Stickman's Weekly Column March 24th, 2013

The Visa Run Company That Jack Built


There's something about the term visa run that sounds decidedly dodgy to me, conjuring up images of badly dressed foreigners with a few days' stubble being sneaked across international borders with a backdrop of fake visas, corrupt border officials and transnational crime. Is that the imagination running wild or is it close to reality?

I recently met with Tanya, a charming Thai lady who survived the debacle that was the rapid demise of Jack Golf, Thailand's best known visa run company. From its ashes she has built her own visa run company, Bangkok Buddy. We chatted about the demise of Jack Golf, visa runs and what it's like as a Thai woman working to help foreign guys stay in Thailand legally.



For those not familiar with you, what services do you provide?

We provide the same services as Jack Golf did. Our service is the same as Jack Golf and we use the staff who worked for Jack.

Ummm! What does that mean?! Tell me what happens on a visa run. It all sounds kind of dodgy to me!

We are a visa run company. We take foreigners from Bangkok to the border with Cambodia so they can get a new visa stamp in their passport and continue to stay in Thailand.

I get up at 3 AM, arrive here at 4 AM in the morning, and people start coming here about 4:30 AM. We depart for the Cambodian border at 5:00 AM. We cross the border at Poi Pet around 8 AM, get the visa runners out of Thailand, into Cambodia, have breakfast, relax and then get them back in to Thailand. We're on the other side of the border for about 2 hours. Guides deal with everything so the visa runners can relax before we come back to the Thai side. We usually depart before 11 AM and return to Bangkok.

Who uses your service?

65% of our customers are former Jack Golf customers and the rest are new. There are lots of British who use our service and there are also Americans and Europeans but few Scandinavians.

I see and hear of many Filipinos working in Bangkok today, both legally and illegally. Do you have many Filipino customers?

No, there are not many Filipinos. They think the fee they must pay, 1,300 baht, is too expensive so they use another company which goes to a border further away but they save a few hundred baht. That's a lot of money to them.

Bangkok Buddy was born out of Jack Golf, Bangkok's most famous visa run company. Jack disappeared amongst much rumourmongering late last year and the company collapsed almost overnight. Can you tell me what happened – and I don't want the sanitised version!

The old staff who worked for Jack didn't get paid by Jack for 2 months before he left. The same as me. I worked for 2 months without pay. We tried to save the company but we couldn't.

Where did he go?

Jack disappeared completely.

Is he still in Thailand?

I don't think he is in Thailand. He called me a month ago asking for money but how could or why should I help him when he didn't pay us for 2 months?!

Jack is Korean. Some people think he is Japanese but he is not, probably because he could speak Japanese. The problem was that Jack was a big gambler and he lost all his money. Koreans are not like Japanese and they cannot control themselves like Japanese can.

Jack was a good guy, and was very professional when it came to work. He was good with people, was friendly and was quite a sweet talker. He was fluent in Japanese too. But the problem, as you know, was that he was addicted to gambling and that is where all his money went.

At the end things were so bad that when customers made payments the money was deposited directly in to his personal bank account. In the end when he disappeared he left staff without salary for 2 months, bills unpaid for 2 months including rent on the shop. It was a real mess.

We tried to help him save the company but at the end of the day there was nothing we could do. My partner and I spoke to a lawyer and tried to work the whole mess out but the lawyer suggested we run a similar business ourselves and register a new company from scratch. That would be easier and so much better. Every penny we make would be ours and not Jack's!

I am the only surviving office employee. I tried to help him but in the end it all went to fxxxing hell.


Candidography


Wow, what a fall from grace! I understand that there was a time, some years ago, when Jack Golf ran two buses each day to the border and back, which meant there must have been 40 – 80 people doing visa runs a day. He must have been raking it in! I gather that the big bus has gone and now there are just minivans?

Now we have two minivans. Some days we need more so we have another two on standby.

Running two buses a day was a long time ago when business was good. Those days are long gone. Just like all the money Jack made, it's all gone!

Jack used to be so successful and have many friends. Now he has nothing. It's a real shame. He was the first guy in Bangkok to operate a visa run service professionally and look at what has happened.

Now there are a few other visa run companies but I think only two go to the Aranya Prathet border. We go there because it's only 3 hours from Bangkok. Other companies go to other border points but it takes longer.

I heard you had problems in the past with the big bus which would break down often. Are you still using the same bus?

<Eyes roll and she shakes her head as if recalling painful memories> Many times that was a bloody problem and I was the one who had to deal with it. It was funny and incredible at the same time. Sometimes it would break down 6 days in one week! I would get up at 3 AM to go to work and wonder what would go wrong that day!

What about your drivers? Some visa run company drivers have the reputation for recklessness, driving at dangerous speeds and taking unnecessary risks.

This is a problem, I know.

Our customers prefer to sit on a big bus which is bigger, safer and easier to sleep on. So many people see news reports of minivan crashes in Thailand and they worry.

Our drivers drive every day and they know the road well. I think our drivers are sensible and I think the minivans are safe. They are, of course, quicker than a big bus and I think some customers want to get back to Bangkok early so a minivan is good.

I would love to use a big bus so we could offer better service on board, but a big bus is very expensive, even second-hand. We could serve food and drinks on a big bus but I need to build up the company first before I think about that. I don't think any visa run companies use a big bus now. This was one reason we were so popular in the past because we had a big bus.

It is not easy for a big fat guy on a minivan because he can take up a lot of space. Let's see what the future holds.

And it's not fair if you're not a fat guy and you have to sit next to someone who is really fat. I hate that. You should make those fat guys buy two seats so those of us who aren't fat don't have to sit next to them.

<She looks at me like I'm weird and says nothing, unsure if I am joking or not>

What changes have you seen in the profile of your customers over the years? Are they older, younger, are the nationalities that use your service changing or anything like that?

Most of our customers are repeat customers. Most are young guys. A lot of young guys come to Thailand looking for opportunities. Most of these guys have tourist visas, single or double entry. It's the same customers over and over again and most are aged 30 – 50.

A lot of foreigners exist in Thailand on back to back tourist visas, some living in the country for many years this way. I have heard of people doing this with an entire passport full of back to back tourist visas i.e. 10 years' worth. Have you heard of, or do you know of any reason why this might change?

I have not heard about it changing, but getting tourist visas from the same place time after time is not possible. I know that applications for tourist visas in Vientiane, Laos, are limited. You can go and apply for a tourist visa a few times but after that you get a red stamp in your passport and you must go somewhere else. But for tourist visas back to back from other places, I don't know if there is a limit or not.

A lot of foreigners believe that law changes have made it harder for them to stay in Thailand long-term. Do you think this is true?

I don't think so! It's not hard at all!


ladyboy Bangkok


Are you aware of any other visa law changes that the general public might not be aware of?

The laws don't change but the rules and the way they are enforced can change a little.

In 2015 we have the new ASEAN thing and people in this region will be able to cross the border more easily. A lot of people will come here and I think many Filipinos will come because they can get better jobs and make better money. There are so many Filipinos here working on tourist visas.

Do you think most people with tourist visas who use your service are working?

So many of them are working, sure. Maybe 70% are working. Actually, I'd say only 15 – 20% are genuine tourists. Most live here and work here. Some work, and some are looking for opportunities. Especially working on tourist visas are guys from the UK. When I talk to them they all say the same. Who wants to go back to the UK? Some I think have had a broken heart many times, they get drunk all the time and still they don't want to go back to the UK!

Bangkok is a very good place to live and a lot of guys want to live here. They might have some business but usually it is in their wife's name but they run it. Maybe they work because the law is quite soft.

A lot of foreigners do freelance work online and many sell stuff on EBay. But some of these people have problems. I think their income is irregular. Often they come to me with problems.

A friend of mine used to ride the bus as he called it and was not always complimentary of some of the people doing visa runs. The words "freak" and "show" were often used and he would tell me of his dread in the days before he went on a visa run. You must see some less than desirable people coming through. How do you feel about facilitating these people staying in your country long-term?

There are some people who want to live here who get money from their country. They can have a higher standard of living here than say their country or Singapore for the same money. That's ok.

Some people turn up drunk for the visa run. They have to be here at 4:30 AM. I think some of them leave home at midnight and go out, drink and think they can sleep on the bus but this is not so easy in a minivan. I just think, well, let them get on the van, try and sleep, sober up and hopefully they will be ok!

Sounds like a nightmare!

A lot of people make new friends on visa runs.

Thinking about people from the West, are there any countries for which it is either easier or more difficult to get a visa for Thailand compared to others? I don't mean Indians or Nigerians or Russians or less developed countries which I know can have problems, but farangs, white guys like me.

New Zealanders have it the easiest. So many New Zealanders have an APEC card and it makes it very easy for them to stay in Thailand. They get unlimited 90-day entries and there's no need for a visa.

What about the Aussies? They can apply for an APEC card too.

No, I never see Australians with them. So many of our New Zealander customers have one.

OK, I think I can explain that. The Australian government agency responsible for issuing APEC cards only issues them to the most senior people in a company, whereas in New Zealand they just take the fee and issue the card to anyone who can provide a plausible reason for requiring one.

What about overstaying? I am amazed at how many foreigners overstay their visas. You must see this a lot.

Yes, almost every day we have a customer who has overstayed!

What can be done by those who are on long i.e. multi-year overstays? Sometimes it seems to me like the authorities treat overstayers leniently, especially compared to how some other countries treat them.

In Thailand it is so easy. I think Immigration gives people space so that things can be worked out and problems cleared. They allow a lot of freedom for foreigners but I think some people overstay many times or have very long overstays.

And then you know people from Nigeria live here a long time and overstay and you know what they do, don't you? OK, maybe we won't talk about that.

The concept of the visa run is to help foreigners stay here legally and help those who might have problems like overstays to clear that problem so they can be legal.



What if you have someone on overstay and the bus gets stopped on the way to the border? My understanding is that in such a case the police must arrest them and send them to the nearest Immigration office for processing.

No, that has never happened and that will never happen. I can guarantee it! We go every day and we have contacts and when they see the company name on the side of van and the registration plate they let it pass.

We have to have good contacts and look after them. You cannot fight the system in Thailand. You have to work with it.

Can you tell me about any customers you have helped who were on long overstay?

Just today we had 2 separate people contact us who have lived here a long time. They have each overstayed by more than 2 years. One has overstayed 3 years. Actually, he is kind of tricky because he knows the maximum fine is just 20,000 baht and he knows it is cheaper than getting visas over many years. He called us today to find out how he could work it out. I told him he could just go to the airport, pay the 20,000 baht fine and fly out. If you can pay the 20,000 baht fine then you can go and come back. But at the land border it is a maximum of 1 year overstay. Any longer than that and we cannot help at the border. If you have overstayed by more than 1 year you have to go to the airport yourself.

Have you ever had anyone arrested at the border on any of your trips?

No, it has never happened.

What about someone drunk or not being polite with the Immigration officer?

One person had 2 passports with his visa in one but it was about to expire so he had a new one too. He argued and told the Immigration officer, "You are fxxxing wrong" and I almost freaked out when I heard it! You can't say that to a government official!

Have you ever had anyone lose passport at the border?

No, that has never happened. An English guy – it's always English guys – was tired and he got the wrong passport when we came back through in to Thailand. He did not realise for 3 weeks.

What happens is that when the customers are having breakfast, our guides get all the visa stamps for them. After breakfast customers collect their passport and we cross the border back in to Thailand and go back to Bangkok. These two English guys just saw the cover of the passport and did not check inside. It took one guy 3 weeks to realise he had the wrong passport and it was not until we called the other guy that he realised he had someone else's passport! They both had the wrong passport!

Poi Pet does not have the best reputation. Has anyone ever been robbed at the border?

Pickpockets operate and one guy's wallet was taken just 4 or 5 days ago. At least he only had 50 baht in it.

What about problems with visa runners bringing in tobacco or alcohol over and above the duty free allowance?

No, most of our customers are repeat customers and they know the law and do not do that.



What about the fake visa scam from 10 or so years ago? Is that still a problem?

That was only in the past. It is not a problem now and we never hear about it any more.

Tell me about some of the problems you've seen over the years operating this business.

We had one guy who from South Africa, maybe 28 or so, and he had food poisoning. The bus had to stop so many times because he needed to use the restroom. I think the driver had to stop about 5 times on the way back from the border.

There have been cases with people being stopped at the border on this side before they exit Thailand and prevented from leaving. We had a teacher who quit school but he had not got the right paperwork. Immigration would not let him leave Thailand until he sorted the paperwork out. He had to come back to Bangkok for that.

Do you have any advice for people who want to stay in Thailand long-term but for whatever reason don't have visa options available to them (work / investment / marriage / retirement) or perhaps don't qualify for a visa?

We offer a retirement visa service. We can help people with retirement visas who might not meet all the financial requirements and we can help them get a 1-year visa.

We can help people who want to get a tourist visa so you can stay in Thailand for 60 days and then extend it at the Immigration Department for another 30 days without leaving the country. We leave every Sunday for Cambodia and you relax at the border while our staff takes your passport to Phnom Penh, get you the visa and bring it back for you. We can get a single-entry tourist visa but not double. A lot of young guys want a double entry visa but the embassy in Phnom Penh only issues single entry tourist visas.

If you have a kid with a Thai lady we can help you get a 1-year visa. You do not need to be married. As long as you have a kid with a Thai lady and you are looking after the child financially we can get you a 1-year visa.

And we have a visa run every day to the border and back to get a new stamp in your passport.

OK, so the money question. Why should people use your service?

This is the best location for an office for this type of business in Bangkok. We are right in the middle of the city and we are easy to get to. When you wait for the minivan you can watch the action on the street as people come out of Insanity, nearby.

You know, no-one ever complained about the food at the hotel we use! Many of our long-term customers dash for the hotel buffet and they seem to really enjoy their breakfast!

One of my friends, a huge fat man, cleans out the bacon tray, I hear!

Also, now there is free wi-fi at the new True Coffee Shop so they can enjoy good coffee and wi-fi too.

When we come back in to Thailand we get preferential treatment at the border so things go quickly and smoothly and time is not wasted.

We are in the heart of Bangkok where it is easy to get to, easy to get back to your home from and we avoid peak traffic times. You get back around 2:00 or 2:30 PM so there is still time in the day to do what you want to do.

The visa run is important. Everyone needs a valid visa and if you don't have it you have fxxxed up.

I work 7 days. This is like my work and my home and I really enjoy it. I want to help foreigners who want to stay in Thailand legally. I like helping people and it makes me feel good.


* Bangkok Buddy is NOT an advertiser, but after meeting and chatting with Tanya I have no hesitation in recommending the service Bangkok Buddy offers. More details can be found on the Bangkok Buddy website.



visa run



Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was taken at Wat Traimit, the temple located between the Hualumpong MRT station and Chinatown. 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 WEEKBehave like you're in a playground, get treated like a child.

Some farang honestly believe that Thailand is their personal playground, no laws apply, no authority is genuine, and no consequences will result. The combination of alcohol / paid sex / neon all makes farang a bit ting tong. It is intoxicating but now there is a much larger sample of tourists / residents and some are starting to believe that they can do as they please. Act like beasts, stay drunk all day, tag any street or sign – it's all in your column, connect the dots! The kicker is the Thai guys with weapons, covered in blood, and the cop wants to extort the lone farang for littering. That's the reality. That tells you where you stand as a farang. Maybe those guys just thrashed some stupid tourist for tagging some puuyai's business. Were that the case, the column would have come full circle. This is a bad situation. Farang get away with whatever. They conclude they can do whatever. The city gets uglier (at least the Thais you spoke to believe it's Thais doing it, why, I dunno). In Bangkok at night I used to see food stalls and tables spread out with Thais enjoying large meals, with drinks (you may remember the sight). Nowadays, they'd be surrounded by tourists, some behaving badly. How would you feel if your hometown was eroded in this way? There may be some serious anti-farang sentiment, and you know how Thais are: they bend and bend until they snap.

Rock bottom in Bangers.

The foreign vagrant featured with one leg bigger than the other has been around a long time and I'm surprised he hasn't been deported. A couple of years ago when ET was still managing Bully's, this guy would try to enter Bully's to beg for money. I visited Bully's several times a week back then and he would hit on me as I sat out front sipping iced tea and smoking. One day he showed up as usual and I told him to go away. I was tired of his bullshit. He backed off and squared up with fists clinched. I was 68 then and I told him to wait there for a minute. I got ET out front and he ran the guy off, but only after they squared off and ET told him "Don't do it…" (try to fight). The bum walked away. Whatever his story may be, I think it's safe to say he needs to go to an AA meeting. Bangkok is a terrible place to hit rock bottom.

Will Bangkok's graffiti ever be cleaned up?

I am glad I am not the only one who finds the outbreak of graffiti in Bangkok very depressing. Fact is, this is just one other positive difference between Bangkok and Western cities which is being eroded. Until 5 years or so ago, it was something visitors noticed; virtually no graffiti. It gave the impression the Thais did not have the desire to despoil their own environment in the same way as many low-lifes in the West. All that is changing. Ironically this is happening just when the authorities are succeeding in eradicating graffiti in Western cities. In most UK cities there are mobile teams which can be called on to remove graffiti immediately. It's recognised that this kind of low-level crime needs to be stamped out as it leads to a general rise in all types of offences eventually. I can't see any action to remove graffiti in Bangkok, owing to the local inability to perform basic maintenance in most cases. For the most part it will simply be there forever, which means in another few years the place will be covered in it.



Blokes in knickers.

Regarding the abundance of ladyboy bars and their staff made you ask the question "Who is using them?" Of course no-one will admit that they do, but you only have to browse for ladyboys on local dating sites to see the same blokes sending interest and Skype numbers to ladyboys as they do the female variety, perhaps more so! There is no denying that some of them are a beautiful form of human life and more feminine than the lovely girls, but at the end of the day it's a bloke in knickers!

Ladyboy attraction, a middle age thing?

I'm interested in your comments on the popularity of ladyboys. I think it's something that you get into as you get older. You find they do something for you. I'd venture to say most late 40's guys venture that way – at least those that have access to it. Maybe that explains the number of bars in Nana – I mean most punters there are 40s or 50s. At least those with some spare cash. It always starts with mild curiosity then develops hardcore before going off it. Sort of intertwined with middle age crisis.

Booming economy = more jobs = less girls in the bars = more ladyboys!

I don't think I'm surprised by the growing numbers of these types of venues given that it's no secret and has been noted in your weekly columns that the super heated Thai economy has given the girls other choices than the bars and being bargirls. I can't decide if I really believe what I am about to write but maybe, just maybe, this is what bar owners may have to resort to and if not now perhaps in the future. For me as a consumer I could never get past knowing that the beautiful girl in the picture once had a penis! I have heard red-blooded men say "Maybe I'll try a ladyboy of these days.” And I will never know how they got past knowing she once had a penis but hey, I guess it's good on them if they can sort it.

Welcoming the police checks.

After being searched again and again I found a way to discourage the police to look in my bag. I placed a pair of dirty socks in it (I cleaned some windows with them so they look dirty but are not smelly). You should see the face of the policemen when they open the bag, plunge their hand in and catch a dirty sock! And when they drop it I take it back and shake it under their nose telling them they need to check inside it! Now I look forward to being searched!

Don't do drugs!

Something I've noticed over the past week or so is the chubby taxi driver parked at the side of the road between Sukhumvit sois 5 & 7 during the daytime. He's usually sat in the passenger seat or standing by his cab. His usual approach is "Hello, Mister. I see you before. I have everything, marry-wanna, coke-in, etc." A few yards away, hidden in the shadows of the ATM stands a lone policeman. I'm hoping no-one gets caught up in this obvious set-up through stupidity, naivety or whatever.



shirtless in Bangkok


With shirtless foreigners becoming a more common sight, are we seeing a sort of Pattayisation of some parts of downtown Bangkok? Wandering around shirtless in the middle of the capital city amongst office buildings, office workers in what is still a conservative society is just poor form. Respect yourself and show a little respect to the locals and put on a top.

An electrical fire broke out at Spice Girls – one of The Arab's bars – in Soi Cowboy last Sunday night. Fortunately it wasn't serious, the damage was minor and the bar re-opened for business the next night.

With police cracking down on closing times and enforcing 2 AM closing in all nightspots in the Nana area, venues which do much of their trade late have had some tough decisions to make. One such venue is Nana Liquid with management deciding to close the venue temporarily until such time as it's possible to remain open later in the evening.

Many people have told me / emailed me about a drunken Irishman sitting in the beer bar outside Pretty Lady Bar on St Paddy's Day who was throwing glasses through the window from the beer bar into the gogo bar! Glass after glass was hurled through the window. What a total clown – and that's being nice! Some people asked me why I don't go out drinking so often – reports like this should answer that question.

Lolita's in Pattaya is history. As was mentioned in this column a month or so ago, Lolita's will make way for a new chrome pole venue as Soi LK Metro becomes even more of an alternative to the crowded madness that Walking Street has become. Rumour has it that an ultra successful outfit with bars of the same name on Walking Street and Soi Cowboy may be behind it.

Pretty Lady Bar in Nana Plaza is holding an erotic party on Saturday, 30th March, with free food and shows. Coupons worth 4 drinks will be sold and you can go in to a lucky draw to win a barfine for a sexy dancer. All are welcome.



Next door to Pretty Lady, Lollipop on the ground of Nana Plaza has a bright, colourful, new sign with hot girls and cold beer across the top. But should it perhaps say more? There's absolutely no mention of the several ladyboys that seem to get even more attention from many customers inside the bar than the real girls. Hot girls, hot boys and cold beer just doesn't have the same ring to it.

The Nana Group should be congratulated for trying something different and opening a few gogo bars in the plaza during the day – and with some great prices on drinks. I do wonder if part of the reason bars aren't being as well supported as you'd think is because throughout the day the entrance to the plaza is blocked by delivery vehicles. Seeing vehicles blocking the entrance makes people think nothing's open and potential customers are being lost.


Nana Plaza sign

Lollipop


It's nice to see one of Pattaya's best bars, Bacarra, charging a reasonable price for water – just 70 baht. More and more often I don't drink while I make my rounds and while bar owners have to turn a profit, it's a little annoying when a bottle of water is priced the same as a bottle of beer. 70 baht for water is very fair and in such a good bar is a bargain. Tilac in Soi Cowboy is still the best deal in town for non-drinkers with water priced at 50 baht a bottle all night long.

Speaking of Bacarra in Pattaya, I was sitting at the stage with a friend this week sipping my water, ice-cold sober, observing how many of the girls have boob jobs – and how many looked wrong! Most had obviously instructed the surgeon to super-size them – and he had obliged. 40 kg girls with a 36D chest isn't sexy at all and their tits look as fake as their smile.

Still in Pattaya, I note that Soi Buakhao is developing with money being invested in to what has been a more affordable neighbourhood. On Soi Buakhao itself, Rehab A Gogo between Soi Diana and South Pattaya Road has a flash frontage that someone has invested plenty into. Between Soi Diana and Central Pattaya Road are a bunch of new businesses, a few of which are much more upmarket than the low-end businesses they replaced. I also notice chains such as Watson's have opened a branch on Soi Buakhao. Soi Buakhao's days as an inexpensive neighbourhood are numbered although these changes don't happen overnight

. As real estate near the beach increases in value, expect things to get pushed back so what is on Second Road to go to Soi Buakhao, what is on Soi Buakhao to go towards Third Road and so on.

The ministry which handles passport applications and the issuing of passports for Thai nationals is opening a new office in Pattaya, at the back of The Avenue Shopping Centre which should make it much easy for those resident in the area to apply for a passport. I guess more Pattaya-based Thais are travelling abroad.



Two of the oldest soapy massage parlours on Sukhumvit, and two of the most popular with Westerners, are Annie's in soi 4 and Darling in soi 12. Both are still going although each seems to have fallen off the radar somewhat. Darling appears to be trying to reinvent themselves with a partnership change and some new people brought in. One of the curiosities is that they now have two ladyboys sitting outside trying to get customers inside. It's hard to imagine this being effective.

The ladyboy bar count at Nana Plaza is up to 10 with confirmation that there is at least one ladyboy who is available at Straps. It should be noted that this count does not include any of the ladyboy mamasans working in Nana otherwise we'd be at a dozen bars or more in the plaza with ladyboys!

What's going on inside the plaza is completely at odds with what is going on outside the plaza. The fuzz cruised up and down Soi Nana a few evenings this past week looking for stray ladyboys lingering and not in the employ of any bars. They were picked up for loitering and carted away. One hopes they didn't go to the same place the monitor lizards are taken when they are rounded up in Lumpini Park from time to time i.e. never to be seen again! Various bar owners are taking credit for the complaints that led to the round-up.

After much dithering, Arsenal Alex asked me what sort of business he should buy and I said a ladyboy bar. When he asked me why, I said they seem to be the biggest money makers.

Here's a definition of a sociopath. What is interesting is that so many Thai bargirls exhibit *every one* of these characteristics!


Winchester Club


The price of a massage is going up on soi 23 as a number of houses have put the price of a regular Thai massage up by 100 baht an hour. No great surprise given that staff are hard to come by and massage houses have to offer more to get new staff.

I note some amateur property market commentators keep using the word bubble. Thailand's economy is booming, there's work for anyone who wants it and pay rates are better than ever. The middle class is growing rapidly and many share much in common: they want to buy a new car and then a condo downtown and finally a house in the suburbs. And let's not forget the number of foreigners moving to Thailand – a recent news article reported that in Chonburi the number of foreigners on retiree visas jumped by 15,000 year on year! I bet the increase in terms of pure numbers in Bangkok is greater. These people all need places to live. The small shoebox-like condos that many of the new developments comprise are snapped up in record time and condos in the sweet spot of 80 – 100 square metres don't stay on the market for more than a few weeks. What I see is very real demand for property in Bangkok. While loans are made for cars to those who don't appear to have the ability to meet the repayments, it's tougher when it comes to banks and real estate. Lessons were learned from the late '90s crash. The demand for property is real and I do not see a bubble at all, rather continued property price increases for some time to come. Perhaps the one proviso I would make is that much of the market activity is at the lower end and in the mid-range.

Think of gentleman's clubs and images come to mind of businessmen in immaculately tailored suits enjoying tipples from France in plush surroundings and animatedly puffing away on a Cuban. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that gentleman's clubs in Pattaya are anything like they are in the rest of the world! After all, Lolita's in Soi LK Metro was said to be a gentleman's club when perhaps the term house of oral relief might have been more accurate. In Pattaya, gentleman's club is the term used to describe bars that open early – midday or early afternoon – which tend to close around midnight and which are predominately popular with expats by day and early evening. Often fun can be enjoyed on the premises and they appear to be deliberately located well away from the busy parts of town. Amongst the popular gentleman's clubs in the greater Pattaya area at this time is Kinaree Place up on the Pratamnak Hill. Then there's the reopened Winchester Club which was very popular 10 or more years ago. It is over the hill in Jomtien at Soi Wat Boon. And then there is MClub which boldly describes itself as Pattaya's premier gentleman's club. On Third Road's soi 12, a 10 – 15-minute walk from Soi Buakhao or a very short motorcycle ride, MClub is the easiest of these gentleman's clubs to reach from downtown Pattaya. There is something of a perception that the girls working in Pattaya gentleman's clubs are the rejects from Walking Street, but that would be about as accurate as finding a virgin on soi 6. The 2 lovelies below are currently at MClub.


Pattaya gentleman's club


Sleep isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a short-time hotel, but most short time hotels have an overnight rate – typically less than 1,000 baht. A Pattaya-based playboy who enjoys all that Sin City and Bangkok has to offer found himself in Bangkok for meetings. He had a brief window in the afternoon so visited the Biergarten where he found 2 service providers to his liking and invited them to join him at a short time hotel in soi 7/1. The cost of the room was 350 baht. That same evening with another gap between meetings he found himself on Sukhumvit again, and the virile fellow came across someone he fancied getting to know a little better and ended up not just in the same short time hotel again, but the very same room, at the cost of another 350 baht. Later that evening he hung out in Nana Plaza with some friends and when it was time to call it a night, he returned to the premises he stays at when in Bangkok. By day it's an office, hence he can't take girls there. When he got there he realised that he had lost his keys. He pounded on the door, causing a few thousand baht worth of damage, but it would not budge. No-one else lives in the single-shophouse building so he was unable to enter. It was now 5 AM, he was tired and he had another meeting at 10 AM. All he wanted to do was put his head down. He headed back for the short-time hotel in soi 7/1 where the all-night rate was 800 baht and no, they could not give him a discount, notwithstanding that he had already checked in and checked out twice in the previous 12 hours. He checked in for the third time that day, having paid a total of 1,500 baht over the 3 visits.

Some of the most interesting people you meet in the expat world are authors, and authors' nights are always a good laugh, especially when you have that delicious mix of authors who have touched on the nightlife clashing with those whose attitudes make you wonder why they chose to ever set foot in Bangkok. I'll never forget a night at the Foreign Correspondents Club some 12 years ago when a European woman had a bit of a rant about the naughty nightlife while a certain Mr. Leather managed to be incredibly diplomatic :) Anyway, the Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir will be held at CheckInn99 just after Songkran, on April 17th. I'm deliberately mentioning this well in advance because it should be a really good night. A number of Bangkok fiction writers will present a night of noir and there will be readings, book signings, interviews as well as entertainment from house band Music of the Heart. It should be a great night!


CheckInn99 Bangkok


Quote of the week comes from an ajarn at Chula, "Is there anything worse than an uneducated Thai with a whistle on a uniform-induced power trip?"

Reader's story of the week comes from Professor, "Economics 101", a look at the Thai economy.

A Japanese man takes a lady back to his room in Pattaya and is extorted of 10,000 baht by corrupt cops.

I thought April had come early this year with Thailand keen to scrap squat toilets to reduce knee arthritis!

America's Supreme Court rules in favour of a Thai student in a copyright case.

Don't have sex with an Indonesian lady in that country if you are not married to her and don't want to go to jail!

A British pensioner stalked his Thai wife after she walked out on him.


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: Can a foreign couple legally marry in Thailand? I am an American male & my good lady is a Cambodian female. Will marriage be legally recognised by Thailand i.e. marriage certificates issued by the Thai ministry? Does Sunbelt handle these cases? If so, could you state an approximate cost for these services?

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: The marriage will be legally recognised in Thailand but your fiancée must obtain permission from the Cambodian Ministry of Interior as well as obtain a letter from her village government stating that she is not married. It is a long complicated process and if you are over 50 then permission may be denied. Once the required documentation is obtained from Cambodia, and you have received an Affirmation of Freedom to Marry from the US embassy, we can assist with the translations and certification by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Please feel free to contact Sunbelt Legal Advisors if you need to discuss the precise documents the Cambodian government requires.



Question 2: I live on my own in Bangkok. My next of kin is my brother who lives in the UK. If I need emergency medical treatment after being incapacitated by a heart attack or road accident, would the hospital need to get written authorisation from my next of kin before they can treat me? If so, would a "Medical Power of Attorney" giving a friend living locally the power to sign medical papers on my behalf and remove the need to contact someone in the UK when time is critical? Where would be the best place to keep such a document – with the person nominated, with a hospital or at my home?

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Usually in an emergency you will be taken to the nearest hospital for immediate treatment, rather than your primary preferred hospital if it is not nearby. Carry with you at all times emergency contact information as the hospital will usually contact that person to gain permission for treatment and guarantee of payment. You (or this guarantor) can inform the hospital that you would prefer to relocate to an alternative hospital of your choice once your condition is stabilised or is secured for inter-hospital transition. Your contact person would need to contact your relatives (either domestically or internationally).

This contact person can be anyone of your choice. If you would like you may wish to draft what is called a "Physician's directive" or a type of living will which will lay out necessary steps that you wish to be taken (or not) should you become completely incapacitated. Sunbelt Asia legal advisors can assist you in this matter.



Question 3: My Thai wife and I live in Western Europe. Our young son was born in Europe and has West European nationality and passport. We are considering applying for Thai nationality for our son at the Thai embassy. My wife says this will be useful for our son to inherit land that she owns in Thailand, and it will also allow him to stay in Thailand for longer periods of time or maybe even decide to live there. I would like to have advice on the pros and cons of this decision.

PROS that I can come up with:
– he will be able to inherit and own land in Thailand.
– he can stay / live in Thailand for longer periods of time.

CONS that I can come up with:
– military service.
– taxation issues.

One extra thing to mention specifically to our situation is that we are moving to Thailand within the next 5 years.

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: As a Thai citizen, he will have exactly the same rights as any other Thai. And, yes, one of the pros of being a Thai is that he is allowed to freely own land and other assets Thailand. He can stay in Thailand as long as he wants. He can work without needing a work permit and can avail himself of education and healthcare. Every Thai male (starting at age 19) has to enrol themselves in the military reserves. At the age of 21 each has to attend the raffle draw for military service. Not everyone is picked and some volunteer. This military service can be postponed if the male subject is still attending school. Reduction of service could also occur depending on education level. It is the responsibility of every Thai citizen to be liable for the taxes on their income earned in Thailand. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can assist you with the necessary steps of registering your child in to the Thai system should you need it.





sunset


This column is published by 6 PM Bangkok time every Sunday. I cannot remember the last time I missed that deadline. However, I can say with certainty that next week I won't make the deadline and the column will be published quite a bit later than usual. It simply won't be possible to make the 6 PM deadline next Sunday. There definitely will be a column next week but it will be a good few hours late. My apologies in advance!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Firehouse