It's 5 long years since I stepped foot in Phuket, the island I used to love and where I originally planned to settle in Thailand. After settling in Bangkok, I initially visited Phuket each year, but over time found myself becoming less and less impressed. It is 5 years since my last visit, a drought I broke this week.
Phuket is one of the jewels in Thailand's tourism industry, the most developed island with some of the best beaches and the most sophisticated resort developments. Think of Phuket and pristine beaches lined with deckchairs and sun umbrellas come to mind.
But Phuket is not just sun and sand. Visitors flock to soak up the sun's rays, eat great seafood and be pampered in world class spas. But there's another aspect to Phuket which draws visitors. Nightlife.
Phuket may not have the same reputation as Bangkok or Pattaya, but the island's foreigner-oriented naughty nightlife industry is large.
The centre of Phuket's nightlife is Bangla Road. Running perpendicular to Patong Beach, there's beer bars, gogo bars, discos and freelancer venues lining Bangla Road and firmly putting Phuket on the naughty boy's map.
While Patong's nightlife is similar to what you find in Bangkok and Pattaya, it has its own distinctive flavour. Perhaps the biggest difference is that, for the most part, the customers in the naughty bars in Patong are young, often fit and handsome guys. The depressing scenes of Bangkok and especially Pattaya, of tired guys who have let themselves go isn't the norm in Patong at all. Phuket probably has the youngest and most handsome sex tourists in all of Thailand.
There are clusters of beer bars all over Patong, Phuket's most popular beach, as well as the other beaches of Phuket, but the largest concentration and the most attractive bars and girls are found on Bangla Road.
Bangla Road features sois of beer bars including Soi Eric, Soi Easy, Soi Seadragon and Club Croc, once known as Soi Crocodile, the soi famous for the ladyboys who have been dancing and milling around the mouth of the soi for as long as I have been visiting Phuket.
Phuket has the best beer bars in all of Thailand. They're better decorated, better maintained and have much prettier girls than what you find elsewhere. But then things should be better because you pay a premium. The price of drinks in some bars exceeds what you pay in the most expensive gogos in Bangkok. A Pattaya retiree who had failed to check the price list before ordering a drink in a Bangla beer bar might have a heart attack.
The beer bar girls of Bangla are a step up from what you find in the beer bars in Pattaya. They're invariably younger, prettier and often dressed more sexy. The bars are dominated by the maidens of Isaan, but there are southern girls amongst them, something you don't tend to find in Bangkok or Pattaya. But behind the sexy dress, it's much the same – the same mannerisms, same lack of manners and same games played.
A number of the beer bar complexes, such as that below Tiger Disco, feature coyote dancers. In Bangkok, coyote dancers are often very attractive ladies who really can dance. But what sets them apart from gogo girls is that they often aren't available
– which frustrates many customers because they tend to be more attractive!
Things get going later on Bangla Road than they do up north. While many bars are open throughout the day, by early evening pretty much everywhere has its doors open, but beer bar birds don't show up until well into the evening and the discos, the domain of freelancers – of which there are many – don't get going until midnight or later.
Wandering down Bangla at 7:15 one morning, Soi Easy was emptying itself of the last patrons of the night. Hordes of Thai birds and Western guys, many in a sorry state, were staggering up Bangla with bottles in their hand, glazed eyes and unable to walk in a straight line.
While Bangla jumps with sexual energy after dark, the sleaze factor of Bangkok and Pattaya is largely absent. Whether it's because the naughty boys are a younger, fitter bunch, I'm not sure.
Patong might have the youngest and arguably most wholesome of all of Thailand's naughty boys, but the profile of the average visitor to Phuket is changing. Hoteliers and bar owners tell me that as a total percentage of all visitors, single males make up a smaller proportion of visitors than they used to.
Different bar areas around Thailand have their nuances that distinguish them from other areas. Bangla is no exception. A curiosity I have never understood is the cross section of a large log found outside some bars. For a small fee you can buy a nail,
are given a hammer with a small head and you have to pound the nail into the log. To me it seems totally pointless, so I guess I must be missing something. You often see the girls hammering nails into the log when no customers are around,
often in an aggressive manner, like they're venting about their last customer!
Sitting in Soi Eric, the nicest beer bar soi, at one of the bars towards the back, early one evening, it had stopped raining but the ground was still wet. It was late and the punters should have been out, but the rain had scared them away and they were conspicuous by their absence. It was going to be a long, quiet night for the beer bar girls who were sitting around and looking bored.
I was caught by the unusual sight of two Westerners walking along the wet soi….in bare feet. Oh no, I thought, it's a couple of uncouth Kiwis doing in Phuket as they would at home! Going barefoot out and about seems to be very much a Kiwi thing and visitors to the shaky isles should not be surprised at locals who may go barefoot to the cinema, to the shopping mall, to the takeaway…to just about anywhere. Fortunately not all Kiwis are quite that unsophisticated.
Anyway, enough on kiwi kulcha and back to the story. The first of the two guys made his way along the soi with a bit of a swagger. He wasn't drunk, more looked like he felt he was a bit of a man about town. I would have put his age at mid 30s to early 40s. The second guy was clearly much younger, appeared nervous, was skinny and when they got closer I could see that he probably wasn't even old enough to hold a driving licence.
The older guy approached a girl in the bar we were relaxing in. He obviously knew her and they started conversing in Thai. He had an air of confidence about him and being the nosey type, I tuned in and quickly realised he was trying to arrange for one particularly pretty girl in the bar to take this young friend's virginity!
Looking at the two guys, I couldn't work out their relationship. I don't think they were father / son as they didn't have any physical resemblance, and neither do I think they were brothers. They age difference seemed too great for them to be mates on holiday so I could not work out what their relationship was. Turning from the girl and reverting into English, the older guy starts talking to the younger guy and the accent gives them away. They're Aussies! My Kiwi pal and I breathed a sigh of relief!
By this stage all the girls were aware what was going on, that the young guy wanted to lose his virginity that night! The girls from the bar surrounded the two guys and the bar's token katoey gave the young buck a big kiss on
the lips, tongue and all! He clearly doesn't realise that she was a he. The older guy who was doing the negotiating got one of the girls, a pretty, but hard-looking number, lined up for the young guy. All the girls were getting excited.
Perhaps it was the prospect of going with such a young guy – he said to one of the girls that he was 16 – or whether they liked the idea of being his first. The negotiations were made and the two guys disappear for a few drinks, with arrangements
to come back for the lass a bit later.
Another of the features of Bangla Road is the elaborately dressed ladyboys who parade out front of what was once called Soi Crocodile, but now known as Club Croc. The soi of 20 odd beer bars features a small dance floor at the Bangla Road end where ladyboys dance around. All of the nearby bars are packed as tourists flock to watch the spectacle of Thai ladyboys bouncing around.
Ladyboys elaborately dressed in cabaret style gear pose with customers and have their photo taken for a fee. From what I could see they were making a small fortune, 100 baht a pop. Good on them and no doubt they are thrilled at the proliferation of digital cameras.
It should be noted that they aren't fond of those who try to snap a shot without handing over some cash so if you must get the shot and the idea of paying to take someone's photo doesn't do it for you, or you simply don't want to stand
next to a 190cm ladyboy as she tries to grab your nuts, attaching a telephoto lens and getting the shot from 30 or 40 metres away is the way to go.
Phuket isn't known for its gogos and the gogos of Patong are a disappointment.
Locals tell me that the 4 bars that make up the Suzy Wong group – no relationship to Suzy Wong's in Soi Cowboy – are good and favourites amongst many locals, but I wasn't impressed at all. The venues and the girls had much in common – they were small, dark, expensive and boring! Think Cactus or Moonshine or After School in Cowboy and that's pretty much the standard of gogo bars in Patong.
Phuket's gogo bars had few girls on stage, crap music and prices at Bangkok levels or higher. Even the gogo guru himself, Dave The Rave, would be pulling his hair out in frustration trying to make some of these venues work. And that's saying something because the Rave has a shiny dome!
I was surprised at the number of touts – there are dozens of them – up and down Bangla Road trying to entice punters into show bars, venues featuring awful degrading shows that are so popular in the upstairs bars in Bangkok's Patpong. They bark out to all and sundry you from late afternoon until late in the night, holding up professionally printed laminated schedules showing the list of shows.
For gogo bar fans, Patong has one saving grace. Rock Hard A Gogo. Not to be mistaken with the Rock Hard Cafe, a few hundred metres away.
In Phuket, Rock Hard is in a class of its own and could be transplanted into Waking Street or Soi Cowboy where it would be a rousing success. Rock Hard sits on the prime location at the top of Soi Bangla, opposite the Taipan. Just don't make the mistake of going too early – the A team doesn't get up on stage until after 9 PM. Rock Hard's night shift, the A team, are the crème de la crème of Bangla's working girls and their current line up has many really pretty girls. A couple I talked to were remarkably friendly too, and not nearly as business-like as their sisters in Bangkok.
Rock Hard was the first Thai gogo bar I ever set foot in, and way back then it was the best bar of its genre in Patong. I find it quite amazing that almost 15 years on it is still the best, easily in a class of its own!
Rock Hard aside, if you're keen on gogo bars, you're better off in Bangkok or Pattaya.
With Soi Eric's master lease coming up in July 2013, Phuket's nightlife, centred on Bangla Road, will change. Apparently the leases are coming up on some other properties before too long.
Girls aren't staying in the industry long in Phuket, just as they aren't elsewhere in the country. They're being snapped up with one bar owner saying to me that Aussies, and in particular first time visitors, are snapping up girls, putting a ring on their finger and an air ticket in their palm, and trying to make an honest woman of them.
Patong Beach is hardly the centre of Thailand's sex tourist industry and I wonder how many guys going to Thailand genuinely planning on a tropical beach holiday end up falling for the charms of a Thai hooker? I think it is this
where Phuket differs to Bangkok or Pattaya most. Up north, guys intend to partake. In Phuket, I think some guys just sort of fall into the bars and things take their course. Phuket has a naughty boy fan club and has had for many years,
but it doesn't have anything like the number of venues or working girls as its more infamous cities up north.
Before I visited Phuket this time, friends told me to expect Frankfurt by the sea. That wasn't what I found at all.
Patong Beach is over run with Aussies – Aussie couples, Aussie families and plenty of Aussie naughty boys. They are everywhere, making Patong feel more like Bali than Phuket. With budget carriers flying direct from Australia to Phuket, and the Aussie dollar making international travel cheap, Aussies are enjoying the good times.
Patong features a number of unmistakably Aussie strongholds. You're surrounded by folks talking 'strine in venues with names like Kangaroo Bar or Aussie Bar, with all sorts of Aussie sporting paraphernalia. There are Aussie flags everywhere,
and even on the beach you see banners featuring Aussie slogans.
So what about Phuket away from the nightlife?
Coming over the hill into Patong, the thing that struck me was the development. Patong is much more built up than it was. As the car weaved its way through narrow, windy, heavily congested roads, we passed hotel after guesthouse after inn after lodge after motel after resort. Many had signs or banners outside indicating room rates no higher, and in some cases considerably lower, than they were 5 years ago. Long gone are the days when turning up at Patong without a reservation would mean no room unless you were willing to pay a king's ransom.
While there has been much development, I found it hard to get excited about any of it. It was like the same places that were popular 5 years ago, be they bars or restaurants, were the same places popular today. OK, so there's a Hard Rock Cafe – yawn – and Jungceylon Shopping Centre – even bigger yawn – but what else is there? More hotels. More restaurants. More travel agencies. More bars. In other words, more manufactured tourism.
Phuket's west coast beaches are all about tourism – and only tourism. In most other touristy places in Thailand, in the likes of Chiang Mai, Hua Hin and Pattaya, there are businesses which clearly exist for locals and for whom the sight of a white
man walking in the door would make the staff nervous, for the ability to speak English was never part of their job description. It seems that almost all of Patong, Karon and Kata – the three most popular beaches – are entirely about tourism.
There's nothing for the locals. Thais don't live there. Thais don't shop there. Thais don't use any services there. Thais work there – and that is all they do. Patong is hardly representative of Phuket as a whole.
5 years ago Patong was pricey with most things about 50% more expensive than you would pay in Bangkok or Pattaya. But competition has kept a lid on prices and the reputation Phuket had for being pricey is not entirely justified today, at least in terms
of hotels and eating out – if you shop around.
But perhaps Patong's reputation for being pricey could be put another way. If you're a cheap Charlie looking to cut corners on most everything, staying in a sub-500 baht room, eating on the street and buying beer at 7 Eleven – meaning that you live comfortably on less than 1,000 baht a day as is quite possible in Pattaya or Bangkok's Khao San Road area, Patong is not the place for you. You probably could, if you really looked around, but it would not be as easy as it would be elsewhere. Patong Beach is not too expensive if you take the time to do your research and look around. But neither is it cheap Charlie friendly.
At Patong Beach, branches of fast food chains are much more expensive than Bangkok with prices 20 – 40% higher at Starbucks, Subway, Burger King and the like. I guess that rents are out of control, hence the higher prices. Branches in other parts of the
island, away from the west coast beaches, have the same prices you find in Bangkok.
The biggest complaint that many foreign visitors have had about Phuket is the public transport and it remains a nightmare. There are no public transport options to take you from one beach to another and instead you need to hire private transport, such as tuktuks, to make the trip. Tuktuk drivers request amounts for short trips that are insulting, and way more than you would pay for a taxi in the West to go a similar distance.
I had an appointment over at Karon Beach and I just knew it would be a mission getting there. I don't fancy myself riding a motorbike myself – which can be rented for 200 – 250 baht per day – and I just knew the tuktuk drivers would talk silly money. To go to the northern end of Karon Beach from the southern end of Patong Beach, a journey of just 6 km, I was quoted 400 baht! Attempts to negotiate the price were met with scorn, derision and then abuse. The tuktuk drivers of Patong are doing their utmost to preserve the dreadful reputation they have earned.
Eventually I managed to convince a motorcycle taxi rider to take me for 200 baht, but under the condition that he also collected me and take me back. It was the cheapest option. As we were whizzing over the hill to Karon, he pointed to some houses up on the hill at Patong with sea views, and pointed out one, telling me that it was his property. A modest house to be sure, but the views over the bay must be magnificent. Yep, some of these houses aren't owned by Western millionaires, but by motorcycle taxi riders!
Could it really be that a motorcycle taxi rider could make enough money to buy such a property with views over Patong Bay?
In the 5 years it has been since I last visited Phuket, I have probably been to Pattaya about 30 times. Phuket and Pattaya were never quite like chalk and cheese, but there were many differences – from what was available, to prices to the type of tourist that visited. These days Phuket and Pattaya share many similarities and you'd have to say that they have more in common than ever.
There's a lot to like about Phuket and in some aspects what's on offer is first class. I do have to say though that when I left I didn't have any great desire to return in a hurry. I know I'll have a good time when I go back, but if I was never to visit again, well, I really wouldn't be bothered. Phuket remains an interesting place to visit with nice beaches and plenty to keep tourists happy, but it's not my favourite place in Thailand like it used to be.
In terms of nightlife, Phuket is not nearly as developed or sophisticated as Bangkok or Pattaya, but the vibe is good and the sleaze factor that is omnipresent in all but the most expensive venues in Bangkok and Pattaya is largely absent. For naughty
boys, a good time most certainly can be had in Phuket.
Last week's photo
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken outside of a small shop located below the Thonglor skytrain station. After weeks of easy photos, this one proved difficult and only 4 people got it right. 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 right 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. For readers in Phuket, we now have a new prize provider in Patong Beach. Bliss Lounge on Bangla Road is offering a 500 baht drink credit and with some great imported beers from Belgium, Germany and Holland, they're unique for a venue on Bangla Road.
Terms and conditions: The Duke's Express voucher MUST be redeemed by June 2012. The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The Bliss Lounge prize must be claimed within 3 months. 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 – failure to do so results in the prize going 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 – The appeal of Bangkok.
The real appeal of Bangkok to me is, as you point out, the ability to choose between high-end and cheap, and the mix of East and West. The best here is as good as the best anywhere. Bangkok is still exotic, but it also has the familiarities of the West. It might be more difficult to find the diversity of character in different areas of the city, in the way that you can in New York City or London, although a few do exist. The expressway system in Bangkok also makes it much easier to travel over vast areas of the city very quickly – the only places I am aware of with a comparable system are LA and to a lesser extent Tokyo. The rail systems are still far too short, but that will change in the next 10 (or being Thailand, 20) years. Yes, there are downsides – all too often we get third world service at first world prices, much of the city is still filthy (compare it to Auckland, Stick!) and the sidewalks are disgusting and you are constantly on alert to avoid ankle injuries. The smell from the drains and klongs can make you heave. But overall, yes, it's a decent place to be. Just DON'T TELL EVERYONE!
Many people complain about all the craziness during Songkran. This year was my second time and I thought it was a lot of fun. We live in an area of Bangkok with few foreigners. Although I was a little apprehensive about driving at this time, I actually enjoyed it. The traffic was a lot lighter than usual and it was pretty smooth sailing on busy thoroughfares like Rachada, Nawamin and Lad Prao Road. Many places people had set up cones on the street so you were warned. Pick up trucks with water barrels and revelers rock up and bombs away. Looked like everybody was having a good time. My wife and I had water guns in the car so we had our share of fun too. On the 14th we went to RCA which was a madhouse, but hilarious. Now I know what it's like to get a bucket of iced water down your back.
I would be totally on your side about the excessive water fights and all but I'm wondering, have you just once, given up and joined the water throwers? I hated Songkran. I know a bunch of people are careless but once you just give up and throw water on anyone who's not old / frail / carrying 3 infants, you kind of get the fun of it and stop caring about others. If you're on your bike, nobody is going to care about your feelings, so just get off it for a day and join the fun. Most people who die are probably the drunken idiots driving with no helmet or the ones talking on their phone while getting water shot in their faces. If you wear a helmet with a visor, you don't feel a thing. It's the one day of the year we farangs can act like 5-year old kids with no conscience as well! It's amazing!
No Yakuza in Bangkok.
Known Yakuza cannot leave the country. Known meaning any who have served time or any who have been registered with the NPA as known members. A general assumption which usually holds true is any member who has full tattoos are mostly lower ranking gang members and have invariably done time. How do I know this? Well my father in-law is a Yamaguchi-gumi boss. He graduated from Tokyo university, has no tattoos but is known to the NPA and thus was not allowed to leave the country for our wedding. So who were the guys in Nana Plaza? Hmm, no idea but I am sure most foreigners would not know what real Yakuza tattoo looks like.
Photography becoming an issue.
We were asked to pay 20 baht last year for taking a photo of Wat Arun from part of a soi some Thais considered "theirs". Two weeks ago at a family funeral, locals were incensed I had taken their photo. They were afraid I would put it on Facebook. This was in rural Surin where not many even have a camera. They were gambling though, but a blind eye is turned at funerals in the countryside. As they were on the Mrs.' property, I refused to delete the photos. No faces were visible anyway. I have noticed a marked reluctance in Thais wanting pics taken by foreigners, and this in a land where having photos taken is an obsession.
Russians lens shy!
I was on Walking Street the other night, taking photos of the infinite visual information flowing along. It's sort of like standing next to Niagara Falls in terms of the amount of visual information. Anyway, while taking some wide shots of the Walking Street panorama, the neon, the tens of thousands etc, one of the hefty Russian girls in long dresses standing in front of a Russian nightclub came charging at me and tried to grab my little camera, screaming that I was not allowed to take photos! Now there's a nice piece of chutzpah as they say in New York, a completely illegal Russian hooker on Walking Street without anything resembling a work permit much less Thai citizenship papers / rights telling another foreigner what they can and cannot do on Walking Street, a total and wild public space where there are no limits in any easily discernible manner to be seen. After I told her to fxxx off, she screamed at me in her lovely Russian accent that she was going to have me arrested by the Thai police, at which point I thought the only appropriate response was to give her the finger and tell her to go back to Russia. At that point I moved on, resisting the temptation to stand immediately in front of the Russian female wolf pack, turn on the flash and snap a few hundred digital photos until they all went completely berserk!
The dodgy airport promotion.
Coming back through Swampy last night, I saw a sign at one of the duty shops for a well-known brand of scotch at a promotion price. I grabbed a bottle and a couple of other items and proceeded to the check out. I noticed as the girl scanned the scotch I was charged the normal price. I politely alerted her to this. Without even lifting her eyes or saying a word to me, she entered a promo code on the register which gave the correct discount as per their advertising. I then asked a friend I travelled with to accompany me to another outlet at Swampy so he could make a purchase and the EXACT same thing happened. I know asking the sales girls would have been met with no regret or truthful explanation so I will clearly state what the truth is. This duty free store is scamming its customers. I called another friend who was returning this very morning and asked her to buy a few items at the airport and explained why. She called me and advised that of 4 items advertised as promotion, not ONE, yes, not one, was correctly priced when scanned and when the staff were confronted with this the excuse was computer error! Absolute rubbish as the girls enter promotion codes manually. Beware!
Popular farang bar / meeting spot / eatery in a small sub-soi off Sukhumvit soi 4, the Big Mango closed over Songkran for renovations. The front of the bar has been redone and there is now an open area out front where smokers can congregate. The Big Mango is a nice spot if you're looking for somewhere quiet, away from the craziness of soi 4. Drinks are inexpensive, as is the food which most people give the thumbs up to.
The katoeys at the mouth of Nana Plaza are becoming more and more of a pain. It used to be that they stood around the single entrance / exit late at night and pounced on liquored up, horny guys who may not have been aware of what was going on around them and that all was not what it should be! But these days they can be found attempting to accost those entering the plaza from early evening, even before it's dark. They're a real menace and it has to be said that the fact that Soi Cowboy is almost entirely ladyboy free is part of its attraction.
What ever happened to "Voice", the iconic Nana Plaza bar greeter who has worked at various bars in the plaza? Doing a run through the plaza this week it dawned on me that I haven't seen him for quite some time. I think the last bar he worked at was G Spot but he has not been there in, I guess, a year or more. I kinda miss his raspy voice spouting out such silly comments as "Take care your wife"…when you're walking past his bar with a bunch of your mates!
For those on a budget, or simply those who prefer draft beer, the beer bar outside Pretty Lady Bar on the ground floor of Nana is still doing Leo draft for 49 baht – and that very reasonable price can be had all night long.
But while some in Bangkok decry price increases that now see many bars offering a small bottle of beer for around 150 baht, some venues offering cheap drinks don't get the support you might expect. The balcony bar outside the short time hotel in Nana Plaza which is just along from Mandarin has signs advertising beer at 59 baht all night long – yet I don't think I have seen a single person drinking there!
Soi Cowboy was again the backdrop for filming this week. On Wednesday night a French film crew was filming scenes for what looked like it was a comedy.
And Soi Cowboy was positively booming on Friday night of this week. I don't know if I have seen it that busy before – and the couple of bars I popped in to had throngs of customers with some almost fighting to get the last empty seat!
Pattaya's Heaven Above, in Soi Diamond, is proud to host an ANZAC Day party at Heaven Above on Monday, 25 April 2011. Anzac Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corp) is a national public holiday and is considered one of the most spiritual and solemn days of the year. Boss Greg promises to make this a special occasion for all of our mates Down Under. Fun starts at 8 PM with BBQ, drink specials and lucky drawing. Heaven Above is located on Soi Diamond, just off Walking Street in Pattaya.
In Bangkok, Bob at The Office in soi 33 is inviting all Aussies and Kiwis to remember ANZAC Day, 25 April, and is offering that potent Aussie favourite, Bundaberg rum, all day, all night for just 49 baht.
Spasso's has been a popular late night spot for longer than I can remember, in fact longer than I have been living in Bangkok. Being on the ground floor of one of the city's best – and most pricey – 5-sar hotels, Spasso's isn't cheap. There's an 800 baht entry fee which gets you two free drinks. For those on a budget or those watching their pennies, note that no entry fee is charged on Sunday night. You still have the band, still have all of the lovelies, still have their excellent home-grown cocktails – and there are far fewer local expats to compete with!
If you saw a burly Kiwi bounding down Sukhumvit Road at 3:30 AM yesterday morning being yelled obscenities at by a white-skinned, wannabe hi-so Thai bird in a flash SUV, then I can fill in a few details. A mate – the burly kiwi, not the wannabe hi-so bird – met the bird in one of Bangkok's more salubrious late night spots. They enjoyed a number of drinks together and as it was getting late, being the gentleman that he is, and not wanting a damsel to spend the night alone, he invited her back to his condo. He thought they would be off to the taxi stand but it turns out that she had driven to the venue, so into her flash, top-end SUV and off they head, bound for his condo. She had been drinking and when he saw a police checkpoint ahead he just knew there would be trouble. She was brethalyzed and found to be over the legal limit. Drink driving is a serious issue in Thailand and while not that common, there is a chance of jail time. After some serious numbers were mentioned for the problem to disappear, my mate, once again proving to be a gentleman, offered to assist. 2,000 baht was handed to her which was passed out the window and the gents in brown allowed her to proceed. So here we have a hooker who had had too much to drink, caught driving over the legal alcohol limit. She had managed to get away with it by paying off the cops, money provided to her by a guy she had only met a few hours earlier. You'd think she would be grateful but gratitude is not a word commonly heard when the subject is Thai hookers. She had a moment and started freaking out in the car about how he had failed to protect her! He could see that no good would come of being with her so when the SUV stopped at red lights, he jumped out and ran down the road. She followed him, pulled up alongside him and yelled a tirade of abuse at him from the truck! She then had the charm to say that she was going to go to a police station, call her father who she claimed was some big shot and get Daddy to make problems for him. Ungrateful wench! You've really got to wonder about this lot!
There's yet another scam to be aware of in Thailand. If someone asks to borrow your phone, or just merely play with it, watch very closely what they do with it. They may not even make a call – and they don't need to as that is not part of the scam. What they actually do is use a feature to transfer some, or all, of the credit from the prepaid SIM card in your phone to theirs! So be careful of anyone who wishes to use or examine your mobile!
I personally didn't see the article but apparently in the Thai press this week was a piece about a Thai guy caught jerking off on the skytrain while standing next to an attractive girl! She noticed when he actually ejaculated on the floor! Dear oh dear.
In major cities around the world, tall buildings or towers with a viewing area are often popular tourist attractions. Think Paris, New York, Auckland, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur etc, all of which have a tall tower popular with visitors. Bangkok's tallest building is Baiyoke 2 in the Pratunam area and is in excess of 300 metres. There's a viewing area which provides magnificent views of the city and on a clear day, admittedly not too often in Bangkok, you can see the far reaches of the city. Baiyoke 2 is centrally located, not difficult to get to and not expensive to go up, yet not that many seem to make it. It's worth checking out to get a great view and very much a different perspective of Bangkok to what you get on the ground.
Some American readers have reported difficulties getting a seat from the States to Bangkok. It seems that some of the major air carriers from the USA have canceled flights to Narita in Japan due to the nuclear power plant situation and the drop in demand to travel that leg. This is frustrating because it seems that the leg between Japan and Bangkok has plenty of free seats with fewer Japanese flying to Bangkok at the moment.
I used the airport link for the first time this week and have to say that while I was somewhat satisfied, I am not sure I would recommend it for everyone. As opposed to a 45-minute taxi ride to the airport which would have cost 200 baht or so, I took a combination of the skytrain and the airport link, which took just a little longer, for the grand total of 65 baht. The airport link works well if – and this is a big if – you don't have much baggage. If you do, a taxi will almost certainly be more convenient and as such a better option. Taxis are dirt cheap in Bangkok and unless you're on an incredibly tight budget, taxis are still the preferred option. Of course there are a number of factors to consider when deciding which means of transport to take to the airport such as where you live in Bangkok, how the traffic in your area is, whether you live close to an airport link / skytrain station, whether you are on a budget etc.
Thais in Europe are screaming at restrictions placed on the import of some Thai vegetables and fruits to the EU in February because of toxin levels far above EU limits. Thais in Europe are complaining about the non-availability of Thai products and the subsequent difficulty in making authentic Thai food. Get between a Thai and their food at your peril!
I never thought I would say it, but I'm considering getting an Ipad. Many people I know have them and everyone, without fail, loves them. I'm not into gimmicks but from what I have seen they aren't gimmicky at all, but a useful tool. Anyway, IPads and IPad 2s have been available at various places in Bangkok, including Panthip Plaza, MBK and Fortune Town – at astronomical prices. With the official launch of the IPad2 in Thailand due for the first week of May, the announced prices are MUCH lower than what is being asked for the unofficial grey imports. So if you are in Thailand and are keen to score an Ipad 2, be patient and get an official version for about half the price they are going for at the moment. Of course, if you were to get one from the States you would save even more.
An expat leaving Bangkok has a few items for sale. Many items have already been sold, but the rest must go by Tuesday!
Reader's story of the week is another Thai bargirl tale of woe, "Bargirl Needs An Op".
The Thailand Songkran topless dancer issue is getting press all around the world, including in the New York Times.
From the Daily Mail, a British woman is killed after falling 300 feet from a waterfall in Thailand.
A Thai couple is arrested for offering a swinging service!
A foreign tourist has to pay 180,000 baht in repairs after he crashed a jet ski in Phuket.
CNNGo discusses just how family-friendly Pattaya really is.
From the Washington Post, a federal agency sues California labour contractor, farms in Thai human trafficking case.
From the Sydney Morning Herald, an Aussie man of 91 claims he has been extorted by Thai authorities.
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: How do Thai laws apply to private or institutional financing (outside the country) for real estate such as a condo? And if this type of financing is possible, how is the ownership handled as far as liens?
Sunbelt Legal responds: While it is possible to get overseas financing for a home loan, you will need to go through several very important steps before you can register the lien on the home.
In order for the seller to transfer ownership of the unit to the buyer / borrower, the buyer must get a Foreign Exchange Certificate from his or her Thai bank showing the transfer of funds from the lender to the borrower with the purpose of using the funds to buy a condominium specified on the FECT.
The lender must provide company registration documents certified by the embassy / consulate of the country of origin in Thailand, translated into Thai language and certified at the Consular Section of Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the Director of the lending company is unable to attend the mortgage registration, a power of attorney (Land Office Version) must be provided; the Director must execute this Power of Attorney at the Thai Embassy / Consulate in their country and then send it back to Thailand (to his attorney or representative in Thailand) to get it translated into Thai language and then certified at the Consular Section at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Chaeng Wattana Road, Bangkok.
Question 2: I have been offered a job and initially it does not come with a work permit. The work permit will come in the future assuming I am good at the job and making the company money. The job itself is all perfectly legal, but I would be working in the public eye and meeting with many different business owners and managers. All be it only for a short amount of time and probably a limited amount of times per business. I am considering the age old question of "should I be legal" with regards to a work permit. I know you have previously advised it is always best to be legal. I am also of that opinion however that said I am considering the alternative considering it will only be for a short time. What I am interested in knowing is if the worst case scenario happens and somehow I find myself being caught by the police working without a work permit. What is most likely to happen and how severe are the consequences likely to be? I understand once you throw yourself into the hands of the law no-one can ever really say how bad it can get, especially if you have pissed off the wrong person. But in a for instance I have just annoyed some farang business owner he reported me and there is no pressure on the police, what would be the most likely result? Would I be able to pay my way out of it and do you have any estimates or guesses however vague how much it would cost me to make it all go away? With me being able to continue in the country as before but stop working.
Sunbelt Legal responds: The consequences of working without a work permit can vary depending on the office and or the officer. We have seen it ranging from 10,000 – 50,000 baht in fines, to court fines of 3,000 baht but unable to obtain a work permit for a year, to deportation and blacklisting.
It is up to you to decide what is best for you in the long run.
Question 3: I live with a working gogo dancer from Soi Cowboy. She is my girlfriend, but we are not married. 3 weeks ago my girlfriend's mother unexpectedly died. My girlfriend has a 6-year old daughter the mother had been taking care of upcountry. With her death, the daughter has now come to live with us here in Bangkok. My girlfriend wishes to keep working and abhors the idea of a babysitter. I don't want to be imprisoned in my apartment every night babysitting, especially when my girlfriend is out keeping the company of other men. My girlfriend insists it is alright that her daughter can stay alone while I go out at night, but I disagree. First question – what are the laws regarding Thai children staying alone at night and how old must they be before it is okay? The second question is what would (or could) happen if I do stay with the daughter, being an old male farang and not married? I don't want to open myself up to charges. Would I be stupid to agree to stay alone in a room at night with a 6-year old girl? Am I opening myself up to the possibility of criminal charges should somebody decide to call the authorities? While I know the girl is like my step-daughter, and I do live with her mother, one never knows how other people view situations.
Sunbelt Legal responds: Guardians are forbidden to neglect a child at any place without arranging for appropriate safety protection or care, where a child is defined as being under the age of 18.
Someone could call Child Protective Services should something happen to the child while left alone and the mother could lose custody.
As for potential issues with accusations of child abuse, the police and child services would investigate any accusations to determine their validity.
What happened to the hot season? Even after all of these years, when it sizzles in the hot season and the mercury is sent to 40 degrees Celsius, long term expats transform from smartly dressed into someone who looks like they have run a marathon, with sweat dripping off every body part. But this year's hot season has been nothing like previous years and there has not been one day – not one – when it has been unpleasantly hot. There have even been some days, particularly last month, when it actually felt cool. Not that I am complaining, mind you, the hot season is the least pleasant of Thailand's seasons and it looks like we will be having a particularly mild version this year. Yippee!
Your Bangkok commentator,