Stickman's Weekly Column January 23rd, 2011

Memories Of The Thermae, Bangkok’s Legendary Bar


The early years in Bangkok are full of fond memories. Clinton was president and Starbucks had yet to arrive in the Kingdom. The Spice Girls ruled the charts and Princess Diana had been gone less than a year. Nana Plaza was the happening bar area and some Bangkok night spots were open all night long. As my mind drifts into the past, I see a smoky, dimly lit, underground bunker where peasant Thai girls from dirt poor villages gather to provide solace and company to the misfits of Bangkok's Western expat populace. It was the heyday of Bangkok's legendary expat and freelancer bar. Welcome to the Thermae!

The Thermae Bar And Coffee House, known as the Thermae, used to be Bangkok's best known expat and freelancer bar. A favourite hang out for many locals, the coffee house portion of the name is misleading. A caffeine fix can be had, but you'd be much better off at Starbucks if it is coffee you desire. For many years the Thermae was the most popular freelancer bar, as well as the expats' favourite late night spot, where your mates would turn up at some time during the night. And if they didn't, you could find yourself a mate of a different kind.

The Thermae opened in the mid '60s as a barber's with a massage parlour and a coffee shop downstairs. A haunt for GIs on R&R from Vietnam and those lucky enough to be posted in Bangkok on a more permanent basis, it was the coffee house downstairs that would become so popular.

The original Thermae was located next to the Miami Hotel, on Sukhumvit Road. It was closed in 1996 and bull-dozered to make way for a new development. The new (current) Thermae opened 50 metres away in the basement of the Ruamchitt Hotel, between Sukhumvit sois 13 and 15.

It is often described as the Star Wars bar of Bangkok, sharing similarities with the Tatooine bar in the science fiction classic, full of criminals, miscreants and weirdoes of every size and shape. Simple in design and lay-out and with minimal effort made to decorate it, you could never say it lacked character or colour. The bar was always full of interesting people leading fascinating lives and there was always something going on.

I used to be a fixture at the Thermae, visiting anything from once a week to every other night. From mid 1998 to early 2001, I was a regular. Initially attracted by the low prices, the Thermae soon became my home bar, the single venue I spent the most time in, a place I always felt comfortable. It was the domain of Western expats and frequent visitors, those in the know. For me, still a Bangkok newbie, it was a great place to learn about the expat lifestyle.

It was always smoky, the air-con unable to cope with the demands placed on it. Measuring perhaps 35 x 15 metres, it was packed every night with hundreds inside and many more lingering out front and in the lobby of the Ruamchitt Hotel immediately above.

The doors opened early, but little happened before 11:00 PM. Early birds would grab a booth, catch up on the gossip and find out who did what to whom.

The girls were a mixed bunch. Many were on the freelancer circuit. Back then that meant the Biergarten by day, and Nana Disco or Thermae by night. Then there were the Thermae women, those for who the Thermae was the only place they went. Often older, some looked like they'd been around the block. Some were as old as the oldest punters. And yeah, they did go – as certain photos which still do the rounds in Bangkok to this day prove.

Old-timers would point at the odd one and claim she'd been there since Vietnam. There were a few diamonds in the rough for sure, but Baccarra or Rainbow 4 it wasn't.

Girls from nearby bar areas who hadn't snared a customer would drift into the Thermae after their bars had closed. The Cowboy crowd would start arriving around 2:30 AM. The Nana contingent would arrive shortly after, something which would have the bar owners of 2011 up in arms at the thought of their girls chasing a guy without a barfine paid. Finally there would be a stream of noticeably paler girls with a quite different look, girls from the massage houses of Petchaburi Road. No doubt competition in and around the Siam Hotel was fierce that night, driving them down to Sukhumvit. Late at night, the Thermae was the heart of Sukhumvit and Bangkok's most atmospheric bar was at its busy best between 3:00 and 4:00 AM.

