Stickman's Weekly Column July 21st, 2013

Condo Hunting in Bangkok and the Thai Real Estate Agent Headache





One of the most frequently received questions at Stickman HQ is how one should go about finding a place to live in Bangkok. I've never wavered on the advice: Determine which part of town you want to live in and then pound the pavement, checking out buildings in the area until you find a condominium or apartment you like. I really should have listened to my own advice…





Moving residence is one big hassle, from hunting for the right unit in the right building, to the move itself, to getting all your bills and utilities sorted at your old place, to getting everything connected and turned on at the new place. No-one likes moving, but sometimes you need a change.

Feeling somewhat restless recently, I've been looking around for a new condo. I'm not in a hurry, but I would like a change. I don't have the desire to pound the pavement myself so I contacted local agents to help.

First contact was with some foreign real estate agents. I quickly learned that my budget – around 25,000 baht a month – wasn't worth them getting out of bed for. I would have to go Thai.

I contacted a few Thai agents and explained that I was looking for a comfortable unit in a decent building, just east of the Asoke intersection but no further east than Emporium. I made it clear that the condo had to have all of the following. Had to as in MUST. I spoke with the agents by phone, in Thai, and sent an email in English reiterating the requirements. There could be no misunderstanding, right?

– Around 50 square metres, preferably a one-bedroom but a large studio would be considered.
– Not higher than the 12th floor.
– Fully furnished.
– Washing machine in the unit.
– Bright with lots of natural light.
– Within a 15-minute walk of either the skytrain or the underground.
– Price around 25,000 baht per month.

Imagine a triangle with one point at the Petchaburi MRT intersection, one point at the Phrom Pong BTS and the third point at the Sirikit Centre MRT station. That's where I wanted to be. The location was fairly specific but encompassed a large swathe of downtown Bangkok in an area popular with expats and where many condominium buildings are found, both new and old.

The way real estate agents work in Bangkok is that the agent or agency that places someone in a rental unit gets one month's rent as commission, from the landlord.

The first agent I dealt with was Amy who worked for a real estate agency run by Arsenal Alex, the scoundrel I wrote about a few weeks back. We arranged to meet at Asoke and Amy would present 4 properties. I was confident I'd sign a lease that day.

Amy arrived 20 minutes late, 5 minutes after the point at which I usually disappear. I foolishly overlooked her tardiness, and in retrospect was won over by her flirtatious nature and short skirt, flashing as much leg as seen on Soi Cowboy after dark, not Asoke by day. Amy had decent enough English and an engaging manner and I quickly forgot that she had arrived late.

The first condo was on Petchaburi Road in a towering new development of 40+ storeys. When we got in to the building and she pressed a button in the lift for the 30th floor, I reminded her that I wasn't interested in being so high up. It's not a case of vertigo, but avoiding the problem of poor mobile phone reception from being so high up, concerns about getting out of a building in the case of fire or simply get to or from one's condo in the case of a power cut and the lifts aren't operational.

"Oh, but the view is so beautiful", she exclaimed, seemingly uninterested in what I actually wanted!

We were already there so I would check the condo out but the location was a little outside of the area I had specified and the 30th floor would always be a deal killer.

The view was indeed dramatic, and just as I thought, mobile phone signal was crap. Next stop please!

We exited the property on Petchaburi Road and headed west. Instead of turning left on to Rachada and heading south towards Asoke as I presumed we would, Amy kept driving straight ahead, further along Petchaburi Road. Enquiring about where we were going she responded, "Nana", with a slight squeal, as if it was some sort of exciting place!

Nana doesn't work for me, I said. I'm not interested in Nana at all. Soi Nana is, in fact, just about the very last soi in Bangkok I'd want to live! Anywhere west of Asoke is no good and I reminded her of the email and what I'd told her on the phone.

Starting to look deflated, Amy said that there were 2 available units in the building we were going to.

Sorry, I am not interested at all. Don't bother taking me there. Let's just go to the remaining unit.

That left just one condo to look at, back at Asoke.

We turned left from Petchaburi Road on to Sukhumvit soi 3 and then turned left again, cutting through the back sois, past curtain hotels, noodle soup vendors, and hotels, restaurants and travel agencies servicing the Middle Eastern market. We eventually came out on soi 21, turned left, and 45 odd minutes since Amy had picked me up we were back where we started. Amy turned in to one of the many tall condos on Asoke and parked up.

Amy headed to the juristic office where the owner had left keys to the condo while I waited in the lobby. A few minutes later Amy had not appeared so I went to see what was happening.

In the juristic office there was confusion all around. There had been some sort of mix up and we were in the wrong building! Amy was lost! There was a unit to view but it was in another similarly named building – but Amy didn't know where it was! She tried calling the owner of that unit to confirm the location but the call went unanswered.

Amy had arranged 4 properties to show me. 2 were well outside the area I was looking at, one was a little outside the area and on a floor much too high and the final unit may have been suitable but she couldn't find the building! After arriving 20 minutes late and showing me properties that didn't meet the criteria I was looking for, I realised that Amy was clueless. Despite calls and emails to show me other properties I had lost faith in dealing with her and never did make another appointment.

It was time to find another agent.


Candidography


The second agent was Da, a pretty late 20s Thai lady who ran a rentals only agency. Da didn't have an office or a website but a number of property listings (floating around in her head, it seemed). After a number of phone conversations and emails, she seemed to understand what I was looking for. Da said she would need a couple of days to find suitable properties and would get back to me. Like clockwork she came back with a few listings and an appointment was made to view the properties.

As is so often the case with pretty Thai women doing business with foreigners, Da dollied herself up in such a way that would cause the average Westerner not just to be interested, but to be aroused. Da was beyond flirty, and had made a real effort to look, for want of a better word, sexy!

Da had 4 units to show me but I quickly realised that all but one was well outside of the area I was looking for. Da turned up on time, but that was about all she did right. She was polite, engaging and yeah, she was sexy, but ultimately didn't follow instructions. I was getting frustrated, not because I was in any sort of hurry to find somewhere, but because I was wasting time.

Da, like Amy, was extremely apologetic for not being able to present properties which met the requirements and tried to make another appointment to show me more. I lied and told her I had already found a place.

The next agent was with a large, well-known real estate agency. Jenny was mid-20s from Northern Thailand, had lived in Bangkok just a couple of years and was smoking hot! She was, to be crude, a 9 or a 10. She dressed sexy, was flirty and had that almost unique look that appeals to both foreign and Thai men. Physically, she was quite exquisite!

Jenny had 4 properties to show me, making me wonder if there is some Thai Real Estate Agent School impresses that upon agents that 4 is the magic number. The first two units were on Thonglor. As soon as Jenny said "Thonglor" I started to think that she was all beauty and no brain. Thonglor is perfectly pleasant, very nice in fact, but it's not where I want to be. Two units were struck off the list leaving another 2 on Sukhumvit soi 24 to view. We ventured down that pleasant, leafy soi beyond Emporium, and location wise it was perfect.

Inside the building Jenny presented two units that were so badly designed that even on what was a sunny day you had to turn on the lights, so dark were the condos inside. Jenny hadn't seen the two units before and even she admitted that neither was very nice.

Jenny hadn't been any better than Amy or Da, presenting units which were unsuitable. Against my better judgment, I allowed Jenny to make another appointment. Yeah, I admit it was because she was hot. We went over the list of requirements again and she was confident she could present units that I would like.

A couple of days later I met Jenny on a soi close to Asoke where she had 3 units to present in one building. The first unit was nice enough, but was on the 20th floor and while within budget, I felt it was overpriced. The next 2 units weren't s nicely renovated, were showing their age, a little shabby and generally unappealing.

I sensed that Jenny was getting impatient to close the sale when she turned to me, grabbed my arm, gave me the biggest smile and asked me which of the 3 units I would take.

I don't really like this building.

She asked why and I responded that there was slum housing outside the front of the condo and the slum communities on the short walk to the nearest MRT was not something I would like to see every day.

She turned to me and with fire in her eyes and said, "What's wrong with you?" in English, followed by "Khun leu-ak mark jing jing!" in Thai, which translated into English would be something like you're way too picky!

Getting angry, she then pointed out – quite rightly – that I had never said that I would not be interested in a building that was, essentially, surrounded by a slum and which getting to or from the MRT at night meant a walk past a slum community which would not bother me, but which I would not subject the other half too. "You never say me you not want live near slum!"

"And neither did I say I wouldn't want to live in a condo that had a squat toilet or which was once a meth lab or had one of a million other issues."

"What it mean meth lab?"

Jenny wasn't happy. Maybe she had pressure from her boss to meet monthly targets or maybe it was that time of the month. Maybe she was pissed that her charms and good looks weren't working this time. She made excuses and said that she had to return to the office and brusquely departed, leaving me an afternoon stroll past putrid-smelling klongs and a slum community back to the MRT.



In searching for a condo in Bangkok for the first time in a very long time, my findings include the following:

* While property values have soared in the mid-range of the market (2.5 million – 10 million baht range) over the past 10 years, rental rates haven't gone up that much. In central downtown Bangkok you used to be able to get a nice 1-bedroom unit for around 16,000 baht up. Now it's more like 24,000 baht up.

* Property values have soared on prime Sukhumvit – which some now consider to be all the way down to Onut – and prices for decent condos in the best neighbourhoods like Thonglor are reaching silly levels (by Thailand standards).

* A real chasm has opened up between rental rates asked in Bangkok compared with what you find in other centres popular with foreigners, such as Chiang Mai and Pattaya. Bangkok was always more expensive, but today it's much more expensive.

* Mid-range condos in new buildings can be quite small. Where 1-bedroom units in buildings completed before the turn of the century were a quite liveable 60, 70 or even 80 square metres, one bedroom units in newer buildings can mean a cramped 40 square metres and occasionally even less!

* There is rental stock out there, but not as much as you'd think given the number of new condominium developments. Desirable units don't remain vacant long and where once you could find a diamond in the rough for a bargain – a nice unit in a desirable building at well below market rates – they're much harder to find today.

* Property owners are much less willing to negotiate on the rental rate than in the past. In the past you could almost always get 10% off the asking rental rate, 20% wasn't uncommon and on higher end places 30% was sometimes possible. With one unit I saw which I really liked offered at 28,000 baht, the owner was willing to go down to 27,000 baht – but that would require signing a 2-year lease instead of 1!

* Most foreign rental agents aren't interested in showing units to prospective customers with a monthly rent of less than 35,000 baht a month, and even that might not be enough for them to get out of bed.

* The Thai real estate agents I dealt with added almost no value. They had almost no local area knowledge and lacked professionalism. They were often late and didn't listen to what the customer wanted. One got angry when she could see things weren't going her way and that she would not earn a commission or maybe she wouldn't achieve her monthly target. Whether this lack of professionalism is due to the fact that there doesn't appear to be a requirements for real estate agents in Thailand to be licensed is moot.

* Many agents take you to see rental units that they themselves have yet to view, in a building they have never stepped foot in and which they may not even be sure of its actual location, all of which does nothing to inspire confidence in them. They cannot, for example, explain why the building might be a good choice, what the benefits of living in the area are etc. Forget asking them anything beyond where the nearest shopping mall is.

* Some Thai real estate agent's MO seems to be to first find a customer, (hopefully) establish what that person wants and then scour Thai language real estate websites for properties which match the description. They then contact the owners and arrange to present the condo to the foreign customer. They are a middleman adding little value. Many agents don't have a website or even listings. Repeat business is an unknown concept to some. Make the sale today and then move on.

* I strongly suspect that some of these agents do well working with new arrivals who do not know Bangkok. I question the value some of these agents bring to anyone who already knows Bangkok.

* Many Thai agents are females in their mid to late 20s moonlighting from their primary employment. With most foreigners relocating to Bangkok being male they are not shy to use their female charms.

* Where once Thai property owners were delighted to hear that the person interested in renting their condo was a foreigner, now they are more cautious and want to know more about the person. Where are they from? What work do they do? How old are they? Do they have a Thai partner? The ability to speak Thai seems to placate them.

I'd never used a Thai real estate agent before and now I know why. The whole experience was really disappointing. There are professional agents out there, no doubt, but the few I dealt with were poor.

I can't help but think a massive opportunity exists for a single, all encompassing website where owners can list their property and prospective renters can perform a search to find the type of property they are looking for in a specific area with the facilities they require, within their budget. Whoever designs such a site and markets it well and makes it THE site for real estate in Bangkok will make a fortune.

I should have listened to the advice I have long given those who have asked. Pound the pavement!





Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was taken of the Times Square Building at dusk with the skytrain passing in the reflection. This week's photos was taken in downtown Bangkok. I hope to resume offering prizes for the where is this photo competition from next week.



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 Better reporting makes it seem more dangerous.

Is Thailand getting more violent? I don't think so. I think it's just better reporting and more visibility. The American who was killed won't be the first to be attacked by Thais over what we would consider nothing, nor will he be the first to be killed. There's a lot more video and CCTV around these days, and I suspect that's how the taxi driver was caught. Imagine that happening 10 years ago…the culprit probably wouldn't have been identified. In the 25+ years I've been coming to Thailand I have seen some nasty shit, and it hasn't seemed to have got any worse.

More dangerous in the past.

I think Bangkok was more dangerous in the 80's. Thailand was a poorer, harder place with more scams and rip-offs. My old Thai girlfriend would take off her jewellery before getting in a taxi at night and she used to warn me about Bangkok at night. I did see some shit go down with poor Thais fighting each other – but not with farangs. The taxi paper system at the airport was introduced because a Japanese tourist was picked up at the old airport, robbed and killed by a taxi driver. Some taxi drivers carry a weapon under their seat so watch out!

Understanding reduces the risks.

If you don't understand Thais, in the back of your mind any time something gets ugly with a Thai you just don't know if he has a gun in the glove box. How many stories do you read about how a fight started and then one guy went to his car and got a gun! I think the danger level, if you don't understand Thailand, is pretty high. If you understand a bit of the culture it's a safe place. The guy who pissed off a taxi driver last week is a prime example. He might have lived here but it appears he did not understand things at all.

Drunken farangs are the problem.

Regarding your question, for me the only danger I see in Bangkok are drunken Farangs. I deal with Thais respectfully and have never encountered a situation I would consider dangerous. I don't drink so I avoid drunken Farangs as much as possible. I still feel quite safe in Bangkok and Thailand in general.

Growing contempt, more danger.

As far as your question about Bangkok being more dangerous than before, I would have to say it is. I feel that the Thais have grown too used to foreigners and there is a general feeling of contempt towards us these days. I feel it in all walks of life, be it in restaurants, shops or the travel industry. They just don't seem as courteous as they were and they are definitely getting worse, sadly. An incident happened with me in Sukhumvit soi 13 and a girl I was with could have been killed that night. It has definitely left a mark on me when I walk the streets these days. It was only a matter of time before a farang was killed so brutally and now the death of a foreigner has made headlines for all the wrong reasons, killed by a Thai. They just can't brush this one under the carpet like so many other unreported crimes against foreigners.



At least it's safer than the UK!

I have always felt safer in Thailand than in the UK. I definitely feel safer walking 'home' in the early hours of the morning across Bangkok than across Manchester or London. Any weekend late at night in the centre of almost any UK town or city there are crowds of drunks around the bar areas that seem to spin out in to mindless violence at the drop of a hat. I have never come across anything remotely like it in Asia. I like to walk back to wherever I am staying on those occasions that I have been out for a late drink but I would not risk it in the UK.

Why the need to queue twice?

I agree it can be very frustrating when coins drop through the skytrain ticket machines, but it has always happened, even with 10 baht coins. Insert four of five coins and it is guaranteed that at least one won't work at least once. It has always been a mystery to me why the ticket staff will sell you a multi-ride ticket or top up your card, but not sell you a single ride ticket and only give you change so that as well as queuing for change you have to queue a second time to buy the ticket. While they are giving you change, why not give you a ticket? Too simple I suppose, and it probably makes perfect sense if you are Thai.

Taken by a Thai lady.

I read your column religiously every week and wonder why there are so many stupid farangs who get taken for a ride by Thai ladies. I have had many Thai lady friends whom I have befriended over the years from places like Spasso, Monet, Titanium etc and most of these girls have remained in contact with me, and I meet up with them for some fun, drinks, dining etc when I am in Bangkok. I spend decent money when I am over having a good time. I have supported 3 ladies from Bangkok over the past 12 years and have always told myself I was a shmuck although I still remain friends with them. I thought I had learned but my latest one an absolute babe with a degree who I was introduced to in a Sukhumvit soi 33 bar in April, 2012. She came to live with me in the UK for a few months during our summer of 2012 (with her own visa, no sponsor). I met up with her again in November, 2012, and again when I visited Bangkok in April, 2013. I have been supporting her at 25,000 baht per month with the thought of taking things further. She has just dropped a bombshell and told me she is getting married in 2 months to a Frenchman she met a couple of months ago. Blow me down! Talk about angry, a few choice words were said and I asked how she could do this when she knew we were supposed to be together and she was accepting my cash every month! I am extremely hurt by this as I thought of all the Thai women I had known that this is the one I could trust. You just cannot trust any of them.


The Strip Gogo Bar Bangkok



Girl of the week

Num, Club Electric Blue, Patpong, Bangkok.

With what seems like a permanent smile, 20-year old Num gets your heart beating.
Num is deceptively tall for a Thai at 165 cm, and weighs in at just 42 kg!


Club Electric Blue, Patpong, Bangkok

Club Electric Blue, Patpong, Bangkok

Club Electric Blue, Patpong, Bangkok






Crazy House on Sukhumvit soi 23 opened this week and despite signs on the outside proclaiming it as a pub, bar and restaurant, it is in fact a gogo bar. It features 2 floors, the standard downstairs gogo stage and an upper level with a glass floor through which dancers can be seen from below. The bar has an odd design with the stage running diagonally through the bar, from one corner to the other. There are in fact a number of oddities about the design of Crazy House making me wonder if those involved had never worked on a gogo bar before. Getting between the ground floor and the top floor you can take an elevator. What's wrong with stairs and why was an elevator installed? The girls insist on using it – as girls in Nana Plaza do with the lifts there – which will blow out the power bill. There's a row of seating on one side with no tables to place your drinks on, meaning you have to hold your drink in your hand! How can a bar sell you a drink but not provide space to place it? Really, it baffles the mind! The other oddity and something which they are going to have to do something about concerns the entranceway. The bar is not on Soi Cowboy but around the corner on soi 23, a public street. When the curtains are pulled back to allows customers to exit or enter, anyone outside may get an eyeful of naked girls dancing on stage. And with soi 23 home to plenty of upmarket accommodation and a decent university at the end, conservative Thais, in fact pretty much any Thais with no connection to the industry, will be less than impressed. A vestibule needs to be built urgently. The hounds the venue has hired are earning the equivalent of 12,000 per month, but are currently being paid daily – meaning they get 400 baht at the end of the night. Girls like this because it means they can leave any time without penalty. Standard drinks are 150 baht and the line-up is, frankly, nothing to get excited about. The closing time is quoted as 4 AM but I cannot confirm that as I am never out late.

Tomorrow and Tuesday, that is July 22nd and 23rd, happen to be Buddhist holidays and most bar areas in Bangkok will be closed, including Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy and the various smaller bar areas nearby such as sois 7/1, soi 22 and soi 33.

Bucking the trend is Patpong which will open both Monday and Tuesday. Tuesday will be business as usual at Patpong, Monday the bars will be open but it won't quite be business as usual. What tends to happen is that Patpong bars sell drinks in paper cups. Anyone ordering a bottle of beers gets the contents of the bottle served in a paper cup – anyone walking outside and peering inside cannot see that alcohol is being served. Everyone knows what is going on but face is saved. Anyway, tomorrow in Patpong things will be a little different and it has been said that the only alcohol to be sold will be shots. You get your drink, you throw it back, and the shot glass is taken away by the server immediately. That way not even paper cups will be seen. One bar owner told me his venue would have a limited menu of top shelf drinks available. Presumably soft drinks will also be available.


Babydolls Pattaya


Mister Egg is hosting the first anniversary party celebrating being at the helm of popular Pattaya gogo bar, Babydolls, this coming Wednesday. There'll be free food and shooters. A customer has provided the bar with a Twister game, which the showgirls will be utilising. Friends old and new are welcome to help the egg-headed one celebrate and there are promises that some Pattaya celebrities will be in attendance.

Down in Pattaya, many bars received letters from the authorities a few days ago informing them that they are not allowed to open on either Monday or Tuesday.

Bully's, the American-themed bar and restaurant on Sukhumvit Road between sois 2 and 4, now has live music being performed by the Bully's Black and Blues Band, from Thursday through to Sunday, 10 PM to 1 AM. Guest bands play on Tuesday nights.

I noted that Bully's has been listed for sale. Boss Hogg has decided that he no longer has the time to oversee Bully's from 9,000 miles away and his not infrequent trips between the States and Thailand are something he wants to put an end to. Inquiries should be directed to the agent, Sunbelt Asia at : [email protected]

The Bangkok Bar Crawl will take place this coming Wednesday, July 24th, at the Queen's Park Plaza in Sukhumvit soi 22 and will be hosted by the Bangkok Pool League. That night marks the end of their season and the event will feature girls from various bars in Nana Plaza, 4 Penthouse models who have appeared in the last couple of issues of the Thailand edition, girls from The Pimp (a high-end G club), as well as a band from The Pimp. The after party will be at Nana Disco and at Climax. This event will also double as the soft re-opening for Nana Disco. Not Nana Liquid – the liquid part of the name has been dropped – but Nana Disco. The new recipe for Nana Disco is back to basics, and hopefully back to the glory days of the old Nana Disco.




Down in Phuket, a popular beer bar soi off Bangla Road, Soi Eric, has officially closed and will reopen in September as Soi Freedom.

I received some grief from a few readers last week for refusing to name bars with underage girls so these readers could avoid them. How could I be sure that they actually wanted to *avoid* them? For all I know they could be perverts who are on the hunt for exactly that. I hear from over in Angeles City, the closest thing that the Philippines has to Pattaya, that the authorities are cracking down on underage girls. Great stuff. I'd love to see a serious crackdown on that nonsense here too.

This really is the land of large age gaps. One friend of mine retired 11 years ago and is currently dating a lady who is in her final year of university i.e. he finished his work life 11 years ago and she has yet to start hers! In Pattaya, a regular contributor to this site recently barfined a lady who is 50 years younger than him. And I hear of one fellow in a bar this week who was hosting his 18-year old son and at the same time introducing him to his new 19-year old newly betrothed stepmother!

A staggering 8 girls in one of my favourite Patpong bars plus 5 girls in Pink Panther, and goodness only knows how many girls in other bars around Patpong have the name of a Japanese guy permanently marked on their body. This 63-year old Jap who is a regular in Patpong offers girls 2,000 baht to imprint his name on their body forever. I don't know quite what his modus operandi is but it seems that he prays on sweet, impressionable girls who are new to the industry and who I can only guess don't understand that, duh, tattoos are forever. On some girls it goes on their stomach, others on their upper back and others on their lower back. Talking with a bar boss about it, he didn't like it at all but at the end of the day he said the girls had not been coerced in to it, that they had been paid for it and all you can really do is educate them about this sort of stuff. Here's the guy's name as it has been tattooed on one girl.


Patpong tattooed girl





The average foreigner doesn't speak much Thai, and few foreigners can actually read the Thai language beyond recognising a few characters and making out the odd sign. Most Thais are genuinely surprised when even a foreigner fluent in spoken Thai is able to read their language. With Thai language schools opening up all over the capital, there are more foreigners about who are able to decipher the local written script. At a foreign-managed bar in Pattaya a barman called the mamasan to let her know that he had been bitten by a dog, that he would be going to hospital and that he would not be able to work for a few days. The mamasan wished him well and reminded him that a doctor's certificate would be needed. When he returned to work he did indeed have a letter from the hospital and this was given not to the mamasan, but directly to the foreign manager of the bar. The letter outlined how the patient had been treated for a dog bite. There was a small problem, however. The person treated for the dog bite was……a 70-year old woman! The barman did not know that the foreign manager could read Thai!

On the topic of being able to hold your own in the local lingo, I get the feeling that there is less middle ground these days. In the old days most expats spoke some Thai, whereas these days it seems that expats can either speak it reasonably well, or they speak / understand almost none. If you're resident in Thailand and cannot speak Thai, don't get upset if locals don't speak English – or whatever your native tongue may be – unless you're in a 5-star hotel or somewhere where English proficiency is expected. I heard a funny story this week from a long-term expat who speaks no Thai at all but has worked out how to get his hair cut the way he wants it, irrespective of where he goes for that haircut. He has a photo in his mobile phone of his last good haircut and simply shows that to the barber and points at his head and says not a word of Thai, not a single word. He insists he is always happy with the result!

Renovations at Playskool in Nana Plaza are planned to start next month and the designer's mock-up below is a taste of what to expect. Work should take a month and the new venue will feature not just a radical new design, but a Jacuzzi, new girls and a whole new gogo bar experience.


Playskool, Nana Plaza




Quote of the week comes from the deviant Shady, "Ladyboys would be ok if it weren't for their cock and their voice."

Reader's story of the week comes from Professor, "A Bowl of Noodles".

Three New Zealanders recount the traumatic experience of being on a train in Northern Thailand that derailed this week.

A group of Chinese tourists spend the night at Pattaya police station after rejecting the hotel a tour guide had booked for them.

The ongoing problems in Phuket's tourism industry are subject to a scathing article in a very popular German magazine.

Don't count on Thailand tackling its darkside for which it seems to be increasingly getting bad press around the world.

Thailand's best regarded university apologises for its students' thoughtless Hitler mural.

An Aussie journalist takes a close look inside Bali's notorious Kerobokan Prison.


Bar Bar Patpong


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: Is it true my wife can import her car / truck from America to Thailand with no or little tax to be paid if it is not resold when it arrives and stays in Thailand? We could then use it when we visit yearly.

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: While it is true a Thai resident married to a foreigner can import a car with little or no tax, it is required that she own the car for at least a year and a half overseas before she can import it. The general documentation needed for importing a car is:

* An Import Goods Declaration and 3 duplicates;
* A Bill of Lading or Air Waybill;
* Proof of vehicle purchase (if any);
* A Release Order (Kor Sor Kor 100/1);
* An insurance premium invoice; and
* Other relevant documents (if any) e.g. a power of attorney.

Additional Documentation for used / second-hand personal vehicles:

* A House Certificate and an Identification Card;
* A passport in case of changing residence;
* A Vehicle Registration Certificate indicating that the imported vehicle was used abroad;
* An import permit from the Foreign Trade Department of the Ministry of Commerce
* Marriage certificate

Normal clearance procedures will still apply. Tax and duty assessment will need to be determined but at a discounted rate depending on the number of months and years of usage.

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can recommend an excellent freight forwarder if you wish to move forward on this.



Question 2: I'll be moving to Thailand in 2015 and understand I can come in under a retirement or marriage visa. I'm from the USA and may want to work, or have a business when we are settled. My wife is Thai. Is the Amity program still open? If so, what benefits does it give me for business. Is there any benefit for land or asset ownership?

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: The Thai-US Amity Treaty is still available to all Americans who wish to operate a business in Thailand and have majority ownership of the shares. In fact, so long as the majority of shares are owned by an American then the other shareholders can be of any nationality.

The major benefits of the treaty are that it allows American companies to own a majority of the shares of its company branch office located in Thailand and to receive national treatment. That is, they may engage in business on the same basis as Thais, and are exempted from most of the restrictions on foreign investment imposed by the Alien Business Decree of 1972. In return, Thais are extended reciprocal rights to invest in the U.S., and Thai businesspersons are eligible to receive U.S. visas as "treaty traders" and "treaty investors".

Under the Treaty, Thailand is permitted to apply the following restrictions to American and other foreign investment: owning land; engaging in the business of inland communications; inland transportation; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; engaging in domestic trade in indigenous agricultural products; and exploiting land or other natural resources.

Please note that in your case, if you want to work then you will need an appropriate visa that would enable you to apply for a work permit in Thailand. That would be either a Non-Immigrant "B" or a Non-Immigrant "O (Thai Spouse)". If you hold a Retirement Visa (Non-Immigrant "O-A" or Non-Immigrant "O (Retirement)") then you are prohibited from working and / or obtaining a work permit. However, if you enter Thailand on a retirement visa it is possible to change it later.

Sunbelt Asia is itself an Amity treaty company and we have set up more Amity companies than anyone else in the past 10 years. If you want more information on opening an Amity company please feel free to get in touch.





The Strip, Patpong, Bangkok, Thailand

If there is one word I'd use to describe the bar industry in Bangkok these days, it is "stable". Bars aren't changing hands with the regularity they have in the past and few are changing name or format. Owners seem to be aware of the benefits of building their existing brands. Part of this comes back to the fact that 5 groups own and control the majority of the bars in the 3 major farang red light areas of Bangkok. The number of bars these groups own and control is increasing as they continue to acquire bars that were once independent. With fewer bars changing ownership, there is less happening in the industry and less to report on so if you thought there has been less bar gossip and general bar news recently, that's what I'd put it down to. Of course, it being the low season – and the last several weeks have been very low for many venues – means there's less to talk about.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Firehouse