Stickman's Weekly Column July 10th, 2011

A Few Days in Phnom Penh


Dusty roads with what can only be called contraptions on wheels. Criss-crossing the city on the back of a motorbike after dark and seeing almost no traffic. Ultra-slow, virtually unusable Internet connections. Friendly, smiling children yelling “Hello”. Arriving back at the hotel at night to find the doors had been padlocked shut from the inside and you had to rattle them to wake up a young Khmer sleeping on the other side who would unlock the door and let you in. These are just some memories from my one and only visit to Phnom Penh, back in 2001.

In the 10 years since I first visited the Cambodian capital it has changed markedly as I discovered on a recent trip.

Phnom Penh is perhaps similar in size to the larger Thai provincial capitals, and home to perhaps a million people. The capital of Cambodia, it is the administrative capital, where most of the wealth is and as such, it is where rural Cambodians flock to find work.

While the Cambodian capital has plenty of sights, the country's most famous attraction is the Angkor Wat temple complex, a few hundred clicks north.

It's hard to say that there are any genuine must sees in Phnom Penh, but the Royal Palace, the Killing Fields, the S21 school where the Khmer Rouge tortured and murdered many prisoners, the National Museum and the riverfront area which is the heart of the touristy part of the city, and the “pretty” part, are all worthwhile. Then there are the markets, from the Central Market to the Russian Market to the city's various fresh markets. In a whirlwind tour you could see most sights in a day – and I bet some do just that. For those keen to tick all the boxes, 2 days might be enough.

Cambodia

But seeing Phnom Penh, to me at least, is not about just seeing the sights. Like Bangkok, it's about the vibe and feeling the city. Phnom Penh, while not sleepy, feels not dissimilar to Vientiane. Think the Vientiane riverfront, a Khao San Road-like concentration of bars, restaurants and hotels, and the laid-back attitudes and genuine friendliness that you find in Chiang Mai and you're getting close to the feel of the riverfront area of Phnom Penh, the pretty part of the city where most visitors spend their time.

Getting around Phnom Penh is easy. Tuktuks in the guise of a motorbike pulling a carriage, motorbike riders as well as a few taxis make up the choices. You can walk and a number of the sights are in the riverfront area, just remember to look the other way when crossing the road if you're used to Thailand.

Someone seems to have told every tuktuk driver and motorcycle rider in town that foreigners don't like walking, for you simply cannot walk past one without being asked where you're going and if you'd like a ride. The hassles are relentless, many times worse than any vendor hassles in Thailand.

Outside the city there are various day trip excursions, from Khmer temple ruins to craft villages to unspoiled colonial towns. Some are day trips while others are further afield and best visited with an overnight stay.

Thai food might be more varied and diverse, but Cambodian food uses certain ingredients you don't commonly see in Thailand. Buffalo meat, for example, is found on many menus, and deep-fried tarantulas are sold alongside other creepy crawlies. Much of what is available in the fresh markets fell into the mystery meat category. Amongst the more unusual things we tried was beef with wild ants – and giant-sized ants they were. A good source of protein I am told!

Revisiting places from that first trip a decade earlier, when the few popular bars were scattered around the city, the long-running Sharky just didn't do it for us. Similar in format to Bangkok's Woodstock, the American-themed bar and restaurant with a reputation for tasty Tex Mex food left us unimpressed. Sunrise Tacos it isn't.

Phnom Penh may not compare with Bangkok for high-end dining, but there is a huge number of mid-range eateries making it something of a foodie's dream. Many riverfront restaurants are chic without being pretentious.

One restaurant worth going out of your way for is Romdeng, which produces modern, creative Cambodian cuisine. Just a short tuktuk ride from the riverfront, it's set in a beautiful house and its grounds. The food is fabulous, the surroundings peaceful and service friendly and efficient. Romdeng is actually staffed by students and teachers from a local hospitality training school and a share of the profits go towards helping the disadvantaged.

Phnom Penh is an alcoholic's dream with ridiculously low prices. Stick with the perfectly drinkable local Angkor draft and you'll never have a hole in your wallet. A handle runs around $1.00 – $2.00 in restaurants, $1.50 – $1.75 in the hostess bars and in some bars and restaurants, happy hour prices can be had for less than a dollar, 60 cents in some outlets. Pretty much everything, drink-wise, is considerably cheaper than Thailand. Cocktails in decent bars could be had for $3 or $4, $2 at happy hour. Beer Lao is widely available and cheap, and wine is considerably cheaper than in Thailand.

And my pet hate, tax and service charges are nowhere to be seen!

Cambodia Lonely Planet

Prices are so low that you wonder how some businesses survive. With food prices increasing in Thailand and many items imported from their Western neighbor, prices will have to move. There does remain an expectation from visitors that prices in Cambodia are low which prevents restaurateurs from raising prices. How do some bars and restaurants stay in the black? I think the answer might be that they don't.

Cambodia has always had a bit of free and easy reputation and the sale of counterfeit goods of all descriptions continues to thrive. High-quality copied books are widely available and it's probably the cheapest place in the world to pick up anything by Lonely Planet. Drugs are openly consumed in a few downtown bars and no-one looks twice in a city where the local constabulary isn't as conspicuous as they are in Bangkok. Local driving standards don't seem to have improved and Khmers behind the wheel make your average Bangkok taxi driver look like a saint.

Cambodian lady

Phnom Penh has a bar scene with a few streets with pockets of bars scattered around the city. The most popular type of venue is the so-called hostess bar. Think Sukhumvit soi 33 style bars with the décor of a Pattaya beer bar. Ok, it's not quite that bad, at least in some venues. We visited the bar areas on streets 104, 136 and 51, each of which had from several to a dozen bars in a similar style.

Typically a hostess bar comprises the ground floor of a single shophouse. Forget the bright lights of Bangkok or Pattaya where the best bars saw million dollar investments, much less is spent in Phnom Penh. Some bars were more spacious – perhaps a double shophouse – and some made use of a mezzanine floor, but for the most part they were small shoebox-sized venues with perhaps 15 or so girls.

Easily the best hostess bar we visited was Shanghai, located on street 51, not far from the long-running Walkabout, a low-end guesthouse with even lower end damsels lingering in the open-air freelancer bar on the ground floor. Think Soi 7's Biergarten on its worst day and you're getting close. Back to Shanghai, the bar was well-run, had really great food, but the highlight was the friendly and attractive girls decked out in sumptuously short black miniskirts.

Shanghai Bar Phnom Penh

The vibe in the hostess bars is different to your typical Thailand bar. Upon entering, many of the girls scream "Hello" and once seated you'll find yourself surrounded by a half-dozen girls. They will be keen to chat, but unlike their Thai sisters they almost never ask for a drink. The lady drink hassles that mar the bar experience in Thailand are no issue in Phnom Penh. With that said, at what seemed to be an industry standard $3.00 for a lady drink – of which she gets $1.00 – it's hardly cost prohibitive. And if you do buy a lady a drink, she will never suggest you barfine her, and won't even hint about joining you at your hotel. Many bars have pool tables and the girls often suggest challenging you to a game of pool, and request a lady drink if they win. Don't expect to see a Cambodian winning the world pool championships any time soon!

As far as the women in the Phnom Penh bars go, the prurient might say that the biggest difference between the Thais and the Cambodians is that there's no need for silicone bags in Cambodia. They tend to be dark-skinned, curvy and can have absolutely striking eyes. And yeah, they are busty.

Personality and attitude-wise, they are rather different to the girls working bar in Thailand. The Cambodian girls are much less hardened, much less mercenary and general chit chat tends to be more relaxed. They are generally more playful than the Thais, but without any real flirting or sexual innuendo. Thai working girls these days tend to be more professional; pleasant on the outside but rock hard on the inside.

The Cambodians might be more pleasant and the bars employ some pretty ladies, but in terms of looks at least, you don't see anything like you do in the likes of Rainbow 4 or Bacarra. What they may lose in the looks department they more than make up for personality-wise. There are few tattoos to be seen and while smoking is allowed in the bars in Cambodia, it is the customers who are puffing away. Very few Cambodian working girls smoke. Cambodian girls working in hostess bars make a point of saying that good girls don't smoke! In fact the girls in the bars don't even feel like bargirls. Thai bargirls with anything more than a month or two in the industry arem for the most part, hard. Many of the Cambodian girls in the bars seemed quite sweet.

Cambodian lady

Despite young Cambodians appearing to have a better grasp of English than Thais, many girls in the bars spoke very little English, kind of a surprise when you consider they interact with Westerners every day. Or do they?

The dynamic of the bars in Phnom Penh is very different to Bangkok and the separation of customers in bar areas by ethnicity is not the case in Cambodia. The guy sitting next to you is just as likely to be Korean, Nigerian, Chinese or even Cambodian, as he is Kiwi, Canuck or Pom.

Once they know you're based in Thailand, the Cambodian girls aren't shy to let you know what they think of their Thai bar-working sisters. Sluts, hardcore, money hungry and mercenary were amongst the many less complimentary comments. Cambodia is more conservative than Thailand and the gig culture (fxxx buddy) that is so prevalent in Thailand today doesn't seem to have arrived in Cambodia. Women behave prim and proper and dress appropriately, whether they work in a bar or not!

What it costs for a night of these ladies' company, I don't know. Broaching the subject brought awkward looks from girls who seemed reluctant to discuss it. I was quoted $40 by ladies aghast that such should even be discussed, and they were probably more aghast when they realised I was only asking for the purpose of understanding how things work, not because I had any intention of being a naughty boy! Locals tell me that hostesses will happily spend the night for $20 – 30, which seems awfully cheap. Barfines run $10, and drop to $5 after midnight, in some bars.

There's much debate whether young South-East Asian women are “forced” to work in the bar industry. It's an argument that really doesn't hold up in Thailand where even the least educated can get factory work, which with overtime will provide a livable income. A comfortable life perhaps not, but it's honest work that one can feel good about.

Cambodia is altogether different. Many of the girls in the bars seemed to have very limited options. One girl, a striking looker with an uncanny resemblance to an ex-girlfriend, really tugged on my heart strings as we struggled to communicate and tell me about her life. The oldest of 3 children, the 24-year old long-haired beauty couldn't read or write. She had never been to school and she had almost zero employment options. Her only real options were working on a farm, for which she would make the equivalent of about $60 a month. The salary alone from bar work was that much, and she would also get $1 for every drink bought for her, as well as whatever gifts customers rewarded her with in the morning.

In the farang-dominated sector of the industry in Bangkok, many women enter the industry because they have children to support, but that is not so often the case in Cambodia. Only a small percentage of the ladies seemed to have kids of their own to support. And the average age is much younger, with early 20s the norm.

I'm confident saying that women in Bangkok and Pattaya bars are there of their own free will and that the option to work elsewhere exists. Some choose the bar life to support children or family, while others are driven by the pursuit of money – and working in such bars is often considered the easiest way to make a lot of money fast.

In Phnom Penh I really don't think the girls have many options, and as such there is a very real feeling that it is bordering on exploitation…

Cambodia

Cambodia has a reputation in the region for being the playground for the sickest of the sick, the kiddy fiddlers. Whether the reputation is justified today I have no idea, and I understand Cambodia has made great strides in putting an end to this scourge. I heard stories bordering on paranoia from local expats who go as far as to steer clear of the many young children wandering the riverfront area selling products. The fear comes from what could happen if you were caught in a photo handing money to a child (for something as innocuous as the Lonely Planet guide) and things subsequently getting twisted. There is money to be made by locals who tip off the authorities about foreigners involving themselves with underage Cambodians. With all of this said, there did seem to be some ladies in the bars who, to my eyes, did not seem to be of legal age.

The days of half the bars having Cambodian girls and half the bars having Vietnamese girls are long gone which is a good thing – those Vietnamese girls were mostly trafficked in to the country.

A small, but growing, number of transsexuals can be found in the Phnom Penh bars who, like their sisters, aren't nearly as easy eye on the eye as the Thais. Up until a few years ago this lot weren't tolerated in the bars but the can be found now.

There's something almost relieving about not being able to speak Cambodian, and remaining ignorant of the abject poverty that the girls in the bars have come from. Parts of rural Thailand might not be prosperous, but rural Cambodia is desperately poor. Phnom Penh's bars might be an attraction for some, but I kind of felt awkward there. Pretty girls, laid-back and cheap, they may be, but the girls' backgrounds were just too rugged to overlook.

A special mention needs to go to Kelly, an employee of Shanghai who is perhaps the most impressive bargirl I have ever met. EVER! Pleasant on the eye, it wasn't her looks that grabbed me, but her worldliness. An absolutely charming conversationalist with accomplished English, chat transcended far beyond the mind-numbing basics to include different types of investments, thoughts on the soon to open Stock Exchange of Cambodia, the various ways one can make money from an internet-based business to philosophy, religion and the ongoing conflict between Cambodia and Thailand. At a mere 23, she was as out of place in a Phnom Penh bar as a buffalo would be on 5th Avenue. A more impressive lady in a naughty bar I have not met.

Nail polish

Meeting local expats is a great way to learn about the city, but checking out a popular Phnom Penh message forum before visiting left a bad taste. There was a definite undercurrent of dislike harboured against expats from Thailand heading east, be it to relocate or merely visit. Some were irked at Thailand expats attempting to talk to the Khmers in Thai. There was a definite feeling of, and I have to chuckle here, superiority, amongst some Phnom Penh expats, as if they were better than us lot who call Thailand home. Class warfare is just as prevalent in the Penh as it is in Bangkok. Amongst Western expats in Cambodia, NGO workers seem to be both envied (for their salary) and resented (for their salary) at the same time.

Expats in Cambodia who once called Thailand home sing the praises of Phnom Penh and most I chatted to could not imagine going back to the 'Kok. New expat arrivals in Cambodia mirror what is happening in Thailand – young, bright and often unable to get a job in the West. A good number of the older expats in Phnom Penh once called Thailand home. Various reasons were cited for the move east from visa hassles, to the cost of living to the general feeling that Thailand had changed for the worse.

The Thais are known for their patriotism, or is it xenophobia? Ask the average Thai what they think about Cambodia and Cambodians and you get insults and mean-spirited comments. Ask the average Cambodian how they feel about Thais and Thailand – and I did – and they simply respond that they wished the countries' respective governments would resolve their ongoing disputes. Refreshing.

Could I live in Phnom Penh? As much as I like the place, I get the feeling that there wouldn't be enough to keep me going. I could very happily spend a month travelling around the country and photographing every last corner. For shutterbugs, Cambodia is every bit as interesting as Thailand. But after that, I reckon I'd quickly get bored.

Phnom Penh

There are almost as many people in greater Bangkok as there are in all of Cambodia which makes Bangkok the sort of place you can lose yourself, where your business is yours and no-one else's. In Phnom Penh you get the feeling that within a few months you would know the town like the back of your hand – and everyone would know who you were, where you'd been and what you were up to. Some might not mind that, but having become accustomed to the relative anonymity that living in a large city like Bangkok affords, and the way the size of the city means that there are lots of little Bangkoks within the greater Bangkok, Phnom Penh has a very different feel.

But for a break away, Phnom Penh is great! There's enough to keep your busy for a few days and if you're a foodie, or an alcoholic, you can pursue your passion with vigour without your wallet complaining. Best of all, everything is priced in US dollars which keeps things simple.

Cambodia

What might drive Westerners who were considering Thailand, to go to Cambodia, is not necessarily the attraction of Cambodia per se, but the way prices, not just in baht terms but in foreign currency terms, look set to increase further in Thailand. And with some commentators suggesting that the Thai baht could increase to levels unseen with one US dollar getting less than 25 baht, other countries in the region may become more attractive for those on a fixed investment or retirement income. Cambodia could see an influx of the once had my heart set on Thailand crowd.

Phnom Penh has a flavour sufficiently different from anything you find in Thailand. The edginess from my first visit has gone, the sights are interesting, the locals are friendly and genuinely welcoming. The Thais are certainly friendly enough, but welcoming? Hmmm, the jury's still out on that.

Phnom Penh is easy to get to. With Air Asia flying there you can get there cheap. Phnom Penh us just an hour away on the big bird from Bangkok.

Cambodian children

Cambodia has come a long way and the rapid pace of development is something the Khmers can be awfully proud of, especially given the atrocities the country suffered and the huge setbacks and fall out from the Pol Pot regime.

To compare Thailand with Cambodia is easy. Each is at a different period in their development. It's easiest to simply say that Cambodia is a couple of decades behind Thailand. With a much smaller population and less natural resources, it probably won't ever catch up to Thailand economically. That's not to say that the country is not a fabulous tourist destination or that Phnom Penh might be a very real option for the expat who has fallen out of love with Bangkok.

* In Phnom Penh I stayed at the California 2, an institution amongst the city's expat populace which is run by a long-term Western resident who also spent many years in Thailand. The California 2 is clean, secure, centrally located, has fast, reliable, free wi-fi and has a bar and restaurant on the ground floor. And from $27 per night, it's hard to beat!

Phnom Penh guesthouse
Phnom Penh hotel

Last week's photo



Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok cityscape

Last week's photo was taken of the stickers on the door leading into the Old Dutch at the soi 23 end of Soi Cowboy. I thought it was challenging and was surprised that so many people – more than 30 – 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 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 Duke's Express voucher MUST be redeemed by June 2012. The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. 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.

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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 – Message for bar owners!

Fatties in bars? No thanks! Who needs to look at heaving tubs of lard dancing on a pole? Or worse, plonking their huge bulk on my limp lap? When are bar owners going to wake up that we go to bars to drink and have fun while we are titillated by beautiful women? When I go to a bar I check it out first. If the majority of women are fat and / or ugly I don't even bother entering. And if I do elect to go in and buy a beer I expect a girl to come and make a fuss of me within the first 5 minutes. If the girls ignore me I down my drink and head out looking for greener pastures. That's the secret to keeping customers. It's amazing that a lot of bar owners have not figured this out yet. Wake up! No one is forcing us to go into your bar. If we don't like what we see and experience we are out of there!

Keen to invest in a bar?

A month back I walked around the main Hua Hin area at 10 PM and, in 67 bars, there were a grand total of just 56 customers, and none, nobody, except me, strolling in the soi. And yet there are still people trying to get into the business as several bars have changed hands this year and some have been quite expensively re-fitted.

The BTS extension explained.

You mentioned the BTS not having a station at Samrong (say near the Big C). This is, in typical Thai fashion, the result of a giant pissing contest between the relevant government (and private) stakeholders. You'll notice that the new extension ends precisely at the BMA / Bangkok border with Samut Prakan. Since the BMA took the lead on this extension (to the tune several billion baht), they have no jurisdiction in extending it further south and east. The BTSC also does not have the authority to build wherever they choose, even if they have the capital to do so. The planned extension (which does have a station at Samrong), requires the cooperation of the Samut Prakan provincial government, the BTSC, and the MRTA (which is now responsible for planning and implementing extensions to both underground and elevated lines), at the very least. Introducing Samut Prakan and the MRTA into the BTS equation creates a number of headaches, not the least of which is the fare structure for the extension and how fares are shared for longer journeys. Should Samut Prakan invest in the extension? If so, what money will they get back from commuters using those stations? Will they get money from users who start (or end) their journey in Bangkok? Will these fares be equivalent to what the BMA collects from the BTSC? So yeah, in sum, like everything here as you know, it will probably happen, but it will take time and likely be uncoordinated when it finally is built and opened.

A drunk driver comments.

I ride a motorbike all over Bangkok. One afternoon I drank 6 glasses of whisky at home and then went out for a beer. I drank 6 Chang drafts and made it back to my soi where I was stopped on the corner and summoned to go inside the traffic booth. I blew my way to a bright red! After trying very hard there seemed no way for an on the spot settlement. The officer told me to get on my bike and he got on his. Off to the police station we headed. Nothing was going to convince this officer to let me get out of checking the exact alcohol breath content at the station. He said the fine for a first offence would be 20K, 6 months suspension of license and monthly reporting for a year. A second offence would be 3 months in jail. We rode very slowly. I asked him to take a left, parallel to the highway. He asked why and I told him we needed to talk. We talked and I had him follow me to my apartment. He waited, I gave him 10K and the problem went away. I think it all depends on the skills of the guilty. One thing is clear, I'll never ride my bike again after I've had one drink. Whenever I get stopped I want to have a clear conscience and blow the hell out of the machine and show 0%!

Western women, or Western system?

I have read with interest both sides of the issue attacking and defending the western female. In reality, is it the system / mass media / and the courts that have created the environment we see today? The western male has been successfully legislated into his traditional role as providers while women have become "empowered"! Take the women's right to choose for example. She may use you as a sperm donor without your permission and you will pay tax free support, unfettered by regulations assuring the child receives the support. She may terminate your child whether or not or you want your child. Too bad if you want the kid! If she moves into your house for 6 months, congratulations, you're married! And anyone can fake it for 6 months to get half your net worth or more! What other business plan delivers those kinds of tax free returns in six months?! The reality is the species of my generation started out as hippies, became party girls and then feminists and eventually a cult on a power trip with a siege mentality with no idea where they're headed and today find themselves largely alone and unhappy, even more so now that Oprah is gone! C'est tragique n'est'ce pas?

Marriage woes.

I hate to be a broken record, but as I've said before, marriage is a forlorn institution nowadays. So many Stickman readers like to trash women for their misdeeds, but in reality, men do very little to acquit themselves. It's shit like cheating on his wife, and with kids at home to boot, that gives men a bad name and rightly draws the ire of women. There's enough blame to go around on both sides of the equation. A sign of the times, people think nothing of it nowadays.

I've written a couple of times in recent months about how Washington Square is on its last legs, and it is, but it would seem that there is still some life left in the place. The Washington Square is so big that it is going to be VERY costly to develop as a tenant on a 30-year lease. That means that whoever comes in really has to hit the ground running. In other words, what is needed is a really big developer – and there are only so many of them. It has been uttered in expat circles that the bars and restaurants that have been abandoned is not because Washington Square is closing, but because they had so few customers. The one venue which really worked in the square is Bourbon Street which is obviously a great venue but owner Doug has Las Vegas Bangkok already lined up another place and is ready to move on. With no major developer ready to make the massive commitment needed to renovate the area, some Washington Square venues are battling on. Silver Dollar just signed a 6-month lease extension and expects at least one more. Management at The Sportsman believes the venue will still be in business until at least early next year, if not longer. Parties from within Washington Square who have spoken directly to someone within the Nana family, the land owner, have been told that there have been negotiations in progress with major developers – as there have been for many years. So what does all this mean? Expect more lease renewals as Washington Square defies the odds and refuses to die!

How do you go from absolutely boiling to freezing in the space of just a few days? Ask the management of Las Vegas, the venue I absolutely raved about in the opening piece of last week's column! After a grand opening party that had many talking, just 3 days later, on Monday night to be precise, something had gone horribly – and I mean HORRIBLY – wrong! That night saw but a fraction of the girls in Las Vegas that were there on Friday night, and that was mirrored by the number of customers present. I stuck my head in Las Vegas a few times on Monday evening while bouncing around the plaza, and in the end decided it just wasn't worth going inside. Wow, how things can change!

Next door in Billboard business was a little better. It's quite funny watching the girls in the bar in their birthday suit in the Jacuzzi. They make maximum use ofBully's Bangkok the suds from the bubble bath to make sure that their nether regions are obscured from view, which is kind of erotic!

The rumour mill went into overdrive a couple of weeks ago when the manager of Bully's, ET, disappeared. The bottom line is that ET is no longer the managing partner at Bully's. After 6 years at the helm of the American-themed bar and restaurant, and being responsible for much of Bully's success, Ed has decided to move on to new creative endeavours. To quash some of the crazy rumours going around and to set the record straight – and this is direct from owner, Boss Hogg – there are no missing funds and as the founder and managing director, the Hogg owns 100% of all shares in Bully's. The Hogg and his staff wish ET all the best for the future. Bully's is happy to welcome back former teammates and also announce the hiring of a new general manager, Jerry.

The Bull's Head, one of the longest running British pubs in Bangkok, and a fixture on Sukhumvit Soi 33/1 for as long as I can remember, will pull its last pints this coming Thursday after the owners were hit with a steep rent rise. Like the Pickled Liver, which is relocating to Soi 7/1 after closing in Soi 11 following a similar rent problem, the Bull's Head is aiming to find new premises. Rumour has it that the current spot of the Bull's Head will be transformed into a Japanese sushi bar. While many of the price increases at Bangkok bars and restaurants are attributed to food inflation – which is rife worldwide – rent hikes are just as much, if not more to blame in many cases.

There was some movement in Bunnies, the doomed bar in Nana in that spot where no venue ever seems to do well. Some folks were poking around in there this week and it was easy to get the impression that they were checking it out as a place to run. Let's see what happens.Angelwitch

With Matt out of the picture, someone ought to have a whisper in the DJ's ear about removing that awful German music from the playlist at Angelwitch. Matt ran a great bar and much of the venue's success is due to systems he put in place. But that German music never did anything for anyone but him and it needs to go. Hit the delete key and kill those songs!

And speaking of foreign languages, that's what it sounds like is being spoken when a Scotsman talks on the mic in a certain Nana bar. There I was, sandwiched in between two Americans, when the bar's Scottish manager came on the sound system to announce something or other. I swear, not a single person in the bar had a clue what he was rambling on about; it was totally unintelligible – and I don't think it was a problem with the mic or the sound system. The problem was catching his accent. It was sort of like trying to watch "Trainspotting" without subtitles! Anyway, while the guy may be a fully competent bar boss, here's hoping someone mentions to him that that having a radio voice and running a bar are two completely different skills – and not everyone can do both. If the venue insists on a foreigner making announcements, they ought to consider using a Yank. If there is one positive about American English, it's that it is generally easier to understand than the British version.

The bird in Angelwitch who clocked up 70+ barfines in May didn't hit the same lofty highs in June, when she only managed 54 – which put her just a couple ahead of another lovely who managed just north of 50.

Nana might be making a comeback but we cannot go writing off Soi Cowboy just yet where Tilac and Bacarra are flying the flag. Tilac was jam packed on Friday night with 5 separate shifts of dancers, one shift more than usual.farang

The renovations at Soi Cowboy's Apache continued this week and the rumour mill has it that the bar is under new management.

Spicy RongMuang is the mother of all after hour clubs and also known as Bangkok Underground. It had become old and stale inside but that didn't seem to put people off and it remained packed most nights. It has received a cleaner, brighter, more modern look in the hope that it will attract an earlier crowd, and not just be a place to hit late.

There really are some rat bags out there. A mate has a regular he sees on and off and she frequently tells him about her customers. In her latest report, she told of how she had done the business with a customer and while she was having her clean up shower he slipped out and disappeared. The pig had promised her 2,000 baht for an hour of her time. If you were wondering why some Thai bargirls might actually ask you to part with your readies up front, now you know.

The rapid emergence of beer bars at the top of Jomtien Soi 5, the soi where the local Immigration department office can be found, and next to the food market, has drained many bars in Jomtien of customers. A real hive of activity with beers from 40 baht, free pool, some live music and at the moment a certain ambience because bars in the complex are not competing with each other music-wise. There are probably 15 or so bars already open with another being built and opening every couple of weeks.

The next bit of news will send shudders down farang bar owners' backs, a piece of news you couldn't make up if you tried. More than a few farang bar owners, partners and managers are looking nervously over their shoulders after it emerged this week that American Jack Dailge was sentenced to 7 years in the local monkey house. A few months back Bangkok's finest raided one of Pattaya's better known gentlemen's clubs and Jack was found on the premises. He went on to admit that he looked after the running of the venue on behalf of a friend whilst said friend was away and he admitted that he did not possess a work permit. The worst he feared was a fine and / or deportation but the judge saw things rather differently. He was sentenced to 5 years for owning a brothel (although Jack denies having any official connection with the business) plus another 2 years on top for managing it! Beer bar owners with rooms beware!

Siam Square used to be such a nice area to wonder around, a part of town that was always buzzing with the energy and enthusiasm of youth, the hip place for young Thais to hang out. But Siam Square is not the pleasurable stroll it used to be. With more and more street vendors peddling their goodies out on the main road, it's a nightmare trying to walk around in parts. The streets are not just congested, it's like the front row of a rock concert, and something of a pickpocket's dream. It is even worse that the odd-numbered soi side of Sukhumvit between sois 3 and 19 – and that is saying something!

Popular Swiss-owned and run budget hotel on Sukhumvit soi 18, Town Lodge, still has its special low season rates in place and you can get a clean, tidy room with free wireless internet access for just 900 baht through until September.

Quote of the week comes from a from a Pattaya bar owner who proudly tells everybody, including his family, that his Thai wife used to be a Soi Cowboy gogo dancer, "I am the only farang in Thailand who didn't marry a cashier!"

Reader's story of the week comes from Bangkok Real and is titled, "It's My Affair".

This has to be the best taxi in Bangkok!

From Bloomberg, the Thai baht is predicted to strengthen considerably over the next 12 months.

The New York Times commented on the results of the Thailand election.

From the Wall Street Journal, as was to be expected, Thaksin critics plan Yingluck protests.

CNNGo looks at one of Bangkok's more unusual attractions, the museum of counterfeit goods.

Karon Beach's notorious rainy season rip claims another victim, this time an Aussie woman.

Love Joys, the much lauded cheap Charlies hang out in Jomtien, appears to have closed due to a scam or two being operated by the owner(s) over a period of time.

The Bangkok Post highlights the laws regarding nudity in gogo and other bars in Thailand.

Ask Sunbelt Legal

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

There were no questions for Sunbelt this week!


Nana Plaza pussy

I moved heaven and earth to get the column out on time this week. Unfortunately when that happens it significantly increases the chances that it might be a little flat and there may be a few more typos than usual. Here's hoping that that's not the case and that it's a decent read. So no, it wasn't a case of me being lazy and lounging around, it was simply that I was pressed for time!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick