Stickman's Weekly Column April 22nd, 2012

The House That Larry Built



Why do so many Westerners in Thailand pay so much for their house? Why do so many settle for a home built to house a Thai family? And why do so many Westerners in Thailand settle for building standards that they wouldn't accept in their homeland? It needn't be that way.

Larry is an extremely friendly, cheerful American who moved to Thailand several years ago with his Thai wife. They had shared a house together in the States for some years but with her pining for home, he agreed that they would sell their home in the States and relocate to Thailand. Mrs. Larry hailed from the Isaan region and having visited his in-laws he insisted that while he was happy to move to Thailand, they would not be living in her hometown of Buriram. The plan was to travel around the country in search of a nice town. Once they found somewhere they liked they would buy land and build a home.



After travelling around the country, they found there was much about the northern region they liked. The obvious choice in the north is Chiang Mai but they felt it was too big and too fast for them. The traffic was heavy and then there was the noise, pollution and all the foreigners. A foreign enclave wasn't what they were looking for! They hoped to find a medium-sized city in the north, somewhere big enough to have the necessary conveniences, but not so small that there would be no employment opportunities. Larry would have to work.

They saw this place on the map that was not too far from Chiang Mai called Lampang, and decided to check it out.

They found Lampang to be a pretty city, very green with a lot of parks and a river running through. The traffic was nothing like Chiang Mai's and there were very few foreigners. The locals seemed nice, a little conservative but hard-working. There was a Big C department store and shopping centre, a Tesco Lotus, and overall they felt Lampang ticked all the boxes. The feeling was good and the decision was made. Lampang would be their new home!



Lampang


They found a parcel of land in a small subdivision less than 10 minutes drive from the heart of the city. Construction started in 2006 and their home was completed in 2007, with the total project running about 7 months.

They set out to create a home for life, with the style of a Thai house but the conveniences of a modern, Western-style house.

The house design was completed with the help of a local architect. They approached him with various house designs and picked one which looked interesting and then worked with the architect to change the dimensions and certain elements so the final design would be exactly what they wanted.

When you first see the house you don't really know what to make of it. Is it Thai, or is it farang?! It looks almost half Thai / half farang. A luuk kreung house!


Farang house Thailand


After a disaster with a local in the building supplies business who seemed more interested in helping himself than helping Larry and his wife, they drove around the province looking at houses, searching out interesting looking houses for ideas.

One afternoon they found a lovely house that stood out. They debated whether to stop and ask the owners who had built it. They braved up the courage and knocked on the door. The owners were very proud of their house and flattered that someone had stopped by. Larry and his wife were invited inside and the owners were delighted to answer their questions.

They were told who built the home and it turned out that the builders were only part-time builders who also happened to be famers who ran agricultural land! They lived just a few kilometres away, the owners called them, and they came over to the house for a meeting.

The builders were also flattered that someone had admired their handiwork. After some chit chat, the building team suggested they go and view another house they had built not far away.

At the other house the owner, an engineer, was home and happy to invite these strangers in and show off his house. When Larry and his wife walked in, their jaws dropped when they saw the workmanship of the intricately designed, multi-layered teak ceilings throughout the home. The workmanship and quality of the finish was absolutely superb.

Now it should be pointed out that while Thais are very good with handicrafts and what not, they are not known for the finish work on some houses. Give them sacks of cement and bricks and they can build just fine, but the finish often leaves something to be desired.



Larry remembers saying to his wife, "These are the guys who are going to build our house! I don't know anyone back in Farangland capable of this quality of work!"

An agreement was reached with the builders. Larry and his wife would purchase all of the materials themselves – so they could get the best price and source the exact materials they wanted without mark up. The builders would be paid for their labour. This was in fact the reason they bought a pickup truck – which Larry still drives today – as opposed to a sedan. They needed a pickup to deliver materials from suppliers to the building site.

Throughout the construction of the house, one or both of them was present at all times. From early morning until late afternoon, all day, every day! The builders often asked them how they wanted things done and they were always there, on site, to explain.

The builders probably didn't even go to high school, yet they sat down with rulers, pencils and protractors and sketched it all out. They would cut up pieces of wood and other materials and put it all together. Everything fit exactly as it should. They were honest, easy to deal with, and just plain warm, the sort of people you'd be happy to have as friends.


Farang house Thailand


A building permit was required and throughout the project the building inspector would pop by. Larry and his wife became friends with him and he told them a lot about his job, revealing how at times he can come under pressure to issue a permit even when one shouldn't be. Thailand and the power of the envelope!

There are numerous stories in Thailand of the constructions of homes and condos going horribly wrong. At another house in the street, built a little after Larry's, when the foundations were being laid, instead of sand being put in and pounded down, the builders literally threw rubbish into the holes in the ground. After the house had been built, the foundations then started to settle and cracks started running up the side of the house. Larry knows that the mix of sand and cement at his place is just as it should be. With dodgy builders, who knows what sort of property you might end up with?

Many items in the house have their own story. When they moved in they had no curtains and shortly after a husband and wife team knocked on the door and asked them if they needed curtains. Loaded up with catalogues of curtains, they were invited inside and curtains were ordered! There's always someone ready to sell you what you need in Thailand.

The centerpiece of the home is the living room which I would put at perhaps 45 square metres, making it larger than some Bangkok expats' entire abode. The most striking feature is the floor to ceiling teak.

There's a library where thousands of Larry's books are kept, although many didn't make it across the world, so big was his collection. Adjacent to the library is a small office. There's a master bedroom of some size with its own en suite, bigger than many Bangkok apartments, and a guest bedroom which would, again, exceed the size of some Bangkok studio rooms. A second bathroom is located between the guest bedroom and the large kitchen which is the pride and joy of the owner, an accomplished chef who studied at one of America's top cooking schools.

The home also features a Thai-style kitchen outside where the Mrs. can stink up the neighbourhood!


Farang house Thailand


They found a team in Chiang Mai who came down and built the kitchen, the cabinets and they also made the closets in the bedrooms. Larry and his wife bought many new appliances and outlined the dimensions so everything could be built around them.

In Lampang they could not find suitable doors or windows. When driving through Uttaradit province on their way to visit family in Buriram, they passed a house fixtures outlet. The quality of what they saw exceeded anything available in Lampang so they used that vendor to source doors and windows. Everything had been kiln-dried and so there is no warping as is so common in the humidity of Thailand.

When building the house they learned all about teak wood. In Thailand there is legal and illegal teak, the difference being that legal teak is that which you have a receipt for. The teak in the house is about 80% legal. Where did the illegal teak come from? A man who usually wears a brown uniform sold it to them on the side!

Even in the heat of summer, the home is remarkably cool and air-conditioning generally isn't needed. Larry runs the air in his bedroom for much of the year, but there is no need for it in the cool season when the north can actually get a little chilly.


Farang house Thailand


Throughout the property, on the porch, on the eves of the house, wherever you look there are ornate details and workmanship. The property really looks striking. Open one of the many closets in the guestroom and a light comes on, hardly what you expect behind a wooden closet with an ornate Thai design carved on the front.

Many Thai homes don't have gutters whereas Larry's does, even on the carport.

There is a real feel of quality about the house. All the lines are straight and you don't have any sinking floors, or collapsing ceiling, or cracks or any obvious signs that corners were cut or the workmanship shoddy, tell tale signs so common on properties in Thailand.

There's no shortage of colour throughout the house with a red library, a yellow office, an orange kitchen, a raspberry guestroom and a purple master bedroom. Larry loves purple but no, he doesn't bat for the other team – he just likes purple.

The painter almost painted the wrong color in the wrong room, which shows why you need to be on site – or at the very least have an on-site project manager you really trust.

When I ask him what he would have done differently if he was doing it all again, it's minor stuff. He would have put hot water in the kitchen. Washing the dishes in cold water just isn't the same. A hot water heater will probably be installed as there is plenty of space in the kitchen. The whole house feels spacious.


Farang house Thailand


The house still looks great today a number of years after it was built, in contrast to many in Thailand. Some aren't maintained, some suffer in the weather and some were just plain badly built.

It may be like a little slice of paradise, but it's not perfect, at least not quite. The library gets little natural light and the office, which is set right in the middle of the house, gets virtually none. And while the floor to ceiling wood in the living room is very much a feature of the house, stained teak is dark. But this is really nit picking and the house is a wonderful home.

Lampang's power system suffers in inclement weather and heavy rain is often followed by power cuts which can last hours. On a perfectly pleasant Songkran evening the power cut out for 40 odd minutes for no apparent reason, the third power cut in 24 hours. Such frustrations are obviously beyond Larry's control.

So many foreigners buying or building a home in Thailand seem to go Thai-style development where every house looks the same and is built to the Thai preference – often designed to accommodate 3 generations. Why would you want 3 bathrooms in a house where just 2 people live?


Farang house


Westerners in Thailand often pay more than they have to. Across the board, many throw money away unnecessarily. Some of the prices I see Westerners pay for homes exceed what you would pay for similar in the West – a sure sign that you have paid too much.

Larry's home, including the land, the architect's fees, the materials, the labour for the various contractors, the government fees, everything, came in at a little over 3,000,000 baht. You read that right – just a bit over 3 million baht for a good-sized, beautiful home! In today's dollars that's around $US 100,000. At the time he built it, with the favorable exchange rate it was more like $80,000!

The cost of materials has gone up so building such a house might cost a little more today, but not that much more.

Larry insists that you could build a very nice house for considerably less. Using less wood and more tiles – and when it comes to tiles there's huge choice in Thailand – would lower the price.

Larry has some advice for other foreigners thinking of building a house in Thailand. When it comes to choosing a contractor, look at what they have built and go as far as talking to the owners of those houses. Work with the architect and make sure you have everything the way you want it. Make sure you know exactly which materials you want and why you're using those materials. More than anything, be there on site every day for the duration of the project! Either you or your partner needs to be there all the time. Understand what it is the builders and contractors are going to do before they do it. Catching a problem before it happens makes it a lot easier to fix! It is highly recommended that you buy all the materials yourself and pay the builders for their labour only.

I've seen many foreigners' homes in Thailand and while I don't doubt that there are some beautiful and incredible mansions scattered around the country, of all the homes I have seen, this is the one I like most. When you look at the quality of the building, the incredible finishing and the overall feel, it is just wonderful. And at just 3 million baht, it represents amazing value.

As we sat there on the first morning of the Songkran holiday, just 10 minutes from the heart of Lampang, the birds were tweeting outside the window and I was in no hurry to go anywhere. I could have lounged around the house all day. Larry has every reason to be proud of his beautiful home. You could have a similar property in Thailand at a bargain price if you take your time to do it right.

* It should be noted that foreigners cannot own land in Thailand and as such most foreigners' homes are actually in the name of their wife or another Thai citizen.



*Where* was this photo taken?

Bangkok

The photo in the last column was taken on Sukhumvit Road, near soi 5 where all sorts of characters linger 24/7. So where was this week's mystery photo taken?! All you have to do is tell me where the photo was taken. There are 2 prizes this week – a 500 baht credit at the Oh My Cod fish and chips restaurant, and a 500 baht voucher from one of the best farang food venues and home of Bangkok's best burger, Duke's Express.

Terms and conditions: 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. 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!

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 – A reality check.

I notice that in your columns and emails there's a lot of complaining about Thailand. It's getting more expensive, the people aren't as friendly and so on and so on. Well let me honestly sum up my two weeks back home in Canada. Things are VERY expensive here, the food sucks, women are fat, and it was -23 degrees Celsius here. My rent per month is now $1,300 for a one-bed, one-bath apartment on the shitty side of town. I won't even bother getting a massage from a fat white chick for $130. Me and the boys went out to a nightclub downtown. We waited for 40 minutes outside in the bitter Canadian cold. Finally got in the club to realise that the ratio of men to women was extreme. Too many guys come here to work. Had to pay $20 just to enter. My first beer was $9.50. I left quickly and the 15-minute cab ride was $47. I went to my local pub after work last night. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and had three beers. Price was $54, not including tip. I wanted to shed some light on Thailand. I will be back as soon as possible!

Soi Nana, 2012.

I sat at the Golden Bar in Soi Nana watching a deranged young lady dancing by herself on the footpath, her mangy leg tats on show. She was happy in her own way, a bit too high, having a great party for 1 in her own head. She came over and helped herself to a couple of cigarettes from my pack on the bench and almost made off with my lighter until I objected. Her good time soon came to an end as 4 young street urchins turned up and started to harass her. The eldest boy couldn't be more than 10 was carrying a baby around which was only a few months old. Truly tragic, it was as if that baby's life was worth nothing at all. It could have been dehydrated or at the point of death, yet who would know or intervene? The boy was certainly not a fit guardian in any case. Meanwhile, the party lady had escaped across the road and sat down, looking sad and dejected. You would think she is possibly bi-polar and in need of medication. All-in-all, it really wasn't much fun to witness any of this. Not sure if I can be bothered to head back for more. Cowboy has a better vibe happening, though is not without its annoyances.

Untouchable on Thailand's roads!

I purchased an electric motorbike this week. I've been in Buriram for 9 months now and couldn't stand being immobile any more. The motorbike is a Jeelang Best and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a limited salary / budget. Some of the positive features include not requiring (1) Registration, (2) Insurance, and (3) A helmet (albeit not recommended). Also, if my information is correct, the police cannot stop a person riding an electric motorbike for any reason other than drunk driving or careless / reckless driving. Yesterday, a cop initially waved at me to stop, having about 6 Thai motorcyclists stopped for not wearing helmets, and then reluctantly waved me through. Ha! Last, and obviously, it isn't recommended for driving in the larger cities or on highways.



A Western woman barfines.

Every time I go to Bangkok I thank my lucky stars that my daughter was not born in Thailand as the way of life that is expected by people's daughters. That doesn't mean that I go to these bars to “catch out” western men. My family and I go to these bars because over the years these “bar girls” have become our friends. I regularly text or email girls that we have met in the bars. My 16-year old daughter has many as Facebook friends. Not all western women look down on this industry and many of the girls are a victim of circumstance. When we go to Bangkok I barfine girls. I'm sure that just got you to say OMG! Yes, I barfine them and take them shopping. We spend an entire day at Platinum, MBK, Emporium then on to Patpong for the night market. Some have been tour guides, taking us to local temples or restaurants they suggest. I treat these girls as how I see them, my equal and my friend. I buy them lunch and dinner and usually a gift of shoes or something they like. In return my daughter and I have an enjoyable day, shopping with a friend but with the bonus of Thai prices for something or taking us to a shop we didn't know existed. At the end of the day I always give the girl a tip or gift to thank them for their time. I don't look down on these girls. Thai women are the most gentle and hospitable people on this earth with hearts of gold. These girls are my equals. It is a shame that you see western women in these areas as people who want the money shot and who are sanctimonious. We are not all like that and enjoy these bars for the company, the ambience and the experience.

Thoughts on Cambodia.

I am a frequent visitor to Cambodia, and find myself completely bypassing Thailand for my holidays now. One of the things I love about it is having seen both Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields, it's so hard to wrap your brain around how something so great and so heinous could have happened in some little backwater country. Also, when you see the country now, you have to remember that they were virtually set back 1,000 years during the horror years, and lost most of their best DNA, so what you are seeing is in some ways a 35-year old civilization. Also for anyone with Thai nationalistic thoughts, it's always good to remember that a huge part of Thai culture – music, food and boxing came from Cambodia. One other big reason Thailand has done well is that the US military built the infrastructure there, as in roads, in addition to providing lots of money. For me, it's like on an absolute scale, yes, many nasty things you write about are very true, but on a relative scale, I am willing to cut them some slack, knowing what they've been through. I find the people far less cunning than the Thais, even the bargirls, many of whom are there only to sell drinks, or as window dressing. The top shelf girls I have seen at Pontoon or Heart of Darkness were some of the most beautiful women I have seen in my life. But of course as in other things, your mileage may vary. As I tell others, it's a beautiful, but fxxxed up place.

Death insurance!

If I am in a serious relationship with a Thai girl and they start to think about marriage and begin to ask what money, assets and life insurance I have, it always gets me a bit worried, especially after reading stories about farangs being bumped off or falling off balconies! My stock answer now is that I have enough money for a good future but I do not have any life insurance. Instead I have "death insurance" and on my demise it will pay out for a team of forensic and criminal detectives to investigate my death and all the circumstances around it. They will review CCTV tapes, interrogate any witnesses, take all evidence back to the UK for testing, check financial activity and carry out surveillance on all involved parties. It's not that I don't trust you my love, but because I am important to my family and an integral part of my business, they insist on it.



It was awfully quiet in Bangkok's bar areas this week with very little happening. Some bars only had about a third of their staff show up for work and one popular Soi Cowboy bar which usually has 40 or 50 dancers had just 7 dancers one night. And it seemed as if it was the prettiest girls who had gone home to spend the Thai new year with family, leaving the less attractive girls in the bar. If you stepped into a naughty bar in Bangkok for the first time in your life this week you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about!

There were serious rumblings of discontent this week amongst bar operators in Nana, particularly those who have been in business for a long time in the plaza. Some are unwilling to pay the asking price of the new leases which will become effective in July and while negotiations are ongoing, it does rather seem that some bar owners are not at all happy at the thought that come the end of the current leases – July 7th – someone else might come in and take over the bar(s) they have taken so long to build up. Some bar owners are talking of removing all the fixtures and fittings in their bar and leaving venues in such a condition that they would require major renovation by whoever signs the new lease. While everything is very much up in the air and there is still 2 and a half months before the changeover, it seems that a number of bars are going to disappear completely come July 7th. It also seems that there might be an interim period where the number of bars open in the plaza is down as new leaseholders build new bars.

Here's hoping that when The Nana Group takes control of Nana Plaza they do something about the ladyboy problem at the entrance which is getting worse. Where once packs of ladyboys were a feature at the mouth of the plaza when the lights went out inside the plaza and liquored up punters spilled out on to the soi, visiting the plaza very early one evening this week, a bunch of shemales were blocking the entrance even before bars had dancers on stage.

Spanky's in Pattaya will host a Rodeo Cowgirl Party on Wednesday this coming week. It will feature half-priced drinks all night long for customers who wear a cowboy hat.

As per usual, I was called a spoil sport for choosing not to partake in the Songkran revelry this year. What I find most annoying is that those who request to be spared from the water fighting – possibly because they are on their way to work or an appointment, or simply because they prefer not to play – come in for special attention. Throwing an entire bucket of water over someone who requested, perhaps even pleaded that someone refrain is just plain poor form in my book. I find it amazing how in 20 odd years what was once apparently a charming and gentle celebration has turned into warfare. The other nasty aspect this year was the way those who were playing targeted motorbikes. Why sprinkle a few drops of water on a passer by's shoulder when you could empty a whole bucket, or point a high-powered water gun or hose at the head of someone riding a motorbike. Shameful.


Songkran


A mate of a long-time reader was attacked by a Thai youth last month. As with some of the really nasty stuff that happens in this city when the victim is a foreigner, the attack happened very late at night, around 2 AM – and nothing appeared in the press. The victim somehow managed to fend off potentially fatal blows after the youth attacked him with a machete not far north of Suhkumvit Road. He did not get away unscathed however. His forearm bore the brunt of the attack and he has been left with a broken bone, a large scar but worst of all, he has lost the use of his hand.

The next event at Patpong's Black Pagoda will be this coming Friday night, with the panties palooza. It kicks off at 10 PM, runs until late and will feature all sorts of fun and games with the girls in just their panties!

I have often said that while the average Thai woman looks like she's in great shape, get her to run 100 metres and she would fall over before she covers the distance. OK, so that's perhaps an exaggeration but you get the idea. This notion was given some credence when I heard an anecdotal story of a 70-year old who barfined a 22-year old from a Soi Cowboy bar and took her to the Asoke Place short-time hotel, just around the corner. There are perhaps 20 steps leading up to the lobby of the hotel and the guy charged up the steps, obviously keen to get down to business . When he reached the top he turned around to see that the lady was making slow progress walking up the steps and was tiring! So the 70-year old goes back down and this senior, 48 years older than the girl he had barfined and helps her up the steps. I hope she had some energy in reserve.

I was thinking about the worst thing about having a Thai girlfriend / partner / wife. I thought long and hard about it and what I came up with in the end is that sometimes it is better to lie to them than tell them the truth. So many Thai girls – and this transcends age, education, socio-economic status etc are so hung up about certain things, and so sensitive that often it is better to lie. I had one Thai lady ask me if I had had more than one girlfriend in my life. I said yes and she was genuinely shocked and seemed to see me as some sort of playboy and this as some sort of sin! If the phone rings and it is an ex, I am honest about who called. Yes, it is an ex, a lady I have not seen for a very long time and have no intention of seeing again. That doesn't seem to matter and the average Thai lady can get very upset about it, even when you explain clearly that it is an ex whose number you had long deleted from your phone! That you have to lie to someone to avoid issues is something I hate – and something I am unwilling to do. For me, that's possibly the worst thing about having a Thai bird as your other half.


Lolitas


In Chiang Mai for a few days last week, we dined at two riverside restaurants that feature the word "river" in their name, a new spot which was spectacular, and one venue which has been around for decades which was disappointing. First up was a popular venue that has been around since 1984 and is often featured in Chiang Mai places to go / eat lists. The restaurant is set on the river and we got a decent table sitting on the lower level, with a view out over the river, all very pleasant it must be said. We ordered 4 Thai dishes and the food wasn't bad – not great, but not bad either. The problem was not the food but the complete dismissal of an issue. The sun had dipped below the horizon, the sky was turning a deep blue and we had just about finished our meal. Sitting at the table in the back left-hand corner on the lowest tier, there was a gap between the restaurant's main building and the adjacent building, also a restaurant. In that space was rubbish. Someone had discarded trash there and in this no man's land it seemed staff from neither restaurant had bothered to pick it up. When you get piles of rubbish you get rodents, and where you find rodents… Out of the corner of my eye, I spied something in the corner, next to our table… Coming from a country which doesn't have these creatures you might say I have a greater aversion to them than the average person. It was a snake – a very large snake! Obviously part of the reason for its presence in the corner of a busy restaurant – the whole lower tier was full with not a free table – was at least partly because of the garbage. The snake slithered into the rubbish, just a few feet from us. I mentioned it to the staff discreetly, so as not to upset or disturb the experience of the other diners. I looked across and the snake was still slithering around. Mentioning to the staff that there was a large – probably 6 feet in length, at a guess – snake brought complete disinterest. Mai pen rai and the staff member just wondered off! Perhaps I should have said in a loud voice something to the effect of, "There is a large snake here in the corner of the restaurant in the rubbish and it may or may not be poisonous and you say it doesn't matter!" The reaction might have been kind of interesting and I might have been on to a YouTube hit if I had recorded it. We upped and left and won't be back.

Fortunately that was our only dud dining experience. On our first night we walked past a beautiful looking Thai restaurant and I said to the other half that it looked like a nice spot to enjoy our last night in town. The River Market only opened a couple of weeks ago and in just one visit has won us over. Set in a beautiful, purpose-built, Thai-style building on the banks of the river it makes a nice setting. The menu is well laid-out featuring many Thai dishes popular with foreigners and some are made with high quality *imported* meats such as the massaman lamb which is superb. The quality of the food, from the ingredients used to the cooking to the presentation is *exceptional*. The ambience with the beautiful building, large wooden tables spaced apart, well-chosen music played at a soft level, friendly staff and even a farang customer services manager who visited each table was all absolutely first-rate. This restaurant serves the sort of food I thought I would frequently enjoy when I first came to Thailand, but which ultimately has been so difficult to find. And the damage? Given the quality of the food, and the whole experience, 870 baht for 4 Thai dishes, and a couple of plates of rice was reasonable. We chose some of the pricier menu items but with the quality in mind, it represents good value for money. If I lived in Chiang Mai, I'd be a regular customer at River Market. If you go to Chiang Mai, you MUST visit this restaurant. It really is that good!


River Market


It's 3 months since the new branch of Bourbon Street opened after its forced departure from Washington Square where it had been a favourite of foreign residents of Bangkok well over 20 years. Many wondered whether something would be lost with the relocation to Ekamai – but it's positively booming. I swung by this week and discovered that Doug isn't resting on his laurels. Tim, the friendly yet humble American chef who was previously at Bully's is now running the kitchen and there have been a number of improvements to the ever popular Tuesday night Mexican buffet including the introduction of new dishes – Mexican lasagna, a Mexican style shepherd's pie, Mexican salad and a very tasty apple burrito.

Sunrise Tacos is celebrating its 5th anniversary and all locations in Bangkok will have a happy hour from noon to 8PM, from Monday the 23rd of April through to the 30th. Buy one bottle of Carlsberg at 80 baht and get a second bottle free. Get one 16 oz glass of Gold Margarita FREE when you buy one Gold Margarita with 100% Agave Tequila for 135 baht. Order one shot of El Jimador Tequila with 100% Agave for 85 baht and get a second shot FREE. Get one Frosty Fruit Freeze FREE when you order one Frosty Fruit Freeze at 79 baht. Order one dish of Chilaquiles – which the owner tells me are great for a hangover – for 195 baht and get another dish of Chilaquiles free.

I've been following the US Secret Service Colombian prostitute scandal and it has made me think about visitors to Thailand who indulge with working girls here. Guys should count themselves lucky that the girls here aren't sophisticated because many open themselves up to potential problems. Some Thai working girls have customers' business cards. Why oh why would someone in a senior position in an internationally recognised company give his card to a working girl? Ask your favourite working girl to see the cards she has and I'll put money on that there will be companies you recognise there – and probably even a few from local embassies too. And I bet many of these guys are married, too. It's asking for trouble with no upside whatsoever.

For Aussies and Kiwis in Thailand keen to pay respect to our fallen, but not forgotten heroes on ANZAC Day, this post has heaps of info about what goes on Kanchanaburi each year and how to get there.



Quote of the week comes from Pattaya Gary, "Pattaya is an extraordinary case of exactly what Thailand doesn't want within its borders."

Reader's story of the week comes from Mr. Nomdy Ploom and is titled, "Not Just A Cinema."

The New Zealand Herald ran a front page story about Thailand, a dangerous holiday destination.

A Thai woman resident in Australia has been found guilty of possessing a Thai sex worker as a slave.

CNNGo highlighted not medical, but military tourism in Thailand.

KFC causes widespread consternation with its ad capitalising on the tsunami warning in Thailand.

From the BBC, porn halted parliament briefly in Thailand this week.

From MSNBC, Thai teens ponder their choices – sex or soccer?!

The story of an Irishman extremely ill in Bangkok is a reminder that taking out travel insurance is prudent.

In India, a big growth market for tourists, jet skiing in Thailand gets a real bad rap!



Ask Sunbelt Legal

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

Question 1: I like to get out on my bicycle regularly. There are a number of bloody canines that rush out barking at my heels. Can anything be done about this through the police? If I have an accident, are the owners liable for injuries, loss of income and damage to my bicycle? If so, how do I claim?

Sunbelt responds: Yes, the owners are liable to pay for injuries and damage caused by their dogs although it may be difficult identifying the owner if the dog is loose. If you can identify the owner and negotiation for injuries and or damage doesn't work you should report the dog and the owner to the police.

Question 2: Are foreign drivers licenses acceptable in Thailand without an international drivers licence? I have a current Australian drivers licence and will be in country for 3 weeks on a tourist visa and wish to hire a car to visit my wife's family in Roi Et. Can I just use my Australian licence?

Sunbelt responds: You are legally required to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Thailand. However this is often not enforced. While rental agencies may rent you a car, insurance may not cover you if you have an accident while driving without an IDP.

Question 3: Is a capital gains tax applied / withheld on my Thai bank account for things like interest, dividends, stock price gains? Say, I deposit money into a CD, will the bank withhold a percentage of my interest? Or would / should I declare my capital gain as income with the Thai tax authorities? How does it work for somebody on a tourist visa (non-resident) or somebody on a non-immigrant O (retirement) visa? I realize that SBA may not be happy to give tax advice, but maybe they can comment in a general way how it works.

Sunbelt responds: The bank has to withhold 15% of the interest income and give it to the Thai Revenue Department. It is the taxpayer’s decision to have it excluded from the computation of Personal Income Tax owed, provided that a tax of 15% is withheld at the source and if the interest on saving deposits in commercial banks is not more than 20,000 baht during a taxable year.


Question 4: I live in Bangkok and have a house in Hua Hin. The property is registered in my Thai daughter's name, as is the bank account used to take care of it, with myself acting as her contact. We do not use it very much and have had it listed for short-term rental with a local agent. We have used the same farang agent for the past 5 years or so without any major problems, although he has not had a client in it for about 18 months. Last December he advised me that he had a client that wanted to rent the house over the Christmas / New Year period. We agreed to the offer and he sent me a copy of both a contract, and a pro-forma invoice, showing the rental amount, conditions, charges and commission due. Despite several emails and unanswered telephone calls, he has failed to pay the proceeds to my daughter's bank account, and is ignoring emails requesting payment. He no longer has an office in Hua Hin, but I believe he still owns a house there. He has also changed the name of his company and its registered address, just listing a PO Box number in Bangkok and a couple of mobile phone numbers. Can you advise how to proceed with this matter, and if there is any legal recourse open to bring him to account.

Sunbelt responds: If the agent did rent out the house and has kept the money then you need to file a police report for theft against him. However, you need to check and make sure that the house was actually rented out before doing so, as perhaps the renter backed out.

Sukhothai


I am back in Bangkok after almost a full two weeks away from the city. Escaping to and floating around the north was great in a part of the country that makes such a relaxing change from the excitement, but also the stresses of Bangkok. While it's always nice to return to Bangkok, I could have happily stayed away longer. And perhaps I should have stayed up north a bit longer because it's awfully quiet in Bangkok at the moment. The oppressive heat – it has been horribly humid this week – and Songkran combine to make this month and next two of the least comfortable and quietest. Hopefully things will pick up soon…or I might take off again somewhere else for a while.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Firehouse