.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – Thai style cafes explained.

The article about Thai cafes and karaokes may have given the wrong impression to prospective customers. I was in an upmarket cafe on Udom Suk last Sunday and the road was lined with expensive cars and inside they had about 15 – 20 singers. As usual some of the favourites were getting malis (garlands) of several thousand baht. The place was packed with guys and we were there over three hours. Yet in that time not one girl left the premises with a customer. I have been in hundreds of such places over the years and have never noticed a girl leave with a customer before closing time. It would be folly to turn up at such a place, fork out a mere 500 baht on a mali and expect to be walking out the door with a girl in short order. I am not saying in does not happen like that but in 15 years I have never seen such a thing. Customers often spend enormous amounts on girls and either don't take them out or get let down at closing time. Some of these girls are expert at leading the customer on only to vanish at 1 AM or make off with somebody else! It is also worth mentioning that in cafes at least, some girls never go out with customers at all. Many are married, earning part time money, some really want to be singers and hope to be discovered, others are on the game it's true. Just don't turn up with the 'I'll have that one' mentality – you may well be disappointed.

The guy on the motorbike in Pattaya, explained.

Just to fill you in on the guy on the motorbike. I saw the guy in January on Second Road, opposite soi 8. Zoomed up to me. I WAS CURIOUS so let him do his thing. It was early afternoon so I had not been near a drink or a bar. He smiles happy, where you from, offers hand to shake whilst being bubbly / friendly sounding. I asked him where he was from. He says he was from Malta, but I could not tell by his accent so could be from anywhere. He's tanned so he's been around in the sun a while. Asked if holiday or expat and then which hotel I was staying in. This was all done with over the top smiling and gesturing. Makes sure that I am staying in hotel. Asked which although I don't say, just say to him it is cheap so he says that the competition is not open to people who live there. But says this is a fantastic hotel and if you go you will get a limo ride back (sure!). Then out comes a scratch card and he says it in respect of hotel / condo advertising and scratches off and guess what, you have won (LOL) one of the larger prizes – laptop, video camera or in my case 30,000 baht. Anyway, he smiles and over the top joys of winning as he will earn too now. It is time to get you to go to the hotel / condo. When told that I don't need the money he still tried to get me to go along to get his pay day. He said this would cover his rent for the month. Anyway, when he saw I was not interested he then gave up. I cross the road and Thai taxi guys laugh and say no good and give me the cut throat signal. About half an hour later I see the same thing on the Beach Road. This time the guy doing the scam is of Middle Eastern appearance and has scratch cards. I did not hear what was said as it was on the opposite side of the road but anyway the guy did not go either. I didn't say too much but looked at him solidly throughout and although smiling it was clear that I was not really interested. This guy was still prepared to spend a good 10 – 15 minutes talking and working on me.

Thailand's changing demographics.

The answer to your observation about a shortage of women is probably not only just to do with other employment opportunities but also with the changing demographics in Thailand. Basically, although Thailand has a youthful population, it is aging fast. The median age (which is the age that divides the population into two equally sized groups, half younger and half older) is now an average of 32.4 years. For women it is actually higher at 33.2. The population growth rate is down from 3.1% a year in 1960 to 0.66% in 2006. Thai women are now producing on average of only 1.64 children. As Thailand has developed and incomes have improved and more people have moved to the cities so the population characteristics have changed and moved more into line with those in developed economies. This trend is likely to continue and if the economy continues to grow then we can probably expect a continuing and growing shortage of recruits into the nightlife business. That said however, a major economic downturn (not impossible by any means given current global conditions and the likely impact of a strong baht) could go someway to reversing this trend, at least for a while. Maybe other factors are at work too – like awareness of the risks of HIV / AIDS.

The fishy deaf girl.

The wife and I were in Molly Malone's this afternoon for their Sunday carvery. A young farang lady entered the place. She passed along all of the tables, laying down on each one a little keychain bottle opener and a card that said in English and Thai that she was deaf and selling these for 60 baht. Then she'd come back around to each table and collect either the 60 baht or the keychain and card. From our table, she collected the keychain and card because I simply did not believe she was deaf. If she WAS deaf, what was she doing trying to earn money this way in Bangkok? There are enough Thai beggars as it is. The whole thing smelled fishy. She was not pushy, simply collected the keychain and card if you shook your head no. I was a little surprised the staff let her do that. A Thai beggar would no doubt have been shown the door pronto.

Are you reading this, Mark?

