Stickman's Weekly Column December 20th, 2009

2009, A Year To Forget, Again!


We always knew 2009 was going to be difficult. With the world in economic turmoil, we knew there would be fewer visitors. We knew that businesses largely dependant on tourism would suffer. Bars, restaurants and hotels would struggle and some would close. Jobs would be lost. Families in Isaan would go hungry. Foreign-owned businesses in Thailand would go under. Did 2009 really turn out that bad?

I walked along Soi Cowboy with the doctor and it looked much the same as it did last year. Bright shining neon, no shortage of screaming sexy girls and plenty of punters. All the bars are still in business and many were doing a thriving trade. Guys were walking hand in hand with their wife de jour and everyone was smiling. We heard there was a queue at Asoke Place, the nearest short time hotel. With high season here, the farang-fuelled economy between sois 21 and 23 is booming. There were no obvious fatalities on Soi Cowboy.

But look in the other direction and it's dire. Prices are plummeting as businesses do everything they can to stay afloat. An hour's rub down can be had for 99 baht as masseuses plead for you to enter their parlour. Free pool is offered day and night in many bars yet pool cues collect dust. Happy hours prove ineffective as you pull back the curtain to enter a bar and see bored girls on stage and not a customer in sight.

Many businesses in the tourism trade are in big trouble with some big names in dire straits. Most bars have numbers way down on last year. I'm not talking 5% or 10%, but big numbers, some so big that you wonder how they remain viable. Most have been waiting for the high season, waiting since February. Big name venues with no customers at 10 or 11 PM have become all too common.

You have to feel sorry for owners who have invested in the industry, some of whom must be wondering if they will even get their money back. It might be their life's savings. You know it's bad when the big name bars are hit. Misty's in Pattaya is a classic example. They did a real nice job putting the place together, taking on an experienced farang manager and recruiting a bunch of pretty ladies. They have all the good booze and they don't cheat on drinks which are reasonably priced. In other words they've done everything right. But for most of the year Misty's has really struggled. I would often be sitting in Secrets, a stone's throw away, and the conversation amongst the regulars was how quiet there bars were – and Misty's was often cited. Sometimes there were no customers there at all.

It's been a sight in many Pattaya bars this year. You walk in and you're the only customer. You turn around to leave and the girls plead with you to stay. It happens in Bangkok too, even in Soi Cowboy. One night in Sheba's the doctor and I were the only customers there for our first two drinks of the night. It was the same another night in Shark. Some nights out on Walking Street, especially around July, August and September, there were far more people working in the venues than there were visitors.

But not everywhere has suffered. While some venues have been quiet, a few have boomed. At the helm of Baby Dolls, Ricky has exceeded the owners' expectations. Baby Dolls, one of the smuttiest bars in all of Thailand where just about anything goes, has discovered the secret to success in Pattaya. In Pattaya it's filth that packs the punters in.

I explored the dark side in Pattaya for the first time this year, the other side of Sukhumvit Road, and was amazed at just how quiet it was, how few foreigners were around. It was nothing like I expected. It was explained to me that many who used to live over that way have left the Kingdom, claiming that life just got too expensive and they could live more affordably at home. Hard to believe.

Soi Cowboy was Bangkok's top bar area in 2008 and perhaps the year before. It was no different this year with Soi Cowboy cementing itself as the capital's premier bar area. Sure, the prettiest girls are probably still in Nana – Rainbow 1, 2 and 4 are hard to beat, but for good times, better attitudes and the nicest bars, Soi Cowboy's the place.

Nana Plaza improved a little with some older bars renovated and a few improvements made tidying up the plaza. The shake up by the new Spanky's management made the Angelwitch management wake up. The improvements in the plaza have lessened the feeling of it being a bar area in decay. But with only three years left on the master lease, there's little incentive for owners to sink much into their properties.

Over at Patpong, soi 1 has less and less attraction each year with many bars in desperate need of a total refurb. Patpong soi 2 on the other hand is on the improve with new bars at the Silom Road end making it worth a trip if you haven't been recently.

Cowboy and Nana have joined Patpong in becoming Bangkok tourist attractions in their own right, drawing less typical visitors. Western women, Asian tour groups, African men and photographers are nightly visitors to Soi Cowboy.

Less guys in the bars means less money sent to the girls which is reflected in the PI trade with two PIs reporting bargirl investigations down a massive 75% on last year.

It's been a tough year for the girls and none have suffered more than those who work the beer bars of Sin City. Some girls have struggled to make enough to live, let alone enough to send home to family who desperately need every baht they receive. The ratio of girls to guys hasn't been this good in a long time. For the girls it's a nightmare.

Away from the bar industry, with less Westerners visiting and less young guys spending more than a couple of days in Bangkok, it's been a boon for local expats chasing birds online. The likes of FindLoveAsia and Thai Love Links have been happy hunting grounds for local guys who have enjoyed a year-long buffet.

The baht's sustained strength has caused much grief for retirees and we are now finding out who retired too early. But despite the protests of a weak home currency by many retirees, this is not a 2009 thing. At this time last year, £1 got you 52 baht. Today on the streets of Bangkok it gets 53. The dollar was getting a fraction over 34 baht a year ago but today it gets a little less than 33, a drop of about 4%. The Australian, New Zealand and Canadian dollars all get much more today than they did at this time last year. Currency fluctuations should not be blamed – you really should look at historical extremes and plan for a worst case scenario. Many obviously didn't. Retiring early or with inadequate finances is like shagging bargirls without a rubber – it catches up with you eventually.

My feeling is that prices on Sukhumvit and in the farang ghettos didn't increase that much this year. From 2003 to 2008 inflation in places where farangs like to party was probably running 10% per annum. This year, fortunately, has bucked the trend. Business owners know they are playing with fire if they put up prices.

But the face of tourism to Thailand seems to be changing. Has the classical Sukhumvit farang become a minority as Arabs and Indians take their place? And late at night, Sukhumvit is dominated by men of colour, from deepest, darkest Africa.

There have been more fights, more scams and more hassles this year. There was the Nana Plaza gun incident reported earlier in the year when a girl pulled a handgun on a customer. My feeling is that there has been no slow down in the suspicious deaths of foreigners, to say nothing of more robberies and other crimes perpetrated against against tourists, most of which seem to go unsolved. There's been no change there. Hell, even the damned soi dogs have become more of a nuisance this year, a few wearing the big Stickman right foot on the nose.

The boys in brown have been hungrier than ever with foreign visitors and residents alike more of a target than ever before. The local constabulary have become more brazen in their requests for donations. It got so bad that one friend said one of the reasons he sold his car was that he was getting stopped by the police with spurious claims and subsequent demands made all the time. Hassles from the boys in brown have always been an aspect of life in Bangkok and Pattaya; now there are more reports from Westerners being targeted in provincial Thailand too. Clearly their traditional sources of income have dried up and they have diversified.

The Philippines seems to have benefited from the chaos and growing disenchantment in Thailand. Some retirees have traded Thai for Tagalog and some naughty boys are bypassing Thailand altogether to give Angeles City a go. The exodus to Cambodia seems to have slowed, although the more relaxed visa rules there have proven to be attractive to some under 50s who found too much red tape involved if they wanted to remain in Thailand.

The Thai authorities did nothing for our confidence this year and were even worse than usual. The political situation is still a mess. In what was always going to be a difficult year they decided in their infinite wisdom to conduct crackdown after crackdown, most of which were nothing more than a face-saving measure, a knee jerk overreaction to a small problem. All the crackdowns served to do was alienate foreign visitors.

Then there was the King Power duty free scam, the Aussie Bar beer mat incident in Phuket and more reporting in the international media of crimes perpetrated against Westerners in Thailand. The world finally found out what Western residents of Thailand have always known – that the cops just aren't that interested when the victim is a foreigner. Irreparable damage has been done to Thailand's reputation as a tourism destination this year.

The internet landscape has changed with some Thailand sites calling it a day. Some have have become nervous at the increased interest from the authorities in sites critical of Thailand and stopped publishing. I bumped into the owner of Mangosquash earlier in the year who said that he regretted ever starting the site. I've since heard similar words from other Bangkok webmasters who have found the Bangkok blogosphere to be a snake pit.

The Bangkok-centric forums have become a total joke, many wallowing in limbo, suffering an identity crisis, seemingly unsure whether they are a serious information site or a private comedy club, often lingering somewhere in between. Fortunately the major Pattaya forums provide a better alternative, are more lively, better moderated, have more accurate info and are an all round better experience, a real dichotomy given the respective populaces of the two centres.

2009 has been the year of the grass and the year of the betrayal. In more than a few columns I have openly said that Westerners resident in Thailand are hardly the crème de la crème of the West. I am truly disgusted at the number of Westerners grassing up other Westerners, messing with their lives by tipping off the authorities about things that do not concern nor affect them in any way. Many of the busts and arrests of foreigners are as a direct result of tip offs by other Westerners. I'd like to say I've been immune to this nonsense, but that would be a lie. In what has at times been a stressful year, I have had the authorities knocking on the door not once, but twice. Those difficulties were worked through and I survived to fight another battle. Given that a prominent Eastern Seaboard realtor also had the boys in brown on his doorstep twice, you don't have to be Einstein to work out who was behind it.

I've talked way too much about the negative stuff so let's take a look at some of the highlights from 2009.

Bradman's Bistro, just around the corner from Soi Cowboy on Sukhumvit soi 23, gets my vote for best farang food venue. The menu was expanded a few months back but owner Aussie Thomas never lost sight of his original vision – quality food at reasonable prices. The venue is developing quite a following, many of whom appreciate the mix of good quality, reasonably priced food with live sport. The doc and I eat there most weeks.

I would have said that Tilac Bar was the best bar in 2008 but the incident with the dodgy thousand baht note and the dreadful way it was handled pissed me off so they missed out. The thousand baht girl is still there – and she still glares at me every time she sees me. I can safely say that for yet another year, Tilac has been the best gogo in Bangkok. If you want the prettiest girls, Baccarra and Rainbows 1, 2 and 4 are where it's at. If you want the best shows, Angelwitch is still the best although there's real competition next door from Spanky's. If you're on a budget, Apache Coyote is the place but if you want the best overall package, Tilac is in a class of its own.

But as much as I like Tilac Bar, and I'm there at least twice a week, Stickman's favourite bar is a little further up the road. I found myself spending more and more time in Bangkok Beat – and enjoying every moment of it. The mix of freelancers and non-working girls just out for a good time can be found elsewhere, but the size of the venue means that wherever you perch you'll have girls squashed up next to you. The vibe and the atmosphere are just right. They have great bands and serve real drinks – none of this watered down crap so prevalent elsewhere. Bangkok Beat has more girls on the game than not, but don't let that put you off. It's my favourite spot from 10 PM onwards.

Down Pattaya way, Secrets is still my favourite spot. They've had an up and down year and trade has to be down over 10% this year compared to last. It's not the place for the hottest girls and it's far from the cheapest, but the format just works. Every single night I spent in Pattaya this year – and that was many – I started in Secrets. And some nights I didn't make it anywhere else. That's how good it is. And Licker Larry is still the best manager in the business and in fine form most nights.

I would stick my neck out and say that for top end, farang-oriented gogo bars, Bangkok has it over Pattaya at this point in time. With that said, Pattaya is a better night out with more variety, better attitudes, plus it's easier to get around and the prices are lower. But if you want the top venues with the most attractive girls, hit Bangkok.

In what really has been a shitty year, I am pleased to say that this website has had its best year yet. I made the decision at the start of the year to be edgier, to distance myself from the slave trade AKA the teaching industry and not to shirk the issues facing Farangdom. I have put the spotlight on Westerners in Thailand, highlighted many of the downsides of living here and questioned many dodgy aspects of the bar industry. I really think the column is better now than it has ever been – and reader numbers support that. To everyone who tunes in each week, even those who have grassed me up to the authorities, signed me up for gay dating sites, sent me hate mail or made various threats, I thank all of you for tuning in each week, showing your support and helping to make this site what it is.

2009 has been a year to forget and I don't see things changing any time soon. If you're in business in Thailand, start praying. I'm picking 2010 to be a total disaster. More on that next week.



Last week's photo


Where was this photo taken?

Last week's photo was taken of the small sub soi off Sukhumvit soi 5, just up from Foodland and before Gulliver's. 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 correctly guess the photo wins a signed copy of Stephen Leather's superb Private Dancer, which many refer to as "the bible". It's widely regarded as the best novel set in Thailand's bar scene.

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. To claim the book prize you must provide a postal address within Thailand now. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month. You only have one guess per week!

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 – Female farang rubbernecks.

The massive increase in the number of farang women (usually accompanied by men folk) who trawl the bar areas for a gawk has been vexing me for some time. I wonder if the bars will ever ban these women from their rubber-necking ways? A few years back I was in Hamburg, and decided to drop in on the most famous little side-street, adjacent to the Reeperbahn, in which the ladies of the night sit or stand in the windows to ply their ways. At both ends of the street, it is blocked off, with a sign saying the street is for men only. Women are banned from entering. Why? The women who work there don't want to be regarded as an item of curiosity, some kind of modern day freak show, but are there to work and only want to see customers. By the same token, the guys who are there seriously checking out the talent and eager to partake, don't want to do so in an a street crowded with photo-taking, rubber-necking tourists. I wonder if Cowboy and Nana will ever reach the same conclusion? On Sunday night I was in Big Dogs for all of 30 minutes and in that time I saw 11 farang women walk through for a sticky-beak. For me, it has reached such an epidemic level that I think a ban would be a good thing. One of the major downsides of Patpong (among others), is that there is so much passing foot traffic of tourists that I fear if I step outside with a lass on my arm, there's every chance I'm going to run into a next-door neighbour or old school friend or distant relative etc. Now that there are so many western women trawling around Nana and Cowboy, I have begun to fear the same thing. The myopia of Thais is legend, and if they can squeeze out one drink from some passing western woman, they think it is all justified, not knowing that it may cost them 5 or 6 drinks from guys who are reticent to chase some Thai tail when there's a simulacrum of their mother / sister / wife sitting on the other side of the room. So I have no expectation that bars, let alone bar areas, are going to ban farang women any time soon, but still I'd applaud them if they did.

Second Languages.

I am broadly in agreement with the pros and cons of spending huge time and effort in learning a second language. However as last week's column focused on Thai, I would say that it applies to any second language. For me it was French and France. It took me 5 years of university study and 2 – 3 years living there to become 80% functionally fluent. I can watch French news, order anything I want at restaurants and shoot the breeze with taxi drivers. Quite an achievement for an Anglophone as we tend not to make the effort. For me, the benefits of 2nd languages are 3 fold:
1) An intellectual exercise. Persevere and you will be rewarded by your own achievement. You will no longer feel like a dunce only being able to offer one language. In addition, learning a third language will be so much easier.
2) Insight into a people. As an example, the French don't even have words for leadership and management. (It's le leadership and le management.)
3) Buyer beware. Make the huge investment only to listen to them discuss some soap opera or who Sarkozy is banging this week. Intellectual discussion? The French love to do it, but in the end it is one giant navel gaze. Give me a cool Chang and a game of Connect Four any day.


Thai ladies in Bangkok, Pattaya, and all over Thailand

The icky stuff is still popular with some.

I remember being in a Soi Cowboy bar last year when the mamasan proudly presented a girl to me and told me she was only 17. No thanks! I couldn't believe she would advertise the fact and I am sure there are many other underage girls working. How can you tell their ages when so many are so petite? I've got a friend who owns a bar on soi 6 in Pattaya and he has a 16 year old working there. He said he wasn't too keen on it but his Thai wife insisted. Apparently this girl was having so much fun in her Isaan hometown that her parents told her to go to Pattaya and get paid for it if she wanted to be a slut! How's that for family values and morality? The police were being a pain in the ass in soi 6 the last few days I was there and my friend told the girl to go out the back and make herself scarce where she was pulling more guys from soi 6/1 than the other girls were out front. Not for me.

The benefits of learning the language make it all worthwhile.

As for learning the language, I think any time you put out effort and achieve a goal it is worthwhile. OK it's probably a waste of time for the casual visitor, but I feel it is worth it for people who live in Thailand. Sure you can get by without it, but who wants to just get by? Of course this week's subject will probably be extremely popular with all the lazy people who read your column as they can now justify their laziness! Actually I first started learning the language because I disliked people who lived in my country who couldn't speak English. There are so many instances where learning Thai has helped me over the years that it would take me too long to list!

Playing with fire.

I like the cosmopolitan, international flavour of Bangkok and am open to meeting people from anywhere. Today I sat down with a guy I met at Emporium mall (Phrom Pong) a few days ago. He claims to be from Liberia and is certainly an African man. He brought along his 'brother' to assist in the scam. They have money from the war period in Liberia and they want to get it into 'the system' and need help. (And I've got a 14 inch cock that can shoot across the room.) For me, it's fascinating to sit across from these two guys and stare into their eyes looking for a giveaway to what they are really thinking. Even though I knew from the get-go that this was a scam, it's still exciting to contemplate what they are proposing.

The difficulties migrants face assimilating.

I read your column Once a farang, Always A Farang with interest. I used to volunteer for a literacy centre in Melbourne to assist migrants with language and cultural issues. Some migrants from South-East Asia had been in Australia for 20 plus years and were still really struggling to come to terms with the cultural differences. Many were living in Melbourne's race ghettos (I feel this description is justified) and had given up trying to assimilate. During the post-WWII wave of migration in Australia there were societies set up to welcome many migrants into their neighbourhoods but these programs were an absolute failure. Almost all migrants retained their traditional cultures. It wasn't until the third generation that many migrant families really adapted to Australia. Considering that migrants are still failing to adapt to Australia despite the huge amount of assistance to aid them in the process, is it any wonder that farangs aren't adopting Thai culture when farangs are so often made to feel like they don't belong in Thailand? I admire anyone who can learn a new language and try to adapt to a different culture. It is never an easy process.

It's Christmas at Soi Cowboy with Christmas trees and other seasonal decorations adorning lovers' lane. The girls are hoping for a bit of Christmas spirit, a lady drink at the very least. Some high season specialists – girls who are only seen for a few months of the year when pickings are best – are putting a real hard sell on all punters, tainting Cowboy with something of a high pressure Patpong feel. They pout and try all that you hurt my feeling BS when you don't fall for it. They hassle all and sundry, not knowing which customers are regulars and which aren't.

There seems to be a bit more police activity in Nana for which there seems to be no real reason. Perhaps it is just the high season. Considering how the high season last year was marred by the airport closure, it may be that someone in authority is trying to get the local boys in brown to go the extra mile to avoid any bad press, something which Thailand can ill afford given all the negativity published around the world about the country this year.

It's all go in Korat where a new titty bar is about to open. For all of you perverts in the gateway to Isaan, get your fat ass down to Butterfly Bar in Pailin Square. From the looks of the invitation to the opening night, pictured right, I'd say it's going to be a great night. The invitation states that you are invited to join the girls in the foam and that there will be shows every night. If you've considered taking a trip up into Isaan, now you have a reason to overnight in Korat. And to anyone who thinks that you won't find nice women up there, I'll put money on it that the women in this bar – which will predominantly target local Thai men – will be hotter than almost anything you find in farang-oriented bars in Bangkok or Sin City.

What's happening with the promised new uber bars of Walking Street, Baccarra and Pleasure Dome? We were told they would open in November, and then early December…and now Christmas is just a few days away. At long last the first of the much awaited two, Baccarra, has opened. The new bar features an upstairs area with a glass ceiling, just like the Bangkok branch. It's said to be sporting "Pattaya level" prices – meaning it is much cheaper than Soi Cowboy's Baccarra, which I have to admit I am kind of surprised at. Many said Angelwitch Pattaya would not work when right from the outset the owners put in place the same sky-high prices you find in the Bangkok branch. Customers didn't complain and Angelwitch Pattaya has been a huge commercial success, a seat sometimes hard to come by. It's going to be a while before the other big new bar opens, the one everyone is waiting for. The latest I heard this week is that it could perhaps as long as another 2 months, at which point high season will have long passed by. Missing high season is unforgiveable in this business and the project manager ought to be castrated for the delays that have plagued its construction.

I've been on a bit of a roll recommending girls from Tilac and have a new recommendation for Xmas. When I was there last week a friend pointed out a girl and said "There's Marcia from The Brady Bunch!" The Brady Bunch? That's before my time! I vaguely remember the title jingle but that's about it. I can't for the life of me remember Marcia. Apparently a lot of the young guns of the day had the hots for her. Anyway, if you quietly lusted after sexy Marcia, I am told that #14 in Tilac shares more than a passing resemblance – so you '70s TV fans can finally fulfill that unsatisfied fantasy!

If cameras and eager photographers in the bar areas cause your knickers to get in a twist, you need to be extra careful on Walking Street where the Time Out gelato ice-cream store now has a webcam which looks out over Walking Street and captures naughty boys with their wife de jour and broadcasts live around the world 24/7.

Bangkok Beat have specials on Christmas and New Years Eves with that fine drop, Jack Daniels, and also Absolut Vodka available at 120 baht a glass, or 1,900 baht for the entire bottle.

Four young lads (Aussies or possibly Kiwis, it was hard to say from their accents) stopped at the bug cart in front of that temple of fine Thai women, Tilac Bar in Cowboy. They proceeded to pay 20 baht for each bug or frog and photographed each other as they ate. Eventually one of them handed over a 1,000 baht note and received about 400 back in change, all in twenties. I'd say they paid 700 – 800 baht all up for less than a bag of bugs. After they'd left, the guy running the bug cart then ordered a hot pot, some beer and placed a bet on the football! A big bag of disgusting deep fried bugs – I have never tried them but people tell me they taste a little like potato crisps – usually goes for 20 baht.

The Bully's Pub Christmas Day Buffet kicks off at 1 PM and runs through until 10 PM with a feast that would satisfy even a big eater like Boss Hogg. It's priced at a very reasonable 650 baht per person – the list of items they will have on offer is just too exhaustive to list. Bully's regret to advise that the regular menu will not be available on Christmas Day. The venue will take reservations to avoid any disappointment. Of course there will be drinks specials including Fluffy Duck Shooters, Gingersnap Cocktails and highly spirited eggnog.

That other bastion of Farangdom, Bourbon Street, is also celebrating Xmas with a buffet. Bourbon Street's Western holiday special features a buffet just like Bully's and in what has become a trend this year, at a much higher price. I can only guess that the cost of rent in quaint and charming Washington Square is higher than it is on Sukhumvit itself where Bully's is located…

The old Nana Plaza favourite Woodstock, which has long since relocated to Thonglor, also has a Christmas Day buffet at 899 baht +VAT. Just why they need to join the ranks of venues employing this nonsensical deceptive pricing with a "+" is beyond me. Why not just quote the actual price a customer will pay? Hell, this crap aggravates me. Anyway, if you book in advance they'll knock 100 baht off per person. Children eat at 450 baht +VAT. The feeding frenzy gets going at 4 PM and runs until midnight.

There are in fact many venues – restaurants, hotels and bars – putting on special events, lunches and dinners for Christmas and New Year but I am limiting the venues I highlight in the column to those with a definite farang flavour and those charging reasonable prices. Some of these hotel specials are priced at astronomical levels.

I don't get much news and gossip from the tropical paradise of Ko Samui but there is in fact a bar scene for naughty boys down there and no shortage of working girls. As Samui has become more and more developed, so more and more girls have chosen to ply their trade on Thailand's second largest island. The first piece of news from down Samui way is that the New Gecko bar in Bophut burnt down in October after only being open 10 months. Yeah, I am a couple of months late with that! Re-building is well under way and they are due to open again on New Year's Eve.

There's a big new Aussie bar in Chaweng called 'Bondi Beach' on the main road at the entrance to Soi Green Mango (not the Henry's Africa entrance to the soi but the opposite entrance). It apparently only opened last week, but already seems to be doing a brisk trade. It's very much in a similar vein to Solo Bar.

Still at Chaweng, Henry Africa's looks great now that they've expanded into the unit next door. It's essentially a mirror of the original. It even has decent new unisex toilets now as well as brand new pool tables. The cow girls don't seem to be as pushy for drinks as they used to be either.

I cannot work out what is happening with the cost of flights to Thailand at this time of year. Most carriers flying into Bangkok hike fares for December, January and February, it being the high season. Fair enough, we've come to expect that. I see that flights between Bangkok and my homeland will set you back about 50% more during this period than say travel in either November or March. But what I don't get is that many of the flights, especially those between Bangkok and the States are barely half full, yet the fares remain sky high. Now it does not take an Economics major to suggest that lowering airfares on flights that are only half full might just stimulate demand. Surely bums on seats is what counts and on the national carrier, they must understand that not only will they at least recoup some money from the seat, passengers fly into the country where they will spend. The TAT tells us that 4,000 baht a day is the average daily tourist spend. But no, it seems that that's not what they're doing at all. Airfares into the country on the national carrier and most other airlines remain high. A long time reader informs me that his wife flew out on the Thai non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Bangers this week. They arrived at the airport 3 hours early, expecting to stand in line for an hour or so for the economy class check in as usual. There was only one passenger in line. He thought perhaps there was a change in schedule, but there wasn't. When he spoke to his wife the next day, she said that the plane was not even half full and many passengers were able to lie down on three seats to sleep! Why don't they just cut the fares back? Am I missing something here?

The Music Station on soi 33 is a live music venue, a different format to most of the soi 33 bars. They have diversified their operation and hosted a few fetish shows, featuring the girls from Demonia, the fetish club also in soi 33. These events have been so popular that they could well become a regular event. Guys go crazy when the girls come out with their masks and whips and fetish outfits and do their thing. The next Bangkok Fetish Night will be Saturday next week, December 26. Check it out – and let me know what you think!

I guess ham radio is not as popular as it once was, with the internet now the most dominant means of intercontinental communication. This week I received email from an Aussie ham radio buff. He was on the airwaves and heard a fellow farang who said he was living and transmitting from Northeast Thailand (Isaan). I guess that there must be a few more guys out there in rural Thailand with a ham radio set up, perhaps long termers who used it before the internet went mainstream. Said Aussie says it would be nice to catch up with any ham radio enthusiasts and perhaps even meet up during his visits to Thailand. Other interested ham radio amateurs are encouraged to contact the Aussie. His call sign is VK2LKW and his email address is : [email protected].

If the phenomenon of certain ethnic groups going into bars and buying one drink to share amongst the group continues, will the day comes when bar owners decide to introduce a cover charge simply to enter the bar? When things do pick up again (2011?) and the bars return to being busy, would they still back themselves to do that? Or what about a minimum charge i.e. drinks at the usual 100+ baht, but a minimum charge of 300 baht per head?

Local florist Flowers Thailand is offering a 10% discount for Stickman readers this week only. Enter the code stickman2009 to get a 10% discount off your Christmas order.

Don't forget to lock the door of the short-time room! From carrying out PI tasks over the years, I have also spoken to the odd lawyer to whom the report and evidence was presented. To divorce a woman in Thailand based on infidelity, one needs photos of her IN THE ACT! I kid you not. Photo or video of her walking into a hotel room, even hand in hand, is INSUFFICIENT grounds for divorce, notwithstanding that it is plain as day what's going on. That's why you occasionally see these comical scenes on Thai TV or photos in the newspaper with cops storming into the room. They have to catch the participants in the act. Fortunately the act is not always captured as a cop's testimony is adequate without the need for photos.

Stuck for a Christmas present? Pick up a copy of the After Dark Asia calendar, pictured here. No-one will be disappointed with that.

The exodus of moneyed expats has started as many avail themselves of their paid-for annual trip home at this time of year, escaping the cooler December temps of Bangkok for the positively chilly Winter of home. For those who are heading home, it's worth remembering that Customs are much more strict about what you can take into your own country – and it's worth reminding your teeruk of this if she is accompanying you. You really do need to declare all of those Thai spices, Mama noodles, bottles of fish sauce and other mystery items she may consider essential. The last way you want to start your trip back home is with a fine for disregarding or overlooking some items on the Customs form. The paradoxical thing is that a lot of this stuff is inspected and then handed back to the passenger although obvious things such as lime-leaves, fresh vegetables and fruit, garden seeds and egg / dairy products are taken as a matter of course. It's especially tough Down Under where the Aussies and Kiwis are very serious when it comes to protecting their pristine, pure lands.

Quote of the week comes from a reader. "If you need a lawyer, go talk to your local policeman who will be cheaper and much more effective!"

Reader's story of the week is a must read from Mr. Anonymous, "Intersection of Respect, Power, and Money".

From the New York Times, it looks like some Ukrainians might be getting a 10 year visa for Thailand without the need for any extensions of 90-day reporting.

One of the Prime Minister's staff resigns after distributing nudey calendars!

From the FT, the Thai Airways chairman ships 380 kg of luggage and faces an excess baggage probe.

Pattaya One reports that there is a proposal to establish a dedicated marriage information and counseling centre for Thai people married to foreigners!

The New York Times covers the denigration of the Mekong River which flows alongside parts of Thailand.

From The Age newspaper there's an official warning about naughty bars in Thailand from the Aussie government!

Two Thai teachers disgrace the profession and are accused of selling drugs.

The UK's Daily Mail reports that some clown thinks that Scotland is next to Thailand!

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: When I was in Okinawa I met a Thai girl and was absolutely astounded by how beautiful she was. I have been looking at the Thai dating websites but haven't joined any yet. Since the only fruits available to me are, as your website puts it, low hanging fruits, how does one find a really good wife in Thailand? I don't drink or smoke or go to bars. I have two kids 6 & 10 who I live for. I am a home guy and a family guy. Is it still possible to find a girl like that? And the million dollar question is how? I am 49, got a late start on having kids, the idea of a 20 or even early 30 something girl is really not that appealing. Well I'm just going to wait for your advice.

Mrs. Stick says: I think you can find a Thai lady to marry. It's not hard. Where will you live? You want to stay in American, right? I think if you are a nice guy then you can find a lady on a dating site. If she has kids already maybe she wants them to go to America too. If she does not have kids, I think she will want to have kids so I think you need to talk about where you will live and also about children. Also, many ladies don't want to leave Thailand forever. Actually I think she only wants to leave if her life here is not good. Maybe a few years is ok so I think you should talk openly about your plans for the future. I think someone who moves to America for marriage is maybe someone who does not have a good career and good social in Thailand. If you can move to Thailand I think you have more choice to marry.

Question 2: I've had a Thai girlfriend for about a year, but I've wanted to end it for at least 9 months. We treat each other well, but I'm often indifferent and she knows that I don't love her. I told her I don't want to be serious and I don't want marriage or kids. I only meet her once a week and I don't give her any money but she still gets more serious and she won't leave me. I want to end it, but I don't want to deal with weeks of drama after I break-up. The one time I almost broke up with her, she told me how terrible her life is and then she said she would shoot herself if I left her. I don't know if she's just trying to make me pity her, but she does work for the military and she has a gun. If I break up with her, there will be loads of drama that I don't want to deal with. I don't want her coming to my house or school causing problems. Should I break it off now, deal with the drama, and accept that she might go mad or kill herself or show up at my work or home screaming, or begging for me to take her back? or should I keep things as they are, keeping her happy, meeting once a week until I go home for 6 weeks in April? Then I could break up with her by phone after I leave. That's still 4 months to wait though. And I will return in May too… Other suggestions?

Mrs. Stick says: If she is a government employee then I don't think she will go crazy at you because it makes her look bad. So I think you don't need to think about that. And maybe she threatens you but she probably just plays a game with you because she wants you to be scared so you stay with her. If you really don't want to stay with her, then maybe you can say a reason that does not make her feel bad. I think you worry too much about what she will do but for most people they will say some things but not do them.

Mr. Stick says: You REALLY need to harden up. You need to take control of not just this situation, but your life! Allowing a situation like this to fester away for so long and reach a point where it seems you're not happy, perhaps even miserable, is very much about you. Sometimes in life we just need to make the hard decisions – and follow through with them. Sit her down and tell her that it is over. You don't live together so it cannot be that bad, surely? I do admit that the presence of a gun does complicate things rather.

Question 3: While looking for something different than the Cowboy or Nana routine, one evening I decided to check out the Japanese karaoke bars. There were several attractive young ladies outside (advertising?). When I approached the door, I was told: "Sorry, only for Japanese". What's the story here? Aren't my baht as good as the Japanese? My colleagues said that I really don't want to go in as I would not fit in nor would I enjoy what was going on inside. I don't recall you writing about the Japanese karaoke bars. Please fill me in.

Mr. Stick says: Actually it is probably a good thing that they said that it was only for Japanese – because it really is! The way the Japanese men like to party is quite different to the way farang men like to party. In the Japanese venues, typically the Japanese men visit the venue together in a group and they go into a private room with a karaoke system. A group of women are paraded before them and each men is expected to choose at least one woman, although there is no limit to how many you can select. These women sit with you, pour you drinks, sing and flirt. There is a charge for them, usually charged by units of time, and a charge for the room, as well as various other charges like a plate of fruit, plate of nuts, all of which are compulsory – whether you consume them or not. There might even be a compulsory charge for a drink for the mamasan. I went to one of the bars in Soi Thaniya with a friend about 4 years ago. We were there for one hour and we didn't drink much and the bill was almost 4,000 baht. That's for one hour – no hanky panky and no barfines paid! These venues KNOW that the average Westerner does not like to party like this and does not like all these compulsory charges so count your blessings that they didn't let you in! Here's a report I wrote about my one and only visit to a Japanese bar in Bangkok.

So Christmas has rolled around again. I can't say that time has flown by because for me it hasn't. This year has sort of meandered along slowly and I can't even remember what I was doing this time last year! To all readers, those who tune in every week and those who swing by occasionally for a casual peek, I hope you have a marvellous Christmas and don't listen too much to the maddening politically correct folks. This is the time to eat, drink and be merry! We work hard all year long so now is the time to enjoy it! Avail yourself of all that life has to offer and just remember to sober up in time for next week's column!



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick