With some of the world's biggest shopping centres, many of the world's most acclaimed hotels and arguably some of the region's fanciest restaurants, it's hard to argue against Bangkok having a modern, almost Western feel. With adequate infrastructure and all of the major international brands represented in abundance, Bangkok is not the edgy, racy city it once was. Many never see any evidence of the reputation that Bangkok once had for adventure, a magnet for those craving something different, a city with an edge. Bangkok has slowly gone vanilla.
Over the past couple of months, Bangkok has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. But if things hadn't been bad enough up until now, they positively erupted on Friday when the military began a more concerted effort to remove the thousands of red shirt protesters who have occupied central parts of the city for weeks.
What's happening on the ground in Bangkok? Just how bad is it? Do the images being beamed around the world paint an accurate picture of what's happening on the ground or are they merely isolated incidents played over and over again that make things seem worse than they really are?
The situation is, I believe, at least as bad if not worse than what you're seeing on TV and in newspapers. There have been clashes between the red shirts – some would call them rebels – and the military for days, ranging from minor squabbles and skirmishes to gun battles and the hurling of grenades. All of these battles have taken place in downtown areas, some OUTSIDE THE RED ZONE, the area which the red shirts control.
On Friday afternoon on lower Sathorn Road, a mate who works in the financial district had to pay a King's ransom to a motorcycle taxi rider to whisk him to safety, through back alleys, sub sois and away from the mayhem right outside his office doors. Soldiers were firing rounds only a stone's throw from his desk. The motorbike taxi rider roared through the back alleys of Bangkok, his superior knowledge of the area getting my mate, seemingly one of the last out of the financial district, away to the relative safety of Sukhumvit.
But don't go thinking that Sukhumvit is safe, despite being outside the red zone. Popular columnist and gogo bar manager Dave The Rave was at the Nana intersection in the early hours of Friday when there was an explosion 50 odd metres from where he was walking. Suddenly all around him soldiers came out of alleys, drive ways and buildings to join their colleagues, all ready in a battle stance, their guns pointed in the direction from where the grenade had came. Bottles, rocks and abuse were hurled at the soldiers before a few minutes later a bunch of red shirts were captured by soldiers, tied up and taken away. The Nana intersection may be outside the so-called red zone, but it's seeing its share of action.
4 kilometres away from Nana is Soi Rangnam, a lively soi just south of Victory Monument that's a favourite with students, foreign English teachers and artistes. It has been sealed at both ends with major clashes taking place right out on the street. Real bullets were fired, real blood spilled and lifeless bodies taken away. Cars are said to have been torched as residents fear for their lives, many unable or unwilling to leave their building, the sound of live rounds and explosions right outside. Who would have thought a battle could take place on this peaceful, leafy soi?
Daring local photojournalist Nick Nostitz wrote a compelling report, describing how he was on the frontlines yesterday and found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time with shots being fired by soldiers bouncing all around him. You could never accuse Nick of being prone to exaggeration and when he says he thought he was going to die, it's harrowing.
But you don't have to be right in the thick of it to be at risk. The mainstream media reports that the resident of a high floor condo was struck by a bullet and killed, a totally innocent and unnecessary victim.
Grenades are being thrown all over the place, from Wireless Road in the east to Din Daeng in the north to Soi Ngamduplee and Rama 4 Road in the south as well as the Rajaprasong and Nana intersections. Residents in or near the red zone report explosions and gun shots day and night.
Intersections are being taken over by the red shirts in the area just north of the red zone, traffic being diverted into high risk areas. Traffic lights at some intersections have been destroyed.
It's the random element which makes Bangkok so scary at the moment. Up until a few days ago everything was confined within the red zone and around the top of Silom Road. If you avoided these areas you would not know anything was happening. Things have spread far and wide with sporadic skirmishes, battles and attacks where you wouldn't expect them. Anyone anywhere near the red zone could easily become an innocent victim.
This chaos has resulted in the closure of not just offices, shopping malls and hotels, but many embassies. The biggest embassy of them all, the American embassy, is taking things very seriously indeed and is evacuating all non-emergency US government personnel and family members from Bangkok. Needless to say, visa applicants and foreign nationals in Thailand seeking assistance from their embassy may find themselves very much on their own.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand building will be closed tomorrow, its location at the foot of a Rama 4 Road fly over perilously close to the action and the site of a new red shirt encampment to say nothing of its association with the establishment making it a genuine target for red shirt radicals.
Chulalongkorn Hospital, one of the best government hospitals and a favourite for child birth for many of the city's poor – often migrant workers from the same background as many of the reds, is now closed.
When fighting or chaos is shown on TV, you often see the distinctive, bright sleeveless jackets of motorbike taxi riders, predominantly natives of Isaan and almost entirely red shirt supporters. They have the reputation for not backing away from a bit of rough and tumble and they are often there, right on the frontlines, lending their weight to the cause. I have chatted with many about everything and you get complete different ideas from each person you speak with. I don't know if I will ever look at this lot the same again.
The loss of jobs as a direct result of the Rajaprasong occupation is mounting. I'm aware of entire offices being closed, the entire staff of small companies given their marching orders without a single baht of severance pay.
Staff from the downtown branch at one of the biggest department store chains in the country were told that if they wished to keep their job they had to report for work at the recently opened branch in Pattaya the very next day. There was no mention made of transport, accommodation arrangements or even who they would contact once they got there. The message was simply "If you want a job, go there. If you don't, there's the door!"
Many big hotels closed down weeks and weeks ago. Some of the big hotels may be paying staff a percentage of their salary but these people could still suffer financial hardship as they often get half or more of their salary from their share of the service charges – which they're obviously not receiving at the moment.
A friend with a shop on the very edge of the red zone reports that he has gone from an average of 10 customers a day to no customers in 10 days. Two staff will lose their job. He has also fallen behind on the bank loan for his shop.
One friend's girlfriend used to work in that high-end emporium of extravagant goods and services, Gaysorn Plaza, which is located at Rajaprasong. This week she battled through the mob to get to the shopping centre and miraculously managed to find her way inside. She was asked by red shirts where she was going and what she was doing to which she explained that she simply wanted to retrieve some personal belongings as she assumed she would not be working there again. The red shirts told her that was a good idea because they expected that sooner or later the security forces would try to expel them from the area and when that happened Gaysorn would be burned to the ground! Rogue comments or not who knows, but it has also been intimated that if a major offensive is made against their position then Siam Paragon and Central World will also go up in flames.
I heard of one foreigner whose BMW is parked in one of the car parks in the Rajaprasong area and he can't get to it and there must be countless people with property in the area which is now at the mercy of the red shirts. Needless to say anyone with a business interest in Bangkok, or property in the city, has taken a hit, at least on paper.
The red zone encompasses the most central part of Bangkok. In addition to shopping centres and offices there are many residential buildings housing thousands of residents, all of whose lives have been disrupted massively.
Mobile phones are going crazy, SMS messages saying that shopping centres should be avoided because they are going to be targeted by red shirts with bombs and guns! Personally, I don't believe that this is what the reds are about, but there does seem to be a rogue element, radicals who might just do something crazy. Many in Bangkok are terrified of leaving their own home. Some won't even stand near a window.
Unfortunately there might be some truth in these rumours because two days ago the Bangkok Bank branch in Ubon Rachathani, a red shirt stronghold, was sprayed with bullets by a pillion passenger on a motorbike and yesterday the Ayuthaya branch of the PAD (yellow shirt organisation, the opponents of the red shirts) office was also littered with bullets. It is these random attacks in out of the way places that have many people so nervous.
With the passing of each day, getting around Bangkok is becoming more and more difficult. The skytrain and underground have been out of service for the past 2 days which has caused massive inconvenience to tens of thousands, to say nothing of traffic chaos. The skytrain and underground have each announced that they will remain closed for the time being. One of my fears is that the reds will vandalise a station or destroy sections of the track, throwing a massive spanner in the works of this city's incredibly fragile infrastructure.
Taxis have become harder to find in some areas and will not take passengers to certain areas. Some drivers are attempting to be entrepreneurial, reluctant to use the meter, offering a fare many times what it would be if the meter was used. Many motorcycle taxis in Sukhumvit are hiking prices with some motorcycle queues setting a minimum charge of 50 baht, irrespective of the distance travelled – when often zooming up and down a soi – their bread and butter runs – would cost the passenger just 10 baht. Some bus routes have changed, other routes have been cancelled. The Saen Saeb canal boat service which runs past Central World Plaza also remains out of service.
For many Bangkok schools, the start of the school year has been postponed by a week. The school year is supposed to start tomorrow but with Bangkok's public transportation system brought to its knees, many roads closed and notably, many prestigious schools located in or very close to the red zone, the City had little choice but to postpone the start date by a week.
Needless to say, those in business are furious at the ongoing situation, both Thais and foreigners. Many will lose their shirt and while the damage to Thailand in terms of GDP may not be that great, perhaps just half a percentage point or so, at an individual level the losses are huge.
In neighbouring countries businesses are suffering from the flow on effects of less foreign visitors to Thailand, for many the gateway to South-East Asia. My good friend Gordon Sharpless was in Bangkok last week and admitted that his guesthouse has taken a massive hit with many cancelled bookings – as have all similar businesses in Siem Reap.
For me personally, life goes on. Living walking distance from ground zero, in a VERY yellow neighbourhood, it's largely business as usual. Everything seems to be ok on the surface but when you start talking with the locals about what is going on you find that most are absolutely furious.
Trying to find some positives in this incredible mess, the Thai army has been professional under the most trying of circumstances. Being involved in a situation that they really don't want to be in, they've showed great restraint and professionalism.
I've always been a fan of Prime Minister Apisit, the likeable, fluent-English speaking, level-headed politician who is a complete break away from the typical Thai politician. Apisit has done his best to make sure there have been minimal casualties and one cannot help but think that if this was elsewhere, the streets would be awash with blood. I hate to say it but once this is all over you'd have to say that the poor guy is history. In a country where conflict resolution skills barely register above zero, managing Thailand's way out of this mess was probably too much for anyone.
You really need to put a critical eye to everything you read and hear about this crisis. There are many reports that just don't add up and many things being reported that are contrary to what I have seen with my own eyes.
Thailand has proved to be resilient in the past, but the images and video being beamed around the world will test that resilience to the max. With the baht holding its value and many feeling that Thailand isn't anything like the bargain it once was combined with depreciating Western currencies, will the country finally suffer the massive tourism slump that these ongoing problems have threatened for so long?
This crisis may have been going on for some time, but it is only in the past week that the vibe in the city has really changed. People are nervous and worried about what will happen next. Bangkok has got its edge back.
Last week's photo
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken at Wat Hualumpong, the large temple on Rama 4 Road at the bottom of Phyathai Road. Few people got it right. The first person to email me with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British fish and chips restaurant. The second person to correctly guess the photo wins a 500 baht voucher from one of the very best farang food venues in Bangkok, and the home of Bangkok's best burger, in my humble opinion, Duke's Express. Duke's is very conveniently located in the Emporium shopping centre in central Bangkok.
Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The Duke's prize must be claimed by March 2011. 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 – The place that I could not wait to get to became the place I couldn't wait to get away from.
All of the things you write are exactly the things I have experienced. I was never much of a bar person and I never went into the bars alone. I had no interest in seeing girls dancing with the most boring of looks. It was also difficult to find good honest mates in Thailand. So many of the farangs in Thailand are dodgy and have alcohol problems, are into underage sex, or have problems (sometimes criminal) in their home country. The place that I could not wait to get to became the place I couldn't wait to get away from. The whole place became not only boring, but ugly as well. Unfortunately I feel that Thailand scarred me in that I was cheated, scammed, etc so many times in so many unique ways that I have carried a distrusting nature with me upon my return to my home country. Hardly a day would pass in Thailand without some sort of "incident" whether it be a scam, not getting all your clothes back from the cleaners, a taxi problem etc. It is a bad character trait that I am trying to rid myself of. We can tell how long a person has been in Thailand by their attitude towards Thailand. For all of us who leave after a long stay in Thailand there are many entering, who, with time, will likely become just like us.
Everything gets boring!
Of course the bars get boring. Everything gets boring, including married life. Imagine if Christmas was every week. Boring. So you need to think of bar visits as your job, not entertainment. Something you do to become more successful. That's how anyone treats a job. When they stop trying to become more successful the job gets boring. So don't write of how you are enjoying a particular bar, think of how the tourist will enjoy his once-a-year experience and write that.
The illusion has gone.
I would agree the bar scene for me has become boring! I think it has changed over time and is a shadow of the fun it was around 1998. I was out in Rainbow 4 and started drinking with a Japanese guy, a wealthy broker, on his first time in Bangkok, cashed up, young and looking for fun. He saw me looking around the bar and asked why I wasn't looking at the girls! I said I was bored and he agreed, confirming the girls looked disinterested and no fun! He had little eye contact. He asked a cute girl down and immediately after asking for a drink it was "pay bar". We went to a few bars and the same terrible service and attitude pervaded the night. We went elsewhere and he hooked up with a cute freelancer. The illusion has disappeared for now and with that the engaging fun and possibilities as well, it's reduced to something rather depressing.
Speak first and engage brain later.
Yet again the world has looked on in astonishment as the Thai government made itself look stupid. This past week they gave yet another ultimatum to the red shirt protesters to leave their camp in the centre of Bangkok, saying they would cut off all utilities to the area (electricity, water, phone signal as well as transport) to isolate the protesters. And they ordered any residents who live in the area to leave (and go where?) as they would not be allowed into the locked down area. Even embassies in the area, they said, would be affected, ignoring the fact that embassies are in fact universally acknowledged as foreign soil and it is vital for such places to be able to function properly. And then they changed their mind when residents and embassies (and hospitals?) protested, and they realised they couldn't do it anyway without affecting far too many people. But that is business as usual in Thailand, where few consider the consequences of their actions. Speak first and engage brain later.
You mention your lack of interest in the nightlife scene in Bangkok. I think you'll find you're 'getting old'. This isn't a bad thing and the quicker you embrace it the quicker you'll begin to enjoy your excursions out. Going out in my small town in the UK, I search out the pubs that I can sit down in and talk with friends. I avoid pubs with loud music and tiresome young things who can't hold their drinks so good. When I lived in Bangkok and friends visited, I wanted to catch up on home and they wanted to get out on Sukhumvit ASAP. It got to the point were I would leave them alone for a few days to get over their working girl lust. When I did visit Nana / Cowboy I had more fun talking to the girls rather than trying to negotiate a price. Oh well, all this makes me sound like your Dad, yet I'm only 43.
A better option.
I don't know if you can say this in your column, but my only advice to tourists and expats who like to have sex with new women is this – go to a soapy massage. There is no bullshit. The girl no more expects you to fall in love with her than would a cook who made you a great steak. Go, have a new girl, then go home. If she's no good, tell the mamasan or don't go back. Find a place you're comfortable. You don't have to drink, smoke, or listen to bullshit. If you get a good girl, she'll treat you like a king for a couple of hours, and it (even if you go to a hi-so place) will wind up being cheaper than a night in a bar, a bar fine, and short time with a room or long time in your room. I can't stand to go in a gogo bar, and can barely stand a bar beer, unless it's one that friends run. Why put up with that shit to get laid? You're in Thailand. Do what the (middle class) Thais do. They don't sponsor girls. They bonk them and half an hour later can't remember their names. They get off, the girl gets paid, everybody's happy and it's one hell of a lot more honest than the bar scene. There are girls in various soapies who are proud of their skills. I have nothing against prostitution. I guess, maybe because I'm old, I got bored with the bar scene a lot faster than you did.
Bye bye, Thailand.
Now that violence has been condoned by the Bangkok and Thai politicians there is nothing to stop further violence on either side. It becomes martial law followed by mob rule against one side and then against the other side. Finally you get a military dictatorship. Remember Thailand had one before. In my opinion, as I mentioned in a note to Stickman in 2005, the course to anarchy has been set and it can no longer be stopped. I expect car bombs to become the norm in the major cites as the police and military become more oppressive and the economy collapses as tourism drops, possibly as much as 60% from 2009 levels. Allah will be moving north as the police will be busy with the civil unrest caused by the poor. Having been a frequent visitor to Thailand (six times over the last decade) I think I will find another beach to sit on, another beer besides Singha, and a different rice to eat. It has been a good time for my wife and I but Thailand is no longer a safe place for a vacation
Patpong may be quiet but the King's Group is FINALLY doing something about the state of its bars with major renovation taking place at Camelot Castle, one of the King's Group's more popular bars. The entire frontage was taken down earlier this week and workers are feverishly working on the interior. I guess it's up for a redesign but we will have to wait a little to see how it has changed. That said, anything would be an improvement. Camelot Castle was grubby on the outside and filthy on the inside! The girls from Camelot can be found next door in King's Castles 1 and 2.
And speaking of those two popular Patpong gogo bars, King's Castle 1 and 2 had hand-written signs on the exterior advertising for openings with immediate start. Said signs stated that the venues needed many dancing girls and that girls could elect to either dance for a monthly salary or for a day rate of 200 baht. What is interesting is that similar notices could be found on other King's Group bars which are spread all over the Patpong area. Does this mean that the King's group is having trouble getting staff? It wouldn't come as a surprise with business incredibly bad at Patpong with few customers about and presumably girls have gravitated towards other bar areas where there is the opportunity to make more money.
Seeing such a large number of Russians in Pattaya who really don't want to part with their hard-earned, perhaps the term Cheap Charlie should be retired in place of Cheap Ivan or Igor? There does not seem to be a lot of Russian names that start with
After having been a temporary home to some of Thailand's finest troops, Patpong sois 1 and 2 were completely free of any police or military presence for most of this week. But for sure, look up to the sky and there are still heaps of soldiers camped out on the upper floors of car park buildings in the area.
What is happening to the supply of Guinness in Thailand? Will it continue to be available or will this favourite drop of many be resigned to Bangkok bar history? There are many rumours doing the rounds, the one I keep hearing is that a new supplier is going to step in and import it, but a pretty penny will be charged – 300 baht a pint! We'll just have to wait and see what happens.
Cowboy and Nana were quiet this week, and very, very quiet on Friday night with all hell breaking loose across the city along with the closure of the skytrain causing havoc and making getting around rather difficult.
In Soi Cowboy, The Arab has told his staff to be aware of any soldiers or police that may come and patrol in the soi, instructing his staff that any security authorities who stand outside or even near his bars need to be told to move along! Can you believe the audacity of this guy?
There seems to be little happening in the foreign bar areas at the moment, with no signs of investment being made and customer numbers lower than the absolute lowest point of the low season in many venues. Hence there is little in the way of bar news
in this week's column – there's nothing happening in Bangkok to report on.
Even before the shit hit the fan, Patpong was very, very quiet this week with few people around – pretty much as quiet as I have ever seen it. The night market too was dead, with some vendors not even bothering to set up, as per the photo below taken on Tuesday night.
One of the benefits of all of the chaos going on around the country is that there are fewer traffic police hassles these days! In fact I would go as far to say that in the last two months I have not seen ANY police checkpoints during the day where the coppers stop drivers and invite them to make a donation. There are checkpoints at night but they are above board.
There are many, many nice spots to dine in Pattaya and being next to the sea, there's no shortage of seafood restaurants. With that said, I have to admit that I haven't managed to find that magic combination of good seafood, a nice atmosphere and reasonable prices. That is until now. The A One Hotel down by soi 3, pictured right, has a wonderful buffet every evening featuring many seafood dishes, all in a very pleasant outdoor setting with a view of the bay. What's more, it will only set you back 550 baht. If you're looking for a nice, romantic spot, then the buffet at the A One is hard to beat – and it won't break your budget.
It's six years since Dasa Books arrived in Bangkok. Run by an American who ran a similar store in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Dasa didn't waste any time in quickly becoming one of the most popular second-hand bookshops for Bangkok expats. I have to admit that while I quite like second-hand bookshops in the West, most here in Bangkok are not to my taste. Books tend to be way over-priced – used titles often sold at the same price they are new in Asia Books, stock is badly organised or simply not organised / sorted in any coherent way – and worst of all, most Bangkok second-hand bookshops aren't run by "book people". Dasa is the first place I know of that fulfils all that criteria – fair prices, well organised and run by book lovers. Dasa has nearly 16,000 books in stock and to celebrate their 6th anniversary, they have a sale this month. From May 14 until the end of this month, all second-hand books will be discounted by 20%. The sale price will not include books already discounted. If you have books you'd like to exchange and want to purchase additional titles you are eligible for the discount. For customers who don't have time to drop by the shop itself, you can take advantage of their mail order service and receive the discount but please note that the last day to place mail orders for the sale is Thursday, May 27. You can download a complete list of the books they have in stock as an Excel spreadsheet from their site. The list is updated twice each week – on Sunday and Wednesday. They also post a separate daily list of books that they add to the inventory which can be seen under the Daily Book Arrivals page on their site.
There have been a number of arrests of foreign guys in Pattaya recently, predominantly younger guys – all in their 30s – who have been making their own productions, secretly filming their trysts with ladies of the night. This is illegal in Thailand and considered a very serious offence and as such I would strongly suggest that you refrain from doing it, lest the idea of spending time in one of His Majesty's long-term accommodation facilities doesn't scare you. Idiot 1. Idiot 2. Idiot 3. What were these idiots thinking? And shame on that American for having unprotected sex with such a large number of bargirls.
Hotel occupancy rates are desperately low at many Bangkok properties. One reader told me that his hotel in Bangkok, the President Solitaire on Sukhumvit soi 11, sent him an email on Friday stating that they are down to 15% occupancy and that forward bookings for June are alarmingly low. They advised him that while at the present time they are still open for business, that may not be the case in the near future. I assume the occupancy rate at the Solitaire is not that much different to other Bangkok properties. I've heard of two Bangkok 5 star properties with occupancy rates in single figures.
Long-time American resident and retiree Frank Visakay enjoyed all that Thailand had to offer before passing away this week. Frank loved his life here, loved his dogs and especially liked his trips over to Patong to seek companionship. Frank moved to Phuket in the late ‘90s and spent much of his time behind the keyboard, initially producing pieces for the Phuket Gazette before switching to this site where he was a major contributor and sent in over 50 readers' submissions – contributed under his real name of Frank Visakay, his often used pseudonym of Restless in Rawai as well as a few stories which he sent in under the ever popular name of Mr. Anonymous. Over the past couple of years Frank's health deteriorated and typing became difficult for him and so writing took up less of his time. Frank and I used to catch up on the odd occasion I made it down to Phuket as well as on his more frequent trips up here to Bangkok. Frank loved Italian food and wine and he proclaimed Zanotti in Bangkok to be as good as any Italian restaurant in New York – which he, as a restaurateur – insisted has the best Italian restaurants in the world, even better than what you find in Italy. Frank was a real character, liked by many and he will be missed.
Town Lodge is running a summer promotion through May and June. Standard rooms at the Sukhumvit soi 18 address will set you back just 900 baht and Jacuzzi suites are only 1,900 baht. All rooms include free wi-fi internet access, and a welcome drink at Toxic, the bar on the ground floor. It's cash payment only to take advantage of these deals. Toxic also has an American Breakfast with 2 eggs, bacon or sausage, fresh coffee and orange juice for just 100 baht and they are still running their happy hour through until 10 PM when local beers are 70 baht and house cocktails just 100 baht. You can book by email at: [email protected] or by phone 02-6637712.
Quote of the week, "You know you've been here too long when you're in Baby Dolls in Pattaya and instead of watching the girls being abused in every imaginable way, you're watching Chelsea play Liverpool – and it isn't even live!"
Reader's story of the week comes from Mr. Anonymous and is the brilliant "Jayson And Green Stars And Men And Women".
Thai fire-fighters make a classic blunder, classic even by Thai standards!
One of Thailand's private investigators is profiled by CNN.
Television New Zealand ran this video report on dentistry in Thailand.
The Age reports some Aussies have got caught up in the Thai red shirt protests and are stuck in their Bangkok hotel.
Also from The Age, why Bangkok bloodshed should concern the West.
Some very interesting thoughts on the Thai crisis come from an IHT writer.
For me, this is the best opinion piece on the red shirt rebellion rocking Bangkok.
Ask Mr. Stick
Mrs. Stick is unwilling to answer any questions at this time. If I receive any interesting emails to which I think the answer could benefit other readers, I may include the question, and my response, here.
Question 1: I know that this is trivial but I want to comply with the law so here is the question. Can you bring more than one carton of cigarettes into Thailand as long as you notify Customs and pay the taxes for a second carton, however much that might be? Also – can you still take a taxi cab direct from Suwarnabhumi Airport to Pattaya. I heard that there are road blocks along the way now and you might not be allowed to pass. Thank you for your response.
Mr. Stick says: Yes, you can bring in tobacco (or alcohol) over and above the duty free limit so long as you declare it. You will be taxed on it and I believe the taxes can be quite high. I just did a quick search online and could not find the rates so you might want to contact Customs beforehand and find out what the rates are to establish if it is worthwhile to bring extra in or not. As for the second question, there is no problem getting to Pattaya. I am not aware of any road blocks and certainly there should be no problem at all for a foreigner going down there and being prevented from passing. There are some road blocks on major roads in the country but I believe they are on roads from the north and northeast leading in to Bangkok.
The big question that everyone is asking at the moment is whether they should come to Thailand or whether they should postpone or even cancel their trip. For first time visitors, I would say that a trip to Thailand should be ok but you should avoid Bangkok entirely. If flying in to Bangkok, I'd recommend that you proceed to Pattaya or Phuket or Samui or Chiang Mai or wherever it is you wish to visit. For frequent visitors to the country who know their way around Bangkok and are not easily spooked, Bangkok is still worth visiting. You do need to factor in that getting around may be more difficult than before, all of the best shopping malls are closed, there is much tension in the air and there is always a chance you could get caught up in something unexpectedly. If you are comfortable with these issues, then there's no need to postpone your trip. If this sounds a bit scary, restrictive or you feel it may prevent you from enjoying your holiday, then perhaps postponing is the best thing.
Your Bangkok commentator,