I loved the characters, none more than the real Bangkok old-timers who were as keen to tell stories of the good old days as I was to hear them. There were the long-term expats who'd existed solely on a diet of honey-for-money rural Isaan girls whose eyes would widen at rumours that Robinson's (a department store chain) girls would show up from time to time. It's barely a generation since Thai women from outside the industry were so much more difficult to get to know. Professionals, teachers, writers, retirees and diplomats, the whole gamut of expatdom represented.

Every so often you'd do a lap, a slow amble around the central bar counter. It didn't matter what you were looking for, friendship or fun, it was there to be found. Girls stood rooted to the spot, proof as if it was needed that Thai girls hated walking back then as much as they do today. Some things never change.

It got so busy that you had to plan your pit stops. Traffic jams were common with punters blocking the stairs at the rear, the quickest way to the urinals, a nightmare if you were dying for a leak.

The Thermae was very much a case of anything goes. Dodgy visas were arranged beside the jukebox, boiler room con men with pockets overflowing with cash screaming that Champagne wasn't on the menu as letches waited by the door ready to pounce on fresh meat, lest someone else get her first. And there I was, the Bangkok newbie, soaking it all up and loving every moment!

I watched France humiliate Brazil in the '98 World Cup final while a fight took place in the next booth. I overheard and listened in on a group of teachers arguing about the "new" Stickman site. I helped negotiated deals between first-time visitors and the girls and over time as I became known my shoulder became a place for girls to cry on. Throughout 2000 I learned good Thai by day, and bad Thai by night, in the Thermae. I fell in love and almost threw my heart away. I met people who went on to become some of my best mates. So many great nights were spent in the Thermae.

Mark Prado, owner of ThailandGuru.com , ThailandPI.com, and I got chatting in the Thermae one night, the beginning of a friendship that continues today. "Get legal", he'd say to me! "You can't stand there without a drink – get a drink and get legal!"

Gordon of TalesOfAsia.com and I would often hang out in the Thermae, or the Big T as some called it, just chatting and chilling, the comings and goings making a rich backdrop for two young wannabe expat commentators who'd leapt into the world of column writing.

I was first introduced to Christopher Moore at the Thermae. HQ Bar, centre stage in Chris's early classics, is the Thermae. You'd spot Chris sitting at the back, always at the same table, chatting with his mates, taking it all in.

You got to know the girls, the characters, the regulars and the staff, the latter of who are the very same bunch from the first time I visited the Thermae, April 9, 1998.

The Thermae is not without its surprises and I never did see anyone doing a Star of Light or similar on the premises. The venue is famous for its vigilance barring entry to ladyboys and some of the dishes out of the kitchen upstairs are remarkably good. That exactly the same team of staff, an all male team, is still there 13 years on is remarkable.

Sadly the Thermae of today is not the venue we once loved. It's one coup, one airport occupation and a handful of Prime Ministers since the Thermae died. In July 2001 things changed forever when the Interior Minister ordered all bars to close at 2 AM in what was a bigger blow even than the original venue's closure some 5 years earlier. And they were serious, the boys in brown turning up every night to ensure that the premises were empty at 2 AM sharp. We wondered how long it would go on for…and it continues today.

Where once dark-skinned Isaan girls in tight jeans and a skimpy top gazed at Western men, hoping to be chosen, a mix of curiosity and excitement in their eyes, today you find fair-skinned girls with designer handbags and Yen signs in their eyes, fixated by Asian customers, Japanese men the most prized. Where the Isaan princess would be thrilled if you approached and tried to speak Thai, the fair-skinned beauties found in the Thermae today are horrified if you so much as look in their direction.

Over the 13 years that I have been going to the Thermae, the bar itself, the physical environment, has hardly changed, a few aesthetics here and there which only the most observant would notice. The same old jukebox still spits out the same old songs through the same old tired speakers. Large, framed prints of the covers of old editions of Christopher Moore's classics line the walls. But the atmosphere just isn't the same.

The modern day Soi Cowboy is more inviting and has far more girls as well as far more pretty girls. Prices are up and attitudes can be a little mercenary – but there's a fair argument that Soi Cowboy today is better than it was. The same could be said for Walking Street in Pattaya.

The one improvement over the years in the Thermae is that it's now smokefree. It's hard to find much else to smile about.

The best bars are not necessarily those which look the best, which have the hottest chicks or which have biggest investment. There's no specific formula that makes a great bar and few bar owners will admit that luck really is part of it. It was the unique mix of the people, the place and as much as anything, that period in time, that made the Thermae what it once was.

A freelancer bar the Thermae may be, but it was never only about the women. The atmosphere was special, from the friendly girls to the expat crowd who genuinely welcomed newbies in what I guess was a reflection of a smaller expat community that had yet to become fragmented. The Thermae was about company, friendship and fun.

Pretty Lady Bar circa 1998 blew my newbie mind. Rainbow 1 vintage 2000 was amazing and Catz in Pattaya throughout 2007 and 2008 was more fun than a naughty bar ought to be. But try as I might, I've never been able to recapture the magic of the early days at the Thermae.

On the odd night when the tourists stay home and the girls come out, Bangkok Beat has a real party vibe going. When the mix is just right there's a great night to be had, but the good craic the Thermae once was it isn't.

The closest I've come to reliving the glory days of the Thermae was a couple of fleeting visits to Top Gun in Jakarta's Blok M bar area. Whether it was the dim lighting, the smoky atmosphere, the friendly girls or the combination, I just don't know.

Today the Thermae is like that girlfriend you were once head over heels about who unceremoniously dumped you for someone else. You see her around from time to time, and you might even still miss her a little, but she's not what she used to be.

Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken just after the toll booth when joining the Bangna Trat Highway, the overhead one, when coming from the south-west from route 9 and heading back into Bangkok. It's the Ikea / Mega Bangna site which is under construction. I thought it was tricky but a good number of readers got it right. Clearly plenty of Stickies are travelling between Bangkok and Pattaya! 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.

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – Just because it's on the shelf doesn't mean it's for sale!

I was reading your column and generally nodding at your arithmetic relating to a gogo dancer's salary. I then proceeded out to that hot bed of an evolutionary swamp, Walking Street, where a new dynamic has been brought in to the equation. It has long been my contention that within a few years the gogo bars of Thailand will evolve into 'show bars' where customers can look but cannot touch. A dancer at What's Up gladly provided the missing link. She had only worked there 20 days and I asked her what her quotas were. She said that she was an agency worker on a 10-day contract. If she had 50 drinks in that period she would be paid 1,000 baht a day, otherwise nothing. What is your barfine quota, I asked. None. That makes sense because the bar is clearly short of dancers and paying an agency a premium to supply them. That being the case, they clearly don't want them barfined! They prefer the girls to remain on stage to entice customers in and buy drinks to retain the image of a fully functioning bar.

Another reason why mobiles are turned off.

Thais are terrified of having their mobile phones powered on when thunderstorms come. Like clockwork, when thunder and lightning come, everybody in the village immediately powers off their mobiles, afraid of getting hit by lightning. I didn't see this too much in Bangkok but in the village it was practiced religiously. When I wouldn't turn off my mobile people were scared to be in the vicinity and would walk away!

Sending her home can be expensive.

I disagree with the idea that it's cheaper for a bargirl returning to stay in her hometown. There are plenty of leaches and they ask for money from morning to evening. I haven't seen many of the family members of bargirls living in Isaan working. When I go to Isaan once a year with my girlfriend, there are 15 – 20 people living in the home. Feeding them alone costs about 1,000 baht a day. Of course, it's always possible to pass this expense but I don't feel at ease about eating a nice meal when they are only eating rice with vegetables from the garden. I have to add the gasoline for the motorbike, repair the motorbike when it's necessary, buy drinks and other necessities. There's always something to repair at the home and requests for improvements. There are also requests for money from neighbours and family members living abroad! Then there's the monks and sellers who pass by all day long. Of course, the family of every bargirl is not that big but I never met a bargirl who doesn't spend a fortune when she stays at home. Family can be indebted, parents can be genuinely sick, members of the family can have addictions. Before asking a girl to stay up north, you have to know her family well as the problems can be big. That said, many sponsors send money for the girl to stay in her village when in fact she is staying in Bangkok or elsewhere. If you ever go to the village you will know if she is lying as the sounds are really different in the village (dogs, music, children, buffalo, chickens etc).

The bar owners' pet hate!

One way I have found of getting a girl's attention is to buy her a drink then explain to her that if she drinks it slowly I will give her 100 baht for every beer I buy instead of buying 125 – 150 baht for each lady drink. From that moment on her 'Coke' hardly gets touched until I leave. Explaining this in Thai is an advantage as it can be confusing if her English isn't too good. I know 100 baht is more than she makes on a lady drink and several girls have told me they get free soft drinks anyway if they are not with a customer so it's a win : win situation. It probably doesn't go down well with the bar owners, but it works and pretty bargirls often show a lot more enthusiasm chatting about her life and keeping me entertained than she normally would. This ploy works in gogo bars, beer bars and the bars on Soi 33!

A horny taxi driver.

Interesting to read last week about the Thai Airways pilot who was shot for flashing his lights at another car. This morning on the way to work (on Rama 3 Road) my taxi was cut off by some lunatic so the taxi driver honked the horn at the other car. The other car dropped back next to us and the guy was ranting and raving out his window. He then tried to side swipe us but missed, so he dropped behind the taxi and rammed us in the rear end! We then played cat and mouse down Rama 3 for the next couple of miles to our destination. Whatever happened to jai yen yen and mai pen rai? Lucky it was not my car – if it had been it would have been my fault for being there! The taxi driver says it has happened to him 3 times. Perhaps he should lose the horn?

Sickened by the traditional gogo hounds!

I find it disturbing that many traditional farang mongers don't like the increasing presence of coloured persons in the bars. In Europe people of all races co-exist in the workplace, bars and restaurants, especially in the urban areas of major cities. Any white person who feels uncomfortable in the presence of coloured persons is considered a racist or extremist and someone living in the past. I have to ask the question – are the whites we see in the Thai bar scene the freaks and rejects of the Western world? I completely agree some of the coloured tourists from India / Middle East behave inappropriately in the bar scene (ordering a single drink for a group or expecting one girl to service multiple men), but this is for the security of the gogo bars to filter customers. If the traditional farang visitors feel threatened by well-behaved coloureds then I feel sickened hanging around in the gogo bars.

Is it only racism when you are the victim?!

I have been unable to return to the LOS since June of 2000. Eventually I will be one of those dinosaurs on a retirement visa strolling down Walking Street with a 21-year old Isaan cutie, my arm around her shoulder and her hand around my wallet! Over the last 10 years I have used your weekly column to keep me informed of the LOS happenings, one of the themes that seems to have heated up many of your readers is the 2-tier pricing. It is viewed as racism against us farangs. Recently you have been writing about the changing nationalities / colours of the males arriving on tourist visas. It appears that many of your readers are less than happy and long for the days when those foreigners strolling down Sukhumvit were mainly white. Is that not racism? I guess to us farangs it is only racism when WE are the victims! That is just an observation based on your readers' comments. I may be way off base. I am a white male from the USA and I love Thailand as it is.


Pretty Lady Bar in Nana Plaza will host a dance contest this coming Friday, January 28. All local bottled beer will be offered at a very reasonable 110 baht – probably the cheapest price in a Nana gogo bar. There will be a free hot meal served and snacks available all night. With the motivation of cash prizes, the girls usually put on a great show. Think of a gogo bar on steroids and that's a typical Bangkok gogo bar dance contest. You can even vote for the hottest dancers. See you there!

It's good to hear that Willem, the former boss at Cathouse who returned to his native Holland for medical treatment last year, has bounced back to Bangkok healthy and happy. Running bars is obviously in his blood and while he no longer has any involvement in Cathouse, which is under new management and has been renamed Bunnies, Willem has started up a mobile beer bar on Sukhumvit Road between sois 3/1 and 5. It operates from around midnight through until sun up. I hope it goes well for him.

Reports from a couple of Pattaya bar owners have it that while Walking Street might look like a crowded zoo, the peak of the high season has passed and bar business is not what they had hoped for. They'll make a decent enough profit for sure, but records won't be set. Finding a room in Pattaya a couple of weeks ago was a mission but many hotels have erected vacancy and rooms available signs outside.

Bar4 in Sukhumvit soi 4 is still only in its second month of business but has already developed a following and always seems to be packed with customers and plenty of girls. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Finnegan's Pub on Sukhumvit Road, close to the Asoke intersection, has Beer Lao at just 75 baht during happy hour which runs from midday until 8 PM. Speaking of Beer Laos, when I was back in Kiwiland I almost tripped over when walking through the Kingsland bar district, the closest bar area to Eden Park, where the rugby world cup final will be held later in the year. There was a restaurant called Mekong and above it was a large distinctive bright yellow sign of Beer Lao, available in my hometown! Looks like that's where you'll find me before the matches.

I have to admit that I'm quietly pleased to see the return of The Strip to Patpong. The Strip was bought by Marc of Spanky's last year, renovated and renamed to Spanky's 3. But even wonder boy himself, Marc, couldn't make it happen and sold it back to the previous owners – and it has reverted back to The Strip! What I like about The Strip is that it is one of few bars of the genre that tries to be a little different. They used to have fire shows at the bar (see photo below), a reptile show and plenty of parties and events of the sort that no other bar was doing. The girls were always slim and for those who fancied a naughty but were to lazy to venture out to the nearest short-time hotel, there are the distinctive tall booths with floor to ceiling drapes right there in the bar which you could invite a girl into and get up to goodness only knows what. The bar hosts beach parties where tones of sand are brought in and spread out across the floor of the bar making it feel like a beach in the heart of Bangkok. It sounds weird but it actually works. The good news is that the beach parties, absent from Patpong for more than a year, will resume later this week with a 4-day long party running from this coming Thursday through until Sunday. If you're looking for somewhere a little different, The Strip is worth checking out.


Work is charging ahead on a new Japanese restaurant across from Sukhumvit soi 4's popular Aussie bar, Bus Stop. Soi Nana feels like it's getting longer and the magic money bubble extends further down the soi these days.

Heaven Above in Pattaya will host their annual Australia Day Party this Wednesday, 25 January. Aussie partner, Greg, promises to make it a good one with a quality Aussie BBQ and free food for all. Heaven Above is located on Soi Diamond, just off Walking Street. It always has a lively vibe so it should be a good night!

In addition to their regular Thursday parties, Sapphire Club in Pattaya will also be doing an Australia Day party featuring free meat pies!

If you find yourself in Pattaya, don't worry about missing the climax of the Superbowl season. My favourite Pattaya bar, Secrets, will open early for the Superbowl, at 5 AM on February 7th, with a full breakfast menu. I have yet to hear from any Bangkok bars, but I would expect Doug at Bourbon Street and Mr. Ed the talking bar manager at Bully's will also do something for it.

Alcatraz Gogo in Pattaya has set up a website to promote the bar. This is one bar website I like – it's nicely put together and someone did a decent job photographing the girls and it captures the feel of the venue well.

And Sapphire Club in Pattaya also has a new website with a photo and video gallery, information and photos of their 2nd-floor party room and penthouse VIP suite, both of which can be booked via the site. You can sign up for their VIP card which entitles holders to an across-the-board 10% discount on more than just drinks. Why don't more bars do this? Best of all, the Sapphire Club site offers its VIP members an exclusive members only section online offering "special" content, photos and videos.

If you asked me the cheapest place where Beer Lao could be found in Thailand, I probably would have said somewhere in Pattaya. If I had thought about it a bit longer, I'd probably say it would be somewhere over the hill in Jomtien and I am reliably informed that Jules Sportarama restaurant and Bar in View Talay 1A, Jomtien, has Beer Lao at just 45 baht. Is that the lowest price for Beer Lao anywhere in the Kingdom? Not quite, you can get it at 40 baht elsewhere in Jomtien, believe it or not, but 45 baht is still a bargain! The bar has heaps of TVs showing live sport, free high-speed wireless internet plus quality Western food, which can be eaten on the premises, or alternatively some of their homemade meats are available for purchase so you can cook them up at your place. It's also worth noting that the venue is a starting point for visa runs and a bus for the airport runs every 2 hours from the car park. All in all, Jule's Sportarama is worth checking out.

There's an interesting 6-page article in the February 2011 issue of the American edition of Penthouse magazine which profiled a couple of interesting characters in Bangkok doing interesting things. Check it out if you can find a copy.

If you're looking for something a little different in Pattaya on Friday nights, why not head to Lolita's in Soi LK Metro where Kevin Sysyn plays guitar and hosts a sing along. When I first heard about this I have to admit that it sounded kind of corny, and it made me think of bingo in a quiet English seaside town with a bunch of old fogeys. But Kevin's Friday nights have proved to be very popular and the venue is often packed out! There's a free buffet, special prices on drinks and if the singing isn't for you, one of the Lolita's girls can make you a proposition that after a few drinks might be difficult to refuse!

I've got a good mate from Wellington who comes up to Thailand often. We met up this past Monday for a bite and once again he delighted in telling me how people tell him that I am a ladyboy lover. WTF?! I have no idea where this nonsense comes from and can only guess that because I have no problem with ladyboys, nor people who choose to engage in things with ladyboys that some fools misinterpret this as me liking them. Silly! Let me say for the record that I have absolutely no special interest in ladyboys. Anyway, enough rambling, I was asked a question by a reader this week which I cannot answer. He asked, "When I barfine a ladyboy at one of the Nana clubs, the girls do a hand ritual as they are going out the door. What are they doing?" Having never barfined a ladyboy, I have no idea. Can any readers shed any light?

The granddaddy of Bangkok expat fiction, Christopher G. Moore has published a new non-fiction title, "The Cultural Detective". It's out in Thailand now and also available as an eBook through Kindle / Amazon. The book contains a series of fascinating essays; think of it as a behind the scenes look at Moore's writing life. It's priced at a reasonable 350 baht here in Thailand; and the eBook is just $3.95.

What's with the Thais' ongoing fascination with Krispy Kreme, the doughnut shop on the ground floor of Siam Paragon? When the store first opened, about 6 months or so back, there were reports in the mainstream press about how Bangkok Thais were going bananas over the product and there were queues which snaked around the immediate area and took customers 30 – 45 minutes to reach the counter, all just to buy doughnuts! OK, so it might have been new then and Thais are often into the latest fad so I can sort of understand. But the same lengthy queues can be seen there now, many months on! There have been messages posted online and over the radio from old ducks saying if anyone would queue and buy them a dozen doughnuts and deliver them then they would pay for the doughnuts plus a 500 baht premium / delivery fee! You part-time English teachers, it's almost the end of the month and your rent will be due soon. There's an easy 500 baht for you!

As I have said over and over again, I don't really care for the Thailand discussion forums. I do wonder though if there are any active *Bangkok* nightlife forums? There are plenty of active Pattaya nightlife forums, but few in Bangkok with a lot of posts. Is this representative of where the nightlife action is these days?

One of the curious idiosyncrasies about the Thais is the way that they usually – not always, but usually – take their rubbish with them when they leave a cinema. Thai cinemas often have very little time between sessions – and the next session may start right after the last one finished meaning there may be no time to clean the cinema between sessions. Amazingly, patrons seem to take their rubbish with them. So why of why do they discard litter with such reckless abandon in the wilderness and in national parks? Keeping a cinema tidy but sullying the landscape?! As the Thais would say, ba (crazy)! Some things in this country just do not add up!

Quote of the week comes from a friend, "Bangkok has come along so much in the last 3 or 4 years that it is no longer a joke to mention Bangkok and New York in the same sentence."

Reader's story of the week comes from Airmail and is titled, "Holiday Or Bust".

State hospitals in Thailand's south are struggling to deal with aging foreigners' suffering health.

It would seem that red lights in Thailand mean something different to red lights in other countries.

A hostage was shot by Pattaya Police while the suspect managed to escape unharmed!

The latest words of wisdom from Voranai, my favourite Thai columnist, ran in today's Bangkok Post.

A Ukrainian claims to have been kidnapped and held hostage in Thailand for 14 years and forced to work for scraps!

The Phuket jet ski scam continues with an Aussie family coughing up 56,000 baht for jet ski damage they didn't cause!

A self-described ladies man says forget everything you think you know about women when dating Thai females.

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: A girl I have recently started seeing works as a receptionist for a company which I believe is some kind of nursery. At the start of her employment she signed a 2-year contract. She has worked there for 14 months and does not like the working conditions at all. When I asked her why doesn't she just look for another job and leave she said that if she wanted to leave she would have to pay the company 50,000 baht or if she gave them 3 months notice it would be reduced to 20,000 baht. Is this legal, or is this scare tactics used by the company to stop people from leaving their job?

Sunbelt Legal responds: According to the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, stipulating the number of days for notification of employment termination that range from 30 days, 60 days or even 90 days is applicable and acceptable as both employer and employee mutually agreed before in a contract. It is further mentioned that in the case that the employee does not provide a timely (or agreed) notification period to the employer, the employer shall have the rights to claim for compensation for the loss and / or damages from the employee leaving the firm without a proper and timely notification. However to further impose a penalty / or compensation for 20,000 baht even if as agreed notification has been provided, this would not fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare. It would be treated as a civil case (breach of agreement).

This penalty imposed by the company may reasonably apply in the case, if the company provided contributions or invested in the staff, such as bringing a high-end specialist to train the staff, or sending staff overseas for training or providing scholarships to the staff.

Question 2: My friend up here in Isaan has a restaurant / bar and he hosts a music night every other Friday. It is a jam session where anyone can bring an instrument and join in the jam. No one is paid and it is just for fun. I have been told by some people you can get in trouble for not having a work permit even if it's just for fun and no one is being paid. Is it legal to play in these music nights without a work permit? I would like to join in but don't want to get in any trouble. Please advise!

Sunbelt Legal responds: This would be at the discretion of the officer. If he determines that occasionally you are on stage playing music, this would be OK. But if you regularly attend to play at the restaurant / bar, such as every Friday night, you bring your own musical instrument and / or the owner of the business owner puts up a poster to publicize the band, even if it is voluntary work. Then the officer may interpret this as more towards a working basis.

Therefore, it would be strongly recommended for you to apply for a work permit where your friend (as the owner of the business) supports your application. In the case your friend did not support your work permit application, you may have to establish your own company to complete such a task. Working without a proper work permit is considered as violating the Foreign Labour Act, and its consequences would be arrested and paying fine. You may also be deported and black listed.


The response to the opening piece of last week's column confirmed what I guess I have always known – that the majority of the readership wants to read about nightlife and what's going on in the bars. I thought that the opening piece of last week's column was a little weak and really didn't contain anything new, yet I received a huge response from readers. Compare it with the article I wrote a couple of weeks earlier, about Thais and loneliness, which I thought was much more interesting, and frankly was more fun to write, yet feedback was lukewarm. As my personal interest in the bar scene waned, I tried to pull the column away from the bar industry – but given that that is not want many readers want, I guess I have to make a point of including more nightlife stuff.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick