2010 was a year of much drama for Thailand, a year of change, and a year in which the only thing we can really take out of it is that there's a feeling in the air that there's plenty more of the same to come! I generally look at change as a positive, but I'm not sure that some of the changes we've seen in Thailand over the past year can be looked at in a favourable light.
Let's recap what happened, with a month by month account of some of the events and stories I covered this year.
2009 may have been a year to forget, but the first month of the new year was golden for the tourism industry with hotels at 100% occupancy for most of the month, bars overflowing with customers and bargirls' purses full of cash.
The first month of the year is almost always the busiest, and January this year reaffirmed what I have been saying for some time – that the stranglehold Westerners have had as the predominant tourists to Thailand is well and truly over.
Russians, Indians, Middle Easterners and Eastern Europeans are visiting in ever increasing numbers and they are flocking to areas traditionally the domain of the white man. Nowhere was it more obvious than Pattaya's Walking Street where these so-called minorities far outnumbered the traditional visitor, the white male from the likes of the US and the UK.
Thailand's efforts to promote the country to new markets have been successful and their timing couldn't have been better. When the economies of their traditional markets faltered and people stayed home, they were replaced by visitors from new markets.
The genie is out of the bottle and there's no reason to think that these new markets won't experience massive growth for years to come so that in, say, several years from now, Westerners will be very much a minority.
February sees the biggest temperature swing of any single month and the month can start at mild and end at stifling. Temperatures were not the only thing changing in February as the glow of the high season was already starting to dim.
Girls had come down from Isaan in droves, and lined up along Pattaya's Beach Road, perhaps the largest open air collection of working girls anywhere on the planet. There they sat, looking around, wondering just what their sisters had been on about. Was it really possible that just a few short weeks earlier the beach had been overflowing with foreign men looking for company? They had heeded the call, but now that they were there, where had all the men gone?
As early as the last week of January, vacancy signs were up outside hotels and bar owners were looking at innocent cashiers with suspicion. The high season was over!
As the annual 3-month heatwave plonked its fat ass over every far flung corner of the country, things were heating up on the streets of the capital as protestors from the north and the northeast, the left bank, assembled in Bangkok and started grumbling that life was unjust, that they were second-class citizens in their own country, that Thaksin Shinawatra is the only person who could save not just them, but the country…..and on and on it went.
When their cries went unheard, rallies started. There were caravans of protestors in thousands of vehicles over several kilometres snaking their way through central Bangkok.
Still the powers that be wouldn't listen so they ratcheted things up further, taking over the Phan Fa Bridge near the Democracy Monument, a stone's throw from Khao San Road. But still Bangkokians ignored them and to most of the Thai capital it was life as normal.
Things reached boiling point just before Songkran and all hell broke loose when the red shirts and authorities came to blows. There were deaths on both sides, and even a neutral, a Japanese journalist, was carted away in white sheets.
The reds took their protest to the heart of the downtown area, throwing enormous numbers into an encampment at one of the busiest and best known intersections in the city. At last they seemed to be achieving something as traffic in the area was brought to a standstill, the city's biggest hotels forced closed and some of the flashest condos in the most expensive real estate of the capital emptied of residents. The city's high-end shopping centres were closed in what was the quietest Songkran in memory. Now Bangkok had to take them seriously!
The encampment mushroomed out, and at one point the reds controlled from Pratunam in the north to Rama 4 Road in the south and Mahboonkrong in the west to Wireless Road in the east. Even the farang bar areas came under threat and soldiers were posted to protect the national treasures of Patpong, Nana and Cowboy.
The Bangkok street protests made front-page news around the world and the occupation of downtown Bangkok, which lasted several weeks, caused massive damage to the tourism industry as well as the country's already sullied reputation. There was widespread cancellation of travel to Thailand.
Even with many large hotels in the occupied area closed, those in other areas reported single digit occupancy rates.
There were skirmishes, but those who visited the area were met by, at the individual level at least, a generally friendly and well-meaning lot. It was obvious that their stay would be short-lived and they were never going to be a match for the security forces when the inevitable happened.
And so on May 19 the red shirts and their medieval fortress rolled over. What started as a dawn raid was all over by lunch time. Citywide curfews followed, the shelves of convenience stores were cleaned out and visitors and residents became concerned about the supply of basic necessities and vigilantes out late at night.
While Bangkok's street demonstrations are but a memory and little evidence of them remaining – with the exception of the Central World Plaza which remains an iconic monument to the troubles – the underlying problems remain. Repelling the red shirts put and end to the occupation, but did nothing to work towards the grievances that run deep through what is becoming, some would say has already become, a polarised society.
The fall out for the tourism industry and the dramatic drop in visitor arrivals that followed was hardly unexpected. It was straight to the front of the queue at the airport where it was said the odd Immigration officer even managed a smile. If you had yet to make accommodations plans, rooms in 5-star hotels were offered for rates unseen since the '90s.
There was one group of tourists who weren't put off. The naughty boys were as resilient as ever and sex tourists flocked to Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya. Some reports had it that like the big name hotels, even the girls were willing to drop their prices.
It was around the middle of the year that it dawned on me that I was no longer the youngest Westerner in town. In my first few years here I would seldom meet a Western resident younger than me. One day I opened my eyes and realised there are Westerners resident in Thailand young enough to be my son!
You always saw younger guys on the backpacker circuit, but those younger guys are no longer only found in Khao San Road. Throughout expat society, from the naughty bar areas to language schools to high-rise office buildings, the average age of the Western resident in Bangkok has dropped. The stereotype of the Bangkok expat is changing.
This year's low season was as deep a trough as I have seen in Bangkok and Pattaya in a decade. Hotels, restaurants, airlines and the girls, all were forced to lower their prices.
The bars were quiet and bar owners were screaming. Some claim they had to dip into their pocket to pay the wage bill at the end of the month, doing so with a great reluctance in the knowledge that many of the girls they were paying would be dancing in a rival bar the very next night!
But despite predictions of bars going under, not many actually did. For two years, one of worldwide economic gloom and one of Thailand imploding, predictions that masses of bar owners would be forced to close their doors have proven wrong. Perhaps more than anything it shows how much fat is built in to the pricing in bars, as well as how great the business model is for the owner – slashing the salary bill when times are tough and girls don't go off.
With bar owners uncertain about the future, investment in Bangkok's big three farang bar areas has been well down.
The odd venue has changed hands in Patpong, and the King's Group's premier venues have had an exterior facelift, but there's been little in the way of new venues.
Much money has already been spent in Cowboy as it is predicted that the smaller bars are waiting to be made an offer so they can cash out as the remaining old-style venues are taken into the neon wars.
The face of Nana Plaza changed with the beer bars in the centre of the ground floor cleared with word a beer garden would replace them. The word is that you're more likely to find a Nana Plaza showgirl who will go all night for 500 baht than you are to see a beer garden built on the ground floor of Nana.
Aside from the red shirt riots, the big talking point this year has been the continued strengthening of the baht against all major currencies, with the exception of the Aussie dollar. The baht's march continued all the way to 30 baht to the US dollar until it finally ran out steam in October.
For those working in Thailand, the strengthening baht hasn't been a bad thing. There's a surprisingly high number of Westerners working in Bangkok who repatriate earnings back to their homeland.
For tourists it's been a rather different story. Many have commented that prices have reached "ouch levels". It's true that Bangkok prices are sometimes higher than they are in the West. 400 baht cheeseburgers and 300 baht pints of Guinness is taking the piss.
What seems to have been missed is that many of the prices are not due to the rising baht at all, but to the silly money Bangkok landlords are commanding for rent. Take O'Reilly's pub, on the corner of Silom Road and Soi Thaniya, for example. The rent on that baby is a cool 750,000 baht, or $US 25,000 per month! That's why we get London and New York prices in Bangkok.
In Thailand there are always cheaper options. If you bemoan the prices of drinking in the bars, for example, you won't get a second look if you grab a few brews at 7 Eleven and consume them on the street.
There mightn't have been much investment in Bangkok's foreign bar areas this year, but Pattaya's Walking Street has seen a number of new venues. Two of the newest properties, Alcatraz and Fahrenheit, are each rumoured to have had upwards of 20 million baht sunk into them.
A month before the official start of high season and the tourists were flooding back, with the mix even more cosmopolitan than last year. Today you will hear as many unrecognizable languages spoken on Walking Street as you will on London's Oxford Street.
Unseasonal heavy rains fell, tourists flocked back despite a year of bad news and Stickman declared that he wouldn't be around forever. There's nothing permanent in this world.
Finding it more and more difficult not just to have a good time in the bars, I found myself spending time away from the Sukhumvit ghetto, preferring to hang out by the river and around the old parts of the city, observing and capturing the traditional way of life. Just me and my camera, away from the nightlife areas, quite contented. And then I jumped on to the big bird to escape Thailand for a couple of weeks, for a real Christmas back home…so who knows what will happen for the rest of the month!
The crap that went on either side of Songkran was so dramatic that no-one wants to believe that the turbulence of 2010 was merely a preview of things to come. But that is exactly what some pundits have predicted. Whatever the case, it cannot be denied that serious unresolved issues remain.
Thailand has a number of looming challenges to face. As far as foreigners are concerned, Thailand's tourism industry has already proven how resilient it is. Every year there is a major problem in the country, be it a coup, major political rallies, natural disaster or fear of serious widespread contagious disease, yet every year not only does the country's tourism industry bounce back, the economy booms and goes from strength to strength.
And so too is the expat population increasing. Tens of thousands of Westerners are moving to Thailand every year, and this shows no sign of reversing despite all the nonsense.
I don't doubt that some major shit will go down in Thailand in 2011 as it does every year, just as I don't doubt that tourist numbers will increase, the expat population will burgeon, the economy continue to grow, and despite many reasons why it shouldn't, Thailand will continue to prosper!
Last week's photo
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken outside Secrets, my favourite bar in Pattaya which is up the first side soi off Walking Street. This week's photo is back in Bangkok. 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.
Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The Duke's prize must be utilised by March 2011. 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.
Branching out into the Thai market.
My Tilac girl, who I have nicknamed "the shrieker", reads Stickman. She was told about it by a customer. She was very aware, for example, of #211's reputation as being the cream of the crop in Tilac! So, the girls – some of them – do read the site, at least now and again. She also told me she has looked at TilacBar.com, although there's no content there.
Tall poppy syndrome alive and well in Sweden.
Your mentioning of "tall poppy syndrome" (I'd never heard that phrase) was interesting. We've got that in spades here in Sweden. The only two ways to become rich that are socially acceptable is being good at sports, because everybody likes sports, and winning the lottery, as everyone thinks they will be next in line themselves. But when someone excels at business the ugly envy rears its head. I had a good year with my business last year and since business records are public here someone checked it out. What prompted them to file for my figures is anybody's guess. Curiosity? Hoping I was on the ropes? I have no idea. I was confronted with my earnings at a social event and felt like I was supposed to apologise for doing well! These were not my closest friends but still people I thought of as friends and I could tell they were pissed off that I had been successful. No mention that I had a tough year in '08, no mention of me working 60 hours per week, no mention that I employ 8 people to whom I pay good wages. Just envy! Now they are NOT my friends at all. And yeah, they're left-leaning liberal whiners.
The West is expensive too.
The recent discussions on your site about how living in Thailand is no longer cheap has one missing element. It doesn't examine how the cost of living in the West has increased in recent years. I live in Western Australia where to rent a house you are looking at $400 – $1,000 per week. A one-bedroom in a crummy block of flats will cost you $325 a week, or $350,000 to purchase. The average mortgage is something like $400,000. A $50,000 income will see you seriously struggling to make ends meet.
Can Patpong become the premier bar area again?
Thoughts on why Patpong can't come back: Success brings higher rents, rising prices, more fingers in the pot, more payoffs, and again, higher prices. When those prices reach a level that discourages patronage then the difference is made up by foregoing maintenance and in shady ways of which you frequently warn. The same story is threatening Nana. How long before Cowboy starts to stagnate? Under the laws of economics, it's only when an area completely collapses, bringing down rents and payoffs, that there can there be a rebirth. But would rents and payoffs ever be reduced in Bangkok? Or, more likely, will Patpong just get meaner and more dangerous?
No day time trade in Bangkok?
In Pattaya there are a few gogos that are open during the day – Tahitian Queen, I think, and another one on Beach Road near soi 8. Yet in Bangkok I have never known a gogo to open during the day. Is it actually against the law to do so, or merely common business thinking that they wouldn't make a buck? Were they ever open during the day? I know Mercury Bar in Nana has an advertisement inside offering happy hour drinks in the afternoon, suggesting it was open in daylight hours at some point. If it is legal to open, I don't see why they don't, particularly during high season. In the internet era, it would only take a couple of days before word got around, and God knows there's enough alcos and cooze-addicts in Bangkok looking for afternoon entertainment who would make it economically viable, particularly with so little competition for the afternoon drinkers' baht. I expected that the introduction of early closing in Bangkok would lead the gogos to open earlier, yet the reverse has happened. Going back 10 years, most gogos would have girls up on stage around 7:00 or 7:30. Now, many don't do so until 8:00 or later, and a lot of the prettier girls breeze in around 9:30 or 10:00. So, many gogos – in the days when they'd stay open until 3 or 4 AM – would have been properly open and operational for 8 or 9 hours per day. Now, it's about 6.
Why having a few US dollars in your wallet never hurts.
I did my 3-monthly border run yesterday to the Thai / Cambodian land crossing at Choeng Chom, south of Surin. On getting my visa I was initially asked for 1,100 baht. I queried this figure as the entry fee is supposed to be US$20 and at today's rate of 30 baht to the dollar, it should only be 600 baht. In the end I 'had to' settle for 1,000 baht. Thieving crooks! Then, when I went to leave, I was asked for an extra 300 baht as compensation for not wanting to stay in Cambodia for 24 hours. I gave the Immigration thief one of those long, withering 'you must think I came down with the last shower' looks, when he then stamped the passport and handed it back. Goodbye fekking Cambodia!
Policing a traffic accident, Thai-style.
You wrote about traffic police finding reasons to fine you when no fault existed. I have also read of dramas when you have an accident. This afternoon in Yasothon I knocked a guy of his bike in front of a traffic cop. In Sydney I would have been charged with changing lanes without due care. I looked in my rear mirror and the cop was walking towards us. Oh God, what now! My wife and her sister got out, the guy got up holding his knee. My wife reckons he had been drinking as he kept moving back from the police. The police asked if he wanted to do it the easy way or the hard way. He said he wanted 200 baht my wife gave him 500 baht. He nearly kissed her hand, the cop smiled at me told my wife to tell me to be careful of motorbikes and without asking for my licence or passport we were on our way. Was I lucky? The only damage to my sister in law's car a few scratches which were easy to remove.
Cheeky English slag.
A friend and I were out with our Thai girlfriends a couple of years back in Radio City, Patpong, waiting for the diminutive Thai Elvis impersonator which was quite fun at the time. During the evening an English girl came over and asked my girlfriend if she could have a quiet word with her. Being a woman, I was not really bothered – but as the girl started asking something quietly, I could see my girlfriend getting confused and looking over to me for help. So I go over and my girlfriend says that the English lady was asking if she would have a threesome with her and her husband. Whatever I was paying they would give her more! I tried to point out to the English lady that it was very disrespectful to Thais to assume everyone with a foreigner was on the game and moreover, if she had done this in England would she and her husband (sitting at the bar with a big grin) might have ended up with a broken nose. She did not get any point other than wondering why my girlfriend was not willing for a few hundred baht more to go with her and her husband. Wastes of space – not all predators are fellas!
Finally the truth comes out. The space on the ground floor of Nana Plaza was cleared not as part of a planned move to build a beer garden, but because of government orders to do so. The space remains roped off so that it doesn't fill up with motorcycles etc. There is fact a case against Nana Castle, the lessor of Nana Plaza, and nothing will be built in the prime location before the case is settled. The grandiose plans that the Crown Group had of building anything on the ground floor of Nana Plaza won't eventuate any time soon, if ever!
And the future of Nana Plaza remains uncertain with the distribution of tenancy renewals this week. The renewals are for 18 months and effective from 1/1/2011. And so the speculation about Nana's future will continue for another year and a bit!
There might be no construction in Nana Plaza, but there has been the erection of a Christmas tree. Nana, and Cowboy, like most of Bangkok, have seen a bunch of Christmas decorations go up over the past week.
The rumour mill has it that the Hilary bar people have bought the little convenience store between Big Dogs and Morning Night and will turn it into another beer bar. It makes sense as that's a prime location for another bar – and the bars on soi 4 around the mouth of Nana Plaza are all goldmines.
There's more going on at Patpong than at Nana with Glamour A Gogo the newest gogo bar in Bangkok to open its doors, brightening up the Silom end of Patpong soi 2. Located where the pharmacy used to be, opposite Foodland, it features reasonably priced drinks – with standard drinks just 120 baht. Japanese are said to be behind it and it shows – the girls are much more attractive than what you find in most gogo bars. It's worth popping by for a drink or two.
5 years ago Club Boesche was the hottest spot in Sin City and helped to drag customers down to the Covent Garden bar area. But Boesche is no longer and the legend died this past Wednesday when the venue closed its doors. Management of the Covent Garden complex confirm that all outstanding bills for rent, electric, water etc have been paid in full so you have to wonder why they closed. Business has been lousy in Boesche for quite some time. The venue has had too many staff with a crap attitude as well as an utterly useless Thai manager. Why it took the owners 4 years to realise what everyone else already knew I will never know! Owner Chuck instructed his wife to close the doors with a promise to pay all staff / dancers any salary owing at the end of this month. Chuck says he will continue to pay rent etc with a view to reopening at a later date. The question that has to be asked is if you can't make it in December, when does he think he can make it?! Some of the former Boesche girls can be found in the bar next door.
Bar Bar, the fetish house in Patpong's soi 2, has a raft of special nights planned over the festive period. If you've ever wanted to dip your toe into the fetish pond, now's your chance. Looking at the schedule on the right, I can't help but think that they will do a cracking trade on the 28th. As for the 30th and the 31st, well that's for the real perverts! Bar Bar is nothing like a regular bar and has a few interesting nooks and crannies where all manner of madness takes place. If you do make it to the venue – and everyone should try it at least once – check out the Japanese room at the back, as shown in the photo below.
Snooker legend Jimmy White, a celebrity known to have a certain penchant for Pattaya, will be at Pattaya guesthouse / used bookstore Canterbury Tales in Soi Chiayaphum (which is just off Soi Buakhao, near Soi Diana and the Subway branch on the corner) tomorrow signing copies of his autobiography. I just hope that they didn't get this particular batch of books that he'll be signing from over the border.
Many venues have a special Christmas menu in place for Christmas Day, with some also offering festive season deals on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day too. From the British pubs to the bars and restaurants in the best hotels to expats' favourite eateries, most have some sort of Xmas menu. I used to quite like the Xmas buffet at the Dusit Thani which was reasonably priced unlike many of the 5-star hotels which charge many thousands of baht per head for their special Christmas offerings. That was one 5-star hotel that didn't gouge.
If you're looking for great food at a great price – not easy to find at this time of year, then I reckon the best deal may be the Bully's Christmas Day Buffet which will run on Christmas Day from 2 – 10 PM. It's a very reasonable 690 baht per person and there are too many items to list, including slow-roasted seasoned turkey, roast goose, prime rib of beef, honey-glazed ham and grilled tiger prawns. If I was in Bangkok this week, I'd be there for sure!
The Western press's coverage of the Wikileaks cables has focused on Western countries and Western leaders, as is to be expected. But you don't have to dig too deep to find cables where the highest ranking diplomat has talked about certain things the Thais would really rather weren't talked about. The Thais can be forgiving about most things, but not this. Whether there will be ramifications, at least at an individual level, is unlikely. It's just as well said fellow has a diplomatic passport!
One of my favourite Pattaya bars employed a new mamasan and her young assistant in mid November. The assistant took charge initially whilst waiting for the older mamasan to start this month. Em, the assistant, was a lovely, bubbly girl who was engaged to a Thai soldier serving with the "Green Howards" and stationed in Preston in the UK. She had just celebrated her 23rd birthday, on the night of November 30 when she was travelling home as a passenger on a motorcycle taxi. They got hit by a pick-up truck driven by Somchai who, true to form, did a runner. Prick. They were left lying in the road. Taxi boy had a few bruises but was generally ok and Em was taken to hospital. The bar received a phone call at midday the next day to say that Em was ok but would be out of action for a few days. They received a second call at 5 PM that same day to say that she'd tragically passed away due to a brain hemorrhage. The poor management was stunned and lost for words. It's a horrible situation, but one which happens every day in Thailand, a country which has an annual road toll of 13,000!
Notices in Thai posted beside some ATM machines have words to the effect that "If you're approached by a stranger while using the ATM, you should ignore them. What follows will be all bad!" The notices refer to an increasingly common scam. The con man / woman somehow convinces the person using the ATM machine that there is a problem and offers to help. If they're a poor / uneducated Thai who doesn't read English they will lead them to the English menu and guide them through an action that transfers money to another account. The account holder pressing buttons doesn't actually realise what they're doing! With foreigners using the ATM machine, they do the same thing, but use the Thai menu, again trying to convince the potential victim to make a transfer to another account. It's basic social engineering but some people actually fall for it!
Long-term expats know that going up against Thai banks is a battle and the odds are very much against you. Seldom do you hear reports where the common man wins. Forget the previous paragraph for a moment, and let's think rather about the many people – and yes, it is rather a lot – who discover unauthorised withdrawals from their Thai bank account. Most likely they have been the victim of card skimming where their ATM card has been copied and someone has gone on a withdrawal. Sometimes there have even been suggestions of it being an inside job. It should be noted that many ATMs have cameras so the bank can verify whether it was you who made the withdrawals – or someone else. Anyway, the Thai banks do not operate in the same way as Western banks which usually refund your money once they are satisfied that the withdrawals were a genuine fraud. I can just see the smirk on bank officer Somchai's face when whitey makes such a preposterous request! So incensed about Thai banks' unwillingness to provide genuine assistance, or to refund their money in the cases of fraud, some enterprising individuals have created a website about this problem, with particular emphasis on the Siam Commercial Bank. Check out the site at : Thai Bank Scam.
There's a movement amongst authors of expat fiction to publish their works in electronic form as well as in print. Christopher G. Moore, the granddaddy of Bangkok expat fiction, has introduced Kindle versions of seven novels in the Vincent Calvino crime fiction series. Here are the available Calvino titles on Kindle .
Thai Airways has released an applet for various mobile phones. Once installed, it allows you to check flight information, frequent flyer points and what not.
I've just got back to Farangland and have tried each of my Thai SIM cards here. I have one SIM with each of the major mobile phone providers in Thailand – AIS (which operates the pre-paid One2Call system), DTAC (which runs the pre-paid Happy network) and True. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. It seems to me though that when you're outside Thailand, DTAC is clearly the best. With DTAC, when you're outside of the country, you are NOT charged for receiving SMS messages sent to you whereas the other networks charge for this – and charge a decent chunk of change too that can drain your account balance if you're someone who receives a lot of texts – and it would even worse if you get a lot of junk texts! Further, DTAC's rates for SMSing back to a Thai number are reasonable, at only 5 baht, compared to 13 baht for AIS. I also note that with DTAC, roaming is available in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and both making calls to, and receiving calls from any number in Thailand, is just 6 baht a minute. AIS is the original provider and may have the best network coverage in the rural parts of Thailand, but I have to say that if I was new to Thailand and picking up a local number, DTAC is the one I'd go for.
One of the major irritants about living in Thailand is the inconsistent service levels. Whenever you order a product or service, or make a purchase, you just don't know what will happen next. I hate to be negative but in venues outside of those where I am a regular customer and / or known, I have found service levels in Bangkok to be getting worse – and it seems to be across the board, transcending both price point and industry. At the bottom end, there's a vendor I used to buy my daily portion of farang share booey from but after his totally off-hand comments about foreigners even day I stopped buying from him. I frequently dine in a restaurant owned by a farang friend, often dining with the owner himself who makes the order in good, clear English – yet you can count on the staff messing the order up! In another instance, a mate ordered a meal through one of the home delivery companies recently and 2.5 hours later received an email saying that they were too busy and unable to deliver it! While things seem to be getting worse, it's not like this is anything new. I can remember when Dominos Pizza used to operate in Thailand. They had a delivery guarantee that the pizza would arrive within 30 minutes or you would receive a 50 baht voucher – which they marketed heavily. But when they came late, as they often would, they refused to hand over the voucher! Service here really can be crap!
The whole concept of visa runs in Thailand is a joke. That the Immigration department forces someone to leave the country, when they're virtually guaranteed of being able to re-enter the country immediately, just makes no sense to me at all. I can understand that the Thai Immigration department wishes to run someone's name through the computer system to make sure they're not wanted for any reason, and that they may like to actually have a word with someone to see why they are spending so much time in the country, but making people go to the nearest border and then return just seems plain dumb. I don't know how some guys can keep a straight face playing this farcical game, to say nothing of the hassle it must be. I am told that in the Philippines, a country I have not visited, long-stay foreigners don't have to leave the country to extend their visa and can stay in country for up to a year. This would be music to the ears of those Westerners resident in Thailand without a one-year visa extension who make a run to the border every three months. The sensible thing to do would be for Thai Immigration to charge a 2,000 – 3,000 baht fee for visa extensions which could be carried out at any Immigration office. They would then get the money themselves, cutting out the middlemen, filling the government's coffers and saving people the hassle of visa runs. Will it ever happen? Not in my lifetime!
We experienced unseasonal rain in Bangkok this week – it's almost unheard of for rain to fall at this time of year – and come Friday the weather was cloudy and cool. At last, a reprieve from the heat. Some of the girls were in winter coats earlier this week at Cowboy while punters were in nothing more than a shirt.
Quote of the week comes from a reader, "In Western society, once the callousness of cheating has been exposed there is little room to wiggle in the facts whereas in Thai society it seems truth is of little virtue so lies will continue unimpeded by any unforeseen obstacle."
Reader's story of the week comes from Airmail, "The Mask or How to Rearrange Your Face Without Plastic Surgery."
A husband and wife who kept five Thai women as sex slaves in Australia have been jailed for at least 7 years.
When it comes to drug mules caught at Bangkok Airport, Iranians outnumber all other nationalities together.
An Aussie was attacked by an elephant guide in Thailand in an incident that was widely reported in Australia.
Thai Immigration police arrest a Brit and an American on charges of child molestation.
The Thai education system was trashed again in a brutally honest editorial in this week's Bangkok Post.
The Bangkok Post reports that despite much in the press about child porn in Thailand, this disgusting material is still readily available in Pattaya.
The authorities in Pattaya conduct another silly crackdown for the benefit of the media and propaganda purposes.
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.
Question 1: I have a question about the Thai government 30 baht healthcare plan. I have heard from locals that a Thai can't use the 30 baht plan if they visit / are admitted to a government hospital in a province located outside the province / district they are registered. The only reason that I can think this to be true would be an accounting problem (extra work) for the bureaucrats. Is this correct? What is the law for Thai nationals to use the 30 baht plan at another government hospital?
Sunbelt Legal responds: It is normally not allowed to be admitted in another government hospital other than the district in which the Thai person was registered [following the house registration “ Taam Bien Baan”]. However, in cases of dire emergencies (e.g. accidents and life-threatening situations), the government hospital can accommodate the patient for an inpatient treatment and shall be covered by the 30 baht Healthcare Plan. If it is a common illness particularly outpatient treatments, it must be through the local government hospital presiding the district where the Thai person was registered. There are cases where the patients are referred to another government hospital in another district. This usually happens when the local hospital does not have enough resources for the said illness (e.g. chronic illnesses like cancer, HIV etc.) and therefore needed to be transferred to a higher facility but only through the endorsement of the local government hospital in your jurisdiction, otherwise, such treatment without the endorsement of the local government hospital shall not be covered by the 30 baht healthcare plan. It can be assumed that the local government hospital prioritises the local inhabitants first perhaps due to the volume of population in the region and the resources at hand. The local government hospital may only have enough resources to cover the inhabitants in that region. For instance, there had been an independent study in Khon Kaen wherein the resources may only seem enough to cover most of the population in the urban region but may not be enough to reach the poorest and the exempting senior citizens.
Question 2: If a foreigner dies in Thailand, what is the procedure that is followed? A person may not register at an embassy, may die at home and no official would be notified. Perhaps the pension cheques keep on coming? In Canada a death certificate is issued and a copy is sent to the government so all agencies know, and taxes have to be paid, etc. What happens to foreigners who die here?
Sunbelt Legal responds: In general, once a person dies, a death certificate is obtained at the District Office presiding over the location of the funeral hospital where the body was admitted. The funeral hospital will determine the cause of death which is then stated in the death certificate through the district office. The normal procedure is that the dead person must be identified first during admittance to the funeral hospital. In case there are no immediate family of the deceased, the Police Department is notified of the death and identification of the body shall take place and consequently a death certificate shall be issued. It is the obligation of the family of the deceased to inform all persons concerned of the unfortunate demise, including the embassy of the deceased. While there is no law that enforces the family to declare such death to the corresponding embassy, Thai inheritance laws shall preside in case there is no will and testament from the deceased. Until the embassy has been informed, pensions and other remunerations shall continue to come. Bear in mind however, that deception is considered a form of fraud and is a felony in the Thai court. The assets of the deceased shall remain in his name and cannot be transferred to any party except the Executor which must be appointed by Thai court order appointing the said Executor. It is the Executor's duty to manage the estate and to make sure that the estate is transferred to the Heir(s) in accordance to their rights of entitlement (in the case of intestate) or in accordance to the Testator's will. Prior to the Estate distribution to the Beneficiary and if the Testator is still married, half of the total estate must be distributed to the Surviving Legal Spouse of the Testator as Marital Assets. In the event that the deceased is unidentifiable, the funeral hospital that admitted the deceased shall declare the body Bukon Niranam or unidentified person, similar to the term John Doe in Western terminologies and the Police Department shall keep the death certificate until the family of the deceased, if any, make any claims. All assets of the deceased (in Thailand) shall be confiscated by the government if there are no heirs or if no one makes a claim within 5 years.
Question 3: I refer to your answer in this week's column where it was asked if one can start their own company and get a work permit without hiring 4 Thai staff. Forgive me for saying so, but your answer was not very clear. My question is simple – and a yes / no answer would suffice. I want to start my own company in Thailand, do things legally and get a work permit. I have no plans now, nor at any time in the future, to have any Thai employees. Is this possible?
Sunbelt Legal responds: You will certainly require Thai employees in order to process your work permit unless you will be operating a BOI (Board of Investment) approved company. There are different requirements for Thai employees depending upon the type of entity that you intend to form. BOI (Board of Investment) approved companies usually have a relaxed ratio of Thai employees to foreign work permit holders although the exact requirement is determined by the agreement in place with the BOI. It can range from zero Thai employees to four Thai employees per work permit. Most BOI companies are in the range of zero to one Thai employee per work permit. The bottom line is that only with a BOI company is it possible to get a work permit with no Thai employees. Representative offices, which are branch offices of overseas companies, are permitted a ratio of one Thai employee for every foreign work permit holder. Other companies formed in Thailand will require 4 Thai employees for every work permit. It is important to note that there is an exception to this rule. If the company was formed less than one year prior to submitting the work permit application, the Labour Department will accept 2 Thai employees per work permit. However, when coming to renew the work permit at the end of the first year, the usual regulations will be enforced and the company will therefore require at least 4 Thai employees per work permit. When applying for the Non-B (business) visa Extension of Stay, the Immigration department requires the company to have at least 4 Thai employees (listed in the Social Security Fund 3 months prior to the application). This is a compulsory requirement from the Immigration department. Prior to 2008, the Labour department did not have this requirement of having Thai employees to obtain a work permit. Times change.
Another year is crawling to a close, a year that has been very good for this column. In fact I'd say this has been the best year ever for this website. The site screamed back into the world's top 100,000 sites this year, a pretty decent achievement given that thousands of new websites come online every day. Running the site this year has not just been enjoyable, it's been a real pleasure. At this point in time – and things may change – I plan to produce the column until September 2011. Beyond that, I just don't know. I have become a bit burned out on Thailand and a new challenge is really what I need. Just what that means, only time will tell. I do believe though that come this time next year I won't be in Thailand. I'll continue to produce this column for at least another 9 months unless someone makes me an offer I can't refuse. What does a girl loitering on Beach Road, Larry at Secrets' backside and this website have in common? They're all available for a price – and despite what Larry might tell you, this website will cost a lot more than his backside! Merry Christmas, everyone!
Your Bangkok commentator,