I’m a partner in crime on this one. Since coming to LOS the first time in 1971, I have never and that is never, been a part of hurting anyone. I want now to try and help a young guy in Australia if I can to undo some damage I feel. If you are reading this or if someone knows this guy out there, step in and help him now! I’m currently sitting with your true love. First let's try and help let you know who she is. Her name is Aom, 23, and she has a tattoo on her right shoulder with a flower and the name Chris on it. You just recently sent her over 200 dollars. Each time you call and that’s everyday, she tells you she is alone. Mark W. from Sydney, you are being taken for a LONG ride. This is just another sad story of a young guy who came here for months and got suckered. I can only say this is a story that is all too common. When I found out, I have put this down on paper to help you. SHE IS DOING FOR ME what she has done for you. Let this be a lesson to all you guys who REALLY think you are the only one. Good luck and I hope you wise up.

Farang Connection in Nana, the bar that has been closed for a number of months now, has been gutted and the rumour mill has it that it will be fitted out into a restaurant of all things. This is a project by the owner of Rainbows 1 and 3. I guess we won't be seeing Rainbow 5 just yet.

And next door at the Cathouse business has not been as bad as Farang Connection but still very disappointing, so desperate times have resulted in desperate measures. A new banner announces a new special, harping back to the good old days of the Cathouse. The new deal, which runs from 4 PM – 8 PM daily, is a beer buffet. Drink all the beer you can for 499 baht. But I have to wonder if the price is a little on the high side? With Cowboy bars offering drinks at that time of day for 60 baht, you'd have to drink at least 9 beers to make it worth your while. If Cathouse really wants to turn their business around they ought to think about something revolutionary. I would suggest topless waitresses. That will pack the punters in!

And Nana is even more of a state of disrepair than it was with the escalator on the right hand side completely removed. They needed a small crane to haul it out and presumably will need a small crane to install the replacement.

Baccarra, like many other bars in Cowboy, has erected outdoor seating which along with the well promoted happy hours has been a boon for early evening business in Cowboy. The girls are out earlier, the punters are drinking early and from around 7 PM there is a nice atmosphere at Cowboy as everyone watches the comings and goings.

Memories of the Social Order Crusade as it was called have been evoked and it really does seem that the new government is starting a real power play with most Bangkok bar areas being closed at 1 AM. At this stage it is said that the early closures will go through until at least the end of this month, but there is no reason to suggest it won't last longer. At the time of writing, these early closing times have been in effect for about 10 days already.

Shark Bar has edged out Raw Hide as my favourite spot in Cowboy. Lots of pretty girls, music, a 70 baht happy hour and many girls on stage early make it a favourite. That said, I think the atmosphere in Raw Hide is better. I do have one complaint about Raw Hide and that is has caught the Angelwitch / Long Gun disease – they play exactly the same shows every night and hence it gets a little boring. Hell, Long Gun has been playing many of the same shows for the last 10 years!

Failure to implement the new non-smoking laws at Nana Plaza is having an effect on bar patronage. Doing my Friday night rounds I bumped into pockets of friends and amongst them three different people said that they were boycotting Nana until the bars were smoke free. I have to admit that as a non-smoker myself Cowboy is that little bit more comfortable.

The pickup truck from Isaan stopped outside Coyotes in Cowboy this week and their dancer numbers have gone from single figures to closer to 20. There's a lot of rather awkward girls amongst them, the bright neon lights completely new to them.

Remember the new late night venue, Gazebo at Soi 1? Well, they are now being forced to close at midnight! The poor owner must be losing a fortune – rent can't be cheap, the decorations are very plush and the staff is sizeable! The new government's early closing time could kill a business like this in no time at all. As a friend said to me, "Every time I hear stuff like this I am more sure I'll never invest in Thailand until there is a complete turnabout in thinking and attitudes." (That is why I was so disappointed that the Mr. Aphisit wasn't elected the new Prime Minister of Thailand – he is the one guy who could have started the much-needed change in direction that Thailand will, sooner or later, need to make.)

If the long arm of the law is feared in other countries, the long palm of the men in brown may prove Pattaya's demise. Bangkok police brass called an assembly of Pattaya bar owners earlier this month and laid down the law on legal business practices. They stressed that closing time is 2 AM, that minors could not be employed or served, that shows and showing would not be tolerated. In essence, Bangkok police are doing their best to dampen the spirit of Fun Town by turning it into another Bangkok.

Suspecting their message to bar owners had not gotten across, a contingent of Bangkok plod – uniformed and undercover – made repeated inspections and surreptitious visits to night spots over the last three weeks. Last Friday they closed Pinky Girls. A week or so earlier they shut down Rock Girls, Top Girls, and Byblos. We are not sure yet how long those night spots were dark or how many others were shut down, but the experience has served to dampen the spirit, not to mention the excitement, of local clubs. It was also a kick in the head while large numbers of visitors were in Pattaya from Singapore and Hong Kong.

Bangkok police made multiple visits to Walking Street night spots over the last three weeks. Undercover police were accompanied by farang, hoping to deceive bar personnel. In one such deception, a foreign man and Thai plainclothes woman slipped into gogo bars. When asked if the severe-looking female was a cop, the farang assured the bar staff that she was not. The lady nevertheless made a bust shortly thereafter.

The police were checking IDs to verify the age of patrons and employees, and checking to ensure there was no nudity or lustful shows.

This at a time when Pattaya is already suffering a prolonged slump. High season never really kicked in for bars this year, and the decided slump in this low season – expected to remain in the doldrums for at least the next six months – is certain to prove disastrous for the night scene. Already the newly opened Magic Palace (Walking Street) became the newly closed Magic Palace; it was only in business two months. And last week saw the closing of Taboo. Both closings were attributed to lack of customers. Some veteran managers see the closings as a sign of things to come.

Taboo had a lot of potential but sadly never hit its straps. The cluster of bars in the area known as Covent Garden may be the last bar area on the Walking Street strip but Catz and Boesche both proved that the location was not a handicap with each of those two bars popular since their inception. There was a time when Boesche was considered the best bar in Pattaya and I am on record as singing Catz's praises.

Sisterz, the fun-filled Walking Street gogo bar, has enlisted the services of Nang, the popular and long-serving mamasan from Club Boesche. Nang is certain to brighten the atmosphere at Ricky's nightspot, which has nearly doubled the number of dancing damsels who find support in chrome poles. Sisterz features a prolonged happy hour, with all well drinks at 45 baht from 8 PM to 10 PM.

Secrets hosts a birthday bash Tuesday (March 25) for Larry, manager and congenial host of the bar – restaurant on Soi 15 off Walking Street. Free buffet beginning at 8 PM.

It was threatening to become a major nightlife centre after already securing the title of the most happening spot in all of Isaan for Westerners, but it looks like that mantle will soon have to be awarded to Korat with news that the bar area in downtown Udon Thani, directly opposite the Charoensri Grand Hotel, will be razed a week after Songkran. Yep, all of those comfortable, homely bars will become but a distant memory as the area is redeveloped. That said, I'm surprised that that bar area lasted as long as it did. Udon, like much of Isaan, is conservative and having that sort of carry on in the heart of the city, directly opposite the finest hotel in the entire province, must have been a concern to many locals.

I heard rumours of a Nana Plaza bar, just one, now charging 220 baht for a lady's drink! I have not had a chance to check it out myself but will do so this coming week. When challenged on the price, one of the staff members is reported to have said, "It good for lady!"

Soi 7's Biergarten has made an effort to comply with the smoking ban. About half of the place is marked as no smoking. The vast majority of the ladies that are hanging around are sitting in the smoke free area with a few scattered in the smoking area. Apparently the ladies have indicated their preference to non-smokers. Can you believe it, the ladies of the Biergarten don't like to smoke?! In the neighbourhood, Magic Table on the increasingly popular Soi 7/1 also appears to be smoke free.

Cowboy's happy hour continues to draw the punters. Black and White has a 60 baht happy hour for all beers leaving fewer and fewer bars offering the discount only on Thai brands. Seemingly the only bar that is not participating in the happy hour is Baccara where alcoholic drink prices start at a painful 140 baht.

Cactus bar drink prices have inched up to 125 for standard beers. However a large selection of imported upscale beers are offered for a price for beer connoisseurs. Cactus and Baccara would appear to be the odd ones out, the only two bars in Soi Cowboy not offering some sort of happy hour. Let's hope they review that policy and then the entire soi would be offering inexpensive drinks early in the evening.

The Nana Subway outlet will be around for at least another two months. Apparently the landlord has been unsuccessful in finding a tenant with the level of inelegance willing to pay half a million baht a month for rent and Subway has been offered the premises at the existing rental until May. One can only wonder how this semi drama of greed will end. Perhaps the landlord has been talking to the owner of the still vacant spot that once hosted The Big Mango?

If you're looking for a really nice breakfast, that is good food served in nice surroundings by lovely, polite staff and with plenty of copies of ALL of the English language newspapers, consider the Bangkok Baking Company which is right out the front of the JW Marriott Hotel. For a decent breakfast with a good coffee you're looking at around 300 baht. That might sound higher than your average English fry up, but it really is worth it. Funnily enough though, when you think about 300 baht, that is $US10. I never would have thought I'd be happy paying that amount for a good breakfast. Ain't it funny how people change!

My man in Phuket tells me the crime wave that the island was experiencing both before and during the high season seems to have eased off. I can only guess that those super sleuths, the boys in brown, have managed to assert their authority and the crims are too scared to act!

The practice of hassling customers in the naughty boys for tips has got worse, so bad in fact that if you give a tip and it is not construed to be enough, the girls hiss and sneer at you, perhaps even abuse you! Very easy course of action in response to this, and I have done it twice in the last two weeks. As soon as you are hissed at, remove what tip you had provided from the tray. Believe me, that soon shuts them up. Delivered with a quick 10 second lecture in Thai about gratitude and not abusing customers, I'm the first to admit that I doubt anything will come of it other than make me feel a bit better.

The food price increases being seen worldwide are hitting Bangkok, and hitting hard. Let's take the Down Under bar in Sukhumvit Soi 23 for example. I gave them a nice write up a couple of weeks back. While there I chatted with the owner who said prices would go up just a little due to the increases they face in the cost of dairy products amongst other things. Well, the Aussie definition of "just a little seems" somewhat different from mine with some dishes up by 20% and at least one item up by 60%! The food remains very good but the value for money factor just took a serious plunge.

For those of you who drive, if you didn't know, car insurance stickers have been abolished. When you renew your car insurance you get the insurance forms which you are supposed to keep in your car. You also get a slip that you need when you go to renew your car tax / registration. You can only renew your tax / registration with this form so assuming that is up to date, it means you must have insurance too.

And with more and more speed cameras being operated by the boys in brown on the country's highways, I also notice that more and more drivers are flashing at oncoming traffic. It's the same signal as in the west – if someone flashes at you there's a speed camera up ahead – so be careful!

This article from the BBC about British over 55s on holiday could easily apply to Thailand.

This report suggests that the American murdered in Chiang Mai yesterday was shown the exit by an Australian.

Some Thai women out to meet Western men were swindled in Khon Kaen.



Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick lives another week with two questions received for her this week. She is here to help you with your relationship and culture questions and the things that baffle you about life in Thailand. She accepts questions on matters of the heart or cultural misunderstandings. Her answers are entirely her own without any influence or editing by me. She looks forward to reading and answering your questions, so please send in some thought-provoking questions and let her know what is on your mind!

Question 1: Thai ladies are great at having tests for guys to see if they measure up i.e. when you walk along the street with them, does your head even turn a fraction when another pretty lady goes by, "up to you" often means "just how generous do you want to be" and so on… How about Mrs. Stick providing us Farang with a list of tests to run against ladies that we meet, to help us decide whether our new potential teeruk is really after us, or just our wallet, and other qualities not just related to money.

Mrs. Stick says: So I don't know about tests but I will tell you some things a Thai lady does if she really likes you. Maybe you can make your own questions or tests from these things? If a Thai lady really likes you she wants to spend all her time with you. I mean all her time. And if she cannot be with you she will call you frequently and hope that you call her too. If you ask her out she will say yes and if she has an appointment already she will cancel it to be with you. If she is "chao barn" she will do everything for you like ironing, cleaning, cooking etc. You will be introduced to her friends when she is keen on you and if she introduces you to her parents she considers the relationship to be serious enough for marriage.

Question 2: Last year I met a girl on the internet (not from a dating website). She is a normal office girl living at home with her family. We were interested in meeting each other and when we finally did, she came with her friend. When I saw her friend, I was immediately attracted to her friend more than her! I have since kept my distance with all of them and only chat or talk on the phone occasionally. Last week we all agreed to go out again. Her friend came along again, and I was immediately drawn to her friend again. My question is – how can I tell this girl I am interested in her friend? I know that she has kept in contact with me because she likes me, but I can't help my feelings for her friend. Would a Thai girl react badly if I just told her honestly? Would she lose face in front of her friends if the truth came out that the guy she liked, actually wanted to date her friend? Maybe there is no hope. Please help.

Mrs. Stick says: This is a big mistake. You met someone online and must have felt attraction to her but then you instantly lose interest in her and become interested in her friend. It's not good. I am sure her friend did not flirt with you so you are attracted to her looks, right? And when you meet someone who is better looking you might lose interest again, right? I think it is best for you to stop seeing the lady you met online and don't even consider meeting her friend. If you do that you can cause her much distress. Think hard about what you want.

I really feel a new lease of life and renewed energy with the column, and the site in general. I don't know why but the fun seems to have returned to putting it all together and I hope that shows. I guess it boils down to spending more time doing things I enjoy, less time doing things I don't enjoy. Hopefully my positive frame of mind will be reflected here.



Yours,

Stick Mark II