Stickman's Weekly Column May 20th, 2012

Mama Noi

Directly opposite the Landmark Hotel is a narrow alley that you have probably walked past. Many times if you've stayed in the Nana area, hundreds of times if that part of town is your playground. At the end of the alley is the Check Inn 99, not a hotel as its name suggests but a bar and restaurant with a house band, a proper dance floor, tables and wicker chairs with space around them and hostesses. The bar, and the whole package is very much a throwback to the Bangkok of old.

The venue's staff is one big family, with the chef having clocked up 47 years on the property and the "new" waiter still serving his apprenticeship with just 27 years of service. But to many the face of the venue and the star of the show is Mama Noi, the venue's mamasan who has been working in Bangkok's nightlife since before I was born.

I met with Mama Noi as she is known and spent an enjoyable couple of hours hearing her story and looking through her photo albums the old-fashioned way, browsing photos that had become a deep shade of sepia without a hint of Photoshop and not an IPad to be seen. Mama Noi took her time warming to the whipper snapper with lots of questions who was furiously making notes, so I have filled in a few gaps with anecdotes from the Mama Noi story.

Mama Noi

It's dreadfully rude for a man to ask a female her age so please forgive me for this…but may I ask yours?

I am 72 years old.

Wow! How long have you been working here?

28 years in the Check Inn. I work here 6 days a week.

And before you worked here, where did you work?

Club 99 in Silom. I was the mamasan there as well.

And before that?

Starlight Club in New Road.

When was that?

That was around 1968.

Wow, that's before I was born! Was that your first job in Bangkok?

No. I first worked in the predecessor of Check Inn 99 when it was called Copa Cabana. And then I went to the Starlight Club after that. The Starlight Club was the number one nightclub in Bangkok. So many people went there – Thai people, Americans, influential people – everyone who was anyone went there!

When did that club close? How long did it run for?

Oh, that's a really long time ago, I cannot remember.

What sort of bar was it?

It was a nightclub, and we had drinks, but at that time there was no live music. It was the time of the Vietnam War and things were very different back then.

Mama Noi

So this bar has been here a long time?

Yes, a very long time. It hasn't changed a lot either. The entranceway was the same in the past but the inside was a little different. Here inside the bar, there was another bar serving area opposite that bar area you can see over there <she points across to the bar and its counter top>, but there was no mezzanine level in the past.

And you are the mamasan here, right?

Yes, I am.

It's not that long ago that Mama Noi was the life and soul of the party and one long-time customer describes how she would out dance the young ones. One night, some 8 or 10 years back, she had had a few too many and fell over while dancing, breaking her ankle. Surgery was required and a pin was inserted. She bounced back but just as sports stars may recover from serious injuries, seldom do they really get back to where they were at – and so it was with Mama Noi. Today the dancing is somewhat subdued, but if you're there at the right time, and paying attention, you might just see her dance, and she has been known to flash some flesh too.

So back then were most of the customers American military taking R+R breaks from the Vietnam War?

Yes, most were.

This place almost closed a couple of years ago? What happened?

There used to be a lot of shareholders and they were losing money and they didn't want to continue. They were foreigners and there were so many shareholders.

Around this time last year the current owners took over. They did not want this piece of Bangkok history to be lost so they bought it. The farang man didn't want to see it disappear and he and his Thai wife now run it.

Old customers come inside when they pass by and some are surprised to see that we're still in business. Everything is better now. They have made some alterations but retained the original flavour but everything is cleaner, and looks nicer. There was a lot of old stuff here and the place still has an old feel, but everything is much better. The new boss is always so concerned about it being clean.

The original 24 shareholders, mainly Danish businessmen, operated Checkinn as their own club, remaining low profile, and with a hole in the wall almost non-descript entrance it was a true word of mouth bar. The days Mama Noi refers to were fun times, according to Bangkok old hands, where many raucous parties were held and much revelry took place. One of the many Danish owners was a young 17-year old man contracting to the US Military running ammunition barges up the Mekong during the Vietnam war. It was a job considered too dangerous for US personnel. Having lost many contractor friends due to hostile action, he then became an underwater UXB diver clearing booby traps and unexploded or discarded ordinance. He arrived in Bangkok a very wealthy teenager and set up the first live sex show in Patpong. He is still in the underwater and marine safety business. Another previous owner was a Danish air force fighter pilot and subsequent commercial airline pilot – and both are still customers. Both he, Mama Noi and Checkinn feature in a thriller / spy novel Lethal Legacy soon to be published by Allen Mehew based on true actions.

There are two farang co-owners, Chris (Australian) who is a full time project manager often working during the week overseas and Mike (English) who is in the oil rig management business also currently overseas. The business is managed by Chris's wife, Mook. It is a unique style in that Chris and Mike have set up a customer focus group – with whom they confer on any changes or issues relating to the operating of the club. Unlike nearly all other bars, all staff and hostesses are covered under social security and workers compensation schemes with a separate scheme for the staff over 65 (not covered under Thai government schemes). Checkinn operates a profit share with staff and a bonus if the bar stock reconciles which in part explains Mama Noi's comment about kind management.

Check Inn 99

I bet some readers who do know the venue know it from the dwarf who used to stand outside beckoning passersby inside. I haven't seen in a long time. What happened to him?

He is from Isaan. He used to work at Pizza Hut before he worked here. He was not well for some years so he stopped working and returned home to be with his family.

I heard rumours he starred in adult films.

I heard similar rumours. <For what won't be the first time in our chat, a look of suspicion appears on Mama Noi's face and she stares at me intently, silently as older people often do. I'm sure I can read her mind – she is wondering how I know this!>

Don't want to tell me anymore? I am sure you know more about that than I do!

I don't think it's a good thing to talk about. I don't know where or how he is now. I don't know anyone who has heard from him in a long time. I hope he is doing ok. The last I heard he went back to Isaan.

So you don't get bored working here. I mean absolutely no disrespect here, but at your age most people want to put their feet up, kick back and relax! Hell, some friends my age don't want to work any more!

I would like to stop working but I can't. I really can't. There is no-one to take care of me. I don't have a husband or a boyfriend. But actually I don't need a man. I can look after myself. I stay alone so I have to keep working! I have a son from a marriage to a Thai man. <She opens her photo album and shows me photos of a handsome Thai man in uniform, the photos must be 50 odd years old.> I was married a very long time ago, and we split a long time ago. I have a son but he is not interested in me.

The boss is very kind so working here is very enjoyable. Everyone here is really nice. The boss is nice, the staff here are nice and it feels like a family.

Many older customers who I have met over the years come in and some nights as one leaves, another walks in the door. That makes working here really nice. It's like being amongst friends.

Inn 99 has 3 long-term staff members – Mama Noi, the head waiter who is an ex-Muay Thai boxer (so don't try and fill your belly and do a runner) and the cook. The "new" waiter has been there 27 years and the house band 13 years. The owners could best be described as caretakers – with so much experience on the premises, as well as an incentive system put in the place for the staff, the venue runs itself.

So you're a Bangkok girl?

I'm from upcountry. I was born in Ubon Rachathani, in Isaan.

When did you first come to Bangkok?

I was 17 years old when I first came to Bangkok.

Can you tell me how you first got involved in the industry?

I started at the Copa Cabana. I didn't stay long and then I moved to the Starlight Club.

What was Bangkok like in the 60s when you first started?

I think it was quite different from now. Back then everyone had lots of fun. Everything is different now. I cannot explain how, but it's just different. It was real sanuk in the past, but it's different today. Fun sometimes, but a different kind of fun. Not genuine fun for fun's sake like it was in the past.

You must have met some famous people over the years…

Maybe it is not good to talk about them. You know in Thailand it's not good to talk about famous people.

Oh, but I heard you met some famous foreigners and you already showed me their photos. Come on, can you tell me about the famous foreigners? I am sure they will never know!

I think you know we cannot talk about famous or powerful or influential Thai people. But foreigners I can. I met Bing Crosby when he used to sing here. And I knew Bob Hope.

Mama Noi

Mama Noi with Bob Hope in the late '60s. Photos of Mama Noi from the 60s show an extremely attractive lady. Bob was said to be a bit of a player. There are some questions a gentleman just doesn't ask…

This bar is unusual by Thai standards and seems to get Thai male customers as well as a lot of older patrons.

Few Thai people come here today. Some Japanese, a few Thais, but most are Caucasians. Thai people don't come here so much. Just a few of them. They have their own places to go.

Some of the staff have been here a long time?

Some staff have been here 10 years, some over 20 years, some longer.

There is a famous farang who wrote about the industry and used to go around all the nightlife areas…

You mean Bernard Trink? Yes, I know him! I have known him for a very, very long time. Wow, Bernard! He used to go everywhere, Starlight, here, everywhere. I used to know him well but I heard his health wasn't so good and he stopped going around the bars about 10 years ago. Is he still alive? Last time I saw him he was not looking so good.

Yes, last I heard he's still in the land of the living.

Everyone knew him! You'd see him going in and out of bars all the time. Patpong, New Road, he went everywhere! And he had his wife with him! Can you believe it?! Why did he do that? I have known Bernard since the 60s. I hope he is doing ok now. Please tell him I said hello.

Do you have friends who are still working in the industry, I mean friends from the old days?

Most have married and gone overseas. So many went to America. Some went in the 60s and are still there now.

What about you? I am sure you must have had the chance to go overseas?

I didn't want to go overseas. I want to stay in Thailand. Had I married I would not have been able to stay in Thailand. I could have gone anywhere and yes, it would have been fun for a while, but it's not the same as Thailand. Thailand is my home and Thailand is where I want to be.

I went to New York, Luxembourg, other places. But it's not Thailand.

I still have customers I knew from a long time ago come in and see me. They come to see Mama Noi! There are some customers from 30 or 40 years ago who still come in to see me.

Can you remember their name? Thais are good with names!

There are so many of them and you know, I haven't seen some of them for so many years so I often cannot remember. <We both laugh and Mama Noi looks at me with a polite smile but a suspicious look, as if she thinks this is the dumbest question ever asked in the history of interviewing!>

Mama Noi has managed the hostesses at Check Inn 99 for many years. She is subtle and has her own thoughts and style on how a club should be run. Retaining her classic Thai roots, she insists that no customer should be approached by hostesses until the mamasan has introduced herself and got the lay of the land. If the customer is not looking to meet a lady, or simply not in the mood, no hostess will approach. Mama Noi engages customers and does the rounds of the tables throughout the night, adopting and treating those customers she likes as a son.

What do you make of the industry and the advent of modern technology and its effects on the industry?

Things have changed so much. Nothing is the same any more.

You've been working in the industry since before I was born. What advice do you have for guys?

Whatever a foreigner wants to do in Thailand, whether he wants to go somewhere, or get to know someone, or anything, they should ask Thai people for help. Thai people are always happy to help foreigners.

So tell me about this bar today.

We have live music from a Filipina trio and they start at 8:30 PM. The music stops at 1:30 AM and we are open until about 2:00 AM.

Despite the initial impression that the dimly lit entrance and sometimes scantily clad hostesses welcoming guests at the start of the alley make it look on first impressions a bit sleazy, once inside and the eyes have adjusted this is not the case at all. It is friendly and has more of a supper club feel than a bar. Numerous souvenirs from parties, old style fittings, and a garish but apt collection of mementos and eclectic photos adorn the walls – and it all seems to fit. The place is old but clean – having had a previous history of being otherwise, even in the past incurring my disfavour – times have changed – but not so for Mama Noi who is as much of an institution of Bangkok nightlife as CheckInn99 itself.

What about barfines? Is this a place a guy can meet a girl?

<I get a frown as if this is a question that really shouldn't be asked> If a guy wants to drink with a lady or dance with a lady, we have ladies here. We have about 15 ladies. The ladies like to dance with customers, but it's not gogo style. We have food and live music and ladies can sit with customers. This is much more laid-back than what you might find elsewhere.

We have ladies who can take care. We cannot say that the ladies are available. You know, it's not nice to say that. Not polite. It really isn't nice to talk about a place or ladies like that…

After all this time working in an industry known to change those who involve themselves in it, Mama Noi has grace and dignity. Many who have spent even a fraction of the length of time in the industry as she has have become hard, yet Mama Noi retains an old world charm almost unseen today.

Mama Noi

*Where* was this photo taken?

Bangkok Hotel

Last week's photo proved to be very difficult. It was taken in Nana Plaza of a lady sitting outside Billboard, early in
the evening before dancing had started. What is funny is that I actually used that photo to replace another which I thought would be more difficult! 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!

He Clinic Bangkok

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 Tipping disease alive and well.

Bargirls are independent contractors who charge a fee for service. So what is the 10% – 20% tip for? It has been a while, however I have had short times for 500 – 1,000 – 1,500 baht but your emailer thinks they love him for being dumb? Ever wonder why prices keep going up? Speaking of independent contractors, my dentist is an independent contractor too. Most dentists in Bangkok charge 600 – 1,000 baht for a prophylaxis (cleaning) which usually takes about 30 – 40 minutes. The dentist went to graduate school has equipment and overhead expenses with rent and staff. They all base their fees on what they feel their service is worth and how much they need to make a profit. How many folks give their dentist a tip of 10% – 20%? What about when someone buys a car? Does this same insane logic apply? Do they tip the salesperson who sold them the car? Or when they find the condo of their dreams at the right price, tip the agent who made a killing on the commission? This person will most probably give a generous tip to his prospective mother-in-law after they take him to the cleaners for the outrageous sin sot he will pay for Ms. Lovely from Nana Plaza. I personally think it is a result of being insecure. I know a few fellows who just throw crazy money around when they are here. They want people to like them; it boosts their ego and that is why they do it. As a photographer I am sure that when you are out and about you look beyond the norm and as such have you ever looked closely at the faces of female construction workers? There are more than a few lookers doing hard labour for something like 180 baht per day. So this person is tipping an uneducated hooker more for 40 – 50 minutes of her time than the construction gal makes in a day.

CBD bangkok

Why a cleanup of Sukhumvit soi 4 clean up is much-needed.

I'm glad they're cleaning up on soi 4. I almost got assaulted by a ladyboy outside Nana Hotel on my last trip. I was walking into the hotel where I was staying, and one of the katoeys followed me into the car park asking if I wanted to buy cocaine. I declined politely several times and then got a bit irritated and told him to go away. No I didn't slag him off. But I mean the guy was following me into hotel property trying to flog drugs. He then lost his rag and said, "You tell me go away, you fxxxing farang?" At this stage I just ignored him and continued walking to the lobby entrance. He then proceeds to shout, "Go fxxx your mother!" At this point I actually stopped just on reflex and turned around, maybe because my mum was visiting me and staying on soi 8 and it hit a nerve. He carries on shouting, "You heard me, go fxxx your mother. Fxxx YOUR MOTHER!" I could feel my temperature rising. I'm looking at this pathetic bloke a few meters away dressed up as a woman, who is losing it. He must have been on medication. He was stomping his feet and looking like a bull about to charge. Then I just realised I was in Thailand and there was no point doing anything. I went inside and told the reception staff who I have known for years and they made a big show out of sending some of the porters out and asked me to identify the ladyboy, who had actually returned to his post right by the entrance of the car park, probably looking for the next victim. I know it's game on when you are on the streets and you need to have your wits about you, but I just thought it was a bridge too far following me into the hotel property, trying to sell class-A drugs, telling me to fxxx my mother for not buying drugs off him and then threatening violence. We were literally two metres outside of the Nana Hotel lobby entrance. Hopefully the hotel had a hand in getting rid of the scumbags. As I've said before, no fun at all, and lots of fun has been had on this soi. Like much of Thailand, it seems increasingly out of control.

Bum gun rage!

Bum guns are not stolen from public toilets. What a stupid assumption. The truth is that while their use may leave your bum clean, it ends up leaving the toilet a mess with water all over the floor. THAT is why you don't often find them in public loos and why they don't last long in places that decide initially to put them in.

wonderland clinic

Thailand medical care.

My buddy is diabetic and came down with a serious infection last year. We got him to Pattaya International Hospital where he was taken into emergency, seen to immediately by nurses and a doctor, put on an antibiotic drip to fight the infection, had his infected feet cleaned and dressed, and given three prescriptions to purchase, which were waiting for him upon checkout at the hospital pharmacy. He was told to return to the emergency room two more times that week for additional drips, exam by a doctor, cleaning and dressings. His total bill for all three visits, including medications, came to less than $250. A band-aid and aspirin handed out at an emergency room visit could run that much in the States, and that's before the emergency room and doctor fees are tabulated. Speaking of cheap, I had 7 visits to a Pattaya dentist this year. Exam and cleaning $20. Broken tooth repaired $30. Removal of bridge and X-rays $30. Tooth extraction no charge. Stitches removed no charge. Root canal and post $115. Crown $90. $295 total. I would have been out $2,000 or more, even with insurance, at home. I saved another $1,400 by buying a good portion of my regular prescriptions to take back with me. People ask how I can afford to come to Thailand every year. I can't afford to stay home!

Thoughts on Vietnam.

I've been to Vietnam a number of times and my third visit to Ho Chi Minh City was last week on business. It's a beautiful, vibrant city. Petty crime is an issue with phone snatching one of the most popular according to my Vietnamese colleagues. So as you mentioned, walking around with an expensive DSLR would be inviting trouble. However in terms of personal safety I reckon it is quite safe. You spotted exactly the same thing as me about the locals; their work ethic is far above anything I have seen in Asia. They are a very proud and determined race. The people I work with in our HCMC office are highly motivated and professional people and their command of English is excellent. They don't have that lazy short cut approach to the language like the Thais do. Investment is starting to arrive and when the serious money is injected Vietnam will leave Thailand far behind. I find there is a real mystery with the women. Stunning looks and figures but do you really know what you are getting into? All part of the lure, I suppose. A friend of mine has a Vietnamese wife and she is an absolute cracker in all departments. It so happens that Vietnamese women are top of the list when it comes to foreign brides for Singaporean men. The nightlife is ok if you want to have a few beers and play some pool but the girlie scene really isn't for me. Mercenary is the correct term to describe them.

Canine cuisine!

With one of your conclusions about Vietnam you are on the wrong track. There are no soi dogs or zombie dogs like in Thailand for a very human reason – dogs are food so they are taken care of well and can hardly become soi dogs because once they are outside their owner's home they will end up in the cooking pot before they get away even 100 metres away.

The condom police!

Walking home from dinner tonight, I took the Asoke BTS overpass as the rain was teeming down, and at the opposite end above the staircase were two police officers in vests. I haven't had any interaction with the police here yet but as soon as I made eye contact with one of them I had a feeling he was going to stop me, which he did. He asked me where I had come from. I said 7 Eleven. He looked at me weird then rephrased, "Which country?" He asks for my passport and I give him my laminated photocopied one (thanks for the tip Stick) along with my Australian drivers licence. I got the pat down as he was probing me with questions, then he asks to see my wallet. He's looking through all the pockets, and as I start to get the vibe he isn't going to make it easy for me, suddenly he stops, looks me in the eye and says, "You have condom…that is very good, very good!" He promptly returned my wallet, gave me the deepest wai I've had yet and a korp khun kup to go with it!

I don't make it up that way often, in fact I probably haven't been there for the best part of 3 years, but word is that the Thai gogo bars up in Saphan Kwai
are seeing something of an influx of Westerners. Not just lower, but plain low drinks prices – 110 baht for a *large* bottle of beer, women more to the Asian taste – which to cut through the politically correct BS that permeates mongering circles quite
simply means they are better looking, less likely to be branded and there's less attitude. And for naughty boys on a budget, the price of getting to know them more intimately is about half what you pay on Sukhumvit.
It's 1,500 baht all in – that's barfine, fee for action, and even the room. Given that the target customer base is Thai, speaking the local language helps.

"Suzy Wong has abandoned its happy hour prices, Cowboy is doomed, end of the world nearing!" read the email from a reader, so I went to check things out. Just as he had written, the happy hour at Suzy Wong's has been abolished, as it has at its sister bar, Sheba's. To be frank, who can blame management for doing so? On the few occasions I have stuck my head in either bar at happy hour time the bars were dead. Pricing drinks at half price didn't seem to make any difference to business so why bother?

DC10 in Nana has got a new mamasan, the very personable Iue who was once the owner of the long since closed Spider's Web. Here's hoping she's good at recruitment because DC10, as nice a bar as it is, could do with a few more girls shaking the poles.

Wow, the crackdown really seems to be working and the number of bothersome street-walking ladyboys loitering on Sukhumvit soi 4 is way down – and they are completely absent from the mouth of the plaza. I wandered along this week to capture some through the lens and there were none to be seen!

Raw Hide and Long Gun were once sister bars, but that's no longer the case and with different owners the pricing in each is different. In Long Gun, a San Miguel Light, for example, will set you back 110 baht early evening whereas in Raw Hide it'll be 150. If you're watching your pennies, it pays to be aware.

The big news in the bar industry this week is the confirmed sale of the group of bars that dominated Nana Plaza through the '90s and into the start of this century, the Crown Group. Comprising 8 gogo bars and the beer bars in the centre part of the ground floor, the group has been sold lock, stock and barrel as a package deal. Exactly what this means going forward, I do not know. No-one really knew how well, or otherwise, the Crown Group's bars have been doing in recent times with much speculation about their profitability. Certainly they haven't been doing the sort of business they once did when the likes of Voodoo and G Spot were the best bars at Nana's peak. Whether these venues will remain and be renovated – there's some big brand names amongst them like G Spot and Voodoo – or whether they will be sold on to new owners who gut them and start up new bars remains to be seen. Exciting times in Nana and new blood is never a bad thing.

G Spot

It's business as usual at The Dubliner, the cosy Irish pub that occupies a small spot on Sukhumvit Road in front of Washington Square. Despite the square being torn down around it, it's business as usual at The Dubliner which is doing a special on bottles of Carlsberg – buy 2 and get the third free.

Is it really necessary for bars to have signs with rules of things you cannot take inside a bar and things you cannot do inside a bar. No weapons, no photography, no video, no mobile, no drugs, no underage… the list goes on. These rules are universally understood yet there are bars with such lists of rules inside and out. I just feel they are totally unnecessary. We go to bars to unwind and everyone knows what is and isn't allowed. Something I really like about Tilac in Soi Cowboy and one of the reasons it's still the bar I go to most is that the staff are trusted to monitor customers and make sure they're not taking photos inside, for example. They stay on top of things without bothering customers. You often see people with cameras in Tilac but the staff won't say anything you unless you were to hold it up and point it at the dance floor. Compare that to some bars where merely checking the internet or a message on your phone can have staff jumping all over you!

After much testing – we're talking years of testing – popular Crossbar landlord, Brian of Birmingham, has raised the bar in emulating an authentic English pub in the heart of Bangkok with nothing other than their national dish now on offer – Indian curries! Crossbar's kitchen is doing "English-style" Indian chicken curries with 5 varieties on offer – Korma, Tikka Masala, Butter, Jalfrezi and Madras. Brian claims that they are as close as he has tasted to English curries in Thailand.

Chris Moore's latest has just been released, "Faking it in Bangkok", and is a collection of 50 essays on Thailand, crime and culture in the digital age.

There's much talk about how short-time has become the norm where it was once long-time and obviously the primary reason for this is that girls wish to maximise the amount of money they can make so they will try to do one short-time, rush back to the bar and then get another short-time or a long-time. I don't doubt that this is far and away the main reason they are keen to go short-time. But I think there is another reason why so many girls prefer short time which is seldom talked about or mentioned in the naughty boy forums. For these girls, sex is often far from the worst part of their job. So long as the customer is not particularly kinky, isn't hung like Mr. Ed and doesn't get rough in the bedroom, the girls seem to be able to deal with the sex part of their job just fine – and let's face it, it can be over and done with quite quickly. What so many really don't care for is having to talk to guys about stuff they have zero interest in, and in a language they often don't understand that well. Listening to guys talk about their problems and their disdain of Western women and all the other nonsense is, for Thais, a nationality who bore very quickly, rather more painful than it may seem. The switch to short-time as the norm means they don't have to be bored and can spend more time with their friends and their Thai boyfriend.

Word from Pattaya more and more is not about the Indians, or the Arabs, but about the Russians, some of whom have really started to get annoying. If you doubted that the Russians would take a foothold in Pattaya, I guess you haven't been there in a while. Many venues on Walking Street have signs in Russian – *only* in Russian – suggesting that unless you are Russian you aren't welcome. And it is not just a Pattaya thing. More Russians can be found in Phuket's Patong Beach too. Still, Bangkok seems largely to be free of them with many of the Russians who visit Pattaya simply taking a day trip to Bangkok to check it out and heading back to Pattaya on one of the last buses back.

Any Brits after a domain name with a Thai connection? is selling for £50. Drop him an email if you want it. (David, personally,
I thought it would be worth a little more than that…)

Sundowners Bar at Imperial Queen's Park Hotel and the Bangkok Comedy Collective will host a 2-hour live comedy show by 4 comedians with award-winning pro Graham Wood headlining along with Andrew Kingham, Tristan Botly and Chris Wegoda. The Comedy Show is at 8:30 PM and then at 11 PMCheckInn99 Bangkok's best all-farang rock band and Sundowners house band, Wildside, will take the stage for 2 sets of a mixture of classic rock and '80s retro sounds. Pay a 500 baht entrance fee and get free flow beer, wine (!) and soft drinks from 8 – 11 PM. Booking tickets in advance is recommended –

CheckInn99, that's Mama Noi's bar, has an event this week with a rock and blues concert. There's no cover charge and no reserved seats. It's one night only, Sunday 27th May. Details on the right.

It was only a matter of time until the uber popular Sunrise Tacos started franchising outside the country. Sunrise Tacos announces the granting of its master franchise development for Cambodia and congratulations go to Jake and Kevin who signed. Jake is on the Board of Directors of the Royal Group which has a broad portfolio including a joint venture with QSR Brands, which operates KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants all across Asia, and brought the first international fast food chain to Cambodia. Kevin owns well-known Boston Books.

I know this sort of thing could just as easily happen anywhere, but it just seems that there is a greater propensity for it to happen here. The other half noticed a noise coming from the brakes in her car and called the franchised dealer's service department manager for advice. She wasn't sure if it was something serious or not. She explained that when she applied the brakes, a noise came from the brakes. The service department manager's response was a riot. He explained that it had been raining a lot in Bangkok this week (which it has) and this sort of noise was completely normal when the brakes get water on them and nothing to be concerned about. It gets better. His advice was simple – turn the car stereo up louder so you can't hear the sound and that way you won't worry about it. I kid you not – and this is from the franchise dealer, not dodgy Somchai's corner garage!

What is it about Thais and their lack of appreciation of classics, or even just things that aren't brand spanking new. The other day "Ronin", the excellent Robert De Niro action movie, screened on HBO. I told the other half how I thought it was an excellent action movie, a real favourite. She asked me if I had seen it already to which I responded, I had. She asked when and I said, maybe 15 years ago when it came out. "I don't like old moves", was the response. WTF! This is so common…! If it ain't new and shiny, it's like it doesn't exist. In the end she sat down and watched it with me and ended up thoroughly enjoying it. I guess there are no brownie points to be had posting on Facebook that you just watched and enjoyed a fabulous 15-year old movie…

The red shirts were back out in force yesterday, remembering the second anniversary of the end of their occupation of downtown Bangkok in May 2010. Do you remember Central World being torched? It was the Zen Department Store that got it worst. Oh the irony of the photo below… I took a bunch of photos while wandering around yesterday and put up a new Bangkok red shirts photo gallery.

Red shirts

Quote of the week comes from a total cynic, "The only locals you should hang out with are the opposite sex – and only back at your hotel."

Pattaya police are looking for a fat local bird who drugged 3 Bangladeshis,
killing one of them.

3 foreigners who stole 30 million baht worth of jewellery in Phuket are caught while a 4th,
a Mexican woman, is still on the run.

A brothel is raided in Durban, South Africa, and the workers come from, you guessed it…Thailand!

Good work by the Thai police finds frozen tiger body parts destined for export to other parts of Asia.

From the BBC, a Brit is found with 6 human foetuses in his hotel room in Bangkok.

A graphic film on female sex tourism gets much
applause in Cannes.

A Thai ladyboy fools judges
and beats hundreds of woman to make the final round of an English beauty pageant.

The Canberra Times takes a closer look at the Thai brothel madam convicted of slavery
charges in Australia.

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 formed a Thai company 10 years ago purely as a front to buy land with my Thai wife. She had 65% of the stock and I had 35% – but I signed all the papers. Three years later we divorced with the condition that neither of us
would have any future financial claim on the other. I subsequently sold the land and returned all the company papers to the registered office – my ex-wife's family home (though she was by then remarried and living in England). I also
signed a paper handing my shares to her. Since then I have heard nothing from anybody about de-registration. I have no desire to re-communicate with my ex-wife so am I safe to let sleeping dogs lie…? If the matter does arise would I only
be liable for 35% of all costs / fees / fines…?

Sunbelt responds: If the registered capital was paid up and you are not the director, then as a shareholder you should not be liable for any costs. If you signed over the shares and have that evidence then you should be free and clear. Sunbelt Asia can investigate the company to see if your name is still on the directors' list and shareholders list.

Question 2
: I live in Thailand on a Non Immigrant O visa but need to switch to a Non-Immigrant B visa. I will be working for a western company that purchases used equipment around the world. My beat will be Thailand and neighbouring countries.
I want to know what documents I need to present to Immigration to seek this visa and if it must be done through an embassy outside of Thailand. I need no office or staff as I will simply be looking at machinery with and recommending or not
purchasing. The rest of the paperwork will be done outside the country.

Sunbelt responds:
The Non B visa is granted at embassies / consulates outside Thailand. If you were working for a Thai company and applying for a work permit, in some cases if you met the criteria, you are able to change from a tourist visa exemption stamp or tourist visa to a Non B visa inside Thailand. You would not qualify for this visa at Immigration but may at Embassies/ Consulates. You will need in most cases have to have a Thai company invite you and submit their company documents with your application. If you are in the Pattaya region, they have been known to require a work permit to be a buyer of goods.

Question 3
: As you are aware, Cambodia has a new law forbidding foreigners over the age of 50 to wed their younger female companion. Here is my question; if an American marries a Cambodian girl in Thailand, would that give them the ability
to apply for a marriage visa to the USA from Thailand? Would you mind including in your reply a brief description of the mechanics of this process, if it is a viable option.

Sunbelt responds: Marriage in Thailand is recognised internationally. It may be possible for you to register your marriage in Thailand and then apply for a US visa for your spouse. However, the visa proceedings must be processed at the US Embassy in Cambodia. Should you decide to register your marriage in Thailand, Sunbelt Asia's team of English / Thai speaking lawyers and paralegals can help assist you in registering your marriage. For foreigners wanting to get married in Thailand, an “Affirmation of Freedom to Marry” is required from your embassy. This is a document that states that you are single and / or free to register marriage. Each embassy reserves the right to refuse issuance of such letter or further investigate on the matter. It is entirely on the embassy's discretion. Your Cambodian fiancee will need to obtain permission from her local government office, once you have obtained these documents, registering your marriage is easy and simple.

Pretty Thai Girls

I make every effort to put together an interesting and informative column each week and I hope you feel that tuning in is worthwhile. But things don't always go to plan and while I strive to ensure that I cover all the interesting stuff going on and put it all together without any errors, regrettably that is not always the case. You can help! If you're aware of anything newsworthy going on, the sort of thing that I typically cover in this column, drop me an email and let me know. From time to time I miss some interesting happenings or goings on. All I ask is that it is newsworthy and what you send me is accurate i.e. I don't want to receive an email saying that Dave The Rave had a bad hair day – it's neither newsworthy nor accurate – Dave is proud of his polished dome! And if you notice any typos in the column – do let me know. Editing your own writing can be a challenge because you tend to read it as you want it to read, not as it is actually written. It's awfully frustrating to receive an email that says "nice column, shame about the typos" – when it would have taken about 2 minutes to outline the typos which I could then go back and correct! Your help could make this column better!

Your Bangkok commentator,



nana plaza