Stickman's Weekly Column May 2nd, 2010

Sin City After 6 Months


Sin City After 6 Months Away

It has been 6 long months since I stepped foot in Pattaya. The high season crowds are a turn off and the battle for a hotel room at high season rates a headache, especially as I tend to make the decision to go to Pattaya about an hour before I leave Bangkok. Familiarity really does breed contempt so I knew that having been away from Sin City for 6 long months, it would be easy to see what had changed.

Trips to Pattaya in 2008 and 2009 saw me become something of a creature of habit. I stayed in the same place, went out to the same bars, ate in the same restaurants, walked the same walks and even photographed the same girls. I vowed to break that cycle and with the exception of visiting the same old bars, namely Secrets and Toyz, I made an effort to explore parts of Pattaya I don't always stick my nose in.

The first thing I noticed, even before I reached Pattaya itself, was that the bypass road to Pattaya had been completed. Instead of entering Pattaya City itself from the north along Sukhumvit Road, the new bypass dumps you further along Sukhumvit Road, between North Pattaya and Central Pattaya roads, cutting the journey time by about 10 minutes. You bypass the Regents school and a good chunk of Sukhumvit.

I checked into the hotel and was back outside in record time, off for an afternoon-long walk, just me, my sounds, the camera and my favourite lens.

I made my way up to the budget visitors' favourite neighbourhood, Soi Buakhao. It was quiet. Every type of business was quiet. Some shophouses were empty, signs that some businesses had gone bust. There was hunger in the eyes of girls in the open air bars and the sort of desperation usually reserved for the depths of the low season, or the girls on Beach Road. Blackboards were erected outside bars, restaurants, hotels and knock shops fronting as traditional massage outlet offering low season specials. Pattaya is cheap. Soi Buakhao is real cheap. Genuinely decent Western meals were advertised for less than 150 baht, air-conditioned rooms for 500 baht or less and a rub down for a mere 99 baht. I don't suppose extras would set you back an awful lot either. Despite offering value for money, Soi Buakhao was deserted.

I wandered to the northern end of Soi Buakhao, down Central Pattaya Road and turned right on to Second Road, heading towards Big C. Second Road is seldom busy when the sun's up, this week no exception. Passing Big C, I continued to the round about and turned left, heading down towards Beach Road.

After seeing how quiet Soi Buakhao was, I expected to find the beach front to be no different. How wrong could I have been?! The beach road pathway was thriving! There were possibly more women working than I think I have ever seen before, making a complete mockery of the semi-regular crackdowns on girls working, crackdowns which have been taking place since long before I ever set foot on Thai soil.

It has to be said however that there are some really, really rough birds. Hefty girls. Drunk or drug-crazed girls. Girls who look like they live on the street. Hardly the best of Thai womanhood. But then it's hardly the best of the West there, is it? Foreigners sit on the Beach Road from mid-afternoon onwards in packs, often in groups where a common native tongue is shared. The native English speakers here, the German speakers there, and so on. They sit in packs, beer guts being worked on with cheap piss from 7 Eleven, vacant looks in their eyes, their tongues hanging out like soi dogs when a pretty walks past.

Locals tell me there's much construction going on but during my long afternoon strolls that took in Beach Road, Second Road, Third Road, Walking Street, Soi Buakhao as well as much doubling back and forth, I didn't think a lot had changed. I didn't see a lot of new buildings going up, or new bars or restaurants that looked like they'd be opening soon. A change of name here, a refit there, nothing major. While you wouldn't say Pattaya was in decay, not much seemed to be going on. It's like the place is in a bit of a lull, investors playing a wait and see game.

But Pattaya is not at its best by day. The beach is very average and the girls don't hold up well under the harsh summer sun. It's night time when Pattaya comes alive, when you get a much better idea of how things are.

Over the past few years there has been a definite shift in the profile of the Pattaya visitor. More and more visitors call Eastern Europe home and anecdotal evidence suggests that the TAT's marketing campaign in the likes of Turkey and the Middle East has been successful. There are plenty of Indian visitors who seem to spend more time in the beer bars and are not shy to approach girls on the street. It's most amusing watching them walk up to a girl, which they always seem to do in twos. Each barks at the poor girl in heavily-accented English, the poor girl hapless as to what is being said. Even standing almost next to them I couldn't make out what they were saying! For Thai girls who may have turned their noses up at Indians previously, with times being what they are, it's not only their mind that is more open.

Walking Street was packed at night. It was once the girls who attracted the typical Pattaya tourist, but now it's the concept of sex tourism itself that is the attraction. Visitors walk up and down Walking Street, photographing and videoing all that is going on around them. As their photos and videos appear all over the net and show Pattaya for what it is, the world's biggest sex tourism destination, one can't help but wonder if one day measures might be made to make Walking Street a photography free zone.

I only visited a few bars as having been away for so long I was more concerned about catching up with friends. Secrets was doing a decent trade, as it always does and manager Larry was in fine form. Turnover of the available girls at Secrets seems quite high, and I recognised perhaps only 25% of the girls present from previous trips. Those who have left have no doubt taken up residence with customers or been married off. Secrets seems to be one of the hottest spots in town for wife hunting. The service staff seem to be largely the same group with little turnover.

Happy A Gogo is still hard to beat, one bar that doesn't exaggerate when they claim to be Pattaya's #1 gogo. Happy may be good if you're shopping, but I reckon it's boring if you're not. The girls in there pick me a mile away, one of those guys who wouldn't take the hottest wench out even if she paid him. They avoid me like the plague so I don't bother going there.

Pattaya friends have been raving about Iron Club, talking it up as the best bar in town so off to Iron Club it was, me and a Bangkok bar-owning buddy. Iron Club bar has it all, from a fantastic sound system playing high energy dance music to a collection of the hottest girls in town. The bar is very nicely put together, using a design I've not seen anywhere else. The venue is actually quite narrow but they use the space well and you don't realise that it really is not that big, with excellent use made of the mirrors and tiered dance areas. My bar-owning pal reckons Iron Club is the best bar in all of Thailand and as I looked around I thought that maybe, just maybe, he's right. Has Iron Club surpassed Soi Cowboy's Tilac, the benchmark by which I compare all others? For sure, Iron Club is flasher, the girls are certainly more attractive and in typical Pattaya fashion, they're slutty and sexier. On the other hand, service is not that good, the seating far from comfortable (come on, stools just suck in a gogo bar!) and with the venue being incredibly popular, it can get rather cramped – walking around sees you frequently bump into others and I bet plenty have lost their drinks. And then there is the problem of price collusion. Barfine a girl and the mamasan ventures over and negotiates the price with you on the girl's behalf. Doesn't affect me in the least as I don't barfine, but I don't think it will win many punters over. Prices asked have a distinctly Bangkok flavour to them.

Further down the road in Toyz, previously known as Catz, trade wasn't quite as brisk. There'd been a turnover of about 50% of the dancing girls but again, the service staff seemed to be intact.

For sure, Pattaya is quiet, damned quiet. Walking Street appears busy from 9 PM onwards and if you spent a few hours there you would wonder why everyone says Pattaya is so quiet, but stick your head into any but the big name bars and it's grim.

Away from Walking Street, sois 7 and 8 ere doing ok. In fact soi 7 was thriving and there seemed be a number of new bars in each soi, some of which showed promise. These two sois have suffered horribly over the past 2 years but this past week they seemed doing ok. I wonder if there has been a movement by punters away from the higher priced gogo bars of Walking Street to the lower priced beer bars in sois 7 and 8?

As with Walking Street, during the day, few people are out and about. The shopping malls are quiet, the beach quiet and there isn't a lot of foot traffic. There seem to be less vendors selling tourist junk and some footpaths are less of an obstacle course than they used to be.

I swung by Cafe Pitini for breakfast one morning, arriving just after 8 and was the first customer of the day. I read the papers, checked email and left perhaps an hour later – and I was still the only customer. I can remember 2 years ago arriving about the same time and there were no free tables, inside or out.

Massage outlets have slashed prices, reduced staff and still seem to be doing little trade. Girls who once keenly waved at you, persuading you to venture inside just seem to have given up and sit around looking bored. Others sleep the day away.

There was something about this trip that made me think more than I usually would about those who visit Pattaya and don't partake of the nightlife. It's great to see friends, escape the high prices and crowds of Bangkok to say nothing of the photographic opportunities, but of the 4 people I like most in Pattaya, one recently died, one finds himself stuck in the West, one is about to relocate to Bangkok and the last unsure of his future, it all makes me wonder if I will spend as much time in Pattaya as I have in the past.

I can't write about a visit to Pattaya after 6 months away without mentioning how odd the local populace is. That is what I took from this trip more than anything. Pattaya is home to a lot of weirdoes. Westerners and Thais alike, you need to look at the place with fresh eyes to see what a freak show it really is. Plenty of good people for sure, but wow, there are some real oddities about, whether it be the Englishman in his gold cape riding his bicycle or the Thai Santa Claus wannabe who sleeps on the branch of a tree on Beach Road. The weirdoes are everywhere.

And there's some real desperate people in Pattaya too, both locals and outsiders. The lights seemed to have gone out in the eyes of many, replaced by a hollow, vacant stare. So many look right through you, a distant stare, almost the stare of the dead. They make me think that for them, Pattaya is the last chance saloon. The Pattaya look I call it.

There's always been a slow, but steady stream of Bangkok-based guys moving to Pattaya, often guys who had been in Bangkok for 5 or more years, players in the bar industry – participants or investors, making the well-trodden path. I've not heard of anyone I know do that recently. Not one. The trend may even be reversing, with two Pattaya-based friends looking at moving to Bangkok. Numbers way too small to call it a trend, but maybe there's something in it?

Regular trips to Pattaya are fun enough but 2 nights is enough for me. After that I really need to get out and return to the relative calm of Bangkok.

Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken of the expressway that goes over Ploenchit Road, just beyond the end of Sukhumvit, just west of Sukhumvit sois 1 and 2. Only two people got it right! Cripes, it wasn't that hard! If you're a long time reader you will know I used a shot from the same location a number of years ago. 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! The third person to get the photo correct 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. 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 – British blood not good enough!

I thought I'd do the decent thing today and donate blood to the Thai Red Cross. Hence last night I abstained from alcohol, got plenty of sleep, no fatty food, all the things you are supposed to do. Joined the queue, filled out the forms, was weighed, blood pressure taken. So far so good. Then the nurse asked me to confirm how much time I'd spent in the UK between 1980 and 1996. Because this was over 6 months I was told my blood was 'not safe.' Apparently this is because I might have been exposed to CJD, or basically mad cow disease. I told them that I could show them my recent medical results from RSU, which include thorough blood work analysis, but was informed that my blood was still not acceptable. Admittedly, my blood type is not uncommon, but you would think that particularly in these times, when their supplies are low and likely to be called upon in quantity fairly soon, they would not be so picky. And if I'd had CJD for the last 14 years, I wouldn't be going anywhere or donating anything any more. I'd be dead. All in all, a wasted trip when I was hoping to do something, however small, to help the country.

The red shirts' dumbest move.

It is difficult to imagine a greater public relations disaster than the Red Shirt invasion of Chulalongkorn Hospital. I had messages from as far away as the United States and Spain asking if I was safe, the pictures of desperately sick people being moved from the hospital to safer areas apparently having a far bigger impact than the recent and ongoing street battles. It is no use the leaders claiming it was a rogue element. All that demonstrated is that they have lost control of their own supporters and, with the police as usual standing by and doing nothing, anarchy now reins in Thailand with no rule of law whatsoever. Meanwhile, as protesters disrupt life all over the country, including the blocking of the exit of Khon Kaen airport on Friday – again, with no intervention from any kind of security force – a desperate and blinkered Tourism Authority are berating foreign governments for advising people not to travel to the country. They are all wrong. Thailand is right.

Beware the razor wire!

With regard to your city siege updates, it is not barbed wire, rather it is called razor wire. There is a significant difference, and I have to say I am shocked that the decision was made to deploy this stuff in an urban environment that is not actively engaged in combat! With barbed wire, you can grab between the x-cross stitch barb and jump over, as a fence. If you fall on it, or are pushed, you will get pierced, it will be painful, but it is possible to pull it off your clothes and get up and walk away. Even a drunk or panicked guy would be mangled and worse for wear, but not seriously injured. The razor wire, on the other hand, is extremely nasty stuff. This will slice into you, at any angle or side, there are no gaps to grab / jump over, and if you fell into it, well, I just wouldn't want to rate your chances – death by a thousand cuts. Again, I am amazed that the stuff is there. The installer needs good protective gloves, and 2 guys to throw and ripple it out. It is also not staked down into the ground and could be strewn about if a strong wind picks up, one bad guy with a glove or stick (or sharpened bamboo) or even if it gets caught up in a vehicle and dragged along. A lot of people could get hurt, even accidentally. I have used this stuff on military exercise, and I was very careful around it and kept my distance as much as possible.


Looking for Thai girls? Look no more – you just found ThaiFriendly.com

The political situation.

There is finally a potential for Thailand to move towards a mature political system based on policy rather than personality / patronage. You have the beginnings of a genuine two party political system with on one side a working-class-oriented socialist party and on the other side a middle-class-capitalist party such as the Labour-Conservative split in UK and Democrat-Republican split in USA. One has to be careful not to expect things to happen too quickly (it took the West many years to evolve their own systems) and not to impose western (imperialist) ideologies on to Thailand. Unfortunately there will probably be a lot of blood spilt in the process and vested interests will inevitably try and scupper it…

Some foreigners just have to get involved.

I have friends who have fallen out over this political conflict, which I find almost unbelievable. While the more reasonable among my foreign friends seem to recognise the shades of grey and the complexity of the situation – plus register how their alien status means that they don't really have a dog in the fight – some seem willing to sound the rallying cry for both sides. I have heard some foreigners use the term "red shirt filth", and others say some equally strong things in favour of the red shirt so-called people's revolution. The situation is bad enough without foreigners becoming "useful idiots" for either side.

There's gonna be less Ockers in the land of smiles.

Here in Oz, people have been canceling their Thailand vacations by the hundreds. Girls that I know who work for Flight Centres here in Melbourne have told me that 40% of their phone calls last week were from customers inquiring how to cancel their holidays, or rescheduling elsewhere. They told me many were opting for those two sterile capitals south of Thailand – Singapore and KL – with others heading for the not so sterile Penang. Making matters worse is the Australian insurance industry, or more pertinently, the travel insurance industry. Anyone booking a holiday as from last week, without pre-purchased travel insurance won't get any cover whatsoever not only for Bangkok but FOR THE WHOLE OF THAILAND. The insurance industry down here has taken some big hits over the past two years, namely the Black Saturday bush fires, the Sydney hail storm, the Sydney floods, the Brisbane floods, the North Queensland cyclones and the Melbourne hail storm (the most expensive in Oz insurance history). To say they are risk averse is something of a misnomer. So all added up, the Aussies who on a per capita basis are one of the biggest groups to visit Thailand will be noted for their absence – at least in the short term. Without amelioration to the present situation, maybe it will be a lot longer than the "short term".

New karaoke bar law?

When I visited one of the Thai style karaoke bars in Rachada area (was it soi 7 or Soi 3, I forgot) at 1:15 AM on Friday night a couple of weeks ago, a bar that my Thai wife and I frequent once in a while, we were told that although the place will stay open until 5 AM, karaoke singing had to stop at 1 AM due to a new law. From 1 AM to 5 AM, the place was said to be only allowed to play music and functions as a disco. It's an indoor bar, no sound being heard outside. Never experienced like this in last 5+ years.

Is Black Pagoda in Patpong, the fancy bar that was once an overhead bridge connecting two buildings in Patpong soi 2, the safest bar in the troubled Patpong area? The venue, which features floor to ceiling glass on either side giving a full view of Patpong soi 2, has windows made of bullet-proof glass. I kid you not, it really is. It would be interesting to know the history and why bullet proof glass was installed. So if you are in Patpong and all hell breaks loose, head to Black Pagoda!

After suffering major fire damage over Songkran, Pattaya's oldest gogo bar, TQ1 on Beach Road, looks set to make a miraculous recovery and will reopen this coming Thursday, May 6.

Club Electric Blue is fighting to buck the trend (can you call dead a trend?) at Patpong. It's all bad news in Bangkok's oldest farang bar area, with visitor numbers even lower than they had been due to its location close to the red shirt nonsense. In an attempt to win back customers, Electric Blue is offering 35 baht draft until 10 PM, almost certainly the lowest priced draft beer in a gogo bar in Bangkok. The happy hour ends at 10 PM when draft reverts to its regular price of 90 baht but the promotions don't stop there. After 10 PM, buy 2 glasses and your third is free!

Bars and restaurants in Sukhumvit soi 23 went into darkness on Thursday night when electricians playing around with the power supply near Soi Cowboy cut the wrong wire. There was a big bang just before 8 PM and much of the soi, which features a number of bars and farang-oriented restaurants, went dark. Somchai could be seen walking around scratching his head. Luckily for Cowboy, the power stayed on and the neon didn't go out.

Not that there was ever any doubt that Cowboy is the place for naughty boys these days, a bunch of pretty girls in Liquid Nana T-shirts, the recently opened venue on the ground floor of Nana Hotel, were handing out flyers promoting the bar….in Soi Cowboy.

Sisterz in Walking Street closed a while back and a new bar will reopen soon in that spot with new owners and management and a completely redecorated interior resembling its new name, The Cave. There's a cave-like look out front and it is said that it will be the same on the inside. That look was tried in Cascade in Nana Plaza which promised to be the Crown Group's premier bar but frankly, it didn't work. Here's hoping they do a better job of the concept in Pattaya.

Lolita's has new competition from Baby Dolls where the Lolita's specialty seems to be happening right there in the bar. No surprise really because I reckon there's not much that doesn't happen there.

If you want to book your place in hell, go into Secrets in soi 14 off Walking Street in Pattaya during the day time and ask for the mother / daughter team. 39 and 18 they are. Unbelievably, they do go together. The devil will be waiting for you…

Two mates, both long-term expats, have been hyping Country Road 2 in Soi 5. It's above Foodland at the entrance to Soi 5, the same soi as Gulliver's. They tell me it's a great bar offering free pool all day and all night. Drinks are 120 baht, there are more than a dozen pool tables which are said to be in good condition. The one problem is finding the way in – it's above Foodland and the stairs are to the left of the supermarket. It's funny because as you walk along Soi 5 the girls wave down trying to get you to go up and then frantically point to where the stairs are! Soi 5 is fast becoming known as Little Africa but our African friends aren't found in Country Road 2 because double pricing exists – they are charged 200 baht a drink. Country Road 2 is open until 4 AM.

The troops are out in the farang playground of Sukhumvit. Where they were primarily posted in and around Silom Road, you can now see small numbers of them between Sukhumvit sois 3 and 23. Body language suggests that these poor soldiers really don't want to be there and it's real nice to see the management at Sunrise Tacos is providing their fine product for some of the troops stationed nearby.

It's still really quiet at Patpong, despite the night market reopening this past Wednesday. Patpong had been struggling even before this latest round of madness and the heavy military and police presence as well as the reds being nearby seems to have put off all but the hardy.

How do you know when a bar is doing really well? Heaps of the girls get boob jobs, that's when! I guess that means that Angelwitch in Bangkok and Iron Club in Pattaya are both doing ok. Either venue could reasonably be renamed to Silicone City!

I'll put money on it that in Bangkok it is bars in Sukhumvit soi 33 that are the first to feel the pinch – and I'd go as far to say that there will be casualties down there before too long. Soi 33 has turned into a graveyard. Are *any* bars down there doing ok? Even Friday and Saturday nights don't seem to see much of an increase in trade. Every night seems to be the same. Quiet.

The Russian (Eastern European?) birds dancing above Moulin Rouge on Walking Street don't like to photographed, in contrast to the girls farther down the road at Galaxy dancing in a similar outdoor booth which don't mind. The bird in the photo here was paranoid about anyone photographing her, even at a distance, and made quite a show of covering her face while she danced, all of which looked kinda weird.

Bangkok was paralysed by perhaps the worst traffic I've seen here when on Tuesday morning the skytrain service was suspended due to the red shirts managing to get up on to the tracks where they dumped tyres near the Chidlom station. Service was interrupted for just 4 hours but the resulting traffic was chronic, as I say, worse than I have EVER seen it. What makes it really bad is that this is outside of the school term, so Mummy and Daddy weren't taking Somchai and Jirawan to school by car – as so many families insist on doing every morning which is a real contributor to Bangkok's morning rush hour grid lock. And then on Friday evening, it was just as bad. With the skytrain still running a limited service from 6 AM – 8 PM and Friday being the last day of the month, the day many people got paid – and so a night to party, traffic was a nightmare. Getting a taxi was a real mission and one mate reported waiting an hour for an available taxi!

Two weeks ago the Sheraton Grande on Sukhumvit had an occupancy rate of 20%. One week ago – and just a few days after grenades went off at the Sala Daeng skytrain station – the occupancy rate was 50%! How do you explain that? Easy! Three 5-star hotels in the Rajadamri Road area where the red shirts' camp is located were forced to close and the customers were shifted or rebooked into other 5 star properties, the Sheraton Grande amongst them. Another business doing well is the Emporium shopping centre which appears to be doing record business, also easily explained. Up until a few years ago it was the most popular high-end shopping centre in Bangkok but has since been overtaken by Central World and Siam Paragon. But with those two malls closed for the time being, business at Emporium is booming.

The UK government started it this week, warning its citizens against all non-essential travel to ALL OF Thailand and much of the Western world followed with many Western countries issuing travel advisories against visiting Thailand, that is *anywhere* in Thailand. Not just Bangkok where most of the troubles are, but the entire country. This might not seem like such a big deal but there is in fact a major side effect. With such warnings in place, it may not be possible to get travel insurance to visit Thailand – and there are plenty who just won't travel abroad without travel insurance. A bad situation all around.

Sometimes I wonder if the Westerners with the best lifestyle here – or perhaps are the happiest – are those who don't own anything. By that I mean a condo, a house, a business, a car and hell, maybe even a wife or a girlfriend – not that you can own them – they own you! The single guys I know who rent and who have enough money to do what they want when they want and who don't seem concerned about accruing lots of material possessions seem to be the happiest.

It would seem the Arab is doing his best to mimic what is being reported in the newspaper. On Sunday night of last week, a Thai guy whose teeruk works at Spice Girls decided to visit her. Thai guys generally are not allowed into farang gogo bars and needless to say The Arab does not discriminate. He promptly set his thugs on to the visitor. The thrashing took place the middle of the soi for all to see and someone called the police to put a halt to the bloody beating. The police arrived and were involved in sorting things out which took some time. This must have been a bit of a challenge for our friendly boys in brown. A farang getting a beating seems to be considered ok but when an innocent Thai gets the crap beaten out of him by a bunch of Thais under instructions from an outsider we're heading into uncharted waters! Although the eventual outcome is not known, it is just another reminder to be very careful in certain Cowboy bars.

The TAT really ought to recruit the marketing manager at Pattaya's Penthouse Hotel to help promote the city. It seems that the Penthouse Hotel really knows what the average Pattaya visitor wants and this high quality video on YouTube shows us what Pattaya is all about.

I have been ranting about the problem of underage girls working in the bars for a long time now and have been aghast that it is allowed to happen, seemingly without any consequences. I was talking with a bar manager about this icky issue recently and he told me about the laws regarding underage girls in the bar. If a bar is raided, a number of people can be charged with an offence including the manager(s) of the venue, the cashier, the mamasan, the leaseholder of the property and ALL of the shareholders in the company. That's a law many don't know – whenever a company has problems here, all of the shareholders can be targeted, either jointly or separately. And if a bar has more than two underage girls working there, any and / or all of these same people can be charged with human trafficking! I kid you not! In the eyes of the law, if there are more than two underage girls there then it shows that the bar has been recruiting them specifically, presumably bringing them down from a poor village and as such it comes under the law of human trafficking. Now there is something for you bar owners and managers to think about!

This country really is the land of contrasts. Down in the Silom Road area the cops and soldiers don't say anything to anyone taking their photo, even those using flash photography at night which could potentially temporarily blind them. Over at Soi Cowboy it is a different story where Dave The Rave and I were abused by security at both Sahara and Rio – two of the Arab's bars, for taking photos of the outside of the bars. I wonder if they were upset because these are the two bars with names and logos ripped off from Las Vegas casinos. Outside his other bars it did not seem to upset anyone.

Sunrise Tacos will celebrate Cinco de Mayo by running a special promotion to mark the event. Buy two cold Corona beers at 149 baht each and get one FREE Corona beer – from today until the last day of May 2010. On May 5th, your souvenir Giant Margarita 800 ml glass is yours to keep when you fill it with a frosty fruit freeze of lime, mango or strawberry for 199 baht – 100% fruit, NOT fruit syrup flavoured. Fancy turning your giant frosty freeze into a XXX Gold Siglo Treinta Margarita? Sunrise will add three shots of XXX Gold Siglo Treinta Tequila and a shot of premium Triple Sec for FREE to your giant glass on May 5th! Once filled, this giant-sized glass is the equivalent to almost a pitcher of margarita and it's just 199 baht! Not so thirsty? Get a 300 ml Margarita with XXX Gold Tequila for 79 baht. These promotions are offered at the Sunrise Tacos branch on Sukhumvit Road between Soi 12 and Soi 14 which is open 24 hours as well as the Sunrise Tacos restaurant at the Emporium branch, on the fifth floor in the Park Food Hall, located near Mos Burger and Swenson's. Rattle and roll those maracas, baby!

Why are 50 baht notes so relatively hard to come by? When you buy something that is say priced at 30 baht and pay with a 100 baht note, why do you almost always get change in the form of three x 20 baht notes and a 10 baht coin? Why not a 20 and a 50 baht note? Most likely it is because the vendor doesn't have many 50 baht notes – which begs the question of just why there seem to be relatively few 50 baht notes in circulation.

Quote of the week, "No night market, no skytrain at night, it's 1990 again – if only the bargirls' phones would disappear!"

Reader's story of the week comes from Jayson, "Farang Men / Thai Women — A Reality Check".

The latest in a string if excellent articles from Maximilian Wechsler ran in the Bangkok Post today about the seedy side of love hotels.

CNN checked out the Duke's Express burger this week – and loved it.

From the Telegraph, the Thai embassy in the UK tries to get the British government to lift its Thailand travel warning, to no avail.

In Pattaya, a Brit tells his mate 500 baht is enough for all night and a bargirl attacks him for it.

What is it with Russians and exhibitionism in Pattaya?

The Sun reports Brits are still visiting Thailand despite the political problems.

From VOA News, the Thai protests are about much more than Taksin.

Down in Bali there has been a crackdown on handsome lads selling themselves to foreign female visitors with several arrests made which have made the maker of the film which prompted this aghast.

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 would very much welcome your input on a potential dilemma. I think I know what your answer will be based on a previous column of yours where you made it clear that keeping one's experiences with bargirls separate from other social interactions in Thai society was important to maintain 'face' and acceptability. I am developing a very comfortable easy relationship with what appears to be a traditional, honest, very sweet and very caring single mom. We have been very open and honest with our ideas, thoughts, and past relationships. I live in the States and she knows I have been to Thailand about 5 times. She also knows that I have been there for about three weeks each time. If she were to ask me if I have ever been with a bargirl or bargirls, do you think it best to be honest but vague or to outright deny participation? I never like lying but I don't want to be judged before we have the opportunity to see what possibilities there are for a great relationship. She may never ask, but I must say that it is a bit of a conundrum in my mind and I want to feel like I am taking the best approach, if and when, it comes up.

Mr. Stick says: This is a really difficult question to answer. If you had asked me this question several years ago I would have told you to just be honest and up front about things. Now I am not so sure that would be the best response. I think you have to answer the question in a way that you are comfortable with. If that means lying, then so be it. Now lying at any time in a relationship is a bad thing and in the early days of a relationship is even worse in my mind for it sets a bad base to begin things from. I know this is a very round about sort of an answer but I really think that you should respond with what feels right to you.

The red shirt protests continue to cause havoc in Thailand, seriously damaging he country's reputation. The protests are inconveniencing much of the Bangkok populace, putting some out of business, many out of work and the whole debacle has changed the vibe in Bangkok. I can't count how many times I have been asked by fellow foreigners whether I am yellow or red. I am neither. Many, many people are fed up with both of these groups and you can count me in that number. I'm sorry to say that the whole protest situation shows no sign of ending any time soon, in fact I would go as far to say that the red shirted protesters seem more settled and more entrenched – and the odds of them being forced out by the authorities is much less likely than it was say a week ago. It really looks like this could go on and on and on…

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick