The people are one of Thailand's greatest attractions and the country is full of many characters. Their friendly nature, curiosity towards foreigners and eagerness to be gracious hosts transcend language barriers. And if you can speak Thai, you'll be well rewarded.
Two days before the end of 2006 saw me and a friend in Pattaya. It was mid afternoon and we had just done the long walk from our hotel in South Pattaya, all the way along Beach Road to the Dusit, around the rocks and then past the pretty beaches, past the katoeys offering afternoon delight in the bushes, past Wongamart and all the way to Naklua. It was supposed to be the cool season but something was lost in translation and it was sweltering. After quenching our thirst with a couple of cold ones we commenced the trek back.
Strolling along Beach Road, we agreed that it was time for a bite to eat. Not a full meal mind you, just enough to see us through until early evening. A meal from a street vendor would fit the bill. We wandered up one of the many sois connecting Beach Road to Second Road and found a small vendor. We entered the small, Thai style shop stuck in the middle of a soi of raucous bars.
We were the only two customers at that time and there was just one woman in attendance, a kindly looking older Thai woman. She was typical of Thai women of her generation, a little on the heavy side with jet black hair, obviously dyed for grey roots could be spied. She wore a multicoloured gown that was almost certainly cut and made herself, from a huge piece of cloth, the other pieces used to make a table cloth, pillow covers and other material items found in a Thai home. She had a warm, kind face, not that hardened battle axe look that you see on those miserable old ducks who never married.
Our food came and it hit the spot. It was just what we were looking for, a light, tasty meal. My companion was duly impressed not just with the food, but the price, a mere 25 baht, and commented that a similar meal in London would have cost about 20 times the price. I translated his comments to the kind old woman who doubled as cook and waitress and a huge grin lit up her face.
Realising that I was quite comfortable in Thai, she became quite chatty asked us all of the usual questions about where we came from, what we were doing there, how I had learnt Thai and the old chestnut, whether each of us was married.
Before we knew it the lovely old lady had brought out photographs of her family. The photos were from a graduation day and showed her husband as a navy man, resplendent in his best whites, along with her two daughters. Graduation day photos in Thailand don't usually show Ma had Pa smiling but you could see that she was immensely proud of her daughters' achievements. Conversation went around to the inevitable and the she commented that her daughters would not end up working “here”, a reference to the naughty boy bars that formed a chain around her little eatery.
Now in full flow and ever so eager to regale us with stories of her life, she made a comparison between Indians and farangs, or for want of a better term, white Westerners. Sadly many Thais aren't so fond of their subcontinent cousins, and she proudly told us how she actually owned the space which the Indian tailor operated out of next door. She then went on to tell us how she charged him far more in rent than she would ever a Thai – or even a farang. “But he's rich so he can afford it”, I remember her saying.
She was a charming woman, mid 50s at a guess, a native of Chonburi. She didn't believe us for a moment when we said that we were in Pattaya for the beach, a couple of days away from Bangkok and that the girls held little interest. But then she didn't dwell on it too much, for such would be considered unbecoming of a traditional, to say nothing of an older, Thai woman.
With the sun dropping quickly at the time of year, we managed to extricate ourselves away from the old lady, keen to make it down to the beach to snap some shots of a sun that falls in the sky ever so fast at this latitude. But not before taking a couple of shots of the old lady first. Looking back at them, I am still struck by the immense pride in her eyes.
I didn't think about the old woman again until this week when once again I found myself back in Pattaya, albeit briefly.
It was a remarkably similar scenario. Being a creature of habit, I had gone for the same walk and had reached the same point on return when I had the same feeling. Hunger. So up the soi I strolled and there she was, the same old lady in the same shop. Again she was there alone and again there were no other customers. She remembered me and even remembered what I had ordered a year earlier and in just a few minutes out it came. And it was just as good as I had remembered.
I was a little surprised when she said that she was going to close up early for the day. Business wasn't good she told me. It's time to go home. We had a quick chat and then I left.
I went for a wander up towards South Pattaya to take some shots of the girls who line the street late afternoon. When they see a guy with a camera they tend to pull faces and look the other way but a big smile usually wins them over at which point they pose and you can get some really great shots. But there weren't that many girls about so I decided to double back and head back down the Beach Road from where I had come from, where there were a few more interesting things and people to shoot.
I doubled back along Beach Road, past Royal Garden, past Mike's, past sois 8 and 7, past the roundabout, heading towards the notorious soi 6. I wanted the shots to have the subject in focus and a nice blurry background, bokeh we call it, so I attached a telephoto lens. The reach of the lens means you don't have to get too close to the girls who are much less concerned about someone snapping at a distance.
Girl after girl, I framed the shot and hit the shutter. I checked the shots. Not bad. I had a few keepers.
Not far away from me was a bunch of women. You know, the women on the beach tend to hunt in packs. “Hello handsome man.” “Where you go?” “I go with you.” You know the drill.
Something caught my eye. I know that voice. I continued on. An older woman had just stood up with an even older farang. She was not that attractive but she looked familiar. He spoke European accented Thai.
"Ha roi, dai mai?" (500 baht, ok?)
She nodded. Yes, 500 was ok.
And then she saw me. I don't know who was more shocked, her, me, or her customer. It took her all of two seconds to turn around and beat a hasty retreat. She was moving quickly for an old girl. She leapt across the road and up the nearest soi. She was out of there. And then she was gone.
It was one of the more bizarre things that I have seen. I mean, this woman would only be a few years away from 60 and surely has a reasonable income from her small eatery as well as rental income.
Maybe there isn't much money to be made selling food these days?
Where was this picture taken?
Last week's picture was taken of the shrine erected to King Nuraesuwan located immediately behind Wat Yaichaimongkol, one of the many beautiful temples in Ayuthaya. Many readers simply answered that it was in Ayuthaya which was not good enough! That's sort of like saying this week's picture is in Bangkok. Duh! 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 – Keep an eye on construction!
Reading about Lawrence's experiences having his business worked on reminded me of a story. My wife built a very comfortable, for her, home in Sikiew, outside of Korat. Since then around 20 or so farangs have married locals and built homes. Some could be considered estates due to their grand size. A German gent built his new bride a small home directly across from my wife's. When he went to move in the furniture, only the bed could fit into the bedroom, and it touches 3 of the walls. The wardrobe and vanity must sit in the main room outside of the bedroom door. If you don't have a sober and honest relative overseeing the job, you will get shoddy work.
Stick with English in the pharmacies!
Regarding your recent mention of Sukhumvit Pharmacies which I would endorse, there is one thing which may help in the purchasing of, shall we say, certain medicines in a grey area. I have noticed several times that when I, or my wife, have been in and asked for certain items in Thai, we have been met with a 'mai mee'. On going in myself a few days later and asking in English I always got what I wanted. One of the few times when appearing to be a tourist seems to be an advantage.
Divorcing at an embassy sounds unusual!
In this week's main article the proprietor of a dating / marriage agency stated that someone had divorced in the UK by attending the Thai embassy and signing some forms. He is as far as I know totally wrong. This is the situation as stated by a lawyer on another site. A Thai administrative divorce issued at the Amphur in Thailand is a valid divorce recognised in law in the UK. A Thai administrative divorce issued at the Thai Embassy in the UK is not a valid divorce and is not recognised in law in the UK. A Thai administrative divorce issued at a Thai Embassy overseas may or may not be a valid divorce under UK law – depending on the law of the particular country in which the Thai Embassy is situated. A declaration would, in reality, only need to be obtained should there be a challenge to the validity of the divorce – perhaps if a party is charged with bigamy, or a British Embassy or Register Office refuses to issue a certificate of freedom to marry and suchlike or if there is a prosecution for obtaining such a certificate by deception or unlawful means.
The pleasures of mixed drinks in gogo bars.
Last week, I looked over the bar counter over a popular Nana bar and noticed that the barman (thin lanky guy with a baseball cap) was grabbing ice cubes from a bucket with his hands, ignoring the tongs, and these were added to drinks ordered by customers. Were his hands clean? Well, the rag hanging out of his back pocket, the same rag he uses to wipe spillages, and whatever else, did not inspire confidence. But get this, when the serving girls bring back almost empty glasses left behind by customers, this barman shoves his hands down the glasses to grab any remaining ice cubes, which he then throws back into the ice bucket. Kind of put me off my drink.
I was involved in something odd in September 2006, when I was staying for a week in Patpong. Next to the hotel was the Bangkok Bar (now a boys gogo operated by the same manager), and I drank in there every night with one particular young lady. One night, after just two or three beers, the next thing I knew I was laying on the floor of my room with my trousers down to my knees, with the girl there. Then I crawled into the toilet and threw up, and then we went to bed. I had no idea what had happened and was fine next morning, and just dismissed it as a puzzle. I went back to the bar the next night and the mamasan asked if I'd had a good time the night before and then said I'd left a bill for (I think) 7,000 baht. I worked out that whatever the sum was it was about 80 drinks, which is obviously ridiculous. No demand was made for the money, and I still had money in my pocket from that night. I was a regular customer, staying right next door, and not someone it would be convenient to rip off, nor would they need to as I bought some of the staff and girls there drinks. All very odd. I'm not sure why I didn't question the manager, a very nice guy, about it, or the girl (who actually only knew about five words of English anyway).
So if you're 45+, it's only about the money?
I am reading some of the readers' experiences with Asian women and wonder how these men can be so blind. Whether the young women work in bars in Phuket and Pattaya or whether she works in a shop in Vientiane, they will only go with an older foreigner (45 up) because he has money and / or he can give them a better life. Forget about love, they are very poor, extremely poor, but they are good at their job, they have to be, and they can keep up the impression they love you for years. I have lived in Vang Vieng, Laos, and seen the young women in the restaurants, waiting for their foreign boyfriend(s) to come back for another holiday. They get their passports ready to travel in Asia with the boyfriend and to be taken to a foreign country. Meanwhile, these pretty young ladies get their three-monthly stipends from each boyfriend and work in the restaurant or bar where they meet and make love to a steady stream of backpackers young and old, some of whom fall in love with them and hook on to the gravy train. It's the first one to come up with the big money that gets the woman, and that can be marriage and a new life overseas, or life in their own country with a new house and a family of kids. All the suckers who have paid the money will be told it's all over or the girl will just disappear and the SIM card change. The best thing to do is be prepared, pay as little as you can get away with and be prepared to get a broken heart. Whatever way you look at it, it is cheap fun.
Having just returned from Dubai, it underlined to me how much Bangkok is a cheap city for cheap people. The high standards in Dubai, especially of hotels and restaurants, is mind-blowing. It's very expensive of course, hence my reference to cheap. The people, both local and expats, are of a far higher quality than you find in Thailand. You really need to be a winner to make it in Dubai and a lot of effort is needed to keep up, but high standards beget higher standards. In Thailand the opposite is true.
Despite the city being abuzz with rumours that the boys in overly tight brown uniforms would clamp down on the nightlife and close bars earlier, most farang nightspots close at 2 AM. In the Nana area it is 2 AM sharp where it had previously slipped back until later. Still, 2 AM is not too bad, is it?
Tonight, Sunday March 9, is TJ's birthday bash. TJ is the manager of Coyotes gogo bar in Pattaya and all customers in attendance tonight can enjoy the fun and games which should start at around 11 PM. I also hear of a surprise birthday gift for TJ.
According to Jack of Jack Golf visa run, there are changes in the wind pertaining to tourist visas. There is a buzz that the 90 days out of 180 days rules that came into effect on October 1, 2006 may be dropped. Perhaps the government figures many people on tourist visas are integrated into the regular economy and bring benefits to the country? This is only a rumour, so until it happens don't bet on it.
I have not had a chance to check it out, but there are rumours of a new show in Nana involving trained monkeys. No, I am not being funny here and referring to the girls but actual primates! I will check it out this week and hope to confirm the rumour one way or the other next week. Nothing would surprise me as we have seen bar shows feature fish, birds, mice, frogs and snakes – so why not monkeys?
For those of you with a fantasy, there's a pair of identical twins in Raw Hide in Cowboy. Yes, identical. With one of the famed Angelwitch identical twins now living with her pilot boyfriend in Austria (she hit the big time it would seem), twin fetishists will have to hit Raw Hide. And it has to be said, Raw Hide is a fun bar with a good line up and reasonable prices – at least for Bangkok. Most standard drinks are 125 baht and lady drinks are a reasonable 105 baht.
Ooops, there was a big mistake in last week's column. Black And White in Cowboy has NOT been sold! Apologies to all concerned for the error.
The whole no smoking debacle is being handled in a typically Thai way i.e. enforcement is inconsistent and seems to be more about the whims of the officers acting in a way that is most advantageous to them, and not the public. There's not a great deal of change in Bangkok although the general trend is that in better bars the non smoking ban is enforced, so in the likes of the Hard Rock Cafe, you'll find a bunch of smokers grouped together puffing away outside, whereas in the lower end venues, like the joint Chinese / Japanese consulate in Sukhumvit, also known as The Thermae, it is as smoky as it ever was – in fact it is more smoky these days. Patpong remains smoker friendly and Nana is largely going that way whereas Cowboy is pretty much smoke free. Down in Pattaya a number of bars have set up designated outdoor smoking areas, as can be seen in the two pictures here. Still, ashtrays are provided in many Pattaya bars and smoking is not discouraged. Many bar owners seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that the no smoking rules are tough to enforce, that they unnecessarily upset smoking customers who will walk out the door at the mere mention that they shouldn't be smoking, and therefore at the end of the day it is simply easier to make a donation to the "friends of smokers society", men whose uniform appears to be a familiar shade of brown.
Most of the new road to Pattaya is complete and it won't be long until we have an uninterrupted journey between Bangkok and Pattaya. Heading to Sin City, there are just two short sections where construction continues and drivers need take a detour on to what is known locally as the frontage road. Those two slight bottle necks aside, the journey should take 15 – 20 minutes less that it would have, say, 3 months ago. Coming back this week I did not experience any bottle necks at all.
Every year the bar owners scream that this high season was worse than the last and that this low season is going to be the end of them. We roll our eyes, remembering that we heard the very same words last year…and the year before…and the year before that. I can see why Pattaya bar owners are screaming because business is at levels I have not seen – at any time of the year. Pulling into Pattaya this week, I could tell it was quiet and when I went for an afternoon stroll up and down Soi Pattayaland 2, through Soi Post Office and other sois in the area, I couldn't help but notice that the bars which entertain afternoon imbibers were not at all busy. In fact some were closed! There was a definite shortage of typical Pattaya punters about. On to Walking Street in the evening and it was a similar story. Many bars are experiencing a real downturn in business. The better bars and the big name bars are doing a decent trade, but on the whole, numbers appear to be way down. Exactly what the driving force behind this huge drop off in business is, I don't know, but I wouldn't have thought for example that the recent drop in the dollar wouldn't have hurt the bar trade just yet. If the dollar stays at its current level, that will have an effect in the low season and into the next high season. Whatever the reasons, I don't know, but for sure, numbers are down.
And it is not just the bars and farang oriented restaurants that are hurting. That new shopping centre on Second Road, The Avenue, is doing a miserable trade. Reports are coming in of guys going to see a movie and being the only person in the auditorium! There are also reports that foot traffic is so low that some vendors have been forced to close. Isn't this mall just a few months old?! One has to wonder how this bodes for the new, awfully large Central shopping centre under construction on the Beach Road. Is Pattaya strangling itself?
I couldn't help but notice that there seemed to be more for sale signs around and a number of bars and other businesses are up for sale. That said, there are those who are investing heavily with constructions of Misty's new gogo in Soi 15 steaming ahead, mooted to open some time around Songkran.
One of the big problems faced in Pattaya, and this seems to be much more a Pattaya problem than a Bangkok problem, is that the bars, across the board, are down on girls. There just aren't that many girls looking for work and bars are fighting to get new staff. One new bar on Walking Street is said to be paying dancers, get this, 20,000 baht a month! The lack of girls problem makes venues look quiet and is a real atmosphere killer.
But it's not all doom and gloom, you can still have a good night out in Pattaya with no shortage of bars offering 50 – 60 baht draft all night long. Sisterz was in on the act and along with cheap draft was doing 20 baht Tequila shots at 10 PM.
And speaking of Sisterz, here's a good one from Ricky's play pen. Sisterz currently has a deaf and dumb girl on the books. She can't speak, but her written English is good and she is quite capable of communicating with punters with a pen and paper. In fact it sounds like many punters find this quite a novelty. She wanders around with a pen and notebook and scribbles messages to customers who scribble back. Well it would seem our friendly gogo manager Ricky has been privy to some of the scribblings and from all accounts he has been getting his jollies over some of the messages written. Just use your imagination…
There was talk this week of something of a fracas between a bar owner and some of his female employees. The owner dismissed a mamasan and one of the girls who had been brought to that bar by the mamasan complained to the owner. He would have none of it and annoyed at her persistent whining clipped her around the head. He was then set on by a bunch of girls who all wanted to have a go at him. The word went out for someone to call the cops but they were told to wait a few minutes while more revenge could be taken out. He was absolutely clueless to lay a finger on the girl and what followed was to be expected.
From today and for at least the next month, Secrets bar in Pattaya's Soi 14 will have a team of coyote dancers during the day, in addition to the team they have in the evenings. New girls and a new routine.
In addition to the bars being closed on election days and other Buddhist days, one of the big problems the bars and even other businesses face is that the girls go home not just for a day or two, but often for an entire week, meaning that for several days afterwards the venue is down on staff – and in these times when it is difficult to recruit, that is a real problem.
Soi Cowboy is also suffering the Pattaya disease and on Friday evening this week was quiet.
We hear a lot these days about the prices the girls charge and it is never difficult to find someone bitching about the fees requested by the ladies. I heard a story about a guy and a girl from Shark Bar, in Soi Cowboy. This guy had built up a rapport with the girl and fancied her and asked her how much for an hour of fun. She responded 3,000 baht to which he countered 1,500 baht. She huffed, puffed and told him that Japanese men never complained about her price tag and that anyway, he was a farang, and therefore too big, smelt bad and she also fired off various other insults. The fellow resumed drinking his beer and the girl moseyed off. Later in the night the girl approached the guy who was still in the bar and accepted what she considered to still be open, his offer of 1,500 baht. He decided to take it and they went off and did what people do. After the act, she collected the 1,500 baht and insulted him again, giving him the same set of insults she had given him in the bar! Against his better judgment, he gave her his phone number. She called him everyday for a week, offering to go around and see him in his apartment and please him – for 1,500 baht. The moral of the story is that while the girls may request lofty figures, they are still quite happy with less. At the end of the day, 1,500 baht is a lot of money in Thailand.
Baccarra might be a well-run bar with lots of pretty girls but the bar is getting more Japanese by the minute. Downstairs the selection is not that good and upstairs as a farang you are as good as invisible!
As crazy as it sounds, has traffic actually improved in Bangkok? One could cite the skytrain and the underground as reasons that things on the ground may have improved, but I have a feeling they might only be partially responsible. More flyovers? A better computerised traffic light system? More cops in traffic control booths? What are the reasons? But for sure, traffic doesn't seem to be as bad, particularly outside peak hours.
The fake monk is at it again. He was encountered near soi 5 with a 100 baht note and a 10 baht coin to hold it down. He was told that he should go home as it was way past the bedtime for real monks. About 30 minutes later he was seen again, this time near soi 15, walking in the opposite direction. An arm was put around him and he was told that everyone knows he is a fake monk and he should go home. He has ditched the Nike sneakers and replaced them with Chinese style footwear but it is the same person who will always be known as "the Nike monk".
Did you know that taxis get washed in Thailand at the end of every shift, that is every 12 hours! Is it only me who thinks that is a bit excessive?
For those who need their Big Mac fix, you're going to have to dig a little deeper into your pockets. Prices have gone up not just at the golden arches, but I note that Au Bon Pain has increased the prices of various items and even down in Pattaya, the standard 50 baht doner kebab is now 60 baht in most places and even 70 baht at a couple of stands. I also note that a number of venues serving farang food are looking at making their next round of price increases with the huge price increase in dairy products attributed.
The hot season has crashed into Thailand, sending the mercury soaring. Boy oh boy, it feels like temperatures shot up about 4 or 5 degrees this week.
A man picked up his Thai girlfriend up from the airport. That night she just wouldn't leave his old chap alone. After half an hour of stroking it he said, "Do you really like my thrill drill?" to which she replied, "Not really, it's just that I miss mine!"
This Sydney Morning Herald article shows what happens when a Thai gets stroppy over bribes not paid to them.
Another farang apparently took his own life this week, joining many before him as a member of the Bangkok flying club. But doesn't it sound a bit suspicious given that he was only 31? Yes, suspicious…
Quote of the week is a beauty! "We spend our youth chasing money, and then spend our money chasing youth."
Ask Mrs. Stick
Mrs. Stick 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 give her a big welcome by sending in some thought-provoking things.
Question 1: I met my wife 7 years ago through Lawrence's company. She is now 41 years old, an Isaan girl with a Bangkok University education. We are happy together with no children and live in England. My wife has a British passport. We have a comfortable lifestyle. I am now retired, 64 years of age and my wife has a successful Internet business. We return to Thailand every year to visit family and have a holiday home in Hua Hin. Question: We have been married for 7 years but my wife stays in contact with an old boyfriend who was a work colleague. They constantly phone each other and I wonder if this is normal in Thai culture or should I be worried? She says he is just a good friend and there was never any romantic connection between them.
Mrs. Stick says: It's normal for us to have male friends so I think you do not need to worry about it. You should know from the way your wife talks to you and how she talks to this man that it is different and not intimate. You are her husband and for Thai women we are taught to respect our husband. For a Thai wife to cheat on her husband is shameful in our culture and not common at all.
Mr. Stick says: This is something that yes, I sincerely believe you ought to be VERY worried about. Forget the fact that she is Thai for a moment. When a man has an affair, it is usually just to scratch an itch, so to speak. It's a physical thing. When a married woman or a woman already in a relationship has prolonged contact with another man it may be that they fancy that person AND they are looking at them as relationship material – which makes it a very serious threat to their existing relationship. This is why, in my opinion, when a woman cheats in a relationship, even just lying about what she was doing with another guy (might have only been meeting for a bit to eat), it is much more serious than when a man does it. Women don't tend to have affairs for purely physical reasons, but for emotional reasons – and that means your marriage could be at stake. I also think both partners have a responsibility in a relationship to behave in such a way so as not to make the other person unduly concerned or suspicious. Your wife is flaunting this and I personally would find that totally unsatisfactory. I would suggest that you need to knock this on the head quickly…but then if it has been going on for so long I foresee that posing a challenge.
Question 2: I spent two hours on Yahoo Messenger this morning with a girl I am going to see in Roi Et. I think she is a good girl and would make a great partner for somebody but she admitted to me this morning that she is still a virgin and she won't give up her booty until she marries. We can still sleep beside each other/ cuddle but I'm not sure how far she is prepared to go before slapping my hand. Is this the norm for a good girl from a middle class Thai family? She hasn't asked me for any money nor am I expecting it. We are going to meet in Udon Thani and then go to Roi Et. She wants to bring some family with her to Udon (but she said we can sleep in the same bed) then we will all go back to Roi Et in a truck. My problem is I don't buy a car without testing the motor, without trying to sound crude. On the other hand since she is still a virgin I don't want to ruin an almost 24 year old life with an almost 48 year old who in the eyes of marriage law who still has to get divorced.
Mrs. Stick says: We are less direct than Western women. She has been subtle and has given you a signal that she wants to get married. She only wants one man in her life, the man she will marry. Maybe you want to marry and if you do then I think it is ok to see her. But if you are not serious about her as your wife then I think maybe you should find another lady to meet.
Sadly I must end the column with some very sad news. The new owner of L'Opera, one of the city's finest and longest established fine dining Italian restaurants in Bangkok, died in a motorcycle accident last week. He was hit by a truck on Soi Nana. His wife was also involved in the accident and I have been unable to find out if she too was killed. It was said she had a broken neck and may now be paralysed. It sure does make you think twice about using motorbikes in Bangkok, doesn't it? Thoughts go out to their 4 year old.
Stick Mark II