Stickman's Weekly Column May 6th, 2012

First Impressions of Vietnam



I'd never visited is Vietnam which is kinda surprising given how long I've lived in the region, how much I like travelling and how the pursuit of good food is a big part of the travel experience for me. Vietnam is but an hour and a bit on the big bird from Bangkok and with opportunities for street photography said to be first class it was time to right a wrong. On a whim I decided to get out of Bangkok and visit the country many long-term Westerners in Bangkok still refer to as 'Nam.





The trip to Ho Chi Minh, AKA Saigon, was made with little research. Despite recommendations from friends of places to check out, and even knowing some Stickman readers live in Ho Chi Minh, I chose to do it my own way. There's little more rewarding that discovering things on the ground yourself. And going solo means I can do my own thing, go where I want, when I want without having to consider anyone else. Travelling alone you reach out more and make a greater effort to engage people – and I've also found that the locals seem more likely to get chatty with someone on their own than someone with a companion or two in tow.

I finally made it to Vietnam this week and what follows are a few snaps along with a brief description. This is very much a brief look, and my initial impressions of the city. A more detailed look at Ho Chi Minh will follow next week.


Saigon

When I think of Vietnam, I think of conical hats and ao dais, the national dress worn by Vietnamese women. Conical hats could be seen everywhere, but the ao dais were harder to come by.

Saigon

The children are all smiles but something seems to happen when they get older when smiles are only seen when you would expect to see them. Smiles aren't overused or abused, as they are somewhere else…


Saigon

There's much Western style architecture to be seen in the downtown area, the influences of once being a French colony easy to see.


Phnom Penh guesthouse
Phnom Penh hotel

Saigon

But getting around is not nearly as easy as Bangkok. There's no skytrain or underground, no pedestrian bridges and traffic is equally bad with its own unique rhythms that take a little getting used to.


Saigon

It does rather seem that, just like in Thailand, it is women who do a lot of the work, even menial labour.



Saigon

Vietnam might be officially socialist but there are few reminders. Whenever you look the people of Ho Chi Minh are pursuing opportunities and seem to be capitalistic by nature. I didn't see one beggar. Not one. You want money? You go out and earn it! What a nice change from Bangkok.



Saigon

That awful phrase "same same but different" applies. Thailand has tuktuks, Cambodia has motodops and Vietnam has cyclos.



Saigon

Food on the street appeared clean and whenever I saw someone eating street food I found myself looking more closely at the food and then over at the vendor where I would be impressed by their workspace and how the food was prepared. Whereas in Thailand street food may taste ok even if the vendor's hygiene looks questionable, on the streets of Ho Chi Minh the food looks great and you actually want to try it!



Saigon

A vendor in the main downtown area has current edition magazines and yesterday's newspapers from all around the world. The downtown area has a very cosmopolitan feel with a lot of high-end shopping but an absence of US fast food restaurants. If McDonalds, Burger King or Starbucks have branches in Ho Chi Minh, I didn't see them.



Saigon

Slim, fair-skinned, tramp stamp-free, superior English, a ready smile and miniskirts in abundance. Need I say more?!


There's not a lot of meat here and a full article with more thoughts and something of a comparison between Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok will run next week. I need a bit of time to get my head clear on this, but what should be a slam dunk victory for Bangkok in almost every respect is not that at all…

Before I round off, let me say this. I was chatting with the owner of Tilac a week after Songkran. He and a few mates had had a couple of weeks in Vietnam and when asked about it, his eyes went wide, a big grinned appeared, a bunch of superlatives followed with his closing words something to the effect that if Thailand didn't have gogo bars, the equation would be very different…

More on Vietnam next week.





*Where* was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was super easy, taken in the lobby of Nana Hotel about 7 years ago – and many readers got it right. 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 WEEKThe deteriorating industry.

When you go out now to the various discos and gogos and so on, I find for a large part that it's neither all that friendly nor fun. You start talking to a girl and she immediately cuts to the "how much you give me part" which is now a pretty staggering 3,000 baht as a uniform ask for the most part. I simply won't pay this amount. If you offer 2,000 they often storm off or give you a snarky comment. Pattaya is much better now for this kind of thing. Also the big hooker discos like Spicy are absolutely invaded by farang blokes who are invariably pissed and aggressive. I went to Chock Disco, another after hours haunt off Petchaburi Road, and I have to say I felt positively scared in there with loads of dodgy Africans, weirdo Arabs and pissed and aggressive farangs. On top of that the Thai security look like killers. I'm glad I had the opportunity to enjoy this side of Bangkok in the past because I don't think it's going to get better. In general, I just find that staff, mamasans and girls are absolutely obsessed with money and won't give you the time of day unless you are directly paying them through drinks or whatever. Why would you go to Thailand to buy smiles? I might as well go to normal clubs and talk to whoever I want for free!

The fun is now in the mainstream.

I was recently in Thailand for a month. Soi 4 is an old hangout of mine since we used to live there for 3 years in the 90s while I was at ISB. I can't be arsed to put more fuel on the fire, but would instead recommend (as you are now working in a more general and positive vein) doing a weekly piece on soi 11, a street that just gets better and better. The design and proliferation of new eateries and clubs there just shows how Thailand is developing in a different direction while the old nightlife (hooker) areas seem to be descending into some violent and unpleasant turmoil. It's bizarre, the attitudes of many in soi 4 just get worse and worse and the obsession with money just makes the experience anything but fun. Soi 11 on the other hand I think offers many more interesting and exciting opportunities. The fun now is more in the mainstream, and this is a good thing.

Chiang Mai not always charming.

I love Chiang Mai but the worst case of violence I've ever seen in Thailand was around the northern stretch of the moat at 9 PM one Songkran. I arrived to find 4 or 5 guys beating corpses with wooden poles. The bodies had been stripped naked and were not even twitching. There was lots of blood and broken bones. And the attackers continued beating them despite the fact none of them was moving any longer. The worst part was that there must have been 2 or 3 hundred spectators doing nothing to assist, and I'm ashamed to say I continued on my way. I desperately wanted to do something, but I couldn't imagine any course of action which wouldn't have resulted in me being beaten too.





Should jumping be mentioned?

You touched a nerve with your piece about suicides in Central World Plaza. As an Irish journalist I know that the official language re suicides is couched in euphemisms, dissembling and downright lies. And for various reasons. Re the Central World incident: I have no doubt that the propaganda about the victim breaking every bone in his body but still living is to put other potential jumpers right off the idea. Who wants to wake up a month later a paraplegic? Secondly, if a shopper thought that there was even a slight chance that they would be flattened by a falling body as they ambled about between the clothes racks, they might be encouraged to pick a shop without a dozen floors above them. In the case of my home country, Ireland, the official police approach is to believe that coverage of suicides leads to more suicides. On the DART railway line which crosses Dublin, anytime someone kills themselves by throwing themselves under a train, the incident is never fully reported. Instead it is euphemistically referred to as "an incident on the line". It is disturbing, but not surprising perhaps, that countries as different as Ireland and Thailand have such a common approach to these awful tragedies.

Being the centre of attention.

I know how you must have felt in Chainat province, having your fellow customers and the restaurant staff discuss your dining habits in your presence. A similar thing happened to me this morning at a restaurant I've frequented for many years. I was eating the usual 3 dishes that I order every day – gai gratiem, goong gratiem, and sen yai pad see eew gai, when a customer walked by my table and said in Thai to the cook, "Wow, the farang is eating 3 dishes. He must like your cooking." The cook replied, "Yes. And sometimes he eats 4 dishes!" "What country is he from?", asked the customer. "I don't know", said the cook, who then announced to the entire restaurant both my occupation and my employer. I felt like a star in a bad movie that could be titled Farangs in the Mist! Needless to say, I dislike being the center of attention. Let me add that I am slim and fit, and that apart from fruit, these 3 dishes are my only food each day. So why all the fuss?

Meter reluctance.

For the past 6 months or so there has been a notable change in the attitudes of Bangkok taxi drivers, particularly with regard to using the meter. In the past there were guys who would not use it, but this practice seems to be becoming ubiquitous. I have had nights when 3 or 4 taxis in a row refused to use the meter. It is most prominent for me at night on Sukhumvit, but I have also had it occur with taxis coming to the condo, and even at Bumrungrad. Is there anything that can be done about this obnoxious practice? I'm told that it is the law that taxis must use the meter, and that I should just call the police. Fat chance! These drivers can be quite surly as well. Any advice would be appreciated.

Safe to use minibuses?

Since the government has put some kind of speed recording device on the public minibuses I have not had one pass me on two trips from Hua Hin to Bangkok in the past month. Instead of weaving all over the road at 120+ km/h, they travel no faster than 100 and are model drivers in the left lane. If the device records one speed violation they get fined. Second violation and their license is taken away. Truly amazing that the government finally did something to stop all the minibus carnage.



Washington Square battles on and the venue in the heart of the square, The Sportsman, remains open despite parts of the square now looking like a disaster area. The section of the square closest to Emporium is being gutted and the buildings up to the side of The Sportsman are expected to be stripped, gutted and possibly knocked down in the coming weeks. Signs have been put up in Thai stating that parts of the square are dangerous and off limits. That part of the square once home to the old Silver Dollar and Lone Staar bars may look a right mess, yet business continues. The Sportsman was contacted by their landlord this week enquiring whether they would like yet another lease extension. They do and The Sportsman is now good until at least the beginning of October. What happens then is anybody's guess but for now the square is being demolished while some venues remain open. The bars along the northern edge of square remain open as are Denny's Corner and the other bar at the soi 22 entrance.

American southern rock band Rehab will perform tonight at Nana Liquid, on the ground floor of the Nana Hotel.

Expect Nana Plaza to be the big talking point for the next two months as we count down to the new landlord taking over. Much of the speculation up until now has been about which bars will stick around and which will cease to exist. I have refrained from giving too much detail away as it wouldn't be fair for staff in those venues to find out indirectly via this column that they may soon be out of a job. The big talking point now is just how much prices will increase. It is inevitable that rent increases will be passed on to customers. Inside the plaza I guess standard drinks will go up to around 180 baht. Standard drinks in the plaza currently run around 140 – 160 baht in most venues although if you hunt around you can find cheaper. Prices might even hit 190 baht for a standard drink. 200 baht is a psychological barrier I don't think they will breach just yet. Today's Bangkok bar hounds – those guys who really enjoy the bar scene – don't strike me as that price sensitive and I think many will willingly part with 200 baht a drink. At the end of the day, for someone on holiday, even if they consumed 100 drinks over the course of a couple of weeks, that would be 40 – 60 baht more per drink than today's prices which x 100 drinks is around 5,000 baht more. Looking at the big picture and the total amount spent on an annual holiday, it's not that much. It's the guys on fixed incomes, perhaps those guys who retired way back before the 100 baht level had been breached who may feel the pinch. Still, if you you're watching your pennies then you're probably taking advantage of the happy hours at Soi Cowboy and not a Nana regular anyway.

And in the beer bars on the Nana Plaza side of Sukhumvit soi 4 expect big price increases. The mooted rent rises on the shophouses right outside the plaza run a few hundred percent so price increases are a must if the bars are to remain viable. Once the new rental rates kick in, space out front of Nana Plaza on the soi will be more expensive than space inside. If you enjoy the 65 baht beers offered at most soi 4 beer bars make the most of it because it's hard to see that being the price come July. Whatever happens to prices on soi 4, there could be some winners. The Golden Beer Bar outside Nana has no reason to increase prices as their rent is not due to increase and another beneficiary should be Bar4. The large, nicely decked out beer bar a little further down soi 4 on the other side of the road isn't affected by the rent increases and there will be no reason for them to increase prices. If they keep the 65 baht pricing in place, they could really boom. I do wonder whether the owner will be approached and asked to increase his prices. In fact, I will put money on that happening and the person to make that request will be….STOP!!!, Stick, you can't say that here on a public forum!

While I find it distasteful to gain pleasure or satisfaction from someone else's misfortune or discomfort, I confess to having had a wry smirk or two at the fury that has apparently overcome one long-term Nana bar baron who it is commonly known previously bullied other bar owners into RAISING prices.


Thailand snake


The Angelwitch snake show is going strong and one of the famous twins wraps the python around her neck before other girls make a show of cavort with it. Angelwitch has refreshed quite a few shows and is worth a look if you haven't visited recently.Spanky's Pattaya

Bright new neon promoting the increasingly popular Las Vegas was erected on the top floor of Nana Plaza this week, a sign of what is to come with the beautification of the plaza.

Is it part of a new trend or is it mere coincidence? 6 girls who once shook the poles at chrome pole palaces in Saphan Kwai, the Thai gogo bar area, are now doing their stuff at Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy.

Speaking of Dollhouse, those three large units in the venue are air purifiers; it's nice to see a bar trying to keep all the punters happy.

Spanky's in Pattaya will host a military party this week. I am not sure what it will involve but I guess the girls will be dressed up in fatigues. Spanky's Pattaya now has more than 30 girls and the vibe in the bar is improving. They are working on the same philosophy as Bangkok where the bar is all about fun. A Bangkok gogo bar transplanted into Pattaya can be a bit bland for the Pattaya locals who tend to like things a bit spicier so the owner is working on it.

Still in Pattaya, Soi LK Metro seems to be gaining in popularity and while Walking Street isn't under any threat of losing its nightlife crown, it's nice to have the option of another area to check out. Of the recently opened LK Metro venues, Sugar Sugar is getting a lot of positive reviews.

The number of passengers using the skytrain appeared to dip a little from Tuesday of this past week when the concession allowing free travel on the 5 stations on the extension beyond Onut was removed. That's the good news. The bad news is that if you are taking a trip involving those new stations, there's a 15 baht surcharge. A journey from, say, Udom Suk to Ratchatewi station which is just 12 stops will now set you back 55 baht. I didn't see any publicity campaign about this new pricing and many commuters arriving at one of the 5 new stations this week found they needed to queue up and pay a 15 baht supplement. The queues were long and the mood angry!

Are there any women anywhere in the world whose phone, IPad, laptop or even bedside table is full of a collection of many beautiful photos…of themselves?! What is it with Thai women and self-admiration?



I am loathe to criticise what is otherwise a really excellent, well-run venue and a slick operation, but some things just wind me up and I can't help but mention them. I really hate it when service staff deliver your change in such a way that they expect a tip when the bill already included a compulsory service charge which, yes, is pretty much always distributed amongst the staff. Insomnia in Sukhumvit soi 12 doesn't do that, but the door staff seem to expect a tip for nothing. Insomnia has a 300 baht entry fee which includes your first drink. If you pay the entry fee with a large banknote, charge is given in the form of 100 baht note(s) and 5 x 20 baht notes – with the staff hoping that you will throw a couple of the 20 baht notes back there way as a tip. The question has to be asked: a tip for *what*? All you've done is pay the cover charge and you've yet to even enter the venue proper and they are already asking for a tip! Insomnia is an excellent venue in every respect with a great soundInsomnia system, good music, efficient and friendly service staff and a really great vibe. It is in my opinion the best venue of its type in the area by a country mile and a great place for those who like to party late. The foreign management should eliminate this begging for a tip at the door nonsense.

In a country where costs are managed so tightly and where many businesses are reluctant to give anything away for free, why is it that most public toilet cubicles seldom have a hose and spray? This delightful accessory costs less than a thousand baht yet few public toilets have them with toilet paper preferred. Public toilet cubicles must go through many rolls of toilet paper a day which could easily run 50 baht or more per day, all of which makes no sense because water is so cheap. Besides the cost, the spray is a much more hygienic way to clean your derrière than wiping away the muck with paper. Yep, when it comes to the hose and spray, I'm a definite convert!

I was asked to give some advice to a young guy who wishes to stay in Thailand recently but does not work here and isn't married. I explained all the options to his girlfriend as well as two of her friends who were present. We went through all the options and he asked me about overstaying. I advised him that it's a seriously bad idea. However, once his girlfriend understood that the overstay fine tops out at 20,000 baht, she encouraged him to do that. And then her friends got on board. They see the idea of visa runs, which could easily run more than 20,000 baht a year as a waste of time and money and the 20,000 baht maximum fine as a simple solution. There really is a scofflaw attitude and propensity for using short cuts here…



Quote of the week comes from a farang managing a Bangkok gogo bar, "It's not the most moral of industries!"

Reader's story of the week is a less than glamorous look at Hua Hin titled, "The Barbary Coast", from Mega.

From CNNGo, the Philippines has some of the best beaches in Asia, yet it's a real tough sell for tourists.

A white South African talks about spending 18 years in a Thai jail.

Some ATM machines in Thailand now feature advertising, not on the outside, but on the screen where you transact!


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: When a Farang provides the funds (and signs the required fund waiver forms) for their Thai wife to be able to purchase a Thai property (not Farang-owned condos – but land), is it possible to make an arrangement for the chanote to be held by the Farang's Thai lawyer of choice (for safety reasons against unbeknown sale)?

Sunbelt responds: Foreigners cannot use a Thai spouse as a nominee to buy property in Thailand and it is against the law.

If your wife wanted to sell or mortgage the land and claimed that she did not have the possession of the land title deed because you were trying to stop it, and she then applied for a replacement land title deed to be issued to replace the original deed then there could be serious complications for both you and her. In cases where the spouse has attempted to deny issue to his wife of a replacement title deed to prevent her from using the land either to sell or to borrow money off of, then it would be deemed that the owner in place is an alien which contravenes Section 113 of the Land Code.

In doing so, she has provided false information to government officers and she may face up to 6 months in jail or a fine of 1,000 baht or both. She has also contravened section 267 of the Penal code which carries a penalty of up to three years in jail and/or a fine of 6,000 baht.

You, as the foreigner, would also face charges for contravening land codes and could face jail time and / or fines.

Registering a usufruct or right of superficies on the chanote at the Land Department is a better solution. This allows your wife to own the land but gives you legal right to use the land for your life. Sunbelt Asia Legal has extensive experience registering usufructs and the right of superficies. Feel free to contact us for help.

Question 2: I used to own and operate a bar in Bangkok in 2001 and 2002. Everything was above board and everything was legal. I sold the bar 18 months after I bought it and walked away. I had set up a company and everything was done legally, and as it should be, as far as I know. I moved back to my country and since then my Thai wife and I make irregular trips back to Thailand, about once every two years. I had a Thai company that was never shut down and I have recently been made aware that it should have been closed – and that failure to have done so may result in my arrest. Is this true? It seems crazy given that I tried to do everything right! I don't want to find myself pulled from an Immigration queue for what seems to me to be a minor issue from 10 years ago. My questions to you are as follows: Should I even worry about this or should I just forget about it? My feeling is that if something was going to happen to me it would have happened by now. Secondly, if I did want to get this "cleared up" and the company closed, what would the approximate cost be. If it is relevant, the bar barely made a profit in the time it was open.

Sunbelt responds: The warrant that is issued is not for your arrest, but requires that you pay back taxes and fines to the Department of Business Development at the Ministry of Commerce. However you do need to close the company legally to avoid any future and possibly growing fines. Closing the company down with audits costs approximately 50,00 to 70,000 baht and can take around one month.

Procedure as it stands is the Department of Business Development sending a warning letter at the company address, outlining the late audit submission and defining a remitting deadline. Once this deadline passed the case is handed to the Economic and Cyber Crime Suppression Police who sends three follow-up letters to the company address, asking the director to present himself in front of the officer and clarify such offense. Should the director not respond to such summon the file will be transferred to court where further fines and penalties will be set.

The closure audit which spells out the business operations between the start of the financial year and the point of time it will be closed, cannot be filed in if any late audits have been left outstanding. Those will need to be cleared before the company can be closed. Additionally, if the company ID has been blocked by the Economic and Cyber Crime Division, the accountant will not be able to submit any tax return prior to clearing the matter with them.

Thus at Sunbelt Asia Legal we do not advise clients to walk away from this matter as there may be legal complications that may occur with the Immigration authorities if they plan to come back to Thailand. Still, it is highly unlikely an arrest warrant will be forwarded to their home country on such grounds. Sunbelt Asia's accountants are quite experienced in the steps needed to close a company fully and legally so that you don't have any worries over legal and financial repercussions in Thailand.



Sukhumvit Road


We all have secrets and we all have reasons for keeping secrets, but if asked to help someone with their secret I find it to be something of an imposition. I have been asked to assist the odd friend in the web of deceit they spin with their other half, something I'd really rather not get involved in. On the verge of being caught, or caught red-handed and trying to deny it, some have this dreadful habit of coming to me for help. We all have a past and whatever has happened in the past is the past, but those who routinely cheat in the present should not ask friends to cover for, or lie for them. So for the record, please don't ask me to cover for you or assist if you're up to mischief, as I'd really rather not get involved.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Firehouse