The main street is lined with guesthouses and money changers. Large signs in English advertise services that appeal to tourists, such as massage. A sign points down a dusty, pot-holed side road to the local tourist police office. A tourist Mecca this is not. Appearances can be deceiving, but for sure, there are no tourists around. Except for me.
Cart after cart is hauled along the road by rugged, sinewy farmers from one side of the boundary to the other. The odd cart is even hauled by a beast, but for the most part they are pulled by man. There's no money for petrol propelled tractors to cart produce to the market.
The border town of Poi Pet in Cambodia, opposite Thailand's Arunyaprathet, has the reputation as a town you get in and out of as fast as you can. But not for me. I chose to stay the night.
You know you're in Cambodia. This isn't like crossing the border from the States to Canada or England to Scotland. The differences between the Kingdoms of Thailand and Cambodia are stark. What gets me every time is the smell. It sounds horrible, cruel even, but when you arrive in Cambodia, whether it's an airport or land border, the smell gets you every time, the unmistakable smell of piles of rotting rubbish. Again, it's a cruel observation, but wherever you go in Cambodia you see piles of rubbish.
Exiting Thailand, before you hit Cambodia proper, you find yourself in a sort of no man's land, a strip perhaps 300 metres wide between the two countries, the great contrasts so prevalent in Asia clear to see. Rural Cambodians, so desperately poor that they make their Thai farmer brethren look positively rich, push old, rickety carts of fruit and vegetables for sale over the border while at the same time top-end Mercedes-Benzes pull in and out of the huge casinos that take up every last little bit of real estate in no man's land.
Youngsters run around begging, carrying their younger siblings, in what seems to be the most popular means of making a living in Cambodia. Where there are tourists there are kids begging. Armies of them. They're a pest, but when you see the state of them, the caked on dirt on their feet, the scars and sores on their body, the dirty, torn clothes and the despair in their eyes, it no longer bothers you. You know that if you were in their position you'd do exactly the same.
Many locals have two mobile phones, a Cambodian number and a Thai number, the latter being necessary for doing business with the Thais who flood across the border in search of fortune…at the roulette wheel.
In the popular tourist spots of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, you don't have to look far to see poverty. But here in Poi Pet it's in your face. Everywhere you look you see poor people and poverty, the only relief from it the casinos, several huge operations which drive the Poi Pet economy.
Despite the obvious income disparity, in many ways Poi Pet feels like a little satellite of Thailand. The predominant visitors are Thais and it's a baht economy with most everything priced in Thai baht. Anyone employed in the hotels, casinos and in and around no man's land speaks Thai, ranging in ability from passable to fluent.
The main road is long, and dusty, despite being sealed. Having walked inland for a couple of kilometres, I see that most of the side roads are dirt tracks, pot-holed and uneven, many impossible to pass for a standard vehicle. But there aren't many cars. Like rural Thailand, this is the domain of the motorbike.
I've been walking 40 minutes with the sun beating down on me, heading on the main road inland, another 157 km or so to Siem Reap. No, it's not my destination. A small temple off to my right will do.
I relax in the shade and soon find myself surrounded by young kids, curious at my presence. They're not begging, but merely curious. I've walked a few kilometres and not seen a single white person. Has a farang ever made this stroll in the midday heat before? They're curious about me but communication is impossible. English and Thai aren't understood.
My phone rings, even though I'm 3 km or so from the border. I later discover that the reception of Thai mobile networks on the Cambodian side of the border is very good and even a few kilometres inland, both DTAC and AIS SIM cards work fine.
We complain about the way tourist attractions are ruined by commercialism but I would kill for a cold bottle of water. After taking the obligatory photos I go back to the main road and turn back the way I came.
I'm hungry and thirsty but the food sold by vendors on the road looks decidedly dodgy, to say nothing of being totally unfamiliar. When you can't determine what it is you're looking at, the appetite subsides.
I pass a few restaurants with signs in Khmer, Thai and occasionally English. They're all dead. Perhaps they're not even open. It's going to be a long walk back to no man's land. I could grab a motorbike but despite the heat, I battle on. Asia is best seen on the ground, on your own two feet. It just isn't the same from the back of a bike or worse still, from inside a car.
For those simple farang treats, a nice, strong afternoon coffee and a pastry or cake, forget it. Hotels call 3-in-1 coffee and the pastries look even worse than what you get over the border. The French might have colonised Cambodia and in the capital good coffee and pastries abound. Perhaps the Frogs never made it to this far flung corner?
Driving standards are much worse than Thailand, *much* worse. Even the local Poi Pet market sees motorcyclists zoom through the centre of it. It's not even clear what side of the road they drive on.
I make it back to the hotel and discover that no, there's not a single Cambodia dish in the restaurant's extensive menu. I ask in Thai why not and am told it's not what customers want. I want it, I say. "Mai dai", the response. Cannot. Just like Thailand.
The area known as no man's land, between Cambodia and Thailand where all of the casinos and big hotels are, has a number of duty free shops. The selection of products isn't great but you can pick up a decent Aussie red for not much more than a thousand baht, about the same price you'd pay in Oz.
The shop assistants are good, casually reminding me that the duty free limit for booze going back into Thailand is just one litre, even though by doing so they could potentially be losing out on a larger sale. They inform me that the Thai authorities are cracking down on those who carry in excess and bags may be searched. Impressive service, and not the sort of thing I would expect in a similar situation on the other side of the border.
The next day my experience mirrors the girls' words.
The sun drops below the horizon and I find myself standing out on the main road, near the local motorbike boys. A particularly rough looking devil approaches me. His English is poor, but his Thai is excellent. He wants to take me on a night tour of Poi Pet. I'm tired and not particularly interested, but then I don't have any pressing engagements. He's speaking Thai but he's most unThai like, actually trying to build a rapport and establish what my needs are before making a recommendation and finally closing the sale. Over the border they so often just try and close the sale without even establishing your needs – and then sulk if you decline. The Khmers aren't like that. You feel that they're actually interested in satisfying your needs, and not necessarily just lining their own pockets.
He tells me he can take me to see some nice ladies. Cambodian or Vietnamese, whatever I prefer. I tell him I'm not interested, prostitutes don't interest me at all. He's ready for this and says that his girlfriend works at a casino and I can get a casino girl for the night, just 1,500 baht. I tell him sure, his girlfriend will do just fine. For a moment he believes me, and thinks I am making a play for his woman, a direct insult, right here in front of his motorbike riding buddies. He spots my grin and tells me that I len mook geng – that I am a real joker.
His girlfriend is not available, but other girls in the casino are, he says. While not in the least bit interested I play along, asking him how I can verify that they are really casino girls. He says that they will go to my hotel room in their casino uniform.
I'm warming to him. He looks like a complete mongrel, but he's friendly, speaks excellent Thai and seems earnest. 100 baht, he says, to take me on a night tour of Poi Pet. I've nothing better to do. Off we go!
Poi Pet at night is bustling, with more activity than during the day. The guidebooks and the few websites that mention Poi Pet suggest that going out at night is to be avoided at all costs. Once again I am up to my old tricks, running around in a supposedly dangerous neighbourhood at night with a camera and lens combination that if the value were known would probably see my throat sliced. My philosophy has always been that a little bit of risk makes life more interesting…
We make our way up the main road, the same road I had walked along earlier. There are a bunch of massage venues, really primitive, rudimentary shacks that seem to double as homes where hard-looking middle-aged ladies beckon me in. The signs suggest the going rate is 50 baht an hour. I hate to think what that includes.
Moto Man gives an excellent commentary of all that we pass by, explaining how the local economy works, where the people come from, their living conditions, how they make money – everything. I got lucky with this guy.
For what really is a small, poor town, there's a remarkable number of local nightlife establishments. They don't run anything like the full gamut you find in Bangkok and high-end just doesn't exist, but there's a mix of karaoke bars, massage venues and local brothels, some of which look filthy.
Despite showing a photo of the other half to Mr. Moto, he insists on taking me on a tour of all the night spots. He tells me that apart from that, there's nothing else to see!
The local brothels are as you would expect. Grim! The motorbike pulls up outside, Mr. Moto honks the horn and girls come outside and line up. If one makes a selection, you go upstairs or out back or…somewhere. The oldest girls – and girls is the word here – would have been early 20s, the youngest early teens. It's nasty. I can just imagine the local plod waiting patiently for a call from the madam reporting that some farang sucker has unwittingly gone into a room with an underage girl. You could be the next Gary Glitter. Or the local plod gets his Christmas bonus early.
After telling Moto Man that brothels held zero interest, he said we'd go straight for the flashest venue in town. The set up was impressive enough. Behind a car park with spaces for perhaps 100 cars is an impressively large statue of a two-headed dragon while around the outside of the complex were perhaps 30 or so private chalets, each of which is set up for karaoke. In the middle of the complex is a large tent, under which is a large screen and projector with perhaps 100 or so girls wiling away the time watching movies. The idea is that you choose a bunch of girls and take them into the chalet where drinks are served, songs are sung and goodness knows what else goes on. Not my scene, but it could be fun with a group. Like all establishments in Poi Pet, even the hotel restaurants, anti-smoking laws are a foreign concept. High-end by Poi Pet standards but not for me.
The final spot we checked out, and the one place where we did stop for a few drinks, was a large karaoke / restaurant venue. In the centre was a large hall like area, and around the outside were small private booths, all constructed and done out with natural materials. So you're there in these grass huts, a dozen (!) bottles of the excellent local Angkor beer are brought over immediately and Mr. Moto and I start drinking and chatting about the world at large, which to him is the sprawling metropolis of Poi Pet. A bunch of women – yes, thankfully women is a term that could be legitimately used this time – are brought before us and Mr. Moto points to two who sit down and join us. Wasting no time at all, he encourages me to feel them up, right there and then, saying that that is what they are there for "and you can take them back to your room and do anything with them and they won't complain". I start to look at this guy in a different way and wonder if some of the stories I've heard about local men and the way they treat the local women really are true. The way some guys have the audacity to grope a girl in a bar and believe that she actually likes it is something I have never been able to fathom. I decline the invitation and receive a look of utter confusion, almost as if to say, what the hell are you doing here then?!
Nightspots in Cambodia are as likely to have Vietnamese girls as local women, but this venue was full of Khmers. The serving girls were lovely, decked out in white blouses and short black skirts. I gather they are typically not available. The girls milling around the venue and who are paraded at each table are indeed available. Ironically it is the serving girls, who are typically not available, at least not as part of their primary employment, who are more attractive.
If you haven't been to Cambodia, Khmer girls have a slightly different look to Thai women, although in Thailand there is much variety between women from the different regions. Khmer girls are typically darker than Thais, have large, often quite striking round eyes and tend to have softer features. While I think it'd be hard to argue that the Khmers are more attractive, when you do see a pretty Khmer girl she really can be striking.
Poi Pet has a bunch of casinos, some of which have higher end nightlife venues, I am informed. I didn't check them out. It's probably fair to say that for naughty boys, Poi Pet isn't really on the map.
Actually, Poi Pet is not really a place that is worthy of much of your time. If you're into gambling, you'll be ok. There are very decent hotel rooms at fair prices. The food on the whole was dire. That said, Cambodia has never been considered the culinary capital of the region.
Poi Pet is just another border town, one which seems to have grown a fair bit in recent years. There really isn't anything to see or do unless you're a gambler. Poi Pet is primarily a destination for Thais, Thais who are feeling lucky or Thais who are desperate. Who knows how it will develop as more and more tourist-related infrastructure is built on the back of the gambling industry. It might be just the other side of the fence, but in many ways Poi Pet feels like it is on the other side of the planet.
Last week's photo
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken on the stretch of road almost every foreigner knows – Sukhumvit – outside the Landmark Hotel, looking across towards the shops and restaurants between sois 3/1 and 5. Few readers got it right. The first person to email with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British fish and chips restaurant. The second person to correctly guess the photo wins a signed copy of Stephen Leather's superb Private Dancer, which is 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 located in the Emporium shopping centre.
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. You have until March 2011 to use the Duke's voucher. 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 – How to make slanty eyes round!
I have no sympathy whatsoever for the two red-shirt supporting farangs who now find themselves in trouble. If there was ever a case of farang dumb ass in Thailand, Purcell would take the prize. When I read the excerpt to my wife about him refusing to stand up in court and saying the court had no authority over him, her slanted eyes went round and her mouth fell open! Does the idiot think he is some kind of foreign emissary with diplomatic immunity?! In both cases, the death penalty would be a positive thing. At least it would improve the farang gene pool a minuscule amount. Something Thailand could certainly use, based on many of the expats I have met there.
More farang scum.
I'm very surprised that you seem surprised at farangs taking bargirls on holiday and then ripping them off. I know many girls that this has happened to here in Pattaya and it almost seems the norm rather than the exception! I think the guys plan to do this. Several I have heard of were trips to Phuket, Samui and even China. One girl I know was even abandoned in Phuket without any money to return back to Pattaya and she is a real sweetheart, not a hardened bar wench looking to rip off anyone. She has perfect English and would make a great companion for any man on holiday. There are some sad people out there – no wonder some Thais just do not like us!
The Savage and Purcell show.
Pleased to report that the two moronic wannabe "freedom fighters" were shown on the UK's Sky News this morning being taken to court. Savage, who you stated was impressionable, had clearly taken his lead from Purcell and screamed and frothed at the mouth about being a political prisoner and that the prime minister was a murderer! Purcell was drowned out by Savage's ranting but I am sure he said he had a back "spasm". I would have thought brain spasm more likely and he was being kept in a cell with 31 other prisoners. "When in Rome!" I feel sorry for the 29 sharing with these 2 deluded rejects, who like some I've met there go to Thailand and believe their personality disorders and phobias are cured by the miracle of standing on Thai soil! Maybe if they had read your column or the excellent readers' submissions they would have realised that it's much harder to survive in an environment that's not your home ground, unless you're on the run! I am sure this story will run and run, unlike Purcell and Savage who are wearing leg irons.
The Thai illusion.
I found myself nodding in affirmation continually upon reading your thoughts on the farang red shirts. It is too easy to feel invincible in Thailand. The tourism industry is set up to make you feel like every Thai is at your beck and call. Even when I lived there for a number of years I could go out nightly, play the farang fool, and be treated with kid gloves, smiles and reverence wherever I went. These guys are getting what they deserve to a large degree, but I can't help but feel sorry for them. They aren't tourists and should have known better, but they must have grasped the illusion stronger than most of us do and being blacklisting will most certainly be the final outcome. Aside from utter stupidity and ignorance, maybe they thought they would be afforded some kind of special status should the red shirts win. This in and of itself is rather naive as the Thai leaders who led the red shirts would have their hands full grasping power amongst themselves let alone considering what the farang they used might want. In the end they were destined to be discarded regardless of which side they decided to bang the drum for. Let this serve as a lesson for those who lose themselves in the Thai illusion.
Could anyone actually make us look any worse?
Savage is nothing but a tattooed farang hooligan. He makes us look bad. These idiots are not helping us. For some reason, Thailand is a magnet for the lowest ranks of farang society. We could use our white skin to play into the natural biases that Thais possess but that becomes impossible with all these knuckle-dragging farangs around. Savage was in it for the mayhem. He gets off on fire and chaos. I doubt he could even spell the word "politics". I want to see him thrown into the dark recesses of some "pound me in the ass" Thai prison, never to be heard from again. That's what he deserves. Thailand is deep in the middle of a power transition. Now is not the time for Westerners to be stirring up shit. This is business for the Thais to take care of. Not us!
Fears of the unknown.
One of my retirement fears is how I'm going to develop a good network of decent people to hopefully call friends in Thailand. Crappy foreigners is a major problem. No one country is responsible – I've met lots of dickhead Aussies (my country) but they come from everywhere. I also feel the lowest common denominator types make it tough for normal people in that the Thais see how the idiots behave and judge us all accordingly – farangs love to drink, screw around etc – I've heard it all – but like the nightlife, they are probably not going away. I should get used to it.
Brits and Yanks.
I am an American and have received a lot of grief from people from England as well as Ireland – as you pointed out in your column – and it's not just in Thailand. I was at a bar in southern Italy and a Brit tried to start a fight with me once he learned I was American. I was in Phuket once and two Irish guys also tried to pick a fight. In both cases I had done nothing. I am not a fighter and have not been involved in once since I was 15! Usually it's just mindless verbal assaults about how terrible America / Americans are. Funny, but how come most of the trouble makers in Thailand are Brits? The guy boasting of burning Central World? Yes, a Brit! It's funny when they make the claim that Americans are stupid and then follow it up with some stupid comment. The funniest was when some guy told me Americans don't know what irony is and used Alanis Morissette's song "Isn't it Ironic" as an example. "She's Canadian", I replied.
Not everywhere is Sticky friendly.
You might be interested to learn that your website (at least most of it) is blocked in Burma. The problem is easily solved by using a proxy server; but I had the misfortune of being in an internet cafe that used a Saudi Arabian proxy server. Needless to say, that repressive land blocks your site too!
Business fell off a cliff this past week on Sukhumvit. Bar, restaurant and hotel owners and managers were all surprised at the way trade plummeted for no apparent reason – by about 30%! This drop off seems to have affected those with businesses between Sukhumvit soi 1 and Asoke. What is weird is that during the recent protests when parts of the area were barricaded, business was off just a bit but now that the streets have been cleared there has been a much bigger drop!
Cowboy was real quiet on Friday, so quiet in fact that when I arrived I wondered if I had forgotten that it was some holiday. Yeah, things really were that bad.
Spanky's in Nana Plaza will host a dance contest on June 18, kicking off around 10 PM. With 5,000 baht up for grabs and plenty of new girls competing it should be a fun night.
It's almost become a landmark in its own right, but the dreadful eyesore on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 6, the abandoned building right next to the Nana skytrain station, is finally coming down, reportedly to make way for the Langham Hotel.
Major football tournaments draw punters to the bars and many venues are counting on the biggest sports tournament of all, the football World Cup, saving them from an absolutely dire low season. At the last World Cup, more than a few venues reported that trade was up by about 40% – over the whole month – so we're talking real money. The first Bangkok night spot to let me know what they're doing for the World Cup was Bangkok Beat and they're really making an effort to get punters in the door. They'll be showing the matches on two giant screens which is neither here not there – most venues have big screens. But, where they start to separate themselves from the competition, there's a free Tequila shooter each time a team scores which seems rather generous, especially if it's a match between one of the favourites and one of the minnows. Also, if you wear a football jersey you get a free drink although I am not sure if they will accept one of the 200 baht knock offs sold 50 metres away on the main Sukhumvit Road! I like the idea of free drinks when a goal is scored, a lot better than venues which merely get their tarts spruced up in a team shirt, which is almost always Germany or England. For a long shot bet, put a few dollars on New Zealand who crushed world 15th ranked Serbia in a friendly last week, narrowly lost to 20th ranked Australia after leading for most of the match and who I fancy are going to cause the first shock of the tournament by beating Italy. Don't think I am off my rocker. The mighty All Whites, the nickname for New Zealand's football side, almost stunned the world champions Italy last year, leading twice, before finally succumbing 4 – 3.
O'Reilly's will be staying open for all World Cup matches and all will be shown with commentary in English. The latest matches start around 12:30 AM which means they should finish around 2:30 AM, about 30 minutes after most venues close. In O'Reilly's they will NOT boot you out, but close the doors and invite you to enjoy the rest of the match behind closed doors. O'Reilly's has numerous drink promotions planned during the matches: 2-pint jugs of San Miguel draught for 225 baht, pints of Magners Cider for 200 baht, pints of snakebite for 195 baht and pints of Dwyer's London Stout for 150 baht.
Hot Legs Sports Bar in Jomtien will be running a special from the start of the World Cup until the final. All bottled beer will be priced at a very reasonable 60 baht during all the games and they will stay open for the later games every night. You can watch the matches inside in air-con on the flat screen TVs, or outside on the big screen. They also have a guess the correct score competition to win free drinks. Hot Legs Sports Bar has increased the number of girls at the venue over the past few weeks so that if your team is losing, or like Scotland, missed the plane, you can always find an alternative way to spend your time…
The Huntsman in the basement of the The Landmark Hotel near Sukhumvit Soi 4 is gearing up for the World Cup big time! They have erected an Astroturf seating area outside the bar with a huge viewing screen and will be showing all 64 games live. And they are offering an 'all day all night' special of buy one get one free on Chang and Federbrau beer during World Cup games.
Beware of betting with Thais on World Cup matches. When the World Cup or European Championships are taking place, betting on the tournament is massive in Thailand – and the cops crack down on it. Betting and gambling are actually serious offences in Thailand with heavy penalties so it's best not to make any bets with people you don't know well.
Crossbar has a new happy hour on week days afternoons, Monday to Friday from 2 PM – 5 PM when all bottled beers will be 80 baht. They're also doing a lunch special and customers get a free soft drink with all food orders. Crossbar will be open for all matches and all will feature commentary in English. When two games are on at the same time, both will be shown and the commentary will be played of the match with the bigger name teams.
I shouldn't say I am shocked, because nothing shocks me in this industry, but I was disappointed nonetheless to hear that a number of bars docked their staff one week of their salary for the past month because of the limited hours that the bars were open. Given that most of the naughty bars run at very high profit margins, it was kind of disappointing, to say nothing of being in breach of labour laws.
But not all bar owners are so tough on their staff. Boss Hogg made the decision that the evening staff at Bully's would all get their full salary for the month despite the venue being closed a number of nights due to the curfew. Yeah, to you lot who give Boss Hogg a hard time, compare his generosity with other bar owners!
The newest gogo bar on the block in Pattaya is the Sapphire Club on soi 15 off Walking Street. Have not seen it yet myself, but a Pattaya-based friend said they need to put more effort into quality recruitment.
There was some work being done on Fanny's in Cowboy this week. I guess you could call it a fanny refit. That said, when I stuck my head in the fanny I could not work out what had changed. It did seem a little lighter so maybe they did something with the lights?
From the tropical paradise of Phuket – cripes, I should be working for the TAT writing such nonsense – nothing much is happening at Patong where it's very quiet despite the upbeat claims in the local rag. Apparently over in Rawai, there are some decent newish bars with beer very reasonably priced at just 50 baht and apparently some rather fetching lasses who are on duty from as early as 6 PM. I hear that Issara Bar is the biggest and best – but I bet that many, visitors in particular, cannot find it…
Charley Brown's, the popular Mexican cantina that seems to get an inordinate number of Western wenches (which may or may not make it to your liking), is located in the sub soi off Sukhumvit soi 11. Popular British manager Dave is overhauling many aspects of the venue and being a purveyor of value for money himself, has introduced drink specials on Sunday nights. Beer and spirits are a snip at 70 baht and a glass of wine will set you back a hundy.
In last week's column I asked about Absinthe, a drink a pal of mine had asked me about and which I knew absolutely nothing of. The readership responded en masse, many relaying where they had seen it available, and just as many warning that it's an evil concoction! Absinthe can be found in Bangkok at Q Bar, Glow and one reader even mentioned that he thought he saw it served at Woodstock in Thonglor. One reader mentioned that it was sampled by a presenter on live TV in the UK a few years back – and he was had to be carried out of the studio shortly after downing it! If you want to pick up a bottle to try at home, Absinthe is available from time to time at the liquor shop in Thonglor soi 1. Due to local taxes it can be very expensive. 1/2 litre from Australia duty free costs around AUD 50 but you can expect to pay around 4,000 baht for 1/2 litre here!
In some gogo bars, and even the odd beer bar, a customer paying barfine might be approached by a mamasan and told what the price for services is. Often a piece of paper will be presented with two numbers on it, short time and long time rates. You might wonder if this is some sort of price collusion, and I guess that it is. Usually these rates are well above what would be considered average i.e. in Rainbow 4 in Nana Plaza some mamasans show a card with 2,500 / 4,000 and in Pattaya's Iron Club at least one mamasan presents rates of 2,000 / 3,000 – which could reasonably be considered above the average paid in their respective bar areas. Mamasans often have a bunch of girls they look after. If the mamasan was to move to another bar, these girls would almost certainly follow. Often a hardened wench with many years experience, the mamasan can often negotiate a superior rate with the customer. What the customer does not realise is that she takes a cut, typically 500 baht. The mamasan negotiation does not happen in that many bars but for sure, if you're shown a rate card by a mamasan then the odds are that the rate is well above average and she has factored in her cut. Can you say pimp?
No way is Bangkok the bargain that it used to be. Everything from the cost of a basic Thai meal, on the street to Western meals in flasher restaurants or pubs to the prices at second-hand book stores have increased – and no way is Bangkok the bargain it used to be. You hear all sorts of reasons for price increases from imported goods being used to the higher price of oil to bizarre only-in-Thailand reasons. The major factor in increased prices in downtown Bangkok is the escalating cost of renting commercial property. The cost of renting prime commercial space has shot up, so much so that many businesses have been forced to pass this increase on to their customers, hence a huge range of goods and services are now much more expensive than they used to be a few years back.
In last week's column I made mention on the debacle at Chefs XP where an email distribution list stuff up meant customers were inundated with emails sent by customers to Chefs XP for days. Credit where credit is due, Chefs XP followed the mess up with an apology email as well as a 15% discount offer for all orders made before June 4. This was an exemplary letter of apology, outlining what had gone wrong and unreservedly apologising. If I was teaching business letter writing or how to write the perfect apology letter, this would have been the model. All businesses muck up at some time but you came back and managed to exceed customers' expectation with your follow up. Well done, Chefs XP. Perhaps the CEO of Chefs XP could offer the CEO of BP a tip or two…
I positively guffawed recently when reading a reader's email about how he had ventured to a neighbouring country to get a new visa to extend his stay in Thailand but forgot to check the public holidays for the two countries, and what he had hoped would be a 2-day stay become a week. The very first thing you should check when doing a visa run is whether there are any public holidays in the country you are visiting AND in Thailand. You should also check what the turn around is on the issuing of visas at the embassy or consulate you go to. They are NOT all the same. Some missions may issue a visa within 30 minutes while others can take the best part of a week.
And if you want the hassle taken out of getting a new visa, there are a number of visa run companies operating in Bangkok and Pattaya. They take you to the border and bring you back again and help with any problems along the way so that you manage to get that precious new stamp in your passport. Some firms also assist you with getting a new visa at the consulate or embassy in a neighbouring country as opposed to merely a border stamp. The most famous of these companies is Jack Golf who on the whole they have a very good reputation. However, one reader advises that a recent trip with the firm did not go to plan. Jack Golf advertises that the all inclusive price includes insurance. I checked out their website and it is unclear just what this insurance covers. Maybe the company takes on individual responsibility themselves? Anyway, a bunch of visa runners had spent two nights in a border town and were waiting for their passports to come back from the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh and…they didn't come when they were supposed to! The visa runners were forced to spend another night in the border town at their own cost, something which they hadn't budgeted on and they were none too happy about. That said, from all accounts it was nothing to do with the visa run firm but the fact that the officer at the embassy who signs off the visas had been called to Bangkok and no visas were issued on that particular day.
Competition is fierce in the 800 – 1,300 baht a night sector for a Pattaya hotel room. With the low season here, there are some really good deals to be had and one is at the Western-owned and run Pattaya Bay Resort. Pay for 6 consecutive nights in any room class and you get the 7th free. Given that their excellent standard rooms come with a great breakfast and that there is a very nice pool on the roof as well as high speed internet access at no extra cost, this is a bargain. And in this case you're not doing as I say, but doing as I do. It's my first choice in Pattaya.
Quote of the week comes from a Phuket-based expat talking about expats' behaviour behind the wheel. "If you did a spot check here you'd think it was mandatory to drink and drive!"
Reader's story of the week comes from Korski and is titled, The Void.
Thailand's men in black are unmasked in the Asia Times.
Just as I predicted, the excellent local Mexican food outlet Sunrise Tacos is being franchised abroad.
From The Nation, did Thai police use the curfew to make some extra cash on the side?
CNN checks out some Bangkok fortune tellers.
From Melbourne's Age newspaper, an Aussie returning from the Philippines is caught with smut on his laptop.
Newsweek magazine delivers analysis on a staggering number of Thailand's self-inflicted wounds.
Two weeks after they were repelled, the BBC says the red shirts are still reeling.
Ask Mr. Stick
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: How do you know if a girl has been working as a prostitute in Thailand for a long time or a short time? I mean, do you see it in her behaviour or the way she dresses and looks? I got to know a girl and I was just wondering because she tells me she has been working 10 months but she has tattoos, she drinks, smokes, speaks pretty good English and she is not shy at all and she knows very good how to use the internet (email, MSN messenger and much more. She's 27. I believe she has been working much longer than 10 months but I thought I would ask you.
Mr. Stick says: There are many indicators as to how long a lady has been working in the industry. Assuming she comes from the largely typical bargirl background – rural Thailand – and she has no more than a high school education, the tell tale sign is usually the level of her English. The better her English, likely the longer she has been working in the industry. Ditto with tattoos – the more tattoos, the more likely she has been around a while. That said, these are not absolutes and there are exceptions. Girls know that many guys are not particularly attracted to those girls who have been in the industry for a long time and will frequently lie about the length of time they have been around. I chatted with a girl the other night who has been a fixture in Cowboy for 10+ years – and she tried to tell me she had been working in the industry for just 3 months! Yeah, that seems to be the magic figure they get told in Bargirl School – tell the customer you have been there 3 months, and not a day more!
The Bangkok protests were brought to an end just 2 and a half weeks ago and with the exception of Central World and a couple of other buildings that were destroyed you would not know that anything had happened. It's business as usual although tourist numbers are way down. I am still receiving emails asking whether it is safe to visit Bangkok. The answer is a very clear yes. In fact now is a very pleasant time to visit with fewer visitors, no hassles getting a hotel room and of course the weather is a little cooler than it was. There's no compelling reason not to visit Bangkok.
Your Bangkok commentator,