Stickman's Weekly Column November 25th, 2012

After Dark, A Different Bangkok



Think of Bangkok at night and the neon jungle of Soi Cowboy comes to mind, or any of the city's famous nightlife areas. But there's more to Bangkok at night than red light areas as I discovered this week when I took a late-night stroll around the old part of the city. With its majestic temples and colourful characters, some of whom come alive after dark, it'd make a change from downtown Bangkok. The other half warned me of the dangers of the old city at night, attempting to dissuade me from exploring a part of the city I'm less familiar with. But nothing will come between my two favourite hobbies, walking and street photography.




Bangkok

Close to the Hualumpong MRT station, Chinatown is probably the best place to start. I'd had dinner in another part of town and it was well into the evening. As I passed the familiar neon and the warm glow of hanging red lanterns, the crowds at Chinatown had already thinned out, bus stops busier than the sidewalk restaurants.



Bangkok

Keen to see something new, I veer off the main road and on to the street which runs parallel. Construction on the extension of the underground train has made the area a mess, yet people go about their business as usual. A lady has set up her hair removal stand (Don't ask me what that actually means, I'm just the translator!) between a protective barrier and a shop which has closed for the night. Signs advertising her services are fixed to the walls of the makeshift premises, and two small plastic stools sit where the procedure takes place.



Bangkok

I rejoin Yaowarat Road before it intersects with the small Pahurat district, also known as Little India. Street vendors operate beside a building from an era long passed while metres away the day's rubbish rots. A combination of household refuse, restaurant scraps and leftovers, the stench wafts across the road and takes me back to that first visit to the country. It's only when the sound is deafening, or the stench repulsive that the senses register it. This is one such occasion.



Bangkok

I could turn left to head to the Royal India for some of the finest Indian grub in town, but I've eaten already and decide to turn right. I have no route in mind, and preferring to just follow my mood and whatever looks interesting. I head towards Saphan Panfa and come across more work on the underground extension.

The old city has no shortage of attractions but it can be hassle getting to and from downtown. Traffic can be a killer, the skytrain + express boat combination cumbersome. That leaves the Saen Saeb Canal boat as the only real option between the old city and the new. It's noisy, crowded and uncomfortable, but it slices through the city like a knife through butter.

The underground extension will make the underground train even more crowded and uncomfortable at peak times than it already is, but it will be a boon for reaching the old city.



Bangkok

Not far from the Giant Swing, dustmen go about their work. Rubbish in Thailand seems to smell a whole lot worse than in Farangland and having given it rather more thought than one ought to, the best I can come up with is that food goes bad faster in the tropics, hence the bad smell comes sooner than it would in a cooler climate.



Bangkok

Getting close to Rachadamnoen Road, many shops feature Buddha statues, some of which are draped up in saffron coloured fabric. On a quiet street with little traffic in a part of town I am less familiar with, a lone Buddha statue outside a shophouse is almost eerie.



Bangkok

A young guy sits beside one of the remaining klongs that hasn't been filled in. Unmoving, his eyes are fixed on a single spot a few metres away. Perhaps words have been said with the other half and he's outside cooling down? Maybe he needed to clear his head after a hard day at the office? Maybe it's been a rough night on the turps? Or perhaps he simply wanted a little fresh air?



Bangkok

They should have been home in bed, well fed with their homework done hours ago, but these two youngsters are learning early, hurriedly pedaling their pushbike late into the Bangkok night, the rider looking in one direction and the bicycle heading in another!



Bangkok

I change direction and cut across towards the river. I make my way along the dark road between Wat Po and the Grand Palace, and along the stretch that runs parallel with the river to the Tien Pier. Day doesn't mirror night and the strip which is usually full of tourists, streetside stalls, tuktuk drivers and navy officers is derelict. For the first time in the evening I feel just a little vulnerable. There are few people around and the odd person I do see looks drunk, crazy or both.

I reach the Tien Pier and pick up a bottle of freshly squeezed pink dragonfruit juice from the only vendor I know of in all of Thailand who sells it. We chat a little and he tells me that it's time to head home. It's 11 PM and he won't be selling any more tonight. I'm his last customer for the day.

Out on the pier itself, young Thais are enjoying a romantic liaison as a late night river cruise passes Wat Arun, splendidly lit up and befitting its prime position on the river opposite the Grand Palace and Wat Po. On the bow of the vessel passengers lined up with their cameras, flash after flash is fired as they attempt to capture the moment.



Bangkok

The clouds break and from the Tien Pier to Chang Pier and moon light shines through. There are no street lights but reflected light from the spotlights against the white walls of the Palace helps me see where I'm going, along with light from the headlights of the odd passing vehicle.

I can't see anyone but I know they're out there from the distinctive smell of emptied bladders that fills the air. Even in the most heavily touristed parts of the city public toilets are a rarity.



Bangkok

Opposite the palace is the vast, green expanse of Sanam Luang. City Hall officers patrol the park where once Bangkok's homeless would bed down for the night under the stars, their life's belongings placed in carrier bags beside them. Gentrification of the area has seen the have-nots dispersed around the 'hood and not long after nightfall the field becomes off limits.

Once a thriving open air camp ground for the poor, drugs addicts, street walking prostitutes and those who go through life making bad decision after bad decision, today Sanam Luang is clean, green and sterile, like a slice of Singapore transplanted in to the historic part of Bangkok.



Bangkok

Invisible by day when they manage to slip away into the shadows and somehow hide away out of sight, by night they come out in droves. Night time on Rachadamnoen Road, the main arterial just metres from Khao San Road, sees the homeless and the have-nots take up their space and lay out their possessions. For many, the area has been the only home they have known for years.



Bangkok After Dark

It's so desperate in parts that it almost doesn't feel like Bangkok, at least not the Bangkok most foreigners know. It's more like downtown Phnom Penh where the poverty is real and so much more raw.

I feel guilt looking at these people through the lens. I almost never feel that way with working girls, especially when I know that with those who cavort with foreigners it's often the guys who are ultimately the victims, not the girls.

I snap the homeless, but I think hard about it first. Should I defer to them in the same way I do those who are crippled, retarded, or those who have met extreme misfortune? Those whose situation is so horrid are immune to my roving lens.

It's been a good walk and it's getting late. The canal boat service stopped hours earlier and most on nearby Khao San will be bedding down for the night. I review the shots I've got. I'm happy with what I've got. I'm ready to call it a night when I notice some lights down a side road. Seeing as they're not even 50 metres away, I head for a quick look.



Bangkok After Dark

It's the PraNakhon Bar, which I gather has something of a following at the weekend. Adjacent are two more bars, distinctly Thai-style. They don't hold my interest, but what's further down the street does.

Young women, pretty women, smiling women, scowling women, the full gamut of women are standing along the road, spaced out, anything from 10 to 30 metres apart. Some are standing in the shadows, others are sitting on a plastic chair, legs crossed, facing the road. From the way they are dressed and the time of night, there's only one reason they are here.

My interest piqued, I proceed further down the quiet street. They look at me with a mix of surprise and disinterest. Obviously foreigners are a rarity and those who do make it aren't buying. There's no obvious resentment of a foreigner strolling through what is clearly a very Thai area, the camera doesn't seem to scare them and so I press on.

I engage a couple with basic greetings in English and play the dumb tourist, always a safe way to start. English varies from basic to non-existent, most understand nothing more than hello. "How are you?" returns a look of confusion.

Seeing the camera, one woman tells me to take her photo. Being the gentleman that I am, I oblige.



Bangkok After Dark

On one side of Rachadamnoen Road is Khao San, on the other side is this. Backpacker central is only a few hundred metres away, but there's nary a foreigner to be seen. The looks I get confirm what I have long suspected – if it doesn't appear in Lonely Planet, as far as backpackers are concerned it doesn't exist. Their tiny little world is built around familiarity and ease, their idea of adventure consuming fried noodles from an English-speaking vendor with a sign in English at a stand where the food is so inauthentic that a local wouldn't dream of eating, all while Western music is played, and nearby guesthouses show Western movies around the clock. It's all about as authentic as a Zulu in traditional dress walking down 5th Avenue.

Backpacker enclaves replicated across the region are miniature copies of Farangland, comfort and familiarity for the very people who claim are trying to escape that! They can have their banana pancakes and 20 baht fried noodles. Give me the excitement, the buzz and the nervous energy that comes with exploring those places few foreigners dare see.

Getting off the beaten path is not always the easy option. As I wander deeper into an area that I will later learn is known as Klong Lod, the reality of my situation dawns on me. I've fallen off the grid.



Bangkok After Dark

A group of Thai guys cut from the same cloth are camped at canal-side tables. Fit, with short hair and in green uniform, they have to be military. A table of bottles suggests they haven't just arrived. They're joking and laughing and in the still Bangkok night, every word they say is as distinctive as the aroma of chicken being grilled on the street just over my shoulder.

The noise, the constant noise, the inescapable noise, the noise which goes unnoticed by so many Thais is absent in this 'hood. Here in the depths of Klong Lod there's an un-Bangkok-like quiet, as close as you can reasonably hope to get to anything near silence, the only audible sounds coming from groups drinking at canal-side tables, and the occasional motorbike passing by.



Bangkok After Dark

I press on and the deeper I get, the more working girls I see. My presence is of almost no interest. Perhaps they think all white men are as poor as the Khao San crowd, and as tight with their money? Most are reserved, almost to the point of being docile. I engage a few and discover they come from all over. An Isaan village in the heart of the old city this is not.

With one chatty lass, I'm informed that a good time runs no more than 3 standard drinks would on Sukhumvit, the cost of a room less than the cost of a single lady drink at Cowboy.

Opposite I see a grey-haired Thai guy cruising the area. He's conspicuous by the way he is standing. He's perhaps 20 metres away, standing upright, still, and staring right in my direction. Does the working girl I'm crouched behind have his attention or is it me he's looking at? Is he wondering I'm doing in his 'hood?



Klong Lawt

The presence of so many ladies is easily explained. The scene has been pushed away from Sanam Luang which was once known for its streetwalkers. These girls tend to be found in public places like parks or near red-light areas, away from where people actually live but this area is residential and down-market for the most part. Cars parked on the street allow the girls something to lean against; some brazenly wait for their next customer in the cab of someone's pickup.

The Warehouse, a chic boutique hotel marketed to foreigners, has opened up right in the thick of the nonsense. With space at an absolute premium and even the likes of Scoozi and Starbucks being squeezed out of Khao San Road by astronomical rents, similar properties will soon follow. Just as Sanam Luang before it, this neighbourhood too threatens to become gentrified.

The centre of the action is the intersection where 7 Eleven empties out on to a swathe of sidewalk so large you could play futsal on it. Vendors operate on each corner while girls in plastic chairs sit up right when a vehicle passes by. Just a few metres from the 7 Eleven is ladyboy central. They're not the aggressive breed found on Sukhumvit and the sight of a foreigner does nothing for them. They turn away and show no interest, almost as if to say, don't waste my time.

On a corner near a small bridge that runs over the canal I notice a group more animated. Arms are going and faces full of expression. From a distance they appear to be arguing but I can't hear a thing. As I edge my way closer I see that they're signing. It's the deaf and dumb corner. My presence doesn't interest them even though they're dressed like all the girls in the area. They're on the game.



Bangkok After Dark

There's none of the corny hello handsome man carry on so common with the sycophants of Sukhumvit, instead my presence is observed but not a clue given to as to how I am perceived. I recall my first time crossing Hong Kong harbour, sat on the Star Ferry, just me and a mate from home, our first time in Asia as a thousand sets of Chinese eyes stared at us, expressionless, with not so much as a hint of what was going through their minds.

A motorbike moves from girl to girl. It stops for a few seconds, the rider says a few words, and then off he zooms to the next girls. It's ridden by a young Thai punk, with another riding bitch. They're carbon copies of each other, late teens or early 20s with spiky, dyed, 80's pop star hairdos. One is shirtless and the other has facial tats, perhaps first time I have seen such on a Thai. They look like vocational school students, those brats whose brawls are as fierce as gang fights anywhere on the planet, where machetes and homemade weapons are used and where casualties can become fatalities.

The old city may be farang-friendly, but this sub district, at this time of day? I'm in a neighbourhood I'm unfamiliar with and I've been here too long. Sensibility prevails and I head back to Rachadamnoen.

On the main road I pass a couple of old birds who'd earlier said hello. One asks me to take her photo. She's not the easiest on the eyes, but makes up for it with a warm demeanour and a delightful smile. I fire off a few shots and show her. Weally goot, she says. Two words of Tinglish. I'm back on the grid.



Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was taken of Rachadamnoen Nok Road. There are two prizes this week, a voucher for Sunrise Tacos and a voucher for Firehouse in Sukhumvit soi 11, known for its excellent hamburgers.

Terms and conditions: The 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! You MUST specify which prize you would like and failure to do so will result in the prize going to the next person to get the photo correct.

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 You're no longer in Kansas!

I am considering options of where to live and one consideration is that there are times in a foreign country when you realise that you really are in a foreign country and that what you know and your 'norms' count for nothing. Dealing with police is one of these. I was a cop for 30 years in UK. In the UK we don't have ID cards and there is absolutely no requirement unless you're driving a vehicle to give a cop your name etc. Stop / searches have to be recorded and you have a right to a copy of the record there and then. I know we have much debate about West versus East and there's much to be said, not least about women. In most Western countries I don't feel as vulnerable to cops and bureaucrats. That's one thing that might steer me away from moving east. However crap the UK may be (and whatever the attitudes of most of its women), there is still some basic security in dealing with officialdom.

Happy to avoid the hassles of Bangkok.

I never carry my passport unless there's a reason to do so, like going to Immigration or doing something at the bank. I have a laminated copy of the front page in my wallet. I have no idea if I'm being legal or not. Of two long-term expat friends, one always carries his passport and the other doesn't – but carries his Thai driver's license. I'm not trying to cause the cops a problem or anything – I'm absent-minded and likely to take my passport out, put it down, and forget it. I figure any hassle from not having my passport will be less than the hassle of losing it. I almost always have my phone, and my girlfriend could bring my passport if there was a real problem. Even though I almost never go to Bangkok anymore except to fly in and out of Thailand, your report and the recent discussion in your column is a bit disturbing. I'm really glad I don't have to be up there these days. In Bangkok I was always around Asoke and I always had a bag. I would be a target for sure.

Be clean cut, well-presented and polite.

I have had only minor encounters with the police and all without incident. Of course I don't count paying a pink or two to settle a traffic infraction for which I was in the wrong. Last year I was stopped at a daytime checkpoint in Hua Hin and asked for my documents. The cop seemed surprised when I looked him in the eye and after a confident sawadee krup, presented him with an IDP, a driver's licence from my home country, my green book and a helmet securely fastened to my melon. He was serious and unsmiling at first, looking at me then back at the photos several times. Imagining he was trying to come up with something that would intimidate me a little. I just kept smiling and joked with him in Thai, asking if he thought my photos looked handsome. "Law mai?" He finally had to crack a smile and wave me on. I do carry a colour copy of my passport but he never asked. I now have a Thai licence for car and motorcycle and would love to try them out under similar circumstances. It may be different in Bangkok and you may call me naive but personally I have found that the old-fashioned approach of having a clean appearance, being polite and light-hearted, looking people in the eye with a smile and speaking a bit of Thai works wonders with most officials here, and for that matter most everyone.



A practical solution.

I disagree about carrying a passport. It is worrisome to leave pants hanging in a massage stall while showering, even in a legit place, as you can't trust the other customers. Pictures are taken at the airport upon arrival so why can't they provide a paper with your arrival and exit date and a copy of that picture attached? That paper could be made legal to show officials. A passport could still be requested, such as at hotel check-in or in the case of an auto accident, but you couldn't be charged for not having a passport on you. I would gladly pay 200 baht at the airport for such a document and keep my passport in my room safe.

Late night near Cowboy.

About a year ago, I left Soi Cowboy around 2 AM and walked toward Sukhumvit to get a taxi near the corner of Soi 23. As I walked around the corner, I was stopped by the boys in brown. There were 4 of them stopping random folks (some motorcycles, some pedestrians). I didn't have my passport, but did have a copy of the main page as well as the entry stamp. That didn't seem to be a problem, but that didn't end it either, as my pockets and wallet were checked. I didn't want to cause any problems and just wanted to get home after a night of fun and drinking. He padded my pockets and asked me to empty the contents (wallet, phone, keys). Then, he proceeded to carefully check everything in my wallet, even that the name on the ID matched. The ATM card said "Valued Customer" which caused me a lot of grief. "Why doesn't this name match your ID?" "Whose ATM card is this?" I tried to explain but luckily another policeman must have explained it because after they talked, the police told me to go.

Seeing the light in Singapore.

I was in Singapore a few weeks ago and it was so refreshing to jump into a taxi and have intellectual conversations with the cabbies who speak fluent English. When I told them that I lived in Thailand they all mentioned the many problems faced up here. One cabbie I had an in-depth conversation with on the virtues of common sense. Back in Thailand and the first taxi I jump into within minutes the driver wants to know how much I earn and whether I have eaten already. I so can't play this game forever.

The enduring Nana.

Some things just don't change, like the staff of the Nana Hotel. One bellman at the Nana has been there 32 years and he is just 50. He started when he was 18 and is a weightlifter after hours and the Nana House bodyguard. He's always polite and remembers me instantly. The limo drivers at the front door have all been there since the doors opened years and years ago. Kim was my driver in 1978 on my first trip to Thailand and he's still there! Some of the clerks at the front desk have 40 years of service at the Nana Hotel. All in all, the Nana Hotel is what it is – low cost, good food, safe, no shortage of service ladies and centrally located, plus all with good service. When the Nana changes it will mean the lights are out for good at Nana Plaza.




Christmas trees are popping up all over downtown Bangkok as the festive season arrives early in Thailand, as it does every year. Christmas carols are being played in some shopping centres and others will no doubt pull out their Christmas jingles CDs soon. Despite being a predominately Buddhist country, Christmas is yet another reason to celebrate, party, have a good time and generally be happy – plenty of reasons for the Thais to embrace it!

The recent designation of Nana Plaza as a safety zone has had police looking closer at what takes place on the property. Piss tests were held at a ground floor bar in the plaza this past week. Customers were told to move outside while the constabulary took over the interior and carried out tests to see what the girls had in their system. And in another bar which shall remain nameless, a number of the babes frantically leapt off stage, hurriedly threw on some street clothes and made a quick exit, only to return to the venue later in the evening. Long-timers know what that means.

While the new Nana Plaza sign remains in perpetual darkness, I note a couple of small but permanent additions to it. Not only does the neon sign now also proclaim the plaza as a safety zone, it also says welcome to the land of smiles and Nana Plaza, your second home!

The boys in brown are taking the safety zone designation seriously down at Cowboy too. On Thursday night there were 5 uniformed coppers patrolling the soi 21 end with another 4 at the soi 23 end.

Perhaps a greater police presence would help at Patpong where rip-offs in upstairs bars continue to this day. Aggressive touts advertising all manner of degrading shows who lead punters upstairs are usually up to no good and two readers fell for it this week. Allowing themselves to be led to an upstairs bar by a tour, they were told that drinks were just 100 baht each. After 10 boring minutes they left their half-finished drinks and went to pay. They thought 200 baht for a few sips and a crap show was rip-off but that would be getting off easy. When they called for the bill, the total was 2,800 baht. With no martial arts or military training, they felt intimidated by the staff to fight it and left with lighter wallets and their tails between their legs.

It's a number of years since Englishman Derek closed the doors on the Winking Frog and continued his adventure around the region. But Derek couldn't find anywhere with quite the same allure as Bangkok and he's not just back in Bangkok, but back in the industry, this time as a manager where he's keeping an eye on the comings and goings at Stumble Inn in Soi Nana. Old friends keen to catch up can find Derek there and anyone looking for a chat will find Derek full of stories.

Lone Star A Gogo in Nana Plaza is the new name of the rethemed bar on the top floor once known as Carnival. Not only has the venue had a complete overhaul, I hear that they have a new mechanical bull. I guess that means Lone Star is the best place to go if you're looking for a good buck.





A much improved Cocktail Club has reopened and has been transformed into a bright, attractive looking bar. It looks like work is complete on the interior but the new sign has yet to be erected outside.

Cowboy was booming on Thursday night and Bacarra was absolutely heaving. You could barely move inside and not only were all the seats taken and many standing, some punters were sitting on the floor! Finding an empty seat in Bacarra after 8:30 PM is like trying to find a durian that doesn't smell.

Spanky's is probably one of the 3 most popular bars in Nana at the moment and boss Marc has created a fun venue with a low staff turnover. That along with a bunch of zany shows keep it as popular as ever. Marc is keen for the Pattaya branch of Spanky's to become as popular as the Bangkok operation and finally seems to have accepted that his magic touch is needed so he's going to be spending 5 days a week in Pattaya until he is confident he has recreated the same atmosphere that you find in Bangkok. If you're in Soi Diamond, stop by and check it out.

Am I the only person who feels that so many of Bangkok's bars have gone stale? I have talked before of the danger of any one owner running many bars which could result in all of their bars starting to feel the same which but truth be told, many bars really do feel much the same. They lack imagination, lack new ideas and too many just seem to think that playing music, selling beer and putting girls on stage is enough. If the girls were hot, it probably would be enough, but most bars struggle to get a lot of pretty girls so they need to mix things up a bit…and my observation is that they are not. A few bars are making the effort to separate themselves from the competition and stand out. Las Vegas and Billboard make an effort with decent shows, and Club Electric Blue supplemented its line-up with a bunch of coyote girls who at times are wild. Bacarra and Rainbow 4 have enough beauties on stage that they don't need to do anything special, but these 5 venues aside, there's little to rave about in Bangkok these days. To make matters worse, the staff in many bars give the impression that they are going through the motions and doing the absolute minimum. It's a different story in Pattaya where many bars have a theme and a concept and their business plan is more than just beer and babes. Bars in Sin City seem to make an effort to differentiate themselves from each other with unique shows, promotions, parties with cheap drinks and free food etc. Basically, they offer something which differentiates them from the competition. Bangkok bar owners could learn something from the Pattaya operators.

It's Loy Kratong this coming week, a charming Thai festival and a day in which many bars throw a party and the staff dress up in traditional Thai garb. Amongst those doing something special is Bangkok Beat in Sukhumvit soi 7/1 where a beer will set you back just 120 baht. It's worth noting that Loy Kratong is one of the most difficult nights of the year to get a taxi (or a room in a short-time hotel) so keep that in mind if you're out and about…



Loy Kratong



Strikers beer bar in the Raja Hotel car park in soi 4 was the scene of a photo shoot yesterday with a New York photographer shooting the bar's beauties for a calendar that will become available next month. The shoot was open to the public to watch but I didn't mention it in last week's column because…..Strikers management was late letting me know. With this in mind, to all bar and restaurant owners and managers, let me know about your events, parties etc. before the Sunday which falls before the event.

Soi 4 really is bustling and with the entire frontage of Nana Plaza being beer bars it's a better fit than the non-bar businesses that once operated there. With the soi so busy, the pesky ladyboys who had been repelled for a while are back. You only have to walk a few steps from the entrance to find yourself surrounded by them. Great if you're into them, scary if you're not.

A reader spotted the Christmas tree on wheels in Wimbledon this week as ex-Pattaya resident Glitterman was seen performing the show.

When the Sofitel on Silom Road was rebranded as a Pullman hotel, the 37th floor bar, V9, was also renovated and rebranded as Red Scarlett @ Pullman G on Silom. It might not offer the dramatic views of State Tower but drinks prices are much more reasonable. A local beer will set you back around 160 baht – you pay around 3 times that at State Tower. Like AmBar which I mentioned last week, it's another option for a drink with nice views but without the hassle, crowds and lofty prices of some roof-top venues.

If you know where to look, I notice that episode 6 in the first series of Scam City just happens to be about Bangkok. The TAT will choke on their som tam if they see it.

Sometimes it is best to stick with what you know, and not get too involved with what you don't. The manager of Baby Dolls in Pattaya ought to be congratulated for being innovative and trying to capture a new market. The smallest mistake meant for a short time it backfired. Laminated cards were printed for the door staff to show potential customers stating in Mandarin and Japanese that there were over 40 sexy girls inside. With staff sporting these cards, management then began to wonder why they were not getting any Japanese customers, until a regular pointed out that the card had been translated as, "sexy girls inside, over 40 years old." This has been corrected and management assures me that sexy girls aged over 40 aren't their thing!

Still in Pattaya, Sapphire A Gogo in Pattaya's soi 15 will celebrate its 3rd anniversary with a party tonight.


Sapphire


In my travels I notice many hotels are upgrading to large-screen, high-definition LCD screens. That's all very nice, but what's the point when the signal is pirated and split so many times that when it's viewed on a large screen TV it looks awful? Hoteliers might be better off sticking with CRT TVs unless they're willing to install a legal feed.

One thing you don't see much of these days is Thai guys holding hands. You used to see it all the time, particularly amongst those of high school and university age. They were not homosexuals, just friends. Holding hands wasn't necessarily the norm amongst groups of males, but then you wouldn't say it was uncommon either. You hardly see it these days.

The opening piece of last week's column's generated plenty of feedback. The one point a few readers made which I thought was a real concern was what happens when a taxi is stopped at a police checkpoint. Typically passengers are asked to get out of the cab, show ID and a brief search is made of their wallet / bag / pockets. What happens next is the worry. The interior of the taxi is searched. I cannot imagine how many people sit in a taxi each day, but let's imagine that a passenger earlier in the day was an unsavoury individual who inadvertently had left something in the cab that they shouldn't. Would the police actually charge a passenger if something dodgy was found? Any decent defence lawyer would quash that quickly, but I get the feeling a good number of foreigners would settle before it got that far, so strong is the fear amongst many foreigners of going to the monkey house. And of course, all the while the taxi driver sits in the driver's seat and is never so much as asked to show a driver's licence!

Checkinn99 on Sukhumvit Road, between sois 5 and 7, will hold an Australian classics & rock tribute concert next Saturday, December 1st, starting at 8 PM. The night will feature some of the best music from Down Under with both Aussie and Kiwi classics including Seekers, Easybeats, Skyhooks, LRB, Daddy Cool, Jimmy Barnes, Ice House, Crowded House, Aussie Crawl, Cold Chisel, Black Sorrows, Angels, ACDC, Mondo Rock, Mental As Anything, Olivia Rooting-John, Chrissy & Divinyls, Peter Allen and many more. The venue also has an Aussie Nostalgia wall. Stickman readers will enjoy an extra treat – first in, first to get great free Aussie gifts. Come early for dinner as numbers will be strictly limited to the first 150 (and that will be a squeeze) and then the doors will close. Advance bookings can be made at CheckInn99's Facebook page. Listen to great music, meet Mama Noi…what more can I say, it should be a great night!


Checkin99


Quote of the week comes from a reader, "Sitting outside a gogo as tourists walk laps and take photos makes me understand what it's like to be an animal at the zoo!"

Reader's story of the week is about an HIV+ woman who may be knowingly spreading the disease.

Food in Bangkok's Chinatown is highlighted with renowned chef David Thompson leading foodie tours.

A Brit is killed after his plane plunges into the sea while sprinkling his late friend's ashes over Pattaya Bay.

Another female American do-gooder is fighting the evils of prostitution in Bangkok.

Lee Aldhouse, the Brit accused of killing an American in Phuket, loses his extradition fight and will return to Thailand.

New research looks at why some Thai women have been known to cut off their husband's penis.

A Bangkok woman becomes a surrogate for an Aussie couple.

The British couple who suffered a machete attack in Thailand tells their sorry tale to The Sun newspaper.

CNBC looks at the rise of 7 Eleven and junk food in Thailand.



Ask Sunbelt Asia 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 have recently been researching the subject of self-defence in Thailand, specifically whether or not pepper spray is legal to carry. Maybe Sunbelt can enlighten readers as to the legality / advisability of carrying pepper spray or other types of self-defence instruments.

Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: While the possession of pepper spray is not illegal in Thailand as it is considered a non-lethal and non-dangerous deterrent, however, even though it is not considered a weapon since it does not cause permanent or lasting injuries the sale or importation of it is prohibited by law as it is a prohibited substance under FDA regulations. There is still debate going on whether or not to make it fully legal or fully illegal. For the time being the possession of it is not illegal. Sunbelt Asia Legal Lawyers can check the regulations on other specific types of self defense weapons to determine if they are viewed as a "weapon" or as a deterrent should you wish to pursue another avenue of self defence.

Question 2: I got a shock when I received a letter from a government agency. I nervously gave it to one of my colleagues who translated it as a traffic camera ticket. I have to pay a 500 baht fine. I can live with that. What I don't understand is whether Thailand has a points system and whether I will incur points. If so, how many, and how many points means you lose your licence?

Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: When a CCTV catches you running a red light or speeding, a fine will be sent with 3 photos of the violation; right before, during and the license plate number. The ticket will be sent to the registered owner of the car. The minimum fine is 500 baht, but it can be up to 1,000 baht.

While the points system is still under consideration and has yet to be approved, the initial system is that the registered owner will have 40 points deducted for running a red light. If the total number of points deducted reaches 60 then your driver's license would be suspended for 90 days. The same offence committed within a year would result in a 90 day suspension and a driver's training course to regain your driver's licence.

It's important to note that a 500 baht fine would still apply for someone trying to beat the red light, i.e. speeding up through a yellow, but there would be no points deduction.

If you receive a ticket for a car you have already sold then please return the ticket to the traffic police along with the sale and purchase agreement showing the new owner.





Bangkok

ISO 8000, 70 mm, F3.2, 1/80 second


Whenever I put together a photo essay I receive a good few questions about the photos, the lens and the settings used. Some readers have asked me to include the settings with each photo as I have with the photo above. This is not a photography column per se and my feeling is that these details don't really fit, but I am willing to take feedback on this. Do you think the small text below photos with the settings used to take it is worth including, as per the example above? Or is it a distraction? I am happy enough to include these details like this but if the consensus is that it is distracting or simply perhaps not relevant in an expat column about Bangkok then I won't include them. Do let me know.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Firehouse