Stickman's Weekly Column November 7th, 2010

Choose Your Friends VERY Carefully In Thailand



I have a 100% record with letters I've sent to the Bangkok Post being published. Every letter I have sent in has been published. 100% might sound impressive, but in truth I have only sent in one! Back in the middle of 2000 a debate was raging over the quality of foreigners teaching English in Thailand, an issue I had definite opinions on. I chimed in, penning a brief letter that outlined how a guy I knew had submitted a cabinet making certificate as supporting evidence in his work permit application – which was subsequently approved. I felt that the document he had submitted was irrelevant and that a specific teaching qualification should be a requirement before a work permit for a teacher is issued. I didn't name the person I was referring to, nor did I state his age, nationality or appearance. There was no way anyone who read that letter could know who it was I was referring to. That letter came back to haunt me.

I first met the guy I was referring to in that letter in the late '90s at one of the big name language schools in Bangkok. It was my first job in Bangkok and I had been appointed as the main teacher at the flagship branch, which to be fair was not quite the plum position it sounds like. He was working part-time at the same branch, doing a few odd classes here and there.

I was the new kid on the block and didn't know anyone. The expat population was tiny back then compared to what it is today and there were few websites or online forums where you could learn about expat life. I was happy to hang out with whoever I happened to meet.

He was down on his luck when we first met. He explained to me how he had come to Thailand a few months earlier to perform some sort of building or construction contract, but that gig had fallen through. He liked what he had seen of the Thailand lifestyle and was keen to stay on. Teaching seemed the easiest way to do that.

He was a little rough around the edges, and didn't really seem to be teacher material to me. He hadn't had any teacher training, nor did he have a tertiary education. He was blue collar through and through and seemed a little out of his depth in the classroom. While I say he was a little rough around the edges, in fairness it should be said he was friendly enough, didn't drink and didn't do drugs. He didn't appear to have any vices.

We would hang out from time to time, would go to the bars occasionally and helped each other with this or that but I knew early on that he was potentially trouble. I can remember in those early days how he had to doss on someone's floor. Here he was in a foreign country and didn't even have enough money for a place to stay! In cheap Bangkok that's really saying something. After he had found a cheap place to stay he visited me at what I thought was my modest 10,000 baht a month pad. Upon seeing my studio unit his eyes almost popped out of his head! What I thought was modest and on the small side was grand and luxurious to him! He was a good few years older than me but seemed not to have tasted much success in life. He'd never been married, didn't appear to have ever had a great job and I doubt he'd ever owned his own property. I am not even sure he had seen much of the world.

He came to Thailand a little earlier than I did and had met a few people and built up a small circle of friends. He introduced me to some of these guys and helped a mate get a job at the school where he was teaching. In turn I helped him with things like setting up with an email account and showing him the basics of surfing the Internet.

I guess we must have been reasonable friends at one point because we took a couple of trips up to Laos together, back in the second half of 1998. He'd already visited the country and I think he quite liked the idea of showing someone around, acting as if he was some sort of expert on this Asian backwater. The first trip was enjoyable enough but I remember he returned to Thailand in a foul mood because the Thai Embassy in Vientiane refused to grant him the Non-Immigrant B visa which he needed to get a work permit and instead issued him with a tourist visa. That refusal meant he had to return three months later when again we made the long overland jaunt up to one of the few remaining communist countries.

I'll never forget him dragging me to a venue called the Chess Club, a dark, dimly-lit, smoky place a block or so from the river, one of the few places in town where Western men could seek the company of a local woman. He partook from time to time although he was hardly what you would call a serial whoremonger. What he did that night at the Chess Club was an example of a twisted aspect of his character. He met a lady who agreed to spend the night with him for 500 baht. I can remember us making our way back to the guesthouse on a surprisingly cool, South-East Asian night, through the deserted streets of Vientiane, his large frame on the back of one motorbike with his lady, me on the bike behind. We managed to avoid the police patrols – a Westerner taking a Laotian woman back to his room was a serious offence back then, and I believe it still is now.

The next morning we met up in the guesthouses courtyard. There was no sign of the lady. She had left early and he had adjusted her fee accordingly. He went to great lengths to explain how they had agreed an all night fee of 500 baht which to him meant x number of hours which was equal to xx baht per hour. She left after an hour or 2 and he adjusted her fee accordingly, making a calculation that meant he only had to give her 90 baht. Had he halved the fee to 250 baht, that might have been perhaps justified, but to give the poor girl 90 baht was a twisted joke. In his mind it was totally ok!

He was the type of guy who would always pay his way – but not a single baht more than he owed. If you shot pool with him for an hour and the table charge was 125 baht, he would pay 62.50 baht. No more and no less!

He didn't spend that much time in the bars and whenever I saw him in that environment he seemed to have bad luck. Back in '98 I clearly remember the night he took a ladyboy from a Soi Cowboy bar. I thought he knew what she was and chose not to say anything. I was, after all, new to Bangkok and he had been around longer than me, so I thought that that was just what some people did. Whatever rocks their boat, it's no concern of mine. It turned out that he really didn't know she was in fact a he! That was back in the day when most bars had a token ladyboy or two and their MO was rather different to today – where most tell you what they are up front. He left an abusive message on my answerphone the next day, almost blaming me for it!

The second trip we took to Laos I was accompanied by my first Thai girlfriend. We did our thing and he did his. We stayed in different places and while we bumped into each other around town, we largely did our own thing. The girlfriend and I had crossed back into Thailand and were hanging out in Nongkhai for the day when we saw him trying to get the attention of the staff inside a bank branch which had closed. It turned out that he had run out of money and needed to make a withdrawal. He had his account book on him but no ATM card. I am no fan of lending money, but I wasn't going to leave him penniless on the street. I happily leant him some money for the train back to Bangkok.

After that trip our lives moved in different directions. He went to work at a school teaching youngsters and I got a position at a language institute teaching young adults. We would bump into each other from time to time but by that time we both had our own social groups which didn't overlap.

Let's fast forward to the middle of 2000. I was sitting in a fast food restaurant at Major Ekamai when the girl I was with's eyes became as large as saucers. Really! She was looking at something behind me. I turned around to see this fellow standing there, with a look of thunder across his face! There was no doubt that he was furious, absolutely furious!

From his shirt pocket he removed a cutting, my letter to the Bangkok Post, which obviously referred to him. It was signed "Stickman". He told me how angry he was and shaped up like he wanted to punch me. It's just as well he didn't because he's no small guy. He had shoulders like a wood chopper and forearms like a boxer and probably weighted 25 kg or more than me. If he'd thrown a punch, I would have gone down like a sack of spuds. There's no way I could have taken him on. He went on and on about how bad the letter was, how terrible it was and then he just turned and walked away. I don't recall seeing him for a long time after that and it was at that point that I think I can say what semblance of a friendship there had been was over.

There were fewer expats in Bangkok back then, and the teaching industry was tiny compared to what it is today. I would hear the odd story about him as he moved around the teaching circuit, from job to job, common enough back when many didn't have a work permit and employers showed as much loyalty to their teachers as teachers showed to their employer. Our paths didn't cross again for a few years.

I guess this column became more popular as more people went online, more foreigners visited Thailand and more people became aware of the site and the Stickman brand started to become better known amongst Thailand expats. My writing style may have changed a little over the years but one thing that hasn't changed is the way I call things as I see them, cutting through the BS and telling it like it is. I wrote a column where I touched on international schools and their recruitment policies and I mentioned this fellow again, using him as an example of someone who I believe just wasn't international school material. Again, when I referred to him you could not possibly know who I was talking about. No age, no nationality, no distinguishing features, no nothing. I was careful to play the ball, and not the player, so to speak.

Thailand attracts a lot of weirdoes and I have to admit that this site is a magnet for some. Over the years I have received some really crazy emails. Sometimes it is seemingly normal people saying crazy things and sometimes it's crazy people trying to appear normal. For sure, I get a good number of emails that are just plain disturbing, from people asking me how to get away with crimes in Thailand to those who take some of what I write as some sort of personal affront and direct criticism of their lifestyle. I receive threats from time to time.

In 2004 I started to get a series of strange emails from the email account of a Thai woman. She appeared to be in the teaching industry, perhaps a school owner, and she claimed to be furious about things I had written. I attempted to engage her and establish what it was that had upset her but she would not answer, but rather rant and avoid the question. When again I tried to establish what it was that I had written that had so upset her, she wouldn't tell me. She then started to tell me that I had pissed off a lot of people and that there were a lot of people out to get me. Again I tried to establish what the specific problem was and said that I would be willing to remove any material that she considered hurtful or harmful, irrespective of whether it was true or not. My attempts at being conciliatory went unanswered.

Things started to become more worrying when it was clear that this woman had done her homework. She knew a lot about me, some quite personal stuff, and she did not seem interested in my attempts to try and rectify whatever the problem was. It seemed that she was hell-bent on revenge. The police were mentioned, as were Immigration and words like "deportation" and "blacklisting" were often used. When you make an enemy of a Thai there really is no limit to how far they will go, especially if you are a foreigner.

It started to have an effect on me. I would open my email, dreading what the next email from her would say. I lost my smile and Mrs. Stick detected that something was up. At that stage I kept it from her, hopeful of resolving it without making her aware of what was going on.

The woman started asking for money, damages for the things I had said about her. The claims were weird with silly numbers mentioned like 88,250 baht. This number would change from day to day and eventually peaked at 380,000 baht. No evidence was given as to how these numbers were reached. This woman wanted to be paid off and she was going to make my life hell until I relented.

I printed out all of the emails, sat down and studied them. Something didn't feel right. The first thing I noticed was that the English was not perfect and appeared not to be that of a native speaker – as you would expect. What was unusual was that the mistakes were not those that Thai students typically make. I had been teaching Thais for a number of years by then and was familiar with the common mistakes Thais studying English made. There was another clue, a biggy, and it was this that gave the game away. The emails were signed "Khun" followed by the lady's first name. A Thai NEVER refers to themselves as Khun and never signs a letter that way! This had to be a foreigner masquerading as a Thai. It still concerned me that they knew rather more about me than I was comfortable with but I was much more comfortable going up against a foreigner.

My confidence came back and I stopped replying to the emails which by that time had been coming in for weeks. I received an email every other day which I didn't reply to. I thought the whole thing would just go away…

Then one Friday night I received an email….from you know who! Yep, it was the guy I knew from my first teaching gig. He sent the email using his own name and admitted that he was the person behind the emails. He went on to say that I had defamed him and that he had sought legal advice and been told that he had a case against me. He said that he wanted 380,000 baht to settle. I responded saying that I did not have that kind of money – a complete lie – and that I would be happy to meet him to talk about it.

We met a couple of days later, early evening at the Starbucks branch on the ground floor of Central Chidlom. Even knowing who was behind this attempted extortion attempt, I wanted to meet him, to try and talk the problem out and resolve it. Mrs. Stick was by this stage fully aware of what was going on and was outside the store watching. She was under instructions to call the police if anything went awry.

I met the guy and he was his usual tight self, aghast at the prices at Starbucks and appalled that yes, he did actually have to buy a drink if he was going to sit down! I took a seat near the window so the Mrs. could monitor what was going on. Niceties were bypassed as he launched into a tirade about how he had been teaching in another country and had read the column in which I made reference to him. He said that he felt so bad about what I said that he threw the job in and came back to Thailand to "do something about it". He said that because of what I had written he had lost a job, incurred expenses and that I had to pay him 380,000 baht for the issue to be resolved. It should be pointed out that I do not know why he left that country and do not believe for a moment that what I wrote had anything to do with it. It could be that he had some sort of problem and was forced to leave. It's all speculation and I just do not know.

He claimed to have visited a number of lawyers about the problem. He started with what sounded like a cheap neighbourhood lawyer and they had passed him on to someone else who wasn't interested in taking on the case. Eventually he was referred to what is generally considered to be the top law firm in Bangkok! He wrote to them outlining the situation and they responded saying that they would perform the requisite conflict of interest checks etc. and would advise if they could take it on. He sent me a scanned copy of their response. He claimed to have had a meeting with a lawyer who had suggested that the problem should be nipped in the bud. I am no lawyer but it seemed to me there was no case to answer, especially as no-one could possibly identify him from what had been written. On top of that, what I had written was factually correct but then as I later learned that is not necessarily a defence to a charge of defamation in Thailand, where the law differs markedly from that in the West.

We met, he ranted, I tried to reason with him, he ranted some more and eventually I said to him that I would pay him the money. We shook on it and parted ways.

To be continued next week…

Hehe, just kidding!

I walked away from that meeting furious. Here was someone who I had helped, someone who had been in difficulty on more than one occasion and who I had been there for. He was someone I had hung out with and while I may have written things about him, I had never ever named him nor provided any detail that could identify him. His threatening emails had given me a lot of stress, much anxiety and had had a negative effect on my relationship, my work and my very enjoyment of life.

When you threaten someone, you have to be absolutely sure that you're willing to follow through with the threats and that you don't have any vulnerabilities yourself. Threats are serious and can come back to haunt you. I've told you a little about this fellow already, a few embarrassing little stories, but nothing that could really be used against him.

I haven't told you everything…

Back in the old days there were a number of individuals who offered foreigners in Thailand the option of getting a new visa without the need to leave the country. A person could lodge their passport with a "visa agent" who would send that passport to someone near the border where it would be taken and stamped out of Thailand and stamped into another country, most often Malaysia I believe. The passport would then be taken / sent / transported somehow to a Thai embassy or consulate in that country where a new visa would be issued. It would make the return journey back to Bangkok, getting all of the required visa stamps along the way. A week or so later the person would get their passport back, complete with a new visa allowing them to continue their stay in Thailand. All of the stamps were legal, but obtained in an illegal manner. A quite remarkable number of people used these services and about 5 years back it all went bang when many involved were caught. It was estimated that up to 50,000 such illegal visas were issued over many years and some people were said to have an entire passport full of them! When the Immigration authorities finally cracked down – and they must have known it was going on because these services were advertised openly in the Bangkok Post (!) – those who admitted to utilising the visa agents' services were generally given a warning, told to get legal and told never to do it again. I believe that some faced the music and there were reports of prosecutions and even some people being barred from ever entering Thailand again.

Anyway, back to our villain, the guy who was trying to extort money from me. This fellow had not only used these illegal visa services himself, and as such had dodgy visas in his passport, he had become a visa agent, offering these illegal services to all and sundry! Keen to make an easy buck, he got himself involved in the business of illegally sending passports out of the country and obtaining illegal visas. I remember him in the Thermae telling anyone who cared to listen how he could get them a new visa quickly and inexpensively, selling the idea that there was no reason to leave the country. He'd done the rounds of various schools and knew a lot of people – and with many teachers working without a work permit back then, there was a demand for the service. He was so cheap that he converted some old name cards and placed a sticker over the top, advertising the service!

Let's have a small history lesson. In October of 2003 a terrorist known as Himbali was arrested in Ayuthaya province. It was reported that he was in Thailand using a passport with a fake visa. This visa was obtained through one of the dodgy visa agents. What is most pertinent is that Himbali was involved in the planning of the Bali bombings which killed many young Australians.

I thought about the situation and how this fellow had tried to extort money from me. I knew that I had not defamed him and was 100% sure he had not suffered any loss of reputation or damages as a result of what I had written. There was no way I was going to give in to his extortion attempt. I was not going to pay him a single baht.

I was going to fight back!

I thought about what he had done, trying to extort money from me, and also thought about his involvement in the illegal visa business. I decided the best way to stop him, and to shut him up, was to highlight to him his involvement in the illegal visa trade – and let him know I still had evidence of what he had been doing!

Soon after we met he sent an email with his bank account details and a couple of days later he sent another email asking me when the money would be coming.

I sent him an email explaining that I had no intention of giving him a single baht. I explained to him that if he did not drop everything immediately, and stop bothering me, that I would contact the police and provide them with evidence that not only was he trying to extort money from me, but that he had been involved in the dodgy visa trade. I imagine that that would have been enough, but I did not stop there. No way, this guy had caused me a good deal of grief and he deserved much more.

I will now reveal to you that this man is an Australian.

I explained that the Bali bombings had killed more than a hundred young Australians. I pointed out that it was alleged that one of the men behind that act of terrorism was Himbali, who had entered Thailand and been allowed to stay because he had acquired a visa through illegal means. I told him that I was going to contact every newspaper in Australia, every major news magazine in Australia, every local Australian correspondent, as well as the Australian police attaché at the Aussie embassy and tell them that I believed that he was in the business of providing these visas and that he, as an Australian citizen, may have been involved in the killing of more than 100 innocent young Aussies!

It's ironic that this guy has a look that is not even close to that of your stereotypical fit, sun-drenched, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aussie. On appearances alone, he could easily be mistaken for a Middle Easterner.

Before sending the email, it's ironic that I ran it past a good Aussie mate here in Bangkok.

The email worked a treat and I never did hear from the piece of shit again. No reply, nothing.

Had he pursued things, I would have done exactly as I said in the email. I would have thrown everything at him, to include an appointment at Upper Sathorn.

The whole episode was one of the dark chapters in the history of this website. It went on for weeks and caused me great stress.

I believe the fellow in question is still living in Bangkok and is employed by a multinational. I have no intention of naming him.

There's no shortage of dodgy characters in Bangkok. As I have said many, many times, this place is a magnet not only for characters, but for weirdoes, criminals and an element you wouldn't dream of being involved with at home.

I am much more careful with who I allow to get close to me these days and even the slightest hint that there's something untoward with someone is enough for me to cut them off completely.

Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken on Sukhumvit soi 5 up towards Gulliver's, looking back down the soi towards Foodland and the main Sukhumvit Road. This week's photo is relatively easy and features a venue I visit often. The first person to email me with the correct location of the photo wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British fish and chips restaurant. The second person to get it correct wins a 500 baht voucher from one of the best farang food venues in Bangkok, and the home of Bangkok's best burger, in my humble opinion, Duke's Express. Duke's is conveniently located in the Emporium shopping centre in central Bangkok. The third person to get the photo right wins a 700 baht gift certificate from Lolita's in Pattaya.

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The Duke's prize must be utilised by March 2011. You have 90 days to claim the Lolita's prize. Prizes are only available to readers in Thailand at the time of entering and are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month. You only have one guess per week! If you wish to claim a prize, you must state a preference for the prize you prefer, or list the prizes you would like in order of preference – fail to do so and I will award the prize to the next person to get the photo right.

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 – Nowhere stays cheap forever.

As a 2- or 3-time annual visitor going back to 1992 and usually on limited funds, I'd have to agree with observations about costs getting out of hand. I'll remind friends that 40 years ago the go-to countries for women were Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. There's still availability in all those places, but clearly the torch has been passed and they're no longer the tourist / sexpat places of choice. It's due to development, of course. The rising economic tide finally lifted enough boats and money demanded by girls or bars outran inflation or foreigners' wages for a number of years to the point that these countries became too rich for the market. Could that be happening with Thailand? There's a larger population and it'd take more time, but if the girls could make even a third of their bar wages doing something else, many would do it. And if the lowest-paying cheap Charlies have to decamp somewhere else, there goes your active price resistance that tends to hold things to well-known "going rates." If those rise, even those punters who can pay the higher rate might not like the free helping of attitude they likely would get with the package. Anyone who was around Bangkok from 1990 – 1996 remembers nightlife-related costs rising far in excess of inflation or farang wages. The 1997 baht crash changed a lot there and was an 11-year reprieve, but lately it's more like a resumption of the previous trajectory.

Fancy fat and greedy?

I'm certainly not a regular in the bars in Thailand, so a recent trip to Bangkok gave me the chance to visit some old watering holes and see how they are doing. Two words sum up what I found when compared to 5 or more years ago – FAT and GREEDY! McDonald's has a lot to answer for, because it was hard-going to find a girl in the bars whose tummy did not resemble, err, mine! If you're into fat girls, Bangkok now seems to be paradise. As for the greedy label, I assume that it must be due to the downturn in the economy, but every dek-serve expected a tip when I ordered a drink, and gave me a dirty look if I declined! The fact that one has to answer their request for a tip puts one in an uncomfortable position when you decline. It's up to me to give a tip if I want, not for it to be expected! This situation occurred in many bars and it meant that I would not be a customer in that bar again.

Quick time, or double quick time?!

A friend and I sat in a famous Patong gogo watching a rather pretty and shapely lass, one of several who liked to floss up their hair in the Japanese way. In 90 minutes we saw this girl go from dancing to getting changed and going off with Japanese-looking guys, not once but 3 times. Yes, in 90 minutes, she had completed 3 missions and was back up dancing! We left then so we don't know if that was her full night's quota. As these girls demand 3,000 baht up, she was making big money. That girl has a faster kill rate than a Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot! My own record is not too shabby, from bar to ST room and back, including 2 showers, in 11 minutes. Golf balls and straws spring to mind. That was my first encounter with the famous Ning when she was jungle fresh. For the information of her many well satisfied fans, she is back in town, looking as sexy as ever and can usually be found in Club Hollywood.

It's just like dealing with children…

It's funny to read Caveman's report about the two of you having trouble making a waitress understand your order. You mention that it happens all too often in farang restaurants and I agree. But it's not only in restaurants that things are messed up. I have a condo and every time I need someone to come and fix something it's a nightmare. I do my best to make sure that they understand what to do but they always mess up one way or the other. It drives me crazy. It's a mystery to me why they seem to take no pride in doing a good job and as far as I can see, they have no desire to learn and improve. Either they don't care or are just plain stupid. Is this what an average IQ of 91 is doing to a nation? I often feel like I am dealing with a child when I try to explain something to them.

Anything for money.

An interesting if disturbing weekly column. I say disturbing because it is frightening how someone can be let off the hook because there is so much money involved. I agree that is sad that the girls get involved with sort of thing and it is horrible that the American porno movie maker has unprotected sex with them. However I really can't feel that sorry for them. Most will do absolutely anything for money. I once met that awful character Nigel from England and had to leave the bar within 5 minutes of being in his company. Very unpleasant.

A Carrefour moment.

We read about and frequently experience the greed, selfishness and arrogance of Thais when dealing with farangs. Sometimes this makes us forget about the "real" Thai persona. Yesterday I was shopping in Carrefour and needed to buy a sponge for cleaning dishes. Carrefour had just done one of those annoying layout changes and I couldn't find one anywhere. There's no point asking the staff as they wouldn't have a clue. Giving up on this mission, I join the check out queue. As I start placing my purchases on the counter, two women joined the queue and I spotted, in their trolley, just what I was looking for. I asked the ladies where they had found the sponge to be told they were upstairs alongside Electricals and Clothes. Go figure! As the checkout girl had already started on my items, it was too late for me to do anything about this. Then one of the ladies handed me her sponge whilst her mate set off upstairs to get a new one. A very small gesture of kindness and generosity, but I was touched. For sure, it would never have happened in Tesco back in the UK!

A night out in Thailand is like climbing Everest.

A night out in Soi Bangla in Phuket can be compared to climbing Everest. Up to the point you reach the summit it's all uphill but enjoyable, but having reached the peak a decision has to be made of which girl to take out for the rest of the evening. Somehow just like the mountain it can be downhill all the way from there on in.

Another winner writes.

Famous bars, expensive girls, bad boring sex. I hope Stickman never names my favourite bar at SWC so all the folks are wandering to the new must see venue and destroy it like Tilac. You surely know that prostitution is illegal in Thailand and you surely know what you did when you wrote about prostitution in the Soi 6 bars the way you did. Many people remember the good old times before Stickman came to Thailand and started writing about nightlife. And these people know where you live.

The iconic Nana Plaza show bar, Angelwitch, and its sister bar in Pattaya, which I maintain is the best designed gogo bar in all of Thailand, are as good as sold. Owner Matt started up Angelwitch several years ago after getting out of Tony's Bar in Cowboy. Along with his partner who had the vision for the shows and did much of the choreography, Angelwitch became known as a show bar, differentiating it from mere gogo bars. Angelwitch developed what Soi Cowboy's Long Gun had been doing but took things to a whole new level, with shows that were practiced at length, day after day. They also went to great lengths to deck the girls out in sexy outfits and use a variety of props, all of which contributed to Angelwitch becoming one of the biggest brands in the business. Angelwitch has been for sale for some time with a lofty price tag. I've heard three different numbers as to what the two bars have actually sold for and let's just say that Matt won't be without rice for a good few years!

The most hyped new venue in recent times, Bangkok's Insomnia opened on Friday night to much fanfare and a city laden with advertising. The venue was packed and the 300 baht entry which gets you your first drink was no barrier to the party goers. Once inside you find an open, cavernous venue, with elements of both a Western disco and a Thai night spot. There's a dedicated dance floor and insanely loud music. It's early days, but Bangkok's Insomnia seems to be attracting a similar sort of crowd to what you see in the night spots of Sukhumvit soi 11. Think young moneyed up Westerners and pretty young Thai women from mainstream society. This is not the naughty bar crowd! If you're into clubbing and like music that sounds like a car alarm, Bangkok's Insomnia might be for you. For the horn dogs hoping Sukhumvit's newest venue would draw the same crowd as the Biergarten, Bangkok Beat, Thermae, Gulliver's, Nana Liquid and Climax, you're going to be disappointed. If you prefer the sort of venue where you meet women who will be delighted to see a couple of grey notes slipped in to their handbag in the morning, stick to the aforementioned venues. It's still early days so it will be interesting to see how it develops, but I'm not convinced this venue will draw the freelancer and sex tourist crowd. The 300 baht entry fee alone should keep that lot out. The two photos below provided by a friend were taken inside Insomnia.

Soi Cowboy has been the busiest of Bangkok's bar areas for a while, but how accurate would it be to say that the lane is booming? A lot of the smaller bars don't get that many customers and a lot of the bigger bars have upstairs areas that have not been used in years. Take Midnite and Shark for example, both of which have a spacious upstairs area which isn't used. Business is good at Cowboy, but there is much unused capacity.

For fans of Beer Lao, not only is it in stock at Sheba's and Suzy Wong's in Soi Cowboy, it's a very reasonable 75 baht before 9 PM. The price doubles after 9 – 150 baht is the price for standard drinks in many venues these days – so get in early. What I find weird is that Beer Lao is not listed on the drinks menu, so you wouldn't even know they had it on offer!

While it's good to see Carlsberg back in Thailand, when you see the blackboard outside of the Robin Hood pub advertising it at 200 baht a pint, or a princely 130 baht for a half pint, it makes you wonder. Maybe I am just overly price sensitive, but that does seem rather a lot for what is merely a lager.

Steve Leather's Private Dancer is widely considered the best book of the bargirl genre and is a must read for anyone with an interest in, or who partakes in, the industry. Steve has a new title set in Bangkok about to be published, the curiously titled, "Bangkok Bob And The Missing Mormon" which is it hoped will be in Bangkok bookstores before the end of the year. Back to Private Dancer, a new wave of counterfeit copies is flooding Pattaya. One crook is even selling them through his website at 300 baht a copy and he's been on local radio plugging them! Knock off copies of Money Number One and The Damage Done are also being peddled. So how do you know if they're fakes? In the case of Private Dancer, they aren't actually that easy to spot, although the quality isn't as good as the real thing – the fakes have a tendency to fall apart! The only way to be sure you are getting the real things is to buy it from a reputable store like Asia Books, Bookazine, Kinokuniya, B2S etc. If it's being sold as new in a second-hand bookshop then it's almost certainly a fake because Asia Books is the exclusive distributor and they don't sell to second-hand bookstores. The price is also a clue. Asia Books sells it for 395 baht – anyone selling it for less is almost certainly selling a fake!

Photographs don't lie. Thai women offering themselves to foreigners are getting bigger. This is particularly evident on the streets of Pattaya where some awfully well-rounded women can be found. It's novel to look at photos of Thai women today and see how big they are compared to just 10 years ago – and this applies just as much to women outside the bar industry as those in it. Just like the rest of the world, there's a real fat explosion in Thailand. What is amazing to me is just how quickly this has happened. I have always liked a curvy lady – not a fatty, but someone with shape. I can remember in the old days in gogo bars thinking that many girls were just too slim for my liking. That's seldom the case now. The arrival of fast food and as much as anything, the increasing wealth of the average Thai are major factors, but let's not forget modern Thai cooking which seems to use more oil and more sugar. Or maybe there is something else going on? Can we perhaps attribute this increase in fatties to the increase in Middle Eastern and Indian sex tourists, who appear to prefer a more well-rounded girl? I could fill photo gallery after photo gallery with images of women who could reasonably be described as fat. That's no crime of course, but it makes me laugh that some guys actually fork out for these girls' services. In the gogos it's not so bad – but girls there are getting bigger too!

Popular visa run company Jack Golf's problems continue. Their bus broke down *again* yesterday, resulting in some customers deciding to take a cab back into town rather than wait for replacement transport to collect them. I hear from those who regularly make visa runs that the Korean run firm is the best, but at the same time the frequency of break downs is disturbing. The other issue I frequently receive complaints about is the way the staff beg for tips, insisting visa runners tip the driver when they get off the bus. There are signs inside the bus requesting a tip too! Maybe this is a Korean thing?

It's not often I catch a Thai movie but this week we wandered along to see "My Best Bodyguard", a Thai-made action flick which stars HRH Princess Ubolrattana. It's not as slick as what comes out of Hollywood, but was fun all the same. At downtown cinemas it has subtitles but there's plenty of English spoken in it too.

Thailand expats can fly to New Zealand on the cheap with Air Asia announcing that they will soon be operating flights between Kuala Lumpur and Christchurch. KL is Air Asia's hub – and you can get there inexpensively from Bangkok. It should be noted that the Thai consulate in Auckland is a soft touch for visas.

We were heading home in a taxi this week after a good session at The Londoner when the Mrs. saw that the driver had a Blackberry. She started pointing at it, screwed up her face and shaking her head. When we got home she said that it just had to be a copy, aghast that a cabbie had a flasher mobile than her. No taxi driver could ever afford a Blackberry, she just had to try and convince me!

The boss at Crossbar confirms that he can show the Ashes tests live, but it is not clear if it be worth his while to get up early to open the bar at the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM Thai time for the Melbourne and Sydney tests, or even 7:00 AM for Brisbane. If he can get a good number confirming that they will be there he will open the doors – so drop by and let him know! With that said, will he sell much at that hour? The dreadful sight of foreigners sipping on their beer mid-morning is much more common in Pattaya than in Bangkok and I wonder if there would be much alcohol consumed at that time. In addition to the Ashes, he will also screen the New Zealand cricket team's tour of India. He is also hoping to get a new connection which will allow him to broadcast more rugby.

I received a dreadful account of the behaviour and abuse of power by one of the farang volunteer policeman, of the Pattaya chapter. It seems that this fellow was assisting a Beach Road girl, helping her collect her debts! In one instance, a foreigner owed this girl 200 baht and she called the wannabe cop who went to the beach and met her. They proceeded to the guy's hotel where he flashed his ID with the cocky arrogance of an Asian cop and was subsequently let into the guy's room! The guy wasn't there so they waited outside until he returned at which point he was given a choice: pay 500 baht there and then or go to the station and pay 10,000 baht! Needless to say, he paid the 500, but remember, the debt was only 200! The lady was seeing a number of guys and started to realise that there was a real opportunity to use this wannabe cop to her advantage. In another incident, a Western resident of Pattaya heard a knock on his door and in storms this rogue into what was an unlocked room. The resident was naked on his bed! He did his usual trick, flashed his ID card as if it was the search warrant equivalent of a master key and demanded that the guy return a bankcard to the girl which she claimed he had stolen. Apparently this bint had been staying with the guy in that room for 6 months and had left the card there. It was promptly returned to her. The cop then wanted the guy's passport but was told to get lost and come back with a real policeman. He didn't return, of course. This incident resulted in a complaint being made and after a few weeks the cop was suspended and had to hand in his wannabe police ID. That wasn't the end of the story… The fellow who made the complaint that is believed to have resulted in the cop's suspension left the country for a while. While he was gone it is alleged that they went back to his room and playing on his previous position as a wannabe cop was asked to enter his room. Various complaints have been made about this guy but the word is he's still in action in Pattaya, entering rooms and getting money from people by threatening them with arrest. This guy gets free sex for his work and takes hookers' words at face value, acting on whatever they say. The problem is that these guys are aligned with the Pattaya police, so making a complaint about one of them, even if a former member, doesn't go very far.

It was another bad week for Americans in Thailand, especially retirees, with the dollar losing more ground against the baht. How long will it be before 29 baht to the dollar is a distant memory?

I'm no fan of the Bangkok Post but in fairness, I find it a better read and much better laid out than The Nation which seems to have gone downhill in recent years. Anyway, I do admit to browsing the headlines on the Post's site each day but what a dreadful nuisance this yellow animation they placed on their website is. I don't even know what it is promoting, but there are these semi-transparent yellow clouds that drift across the screen, slowing your computer down and preventing you from clicking on a story. The sad part is, as I say, I don't even know what they're promoting. It's just plain poor form and almost as bad as the ad-ravaged main page of this site! :)

I have said it before and I will say it again: I really do believe that the quality of the expat forums in Thailand is appalling. What is sad is that they are a reflection of the type of Westerner who relocates to or who frequently visits Thailand. A classic example was a recent post on the big one, SlyGeezer, a forum with a membership of some 100,000 odd members which promotes itself as the largest expat forum in all of Asia. This may be true, but what is also true is that it is absolutely infested with spurious information posted by some who do their utmost to convince others that they are utterly clueless! What irked me was a particular post explaining how the writer had caught a taxi from Mahboonkrong to Sukhumvit soi 8 and paid the taxi driver, who had requested 200 baht, a mere 60 baht. He inferred that he had travelled to MBK from soi 8 and that was the fare so he would pay the same fare for the return journey. What the guy didn't say was that getting from MBK to Sukhumvit soi 8 is a much longer journey than going the other way. The taxi has to go what he termed "the long way around"! A taxi cannot take the same route back, driving along Ploenchit Road, under the expressway, and on to Sukhumvit because there all vehicles, with the exception of buses, must turn left on to the expressway. It might cost 50 odd baht to get from soi 8 to MBK, but the other way will always be MUCH more expensive because the cab has to travel down to Rama 4 Road, along to Asoke, up Asoke to Sukhumvit and along to soi 8. Not only is the distance much greater, it takes you through some of the most congested roads in central Bangkok! At the wrong time of day the journey could take forever. He should have checked the meter in the cab had been turned on – and if it had not, he should have either insisted that it be turned on, or got out. In the true spirit of SlyGeezer, where ignorance and sanctimoniousness are prevails, this fool claimed that he had been scammed by the driver. What a wanker! It was in fact him who scammed the driver, paying the guy much less than what the fare should have been! What made me laugh more than anything is that the guy who wrote this utter tripe had made some 21,000 posts! This is the sort of bullshit that infests many local forums, but SlyGeezer is far and away the worst. So what is the best forum in Thailand? For me, it's probably the naughty boys' forum, PattayaSecrets, which has less of the sanctimonious BS you get elsewhere. Sure, there's plenty of misinformation as well as some really hardcore sex tourists, but the tone is generally pretty good and there are enough knowledgeable Pattaya locals to bring value to the forum.

Has anyone seen Naughty Nigel in their travels? I haven't seen him around for some time now, probably about 3 years. I wonder if he's still about. He has at least one, if not more kids, so I would have thought he'd still be around.

Reader's story of the week comes from London Dave and shows how totally messed up some aspects of Thailand's tourism industry have become in, " Thailand's Worst Taxi Driver".

A Dane is arrested at the airport for allegedly posting personal photos of his Thai girlfriend online.

CNBC reports that Thailand is thriving in the currency squalls.

Lumpini police guarantee porn will not be sold on Sukhumvit Road any more.

For you fat pigs, here's a round up of Bangkok's biggest burgers from CNNGo.

Bangkok's prettiest DJs can also be found at CNNGo.

Eroding Thai family structures are forcing oldies in the Kingdom to seek shelter.

This Thai harlot is doing a grand job of promoting herself.

The prolific Mr. Bangkokhaunts produced this YouTube video showing the slow progress on the Nana Plaza ground floor.

An Irishman claims 250,000 Euros in alleged benefits fraud while living in Thailand.

Ask Sunbelt Legal

Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.

I received four legal questions this week for Sunbelt Asia, the first of which was received late on Friday, giving me no time to get them to Sunbelt and answered in time for the column. These questions and their answers will run next week. If you have a question for which you require an urgent answer, please send it to me no later than Thursday morning, Thai time!





When I started this site, I sought to cut through much of the BS I saw out there and call things as they are. I saw a lot of foreigners being taken advantage of, some of whom were losing more than just a few baht – and I thought I might be able to put some information online which would help them to avoid some of the pitfalls out there. Take the photo above. It's clear to anyone who has been around for a while just what's going on. Some sucker in the West has sent money via Western Union to a Thai working girl who he in all likelihood believes has stopped working in the bar industry and is being faithful to him. The money is presumably being provided so that she is able to support herself without selling herself. The money he has sent might possibly be money that he can ill afford to part with, or which perhaps forces him to make certain compromises, or sacrifices. As can be seen in the photo, she is there with a young guy, most likely her boyfriend. He's about the same age as her and looking at his facial features and the way he is dressed, he's from a similar background. What you don't see is what happened next. She handed the money to her boyfriend. He may have given a little back to her later. Maybe. Maybe not. Just why she would do this is anybody's guess, but I imagine that the guy who sent her the money didn't intend for it to go the punk. While some of the things written about in this column might seem unbelievable, I ask you to take a step back, open your eyes and try and look at what goes on in Thailand objectively. I am astounded that some guys take at face value some of the truly unbelievable stories they are told. In the tourist areas particularly, Thailand really can feel like the land of make believe, a place to be enjoyed, and not necessarily to be taken seriously.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick