Stickman's Weekly Column July 5th, 2009

Challenging An Often Heard Mantra


Imagine running a business where the cost of labour was so low for some staff that you could almost count it as zero. Imagine being in an industry where you sold much of your product at 4 times the price you paid for it – without any need to add real value to it. Imagine being a business owner where the cost of your rent was about the same as 2 days turnover and then imagine that everyone, but everyone, said you should never ever get involved in such a business! What sort of business am I talking about? A gogo bar in Thailand of course!

It's the second thing you're told after you settle into expat life in Thailand. First you're told not to marry a bargirl – but no-one listens to that, it seems. The next thing you hear is that you shouldn't buy a bar. It's a bit more difficult to buy a bar than to get married but that aside, it seems that most heed these words.

Bars come in all shapes and sizes but for the purpose of keeping things simple, let's look at the most popular segment of the market, gogo bars. There are perhaps 200 gogo bars in Thailand, and it seems to me that many are quite successful. In fact the owners of some have done elegantly well. One Bangkok bar mogul bought a light aircraft, the price mooted at 24 million baht. A successful Pattaya bar boss with a couple of venues paid 16 million baht cash for a brand spanking new BMW M5. A popular English Bangkok bar boss recently told me how he offered 15 million baht cash for a Cowboy bar and was outbid by someone else who came up with the purchase price in cash that very same day. With these sorts of numbers being thrown around, is being in the bar business really so bad?

A few years back I inadvertently upset some Pattaya bar owners. I mentioned how profitable a certain bar was, a bar to which I was unknown by management until my scribblings appeared online. I had visited the venue that week and the owner had been mouthing off to all and sundry about the profits he was making. I knew the manager of the venue and he confirmed that the numbers floating around were indeed accurate. I made a passing comment in the column and suddenly the Stickphone was going crazy as those Pattaya bar bosses I did know told me to edit or pull the paragraph. They were concerned that the authorities would read it and know how much he was making and feared being asked to make greater contributions.

So just how profitable are gogo bars in Thailand? VERY, I would suggest.

The cost of entering the industry can be relatively low. If you wish to start a new bar from scratch, you essentially have to buy the right to the lease, key money as it is referred to locally. Then you have the right to operate a business in that space for X number of years. Rent is paid on top of that. Key money varies and it is impossible to put a baht figure on it, suffice to say that it could be the equivalent of 50% of the rent. So if, for example, rent was 80,000 baht a month, key money might be the equivalent of 40,000 baht a month so on a 5 year lease the key money would be about 2.5 million baht. Let's say that the cost of fitting out a smallish gogo bar nicely is 2.5 million baht and with the key money on top, you have a set up cost for a brand new bar, of 5 million baht. You could fit it out on the cheap and spend much less so less than 4 million baht to set up a brand new gogo bar is doable.

For a larger bar you could double these numbers, or more. Set up costs vary from bar to bar. A small gogo bar I rather like was set up at a cost of less than 2.5 million baht whereas we hear rumours that the bills for constructing Angelwitch Pattaya ran closer to a million greenbacks, figures I find a little hard to believe, even if it is a very flash venue, built almost to Western standards. There was one very basic Pattaya gogo converted from the previous business and fitted out for under 500,000 baht – so even if you're on a tight budget, you can still become a bar owner!

So what sort of money does a gogo bar pay in rent? In the old days, and we're going back about 6 or 7 years here, Fantasia in Nana Plaza used to cost the Crown Group a mere 45,000 baht a month. And that was at the very time when it was one of the best bars in the plaza, packed every night from before 9 all the way until closing. Break that down and the bar only needed to do 1,500 baht a night to cover the rent. Even now, I believe that the rent for Angelwitch in Bangkok is not much more than 100,000 baht a month. Rent in Cowboy and Nana really is not that high. While I don't know what sort of money Angelwitch does nightly, I would have thought it would be close to, or even more than, 100,000 baht turnover a night. So can we assume that for some gogo bars, the rent runs what a bar does in total turnover each night. From a business owner's perspective, that seems attractive!

I have to wonder if staff salaries can legitimately be called an expense in a gogo bar. Dancers and showgirls especially are demanding, and getting, higher salaries these days. In the case of dancers, how much money do they really cost the bar? Let's take Tilac Bar for example. Most of the dancers – and all of the new hires – are offered 10,000 baht a month salary. For that they have quotas to meet – a minimum of 8 barfines and 50 lady drinks. 8 barfines @600 baht a pop is 4,800 baht. 50 lady drinks @ 100 baht each (I think they get 40 baht per drink) means a conservative profit of 50 baht or so per lady drink. 50 x 50 baht = 2,500 baht. That means if a lady achieves these quotas, she will have earned the bar 7,300 baht, meaning the effective salary the bar pays her is only 2,700 baht. That's peanuts! And that is without any deductions to her salary for things such as turning up late (1 baht a minute or more), taking more than 2 days off a month (600 baht a night for Sunday – Thursday and 1,000 baht for Friday and Saturday) as well as the other fines for things such as wearing knickers or a bra under their bikini, for which they are fined 100 baht. If they are barfined more than a dozen or so times, the bar will be making good money out of them. My feeling is that the average girl's actual collected salary at the end of the month is pretty low – and effectively is subsidised by the customer. If a girl gets a high number of barfines then effectively she costs the bar nothing.

Salaries are paid to everybody from the (foreign) manager to the dancers to the service staff to the cleaners. The typical monthly salary for a foreign manager runs 50,000 – 70,000 baht although some are on a bonus system which can send their salary well over 100K baht a month. But how many foreign managers are in the industry? I can count them on one hand. For other staff salaries can be very low, just a few thousand baht a month – and that is before any deductions!

Invoices for booze can run large numbers, but it is later sold at a decent profit. Bottled beers are bought in at around 30 – 35 baht and sold at up to 150 baht with around 130 baht being typical these days, I guess. As far as top shelf drinks go, different bars pour different measures, but a bottle of top shelf is generally bought in at less than 1,000 baht for the good stuff, perhaps as little as 300 baht for the crap Vodka and Gin some bars peddle. Then, with 30 odd drinks poured from each bottle, they are sold at the same average price of 130 baht or so. We can moot that generally speaking, drinks are sold at four times what the bar buys them in at. These rates would not apply to draft beers which are often offered cheap) and cheap spirits which may also be sold on the cheap. Of course you have Bacardi Breezers and cocktails which are sold at a lower margin, perhaps 2.5 – 3 times. Overall, the profit margins on drinks are very good.

There are of course a number of hidden costs in running a gogo bar. Running several air-conditioning units seven nights a week costs larger venues a small fortune. Not to mention the electricity required for the lighting, laser and sound systems. The very biggest bars can have electric bills exceeding 100,000 baht per month.

It's easy to underestimate the extra expenses in addition to rent, salaries and the cost of buying in the booze. Maintenance can be another hidden cost from renovations to repairs to full refurbishment, and then all the incidentals like ice, glasses, food for parties, air-conditioning & sound system service, sundry items such as toilet paper, towels, etc all add up. General maintenance can amount to some large bills, even in a country where labour costs are low. A lot of cash can be tied up in booze stock if trade is slow. Water is cheap in Thailand but the water bills for some bars would amaze you. Constantly running toilets, urinals, sinks, the washing up, bars equipped with showers etc. mean some bars use a ton of water – and that has to be paid for.

The government keeps bringing in more and more licenses and requirements (public music license, entertainment area license, alcohol sales license, fire & safety regulations and the list goes on…) so running a gogo bar today is more expensive than ever. Of course there are various authorities that can come sniffing. In some bar areas several different divisions all demand a slice of the pie.

It's impossible to put figures on all these numbers. A small bar such as Sexy Night in Nana would have a completely different set of numbers to a larger venue like Rainbow 4.

So what sort of money do the bars do in a night? A big bar in Nana could take in more than 100,000 baht in a night. A really big bar on a really good night could do 250,000 baht, although that would be very much the exception to the rule. On New Year's Eve, some venues can exceed 300,000 baht for the night although in fairness, that would be considered exceptional, a once a year event. A large bar like Rainbow 4 probably averages 150,000 baht a night or so. It's huge and many barfines, as many as 70 or 80, are paid every night. It is however hardly the most comfortable spot to sit and drink hence I doubt the average drinks bill would approach the levels found in a bar where customers are happy to sit and drink all night long, like say Angelwitch or Mandarin. So the mix of money made is different in different bars. Some bars attract drinkers. Some bars attract those looking to bar fine early. For small bars, 30,000 baht might be considered a very good night indeed. These days, with things so quiet, some of the smaller gogo bars won't even do 10,000 baht on some nights. Every bar is different.

For a long time Angelwitch in Bangkok was on the market for sale at 55 million baht, or in real money, about $1,750,000. I have no idea how this number was arrived at, but if we use the conventional method of selling a business at around 3X annual earnings, that would suggest an annual profit of around 18+ million baht, or around 1.5 million baht profit per month, a decent earner by anyone's standards. I have heard it said that many gogo bars in Nana Plaza operate on a 40% or so net profit ratio, meaning that 40% of the turnover is the effective profit. Such margins are very attractive and not commonly found in a more conventional business.

I don't know what the asking price for Angelwitch is now, or even if it is still up for sale, although if anyone was game enough to present Khun Matt with a suitcase containing this amount, I'm sure he would give you his best smile and absolutely his best handshake! Cripes, he might even wai you too! Of course a business is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it and I don't know that Matt received any serious offers at that price or not. But you do hear of bars – or is that *did* hear of bars – changing hands frequently for 10 – 12 million baht and not that infrequently for around the 20 million baht mark. That's a decent chunk of change!

There's no doubt that many have done very well in the bar business over the years. Millionaires have been made – and I am not talking in baht! There was the fellow in Pattaya who built a 30 million baht house which he wrote about over a period of time in a local rag, although in fairness, he is a shrewd businessman with his fingers in many pies. There's the bar owner who bought a new Merc for his Mrs. for 10 million and more than a few owners with monstrous condos around the city. One owner has a million *dollar* condo on Sukhumvit, financed entirely by profits from the bar industry.

Many bar owners start with one venue and end up with a bunch. Just look at how much money The Arab has tied up in Soi Cowboy properties. Like him or loathe him, his bars are the best decorated and for the most part are immaculately kept. He could have as much as 2 million in greenbacks tied up in Cowboy.

If you had a few clues, were not an alcoholic and were prepared to open your eyes, listen to others and learn about the business, I cannot help but feel that there is A LOT of money to be made in the gogo bar business. Start small with a small investment of say 5 – 6 million baht, decorate the bar nicely, get a good DJ, offer high salaries to attract the best girls and poach one of the best bar bosses like Larry, Dave, Ricky or Paul and I think that even in these difficult times, you would be laughing all the way to the bank. You'd have to get a good location, of course, but I cannot help but think that now might be a good time to get involved in the business. I've done the numbers and I believe that if you're prepared to do things properly and run it like a real business, I really do feel that there is a lot of money to be made running a gogo bar in Thailand!

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's picture was taken inside Tilac Bar in Soi Cowboy and if my memory serves me right, that was #85's hand. The first person to email 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 the picture right wins a fantastic roast buffet at Molly Malone's on Bangkok's Soi Convent. The buffet runs every Sunday from midday until 7 PM and the winner gets one buffet free! I like the buffet and partake of it myself often! The Strip in Patpong's soi 2 is offering a FREE BOOTH. That means that you and one of the ladies enter the booth and the curtain is closed for 30 minutes. This prize has a value of 550 baht, the cost of closing the booth. It should be noted that if you wish to do anything more with the lady than chat then a tip will be expected…

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod and Molly Malone's prizes MUST be claimed within 14 days. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per month.

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

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – Customer service, Thai style.

My wife and I were in Gulliver's last week in the early evening for dinner and wine. I had my notebook computer with me and I found a table with a plug-in. I am on call for work 24 hours a day and I was expecting to get a call and that I would have about an hour's work to do in a hurry. I had been lugging the notebook around all day and sure enough, the call came just as we finished eating. I was working for about 30 minutes and drinking wine when the waitress came over and told me that I could not charge my computer in Gulliver's. I immediately offered to pay, but she said no, no charging. I had enough juice to complete my work by this stage, so I unplugged and carried on. The waitress was just following the management policy but this seems a bit short sighted of Gulliver's management. They advertise wi-fi in the bar, but will not allow a computer user to plug in. My bill for dinner was 1,800 baht and I gave a 100 baht tip as usual as I like the place and go there frequently. I could sit with my computer plugged in all day at Starbuck's for the price of an 80 baht latte. The next time I am expecting to have to do some work and we are out and about we will probably choose another venue for dinner.

No forward thinking.

I always think that the locals – bless them, especially as I am married to one – generally do not look ahead more than 6 feet or 5 minutes. On the positive side, that is exactly why expats like me have been able to stay busy here for the last 12 years. If they could do it, I would not be here.

The changing Western visitor to Asia.

There is a widening complaint on forums such as this on the declining attitude of Thais toward western tourists. When I started coming to Asia in the early 80s the tourist was a self-motivated independent, interfered with no one, left no footprint and sometimes took a girl home forever. Contrast that with the wave that arrives now anywhere in Asia but Pattaya in particular. Psyched up steroid freaks around the gymnasiums, middle-aged European gays dripping with gold jewellery at breakfast with their Thai pretty boys, scam artists on contrived pensions and insurance rorts, and the gutter rats of the world, English skinheads, tattooed from ankle to ear hole scanning the crowd for an easy kill like hyena following antelope. Do you expect a basically placid people like the Thai to admire that and rent you their sisters and daughters? If that's Funtown go ahead and laugh.

Enough is enough.

You expect street scams, taxi overcharging and the problems our hard-drinking skirt-chasing chums run into. But this duty free shop scam, I argue, is in a different league. It involves collusion between duty free shop staff and the airport authorities. It's co-ordinated and appears to be well thought-out as free gifts are common in Asia so you might not think twice. But of course it's not listed on your receipt so if they bust you off to a cell quickly… I think the best course of action is to avoid ALL airport shops – which have little worth buying anyway. Better yet, avoid Thailand altogether. Some of the world's most wonderful people, soaked in corruption and further plagued by a criminal, incompetent and criminally incompetent government. My sympathy is with them but I cannot solve their problems so perhaps by spending my tourism dollars elsewhere I can, at least in my own mind, demonstrate that there IS a problem.


Thai ladies in Bangkok, Pattaya, and all over Thailand

Not tempted by the bars.

Very nice column today. Good job speaking your mind, even though I guess you'll have to duck and cover in the face of yet another shit storm brewing on the horizon stirred by those scores of desensitized punters in Thailand who like to lump all the girls together and think nothing more of them than cheap pieces of meat. In my opinion it's no question of morality, but basic empathy. It's all quite sad really. Above everything else this is the reason why I've never really felt much of a temptation in the bars. The already hardened girls put me off way too much, and the ones who aren't (yet) I feel too much compassion for.

Anti-naughty nightlife.

Thanks for your column this week. I am getting to the stage where I really share your views on the industry and the scene. It truly is a terrible thing and in many ways I just wish it would go away along with all the crap foreigners that come here. I cannot think of any other single political act that would clean up Thailand, improve its reputation and allow the rest us, including the Thais, to get on with life here in a normal way. Anecdotally, I went to Spasso's in the Grand Hyatt Erawan, knowing it was expensive and hoping it might be different. Well, it was expensive. A glass of wine was 423 baht. Lots of Chinese businessmen and flush foreigners in nice clothes; and, of course, hookers – expensive ones. A sister of a girl I knew used to hook there for 8,000 baht a pop. What makes me sad is you meet educated girls with good English who look really nice and they just won't consider a real job because they can get a month's wages for screwing old fat guys for an hour. The youth in Thailand today seem to be totally devoid of ambition other than monetary gain at any moral cost. It is so prevalent now that I find normal life here almost impossible to find. I mean, you can't go to an expensive place in Bangkok because many are hookers. You can't go to Samui because hookers are everywhere and Pattaya, well, forget it. Is absolutely everyone on the game?

What can a poor beautiful girl do?

I totally agree with your story about getting the girl out of the bar early because after a while, you can take the girl out of the bar, but you can't take the bar out of the girl. These venues are horrible places for people. The long termers are so bitter, so dehumanized, and so callous (my boys and I call them sharks – meaning they eat you alive) that it's difficult to do much for them. Unfortunately, I'm still shocked by the turnover in these venues as I tend to show up about once every month and the people there are all new. Then, there are a few that have been there for years. I know a lass that has been there for a good 4 years in the same bar in Pattaya and she told me 4 years ago, she would do it for a year and return home. A new car, new house and she's still there… With limited education options, what can a poor beautiful girl do?

Who is lying?

I spoke with my wife today, who told me that a friend of hers had just returned to Bangkok from Korat. Her trip was delayed because two people she knew there had just died of swine flu, one within three days of getting it. I have no way of knowing if her story is true, but with the government stating that only three people have died nationwide I wonder if a cover-up is going on. Or if the girl is telling lies. In Thailand you can never believe anything, can you?

Nana Plaza received closure order papers last night and ace bar manager Tricky Ricky has said that the Pattaya bars were also told to close. It is most likely that all bars in Bangkok and Pattaya will be closed on both July 7th and 8th, two Buddhist holidays. We can't mess with religion, can we, but with that said, yet again the tourists have to suffer a 5-day holiday with no banking, and very few bars & nightspots open. Welcome to Thailand! As always, check out DaveTheRaveBangkok for last minute news on bar closures. Dave will update his site if there are any changes.

The number of tourists in town remains low and out on the streets it's as quiet as ever. Even the number of freelancers hovering near the bus stop near soi 5 is down. This week, for those who are daring, there were a few fair lookers but also a handful of aggressive cocks in frocks. I even noted a few new species, perhaps from India but from that corner of the planet for sure. With Africans and the occasional Eastern European already established, the days of it being a Thai only marketplace are long gone.

Following on from the recent news that bars on the ground floor area of Nana might be about to become part of Bangkok bar history, we've yet to see any sign of demolition work in the plaza. Maybe the Crown Group has used their not inconsiderable financial resources to maintain the status quo?

I expect you'll find the prices have increased in all of the Arab's bars in Cowboy in line with Sheba's and Suzy Wong's recent price increases. I don't know for sure because I don't frequent his bars.

Cathouse in Nana Plaza is running a buy-one-get-one-free drinks deal on draught beer. Heineken, Singha and Chang draught is available in chilled half pint beer mugs. The special for draught beer runs from afternoon until closing. Cathouse also has a special deal with all bottled beers only 69 baht all night every night. Who said drinking in Nana Plaza was expensive?!

Spanky's in Nana Plaza has taken on a bunch of new dancers which has certainly helped fill their stage.

They have finally completed a centre-dividing fence in the busy part of Sukhumvit that is no doubt designed to keep the inebriated and the unaware from becoming car bonnet ornaments with the changing traffic patterns.

Some fine young Americans were in Phuket this week and as if proof was ever needed that the jungle drums ring clearly, Patong was set upon by the maidens of Isaan who endured 20 odd hours on the road to make the journey down to paradise island to entertain them. When the navy pulls out, I'd expect many of the girls will too, the number of tourists around not nearly enough to sustain an increase in the bargirl population.

The price of a beer is going up in Soi Cowboy. Is the reason the recent (small) tax increases or does Thai logic prevail – put up prices because there are fewer buyers around?! The price of a regular drink in Suzy Wong's has gone up to 150 baht, after 9 PM. Apache Coyote prices have also gone up, to 105.

Wherever you were in Bangkok this week, you will have heard Michael Jackson's tunes being played over and over again. I guess it is like that all around the world. Many gogos have also increased the Michael Jackson quotient.

My spies tell me that Catz-a-gogo (Soi 16, Walking Street) has recruited some seriously cute girls of late and, for a small bar, now boasts one of the best line-ups in Fun City. Like everywhere though, the best ones often go early so perhaps the best thing to do is to take advantage of their unique happy hour where ALL drinks are 65 baht. That includes beers, top shelf spirits – even cocktails and Bacardi Breezers! All is not lost even if you can't make it early though as the full range of drinks are just 85 baht once their happy hour finishes. It has to be the best value gogo bar in town.

The main reason I go into Angelwitch in Nana Plaza is to see Dave, who as you probably know is the genius behind DaveTheRaveBangkok. The reason I don't go there so often these days is the pricing of drinks at Angelwitch. Sorry, but 145 – 150 baht is simply more than I am willing to pay. I don't feel it is value for money. I do however feel that anyone new to Bangkok or visiting Nana Plaza for the first time should visit because the bar, while not unique (Long Gun in Cowboy also has very good shows), it does have shows better than probably anywhere else. Anyway, I am rambling, get to the point Stick! I will not be visiting Sheba's or Suzy Wong's after 9 PM with confirmation that drinks prices in Suzy Wong's also went up to 150 baht. Frankly, that's too much and to me, it just does not represent value for money. Suzy Wong is not the bar it used to be and the number of customers is well down. Where this is all interesting is that Soi Cowboy has had an advantage over Nana for some time, nudity in some bars and, crucially for many locals, cheaper prices. With these big-name Cowboy bars putting prices up, what price difference that existed between the two major Bangkok bar areas no longer exists. It won't need much in the way of an attitude change on Cowboy for there to be a swing back towards Nana and you know what? I think it is starting to happen already. I've said it once and I'll say it again – as good as Cowboy is, it ain't going to remain the most popular bar area forever!

Still in Cowboy, Coyote Apache has taken on more of a Nana look as it is bikinis on for all. Some dancers are pleased that they are no longer required to dance in their birthday suit but some aren't thrilled at losing an edge to less revealing bars.

It would be a fair assumption that other Cowboy bars may soon follow suit and dancers' laundry bills will go up. This will contribute even more to levelling the playing field with Nana. Interesting times…

Even Tilac has not been as busy this week as it has been and some girls were complaining that the ratio of customers to dancers was not as it should be.

Overall it would seem that both bar owners need to bite the bullet for a while as Thailand's economic pendulum passes through the lowest point of the swing. Bar owners need to try harder to please customers, understanding that this is far from the best of times. A little more for a little less will ensure the bars will still be around when the good times return.

There was much concern amongst the employees of The Arab's bars this week as word spread quickly about his arrest and subsequent bail set at the astronomic figure of 4 million baht. Will we get paid they were asking themselves. Last week I ran a rumour that the Arab had been arrested upon entering the Kingdom and charged with various crimes, only to later be released on a whopping bail of 4 million baht. I checked this story out and three different sources confirmed it to be true. So I did what any columnist should do and dropped an email to the man himself. Here is his response:

I am Shock to see at Soi Cowboy this particular Bar Owner have time to putting up rumours directly or indirectly by being so Julius to say things like this. There are no such things as you talking about. It is funny that my present makes some people unhappy and busy continue putting rumours around. I do not understand this guy and talking about Arabs. He must have a bad experience with Arab people in past life. It is nice to hear it is bothering him so much that thinking about Arabs all the time. I do not see what is wrong of anyone to be an Arab, African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Russian, Iranian, Italian and so on? Is anyone have problem with any Nationality and Colour are due to some bad experience or the way have been raise in past of being prejudice against colour and religion. They are losers in life and make them prejudice. I am happy who I am and if this person has problem with me or any Arab people should face me in person or any Arabs in Soi 3. I guess this person now hate American too since our President is black.

Although the Arab denies that he was arrested, charged and later bailed, every indication is that his denial is fabricated. Note in his reply that he did not stay on topic and looked to place the blame on others. If you look at Thaksin and what he is charged with you will see the same type of response. It's funny how The Arab spends so many words on the subject of prejudice and not the issue of the bail.

The bar scene used to be predominantly the domain of older guys, for whom success wasn't so easy to come by in their homelands. The bars of Thailand left them satisfied. Then younger travellers started to visit. I am not talking about backpackers here who have been visiting the country for decades, but younger guys who spent much time and money in the bar environment. The old boys were irked initially, curious that young guys who should have no problem getting a bit back home were invading their domain. They were to find that the younger lads' eagerness to bonk all night long and pay the absolute minimum ensured the older boys remained popular. There's a new group, who while not new to the bars per se, who do seem to be visiting in increasing numbers. Lesbians! Yep, more and more lesbians are frequenting the naughty bars. They have money and they are prepared to spend it. And you know what? Some of the girls are rather keen to go with them. Now what do you think about that? Personally, I find it hilarious, but a few guys I have spoken to have been less than impressed!

A reader advises that the Bargirls' Get Rich Quick Guide is available in the book shop just off Beach Road in Pattaya on Central Avenue, between sois 6 and 7.

The Philippines seems to be attracting a lot of interest recently and I am hearing from more and more expats who are fed up with Thailand and heading that way. The most common complaints about Thailand concern changing visa rules, the fact that the Thais really do not care for us and of course, ever increasing prices. For me, I cannot really comment as I have never been to the Philippines. It's a place I would like to check out one day. What puts me off is the safety issue and that the local cuisine is not highly regarded.

I have done something I should have done a long time and put my mobile phone in the draw. If you want to contact me, it's email only.

Stickman reader's story of the week is the positive piece by Mac BKK, titled "Thai Stereotypes".

Quote of the week comes from a Phuket John. "I met a young lady who had graduated from Buriram Rajaphat University who spoke perfect English, and I thought that all you could major in there was Connect Four."

Here's a piece on expat salaries.

From MSN Money comes a story about the massive charges levied when using a British bank issued ATM card abroad.

Well-known local journo Andrew Drummond adds more detail to the King Power fiasco, suggesting 160+ foreigners have been conned since April! But, this letter issued by King Power suggests that the couple highlighted in the original article in The Times were in fact caught shoplifting with a link to CCTV footage of it!

Not Thailand-related but I think you will like it anyway, daily sex makes for healthy sperm!

This very handy spying device could let you know what your girlfriend is really up to!

From The Nation, there's trouble brewing at the Foreign Correspondents' Club.

This YouTube clip shows some savage beasts in Pattaya laying into others on Walking Street and is a great example of fighting in Thailand, how it is all about numbers and how the boot is put in when people go down!

Three foreigners were found dead in Pattaya in 3 days.

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: Back in January my Thai wife got the call that we all dread, her father had collapsed following a massive stroke. This hit her family hard as he had never been sick and even though in his mid 80's he still rode around on his motorbike and helped out in the fields, where he collapsed. Luckily we were already set to travel to Thailand and arrived six days after the stroke. During the time in the hospital he picked up a severe infection in his brain, lungs and stomach, which required a transfer to a big hospital 2 hours away in Korat to clear, but not before irreparable damage to his lungs so that he required oxygen to breathe. By this stage, it was clear to me that he would not make it – he could barely move, needed to be fed and changed (by his family who stayed with him in hospital), was almost unable to talk and needed constant oxygen. The doctor suggested to the family to “make their hearts strong” and let them remove the oxygen and let dad go. This suggestion was refused and so the family continued to feed and change him like a baby for another six weeks, until his heart failed. Now three months after his death, the family is in a similar situation with their mother, who has been sick for a long time with cancer, which is now in its final stages. Her condition now similar to that of the father, barely able to move or talk (too weak), cannot feed herself and needs changing like a baby. The doctors all say there is little they can do for her and she only has a short time left (they have taken her to four, hoping for a different answer). Again, they have been told to “make their hearts strong” and to let her go, but they insist on dragging her to the hospital for fluid transfusions. Why are Thai people unable to accept the inevitable and let them pass with dignity, rather than drag it out for weeks or months? I know it's difficult (I had to do it for my father) but surely it is for the best?

Mrs. Stick says: I think this is not a question I can answer for Thai people. It is different for every family. Our grandmother and grandfather might be the head of our family, or maybe they were in the past. We are expected to look after them so it is hard to say goodbye. For me, I cannot say it is ok to let someone die. It's just not right for my family.

Mr. Stick says: Hospitals in provincial capitals in Thailand are generally ok but the best hospitals and specialists are in Bangkok. It could be expensive but is there any harm in taking her to Bangkok to one of the big name hospitals like Bumrungrad, BNH, Samitiwej or Bangkok Hospital for the opinion of top class professionals? Of course, this could cost quite a bit and the recommended care could potentially cost a lot. A tough choice.

Question 2: I would be grateful if you could answer a question for me regarding a young lady that I have known on and off for a number of years and I have now decided to take from the bar and send her home to her province while I prepare for a visa to bring her to my country. She is very excited about this. However, I have only been back from Bangkok for a day and she has contacted me to say that it is necessary for me to pay the bar 10,000 baht to release her. I have not heard of this before and I have never had a reason to disbelieve her so I'm not sure what the situation is. I would be grateful for any input. The bar in question is Cocktail Club in Soi Cowboy. I might add that I left this bar a lot of money in custom over a short period last week. Am I being scammed?

Mr. Stick says: The simple answer is that yes, it is a scam and shame on Cocktail Club AND THE GIRL for trying this on with you! This is a common, long-running scam. I will try and outline the situation in some detail so others know how to deal with it. My apologies if this response is a little long-winded. Quite simply, the notion that someone should have to pay money to leave a job is ridiculous and smacks of slavery. Any bar employee can walk away from the bar at any time without paying anything! If she does this in the middle of the month there will be deductions made for failing to go to work and for failing to reach her barfine and drinks quota which will most likely cancel out her salary – and she will receive no salary for that month. If she wishes to receive her salary, she could wait until pay day, collect her salary and then leave and not return – as is very common in the industry. It's not nice for an employee in any industry to leave their employer in a lurch like this, but with that said, in the bar industry there isn't always a great deal of loyalty shown either way. What usually happens is that the mamasan (or perhaps the manager / owner of the bar) puts pressure on the girl to extract 10,000 baht from the customer / boyfriend. This money does not usually go to the bar but to the mamasan, or it might be split between the mamasan and the girl – as is most commonly the case. The mamasan will tell the girl that this money allows her to "return to the bar if things don't work out with the guy", the suggestion being that if the payment is not forthcoming then she cannot return to the bar. What the bar / mamasan does not say is that 90% of the girls would be welcome back to work at the bar anyway. Most bars struggle to get enough girls. Every case is different but oftentimes the mamasan is an older woman who simply puts pressure on a younger, impressionable woman. Tell your girlfriend to work until the end of the month, to collect her salary and then leave. Alternatively, tell her to leave immediately! To add a little more, I asked this question to the owner of a Bangkok gogo bar and here is his response.

It's not the bar that asks for the 10,000 – it's the girls and it has happened one time that a guy has bought a girl out of the bar that I know of and when this happens the girls keep that money not the bar. Of course if someone wants to take a girl out and take care of her then good for her! But you should know better than anyone that these girls would ask and keep the money. On the flip side 3 times guys have come to me and told me they wanted to take care of girls and I said good for them and charged nothing, only wished them luck. So yes it has happened once with no benefit to me. I think the girls ask for this to prove he is serious. As you know many people talk, talk, talk but when you show a Thai girl the money I think it means more to them!

I get a bit of flak running this column and one of the most common complaints is that I have used this column to enrich myself. That is of course complete bollocks. It is said from one or two quarters that I accept money or free services to promote business. Sure, I sell advertising and some of the banner ads you see here are paid for. That's perfectly normal for any website. But some people claim that I write comments in the body of the column in exchange for cash or valuables, and that I also favour paid advertisers. Again, not true. Over the years I have talked up many venues. I used to talk up the Big Mango when it was in Nana Plaza and guess what? You would find me there every Friday without fail, grabbing a burger and having a few beers with friends before doing the rounds. All paid for by me! I talk up the buffet at Molly Malone's and guess where you will find me at least one Sunday every month? I also talk up Bradman's Bistro and Tilac, where you will also frequently find me. And down in Pattaya I often mention Secrets and Catz where I can be found. In fact on my last two visits to Pattaya I only went to Secrets and Catz and nowhere else. I have my favourite spots and I will tell you about them. That does NOT mean that I am being paid off at all. If you think I am favouring a venue too much, stake it out, and sooner or later, you will see me there. If an advertiser is up to no good, I would drop them as an advertiser. Shame on you if you suggested otherwise.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick