Stickman's Weekly Column July 20th, 2008

Destination Lampang


Early on in my Thailand adventure I was told that the most beautiful women in Thailand come from Lampang. Tall, slender, white-skinned and round-eyed, the beauties of Lampang were the Thai men's favourite.

I'd been to Chiang Mai and various other spots in the north, but had never really had reason to visit Lampang until I became friends with an American based there. So with it being a long weekend, I decided to finally take up the offer to visit my friend and check out Lampang.

It's been a long time since I have driven north, 5 long years. Memories of my last trip to the north are of a long boring drive and unremarkable scenery, thoughts that the so-called beautiful north could not really lay claim to its reputation until you hit Chiang Mai.

The journey north might not be spectacular but the roads are good, very good. Highway 1, the main state highway that takes you all the way to Chiang Mai is noticeably better than Highway 2, the route through Isaan to Nongkhai. Passengers might find it unremarkable, perhaps even boring, but as a driver it's fun. The first thing you notice is, compared to the main routes into Isaan, the lack of commercial vehicles on the road. The sight of 16 wheelers in your rear view mirror tailgating at 120 km/h is nerve racking to say the least. The apparent lack of heavy commercial transport is welcome. There are also less highway patrol stations and highway patrol cars. A grand total of two highway patrol cars were spotted on the whole journey, each stationary, the thieves in brown uniforms sitting outside the car getting some fresh air. Perhaps their quota had been met for the day? The decent roads, the lack of traffic and fewer small towns and villages along the route give you confidence to cruise at 130 or even 140 km/h. Compared to the West where they string up by your balls if you're caught at such horrendous speeds, the enforcement of road rules in Thailand – or lack of – is refreshing. Who would have thought that driving in Thailand could be such a pleasure?

We arrived in Lampang on Friday afternoon and relaxed after covering the 600 km journey in less than 6 hours.

My Lampang based friend reports that despite being a resident for a fair few years, he is not sure what nightlife opportunities exist. Keen to hunt out a beer despite it being a Buddhist holiday, we end up in Jena Karaoke, one of the naughtier variety of karaoke bars, also known as a cafes, where a few scantily clad damsels could be seen off to one side. Our arrival did not herald an intrusion, but neither were we made to feel welcome, although the cock in a frock with disturbingly good English – I mean he / she MUST have had experience with foreigners – seemed happy enough to serve us. That said, within seconds of arriving we both felt that this was not really a farang-friendly venue and it being a public holiday, we called it an early night. Checking out the nightlife could wait until Saturday.

The main draw of the city of Lampang is the horses. Horse and carts can be seen ferrying tourists around the city for a reasonable 300 baht an hour. They move at a snail's pace and provide a nice way to see the city. The city is home to plenty of temples, including some Burmese style Buddhist houses of worship which feature more wood than your typical Thai temple; the largest Burmese temple in all of Thailand is found in Lampang.

For temple fans and photographers, it is generally agreed that the most impressive temple in the area is Wat Prathat Luang Lampang, located some kilometres southwest of the city. The all wood structure contains a relic of the Buddha, a single strand of hair I believe, and so it qualifies for "Prathat" status.

Lampang is somewhat pretty. The Wang River runs through it and you can find the local suan sukaparp (fitness park) where in the evenings young and old can be seen walking, running, stretching and doing all manner of weird exercises, some of which I am convinced are only performed in Thailand – and are of no real physical benefit. I mean, in how many countries do people run as if they are in a boxing ring, jumping from side to side for a few feet, ultra vigorously, and then stopping! Traffic is light and moves at a gentle pace.

Like most provincial capitals in Thailand, asking the locals just what the population is results in frowns, scratching of the head and general awkwardness as they feel that this most simple of questions that they really should know the answer to has in fact resulted in them losing face by failing to answer. No-one seems to know the population of the provincial capital; my best guess would be about 200,000.

Lampang simply doesn't seem to be on the farang trail. Relatively few Westerners seem to make it there. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are much more popular, and while Sukhothai, Prae, Mae Hong San and Nan all attract significant numbers of foreign visitors, Lampang's tourist trade would appear to be more Thai than farang.

As far as farangs residents of Lampang go, my host couldn't estimate how many live there, suffice to say it would be a very small number. Clearly the local lasses don't pine for foreign husbands like their Isaan sisters…

Asking my buddy whether those foreigners in the area did anything else than teach English or enjoy retirement, he gave me a look that suggested, "What else is there to do?" If there are well-do-do foreigners in Lampang making a mint, he hasn't heard of them.

With few Western tourists passing through the nightlife and entertainment options are very much Thai style. As with anywhere in Thailand, foreigners are welcome but what is offered just isn't to our tastes. We checked out one venue, HiLight, a very pleasant Thai style venue with plenty of pretty girls, both staff and customers. But you know what? While they didn't stick their noses up at the only two white boys in attendance, neither did they drool as the locals would, in say, rural Isaan. Not once did I hear the call or even the hushed whispers of "farang". One thing's for sure, Lampang is NOT the place to go for nightlife.

A visit to Lampang would not be complete without a trip to the elephant conservation centre and hospital, located about 30 km north of the city, far and away the province's most famous attraction. I had some trepidation about visiting as Thai zoos have failed to impress – and the treatment of animals is often questionable. I was pleasantly surprised. The elephant conservation centre was tastefully done and in addition to the usual Thai quotient of sanuk with some silly elephant shows, the dual language presentation provided not just information about the giant beasts, but some fascinating insight into the lives of elephants in Thailand. And surprise, surprise, there's no dual pricing. The 70 baht entrance fee is a bargain, and frankly it is too cheap.

There's only so much to do in Lampang city. A few temples to see, the river….and that is about it! There are no fabulous restaurants, no fabulous bars, but in fairness, there are some pretty decent coffee houses with excellent coffee, I Luv Coffee in a lane just off the man clock tower was the pick of the bunch. Basically, you need to get out into the countryside to see more.

So there we were, out for a scenic drive, well beyond the city limits when my host and de facto guide, Larry, spotted a sign for an arts and craft centre. We set off to find it. This was one of those large blue signs you see all over Thailand, usually reserved for only the most interesting of attractions. We thought we were in for an interesting excursion. Perhaps 20 km further along the road, we started to wonder if we had passed it. We proceeded another few kilometres and we saw a sign – it was 11 km further. We had come a long way already so we pressed on. Eventually we came upon the venue and found little more than a small building which looked to be a store selling the local OTOP products. To make matters worse, it was closed! One has to wonder how many had made this trip only to be disappointed. And just how much money greased palms to get such large, conspicuous signs showing the way to such an innocuous shop?!

We were now quite some distance from the provincial capital, the terrain had changed and we thought it would be fun to explore further. Heading up into the mountains, not dissimilar to the hills surrounding Chiang Mai, the steep terrain was punctuated with small flat areas, every square inch of which was used for the planting of rice. We occasionally passed locals, walking along the side of the road in what can only be described rags. They had a hard, weathered look about them from a life of work in the fields and were dressed in what can only be described as multi-coloured wrap around rags. These were hill tribes people, the genuine article, not the tourist variety you get in the larger centres. We stopped to chat with some and tried engaging them in Thai, but conversation was difficult, our Thai was better than theirs.

The two ladies below each had a story to tell and like Thais from the countryside were oh so keen to tell it to anyone who would listen. The lady on the left was working with her husband who at the time of this photo was waist deep in a pile of mud just out of shot, digging a drainage system while she sat there and yelled out instructions! It transpired that she was there to keep an eye on her husband who has a propensity for leaving the worksite and chasing other women and coming home very late, if at all! She would have none of that!

The women on the right had a much sadder tale. Her daughter was working in Bangkok and called home to tell her mother that she had terrible chest pains. She went to three different doctors before she found one who diagnosed the problem and said that an emergency operation was needed. She called her mother at lunch time this particular day three months ago to say that the operation was scheduled for 2 PM. She would call later in the day when she was out of surgery. She never did call again. Mother got a phone call at 4:30 that afternoon to say that her daughter had died. Dreadfully sad. Amazingly she was rather relaxed about it all and said she was fortunate that she had four other kids.

Lampang is an intriguing place when it comes to recommending it to the readership. It's pleasant, laid back and while it really is hard to say it is a pretty place, neither is it your drab Thai provincial capital. I have to admit that in some ways the city is not the postcard perfect spot I was led to believe. As far as non-descript provincial capitals go, Roi Et is much more attractive and the waterfront areas of both Nongkhai and Nakhon Phanom are more pleasant on the eye. The horses give Lampang a unique flavour but are they really anything more than the a slow, northern version of a tuktuk? If oil surges beyond $200 a barrel the natives of Lampang might have the last laugh.

To see Lampang you need a car. The attractions, which in the city largely means the temples, are somewhat spread out. There are also various sights such as the elephant conservation centre, Prathat temple and national parks, each some distance and in a completely different direction from the city.

I do more travelling in the Isaan region than any other part of the country. There is something for Westerners in most Isaan centres. I have many friends in the region and the locals are extremely helpful. I think it's fair to say that the people of Isaan love foreigners. They welcome us and go out of their way to help us. The region's biggest attraction is its populace. Wherever you go, the local people of Isaan engage you in conversation and ask you not just what you're doing, where you're going and where you come from, but also want to know about your background and assuming you're male, whether you're married. If you're not, there is a very real chance that local single girls will be paraded before you. This isn't always just a bit of fun, there really is a desire to marry off the daughters to a moneyed suitor.

The north is, in my experience, very much different in this regard. It's not that the locals are not friendly because they are, but they are much less, shall we say, gregarious. There is every chance that social interaction between Westerners and locals won't be started by the locals. When a Westerner is spotted you're unlikely to hear "farang" ring out around the neighbourhood and you're unlikely to feel every set of eyes is locked on you. You're seen and left to your own devices. This gives the area, or in this case, Lampang at least, a very different feel to other parts of the country. Engage the locals in conversation and they will likely respond, but perhaps not quite with the same vigour that you would get in Isaan.

It's not much different when you pull a camera out. Do so in Isaan and you will literally have people jumping into the shot, smiling and beckoning for you to take their picture, notwithstanding that you will never see them again. In Lampang it was rather different. No-one seemed overly keen to have their photograph taken and some were keen to avoid it.

Comparisons between Isaan and the north are inevitable, the two poorest regions of the country, the north and the northwest. I couldn't help but feel that the people of the north just don't quite have the same zest as Isaan. Or is it that perhaps Lampang is a conservative town? I didn't really spend enough time to figure that quite out.

I would have to say that I enjoyed my trip to Lampang, but I am glad that I saw other places in the north first. It would be hard to argue for a trip to Lampang if you hadn't seen Chiang Mai first, for example.

So anyway, back to what I had been told about the local women. Is Lampang really the place in Thailand where you find the most attractive women? Not on your life! These two lovelies were possibly the two best looking women I saw in two and a half days and I really did feel that there were more plain Janes in Lampang than just about anywhere else in Thailand. Either someone was pulling my leg, or I misheard them say Lampang when in fact they meant the place 50 clicks up the road, Lamphun!


* I am extremely grateful to have spent a couple of days with a Lampang-based friend. Without him I would not have seen nor experienced a fraction of what I did. He has generously offered to meet up with any Stickman readers who make it to Lampang, schedule constraints notwithstanding. Larry can be contacted at : [email protected]. His report of the same trip can be found here, "The Man Who Came To Dinner".

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of one of the small bars, about 400 metres north of the Dusit Hotel at Pattaya. Only three people got it right. 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. The second person to get it right wins a free jug of margarita, valued at 840 baht from Charley Brown's, a popular Tex-Mex restaurant, offering authentic cuisine and delicious margaritas. Charley Brown's is located in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11. For a short period there is a third prize. Phil Nicks has kindly provided 5 copies of his excellent " Love Entrepreneurs". Please feel free to state which of the three prizes you would prefer!

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The Charley Brown's prize MUST be claimed within 7 days. For the Love Entrepreneurs prize, you MUST be able to provide a postal address in Thailand. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month.

FROM STICKMAN'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 Like ordering cheese in a Japanese restaurant!

Sure, farang women do NOT dislike Bangkok. They HATE it! All of the ones I met and yes, all of them have problems finding a shag, left alone a boyfriend. Why should anyone go out with a farang girl in Thailand? That's like ordering cheese in a Japanese restaurant. Ah yeah, sure prostitution in Bangkok is only limited to districts ha ha ha! In my apartment, there are 50% mia nois living. They dress normal, act normal – but they are low profile prostitutes, no-one can deny that. None of them have a real job. Sometimes they help out at massage parlours when their lovers don't send them enough money. This whitewashing of Bangkok really gets on my tits.

Sponsorship.

Sponsoring a whore is a bit blunt, I suppose, but pretty much describes what it is about. I must admit that I can understand the guys that do it. I admit it, I was a member of the club for exactly two months. All the pre-conditions were there, separation and pending divorce, no sex for months if not years, first time in Thailand and I took the lot, hook, line and sinker. Expensive long distance calls, letters, money for her living expenses and English course, and I was on the first flight I could arrange around my work, price of airfares not an issue. Arrived in Bangkok and checked-in to the hotel, at least the little hooker was decent enough to have left a message saying she couldn't meet me…

Taking money from babies.

In fact my previous girl friend used this expression for drunks who'd turn up at her bar at 2:00 AM, but as it happens it also applies to guys who sponsor ladies from the night life fraternity. You get guys who are workaholics, alcoholics so I would seriously put sponsors clearly in the category of cxxtaholics. Nothing wrong with that, and up to them as they say, instead of blowing this kind of difference on a Ferrari, yacht or in a casino this is their poison of choice. Of course there's much more to it than that, as rationality goes completely out of the window when you cross over the International Pussy Whipped Line, somewhere over the Thai – Burmese border. The honourable Stickman is correct in his assertions, to which I can only add the only acid test is not how much you give but how little you give them.

Danger in the Land Of Smiles.

A report in Britain's Daily Telegraph has revealed that Thailand is the most dangerous place in the world for tourists from the UK. It states that although almost twice as many crimes against Britons have occurred in Spain as in the second-most 'dangerous' country, France, based on the numbers of Britons who go to each country every year, Thailand is the country where Britons are most likely to become crime victims. There were 213,416 crimes involving Brits, the fifth highest title in the entire world.

In a hurry.

My plane touched down 30 minutes late. It's 11:30 PM. I'm in a hurry. After immigration, baggage claim, taxi ride to hotel, shower, waiting for buddies traveling with me to do the same, it's 1:30 AM by the time we see the neon lights. I'm in a hurry. In a hurry because we all want to party. Not in a hurry because of bar closing times – after all, this is Manila, and we're going to party until the sun comes up. While I'd rather be in Thailand (my true love), at least the bars aren't in a hurry to close.

Give those LA wenches a miss!

In reply to your comments last week after seeing that TV program on "First Class Travel", the attitude of the woman you saw accurately reflects that of most women in the city of Los Angeles, where I come from. I've often noted the similarities between the women of L.A. and the bargirls here in LOS. They all want the same things, it's just that in L.A. the expectations are exponentially higher. It's an attitude of entitlement that is very off putting and contributed to my desire to leave that city and relocate here. It's often said that we men are treated like movie stars here in Bangkok and I think that's just because we are much more able to meet those expectations. It's all relative.

Fake monks.

I was eating just outside Nana on soi 4 and a fake monk comes down the street. I hate them! He said something to a kid about 10 years old who was working at a food vender. The kid started kicking at him calling him "phra plawm" (fake monk!) and other things. I got up and ran over thinking he was going to hit the kid. I yelled at the fake monk. He took of running and I got a free dinner from the kid's mom.

Following on from the opening piece last week which looked at the girls getting money sent to them from suitors abroad, "sponsorship" is where the big money is and that is why, in Bangkok at least, the girls may turn their nose up at a local guy. They know that local guys are not going to be overseas sending a stipend every month. The accrual of sponsors is a big thing, especially with bar trade quieter than ever.

Is business slow at the new New York pizza venue between Sukhumvit sois 3 and 3/1? Open only a short time, they have introduced an attractive promotion, unlimited slices of pizza for 179 baht. If you're a big eater that's a great deal. I have a healthy appetite but two of their 65 baht slices is enough to fill me up.

Down Under bar in Sukhumvit Soi 23 is expanding the upstairs area. The bar counter will be removed allowing extra seats to be installed. Down Under has built up a loyal following and more seating is needed to accommodate customers. At peak times you may not be able to get a seat! They have become particularly popular with locals and the owner estimates their customer breakdown at 70% local foreigners, 10% Thais and 20% tourists.

There is little I enjoy ranting about more than the prices of drinks in bars. And yes, I do put my money where my mouth is for there are two bars in Nana I refuse to step in on principle because I believe the prices are, in my opinion, too high. But thank goodness I am not into bargirls and buying them lady drinks because if I was I fear I would be broke by now. A couple of bars have hiked lady drinks to ridiculous levels, so high in fact that they are almost 50% more expensive than what you would pay in Soi 33 and more than twice the price of lady drinks in Patpong. Who are the culprits? In Erotica a lady drink now costs a wallet-emptying 220 baht which must surely make it the most expensive gogo bar lady drink in all of Thailand. It should be noted that in stark contrast Angelwitch, which has the reputation for being expensive, charges a much more reasonable 130 baht for a standard lady drink. Hollywood Carousel also charges an extortionate 220 baht for a lady drink. How can they justify these prices? My thoughts on this? Bugger Nana. With prices at these levels it's a waste of time. I have said this over and over again. Nana Plaza is becoming one big clip joint. But don't get me wrong. Personally, I couldn't care less. It just gives me more reason to go to Cowboy or frankly, get out of Bangkok all together and go to Pattaya where everything is cheaper and the bars and the attitudes of the staff are, quite frankly, way better. Veteran bar manager Dave The Rave confirms that the general gogo bar business practice is to keep lady drink prices lower than customer drinks' prices. At a hefty 220 baht, customers are hardly going to buy a string of lady drinks, are they?

Here's an update on Sports Academy. When the owners of Sports Academy found the location over the Seafood Palace, they arranged a contract with the owner of the restaurant. They paid him rent every month for eight months until one day the REAL owner of the building showed up and asked, "What's that new bar doing in my building?! And the next question of course was "Where's my rent money?!" Apparently the owner of Seafood Palace pretended to be the owner of the building, set up a fake contract and took four million baht in rent and just pocketed it. BUT there is good news. They are reopening next Friday in a place over Thermae – not as luxurious, but they have promised that they will have 8 good tables.

Most bars were closed on Thursday and Friday this week, being two Buddhist holiday, but comment from the local Phuket police in the Phuket Gazette suggests that the bars did not have a legal obligation to close. It was more a "pay respect to Thai culture" kind of thing. The suggestion was that had the bars opened, they would not have had a problem. Hmmm, I just really do not know what to make of comments like that.

I had a funny this week. I had an hour to kill so holed up in Gulliver's to kill time before meeting a friend. They mix a Jack Coke properly and 110 baht it doesn't break the bank. So there I was, minding my own business, watching the replay of an old rugby match when two girls plop themselves down beside me. One clearly had her eye on me and after a few minutes polite chit chat she asked me if I wanted to go with her. Playing dumb, I asked her where. "Your loom" she said. I told her I was not looking for company. She hissed, sneered and actually got quite nasty. A shame really because she was a pretty girl and she had had me fooled as to whether she even was a working girl. She just didn't look like a hooker, but it goes to show how easy it is to get it wrong. She and her friend left. Mid-week I had reason to go to MBK, a place I avoid like the plague. I was wandering through the Tokyu department store when what do you know, I see the very same girl and she is a sales assistant employed at MBK. I couldn't help myself so went straight up to her and said hello. She almost died when she saw me! I wished her a nice day and bid her farewell. This confirmed to me what I had recently suspected – a lot of the girls in Gulliver's looking for a little extra money really do have a real job. But this story proves that just because they are not full-time hookers doesn't mean that they are not necessarily pleasant.

Large signs on the streets all around Bangkok are promoting the 15,000 *free* wi-fi spots that the city has set up, or is sponsoring (exactly what the exact arrangement is I cannot work out). Now this is a great idea because every man and his dog has a wi-fi enabled laptop these days. The big question is, how the hell do you sign up for the service? No-one knows! I have asked Thais, foreigners, searched online and come up with nothing. OK, so the advertised speed is a lethargic 64 kps, barely faster than dial up, but hey, that's enough to clear your email, chat and maybe open a low bandwidth website – like this one. But first of all, it would actually be nice to know how one is supposed to set up an account and get that free wi-fi access.

Why is KFC so bad in Thailand? I must confess being rather partial to fried chicken but I just cannot stomach KFC in Thailand. About once every couple of years I try it to see if there has been any improvement – and invariably I am disappointed.

Quote of the week. "I really wonder how much longer the western concept of relationships, love, marriage and family life will hold up in today's world where you have so much freedom of choice!"

Pity these Thais who were kept as slaves by two heinous Australians.

The New York Times reports that this guy has really made it and this must be one of the nicest houses on Phuket.

This new Thai blog has stories on a variety of issues and for my money is better than most.

Joe Cummings penned this interesting article about tourism in these parts.



Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick is happy to answer any questions regarding inter-racial relationships as well as cultural peculiarities that may be confusing or baffling you.

Question 1: Can you please tell me what "take care" means in different contexts? Hearing it from a bar girl means one thing, but hearing it from a Thai woman who does not work the nightlife or even from a girl right down from Isaan may mean something else.

Mrs. Stick says: You know when a Thai woman really loves a man and she marries him she will do anything for him. Whatever he wants she will do and she will try to make him as happy as she can. She "takes care" of him. And when she does this for a man she expects him to do the same in return. If she asks for something then she expects it. So he "takes care" of her too.

Question 2: As I have tired of paying bargirls I have been looking through the various personal websites looking for my future mate. One thing in perusing the various girls' profiles that has struck me is the high amount of girls that current marital status is classified as "divorced". Do Thai women in general take this option very easily or are they likely to stick to their marriage if there may be a couple of small problems? What I'm reading in the personal websites with the high number of divorces is that Thai people will easily get married as they will get divorced.

Mrs. Stick says: Yes, you are right. In the past Thai women did not divorce easily. There was a strong negative social stigma attached to women divorced. Did you know that a divorced woman had big trouble finding another husband in the past? It was the same with a woman who had a kid. But now I think things have changed and people get divorced much more easily. There is less stigma but it does still exist. I think in the past some Thai women stayed in a marriage when they really were not happy but now it has changed. Many women will leave if they are not happy. But I think this is for women aged under 40. If a Thai woman is aged over 40 then it is much less likely she will leave the marriage, even if she is not happy. The older she is, the more likely it is she will stay with her husband.

Question 3: What is the correct Thai way to behave, or things to do and say when a close friend of your Thai lady dies? What are the customs surrounding this topic?

Mrs. Stick says: If there is a funeral and it is someone close to your girlfriend then you should attend. You should wear all black if possible, but some white is possible too. And it should be formal dress, so a suit and tie if you have it. Your girlfriend will give an envelope to someone at the funeral containing money. This is a contribution to the cost of the funeral. Thai funerals are like Thai weddings, there are many different aspects to them and they are not all the same. Your girlfriend will tell you what to do but it is not strict like a farang funeral so don't worry. The most important thing for you is the way you dress and present yourself. Your girlfriend can explain the rest and you just follow her.

This week's column is lighter than usual. It's a 4 day weekend in Bangkok and I have taken the opportunity to escape from big bad Bangkok for a few days. I only got out once this week and frankly, there was little going on and if I was to report much on the nightlife areas it really would have been scraping the barrel. I could have told you that Bangkok Bad Boy was seen trying on a 2008 Everton shirt or that Dave The Rave was spied tip toeing out of Casanova 5 minutes before his shift was due to start but I think this is of little interest to most, chai mai? This week was really quiet!



Your Bangkok commentator,
7/10, written in Lampang, rushed and light on news
Stick