It's the hub for the skytrain. Thousands and thousands of Bangkok teenagers descend on the area every weekend. The city's flashest shopping mall, Paragon, is located nearby as are MBK, Siam Centre and Siam Discovery Centre. It has arguably the most loved cinema in Bangkok, some of the city's best independent shops and boutiques and the country's best university is just a few minutes walk away. Despite all of this, it isn't at all popular with foreigners, be they visitors or expats. It is the area in the heart of the city that we know as Siam Square, but which the Thais simply refer to as "Siam".
Bounded by Henri Dunant road to the east and Phyathai Road to the west, Bangkok's favourite shopping district for teenagers is a small grid of lanes, alleys and arcades that has attracted generations of Thais since it became Bangkok's major shopping precinct in the early 1970s. Strictly speaking Siam Square is the area south of Rama 1 Road, and east of Phyathai Road meaning the likes of Mahboonkrong and Siam Paragon are not actually part of the actual Siam Square. But many see the whole area as Siam Square, especially since the skytrain opened in 1999 with its hub, and the only place you can change lines on the skytrain, being the Siam station.
The attraction for many is the small stores, the boutiques of local fashion designers and their unique products that can't be found elsewhere. The alleys under the Lido cinema multiplex and in the adjacent blocks house many independent vendors, and not just another branch of just another chain as are most of the tenants in Bangkok's shopping malls.
Some of the city's better music stores can be found in the greater Siam Square area, including the hole-in-the-wall, but still very popular Doraeme.
The red shirts occupied Siam Square for a number of weeks a few years ago, causing many vendors to lose business and some moved on. And in a move that surprised many, the arrival of Terminal 21 attracted a number of vendors away from Siam Square to the new shopping Mecca which also features smaller, boutique style outlets. If your favourite Siam Square vendor has closed up shop, have a hunt for them at Terminal 21.
The area is full of eateries running the full gamut from local favourites like 50-year old Chinese restaurants, shark fin restaurants popular with older Thais and traditional Thai restaurants using the same recipes they did when they first opened decades ago. In the square and the adjacent shopping malls of MBK, Siam Discovery, Siam Centre and Siam Paragon there must be at least 10 branches of Starbucks.
The photo above was taken upstairs in Barn Khun Mae, one of the better known Thai restaurants amongst the expat crowd. Located a stone's throw from the main entrance of the Novotel Siam Square, it's decked out like a reuan (old Thai-style house), the decor is pleasing, the atmosphere pleasant and the food is decent – and very reasonably priced for central Bangkok.
To me, Scala cinema is the jewel of Siam Square. One of the oldest cinemas in Thailand, its large foyer with a grand staircase, beautiful carved murals, ushers immaculately dressed adorning garish yellow jackets and its 60s retro feel, the whole place oozes atmosphere and takes us back to a time when cinemas were the main form of entertainment, when they weren't just a cinema, but a movie house, the place of entertainment. It doesn't just look like it comes from the 60's, they still use systems from the '60s such as the booking system which is still done on paper. The owner once famously said in an interview that it's faster on paper than it is with a computer! And let's not forget that tickets for new release movies are half what they are at other downtown cinemas, just 100 baht!
Scala is part of the Apex Group which includes the 3-cinema multiplex, Lido, opposite Siam Centre on Rama 1 Road. I used to live in the area I walked past Lido almost every day and there would always be an exotic, very old or somehow unusual vehicle parked outside like a top of the line European sports car, a Hummer or something equally rare and impressive. Presumably they belonged to the owner as they were always parked off the road on the area right outside the Lido.
The red shirted protesters destroyed a piece of the city's history when they torched the Siam Theatre, the third cinema of the Apex Group. The second largest auditorium of the Apex Group after Scala which has a 900-seat auditorium, the huge construction site seen from the skytrain platform looking south was once home to this magnificent movie house which featured an even larger foyer area, a lovely old-style candy bar and staff in similar uniform to what you find at the other two.
The future of Scala looked bleak after Chulalongkorn University which leases the land to the Apex Group made noises about redeveloping it next year. A public outcry caused Chula to rethink and it appears that Bangkok's finest movie house's future is secure for the time being.
Part of the reason that Siam is a magnet for young Thais is that the square is full of tutor schools and language institutes. Heavyweights like the British Council and ECC are headquartered in Siam Square and Saturdays and Sundays the square is over-run with school-age Thais cramming in extra study at tutor schools, some with corny names like The Brain.
Just a 5-minute walk from Siam Square down Henri Dunant Road is the country's finest university, Chulalongkorn, and possibly the best high school in the entire country, the main branch of Triam Udom School where only the very brightest Thai students are accepted. The area is always full of youngsters bringing their energy and enthusiasm and making it a great place to hang out.
With high school students flocking to the area at the weekend and university students passing through every day, there's demand for inexpensive bites. Along the main Rama 1 Road, many street vendors offer things that appeal to youngsters like Thai style sweets, chicken nuggets and drinks so sickly sweet they'll turn you diabetic overnight.
While popular with teens, it could be argued that Siam Square is more a centre for females than males so unless cross-dressing is your thing, many of the shops mightn't appeal.
Many 20-something females, especially the fashion conscious on a budget, enjoy strolling the back alleys and sub sois of Siam. Across the road from Siam Square proper is Siam Centre which has been a fashion centre for decades and where many Thai designers' latest offerings can be found.
There's always something going on at Siam Square. Mini concerts are held most weekends and the fun-loving Thai teens go crazy when their favourite artists, often those with current chart-topping hits perform free, the area between Siam Centre and Siam Discovery Centre a popular spot.
Siam Square isn't known as a nightlife destination. Most shops have closed their doors and the staff long gone by 9:00 PM and while you can find the odd 24-hour restaurant and a few late night food vendors, the area transforms from bustling to amazingly quiet within a couple of hours.
A few Thai-style venues operate a floor or two above ground combining live music and decent food at very reasonable prices with students from the nearby university their primary market. While foreigners are welcome, menus are often in Thai only, the food can be very spicy and the whole experience is not geared up for whitey. Perverts should stick to Sukhumvit.
CM2, the long-running nightclub in the basement of the Novotel, remains a magnet for Bangkok's Russian money girls and also Middle Easterners, making it kind of like Walking Street – rather cosmopolitan. I haven't stepped foot in there for years but friends who have tell me the format hasn't changed. I don't think I'm missing much.
And then there's the Hard Rock Cafe. The food is good, the house bands even better, but it's very pricey by Bangkok standards and I can't shake the feeling that it's a tourist trap. 15 years ago it might have been the place for a burger or American comfort food, but today Bangkok is full of venues with great burgers at fair prices. I am sure the Hard Rock does ok, but sometimes I wonder if it's relying on its name. At almost 750 baht for their standard burger (fancy toppings cost more!) and 350 baht for a Margarita, they offer not just American food but American prices.
Siam Square may not appeal to many foreigners but I like it for a change of pace and something a little different from the cookie cutter modern shopping centres that are being replicated not just all over suburban Bangkok, but up and down the country too.
Siam Square is one of those places along with Lumpini Park and the busy part of the river where I like to go and spend an afternoon when I feel I'm getting tired of Bangkok.
Siam Square might be the heart of downtown and the location of some big hotels but remains a very Thai area where foreigners are but a small part of the market. This makes it a pleasant change from the parts of town where Westerners dominate.
*Where* was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken in the lobby of Siam Square's wonderful Scala cinema. So where was this week's mystery photo taken?! All you have to do is tell me where the photo was taken. There is 1 prize this week – a 500 baht credit at the Oh My Cod fish and chips restaurant.
Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The prize is only available to readers in Thailand at the time of entering and is 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 – And the Thais looks down on them…
My Burmese maid is 8 months pregnant so she said she is going to have a friend of hers clean my room for a few months. The 2 of them came by yesterday and we had a nice little chat about life in Thailand. The new maid is a 35-year old Burmese who never had the chance to go to school. When I asked her about life in Thailand, her only real complaint was that Thais don't speak English so she has had to study Thai language. She said in her country, people who never went to school can still speak decent English. My response was that in Thailand many university graduates cannot! Her response was, "We consider English very important in Burma, but the Thai people I know have little or no interest in learning."
Where has the prettiest girl in Nana gone?
Interesting to see a snap in your latest column of the girl in the striped top sitting outside Fantasia. The girl herself must have been working there at least 4 years, and remains undoubtedly Fantasia's prettiest girl, and one of the best looking in all of Bangkok. I've bought her a few drinks over the years (more than that I am unable to say, Your Honour) and would always ask her why she didn't move to a more popular bar, where she'd get double-figure barfines in a week. She would shrug her shoulders and mutter about wanting to be with her friends etc, as I knew she would, as they all do. I remember vividly one day I was on my way to meet some mates for a game of pool on soi 4 around 6 PM. I'd stopped by the Asia Books branch inside the Landmark and as I came back out on to Sukhumvit, there she was walking hand in hand with her Thai boyfriend. Our eyes very briefly met, with hers screaming 'don't acknowledge me!' So I ambled along about 10 metres behind them up toward soi 4 (it's not that easy to walk that slowly!) and at the corner they shared a big smooch and she walked on down the soi and he turned on his heel and walked back past me – a young guy with a boy band hairdo and the look of feckless vacancy that only Thai 'dudes' can manage to muster. She was off to earn the rent with some nude ceiling inspections and he was probably off for another hard night of sitting on his Honda Wave outside 7 Eleven. Her predicament is emblematic of all the behaviour that have these bargirls stuck in such a rut. A girl with looks like that could be living a life of luxury if she'd played her cards right. Instead, she steadfastly refuses to earn more money by making the simple step of moving to a bar 20 paces along the balcony, and what she does earn goes alternatively into bling, mobile phones, into the pocket of her Born to Lose boyfriend or Papa's weekly supply of Saeng Som.
Naughty nightlife and fast food.
Visiting Nana Plaza or Soi Cowboy compared to visiting McDonalds, you have a hunger, you go there for convenience, it's gaudy, bright and trashy inside, you see what you think you want, you order it and take it away, but when you get outside you realise that what you really have is a bag in your hand that's full of shit, you know it's wrong and that you shouldn't, but you have it anyway. Temporarily you feel satisfied, you walk away leaving your trash behind! Comparing the pay for play experience to KFC, nothing at all intellectual about the experience, once you're done with the breast and thigh all that you're left with is a useless greasy box to put your bone in!
Unpredictable Sukhumvit soi 4.
I was trying to chill out so I found myself in Jool's bar yesterday evening. I am sitting at the little section where you can smoke and I dropped my lighter. This young hawker, maybe she was 15 or 16, picked it up and put it on the counter and she had her trinkets for sale and my move was obviously to take something. So I rolled up a 100 baht note and thanked her and wished her good luck. About 10 minutes later she arrives back and takes the lighter off the counter, touches it to the ground and returns it to its original position. So ok, I was pretty jarred and said to myself I will pass another 100 note and that will be the end of it. 10 more minutes passed and she arrives back and she throws up a bag of rambuttan on the counter. “That's a kilo” she said and that is the last I saw of her. That was worth 200 baht. I called into the Heidelberg the day after, had a few jars and I had a dirty shirt from the day before in a plastic bag. It was decided among the staff that the shirt should be removed from my possession for one day so that it could be washed and ironed, all at no expense, something I really did not expect from soi 4.
More Ruskies on the way.
Just as many have noted, there is an increase of Russians in some places. I just had a word from some airline colleagues; Aeroflot have recently updated from their old 767s to Airbus 330s on flights to Bangkok, and now are updating again to a 777-300 series and increasing from 6 weekly to 10 weekly flights from Moscow to Bangkok. That's up from just around 1,000 weekly seats to well north of 3,000 seats; even though there are transit passengers from other places, that still is a lot of Ivans and Natashas in the sois!
Stickman or Pornman?
Thought you may be amused to know that when I was at the British Airways business class lounge at JFK Airport, New York, on Sunday 27th May, my attempt to read your weekly column was denied! The reason? "The website stickmanbangkok.com contains porno content." No kidding! Note: I was a Cathay Pacific passenger. CX shares the lounge with BA.
One of the bigger beer bars on Sukhumvit soi 4, Strikers may become a casualty of the change of leaseholder on the strip of soi 4 out front of Nana Plaza which will see rental rates soar. After spending a considerable sum on an upgrade not so long ago, the massive rent hikes would see Strikers paying over a million baht a month. The first mooted location is the site of the Nana Beer Garden in the Raja Hotel car park, a nice venue which frequently had no customers at all and which can't have made a single baht since it opened. The other location is the venue with the double doors on the cut through to soi 2, near the long-running Annie's massage house. Each of these locations doesn't get anywhere near the foot traffic of soi 4 proper.
There's always been much debate over the g spot with some saying that it is an erogenous zone and some saying that it doesn't exist. There is indeed a G Spot in Nana Plaza and I have finally figured out what the "G" stands for. Gigantic, giant, gargantuan, goodly, grand or any other adjective beginning with "g" that means much larger than it should be. Nana Plaza's G Spot is now officially a fat girl bar! I'm not talking about a bar like Tilac which has a good few bigger girls (in addition to plenty of very pretty, slim girls). G Spot features almost exclusively fat dancers with some seriously overweight. It is so bizarre that I thought for a moment it was some sort of parody of the gogo bar sector of the industry. It feels like a cartoon, like it can't be real – but it is! What is amazing is that, at least when I stuck my head in the door this week, all of these big girls were dancing with energy and most had a smile on their face. If you're in the plaza, you just have to stick your head in to see it for yourself.
When the new leaseholder takes charge of the plaza I hope something is done about the unwelcome grabbing from the aggressive welcome boys at the top of the escalator outside Mercury. They've managed to recreate the atmosphere of Patpong by grabbing people, blocking their way and even trying to physically push some people into their bar.
If you wondered why the beauties in Rainbow 4 appear lethargic on stage, perhaps it's because the standard dance shift at Rainbow 4 runs 6 songs, whereas in most bars it's 3 or 4.
In a bar which seems to keep some girls for an inordinately long time – which is something of a bitter sweet situation, reflecting very well on management but meaning some ultimately have a lot of miles on them – I was pleasantly surprised to see an influx of pretty girls at Tilac over the past couple of weeks. Not just new arrivals, but new to the industry. If you're looking for them, a few have inherited numbers in the 90s i.e. their numbered disc is 9x.
The Big Mango will celebrate its 4th anniversary in its second location on the small sub soi just off Soi Nana next Saturday, 9th June. From 7 – 8 PM, pints of Tiger and Heineken will be an incredible 30 baht (NOT a typo, THIRTY baht!) From 8 – 9 PM the price will be 40 baht a pint and from 9 – 10 PM it will be 50 baht a pint, assuming stocks last. There'll be free food & snacks including the national dish of England – Tikka Masala – as well as Thai food from 8:30 onwards. In the upstairs party room will be gogo girls doing gogo things. Shots will be given away and it will be buy 3 drinks, get the 4th free. It should be a great night!
I had heard reports of coppers on motorbikes pulling over motorbike taxis carrying foreigners on Suhkumvit and witnessed it myself this week. This foreigner was sitting on the back of a motorbike taxi which was stopped at the Asoke intersection when two coppers rode up and instructed the rider to pull over to the side of the road. This is happening more and more.
In last week's column I mentioned that men of colour are being stopped on Sukhumvit and asked to produce their passport and show a valid visa. They are also asked to hand over their wallet so its contents can be checked and they are asked to empty out their pockets. (* It should be noted that while you must produce your passport if asked, you have the right to refuse a search of your person and the cops cannot conduct such a search without either your consent, a warrant or reasonable grounds to carry out a search i.e. a robbery was committed nearby and a person meeting your description was seen fleeing.) A good mate of mine who can be described as a respectable, clean-cut white boy who is always well-dressed has lived on Sukhumvit for 10 years and until recently had never been approached by the cops. In the last 2 weeks he has been approached by them twice and been asked to produce ID and submit to a search. In each case he said the officers were polite, spoke decent English and the only thing that concerned him was when they put their hands straight into his pockets, putting thoughts in his mind that something could be planted. Let me say once again for the record, I have never ever heard of a foreigner having items planted on them – not that that means I would like the cops putting their hands in my pockets, mind you!
Opening its doors tonight with the official grand opening party on June 8th, The Game is downtown Bangkok's newest restaurant and sports bar. It can be found on Sukhumvit Road near soi 9, on the ground floor of the City Lodge Hotel, just metres from the Nana skytrain station. No matter what sport you like, they reckon you'll be able to find it on one of their 15 screens or the 4-metre HD projector TV in the 2-storey bar. The owners hope the venue will become a destination for those keen to follow the 2012 European football championship starting this Friday as well as the London Olympics. What sets this venue apart from others is that it's open around the clock so irrespective of kick off time, you'll always be able to watch your team play. Or you can just sit back and take in the sights of Sukhumvit from the outdoor seating area. There is an international menu provided by award winning chef Drew Garrity, specialising in American style pub fare along with an extensive Thai menu. The venue also features 3 pool tables, pool tournaments, theme nights, free wi-fi and draught beers from around the world. Bangkok's newest and only 24 hour sports bar, The Game aims to score big!
Popular Pattaya eccentric, Glitterman, is doing the rounds on his decorated bike at night in full costume. He used to do the show late afternoon, but is doing it now at night too.
Washington Square is a right mess with piles of rubble everywhere. As demolition crews smash down shophouses, scavengers are collecting anything of value. Despite all that is going on around them and the dreadful state of the square, it's business as usual at The Sportsman, The Dubliner and the Hare & Hound.
Rumours did the rounds late last year about the owners of Bacarra's interest in buying the adjacent Shark bar. They had hoped to knock the wall out and make a mega bar, Thailand's biggest gogo bar. Nothing has happened. My best guess is that this could be due to the ownership structure at Shark. The bar operator does not control the lease outright and the landlord has a share in the bar as part of the lease agreement which would appear to have complicated a deal being reached.
It's amusing hearing the justification of some guys to their liaisons in Thailand with paid companions. You don't need to justify it! If paying a woman to accompany you to a hotel room or your condo makes you happy, just do it and enjoy it. But PLEEEEEASE don't try and justify what you're doing with such nonsense that the girls prefer sleeping in a nice room in a luxury hotel with a nice guy! This is one of those crazy myths perpetuated by insecure guys with little knowledge or experience of local women with little grounding in fact. Many girls who work the bar would much prefer to spend the night in their own room where they can watch their favourite TV show, chat with friends, sleep on a hard bed (which many Thais are used to / prefer) or even sleep on the floor in a room which is free of air-conditioning. Quite a few Thais sleep with a light on or the TV turned on all night long, and many take comfort in the sounds from other rooms which lets them know they are not alone. Many don't like to be in a room they're unfamiliar with and can be scared of ghosts. They would much rather be amongst friends or family, their own kind. A luxurious room in a 5-star hotel might be nice for a short time and sure, there are some who might prefer it, but for many such decadence is lost on them, just as eating high-end French cuisine with unidentifiable animal parts in a sauce with splashes of a 30-year old bottle of wine would be lost on me.
Thai-style customer service can be a little different to what one may be used to or expect in the West. I was in a branch of one of the big photography shops this week to check out a new camera. When I inquired about the cash price, I was told that the store didn't offer a discount for cash as their service is superior and the price includes free cleaning of the camera's sensor for life. Bring the camera in to the store any time and the sensor would be cleaned free of charge, I was told. I explained to the sales girl – an absolutely stunning looking woman, just as all the sales staff were – that I had my current camera with me which I had bought at another branch of the same chain. I asked if they would clean it for me while I was there in the store. I was then told that they did not actually have a technician in the store to clean it – and they would not be getting one in the future. What about the free sensor cleaning promise on this new camera, I asked. The salesgirl slinked away and disappeared out the back of the shop and didn't return!
On the subject of photography, Steve of Bangkok Images returned to the States last year after calling Thailand home for several years. Steve writes a monthly photography column for this site which has quite a following. The very personable Steve conducts workshops for small groups and individuals tailored to their needs. Steve will be back in Thailand from June 22nd through to July 20th and will be available for workshops. If you are interested in advancing your photography skills, get in contact with him at : [email protected]
If you're coming to Bangkok this coming week, I'm afraid to say we've had crap weather this past week with rain late afternoon or early evening every day without fail. That's the rainy season pattern although the rainy season doesn't usually start in Bangkok this early.
Quote of the week comes from a reader, "In Pattaya I will enact my cunning plan of appearing to be one of the town's most affluent farangs by wearing a top with sleeves AND a collar!"
Reader's story of the week comes from Mega and is the brilliant "Changing The Picture".
An Australian woman arrives at Bangkok and is charged with the criminal offence of defamation.
From the Wall Street journal, Thailand is the top posting for expats without kids.
The most convenient skytrain station to get off to visit the mighty Chao Praya River is going to close.
The results of an inquiry are out after a Brit died touching a live power socket in Phuket.
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: A friend recently returned to Australia for medical reasons and is now hospitalised. I have been instructed by his family to sell his condo. I have received and remitted to them a substantial deposit, the balance to be paid on transfer of the title. What documentation will be required to effect the transfer? The owner has been diagnosed with dementia and is not allowed to sign documents. He has a will naming his sister as sole beneficiary. She is aged and unable to travel to Thailand. Would a Power of Attorney issued in Australia be recognised in Thailand? The purchaser and the vendor are willing to go along with any viable solution as long the title can be transferred. I have the unencumbered title deed [ chanote] in my safe.
Sunbelt responds: If the Power of Attorney can be executed at the Royal Thai Embassy and notarised there then it would be recognised by the courts in Thailand.
Question 2: I am a qualified seaman who works on yachts. At the moment I am in Thailand on a tourist visa and there is a yacht here that wants to use my services. The yacht will be based in Thailand for at least 6 months, and will not be leaving as she is in dry-dock. If I am signed on as crew on the yacht, am I 100% legal even though I don't have a work permit? My salary will come from outside Thailand to another account outside Thailand. How about renewing my tourist visa when this one runs out?
Sunbelt responds: The Labour Department has stated you are allowed to work without a work permit so long as your work is only on the yacht (which must be foreign registered) and not on land. You can get tourist visas in Malaysia or Cambodia or if you fly out of the country, you get 30 days on arrival.
For bar and restaurant owners, events organisers, or anyone who has something to promote which would be of interest to and / or benefit the Stickman readership, I am happy to mention it in the column. All I ask is that you get any snippets of news to me as early as possible. Please don't leave it to the last minute! While the publication deadline for this column is 6 PM Sunday, Thailand time, I often publish earlier. Some weeks I finish putting the column together as early as midday Saturday and only add stuff if it is particularly newsworthy. Inserting pieces late may require juggle stuff around so if you want something included, please try and get it to me as early as possible so as to avoid disappointment.
Your Bangkok commentator,