Downtown Bangkok is fun, exciting and there's always something going on. At the same time it's noisy, polluted, chaotic and even for those of us who love it, there are times when it all gets a bit much. Sometimes you just feel the need to get away from it all and go somewhere that is everything downtown Bangkok isn't, somewhere quiet, laid back, somewhere peaceful. Just about anywhere in rural Thailand would fit the bill but often you don't have time to venture that far. When I want to escape the city, where better to venture than Nonthaburi, technically the province north of Bangkok, but actually still very much part of Greater Bangkok. It might still be Bangkok, but it's nothing like downtown.
The boat ride from downtown Bangkok up the Chao Praya to Nonthaburi is still the best deal in town. Note: While Nonthaburi is essentially the last stop on the route plied by the Chao Praya Express Boat, the Chao Praya Tourist Boat does NOT go all the way to Nonthaburi. To get to Nonthaburi on the river, you need to take the regular Chao Praya Express boat.
Upon arrival at Nonthaburi, the slower pace and relaxed atmosphere are immediate. Old ladies sell stale bread to feed the huge fish swimming around the pier while their husbands sit on long-tail boats with gaudy, colourful paint jobs and huge V8 engines which bob in the water. Just beyond the pier is the area's landmark, the Nonthaburi clock tower and traditional Thai-style buildings line the waterfront. Just a few metres away laid-back samlor riders wait for their next fare. Few foreigners are to be seen. It's relaxed and peaceful, the Thai equivalent of small-town Farangland.
Many foreigners take the river boat but surprisingly few take it all the way to the end. As a result there's little of the "Mister, mister, where you go?" nonsense of downtown Bangkok. Tuktuks are everywhere, but most drivers speak little English; their bread and butter is trips from the market to local residents' homes.
Tuktuk riders pay little attention to the white man. They'd be delighted to take you around the sights, but they won't try hard to sell their services. In the heat of the hot season, sleep seems to be their main priority.
The Bangkok Hilton, and the only entrance with a name in English. It's reached by taking the first left off the main road from the pier and walking about 300 metres. There is another entrance, more easily reached, by simply walking straight up the main road from the pier and taking the second left. That entrance has various information posted outside, but it's all in Thai.
Where the highlight of Lumpini Park is the monitor lizards, for me the highlight of a visit to Nonthaburi is the samlors, Thai for rickshaw or trishaw. Many are as old and rickety as their riders, but just like their riders they seem to go on and on and on.
The attractions in Nonthaburi include the Bangkok Hilton, a fascinating and uncrowded local market, a museum and a small Chinese temple. All are within an easy walk of the pier. There are riverside restaurants on either side of the river. If you feel like a bit to eat, take the river ferry over to the other side. Everything is on, or just off the main road that goes straight up from the pier.
In some ways Nonthaburi reminds me of Chinatown – in leafy side sois with 3-wheeled contraptions passing by, old men sit at roadside restaurants sipping tea, talking politics and watching the world go by.
The market is a 5-minute walk straight up the main road from the pier on the right hand side. There's all the usual stuff with animals sliced up and every part of the beast sold. Frogs are gutted live while cats and dogs lounge around not in the least concerned that they might be next.
I used to enjoy getting out of the city at the weekend to Korat or far flung Isaan where few foreigners were seen. These days no corner of Isaan is stranger to the white man, its appeal as an escape has diminished for me. These days when I want to get away from it I shoot up to Nonthaburi. A relaxing boat ride, a stroll around familiar sights, a few photos, a riverside lunch and a gentle trip back down the river have me feeling re-energized.
Nonthaburi is technically provincial Thailand, while at the same time it is part of greater Bangkok. It's more interesting than Pak Kret, the island in the middle of the Chao Praya a few clicks beyond Nonthaburi, and easier to get to. The people are pleasant, the journey is relaxing and it costs almost nothing to get there. What more can you ask for?!
Nonthaburi is quiet, relaxing and just plain charming!
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken at Benjasiri Park, the relaxing spot right next to Emporium shopping centre. There is a 500-baht voucher for Firehouse in Sukhumvit soi 11, known for its excellent hamburgers for the first person to get the photo right.
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 – Friction in the Kingdom.
I'm sure you've encountered those guys who say "I never pay for sex." Could it be that their fragile egos just can't handle the concept? Two schools of thought: pay when served, or pay later. Those who've been through a divorce with a Western woman often say they wish they'd thought in those terms. Which doesn't excuse misleading Thai women into sexual excursions for male amusement. As you wrote, the fixing of one's bitterness is taken seriously, and it's not to be taken lightly. With social media and the Internet, men who misrepresent themselves may find themselves pinpointed. And here's the bigger problem: we all lose. I'm not the only one noticing that the influx of farang is causing friction in the Kingdom. We have random searches by police, and now bag-snatching via motorbike in the capital. In the past, Thais may have been more sympathetic but now with farangs walking around shirtless, or sitting in soi 11 swilling buckets of booze, the phrase som nam na may cross their minds, even in unpleasant incidents. This is just another brush to paint all farang with: the heartless cad who feeds his ego by duping Thai women. Thais and farang typically don't fully understand each other's cultures. But conjure this image of a farang male: rude, demanding, often drunk, sometimes abusive, causing loss of face for Thais in public and now taking sexual advantage under false pretenses. Of course we're not all like that. But our image is slowly eroding as more and more farang waltz all over Bangkok like it's their private playground. Stereotypes can and do stick. It could be that fixing of bitterness will become more common, more tolerated, more "us versus them," more "the farang got what all farang deserve". Yes, it's prejudice but breaking down stereotypes means getting to know a person. When you work with a person from Country Z or Religion Y, once you get to know them, meet their family etc. you see them as a person. They're no longer Muslim or Australian or vegetarian or whatever, they're THEM. When there were fewer farang in Thailand it was easier to meet Thais on a personal level and let them learn that farang can wear shirts with a collar, can smile / joke / enjoy sanuk, can be jai dee even if they don't understand all the cultural intricacies. Now, we are all part of a horde. Seems another negative tag is subtly being attached to us all, and another layer of sympathy peeled away. And in Thailand, this is not good.
There's no need to lie.
Guys have been lying to get into girls' drawers since the dawn of man, or at least the dawn of speech, but there are two major reasons not to do it here in Thailand. First, you don't need to. Second, because of cultural or societal differences, reactions to your lies may be unexpected. This ain't America, Australia or anywhere like that. Many Thai women are anything but meek and submissive. Living in Thailand means never having to masturbate and you don't have to lie to get laid, and I don't just mean in Bangkok, Pattaya, or Phuket. Unless you're repulsive, it's probably easier and cheaper to get laid just about anywhere without lying, and as you rightly pointed out, not just by bargirls. I had a good Thai female friend on ThaiFriendly whose heart was broken by some farang who just wanted a two-week f@#$ – and she wasn't even young or pretty – just naive and the guy peddled a good line of bullshit. I don't see men's behavior in these cases as any better than a bargirl with 3 or 4 sponsors. Most of us, me included, don't exactly cover ourselves in glory during our first couple of years here. At least I can say everything I did was honest.
Lying to get laid.
In my housing estate is a fellow in his 50s. I don't know if he advertises for a wife. His method is to use all of the dating sites to draw in Thai women for sex. He feeds them on the street and puts them in the van for Bangkok before the next one shows up. I don't know if he gives them any money; the only guys who will talk to him in this village are those married to prostitutes. Sex tourists stick together, it seems. He has been chased around the village by a couple of women with knives when he has mismanaged the arrangements; we have always thought that he would meet his end at the hands of an angry brother or father, but he has survived so far. He gave his “looking for a wife” pitch to a Thai woman working in a local school whose uncle works as a gardener in the housing estate. He warned his niece, but the niece still showed up for the tour of his house and car (both kind of run down, but apparently enough to impress the women he brings in). You mentioned the Nigerian scammers in relation to this – both rely upon greedy and stupid “victims” for the scams to work and there seems to be an inexhaustible supply. My guess is that there are a lot of expats working this approach successfully. You asked why, and I think that it is due to two things – guys with limited money who convince themselves that they are bedding these women on their charm, not for money, even though they can't get laid in their home countries. It is all a form of prostitution, but stringing women along instead of paying them honestly. The American in our village is a dirt bag, of course, but he is not distinctive among the expats I have seen. When you live in Thailand, you soon understand that there are many more losers here than winners, and the sketchy, sleazy people attracted to life here are part of the downside.
Has anything changed?
When I read people's comments on yours and other sites that go along the lines of "Thai people hate farang nowadays", I really think it's nonsense. I think this attitude is more a reflection of how these people feel about themselves than what others feel about them. When you first come here you feel great, you're in a good mood and have high self-esteem. You think all Thai people are wonderful and friendly. Fast forward 20 years or whatever, self-esteem has gone down, you don't feel so good about yourself, and you mistakenly think that Thai people's attitudes have changed, when in fact it's your attitude. I'm reminded of that famous song by The Doors that goes "When you're a stranger, people are strangers…" I personally haven't seen any evidence of Thai people hating us more now than before. When I'm happy and smiling and in a good mood, it's amazing how friendly and smiling Thai people are in return, anywhere I go in Thailand. I think to keep posting this kind of false negativity on public forums does no-one any good, and predisposes people to expect negative interactions with the locals. And of course if you expect it, you'll probably get it.
10 years on.
I recently bumped into a girl I met in Bangkok back in 2004, when there were a lot more bars in nooks and crannies than today. Roll the clock forward almost 10 years and her situation is, if anything, probably worse with the major problem being she now has a baby under 2 years and no signs of ongoing sponsorship from abroad. Add this to her job of drinks girl on a meager salary with limited barfine opportunities and the fact she lives 2 hours away at 200 baht or more each journey, along with rent and baby-minding fees, she must be finding it hard to make ends meet. It seems to me that she might even be going backwards financially. After getting reacquainted, we agreed to meet and visit a major temple which implies she has to go home and change into appropriate clothing – or I go out and do some shopping with her, an option which didn't appeal. 4 hours pass and said lass turns up in skin-tight jeans and a T-shirt with the most inappropriate wording on it, certainly not suitable for a temple visit, or pretty much anywhere else. It was on the subject of liking it dirty. She had no idea what it meant.
Will the Patpong soi 1 scams ever end?
Lipstick in Patpong is clipping people. They are sending people up on the notion that there is no charge and then after selling 1 beer they show up with a card that says 300 baht / person for the show, a totally shitty show. I argued my friend and down to 150 baht per person with drinks. We went straight to the police booth. They called the manager from Lipstick over and I made my case. In the end they gave me back my 100 baht which brought the charge to 200 baht for two drinks which was fine. The problem is that they and others seem to be hiding the cover charge until you get upstairs and have already ordered at which point the price for two beers goes from 200 to 600 baht.
Girl of the week
was removed as she is no longer working.
Bed Supper Club will close its doors for the last time on August 31st. Vibrant Sukhumvit soi 11 has become one of the city's busiest nightlife areas with clubs and pubs spring up all along the 500-metre long street and competition is fierce. A re-fit in the region of 30 million baht had been mooted for Bed, a number which would take some time to recoup. Bed has been a major player not just in soi 11, but in Bangkok's club scene for years, attracting some well-known international DJs and helping put Bangkok's club scene on the international map.
Mercury Bar in Nana Plaza has changed hands. The previous owner managed to successfully turn around a small, pokey and uninviting bar by expanding it and putting a fun crew in place. With a young family his priorities have changed and he decided to let the bar go. The new owner is no newbie to the industry and there's every reason to be confident that it will be business as usual and Mercury will continue to be heaps of fun.
Down in Pattaya, the Addicts forum will host their annual Soi 6 party next weekend, on Saturday June 8th and Sunday June 9th, from 2 PM through until 2 AM. Participating bars will dress up their venue and that judged the best looking will win a prize and there will be free food at all participating bars. Soi 6 is a place to party with a few venues known to be wild, and with the Addicts guys reveling in their reputation as serious party animals it should be quite a weekend.
The boss of FLB Bar on Walking Street, Martin, has changed his mind about selling. The venue is no longer on the market.
For those sensitive to price and those who prefer to avoid alcohol, water is just 40 baht a bottle at Cocktail Club in Soi Cowboy.
The Strip in Patpong will hold an Old Geezers Party next Saturday, June 8th, which doubles as a birthday party for Belgian Dave and Kiwi Steve. Old music and the hot girls of The Strip, it's sure to be a fun night.
Bangkok doesn't seem to see quite the same fluctuations between low season and high season that Pattaya does, no surprise when you consider that the latter is a tourist resort and the former the capital city. but even with that in mind, I have to say that while business is quieter now than it was a few weeks back, bar owners in Bangkok are not anything like as negative as they have been in previous years. There seems to be a realisation that, yes, it is low season and yes, naughty boys don't make up anywhere near the same percentage of visitors that they used to but there are now so many people visiting Bangkok that the bars will do ok all the same. While I haven't been to Sin City in well over a couple of months, I hear that some bars are hurting.
The Thai wife of an American bar owner told him that a group of 5 girls had responded to an ad they placed looking for ladies to work in their bar. There was a small issue, however. The 5 girls were at a border town in the south of Thailand where they were working in an entertainment establishment looking after Malaysian men. The ad they responded to was for a bar in Pattaya. The Thai wife knows that ladies working in places frequented by Asian men are generally more attractive than those who work in bars for foreigners. The fact that they had industry experience appealed as plenty of girls enter the industry and leave within a week after finding it just isn't for them. To get 5 new girls at a time when bars are crying out for staff would be quite a coup. The girls explained that they didn't have the money to travel from the southern border all the way to Pattaya and they would need to be paid 800 baht in advance each to cover the cost of travel, a total of 4,000 baht. The American owner smelled a scam and said no way, but the Thai wife was insistent that they were genuine. They were, after all, Thai, and there's no way Thais would scam another Thai, right? Bank account details were provided and 4,000 baht was sent. Needless to say, the girls were never heard from again.
There is more and more discussion on the forums these days about the so-called declining bar scene. Where once it was just the odd commentator suggesting that things aren't what they were, now you hear similar from the participants. It seems that most discussions revolve around two issues – prices are up and attitudes have deteriorated. Many guys rant about how much prices have gone up, which I don't think is the issue at all. I have complained about prices when it comes to eating and drinking out, but then when I really ask myself what the issue is, it is not one of price at all; you know what you're paying before you choose an item on the menu so if it is such an issue, choose something else or go to a different establishment. In the case of bars, or more specifically, the girls themselves, the problem is not so much the price, but the service. If the price was too high, you should never have ordered / agreed to that price in the first place. Admittedly there may be times when one doesn't mind paying a premium – what they may consider to be over the odds – as a treat, but when you pay a premium you expect the quality to be there – and to receive what you paid for. My feeling is that the issue is not pricing, but the quality of the experience. Agree on a price in advance and no matter how high it is, so long as you get the experience you expected you have no right to complain about that price. Pay an agreed amount and not receive the service / experience you expected then perhaps have a right to complain. Part of the issue is that some expect to pay the same prices today they were paying 10+ years ago, which is totally unrealistic.
The bar that was once called the Pearl Necklace Bar has changed its name simply to Pearl Bar, with the Necklace part of the name covered up on the sign. I guess such a name was just a little too spicy.
Gerard O'Reilly up in Kalasin province is looking for an American friend of his, Gary Manfredi. Gary previously lived and worked in Japan and he also lived in Bangkok for many years where he was sub-editor for Prestige magazine. He left to work in Singapore a couple of years ago and Gerard hasn't been able to get in touch with him. If anyone has an email address for Gary, let me know and I will pass it on to Gerard.
The word on the street is that the building with stalls selling tourist trinkets between Sukhumvit sois 7 and 7/1 has been sold and at the end of the year the existing vendors will say goodbye and the plot will be developed.
Following on from news last week that the Biergarten has been sold and the area will be redeveloped, word is that the venue has another 18 months and will close at the end of next year at which point a number of adjacent venues will also close and a chunk of soi 7 will be redeveloped.
After a string of drab expat monthlies that have come and go, one has emerged that is worth waiting for each month. The Big Chili has been around for ages and today it stands head and shoulders above the rest. From the thoughtful editorials to the interesting mix of news to articles from Maximilian Wechsler who has a knack of scratching below the surface, it's worth picking up a copy every month.
Many English-language movies have been filmed in Thailand – some are set here and some are set elsewhere in the region. The latest movie to be set in Bangkok, "Only God Forgives", screened at the recent Cannes Film Festival. The trailer can be seen on YouTube and it has had good reviews.
The Budget Hilton has closed! A property that probably not even 1/10th of 1% of Stickman readers have stayed in is no longer. Where is the Budget Hilton, I hear you ask? The hotel with the dimly lit, almost creepy-looking reception area can be found on Soi Sribumphen, a stone's throw from Soi Ngam Duphli, a neighbourhood with backpacker lodgings and guesthouses that predates Khao San Road. Lecherous Lee and I venture there frequently to eat at Lido, the excellent value Italian restaurant in the soi, and are unable to walk past the Budget Hilton without breaking into laughter at the name!
Chatting with a bar manager this week who is a keen fan of ladies from the Philippines, I asked him to explain the difference to me. He said that he feels the Filipinos are sweeter and less mercenary. He thought about it for a moment and explained it like this, "If you have one baht in your pocket, a Thai girl does not want to know you. If you have one peso in your pocket, a Filipino wants to have a baby with you!"
A couple of friends got themselves into difficulty recently, making bad decisions that led to unexpected negative consequences. Neither is not short of friends – and amongst their friends they know people who have their shit in order, as well as others familiar with the mores of life in Thailand. In each case they made a major life decision without consulting friends. And I think it would be fair to say that in each case they have gone on to rue that decision. I've been in similar situations before in Thailand and am fortunate to have a bunch of people I can talk to about the big decisions, friends who have a slightly different perspective on life who may raise points I hadn't considered, all of which will help me to make the best decision. I guess what I'm saying is that if you have anything on your mind or have a big decision to make in a country that is not your own and where you might not quite understand everything that is going on, don't be shy to run it by your friends. They might just come up with a few things you have never considered.
Fancy being the next Stickman? Now is your chance! A website owner is looking for someone to do a Patpong-centric blog, basically roaming the entertainment area, having a few drinks and writing about it. Details need to be discussed but there should be a few drinks in it along with a share of website revenue meaning a few baht there too. Anyone who likes the bars, can write and is not a drunk should drop an email to : Pattayaleisure@yahoo.com.
In 2012 the first ever ladyboy water volleyball competition was held to raise money for charity. The organisers set a goal of 150,000 baht, but actually reached 283,000 baht which benefitted the deaf and dumb school at the orphanage and the rotary club's Water4Life project. The goal this year is 500,000 baht. This year's event will be held with girls from a bar in Bangkok, girls from a bar in Phuket and 6 Pattaya ladyboy bars all competing on October 26th. You can read more about the event and see the set of accounts at the lbwvb.com site. The organisers are still seeking team sponsors, donations and contributed items for the evening auction. It's nice to see bar workers, including those who don't always have a stellar reputation contributing so positively to the community. It should be a fun day out.
Quote of the week comes from a friend who is an ajarn, "Thai schoolboys' buzz cuts are atrocious and creepy; like a nation of child soldiers."
Reader's story of the week comes from Korski, "My Lap, or Between My Legs: Up to You!"
Australian security services extradited a German through Bangkok Airport without informing the Thais, then later fell asleep and the German escaped!
Bangkok is expected to be the world's most visited city this year.
An Arab is shot and killed in a fight at a late-night freelancer bar popular with foreign guys and Thai birds.
From The New York Times, there's a push for freethinking in Thai schools.
China's ambassador to Thailand speaks out against what he sees as some of the ills of tourism in Phuket.
An American working as an English teacher in Bangkok is arrested after robbing a bank of 380,000 baht.
An Aussie amateur bodybuilder gives a rare insight into Thailand steroid holidays.
This documentary on the phenomenon of Western men getting involved with Thai women profiles a middle-aged Brit who loses everything after marrying a bargirl. My Thai Bride really is worth an hour of your time, even if there are segments where the interviewees speak Thai with no English translation or subtitles.
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.
There were no questions for Sunbelt this week.
The recently launched Girl Of The Week section has polarized readers. I receive emails running the full gamut from inquiring about what sort of man the featured girl is looking for long-term to rants and even abuse for including such a supposedly ugly lady! One thing is sure, the exposure the ladies are getting is working for them, and none more so than Miss First at The Strip. Since she featured in a photo essay of the girls of The Strip several weeks ago, First has generated a lot of interest. She is not just gorgeous, she's sweet, friendly and has much more depth than most. She really is different. Swinging by The Strip this week, First came running over and hugged me. She excitedly told me how many guys have been in to see her, all based on her photo appearing. One guy even flew up from Singapore just to see her and treated her like a princess! So while some tell me the new feature cheapens the site, I am thrilled that the girls are benefiting from it. The Girl Of The Week section is here to stay!
Your Bangkok commentator,