Two big name bars in Sukhumvit soi 33 closed recently and it feels like the sun is slowly dropping over the soi. Has Sukhumvit soi 33 lost direction? Why have things reached this point? Will the sun rise over the soi again?
Rather than speculate about what's going on, I popped by to visit the one known as the Burgermeister – German for mayor. He lives in the soi, works in the soi and in Livingstone's he has a significant investment in the soi. As owner and general manager of the boutique hotel, restaurant and bar that sits right in the heart of soi 33, he has a unique perspective of what's going on at soi 33.
What's happening on the soi these days? What's the latest news from around here?
In my point of view, the road is dying. The latest news is that Christie's, the bar at the beginning of the road and the bar that was closest to Sukhumvit, has closed down. And back on 30th October, Renoir closed down. That means the road has lost 2 of the main hostess bars, and these 2 bars had been here for years. Renoir was the oldest bar in the street.
I very seldom make it to soi 33. Were these 2 bars popular before they closed down? Do you think the decline in business is a recent thing?
I think the process of business in the soi declining has been the case for 2 or 3 years and is ongoing. Renoir was empty whenever I went there and in the last year and a half I didn't see many customers in there. As far as Christie's goes, I don't know as I never went in there, but from what I could see from outside it didn't seem to have a lot of customers either.
How would you describe not just the current situation on soi 33, but the current direction of the soi? I mean, I can't work it out and I write about this stuff and am supposed to know! Some of the bars on soi 33 are for Westerners, some for Japanese and some, well, I just don't know!
The direction for the last few years has been the same as before, a soi with hostess bars. This business model was quite successful when I first came here in 2000.
At that time the road was popular after office hours and the bars were quite successful. Businessman left the office and came to soi 33 where they could drink, chat with the girls and maybe play pool with them. At that time about half the girls working in this soi did not go with customers and there were lots of students from Ramkhamhaeng working here. The bars were full from around 6 PM onwards. The bars did very well on week days, but not so well on weekends. This has completely changed and in the last few years the hostess bars have really struggled. Today the road is considered by some to be too expensive and there are some bars that are known to rip off customers.
The past few years we have seen some changes and there are more restaurants on the road now. We have some coyote bars which for a time were relatively successful but now that business seems to have died too.
So if you ask me about the direction of the road, well, there is no real direction now! This road needs to redefine itself and find a new direction. It needs to develop a new market for a different kind of customer.
Things seem to be really bad, in fact it seems to me that business has been bad here for so long that I can't understand how so many bars of have stayed in business for as long as they have. Do you think the closure of Renoir and Christie's could cause a domino effect and business in the soi could completely collapse?
That's exactly what is happening now, in my point of view.
I was out on the soi last weekend and on Saturday evening I was in one of the bigger bars where there are many staff, many girls, 2 or 3 mamasans and there were only 5 customers. In another big bar it was the same, a maximum of maybe 10 customers. That means that even after 2 major bars closed – which means there are fewer bars for customers to choose from yet the bars that remain still aren't doing well. There just aren't many customers on the road. I think some of the customers who used to go to those two bars, Renoir and Christie's, won't return. With less choice and fewer bars to choose from, I think the road will lose even more customers so yes, it could collapse.
Do you think these problems are about soi 33 specifically or about foreigners being choosier because they have less money / are less confident about their job and the economy and they are less willing to spend their money at the moment?
The problem is a combination of both. On one hand there are not so many expats on real expat contracts, you know, the really big expat contracts. That means there are fewer guys spending money in expensive hostess bars compared with years ago.
The second reason is that there are fewer Europeans travelling here which is a result of the ongoing European financial crisis.
The third reason is that there are so many options now in Bangkok that a road that has become known as being overpriced and for ripping people off is not many people's first choice.
The fourth reason is that bars on this road never made any sort of coordinated marketing so that it is known as soi 33, a bar district destination in the same way as Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza are. If we had done that, we would not have these problems today.
OK, so you say there are fewer moneyed up expat customers visiting the road today. So how have those people who are coming to the road changed? Is there a new typical profile of the soi 33 customer?
I don't think there's a specific profile now like there was in the past. In addition to local expats, business travellers and businessmen were brought here by their Thai business partners. Now tourists may come to the road and there are fewer business travellers than before.
I also see many younger people coming to Bangkok now and visiting the sex tourist entertainment areas. This surprises me. I always ask myself if those younger guys can't get laid. Why do they have to participate in the sex industry at such a young age? Do you see this?
Yeah, I do. For sure, there are way more young guys in the bars these days and young expats in general.
Why do they do it? Can they not find a girlfriend or get laid?
I think part of the reason for young guys visiting the bars and fooling around is the culture of today, the culture of now, now, now. If there's one thing I notice about younger people today it's that they don't want to wait for anything. They want it and they want it now! And that is why I think despite being quite politically correct compared to when we were younger, young guys' carnal desires overcome the PC stuff and they go out and misbehave. Do the various bar and other business owners on the soi work together?
The owners do not work together. There are very, very few professionals running businesses here and there is nearly no marketing.
I understand that it's a fairly even mix of Thai owners and foreign business owners here.
It's a mix of both, yes.
While soi 33 might be dying, the general area is doing ok. Soi 31 has heaps of restaurants that are often full. And soi 33/1 seems to be doing ok. What have they got or what are they doing that soi 33 does not?
Soi 33/1 is being developed into THE road for Bangkok's English and Irish pubs. There are 3 of these pubs just in soi 33/1 and another here on the corner of soi 33. The difference between soi 33/1 and soi 33 is that the bars in soi 33/1 do not necessarily cater for the sex tourists but for families, couples and regular tourists.
I have been writing for perhaps the past couple of years how sex tourists are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of total visitors to Thailand. Do you think this will have an effect on Bangkok's entertainment areas in general?
It has already had an impact on certain areas in Bangkok. Compared to years ago, there is not much action in Patpong any more. And soi 33 is dying right now too. The 2 remaining centres for sex tourism entertainment of Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy are doing relatively ok. In general, the lower Sukhumvit area is doing quite well.
The difference is that these tourists don't have so much money to spend any more and many spend most of their money on girls. Soi 33 years was never dominated by the sex tourists but by businessmen who sat and drank with the girls and maybe played pool with them….but did not necessarily take the girls out later. This kind of spending pattern and these kinds of people don't visit the soi today.
Tell me what it's like to run a business here where your staff are all Thai and your customers all foreigners. You're German, and I think it's fair to say that you're fairly typically German – and by that I mean you are straight and systematic and like to do things properly. You don't suffer fools. How does a straight, honest businessman deal with staff who have the reputation of perhaps not being quite so straight and, shall we say, not say hard-working or task-focused?
Do I have to answer this question?!
For me it's quite difficult to work here, especially now that I run the hotel by myself.
It is very difficult to understand that some staff can sit for hours in the corner not doing anything, not looking for work, just because nothing has to be done. Let's take the chefs for example. When there are no customers in the restaurant they can sit for hours doing nothing and that's it. Others would usually look for something to do, but not here.
Another issue is the speed at which implemented processes are forgotten and have to be taught again. It's surprising and sometimes difficult to understand that how a tuna salad can be made well 3 times in a row and then the 4th time it is made completely differently even though there is a recipe and standard operating procedure of how to do it! So for me as a German and especially as someone who has been a professional in the IT industry, it is very difficult to deal with some of this Thai stuff.
My column for next week is called, "The New Expats", and it is about all of the young foreigners who are pouring into this city, many of whom are keen to invest or set up a business of their own. As someone who has "been there, done that" so to speak, do you have any thoughts or advice for them?
My advice to young foreigners coming here is to work in Thailand for a maximum of 3 years. Look it as one step on the career ladder. After three years get a job in one of the more serious countries in the region like Malaysia, Singapore or Hong Kong.
In my experience, working here in Thailand for too long decreases a person's chances to return to their own country and reintegrate in to a work life and in to the work processes there. I have seen so many expats working in Thailand for so long that they would have real trouble getting back into a work environment at home because they have changed to the ways of Thailand. They really would struggle to get back up to speed.
For entrepreneurs, my recommendation is to be very, very careful about starting a business here. Be aware that farangs here are usually not seen as a reasonable business partner but as a walking ATM machine.
So the walking ATM machine cliché has truth to it?
In my experience, yes. If I ask for a quote as a foreigner it is usually 3 times as high as if one of my employees – who are all Thai – asks for a quote for exactly the same thing.
So the walking ATM machine cliché has truth for someone living here, and not just for guys who fall in love with Thai women?
It has truth also for people living here but the longer you live here, the more you know the games that are played and the more you can deal with it. After a while you are not necessarily a walking ATM machine here any more. Running a business here is much more difficult than running a business in say, Singapore.
You did business in Singapore, right?
I still run a software development company in Singapore.
Why is it that whenever I visit you here, I don't see many people around? You have this fabulous property, the room prices are reasonable, you have all this space and up behind us there over the pool you have a view of the city's skyscrapers. You call this an oasis in the heart of Bangkok and for once that description really is accurate. Why don't I see people here? Are you the German version of Basil Fawlty?!
Who's Basil Fawlty?
< I explain who he is.>
Most likely I am! <We laugh together.>
The reason that you do not see many people here is that the charm of the property results from its space and its ambience. Too many people would destroy this so the target of Livingstone's Lodge is to run a boutique style hotel. We have just 18 rooms. Some of the customers are here for dinner or at the bar, but you will never see too many people here at one time. When the road had more customers, we also had more walk-in customers, but as I explained, this has changed in the last few years.
So has the dramatic fall in the number of customers on the road meant a similar fall at Livingstone's?
It has had a direct impact on our restaurant and bar business. The walk in customers are missing. But Livingstone's does not depend on these walk-in customers. We have the hotel and the hotel guests still come. We have a very good location close to the skytrain and an easy walk to Emporium and the nightlife areas.
The impact on the hotel business of the road going down is limited. Because of the location of the hotel, there will be always customers at the hotel, even if the road is dead. The hotel does not depend on the entertainment businesses of soi 33.
OK, I'm willing to give you a chance to say a few words to promote your hotel, but only if you offer the readers a special Stickman price? Do we have a deal?
Deal! The special price for Stickman readers is a standard room at 1,600 baht ++. That's for new bookings for a stay with check-in before December 31st.
Basically we have 5 key points that we think make us an attractive place to stay. The location is close to the skytrain and we are waking distance to Emporium shopping centre, the skytrain and nightlife areas.
Second, we are Western managed.
Third, we have an all day breakfast. When I was travelling a lot in Asia doing business, I was not happy that I had to be limited to eat breakfast by 10 AM. Why not midday? If it was a buffet, I could understand, but in small places, this was not right. Here, a customer can sleep until midday or even until the afternoon and we will still make you breakfast, all included in the price of the room.
Fourth, we have very reliable wi-fi throughout the premises, by the pool, in all rooms, restaurant, bar…everywhere! The rooms also have hard-wired internet access too.
Finally, we have a lot of space for people to relax.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken inside Buddy Village at Khao San Road, looking out from the basement up towards the street. This week's photo was taken in central Bangkok. There are two prizes this week, a 300-baht voucher for Sunrise Tacos and a 500-baht 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 – Good times or bad, nothing lasts forever.
The ongoing electronic abuse of Thai girls for their pursuit of much better-off farangs made me think of experiences I had in an America now long gone. As a very young man in the mid '50s to early '60s, I toured the South numerous times to visit relatives (a moonshiner's family in Tennessee and his brother, a state senator in Florida), and the region was still recovering economically from the Civil War. I remember how much more aggressive and pleasing those girls were compared to Northern girls. Those areas were America's Isaan; farming and not much else. Watermelons were sold roadside for 10 cents each. Girls treated Northern boys like royalty. Sex was a given even for the most gangly of Northern teens. Soldiers posted there still tell the stories of Southern farm girls and bar girls and the bawdy houses. But marriage was always on the girls' minds. And it wasn't just targeted at the young. A woman recently died who was still collecting a Civil War pension. She had married an 85-year-old Civil War veteran in 1933 at age 15 (legal at the time). She said he was kind to her. I'm sure post-World War II Europe was much the same. As little as 20 years ago I was in a 5-year, long-distance, fun only, relationship with two pretty redheads in their early 20s who lived together in a small South Carolina town. But the South is now booming with Japanese auto plants, government and military jobs in Virginia, Gulf States tourism, CNN and Coca Cola headquarters in Georgia, and a huge high-tech center in North Carolina. Your chances in the South now are about as good as landing a beauty in downtown Tokyo. It's not the girls, it's the poverty. As the Thai economy grows, you will look back more fondly at this time in your life and wonder what happened. Relax, enjoy and help the girls get (comparatively) rich.
Prices go up, but does anything else change?I have been trawling through your back catalogue and went back to your first weeklies from 2001. In one about Phuket it was amazing to see that even almost 12 years ago your biggest gripe (as was mine at the time) was the bloody tuktuk mafia! I first visited Phuket in 1995 and they were at it even back then! Can we then conclude that since absolutely nothing has changed in the 12 years since your original report (and the 17 years since I first experienced the rude boys in ill-fitting grubby shirts and trousers complete with cheap leather imitation flip flops) that they will continue to be the bane of Phuket until you and I are drawing our pensions? It's also quite amusing looking at the prices in some of the older articles. The first 100+ baht drinks in gogos back in 2001. How everyone must wish for those days back again! Incredible to think that when you factor in the exchange rate, a beer in a gogo was only just over 1 pound sterling! These days it's closer to 4 quid and we all know the attitudes if one doesn't tip, so I'd say quite a few guys are paying almost a fiver a drink. Considering a bottle only has 3/5 of a pint in it, that's equivalent to about GBP 6.50 a pint. It's only about 3.50 in the UK! However, I must concede that the (ahem) ladies in British pubs, would be unlikely to be offered employment in Baccara, Tilac, or even Fanny's to be honest!
Don Meuang Airport taxi tip.
I have been through Don Meuang several times since Air Asia moved their operation there a few months back. The queues to the taxis are absolutely terrible, and waiting times of up to 45 minutes are not uncommon. Well, not for me. I simply cross over the connected walkway to the Amari Hotel, stopping to have a beer half-way across for a very reasonable price too, I might add. This is where I sip on my ice cold Singha in air-conditioned comfort whilst looking at the hordes queuing for their taxi below. After I finish my beer I simply walk downstairs and get the first available taxi at the Amari which never takes more than 45 seconds, let alone 45 minutes. The 50 baht I saved at the airport pays for my beer and I am on my way into town whilst the punters are still 20 deep in a queue. I usually then get off at Mochit and skytrain it straight down the Sukhumvit line to where I need to go. From the time I step off the plane to where I want to go has never been more than an hour. Beer stop included.
Preferring fairies to dragons.
A couple of years ago in Chiang Mai, instead of the usual haunts I set off to an area of town that had bars I knew were frequented only by locals. I soon found a bar with some fairy lights and a couple of pretty girls sat outside and not wanting to get ripped off, I stopped my bike but didn't get off. One of the lasses came over and I asked her in English, "How much is it for a beer in your bar?" She answered, "1,000 short time, 1,500 long time." Err, I had another go in Thai. Slightly embarrassed, her answer changed to "100 baht" and that was for a large bottle of Chang. Inside, the decor was a bit dull and not many punters, but the girls were pretty. They couldn't speak much English but were a lot more pleasant and polite than the aggressive dragons found on Loi Kroh Road. I never got as far as asking how much the barfine was but judging by her opening gambit I guess it would be lot cheaper than the 500 baht charged in the tourist areas.
The boys in brown, conspicuous by their absence.
I was in Bangkok 2 weeks ago and found myself on Sukhumvit soi 28 having had a few drinks around 11 PM. I needed to go to my condo on soi 20 and decided, just to see what happened, to walk down Sukhumvit. I was actually hoping to be detained and pocket / wallet searched. Maybe even asked to pee in a cup in an alley! What disappointment. Nothing happened. No cops. No one stopped me. Such a shame!
The self-harm scars explained.
With regards to the razor scars on the wrists of crazy girls, that was most often a product of the young ladies experiencing the downside of smack, either smoking or shooting up (and, usually, boyfriend problems). Today, most of the dope heads are into E, ice, ketamine and even a resurgence of LSD (depending on their strata). It's very rare to find a young lady on the hard stuff anymore.
Tramp stamps the new form of self-harm.
Not sure if there are less wrist slashers out there now, but if their numbers have decreased, they have definitely been replaced by the tattoo / tramp stampers and other self-destructive manifestations. Lately there has been a slew of gals in Pattaya stripping down to their birthday suits and blabbering incoherently in highly visible public displays, probably the effects of yaba that was not a factor 20 years ago.
Tilac increased happy hour prices this week with the price of a standard drink up 10 baht to 80 baht, still a great deal. Tilac's happy hour runs from 7:15 PM when the venue opens with almost a full complement of girls on stage, through until 9 PM.
Dollhouse, Shark and Tilac are all competing for the unofficial title of the 2nd best bar in Soi Cowgirl. The #1 spot is well beyond them, so far ahead is Bacarra. But I think we can scratch Shark off the list of contenders for #2 until they change DJ. OMG, what does the guy in the DJ booth think he's doing? Is he trying to ruin the venue? I made it to Shark this week, had one drink and cannot remember ever seeing girls on stage look so miserable. I don't even know what they call the style of music they were playing and can confidently say that the sound of a yelping dog being run over by a tuktuk would be more melodic and easier to dance to. The girls really did look thoroughly pissed off.
In fitting with the beautification of Nana Plaza, Nana Burger, the burger vendor which has operated at the mouth of the plaza for as long as I can remember, has gone for a more upmarket look. He's now cooking his burgers from the back of a very small, custom-built vehicle. I hope he has his own lights because he cannot expect to get any light from the entrance of the plaza with the main sign to the plaza still in darkness.
Small, flashing Christmas tree style lights have been installed at the bottom of the stairwells between the floors of Nana Plaza. They look gimmicky to me and I'm not sure what to make of them.
The water feature outside the most popular ladyboy bar in Nana Plaza and one of the most profitable venues, Cascade, on the plaza's top floor, is finally operational after all of these years. It's great to see that the new owners of the venue are making an effort with it.
A couple of readers asked me why I didn't include soi 7's Biergarten in last week's round up of beer bars on Soi Nana. First, it's not on Soi Nana and the article focused on that soi. Second, it's not really a beer bar per se but that aside, I just plain don't care for the Biergarten. Honestly, if I wanted to go into a deep depression, I would spend my afternoons in Soi 7's Biergarten. Yeah, I really think it's that bad. The Biergarten is a throwback to the Bangkok of old and much of Sukhumvit has moved on since then. There are a number of venues from that era I don't mention because, to be totally frank, I just don't think they deserve mention. Sure, if anything really newsworthy occurs there, I'll mention it – but don't expect regular reports.
The popular Pattaya Addicts forum will celebrate its 6th anniversary at Sapphire A Gogo in soi 15 tomorrow.
Club Misty's, the Pattaya gogo bar I thought was the best in Pattaya when I was last in Sin City, has reintroduced its madness hour. From 9 PM – 10:30 PM, draught beer and all house spirits are priced at a bargain 35 baht. At that price it really is worth going out of your way for. The manager assures me Misty's still has a top notch lineup.
The Cavern on Walking Street has changed hands yet again and will soon be under new management.
Over the hill from Pattaya, it is some years since The Winchester was at its peak. After being closed for a short period, The Winchester will reopen this coming Friday. I only visited a couple of times and to be honest, it was not really to my taste, probably because it was very much a Pattaya-style bar as opposed to what we get and what I am more used to in Bangkok. The Winchester used to have quite a following and I remember stopping by one Sunday more than 10 years ago when a free buffet lunch was offered every Sunday and the place was packed. You couldn't get a seat for love nor money and the food was scooped up as soon as it was brought out. I am told the venue has been completely renovated from top to bottom and regulars wouldn't recognise the place. There's a new sound system, a new kitchen and millions of baht has been invested in the property. As an opening special, there will be free food every lunch time for the rest of the month, excluding Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Management hopes to have a bunch of friendly girls when they reopen this coming Friday, December 14th, at 12 noon sharp.
Gentleman's Club, not a high-end Bangkok venue but the bar of that name in Pattaya's Soi Diamond, is offering 50 baht nightly specials with a different poison each night. Monday: Gilbey's Gin, Tuesday : Jose Cuervo Tequila, Wednesday : bottled Heineken, Thursday: Johnny Walker Black Label, Friday: bottled San Miguel Light, Saturday: Jack Daniels and Sunday: Smirnoff Vodka. If I was in Pattaya on a Saturday night, I'd swing by.
What is it that makes a girl turn to the dark side? Not necessarily what makes a girl enter the industry in the first place, but what causes those working in the industry in an innocuous role, say as a cashier or a waitress, to decide to cross the line. I've seen it happen twice recently with girls who were once a waitress deciding to go all the way. My favourite waitress for years at Tilac Bar disappeared off to a massage parlour where she's now doing more than merely delivering drinks. Another woman in the same bar went from service girl to girl providing full service. For sure, money is the primary reason why they do it but I wonder what the trigger was that finally pushed them over the line?
Baby Dolls, at the top of 15 off Walking Street, is holding a celebration this Wednesday, December 12th for all the staff to get them in the party mood for the high season. Regular customers and new faces are all welcome. There will be naughty party games – given what goes on at Baby Dolls, the mind boggles – a raffle, free shots, plus lots of Western and Thai food.
The way some Thais ask impertinent questions to foreigners, the sort of questions they would never ask a Thai, can wear you down. Some of these things said to a Thai would see the speaker get their head bitten off! Can you imagine a Thai woman asking a Thai man she had never met before if he liked going to popular red light areas, for example?! In the naughty bar areas, this may be a legitimate question, but when you're miles from Sukhumvit, it isn't. It really does seem that despite sex tourists becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of total visitors, there are still plenty of (often lower-class) Thais that still see the average foreign male in Thailand as being something of a depraved creature.
Getting away from the depraved stuff, if you're looking for a decent massage on Sukhumvit, a rubdown that is therapeutic – and not be hassled by some old boiler who is more interested in lining her wallet and rubbing your sausage than rubbing away your aches and pains, then get over to the unlikely location of Sukhumvit soi 33. Araya massage, about 100 metres into soi 33 on the right hand-side, is just what the sign outside says it is, a professional massage house where there is no hanky panky. Prices are the same as what you would pay in a massage house where the women have no massage training (or have fake certificates hanging on the wall).
I've really enjoyed the TV series "Scam City" where a reporter and his team visit cities around the world with a large tourism industry, but which are known for scams. They uncover the scams perpetrated against tourists and then explain how they are carried out. Bangkok features in episode 6. What this series shows is that when it comes to scamming tourists, the Thais are lightweights! Some of the crap highlighted in other cities is much more devious and the losses much greater. The episode on Buenos Aires, for example, is almost enough to put you off visiting!
Patpong's fetish venue, Bar Bar, has a Champagne promotion nights this coming week. On each of the 3 nights French Champagne will be served for the same price as a standard drink – 900 baht for the first drink and 300 baht for each subsequent drink. At midnight there will be a special show featuring Thai champagne and a golden shower for the slaves that are up for it.
Quote of the week comes from Granddad, "The pretty girls from Isaan are already dancing in Bangkok and Pattaya bars and those who are left here can be desperately ugly."
Reader's story of the week is an extensive 18,000 word article, "Guide To Online Dating In Thailand".
A non-swimming Brit involved in a fracas with Thais jumps into Pattaya Bay to escape a rumble and drowns.
A Cathay Pacific flight attendant threatens to throw coffee at former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra's daughter.
The Bangkok Post featured an amusing video report of a Frenchman selling yum woonsen in Bangkok's Chinatown.
More naivety about the naughty nightlife in Thailand, specifically Phuket, appears in the Western press.
A British and an American teacher were found dead in an apartment in Bangkok.
So if Western blokes go to South-East Asia to be naughty boys, where do Western women go to be naughty girls?
Lee Aldhouse, accused of murdering a US military man in Phuket, is adjusting to prison life in Thailand.
A Fascinating piece ran in today's Bangkok Post about teenage motorcycle gangs in Bangkok.
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 live overseas, extended period, and driver's licence has expired. Providing I get a new one in Canada AND an international driver's licence, how can I go about buying a second hand motorcycle in Bangkok, which also has the right papers that I can take it out and tour specifically Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam? I read previously that I will need a 90 day B-visa? If there is room to comment, another future trip would include Burma / India and back. Any info is appreciated.
Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: In order to purchase a motorcycle you need a 90 day visa, either a non-O or a non-B. This is the law but there have been reports of being able to purchase a vehicle on a tourist visa along with a form from your embassy saying you are who you are, and you live at such and such an address. While they do not check your driver's license when selling the motorbike you will need a motorcycle license specifically to drive legally in Thailand. Taking your motorbike to neighbouring countries requires permission from these countries. When you take the motorbike out of Thailand you can get a type of passport for your bike, but you will need to check the laws of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam as to what they require to temporarily import the bike.
It starts with their clothes as they go from being well-dressed to keeping older and older items, especially shoes, which are replaced only when they have to be. Next comes their teeth which they neglect, failing to visit the dentist. Their teeth go bad and reach the point which the only treatment open is extraction. And then it's their general health that goes bad as they spend less on food and eat more crap to go along with their alcohol consumption, the one thing that keeps their mind off their dwindling finances. When their favourite bar or restaurant increases prices by a few baht, they use terms like "pure greed" or "rip off". Their finances are draining faster than the battery in a 10-year old laptop and they make more and more bad decisions. Their problems snowball and what was supposed to be a happy couple of decades in Thailand unravels. The fallout from Western retirees running out of money is on the increase as I see more Westerners realising they ended their work life too soon. I still hear of people who can reasonably expect to live another 20+ years with barely a million baht in the bank and the tiniest monthly pension. Fortunately we are not seeing so many under 50s retiring with around half a million US dollars as we used to. As I said to a friend recently, if you're aged under 50 and contemplating retiring in Thailand, you'd want the equivalent of a million US dollars at the very least, and even then I wouldn't be entirely confident it's enough. You'd need to be disciplined, would forever be at the mercy of inflation, exchange rate fluctuations, the international markets and the world economy. Then there are unexpected health issues, changes in the political situation and just plain bad luck. If you don't have a huge buffer, there are so many issues. Could we see Western retirees end up on the streets scavenging? Sleeping under a bridge? Or will the shame and pain be so great that they join the Bangkok Flying Club? As I was about to publish this week's column I caught a thread on the Secrets forum how a member saw 3 Westerners begging yesterday on Pattaya's Beach Road. I see so many retirees – particularly those who retired early – leading what I think are really shitty lives where for the next 30 odd years they have to watch their pennies every time they step outside their door. Is that any way to live?! If you're retiring early, plan carefully because Thailand without much money can't be a whole lot of fun.
Your Bangkok commentator,