Stickman's Weekly Column January 13th, 2013

The Mercury Is Rising

As Nana experiences a renaissance, a small bar that was once little more than a grubby corner and known amongst some expats for its ugly brute of an offensive mamasan has emerged as a contender for Bangkok's most improved bar. The venue was expanded, renovated and some key staff changes made – and now punters are flocking there. It was time to take a look myself so I contacted the owners and requested a closer look. Sure, they said and better still, bring the camera and fire off a few shots. Welcome to the new Mercury Bar in Nana Plaza.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

Don't let the signs outside mislead you. Cheap drinks are certainly not available from 6 PM onwards. They might serve you at 6 PM, but expect to be in a bar without air-conditioning, dancing girls and even music. The house lights will be on and you will see the venue and the girls in a most unforgiving light. So why does the sign say 6:00? Ahhh, this is Thailand.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

It's the cool season which just happens to coincide with the tourist high season. The clock shows 6:35 PM and it's been dark outside for about 15 or 20 minutes.

The sun dropping below the horizon signals the start of the evening, but few gogo bars open this early. Getting girls in to the bar before 7 is like trying to find a taxi to take you across town on New Year's Eve – it just ain't gonna happen.

Inside, a dozen or so girls occupy the seating next to the walls in almost a muted silence. There's no music being played and almost no chatter. Under the harsh white light the girls don't look anywhere near their best.

From the moment I walked through the curtain bar it seemed flat. In some venues you find excited chatter in that period before the show kicks off, but in Mercury it's subdued. Being unfamiliar with the venue, I don't know what to put it down to.

The boss tells me I have until 7:30, a little under an hour, to capture the flavour of the bar. At that point the lights will dim, the sound system will burst in to life and punters will push through the curtains and the camera will no longer be welcome.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

Sitting beside the DJ booth, the mamasan is the focal point in the bar early evening. Like a movie director watching over a set, she gives instructions and pointers to the girls. Tobacco and high-octane energy drinks will keep her going long in to the night.

Mercury Bar Nana Plaza

Girls slowly file into the bar without even a hint of urgency. Their first stop is the mamasan. The younger, impressionable girls and those new to the industry wai her while others just stand there, stick their hand out and say nothing. They're passed their time card which is slotted into the machine and handed back to the mamasan. It's all as mechanical as the machine itself.

Mercury features 3 mamasans, all of whom speak English and one who speaks, so I am told, passable Japanese. The venue used to be known amongst some expats for a big mamasan who bullied the girls in to pressuring customers for lady drinks for herself. The old hag did much harm to the bar's reputation and last month was given the boot. She can now be found at an unnamed Soi Cowboy bar where no doubt her tricks continue and it will soon develop a bad reputation because of her antics.

Nana Plaza Gogo bar

The bars by day are hardly the most salubrious spots, bright lights doing nothing for a venue's charm. But it's not just the way they look, many venues reek with the combined stench of years of smoke, alcohol spillage and vomit. Filled with alcohol and the sight of scantily clad dancers, most customers' minds are elsewhere and they tend not to notice.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

The crew in Mercury are an easy bunch to warm to. The mamasan had announced over the loud speaker system that my camera didn't even have a flash. What sort of photographer did that make me, she asked! He can afford to buy a cheap camera, but he doesn't have enough money for a girl, she chuckled. Laughs all round, the ice broken and the girls started posing for shots which, funnily enough, was exactly what I wanted to avoid.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

In Mercury, the numbered disc that a dancing girl is required to wear are homemade. There's no box of plastic discs but a box with strips of cardboard, marker pens and scissors. The first task for a new recruit is to create her own disc.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

Was she ill, or was she trying to avoid the city's pollution? Fortunately, when she got up to dance the mask had been discarded.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

Mercury features a small shower area towards the back of the bar where shower shows are performed. Bottles of shower gel are lined up in similar fashion to the piles of Listerine bottles you find in Lolita's and the like.

Thailand gogo bar

The house lights pull back the mask and are unforgiving on the women, some of whom look hard. It's not a Mercury thing, but industry-wide. Even dancers in the likes of Rainbow 4 and Bacarra aren't the beauty queens they may first seem when seen in the light of day. It's not necessarily the tattoos or the rough skin or the coldness in their eyes, it's a life that is every bit as hard as that they left behind. It's the drinking, the smoking, being deprived of sleep and the constant demands of sexercise. Thai woman aged under 35 tend to look younger than their actual age. In the unforgiving light of day, or under the bright house lights, Thai gogo dancers with even just a few months in the industry invariably look older than they are.

Bangkok gogo

One girl is ready. Makeup and hair done, she fortifies herself with the bottle. Many customers don't see the way many girls hit the bottle even before the music has started – and some hit it hard. In some bars they don't even try and hide it, popular Tilac Bar a classic example where the girls in Alcoholics Corner (back left of the bar, below the toilet) down cheap, potent Thai whiskey all night, every night.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

The scene of girls resourcefully using the bar's mirrors to apply their makeup is seen across the industry night after night. Those wishing to make a special effort go to one of the hairdressers nearby. Despite making so much, or being the equivalent to the commission on just 2 lady drinks, many complain at the 100 baht cost.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

Appearance is of great importance to Thais and even the service staff make an effort – and so they should for many are indeed available.

Mercury Bar Nana Plaza Gogo

The lights start to dim and girls start to stir. They trudge past the mamasan and the cashier and wai a small spirit house. It's 7 PM. Why are the lights being dimmed?

Back in the day, my weekend would begin with the regular Woodstock Friday night get-togethers when a bunch of members from what was long ago Thailand's most popular discussion forum would get together to talk about life in this crazy city. I remember once speaking to a fellow who had just flown in from the Philippines. He'd been in Angeles City and one night was back at his hotel with a new friend. He was in bed when she dimmed the lights, crouched on the floor, pressed her palms together in prayer and said, "Please Lord, forgive me for the sin I am about to commit…."

Mercury Gogo, Nana Plaza, Bangkok

The first set of girls get up on stage as the bar is about to open. The owner mentions that he got the start time wrong. It's 7:00, not 7:30. So much for my one-hour photo shoot!

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

Mercury sets itself apart from other bars by stocking quality whiskeys. Some bars have the gall to offer the likes of Bombay Sapphire and put a premium price on it, whereas Mercury actually has the really good stuff that few venues of this genre stock.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

Call me a spoil sport but the practice of offering ping pong balls to customers to throw on stage for the girls to grab is tacky. Girls from a culture where the pursuit of sanuk (fun) is encouraged get into it but it all seems just a little demeaning. Ping pong balls go for 20 baht each, the girls get 10 baht with the bar pocketing the rest.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

The smoke machine is turned on as are the lasers. The first song of the night starts and there isn't a customer to be seen but that doesn't matter. The vibe has changed. Minutes earlier it felt flat. Now the girls are all smiles. It's time to work, time to make money!

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

With a hansum man right in front of her pointing his big thing in her direction she showed total indifference, preferring to look at her own image in the mirror.

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

The way the girls stare at themselves in the mirrors used to perplex me. Back when Ricky was managing Angelwitch, I asked him what he thought a gogo bar would be like without mirrors so that the girls were actually forced to look at customers and make eye contact. He looked at me like I had just said the most profound thing he had ever heard!

Mercury Gogo Nana Plaza

Two songs have played, customers are drifting in and that's my cue, time for me to hit the road. The sight of a foreigner in a bar with a camera is as much of a turnoff for customers as a bunch of fatties on stage.

45 minutes later I stuck my head back in and saw the A team drift in much later. The bar was full of girls, more than a few very were easy on the eye.

Since its renovation, Mercury has turned around and gone from a decrepit hole in a corner of the plaza to a bar worth checking out. Just don't be the first customer of the night; like a decent bottle of red, Mercury gets better as the night goes on.

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken of the water treatment plant between the Saphan Thaksin BTS station and the Chao Praya River.
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 Popping your own bubble!

Last Friday I went to the Pink Panther which has been there for a long time. It was always pretty good but never really noteworthy. Now it ROCKS! It has a 50-something Western DJ who plays good music, alternating with a live trio. The seating is all spread out around “performance islands” and the dancers are HOT – dressed in non-standard, short-short coyote style outfits – and definitely NOT doing the “Bangkok shuffle”. Which is all nice, but – here's the point: at 10:45 PM on a Friday night, the place was rocking – it was pretty much full up with happy, lustful looking customers, the dancers were grinding away, the music was pulsing – it was pretty much a “best of breed” situation – and then – suddenly – there is an announcement, and the girls all climb down from their dancing stations, the DJ puts on some standard tape of 30-year old top-40 hits, and a couple of older “battle axe” wenches are suddenly out in the middle of the floor telling comfortably-seated customers that they have to move – and pointing them toward the fringes. Then a team of Thai thug / tout / boyfriend types starts moving all the centre furniture out of the middle, and start erecting the ropes of a boxing ring. This process was ongoing for almost 15 minutes – and we were wondering aloud – and a chap sitting next to us advised that we would next see a couple of Muay Thai boxers slug away each other for 15 minutes or so of lackluster sparring – after which they would do the rounds of the bar with a donation bucket, seeking tips for their performance. My buddy and I departed at that point – among a stream of disappointed and / or displaced customers, wandering off in search of greener pastures. The point of all this: What is a STANDOUT gogo bar doing at 10:45 PM on a Friday night popping their own bubble at prime-time, and driving half their customers out the door – so that a couple of third-rate Thai boxers could hustle a few baht in tips? It was incredible. Stupid, stupid, stupid. What are they thinking? Someone needs to sell the management a clue.

Vietnam today.

I had a good chuckle while reading this week's column about Hanoi. You stated, correctly so, that animals in Hanoi were better kept, you even stated that "not once during your trip did you see a stray dog". That is due, in part, to their love of dogs. It's one of their favourite dishes! Vietnamese from the south do not eat dogs and consider the custom barbaric but I assure you their northern cousins love it and I have enjoyed it myself many times. It's akin to roast beef in taste and texture. Don't believe the derogatory things you hear about the Vietnamese. They are not cold, distant or in any way anti-western (Yankees included). Think of how things were when you first arrived in Thailand and that will give you a good idea of how things are in Vietnam.

Hanoi, city of improved food!

Hanoi is really a different place to Saigon. The old quarter is a maze. You have to enter it from the outside, wander a few blocks and get back out, check your bearings, and dive back in. You didn't have any pictures of the lake and the park around it. Did you get to see Uncle Ho? When I was there almost exactly 15 years ago we did the little tour. He had just come back from a lube and oil change but looking at a frozen, ghostly grey corpse gave me the creeps. I'm going to have to go there again because 15 years ago there were not many French restaurants, just places serving pig uterus and penis of beef. I think something got lost in translation. The one thing that was cheap was the beer. Not the best tasting stuff but after 3 or 4 it got better. Those 5 dollar guesthouses were 5 dollars 15 years ago so I wonder how crappy they are now. My Aussie bud and I stayed at a 10 dollar hotel behind the train station. I really wanted to strangle a Vietnamese engineer when they leaned on the horn in the middle of the night. Unless you are just a big city boy there are a lot of really nice places in between Hanoi and Saigon. Hue, Hoi An and even Dalat are interesting places if you want to see something different and relax a bit more. You can also go to Nha Trang but I think that has gotten pretty touristy, a primitive version of Phuket.

Is 170 baht fair value?

I think 170 baht being charged at one Soi Cowboy bar is comical. At current exchange rates, that's $5.50 per drink. Of course, in New York City or London you can find pubs / bars that charge more but for a typical local pub, 170 baht is more of a norm. Sounds fine until you consider the low quality of service and generally poor facilities compared to a local pub back home. My local place back home has four 55-inch televisions showing sports from all around the world, a pretty decent menu, staff that actually try to make sure you receive good service, compliance with fire and safety laws, clean restrooms, and the rest of the place is spotless. What do you get for your $5.50 beer in Thailand? Perhaps you can't compare a gogo bar and your local watering hole back in Farangland but head to Las Vegas and hit a strip club and while the drinks might be a few dollars more per drink, the quality of the entertainment is leaps and bounds better than anything on Cowboy or Nana. You also have to factor in that a strip club in the US or Europe doesn't cater to prostitution. The club makes all their money on the drinks. The bars in Cowboy and Nana make money on the drinks, the lady drinks, and the barfines. Plus, even with a labour shortage in Thailand, the girls still only make a fraction of the wages which would be considered minimum wage in Farangland. So what are you really paying for? In terms of value, Thailand's prices are equal to or only slightly cheaper than the US or Europe but everything else is at Thai standards. <* It should be noted that there are bars in Cowboy with standard drinks priced at 180 baht, and some even at 190 bahtStick>

Customers in Pattaya want fair value too.

You constantly comment how prices continue to go up in the bar industry. On December 26th a friend and I had just finished eating at Tequila Reef on Soi 7 and headed to Happiness A Gogo also on Soi 7. Neither of us had been there in some time and were shocked at the price for a mixed drink. Would you believe a Jack soda and a rum soda cost 165 baht each. The Thai manager said the owner set the price, ignoring her opinion. We won't be back anytime soon.

Take her back to Farangland?

A lot of the whores in Malaysia and Singapore come from Thailand. And, in my experience, in Europe a large percentage of the Thai girls married to Europeans behave like, well, sluts. They will give the "come on" to almost any male. I never noticed it with girls from the Philippines, Cambodia, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, South and Central America. Once those girls are married, they devote themselves to making it a success. The Thai girls got involved in gambling, worked in brothels during the day and seemed to have no problem in having the odd shag outside of wedlock. Even when they had kids, it never changed their behaviour. Just my observation. The reputation that Thai girls abroad have, is, in my opinion, well deserved. There will clearly always be the exceptions to the rule. Living in Thailand I am the man so to speak, but living in Farangland, they are the Queens. I will never, ever, take a Thai girl back to Farangland. It is simply not worth the effort and chances are it will all go sour.

Shebas Bangkok

It still isn't clear who has secured the lease for the space on Soi Cowboy where Sheba's used to be. Chatting with bar owners this week, no-one knows for sure what's going on. Even the owner of Tilac who has been on Cowboy since the '80s doesn't know – and he knows almost everything going on in the soi! The venue will almost certainly change name with the giant Sheba that sat atop the awning torn down making the property look like a man without a face. A real shame, the Sheba figure was both attractive and an icon of the soi.

Is Soi Cowboy getting narrower? It feels that way as a few bars expand their outdoor seating capacity by placing a row of tables and chairs out front of the venue beyond the covered seating area and actually out in the soi. Narrowing the soi to as little as 2 metres in width at its narrowest point makes it a challenge to negotiate and walking along the soi a less pleasant experience. It should be noted that this is in stark contrast to Nana Plaza which removed all of the clutter from its walkways and made getting around the plaza much easier.

Since Cowboy has been designated a safety zone, one of the positive side effects is that the street children who sell flowers and other knick knacks are a less common sight.

He Clinic Bangkok

Bangkok's street bars, often referred to as booze booths, live to fight another day or is it another year? After operators were informed by the men in brown that the last day of December would be their last in business, nothing has changed and the street bars still open every night. The crackdown never happened.

Rumblings of discontent have been heard from Jack Golf visa run customers for the last 2 years. Once said to be a well-run operation, Bangkok's best known visa run service provider has seen business plummet, a combination of visa regulation changes, increased competition and declining service standards. Named after its Korean owner, Jack used to run two large buses to the border and back every day. Dwindling demand saw this reduced to one before a minivan was used in place of the big bus. The rumour mill is going wild about what has happened to Jack who disappeared late last year. Some say the problems began when Jack took bad advice years ago and purchased a bus which turned out to be a lemon. I swung by the office this week to find it in darkness and many days' mail piled outside. Calls to the phone number posted on the out-of-date website reveal that the visa run service is still in operation and apparently it's all being run by the same members of staff. The operation is now managed by a Thai lady called Tanya, a former employee of Jack's. A friend will use the service this week so more info on how it goes in next week's column.

If there is one observation I would make about the differences between Cowboy and Nana on my runs through the bar areas this week, it is that Cowboy bars are struggling with recruitment more than Nana. That's not to say that all of the bars in Nana have a full complement of staff – far from it – but in Cowboy, Bacarra aside, the problem is acute in some bars. And surprisingly it is some of the big name bars that cannot get new girls. To make matters worse, it's the younger, prettier girls who have departed, leaving some grandmas to shuffle on stage.

CBD bangkok

Bangkok bar owners are facing an acute problem this high season, plenty of customers but a shortage of girls. The hunt for new girls has become desperate as bars have exhausted all the usual avenues. In many bars girls are offered a bonus if they introduce a friend, relative or girl from their village to come and work in the bar. But with so many options for work, the bars aren't the lure for girls they used to be. Agencies have been contacted but they are either prohibitively expensive, the girls won't do farang gogo bars or they too are out of girls. I know of at least 2 Bangkok bar bosses – that is the actual owner – are doing the rounds of other bars, hunting for hotties and surreptitiously making offers to girls to jump ship. This was an issue in Pattaya a few years back with some bar bosses banned from entering competitors' bars. The late TJ was perhaps the most prolific headhunter and found himself banned up and down Walking Street. Bar owners can get very angry when their prized assets disappear and show up in another bar a few days later. Are we on the verge of a new chapter in Bangkok bar history as owners up the ante to entice girls to jump ship? Could this be a period in which ill-feeing between bar owners – which is always simmering just below the surface – rears its ugly head? Are we on the verge of Bar Wars?!

Bangkok gogo bar

Zen, the beer bar beside the Nana Plaza entranceway, has daily drinks specials. Mojito Mondays feature Mojitos at just 99 baht all night long. Tequila Tuesdays sees Tequila shots at 49 baht and Margaritas at 99 baht. Whiskey Wednesday sees whisky at happy hour prices (79 / 89 baht) all night. On Cocktail Thursdays it's buy one get one free cocktails all night – and at 150 baht that's a great deal. Shots Friday sees all standard shots at 99 baht. Beer and sports Saturday sees standard beers only 89 baht after happy hour making it a good choice to watch and cheer on Liverpool! Premium Spirits Sunday sees 20% off all premium top shelf spirits including Johnny Walker blue, Hennessy VSOP, Grey Goose, Patron Tequila and a good selection of other malt whiskeys. Zen now has a band on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 PM until midnight. You can open a bottle at a competitive price which includes free mixers for the first day and only 50 baht after that. Finally, spend over 2,000 baht and you will get a 10% discount coupon valid for 2 weeks which can be redeemed in either Zen Bar or upstairs in Mercury.

I'm hearing rumours abut a new jazz venue on Sukhumvit soi 33 in the building next to Italian restaurant Basilico called Black. Jazz is not really my thing so I have no idea what it's like.

wonderland clinic

Whenever a property comes up for sale in Soi Cowboy, The Arab attempts to buy it and he has made offers to bar owners who have no intention of selling. Just what is The Arab's long-term game plan? This week I happened upon an expert of all things Iranian (the one we refer to as "The Arab" is in fact Persian i.e. an Iranian) and he explained several aspects of Iranian culture and how they apply to The Arab. In Iranian culture, apparently the biggest insult you can make is calling someone a cus kesh. The word is made of two separate words – kesh meaning a messenger / waiter / someone who delivers things and cus meaning pussy. So cus kesh is English for pimp! This word is such an insult that if someone calls you this in public in Iran and you are not in fact a cus kesh, you can kill them and provided you can prove that you are not a cus kesh, no charges will be laid. With each new property The Arab secures, he introduces the concept of coyote dancers i.e. girls who dance but who cannot be barfined, or they have a price tag so steep that they won't be barfined. It seems that his plan is to change the soi from one where women are available – which goes against all that his culture believes in – to a soi where sexy women dance but are not available, which, in his culture, is quite acceptable. While some bar owners maintain that they will never sell to him, he has very deep pockets and / or is backed by some very wealthy investors. If (when?) he secures every property on the soi, the concept of the soi will be changed forever and no girls will be available.

If you're flying into Don Meuang Airport – which is used by most budget airlines – reports are that the queue for taxis can be a 30- to 45-minute wait. Instead of waiting, go up one level to the departures area and grab a cab that has just dropped someone off. Easy, and you won't get hit with the 50 baht airport surcharge. It's a win : win situation for both you and the driver.

Nana Liquid will host an event this coming Wednesday with a Penthouse Models night. A wild show will be performed incorporating such advanced model paraphernalia such as wet t-shirts and soap bubbles! The beauty below, Donut, will be part of it!


I don't know if it's an ongoing issue or was just bad luck, but one fellow reported that it took 1.5 hours from getting off the plane to walking out of the terminal at Suwannaphum last Sunday. His flight arrived mid-afternoon and there were long queues. The last couple of high seasons have seen terribly long queues at Immigration, both entering and exiting the country, but in fairness this is the only time I have heard of delays this high season. Hopefully it was just that particular day.

Younger readers might consider them as much a relic as a Motorola flip-phone or a VHS cassette, but there's something about pinball machines that makes them timeless, and much more than just an icon of the 20th century. In a land where gaming is so popular, the scarcity of pinball machines is a surprise. Anyone wishing to take a stroll down memory lane can venture over to The Tunnel between Sukhumvit sois 5 and 7 where there are three brand-new, fully operational pinball machines. Given the riff raff in the Biergarten these days, you'd be better off putting your hard-earned in to the pinball machines than that venue.

What's up with all these condos in greater Pattaya being bought by Mikhail, Nikita and all the other Russians swarming into Pattaya. Russia may be resource rich and an emerging economic giant but less than 2 decades ago the country was a mess, and even now it's hardly what you'd call rich. Everyday Russians on holiday are brazenly entering condominium buildings in Jomtien, knocking on the door of strangers' units and offering to buy the condo for cash there and then! They're so desperate to purchase that they are not even checking to see that the person is even the owner. Some condominium buildings in Jomtien have been forced to erect signs outside in Russian stating that Russians are not welcome to enter the building to approach tenants. What also seems unusual is that there are many condos owned by Russians in the Pattaya / Jomtien are that are not rented and which sit dormant and unoccupied for years. I guess it's an alternative to buying up big on Soi Cowboy.

Popular Mexican grill Sunrise Tacos is about to open on Silom Road, its second 24-hour branch. Fans of Sunrise Tacos living in the Silom / Sathorn / Suriwong Road area won't need to go all the way over to Sukhumvit with the new branch located on the corner of the main Silom Road and soi 4. It is hoped that doors will open Sunday January 20th.

Sunrise Tacos Bangkok

I note that the price of a portion of pineapple has jumped from 10 baht to 15 baht at many of the fruit carts in downtown Bangkok. This might sound like a hefty increase percentage-wise, but given that it has been 10 baht since the '90s, the increase seems more than fair. Imagine working 15 years without a pay rise!

After setting Bangkok's expat pub scene alive with the best food of any pub in the city, the food at Durty Nelly's in Ekamai became a bit like a roller coaster, very much up and down. But recently it has been up and the fish and chips I had this week was fantastic. If you have a craving for fish and chips, Durty Nelly's has the best I have had in a long time. And if you go at lunch time, you can order it as part of the lunch special, which along with an appetiser will set you back a very reasonable 275 baht.

Like most fast food franchises, the branches of Subway are decorated in the same style, just as the product is the same but the branch on Sukhumvit soi 23 provides an authentic Bangkok street experience right inside the store. Child beggars enter and beg without fear of being told to leave by the meek staff. And those Indian conmen, the lucky man brigade, approach customers right inside the branch and again, no-one says anything. The staff appear aware yet don't do anything about it. Seriously, this is a problem in a number of establishments popular with expats in Bangkok. It used to be a big problem at a certain Irish pub and it took many complaints to management who then had to convince the staff to tell these unwanted pests to leave. The staff don't seem to see it as part of their duty and are often scared of confrontation.

More foreigners in Bangkok stay in the country long-term by enrolling in a course at a Thai language school which provides the paperwork for them to get a 1-year ED (education) visa. Language schools are not supposed to accept payment from students to study, let alone actually allow them to study, unless the student has been issued the requisite visa so if the school you're interested in studying at seems pushy about getting you an ED visa, that's why. What is interesting to me is that this appears to be a huge visa loophole. Study Thai for 4 hours a week which I believe is the minimum and you get a 1-year visa. And you can re-enrol year after year…

Isn't it novel that in a land that prides itself on smiling that the practice of smiling in official photos such as those on ID cards and driver's licenses is strictly prohibited.

Quote of the week, "In Pattaya, the girls in the gogos are all business and the girls in the beer bars are all ugly!

There were so many good readers' stories this week that it was impossible to pick just one as the Stickman reader's story of the week. From Mega there was "
The Last Days of 2012". From Canada came
"Help Needed – The Cost of a Thai Baby" and from Korski, "
Latitude and Longitude".

A Brit almost dies in a stabbing on Koh Phangnan, the very same place another
Brit was shot dead a week ago!

A British tourist dies after he was caught in a rip tide while swimming
off the coast of Koh Samui.

Yet another Aussie is found dead in Laos,
in what is becoming a rather familiar story.

The Swede accused of the murder of a New Zealander in Pattaya is allowed to leave Thailand before facing

The antics of Phuket tuktuks will become more widely known after a site was started all about them.

Thai Airways rates as one of the 10 worst airlines for safety according to a group of European airline
safety enthusiasts.

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: Two farangs each have a condo in their own name and all the money for the respective condo purchases was brought from overseas and documented correctly. They would now
like to swap condos in a straight swap, no money to be paid to the other. They don't want to bring money into the country and buy from each other. They would also be open to paying the sales tax if the swap can be done legally. How can this
be accomplished?

Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: The Land Department would look at this as two separate transactions so would require that you both wire the money in from overseas. The only foreigners exempt from this requirement are those with permanent residency or those who have entered the country under the BOI and are here recognised as being BOI. The Land Department won't allow you to make a straight swap, I am afraid. However, if you find you need drafting of the purchase and sale agreements or registration at the Land Department then Sunbelt Asia Legal can help.

Question 2: Can you advise on the circumstances under which bail may be granted to individuals accused of a crime in Thailand. At what point in the judicial process is the decision made
as whether or not to grant bail and who makes that decision? Is any distinction made between Thai nationals and foreigners when considering bail applications?

Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: Bail is determined based on the offenses committed and the type of charges laid. Whether or not there is bail and how much that amount may be is determined by the judge. While the prosecution can argue that there is a chance of the defendant jumping bail, the defendant's lawyer can also offer arguments to have bail reduced or dropped. Sunbelt Asia has experienced criminal lawyers; if you find yourself in trouble be sure to contact us. Many embassies refer their nationals to us when they find themselves in trouble with the law.

Hanoi Vietnam

A few years back I flew down to Jakarta to check out a city that had long appealed. I wrote about my time in a column titled The Big Durian, the nickname given to it by some expats. By day I checked out the sights which were, it has to be said, not particularly interesting and by night I popped into a few bars because, well, I couldn't find a lot else to do. When I wrote about my few days in Jakarta, a number of readers responded saying that I had wasted a golden opportunity because Jakarta is full of commercial sex establishments that eclipse what is available in Bangkok. I had no idea, but even if I had I still wouldn't have visited them. When I published last week's column about a recent trip to Hanoi, I received similar emails from readers who know Hanoi saying that naughty stuff is available and Western men walking around the lake are often approached by women on motorbikes offering more than Vietnamese lessons or a city tour. One reader even claimed that I cannot possibly have even visited the city and the entire column was fabricated – notwithstanding that the column featured 17 photos from Hanoi – because no Western guy would go to Hanoi and not partake of the local women! Sigh. Yeah, I may write about the naughty stuff, but writing about it and taking photos is where my interest ends.

Your Bangkok commentator,



nana plaza