Stickman's Weekly Column February 10th, 2013

Sophia, Escort Superstar

Sports stars and working girls have a few things in common. They have the opportunity to earn plenty, but also know that they have a limited period in which to make the big bucks. All it takes is an injury or a health issue and their career can be over. Sports stars may later have the option to become coaches, managers or commentators. They might write a book about their career. But for working girls, few lucrative post career paths exist. If they don't get married, or save enough to set themselves up, they might end up as just another bitter mamasan, forced to watch young girls doing what they once did. But some girls don't even get to see out their career. Sometimes a girl's worst fears come true. In life shit can happen.

I'm sitting in the lobby of a top Bangkok hotel with Sophia. Clutching a designer handbag and elegantly dressed, she looks like she stepped out of a salon. Perhaps she just did. She is attractive, refined and presentable in polite company. But more than that, she has a sweetness that men find endearing, a sweetness that defies what she has been through. Sophia used to be an escort. Used to be…

Sophia was born in Trat province, in the east of Thailand, some 30+ years ago. Before her first birthday she was sent to Lampang where she would be raised by an aunt. Her upbringing was typical and she talks fondly of her aunt. They weren't wealthy, but they had all they needed.

Sophia left home at 15, making the trek up the road to Chiang Mai where she would get her first job as a waitress. The meagre salary barely covered her own living expenses let alone provided enough to help her aunt.

Perceiving little opportunity in the north, Sophia headed south to find better paying work, ending up on the assembly line at an electronics factory in Ayutthaya. Things started to look up when she met and fell in love with a good man. They were good
together, happy, and were soon rewarded with a child. But that happiness was not to last and at just 22, Sophia was widowed when her husband was killed in an accident. Sophia would have to raise the 18-month old on her own. Working long hours,
sometimes 12-hour days, it was a constant grind that drained her of energy. She was barely making ends meet.

Sophia wasn't a quitter and battled on year after year. She could see, however, that no progress was being made. A few years later she finally threw in the towel and returned to her place of birth, hopeful of finding something better.

There wasn't much work in Trat for someone who had left school at 15. What work she did find paid even less than the factory job she'd left behind. She would have to try somewhere new.

Sophia travelled to Phuket, as much to make a fresh start as to look for higher-paying work. There she met a woman who told her of the money that could be made if she was willing to go to England and work as an escort. Sophia had never considered that sort of work.

It wasn't an easy decision, but Sophia needed to make enough so she could provide for her daughter. She also felt the obligation so many Thai women have to look after family. She was willing to take a chance. She would go to England.

Sophia knew what the job was, although the details of what it entailed were sketchy. She didn't have a passport and spoke just a few words of English. She had no idea of the difficulties a single Thai woman would face crossing international borders.

Sophia would need a passport and a visa. Obtaining the visa was a formality, she was assured, but a few unusual steps would have to be taken.

She talks with a casual innocence about the process she went through to get a visa, simply following instructions and doing what she was told to do, not realising that from the outset she would be breaking law after law.

To get a visa to visit the UK, she was told that she would need to marry a Thai man. This was a real, legal marriage. The ruse was that they were a recently married couple who would be going to the UK for their honeymoon.

The man she married was an old, wealthy Bangkok Thai. Sophia and her new husband's visa applications were lodged together, a visa which the man would never use. The application would show a recently married couple, an older Thai man married to a younger Thai woman. The man was presumably paid handsomely for his part.

The visa process would involve a short telephone interview conducted by a Thai national, in Thai. Sophia was coached on what to say. The only question she was asked which she hadn't prepared for was why she had married a man so much older than herself. Her response must have satisfied the interviewer because a 6-month tourist visa was issued.

With the visa in her passport, Sophia legally divorced her husband and left for the UK.


Sophia knew from the outset what the job involved. She would have sex with men for money. There was no deception on the part of the woman who initially asked her if she was interested. Everything was just as it was described it would be.

Sophia doesn't personally know of any Thai women in the UK who were tricked in to the business. According to her, everyone knew exactly what they were getting in to.

The agency's fee was ₤28,000. Sophia had to work that amount off before she could make money for herself.

Profiles of the girls were posted on the agency's website and the only way to meet the girl was to make a booking via the site. Everything was arranged by the agency. Sophia would be told the time of the appointment and how long the customer had booked for. Customers paid ₤100 for half an hour or ₤150 for a full hour. Overnight, which wasn't common – Sophia had perhaps one overnight customer a month – would run 1,000. The agency took 50 from each half / 1-hour transaction, or half of the overnight fee. Payment was always in cash and given to Sophia by the customer. A representative from the agency would collect the agency's share of the cash once a week.

The customers were a mixed bunch, but mostly English.

The man who ran the agency was a foreigner and Sophia describes him as a fair-skinned Middle Easterner.

Sophia worked from the same room in which she lived, a studio in a large building in central London. Many of the rooms on the same floor of the building were taken by girls working for the same agency. The room cost
450 a week – which is what the agency charged the girls to stay there.

Trade was brisk with a typical day seeing around 10 bookings. My eyes widen at these numbers but she calmly tells me that this really is not that busy and many customers were very quick. Sophia tells me of girls she met who had worked in Hong Kong where they can have up to 30 customers a day.

Sophia was not a prisoner and was free to leave at any time. That said, details become fuzzy when it comes to her passport. She says it was either lost or stolen, she doesn't know which…

As cash flowed in, Sophia would make regular trips to Western Union and send large amounts of cash back to Thailand. She sent cash to her mother in Trat. Her mother and father had split up so she also sent money to her father in Saraburi. And then there was her aunt in Lampang. Sophia made big money in the UK and was able to support 3 different families in 3 different provinces back home in Thailand, send payments large enough for them to buy plots of land, and still have plenty to spend on herself in London.

Sophia found the local English women beautiful. She loved their white skin, their fashion sense and observed that they had much larger breasts than Thai women. To make herself more desirable, Sophia went to a clinic to undergo treatment to make her breasts larger. Rather than go for a full breast augmentation, Sophia received silicone injections directly into her breasts, administered by an Indian doctor. With larger boobs she became more confident and felt sexier.

Most of Sophia's time in England was spent in London. The furthest she travelled from London was a trip to Wales. Her life was work and making money.

Sophia found England to be cold and expensive. All the friends she made were just like her, Thai women working in the industry. Some lived in the same building, some elsewhere. When asked about the number of Thai women working in the sex industry in the UK, she exclaims “yer mak mak” (There are so many!)

Asking about the Thai women who would become her friend, she says that some were happy, some weren't. Some of the ladies found themselves caught in a cycle where the family had become dependent on the money they sent. If they were to quit working, the family would suffer – and some families weren't shy to let their daughter know. Some girls stayed in London and continued to work, even if they wanted to return home.

Some girls convinced customers to fall in love with them. What started as a commercial relationship would turn into a romance. Sometimes it worked out, usually it didn't.

Sophia went to England in 2007 on a 6-month tourist visa. By 2010 she had been in the UK for approaching 3 years. She had overstayed her visa but, she says, this wasn't a concern and the seriousness of it never entered her mind. She missed Thailand and thought about returning, but what would she do for money?

In 2010 there was a knock on the door. Expecting to see her next customer, she was greeted by the landlord. He wanted to know why the rent hadn't been paid. Sophia had never met the landlord before and didn't know if he was aware of what was taking place on the premises. She suspects he didn't because a short time later he returned with the police.

The police asked to see Sophia's passport. She didn't have it. With her charming naivety, I couldn't convince her that I believe it was almost certainly the agency which had taken it. She had, however, had the presence of mind to make a photocopy of it. From her small room the police called Immigration who confirmed that Sophia had overstayed her permission to remain in the country by more than 2 years.

Sophia was taken to the police station and a Thai translator was brought in. The police had zero interest in what she had been doing. They explained that she had overstayed her visa and she would be deported to Thailand. Sophia was going home.

As she didn't have a passport, the Thai embassy was contacted and an embassy official came to the police station with a temporary travel document which would allow Sophia to travel back to Thailand. The familiarity with which the official handled it to her and explained the situation made her think this was a rather regular occurrence.

Sophia spent one night in the police station and the next day was on a Thai Airways flight. Despite the huge amount of money she had made in the UK, most had been spent or sent to the three families she had been supporting. Sophia didn't return to Thailand with riches.

Upon her return, she went back to her place of birth, Trat province, where she stayed for several months with her mother.

As is so often the case with these girls, the cycle continued. Money was a problem again and in late 2011 Sophia came to Bangkok looking for work. Despite spending 3 years as an escort in London, Sophia was ignorant about the industry in Thailand. She knew of the sex industry but she never wanted to work in a gogo bar. She had no idea if escort services even existed in Thailand and thought they were a UK thing. If she had known back then what she knows now she would never have gone to the UK in the first place, but that's not to say she regrets it. It simply would have been easier to work in Bangkok.

Sophia worked for a Bangkok escort agency for 3 months before a regular customer of the escort service BangkokGirl recommended her, saying she would be ideal for
the agency.

Sophia worked for 2 escort services in Bangkok simultaneously for a while but wanted her to work for them only. She left the other agency and became exclusive with

Sophia wasn't just popular with clients, she was a superstar. She wasn't the youngest girl on the agency's books, nor its prettiest, but she quickly became the most popular girl. Many customers booked her for repeat business. Popularity meant money, and while Sophia doesn't know exactly how much she made, her best guess is that her earnings were upwards of 200,000 baht per month.

Despite a very decent income by local standards, money flew out of her wallet. She continued to support the same 3 households as she had from the UK. Her personal expenses were considerable. Working as an escort required her to look good all the time, dress well and always be made up and ready to go and meet a client. Her skin treatment ran 10,000 baht a month and her designer handbags and clothes aren't Patpong knock-offs. Escorts have to look good, she insists!

She'd been working as an escort in Bangkok for almost a year when one day something didn't feel right. Sophia noticed that the skin on her breasts had changed colour. There wasn't any pain but it didn't look or feel right. Sophia consulted with a friend who'd had a boob job. Her friend referred her to the surgeon who'd done her boob job.

The doctor was based at what is regarded by many as Bangkok's best hospital. His prognosis was that the silicone injections Sophia had received in London had damaged the breast tissue. However, he felt the best thing to do was to leave it.

Sophia wasn't happy with that prognosis and went back to her friend for another referral. The next doctor she would see is famous in Thailand for fixing botched boob jobs. He is also very well-regarded. Sophia was told that the cost of the operation alone would be 100,000 baht, with another operation required a few months later at an additional 70,000 baht. That was just his professional fees, hospital costs would be on top. This was more than Sophia had so she sought a third opinion.

The third doctor Sophia saw quoted her 100,000 baht all up. Sophia agreed to go ahead with it. The surgeon operated but there were complications. Two more operations were required. There were further complications. In the end the surgeon gave Sophia a full refund of 100,000 baht. Sophia had now undergone 3 operations on her breasts and there were major problems.

Sophia had to find a doctor to fix her boobs. Sophia met a 4th doctor, a surgeon who made her feel comfortable. This would be the final operation. Sophia had a mastectomy.

For an escort, this operation was the same as a career-ending injury for a sports star. Her career as a full service escort would be over. Her confidence has been shattered. What would a man think if he saw her in the bedroom?

Sophia has been the superstar of and she and the agency have grown together.

The agency is sticking with Sophia and doing what they can to help her.

Sophia is being encouraged to make herself available as a dinner-only escort, someone who can accompany clients to parties or business dinners, or perhaps on a dinner cruise. She just won't join them in the bedroom.

There is a small number of clients, I am told, for whom release is not important. A debate follows as to just how many this is and we settle on around 5% of clients who don't expect anything in the bedroom.

A former client is aware of what Sophia has been through and has a booking with her for a couple of months from now. Sophia's confidence is not what it was, but she thinks she can do it.

Sophia hopes her career as an escort isn't over entirely. She hopes that she can reinvent herself.

Bangkok escort

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken outside the Westin Hotel, near Sukhumvit soi 19. Photoshop was used to blur and stretch the name
of the BTS station to make it look longer than it was – which seemed to fool a number of readers. I received more incorrect responses to last week's photo than I think I ever have! There is one prize this week, a 500-baht voucher for Firehouse in Sukhumvit soi 11, known for its excellent hamburgers.

Terms and conditions: The prize is only available to readers in Thailand at the time of entering and is not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize
per calendar month. You only have one guess per week!

billboard bangkok

FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.

EMAIL OF THE WEEKDifferent country, different passions.

I find it amazing that the Thais can be so passionate about some things but when it comes to things of substance, mai pen rai. I read in the Bangkok Post the other day that about 30% of government budgets go to tea money. For F's sake, they should be rioting in the streets!

butterflies bangkok

Burrito busters!

I got searched again by the police. I'm getting used to it and it happens to me about once a week, mostly on Sukhumvit but sometimes in other area like Pratunam. But last night was something else. I usually pretend I don't understand Thai at all, even if I can speak a little. I was on a motorbike taxi on my way back from Emporium to Klong Toey where my apartment is. I had my dinner with me. Two police stopped us in a tiny soi, asked me to get off the motorbike and asked me where I'm from. I answered "France". They asked again where I was from. I answered again, France. They didn't understand and got excited and asked again, louder, "WHERE YOU FROM?" I answered "I told you twice already, I come from France! Are you deaf?" They asked for my passport. I had it and gave it to them, no problem. Then they asked to check body. OK I said, but only one person touches me, and no-one touches my money. I showed the contents of my pockets – almost nothing. Then they wanted to know what was in my paper bag. It's food, I say. Then they want to look so I show them a piece of pecan pie and a burrito. And then, get this, one of them motions that he wants to open the f@#$ing burrito to check inside it! I got very angry and said to them in Thai, "I don't want you to touch my food with your dirty hands!" I snatched the burrito back, put everything back in the bag and left them there saying "OK, pai!" to my motorbike taxi rider. They stayed there looking at me with big eyes. Just imagine if this guy had started to unroll a hot burrito in the street to make sure there was nothing inside. This is ridiculous!

A handy solution.

I was in Bangkok in November on a business trip with a co-worker. We were wandering around a block south of Khao San Road when 2 policemen on a small motorbike pulled up behind us on the sidewalk and started polite small talk. They asked if they could search us. We are 2 normal looking, mid-30s Americans and weren't carrying any bags. My co-worker was pretty angry but I told him to cool it and let them search us. He had pepper spray in his pocket which he took out of his pocket and concealed in his hand while he was frisked. I took a wad of cash out of my pocket and hid it in one of my hands. They didn't find anything and let us go. The laughable part is that we were both hiding something in our hands but the policemen didn't notice!


Been there, done that.

My friend and I did the Ko Kret outing several years ago from Nonthaburi in a long-tail boat. We paid 700 after the boatman originally asked 1,000. It was exactly as you figured it would be – the guy sat there with another boat captain drinking beer while waiting for us. We walked back past him after about an hour exploring and he looked anxious to go. I bought him another beer and we continued looking around for another half hour. When we were done he was glad to get out of there. That Mon style pottery is the reason people "in the know" go there. For me, once was enough.

The super what?!

Most of America will be glued to the TV set tomorrow for the Super Bowl. I couldn't care less. While driving in the car today my Thai wife leaned over to me and said, "Are you going to be interested in the Super Blow". I said, "Sounds good to me". Unfortunately, I know she was referring to the football game. Another Thai moment for the ages.

Who is BNE?

I have noticed many black and white stickers that just say BNE, or BNE was here. These appear in Bangkok as well as Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai etc. on phone booths, power transformers, and even on police booths. This week's guess the location photo features one! I have also seen these in certain parts of Singapore, so I am assuming these guys are out for a bit of fun here and there. We have all seen these, most of us may not even notice them before reading this, but curiosity is getting the better of me. Having been once guilty of 'ambush marketing', I am pretty impressed with this effort. Have you heard of any stories or heard any urban myths? I would like to say I am impressed at their dominance on a scale I have not seen before.

The pig farm story.

I was inspired to write this true story after reading an email in your column about a punter who was tired of whores and paying for sex. Over 20 years ago I was told the pig farm story and I've passed it on to friends who enter the Land Of Smiles as a word of warning. I was in a bar under the highway overpass on Suhkumvit Road and a sad man in his 50's was there also. I could feel he wanted to talk but I wasn't in the mood and tried to ignore him. Finally he got a word in and told me his life was shit. I had to ask why, of course. He was a retired railway worker from Sydney, Australia who lived in a modest apartment in Rockdale (an average suburb). He had retired from the railways and come to Thailand as he'd heard a lot about the girls. Met a 20-something in a gogo bar and off to Isaan they went. He bought himself a big motorcycle and before long he was the man about town. Her parents needed medical attention and he paid for all that including a taxi to the hospital in the distant town. It was time for the couple to return to Australia where they would settle down as they had talked about and planned for. He gets to the international airport where she is supposed to meet him as he had gone to Bangkok before her and she had stayed in the village a little longer to pack and settle things. When she didn't show up he called the family home (to the phone he paid to have put in). She answered. He asked why she wasn't at the airport in Bangkok ready to go to Sydney. Did I leave out the part where he bought the family a pig farm so they would be financially secure as their daughter was leaving to go to Australia and they needed to have an income? She told him "I have a pig farm, why would I go to Australia?" I'll give him credit. He woke up to the fact that he had spent his life savings on a fantasy and now had to return to work. He had played the big man in a small village and now realised he'd been played. Moral of the story – don't buy a pig farm!

A good idea for sure, afternoon delight at Nana Plaza doesn't seem to have taken off yet. The Nana Group ought to be congratulated for trying something different and their aggressive marketing of gogo bars open during the day. Perhaps it just needs a bit more time to catch on.

Sukhumvit soi 7/1, referred to as Soi Eden by some, is coming along. Today the 100-metre long soi is full of massage houses, beer bars, a British pub and one gogo bar, with most properties pitching prices considerably lower than the likes of Cowboy and Nana. Think soi 22 pricing. Despite recent development, the soi doesn't seem to be pulling in the punters. Strolling along the quiet soi, I note that Dr BJ's Budget Bangers has merged with Dr BJ's Nuru so Budget Bangers is a thing of the past. I also note that each of Dr BJ's establishments has signs outside stating that staff are wanted. Dr BJ's Salon is seeking women aged under 40 (although some existing staff look older) whereas the sign outside Dr BJ's Nuru specifically says "any age, no problem"!

After the December scare when authorities informed the owners of the ubiquitous street bars that they would be forced to close at the end of the month, street bar owners have once again had instructions from the authorities – they need to pack up their booze booth by 5 AM or face being fined. It's said that some booze booths serve punters and belt out music as office workers are going to work.

Zen Bar at the front of Nana Plaza installed a new 8-foot Brunswick pool table on Tuesday, replacing the sofa area at the back of the bar. The music being played is under review and will be run from a computer with software to normalise the volume which will eliminate the fluctuating volume problem. Live music is off the menu for the time being, a change which may become permanent. The venue's drink specials are going down well especially cocktail Thursday when it's buy 1 get, 1 free. For full-strength cocktails, that's a great deal.

What is being called a sexy Mardi Gras parade will take place in Nana Plaza this coming Tuesday, starting at 5 PM and running until late. It will be centred around the beer bars and every customer will be entitled to a free cocktail.

The Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy will celebrate its 12th anniversary on Wednesday, February 20th. There'll be free food, free shots and what the manager describes as licentious debauchery!

On the subject of the Dollhouse, I believe that doll #23 has the finest derriere in all of Soi Cowboy. After #95 in Tilac put on the beef, she lost the title she held for so long. #23 might be average from the front, but she is outstanding from behind!

There's still no word on who has secured the lease for Sheba's, the prime double shophouse property smack in the middle of Soi Cowboy. Rumours persist but no-one knows for sure. The Thai manager of After School, the bar next door, reports that staff from Shark have been going in and out, while the owner of Shark denies any involvement at all! What I find most interesting is that sheets of corrugated in front of the venue preventing prying eyes from seeing what's going on inside. I stuck my head inside earlier this week and the interior is being redone in the standard gogo bar style with a central dance floor and tiered seating on either side. It still looks like it is some time away from completion.

Are the dirtiest girls in town to be found in Billboard? Have you seen how long those girls spend in the shower, and how much soap they use to scrub themselves clean? I can only imagine how dirty they must be to require so much soap, but goodness only knows what they do to get so dirty!

Cockatoo, Soi Cowboy's only ladyboy bar, will celebrate its first birthday party this coming Friday, February 15th. There will be a free buffet and discounted drinks all night. I hear the girls, including the handsome devil pictured below, will be up for it, so go along and join in the fun!

Thai ladyboy

While there's plenty of talk about how the owners of bars are struggling to find girls, what's happening in the Thai bars? Does the same problem exist there? What I hear is that the high-end Thai bars on Rachadapisek Road are doing well and have plenty of girls – and no problem getting new girls. And from all accounts service levels are still good and those venues have not suffered the deteriorating standards that more and more are bitching about on Sukhumvit. As one friend said to me, unlike the farang-oriented bars on Sukhumvit, a visit to Rachada Road makes you want to go back for more.

Coyote, the Mexican restaurant on Sukhumvit Road near the mouth of soi 33, has closed. It always seemed to attract a decent crowd and was popular with younger female expats so its closure is something of a surprise. The branch of Coyote in Soi Convent is not owned by the same group and as far as I know remains open.

If you're after a relaxing Thai massage the word on the street is to get away from downtown Bangkok for the best deal. Sukhumvit soi 22 has plenty of massage houses but the arrival of the 300+ room Holiday Inn has sent a signal to the many massage outlets on the soi that more visitors are coming and it's time to put prices up. One venue has erected a large sign outside in English, Japanese and Korean – which always means a price hike. Some massage houses on soi 22 now ask customers to pre-pay before the massage. Apparently cheap Rajas have gone in, had a massage, and when done they pay less than the actual fee, arguing about what they thought the price was and then just walk out! If you want a real Thai massage without any hanky panky at a fair price, try Hat Thai Massage under the Thonglor skytrain station. They have 2 shops – and unlike soi 22 which is for tourists with many masseuses with no formal training, at Hat Thai the masseuses are trained and most customers are Thai.

It was around this time last year when I commented in a number of columns about a Brit living under the stairs at the Nana BTS station. He was there day and night, below the stairs leading to Pacific City Place. He spent his day in a cycle of begging, drinking and sleeping and always looked like a dog's breakfast. Then one day he was gone and not a peep was heard about him. Now he's back. Same guy, same place and looking much the same as he did last year. While he looks rough, he appears a little heavier set than last year. I also notice he has a large scar on his abdomen that runs from his chest all the way down to his navel which I don't recall seeing last year.

Bangkok homeless foreigner

Bangkok homeless farang

5 years ago I wrote about a horrific road accident I witnessed, where a bus driver ran a red light and smashed into a motorcycle rider, killing him. I had the misfortune to witness it firsthand. What was sickening was the way the driver continued on as if nothing happened, despite stopping, poking his head out the window and seeing the riders' body on the ground! As we read too often, the driver fled the scene.
Even worse, every passenger on the bus stared straight ahead, none willing to look at the body or acknowledge what had just happened! A similar accident occurred not long ago involving a very popular Bangkok bar manager. He was out getting some
exercise on his bicycle when he was rammed from behind by a bus. He flew up into the air and came crashing down on top of it, sustaining serious stomach injuries which required multiple surgeries and the removal of his spleen. Months later he
is still in discomfort and has yet to make a full recovery. Despite the seriousness of his injuries and the dreadful pain he was in, he remained conscious throughout. Lying on the ground, he made a note of the bus's registration plate. Yeah,
the bus continued on as if nothing had happened. The bar boss told his lawyer the details of the bus and his lawyer sent a letter to the bus company, stating the bus's registration plate and outlining what had happened. The bus company took
weeks to respond and when they did they explained that it could not possibly have been their bus as it was in the workshop at the time. They even went as far as sending documents outlining the workshop schedule of the bus. It all sounds like a
cover-up. If you're involved in an accident here with a commercial vehicle, don't expect the other driver to stick around.

The difficulty finding new staff is really hurting some businesses. One foreign hotelier in downtown Bangkok cannot get staff and friends and family have pitched in to help to keep the business running. I joked to him that he might have to look abroad to countries with high unemployment rates – he might have to get Europeans and Americans in to mop the floor and cook the rice. He looked at me and with a serious expression said, "Don't joke!" The situation has become so desperate that pressure on salaries is huge which will ultimately push prices up which you'd imagine would have to lead to inflation creeping up.

In a country with so many really lovely women and where so many are single and relationship-minded, it is amazing that the pool of women many foreigners involve themselves with is so small. A good friend told me this week how he met a lady who featured in a reader's story recently. There were too many similarities for it not to be her. I reiterate what I have said many times – one should get away from the women who foreigners get involved with if you are looking for a relationship.

This coming Thursday is Valentine's Day, an occasion the Thais really get in to. There will be all sorts of promotions, events and parties all around the city. If you're going to be out and about, be mindful that taxis can be more difficult to come by than usual and hotels with rooms available by the hour may have queues.

Checkinn99 will host its usual Sweethearts Party on Valentine's Day, always a popular night for both staff and customers. The big event of the week however will be the Hillbilly and Bluegrass party 2 nights later, on Saturday, February 16th. The theme is moonshine and buckshot as Checkinn hosts the touring hillbilly band, Wanderlusters, from Vietnam. From 8 PM until late, Wanderlusters will join with Checkinn99's house band to put on a toe-tapping, hand-clapping night of fun, dancing and hillbilly soul. Checkinn99 will undergo a party theme transformation into a Kentucky barnyard. Management had some difficulty trying to explain what a hillbilly was to the staff, the easiest explanation given was a strange Cowboy without a horse or even a cow who likes playing banjo and runs after chickens! As usual, Stickman readers can enjoy Heineken draft jugs at just 199 baht.

Bangkok Beat in Sukhumvit soi 7/1 loves a party and will celebrate Valentine's Day with beer and bottle specials.

Valentine's Day

Reader's story of the week comes from the master, Korski, "A First Kiss Upon Marriage".

CNN covered King Sihanouk's funeral procession in Phnom Penh.

More Australians die in Thailand than in any other country outside
their homeland.

When men do it, it's sex tourism, but when women look for naughty stuff abroad, it's a holiday romance!

A British thug has successfully applied to
have a curfew lifted by magistrates so he can holiday in Thailand.

Big Mango

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: When it comes to the first-year renewal of a one-year Thai driver's license, I have been advised that it can be renewed for 5 years starting the day after expiration,
waiting until then to do the paperwork. Is this correct? And are the regulations the same all over Thailand? I am in Chiang Mai.

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors responds: There are a wide range of driver's licenses for different types of vehicle and vehicle usage. However, as most people drive either a motorcycle or a car / pickup truck, for those you can renew the initial 1-year license for 5 years and it should be done after the one year licence expires. You can wait a few days but don't wait too long. Other types of licenses may only be extended for a year or 3 years.

In order to renew you will need:

* Copies of the relevant passport pages (picture page, current extension, departure card, etc). Generally you need a long term visa for this but double check.

* Work permit OR proof of residence in Thailand (either from your embassy or from Thai Immigration).

* A health certificate (from any clinic).

* Your expired 1-year driver's licence.

You will need to take the motor skills / reaction / perception tests again. Generally the Land Transportation Department requires a long-term visa for both the initial application and the renewal. For those located in Bangkok, Sunbelt Asia can assist you in the process.

Question 2

: There have been reports that individual Thai bank accounts are insured now for only 1 million baht. Other reports say no, the insurance is still at 50 million baht. Some claim that the insurance does not apply to Thai bank accounts which are in a foreign name. Some say the government owned banks offer different insurance than privately owned banks. What is the actual policy at this time?

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors responds: The Thai government did initially plan on implementing a law that only offered deposit insurance up to one million baht but that has been postponed so that deposits up to 50 million baht are still insured until August 10, 2015. From August 10, 2015 – August 10, 2016 the deposit insurance will cover deposits of 25 million baht and then by August 11, 2016 the maximum amount protected will be 1 million baht.

Question 3
: I own 20 apartment units in Thailand. A friend told me that I need a work permit if I am renting them because I am running a business. Is this true and can I get a work permit for this activity?

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors
responds: As long as you are not working in Thailand, you would not be required to apply for a work permit, unless you have taken on a property management role (e.g. servicing & repairing the rented units). Please note that because you are earning income in Thailand you would still be required to declare your income to the Revenue Department where you will have to file for the Annual Personal Income Tax (special type of income) PND 90 – 40(5) form. Sunbelt Asia has experienced accountants who can help you handle your personal income tax filings and should you decide to begin managing, can assist you in setting up a company and obtaining the required work permit.

Soi Cowboy

The longer I write this column and the more I comment on how Bangkok is changing, the more I have to look at myself and consider these changes. Bangkok is changing, and when I comment on these changes and my feelings about the changes, how much do the comments I make reflect the change in Bangkok, as opposed to the changes in me? As I change, so too does this column. What I cover and focus on today is a little different from the early days. Where once this column might have been analogous with what Trink once did, these days it is much more diverse. Whatever it is you hope to read about, I hope the column's diversity has something for you, and that you stick around for the ride.

Your Bangkok commentator,