Stickman's Weekly Column August 23rd, 2009

Bali vs. Phuket


15 minutes before the plane lands an announcement is made that drug trafficking is punishable by the death penalty. 15 minutes after the plane has hit the tarmac the taxi driver is offering me every type of drug imaginable. It's only a short journey from the airport to the most popular beach on the island. Welcome to the jewel of Indonesia's tourism industry, the charming island of Bali.

The backpacker's bible and the original Lonely Planet , the yellow book, or as it is officially known, South-East Asia On A Shoestring, puts Bali as the beach and island highlight of the region, well ahead of what it describes as the curious mix of debauchery and family fun that is Phuket. I know Phuket well, having visited perhaps a dozen times over the years, but this was my first visit to Bali. Phuket is the most commercial of Thailand's beaches and islands and Bali is Indonesia's equivalent. How do they compare?

Think of Bali and sand and surf come to mind. And that sand and surf is often equated with Kuta, the island's most popular beach. The long, sweeping, picture-perfect crescent on the southern part of the island just minutes from the airport is the most popular spot and by definition the most commercial and tackiest. Kuta is where you find legions of surfers, surf schools, sun worshippers and enough bikini shops to kit out the entire female faculty of a large university. A narrow road separates the palm-fringed beach from the resort's bars, restaurants, hotels and endless alleys of shops and vendors. Kuta is commercial to the point of being tacky; it feels like there are more shops and vendors selling tourist junk than all of Thailand's beaches and islands combined.

While Kuta has an international feel, there's no denying that it's very much Australian-dominated to the point that I'm almost surprised local businesses don't price in Aussie dollars. It feels as Australian as Sydney or Melbourne with many of the local bars and other businesses Aussie-owned and almost entirely patronised by fair dinkum Australians. Many of the service staff in restaurants and bars even speak with an Aussie twang. Oh God!

The problem with Kuta is not the beach which is fantastic, as good as any I have visited anywhere in the world. The problem is the infrastructure. What is essentially a single-lane road runs down to and along the beachfront and traffic is stop / start for most of the day. Lots of small alleys run off the main road but they're even narrower with barely enough space for a car and a motorcycle heading in opposite directions to squeeze past each other. This can make getting anywhere a hassle. You're either stuck in stop / start traffic or you have to brave the pavement and compete with not just the maniac locals but also foreign wankers zooming around narrow lanes at breakneck speeds on motorcycles. Kuta is not the only beach, but it's the most popular.

But Bali is not all about sand and surf. The beach is first class, as nice as anything you'll find in Thailand, but the search for the famed Balinese charm will take you elsewhere on the island.

Half an hour's drive or so up the road is Ubud, the centre for Balinese arts and crafts. It also happens to be where emotionally fragile, middle-aged single Western women take solace in a market that only a woman could enjoy.

Ubud is, I guess, the cultural capital of the island. It's an arty farty sort of a place with street after street lined with art galleries, crafts and handicraft shops. If you're into Asian arts you'd be hard-pressed to find more variety and better prices. But like I say, this seems to be very much a woman's place.

Bali is quite a size, much bigger than Phuket. Apparently you can drive around the entire island in a day. All around the island you have lots of little hideaways, boutique and luxury accommodation, some so opulent you'd have to be a Premier League superstar to afford a weekend stay. Contrast that with Kuta Beach where you can still find a flophouse for under $10. Whatever your budget, Bali can handle it.

The great appeal of Bali to me is the variety of things to see and do. Beyond the fabulous beaches and local arts and culture scene, you also have an endless choice of activities from rafting to sailing to paragliding to learning to surf to all the usual tropical Asian stuff like elephant rides and monkey temples. A number of the tourist operations are Western run and with English spoken at a reasonable standard on Bali, probably better than what you find in Phuket, there seemed to be a greater awareness of safety issues than what you get in Thailand. For sure, the Indonesians don't have the same dare devil attitude as the Thais.

And then there is the scenery and the natural environment. In this respect Bali has it all over Phuket. Sure, Phuket's beaches are pretty enough, but Phuket just doesn't have the variety of Bali and cannot boast volcanoes or lakes or rice terraces, all of which Bali can. In parts the natural environment of Bali is stunning.

The Indonesians – and the Balinese particularly (who see themselves as rather different to your typical mainland (read Java) Indonesians) are extremely pleasant and gracious hosts, unfailingly friendly, polite and helpful. They really go out of their way to be nice to foreigners. That said, I just couldn't help think that they were needlessly inefficient and not a great deal of forethought went into things. With the Thais you often get the feeling they're pretty much on cruise control, loathe to do anything more than is absolutely necessary, but you know that they can put their foot down and there's a turbocharger in reserve, if needed. With the Indonesians it seems there's little in the way of urgency and I don't think it's part of being laid back. I can't quite put my finger on it but it's like most things happen in slow motion. Order food in Thailand and it comes fast – the first dish at least – whereas in Indonesia, even in an empty restaurant, it might be half an hour before a simple, standard dish arrives. And don't get me started on the subject of paying a bill and receiving change. The word "eternity" comes to mind.

Not once was I ever berated to tip or leave a bigger tip. Not once did I receive any negative comments, even from vendors whose approaches I declined. Not once did a vehicle I was in pass a police checkpoint. A couple of policemen fascinated by a football shirt I was wearing were very friendly and chatty. The fact that Indonesian coppers don't carry firearms is nice although heavily armed security guards are found at front of many popular venues, no doubt a direct result of the Bali bombings. Bali seems free of the hassles that are becoming ever more present in Thailand.

The Indonesians seem to be free of the nationalist fervour that permeates every level of Thai society. Rather than constantly checking to make sure you like their country and searching for positive words to stroke their own ego, they constantly apologise for the way things are in their country. They also show a much greater and genuine interest in your country and despite language difficulties ask the sort of questions Thais would never ask, or at least I have never been asked in all my time in Thailand. You wouldn't call them worldly as such, but world aware they are.

But it's not perfect in paradise. One of the biggest disappointments visiting Indonesia has been the quality of food. I wouldn't touch the street vendor food here and while restaurants do all the Westerns favourites well enough, this is no Bangkok. The Indonesian cuisine seems rather limited without any great variety. What you find is hardly indifferent to what you find elsewhere in the region, the local favourites nasi goreng and bami goreng available elsewhere under slightly different names – fried rice and fried noodles!

There's a much greater attention to detail with the whole dining experience in Thailand. Not only is the food better and there more variety, so is the service. There seems to be a combination of carelessness and disinterest from Indonesians employed in restaurants. Often food is brought to the table and dumped at one end and not set in front of you, the waiter then shuffling away. Sometimes no knives and forks are brought. Just really basic problems in the sort of venues you wouldn't expect it.

For the budget conscious, Bali is much cheaper than Phuket which seems to be doing its best to price itself off the map. Across the board, most things are cheaper, from food to accommodation to getting around to day trips. As an example, a large 630 ml bottle of beer could be had in reasonable bars for well under $2 and even in swanky upmarket bars seldom would you pay more than about $2.50 for a small bottle of the quite drinkable local Pilsner, Bintang.

As far as the naughty side goes, I didn't see any action although I really wasn't looking. That said, many a taxi driver offered to take me to visit the delights of Bali. In baht terms, I was told 1,000 baht would get you an hour, twice that for all night. Goodness only knows what this would have involved. Probably a local knock shop.

As opposed to seeing little brown girls at the breakfast table with well-nourished older white men, it was young white women with brown boys in Bali. At breakfast it's rather amusing watching white women who can't help but stare at their fellow white women enjoying the company of a local lad. Sometimes I think white women with a chip on their shoulder shouldn't be allowed to visit Asia. There's so much going on here they just can't deal with yet they cannot conceal their emotions and so often try to make their problem someone else's problem. I guess that is why across most of this continent the vast majority of white imports are men.

These boys aren't gigolos, at least not in the true sense of the word. They're simply regular guys with regular jobs who love chasing white women. Indonesia differs from Thailand with many service jobs, shops and retail outlets staffed by men. Go into a restaurant and often the wait staff are male. Travel agencies are often staffed by men and even chambermaids, or should that be chamberlads, are often guys. And these guys are young, in shape, speak decent English, ooze charm and their natural gregariousness and confidence is lapped up by the single white women who flock to Bali. But to be fair, white women are not their favourites. Other Asian women, particularly Japanese, are the most sought after. On the beach I was constantly chuckling as I watched local Indonesian men find any excuse to approach and engage pretty young women from the land of the rising sun.

Indonesia is poor, much poorer than Thailand, and the locals, even those in the tourist trade, often work for peanuts. Talking to a massage girl, she made it known that she earns the princely sum of 400,000 Ruppiah a month, or a bit under $US 40 a month. That's for a 7-day week, 8 AM until 11 PM, even more oppressive hours than a similar job in Thailand. In fairness to her I asked her directly about this. Unlike in Thailand, the locals do not constantly tell you about their money problems. Where in Thailand massage girls generally receive a decent tip for each massage performed, tipping is much less common in Bali. According to one young masseuse, my trans-Tasman comrades who make up the bulk of her customers don't have the word "tip" in their vocabulary whereas she informed me that New Zealanders were in fact very generous. Most likely a ploy to earn herself a tip – and it worked. I didn't have the heart to tell her that Kiwis rival the Scots for being the most miserable tippers on the planet. Ah ok, the South Africans are the worst, but we're not far off.

But to think that all of the local Balinese were pleasant, gentle and honest would be setting yourself up to be a victim. Fortunately I have a healthy dose of skepticism and it served me well when I had to change some cash. Banks are hard to come by but money changers are more common than Indian tailors on Sukhumvit – you can't walk 10 metres without passing one. I pounded the pavement and found the booth with the best rate in town and handed over a modest amount to change. First the calculations were off, then he was swiping money from the pile. These guys are good and while I'd heard the stories and was watching him with an eagle eye, I couldn't see him switch the notes. Luckily I double checked and caught him. When I pointed out the error, he suggested I change my money elsewhere. Yeah, the rates really were too good to be true.

All of the problems we find in Thailand also exist in Bali from the hassles of beggars, to being short-changed to sometimes iffy service. Many businesses are actually understaffed instead of overstaffed which is the case in Thailand. Unlike Jakarta, I did manage to find convenience stores but the queue often snaked itself around the entire store and it took ages to be served by the lone attendant.

Bali is a tropical paradise with a wonderful, varied natural environment but its charm comes back to the local people. While some vendors can be a little pushy and while taxi drivers offering you drugs or a woman tend to go on and on, the people retain a gentle charm and maintain a decorum that is so hard to find on Phuket these days. The poorly concealed hostility a growing number of Thais have towards foreigners seems doesn't exist on Bali. The locals seem genuinely happy that visitors enjoy their island, and not just because we're spending our hard-earned, but simply because we chose to go there in the first place.

Indonesia is much poorer than Thailand and the infrastructure isn't as good. That extends to the Internet. I tried everywhere and everything and could not find a reasonable connection anywhere. Getting anything much faster than dial up was an impossible dream.

But despite the state of the infrastructure, there was something about Indonesia that makes me feel it is almost more, as weird as it sounds, Western. The people have a completely different attitude and outlook to the Thais who it seems these days are becoming unreasonable on many issues. I felt that I could talk with the Indonesians about anything. Compare that to Thailand where a multitude of topics are a minefield or even totally off limits. It's the face issue, isn't it? So many Thais lack any backbone and cannot accept even the most minor, valid negative comment or criticism about anything Thai. It's rather different in Indonesia where your words and opinions are welcome.

If sun, sand and surf are not enough, and you're hoping for a bit of sex too, Phuket would get the thumbs up. Sex aside, there's a compelling case to choose Bali over Phuket. There is no clear winner here, but for variety of things to do, genuinely friendly people, a range of accommodation options, better beaches, a fabulous natural environment and value for money, it's hard to look beyond Bali. For all but the naughty boys, Bali is almost certainly a better option than Phuket.

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken from just behind The Avenue Shopping Centre on Second Road in Pattaya. Only a few readers got it right. 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 – Will the generation Y mongers accept things as they are now?

It all seems to be rolling back to standards doesn't it – or the lack of. The nightlife industry seems stuffed in that respect. There's no emphasis on servicing the customers' needs and managing their expectations. There has to be money to be made in this regard – building customer respect and loyalty and delivering on their requests. You have mentioned before that the bars will always have some throughput from hardened, old, seasoned visitors, but I can't help but think that in the next 10 years and with the next generation that they just won't put up with this. The industry will then either die or adapt to the changing circumstances, and it's not good at adapting!

How China compares.

I was recently in the Shangri La Hotel in Beijing. It's an extremely high quality "branch" and one of the flagship venues, very high end, proper luxury. I was paying 4 Euro (equivalent) at the bar for each tremendously produced cocktail (well it was a 2 for 1 offer due to the recession – 8 Euro each but essentially 8 Euro for 2 cocktails). The bar staff were tremendous and I personally commented on how well trained they were. They were engaging, even passing their business card, polite, passionate about the job, very helpful. Compare that experience to say a filthy bar in Bangkok on the street corner where the price of a standard drink is not far off that, service is awful, bills are routinely padded etc. To be honest, the industry over there deserves the death nail and I would love to see it topple. It's a disservice to the paying customer. It's also a filthy image on the country that they don't need. I am often in a mid-sized city up there, you could say about 10 years behind Beijing / Shanghai in terms of progression. It's not all fun. In the local Shangri La, a new stylish bar opened in the basement and I arrived at about 20:30. I was obviously the first customer as I woke all the staff up asleep on the sofas! I ordered a cocktail but they hadn't a clue how to make it (even though it was on a sign as the cocktail of the month!). Pulled out the manual and all gathered around, no discretion shown. They made a balls of it. Instead of using fresh leaves, limes etc. they used a kind of syrup. They took an eternity to get my change too. The other funny thing is that you can find yourself in a bar when it's early, maybe the first customer and there can be easily 10 – 15 staff just standing around in a relatively small area. Say you want to pay for a drink, you give the guy beside you the cash, he goes off, someone else stamps forms and counts the money, then passes the change to someone else… They are moving in the right direction but it will take time. BUT I am confident that they will go the right way in time. I don't see that in Thailand at all. Even though there can be bullshit like that, the customer is always important in China. They understand there is dependency there and rightfully respect that. They are practical. It seems in Thailand there is a lot of anger and frustration there (completely unjustified as I see it too). I don't want that, especially after drinking a bit. It's not safe; it's really bloody dangerous in fact. Perhaps ironically, the alcohol covers up the lack of safety around a person there.

Caveat emptor.

In Carrefour we went to buy an iron and were persuaded to switch models from the one we initially chose. The steam function on the model we were steered to turned out to be so useless we've given up using it. On another occasion in Carrefour we went to buy an LG DVD player. A group of four sales assistants surrounded us and tried their utmost to steer us to another make. We stuck to our guns and they were reduced to bleating "but LG is made in Korea!" as if it were some kind of crime not to buy a model manufactured in Thailand. In Home Pro we went to buy a shower unit. I knew exactly what model I wanted and waved aside the persistent attempts of the assistant to persuade me that the insides of another model were superior. We got the model I wanted but made the mistake of asking Home Pro to fit it. The guy fitted the breaker switch next to the shower unit inside the bathroom. The wiring was not boxed and was trailing every which way. We went back to Home Pro and asked a manager to visit and inspect the work. He came the next day with the worker who looked so crestfallen and stressed when told to reposition the breaker that I actually began to fear he might suffer a heart attack.

Thai, the language of love.

I like the language barrier. I have worked hard to learn to speak Thai well. My experience has been that it completely changes the game with the girls, all of them, and definitely in a good way. Their faces light up when they get back to the room and I can sing-along to the lukthung songs. Somehow, when I meet a Pinoy or Indo girl who can speak English, it is every bit the same turn-off as finding a girl who has been working the pole at Nana University for years, speaks fluent English (learned by injection), and is generally one of the top scholars. Thai has become the language of love for me.

Would you get involved?

Yesterday while rounding a turn in the road behind a pick-up I suddenly spotted a scooter speeding down the hill in front of the pick-up and right off the road into thick brush. Both I and the pick-up driver stopped to see what had happened. We found the scooter crashed in the bushes with a young female driver sprawled out beside it. After reading many stories about farangs having to pay or being penalized for being near an event like this, I refused to get involved other than lend someone my cellphone. A Thai went in and carried the girl out of the bush and placed her lifeless body on the roadside. Unfortunately I felt it necessary to leave the scene as soon as possible so I would not get blamed by the police for anything. Someone who came by the scene later told us that the girl was dead. I feel fortunate for all the advice on your site to have removed myself from the possibility of being charged with the death of a person.

Amazing banking.

I have a UK American Express card, and a UK Visa card. With those, I can access my accounts, check balances, pay the bills, all via the internet. Have done for years. As an aside, I have to give an address outside of Thailand for the Visa card because, when it is due for renewal, they refuse to dispatch the new card to Thailand. They were even prepared to cancel my account of 25 years rather than do so. Go Thailand! I also have a Thai American Express Platinum card. Needless to say, I cannot access it by the internet to check the balance and pay the bill. Thailand hasn't yet caught up. As they also showed when my wife decided to change her name (it's a Thai thing) so we had to get the name on her card changed. We'll fax you a form, they said. How about attaching it to an email and I'll return it the same way, I suggested. Sorry sir, cannot. Many people stopped using faxes to send documents years ago, but not Amex Thailand. Instead of using email, they were happy to go to the expense of sending the form by courier, for me to return by snail mail. Amazing Thailand, again.

Another downside of the industry.

You left out one of the deleterious effects of the bar environment on the bar whores. If you had the mission of making someone lose their hearing, what would you do? You'd place them in a work environment of high-decibel noise, like that of the clubs where they play the music way too loud. It's a problem all over Asia, with these morons never having grown up with toys, now can afford them, and making loud noise is a form of a toy. The effect on these young girls is that they go from perfect hearing to impaired hearing.

Forget police crackdowns, forget being short-changed and forget bargirls as high as a kite on ya ba, Bangkok's farang bar scene plunged to never before seen depths on Friday night when a bargirl pulled a gun on a punter right out in front of one of Nana Plaza's busiest bars, Rainbow 1. The incident was reported on Bangkok's best discussion forum, Thai360.com, by a reliable, long-time member. As the story goes, a bargirl and a young customer were in a heated argument when she brandished a handgun and pointed it directly at the guy's head. The fellow quickly opened his wallet and shoved the gun-wielding vixen a handful of banknotes before scampering away. The cause of the incident is unknown, but likely a dispute over payment for services rendered. Can things get any worse?

At the site of the old Hammer Disco on Walking Street, what is being claimed as the largest gogo bar ever built in Thailand will open by November. Serious amounts of baht are being spent to renovate the venue. Pleasure Dome, as it will be called, is owned by people who are tuned in to the industry and know what punters want. With consistent 3 AM closures of all discos in place and the rumour mill having it that early closings will become a fixed policy starting in October, a gogo seems like a better investment these days than a disco, remembering that discos in Pattaya do most of their business after 2 AM.

In Soi Cowboy, Coyote Apache's mamasan has been taking the recruitment part of her job seriously and some new talent has found its way in to the bar. Are these the first steps on the comeback trail for what was a favourite hang out of Bangkok locals in 2008? It might be a small venue, but it's worth a visit and a beer or two. And what's this I hear about a management change in the venue?

Coyotees in Pattaya, no relation to Coyote Apache in Bangkok, featured on Channel 7 Thailand news on Saturday showing the Aussie owner plus a bunch of his staff at the local cop shop. The TV footage followed a raid which took place at 9 PM on Friday night which reportedly netted underage girls as well as illegals from neighbouring countries. A Brit went into the bar, hunted for the youngest girl on the premises, barfined her, took her upstairs to the short-time room and then tipped off the boys in brown who stormed the premises. A number of girls were arrested and are currently banged up in the monkey house until court opens on Monday morning. The Aussie in charge posted 400,000 baht bail after the indignity of spending a night behind bars. Rumour has it that he faces charges for knowingly operating a venue of prostitution (a crazy charge as all of Pattaya is guilty of that) and knowingly having underage prostitutes on the premises for which he really should have known better given the bar's reputation. I think we can safely say that the upcoming dance contest will be postponed.

That soi 4 landmark and institution of Aussie culture where you can find such delights as rugby league and Aussie rules shown live, the Bus Stop is seriously down on night shift girls when before they had nearly 20, in better times. Now there are just 3 on top and a few more down below. Tourist trade in soi 4 has been miserable recently.

And frankly it's not a lot better down at Cowboy which is experiencing typical low season nights with bars 1/3 – 2/3 full. That's not unusual for this time of year so given the sour economy, Cowboy is doing as well as can be expected.

The number of girls challenging #95 for the crown of Cowboy's loveliest little butt is on the rise. In Tilac Bar, where #95 can be found, both #4 and #43 are worth checking out, but for the time being #95 still holds the crown.

I've been talking up Tilac for quite some time and it remains my favourite bar. And no, despite some cynics suggesting otherwise, there's nothing in it for me, no money changing hands and not a single free drink pushed my way. It's busy most nights and does a roaring trade at the weekend. However, to bring some balance, a number of readers who have taken my recommendation and checked it out for themselves have not been so impressed. More than a few have reported issues when it comes time to receive their change. I've never had a problem myself, nor have any of my friends who are regulars, but there must be something going on as I have had a number of emails from readers reporting their change has been light. It seems that someone at Tilac – perhaps just a single rogue, perhaps a bunch, who knows – realises that there is good money to be made by short-changing merry customers who are more concerned about where Miss # 25 is than how much change they get. I maintain that it's a great bar but do make a point to check your change.

What sounds like scenes from a slapstick comedy were played out by the boys in brown this week as they raced around some Pattaya sois late at night with a loudspeaker, barking out to all who cared to listen that it was time to close up shop and go home! I can only imagine what first time visitors to Thailand witnessing this debacle made of it. For those of us who have been around for a while such crazy antics are nothing unusual.

The numbers of beggars in and around Cowboy has increased including a few familiar faces who seem to have given up on Nana and are trying Cowboy. This was never the case a year ago when navigation around elephants was the biggest obstacle in Cowboy. There is one beggar missing a leg who is a real pain. He reaches out and grabs you and waves his stump at you, all of which I find rather disconcerting.

In last week's column I mentioned that there were two new bars in Korat but I was wrong – there are in fact four! At this rate the metropolis of Korat will be competing with Udon Thani for the title of farangs' favourite Isaan playground. The four coyote places in Korat are Too Peace, Coyote Western, Slender Bar and Swing Bar.

Business is bad in the tourist areas of Thailand but don't blame it entirely on the recession. Bali, where I am at the moment, is booming. You see, it's fine and sunny in Indonesia now while it's the rainy season in Thailand. It's also the rainy season in the Philippines where parts are experiencing the worst rains in half a century. The ever popular Angeles City has said to be wet with heavy rain most days, yet I hear that business is good and cheap rooms are booked out. Are the chooks finally coming home to roost for Thailand?

Down Singapore way, the Immigration authorities are clamping down on Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese working girls flocking there. A sign of the times?

It must be that time of year for there have been crackdowns on bars over in Cambodia too with a certain fellow who used to be involved in Patpong's Safari Bar arrested. The rumour mill has it that the local boys in green have developed a taste for barang (what the Cambodians call us) cash. Locals in Phnom Penh tell me that this level of aggravation is unprecedented. No small number of Westerners who were previously involved in the bar trade in Thailand headed east, partly to avoid exactly this sort of BS – and now it's happening over there. Next stop Philippines, perhaps? It's pretty hard to head any further east after that though.

Getting back to Tilac Bar, some of the girls have created profiles on the big Thai dating website, ThaiLoveLinks – and when asked about it they openly admit it. Being a regular in Tilac and also someone who trawls through ThaiLoveLinks from time to time, you notice a few of the girls on there. Actually there are probably many, but you only tend to spot those you know or see regularly. The thing that is interesting is that they are not looking for customers on that site, but are genuinely looking for a so-called "good man" to settle down with. As mentioned in recent columns, the recession has sent non-typical types to the bars and many simply want to find someone to look after them. No doubt things will revert back to the old ways when the economy picks up of "you can take the girl out of the bar, but you can't take the bar out of the girl".

For those of you who indulged in a so-called limousine from the airport to your hotel, you may not be able to do that for the time being after a crackdown saw almost all of the limousine booths and taxi touts removed. What a good thing that is and passing through the airport this week it was a stress free stroll compared with previous trips. That said, I bet it's only be a matter of days before things revert back to how they were.

One of the bars in Pattaya's Soi New Plaza has a mother / daughter combination. Mum is a 47-year old war horse who's dropped 5 sprogs which, I think it would be fair to say, has made her a little rough around the edges. Life has been tough and she loves nothing more than a drink or two. The daughter is on the young side at 18 and could be perhaps best described as a frisky young colt. Her English is very good and she has quite a developed sense of humour for one so young. At 18 she is fresh to the business. There is something of a minor drawback however. She just happens to be a katoey! I've not heard of anyone barfining them together or even if it is possible to take both at once. This could be a challenge for you lot who like to try something a little different. The bar is in the middle of the soi – I'll let you hunt for it yourselves. Personally, I think you'll go to hell if you indulge in that sort of thing but what would I know?

Be careful with your valuables, such as cameras or other items you have on your person while out and about in downtown Bangkok. There has been a marked increase in drive by snatch and grabs. The MO has a motorbike pulling up next to a foreigner and the pillion passenger grabbing the goodies before the unsuspecting victim has a chance to realise and the bike zooms off into the night.

I maintain that the vast majority of foreigners resident in Thailand are up to something questionable, perhaps not necessarily illegal, but certainly questionable. When I say vast majority, I reckon 90% +. It could be that they are working without the right documentation or it could be that they regularly drink and drive or perhaps they cheat behind their Mrs.' back or procure their visa through illegal means or any of a number of other questionable things. Like I say, it could be illegal or it could be something morally questionable. I don't condone any of this but let's face it, that's simply the nature of the beast here – the Thais push the boundaries just the same. I therefore simply cannot understand why a certain foreigner has set up a website that encourages people to tip him off about what other foreigners are up to. Once he has a report about a supposedly errant foreigner, he liaises with the relevant authorities in Thailand who will look into the issue and if there is substance to it, organise a sting with the goal of an out of court settlement being reached. The person who makes the tip off, the guy behind the website and presumably the authorities get to share the spoils. Quite unbelievable. There are so few instances where I could condone this, perhaps child prostitution being one of the few examples. I don't expect this will last and I bet he will be lynched before too long.

The list of scams perpetrated against foreigners in Thailand continues to get longer and I think it's worthwhile highlighting the tactics that a small group of police are using against foreigners. It is perhaps not a scam, but a definite profiling and targeting of foreigners. First of all, you're probably aware that you can buy just about anything over the counter in a pharmacy in Thailand, in fact many buy up large before they leave for home as the cost of buying pharmaceuticals over the counter in Thailand is often much cheaper – and certainly much less hassle – than doing so in your own country. There's no need to actually meet with a physician and no need to get various tests done etc. Now if you buy certain items at some of the more scrupulous pharmacies, they will likely wrap them up in newspaper before putting them into a plastic bag for you to carry away. This is so the pharmaceuticals are concealed and prying eyes can't see what you're carrying. Why would they do this? Because, silly, it's technically illegal for them to sell drugs in the absence of a prescription! OK, so let's get back to the scam. Ekamai Bus station, which serves bus routes running between Bangkok and the east and eastern seaboard is a popular spot for the boys in brown to greet foreigners getting off the bus. No, they don't want to congratulate you on your sun tan or discuss the Premier League, they intend to search you and your bags in the hope that you might have something on you for which they can levy a fine. Illegal substances like marijuana would be ideal – for they can levy a princely sum for that, but they are also looking for prescription drugs without a prescription. If you cannot show a prescription and they can show that the drugs were purchased in Thailand then it is illegal. The drugs could be as innocuous as asthma or diabetes medication. It is NOT a valid defence to say that you suffer from that affliction and that the drugs are necessary. You must have a prescription! What generally happens is that the boys in brown suggest that you need to accompany them back to the police station where there is the implied threat that you that you could be charged. If that were to happen, you could then be stuck in Thailand for months before the case went to court, wasting a lot of time and money and probably result in losing your job back in the West. The alternative is that you could have it all cleared up there and then for an on the spot fine of 10,000 – 20,000 baht. So, if you carry prescription drugs on you, this is something you need to be aware of. There is one easy way around this however which avoids you having to deal with the boys in brown at Ekamai. Buses to the Ekamai bus station approach from the east, coming along Sukhumvit Road. You can do what many do and get off at the Onut skytrain station from where you can take the skytrain or a taxi to your destination, all without the worry of getting off at the bus station and facing hassles there.

Stickman reader's story of the week is Tom's "Queen Of Lies And Deception", another in a long line of 'Thai girl done me wrong' stories where the writer ultimately makes himself look like a fool.

Quote of the week. "The place just seems so needlessly inefficient." Honestly, this comment applies to Indonesia WAY more than it applies to Thailand.

Highly questionable stuff is being posted on Craig's List Bangkok.

The Thai tourist police will be highlighted on Western TV.

Gold Fever sinks a posse of investors with Thailand's own self-styled Bernie Madoff.

The Washington Post asks whether a hill tribe village is actually more akin to a human zoo.

A total disgrace as an African is arrested for the indignity of stealing from a bar maiden.

One man's experiences at Bumrungrad and Bangkok Christian hospitals were compared on a local forum.

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. However she did not receive a single email this week so there are no questions for her to answer.

The opening piece of last week's column describing Jakarta seemed to be well-received. That said, I received a few emails from readers wondering why I didn't pursue night time entertainment with greater vigour and determination. A few readers even went so far as to forward me screeds of information about where one could go for such fun, outlining where to get laid and not necessarily where to go to merely have a good time. You see, what I like about nightlife in Bangkok and especially Pattaya is that it is generally fun. You can go out, sit and chat with women, watch some pretty girls dancing – and then go home. It's all a bit of a flirt and there's no need for any hanky panky to enjoy yourself. When I visited Blok M in Jakarta (what does the 'M' stand for by the way?), I could chat with the girls and flirt, but leave it at that. Most of the information I was forwarded by readers outlined where to go for the specific purpose of having sex. No thanks. I enjoy the flirting and the banter and for me that's the limit.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick