Set in one of the most congested parts of the city, it's an icon of Bangkok, yet few foreigners venture there. Traffic in the area is bad, but back before the days of the skytrain it was much, much worse. It's where I first worked in the city and an area I used to pass through every day. Feeling a little nostalgic, this week I took a stroll through a neighbourhood I used to know well with the same question on my mind as it was back then, just what does the word victory in the name Victory Monument refer to?
Victory Monument is one of the largest and busiest roundabouts in Bangkok. Road markings may show 4 or 5 lanes but with motorbikes squeezing between cars and larger vehicles attempting to make new lanes where there isn't one, it feels more like 6 or 7. As a driver, Victory Monument is to be avoided.
The skytrain passes the monument on its way to Chatuchak, the terminal station and it is by skytrain that I travelled there.
Up on the skytrain platform I approach the guard and ask him where the monument got its name from. I get a toothy, friendly if somewhat nervous smile. He's excited that a foreigner has approached him, but nervous as everyone on the platform is looking at him. Mai roo, he says – I don't know – but probably I don't have a bloody clue would be more accurate.
From my old apartment at Siam Square, Victory Monument was just a straight shoot up the road. On a map it doesn't seem far and looks walkable, and today it's just a couple of skytrain stations away, yet that 2 km stretch was never designed for pedestrians.
In the days when I was too cheap to take a taxi, too scared to take a motorbike and in too much of a hurry to take the bus, I'd do what no Thai would ever dream of doing and walk. 30 minutes later I'd arrive at school, my freshly pressed white shirt clinging to my sweat-covered back, much to the horror of the Thai office staff who couldn't comprehend why such a highly paid ajarn – I was on the princely sum of 20,000 baht a month – would walk any distance greater than absolutely necessary. There are many bus routes that go from there to here, they'd tell me!
An elderly citizen is helped on to a bus by a passenger. Probably more buses go through, and hence connect with other buses, at Victory Monument than any other place in the city. Before the skytrain when the city was a very different place to get around than it is today, Victory Monument was often an area you'd pass through when planning a journey, it being the easiest place to connect with another bus.
For Thais who used to commute by bus in the days before the skytrain, the memories can be bad. Crowded, hot, slow and dangerous (pickpockets thrived and even today female passengers complain of being felt up while on board) bus travel has always been considered something to avoid. Many journeys would go via Victory Monument where a change of bus would be necessary, even if a map would show that meant going well out of one's way. The unlucky might even have to change again and stories of three different buses and 3+ hour journeys to get from home to work and then the same again in the evening to return home weren't unusual. Work and travel to and from was all many Thais could squeeze in to their day, 6 days a week.
Victory Monument is a major hub for minibuses which operate from all corners of Victory Monument. Unlike big buses, many minibuses don't stop along the route, but shuttle commuters between two locations. Minibuses run to far flung suburbs and some go as far as Ayutthaya, Pattaya, Rayong, Hua Hin and even Nakhon Sawan, 250 km to the north. They tend not to have a schedule, and simply depart when full.
For office workers living in affordable, far flung suburbs of the city, minibuses shuttle them to Victory Monument on the expressway from where they can connect with the skytrain and get to their office. What once may have been a 3-hour journey may now be less than 60 minutes.
The Samsen Canal runs just north of the area and like so many of Bangkok's waterways is filthy and polluted. Is there a sign visible only to Thais saying it's the place to dispose of rubbish, scraps of food and even household and business refuse?
The usual collection of vendors can be found all around the monument selling everything from freshly squeezed juice to portions of fruit to deep fried meats. As the area doesn't get a lot of foreigner foot traffic, the presence of foreigners attracts attention.
I approach a vendor cooking up deep-fried chicken and ask her where the name of the monument comes from. She doesn't answer but instead screams out my question to other vendors around the area. They all start clucking like the chickens she is cooking once did, animated as if it is the funniest thing they have ever heard. Clearly, no-one knows…
The overhead walkway tracks around the eastern half of the roundabout where most of the shops and restaurants are. By day it's easy to get around but by night vendors sell their junk – lots of street fashion – making it a mission to get by, worse even than the odd-numbered soi side of Sukhumvit Road, near Nana.
The area is a hangout for less well-off Thais. There is a good mix of street food and eateries with prices that are affordable to most. I'm put off grabbing a snack as I spy kitchen staff intently picking his nose.
Victory Monument isn't attraction rich. It isn't known for any shops of note. There is one nightspot that is well-known to many foreign residents, Saxophone Pub which has been popular since the '80s.
Some foreigners live in the area with Soi Rangnam the favoured soi. It runs east from the Victory Monument skytrain station across to Rachaprarop Road. The leafy soi feels almost out of place amongst all the congestion and pollution. Home to a mix of tertiary students, well to do locals, and a fair few Western ajarns, many of the condominium buildings are priced out of reach of lower-income Thais. Soi Rangnam's appeal is its charming, inexpensive eateries with a much more relaxed atmosphere than those with a view of the monument.
A local loony takes a stroll through the intersection, unconcerned about vehicles passing within inches of him, not even bothering to look up or seemingly even noticing them, engrossed in his own little world, without a care in the world.
One boy amongst a group of high school students in military uniform says big camera in English as I pass by. His pronunciation is good and I get the feeling he wants to practice his English with a foreigner, something I'm happy to oblige any young Thai. I stop and say hello, he freezes and looks petrified and his pals all erupt in laughter. The laughter is familiar and I wonder for a moment if the boys' respective mothers are working at the market on the other side of the roundabout. I point to the monument and ask the boys where its name comes from. One simply says Victory Monument, not a word of explanation. I ask again if they know where the name comes from. No-one has a clue. Don't know, don't care.
What I like most about Victory Monument is the vibe. Like Siam Square, the area is dominated by youngsters with a tertiary student and young office crowd, giving it that energy you find amongst those with dreams who have yet to face the hardships and disappointments that life can throw at you.
The expert on all things, Mr. Google, would tell me that the victory in the name Victory Monument refers to a dubious victory Thai soldiers had over the French during World War II, a brief skirmish with small numbers of casualties on either side. I've yet to find a Thai who can tell me what the name means.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the entrance to the Blue Rahtree Bar complex on Soi Buakhao in Pattaya. Where is the giant Canon camera in Bangkok?
FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.
EMAIL OF THE WEEK – Time for a change.
Thailand should follow Cambodia's lead, and thereby largely eliminate the need for illegal visas. Thailand is not a developed country, and should not adopt the visa policies of one. The same applies to Laos, Vietnam, Burma, and Indonesia.
The Nana crackdown.
Of course the Nana crackdown comes at the apex of investment as this applies the most pressure for greatly enhanced tea money, an obvious tactic as it is being applied to Nana only. This shows how wily the previous leaseholders were in not sinking money in to improvements and getting out when such improvements could no longer be postponed. They had milked the cow dry, waved goodbye and ran for cover. Now the managers will have to raise prices, losing business. They will then have to have a more risqué atmosphere to lure the customers back in, thus negating any morality argument in the crackdown and that will create "justification" for another round of tea money demands. In the States it costs $5 – $20 to get in the door of such a club (to pay the lawyers), keeping the average customer in place no matter how poor the selection. Such a policy may be forced upon Thailand bar owners. The pity is the girls, the owners and the customers all get f**ked so someone can rake it in while doing nothing.
Preferring Pattaya to Bangkok.
I have not been in Bangkok for 3 years, so I decided to stop in Sukhumvit before going on to Pattaya. What a shock! The place is so full of Arabs you'd think you were in Saudi Arabia. Before they were around the Grace Hotel, but now they are everywhere. My usual hotel had mostly Japanese customers, but now it's Arabs. And the sight of these obese women under a black drape is not pretty. Nana is nearly dead, and a brand new neon sign won't change that. No more bikinis? I can see more flesh on a beach in my country! Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and number of bars with pretty girls in Soi Cowboy. But 190 baht for a small Singha beer in Midnite bar? Not a chance I will stop in Bangkok again on my way to Pattaya.
Change for the worse.
To me, it does not seem that there is a big influx of Russians, Indians, or even Japanese or Chinese to Thailand. No, to me, it feels like Bangkok has been totally invaded with Arabs. Centerpoint is completely overrun with them. Some mornings when going down for breakfast, I feel like I have been transported to Dubai overnight. The Thais seem set on catering for them. In the Centerpoint breakfast hall, there is now a separate section of food – the non-pork section – specifically for the Arabs so they don't have to co-mingle with us infidels that eat pork. Call me insensitive, but when we go to their countries we must abide by their very strict rules, so frankly I can't see why they can't select their breakfast from the same area where everyone else does that happens to have one dish with bacon in it. Things are changing, and not for the better in my opinion.
Preparing for the big move.
It was interesting to read an Asian lady's perspective on the wisdom or otherwise of moving to Thailand. I agree that short-term visitors really have little or no idea of what the place is really like. I would advise anyone who is thinking of making a move to Thailand to first do three things. 1. Watch an evening of Thai television to gauge the mentality of the masses. 2. Stand at a busy junction and watch the traffic or ride a taxi for 30 minutes and note the utter selfishness of Thai drivers. 3. Read the English-language newspapers for a few days and see the endless stories of corruption and the political in-fighting that has stalled the country in so many ways. That will tell them all they need to know.
Advantages of the West.
I hope you enjoyed that 470 baht burger. Based on Euro : Thai baht rates, I paid about the same for the same dish in the Westin Hotel in Dublin. Since returning home I have been making price comparisons with Asia. I'm paying in many instances 1/3 for exactly the same products here in Tesco compared to China and Singapore, granola fibre bars being one example, wine another. It's not that uncommon to get a batch of 6 wholemeal pita breads or delicious Moroccan hummus on sale in Tesco for 50 cents (approx 20 baht). The only caveat is they expire in 2 to 3 days, but for a family it's fine. Or how about 3.50 Euro (140 baht approx) for a large tub of Ben and Jerry's or Häagen Dazs on sale. The value for money in the west is amazing – not just Tesco but quality discount stores that never seem to exist in Asia. Ah, the concept of good quality coupled with good value is non-existent in Asia!
The perversion police speak.
I agree with you on most issues but I have to say that that last week's reader's story of the week and favourable coverage about homosexuality in general is a big deal. Frankly, it is wrong. Homosexuality is a sin (Christian, Jew or Muslim) and even to many non-believers it is at very least a perversion of nature. Not long ago it was a crime and rightly so but sadly political correctness has subsequently come into play. Now when I say this I am accused of inciting hatred and I am brushed off as being a fundamentalist or even a bigot. Absolutely not. When people will not listen to my faith or my honestly-held views I wonder who the real bigots are.
The girl of the week.
With the exception of one girl, all the girls of the week are butt nasty ugly. What's up with that? It's interesting that western expats fall for these extremely ugly Thai bargirls whereas Asian men wouldn't give those dogs the time of day.
Premium pricing, piss poor service.
Went to Phuket for a mate's 50th and then a boys' night out in Bangkok. I have not hit the gogo bars for over 2 years and I doubt if I will do it again anytime soon. The reason? Value for money – there isn't any! We visited over 15 gogo bars in both locations and the prices were out of this world. In most cases they were 250% to 300% more than the average going price. One particular beer bar in Phuket was charging 425% more for a beer than you would pay at the 7 Eleven across the road. Most of the bars were empty and many times the 4 of us were the only customers. Even then most of the girls couldn't be bothered giving us a smile and came out and just asked for a ladies drink that varied between 180 – 250 baht. When we refused word went around and we were not even looked at. I'm sorry, but if I pay this type of money I expect VIP treatment.
Girl of the week
Ple, Club Electric Blue, Patpong.
Ple has a baby face, accentuated by her pecker wreckers,
yet she also has a few tats which show that she's been around a while.
The main beneficiary of the troubles Nana Plaza has had is Soi Cowboy where there has been an influx of girls from up the road.
Rumour has it that a popular and respected former Nana Plaza bar owner – there ain't too many that meet that description! – is about to make a comeback. I keep hearing the same rumours that a Swiss-owned bar might soon take on a German partner. As Trink would say, 'nuff said!
Lollipop has not just the most striking and most beautiful sign in Nana Plaza, it has some of the hottest girls too. Inside Lollipop are some really attractive dancers and with an upbeat playlist, it's a challenger for the time of the best bar in the plaza. I notice however that a good few customers as well as the odd dancer finding it necessary to fan themselves. The air-conditioning curse seems to have leapt across the plaza from G Spot. Fix the air-con and Lollipop has a claim for being the best bar in the plaza. As good as it is, be careful – there are a few transsexuals mixed amongst the dancers and after a few drinks it might not be clear who is who.
One reason to visit Lollipop is to leer at #78, known as super nom. If your Thai isn't that good, nom is the Thai word for both milk and breasts – and #78 has a chestful! And amazingly, they are from mama and papa and not a surgeon!
The management of Playskool on Nana's ground floor picked the perfect time to renovate. With Nana in a state of flux the past 5 weeks, if ever you could have picked a period to close the bar to carry out improvements, this was it. Playskool will reopen tomorrow night, a spanking new Playskool replete with a new layout and Jacuzzi reopens its doors. And to celebrate, the management is throwing a party on Saturday September 7th, with 3 FREE BEERS for every customer! Same bar name, new girls and a new bar experience as Playskool do their bit to get Nana Plaza back on track!
The longest running gogo bar in Soi LK Metro, Champagne A Gogo, is looking a little shabby, especially when compared with all the recently opened bars in the soi. Champagne needs more than a lick of paint and the owners have decided that they need to keep up with the Joneses so the bar will close for major renovations. While an exact timeframe has not been officially announced, expect the doors to be closed for a month or more.
For many months rumours have persisted that a second Pattaya Angelwitch bar would open in Soi LK Metro, yet the owners of Angelwitch deny investing in the soi. In what appears to have been a case of Chinese whispers, the former partner of the original Angelwitch is building a bar in Soi LK Metro said to be in the Angelwitch style, in the space which was previously MASH A Gogo. There have been problems with the construction and when the space was cleared and what remained of Mash A Gogo was destroyed, someone in the demolition crew got a bit too keen and caused cracks in adjacent shophouses. City Hall has ordered construction stopped and it looks like someone is going to be practicing their deepest, most respectful and most apologetic waiing.
Despite what business owners in the heart of it will tell you, Soi LK Metro is hurting Walking Street. LK Metro attracts genuine bar customers, single middle-aged men who drink plenty and pay barfines. Prices on Walking Street are getting silly and more than a few locals have said enough is enough. There are 13 odd gogo bars on Soi LK Metro and there could be as many as 15 come New Year as rumours persist of plans to build more. There are more than a few who prefer Soi LK Metro.
A Pattaya bar owner is wondering what to do with the collection of half-used KY Jelly tubes his cleaner finds in the short time rooms. After doing research online, he discovered that this water-based lubricant can be used to shine patent leather and he is now the proud wearer of the shiniest shoes on the Eastern seaboard. Just who is this debonair fellow with the shiny shoes? All eyes on Pattaya bar owners' shoes!
Smoking is allowed in many bars and nightspots these days, particularly naughty bars but also many restaurants popular with foreigners. The law clearly states that smoking in bars and restaurants absolutely is not allowed, but more establishments are relaxing their interpretations of the law. While there are exceptions, it tends to be bars and restaurants in 5-star hotels that are strict about not allowing smoking. Most of the naughty bars allow it as do many sports bars and British pubs. For non-smokers who have become accustomed to venues where smoking isn't allowed, raising the issue with staff or management in venues is pointless. Thai staff avoid confrontation and will nod, smile….and ultimately do nothing. Management in many businesses have this misconception that smokers are big spenders and ought to be appeased. Say something to them about smoking and odds are you'll be looked at as if you had said something totally profound. If smoking bothers you, vote with your feet.
The Strand Inn Hotel in Patpong soi 2, pictured above, has some of the nicest short-time rooms in all of Bangkok, nice enough that you could use it as a regular hotel and stay a few days. There are great roof-top cabanas and some rooms feature Chesterfield sofas. The bigger rooms would be ideal for a raunchy party, a bachelor's party or if it's your thing, a mass orgy. They're not the cheapest short-time rooms in town, but they will impress your mistress.
Fans of guacamole might find the healthy avocado sauce hard to come by in coming weeks as Thailand has placed sanctions on the import of avocados from Australia and New Zealand. American avocados will be imported in their place but they cost more. Don't be surprised if chips and guacamole goes off the menu at your favourite Mexican restaurant in weeks to come…or the price soars.
On the subject of Mexican restaurants, Sunrise Tacos would seem an unlikely contender for the best hamburger in Bangkok. This week I tried the All American Southwest Burger at Sunrise, a cheeseburger made with Aussie beef which is every bit as good as the Angel Burger I raved about last week. The owner of Sunrise told me they had tinkered with the recipe and it is now cooked in their Josper oven, meaning ultra high temps which sear the outside of the burger and seal the moisture in. At just 195 baht, it's half the price of the burger at Angel Diner and every bit as good. So which is better? There's nothing in the burgers, but given that Sunrise costs half the price and you get hand-cut fries rather than stringy French fries, Sunrise gets the nod.
For Brits who use the Thai consulate in Hull to secure one-year multiple entry visas, it looks like the game may be over. Long-known for its excellent service – another way of saying it's something of a soft touch – a Bangkok bad boy had his application for a one-year multiple entry visa declined and was issued with a single entry visa only. In fact the visa wasn't even processed in Hull as they used to be, but was sent down south to the embassy in London for processing. This fellow applied *before* news of visa stickers stolen from Thai embassies and consulates in various locations around the world broke, suggesting these incidents are not related. With word that it is now more difficult to get a one-year multiple entry visa in the USA (some Thai consulates in the USA now require you to apply in person and no longer accept applications by post), some are wondering if this is part of a tightening up on the issuance of one-year multiple entry visas, the holy grail for those who wish to stay in Thailand long-term but who do not qualify for a one-year visa through other means.
Charming Ranee's Velo Italian restaurant in the back alley that runs parallel to Khao San Road closed last December year due to the lease ending. It has just reopened, about 60 metres away from the previous location, in the same alley. Ranee's now has a 100% wood-fired pizza oven and has been given a bicycle theme, explaining the insertion of the word velo in the name. It has some of the best inexpensive Italian food in the city.
Bar owners face a challenge when it comes to policing the use of mobile phones in bars. I don't mean their use by customers, some of whom have figured out that pretending to talk on your mobile phone while surreptitiously pointing it at the stage is the easiest way to record the action. The challenge is how to police girls who insist on using their mobile phone while at work. The girls can become so engrossed in their phone that they neglect customers – and customers who feel they're being ignored don't stay in the bar. If you look closely at what they're actually doing on their phones, often they are just cycling through selfies or playing around on Facebook or just playing silly games – yet some girls say if they are prevented from using their mobile phone that would be the last night they worked in that bar. And with new girls so hard to come by these days – something which the girls have figured out – they have the power. Bar owners don't want to lose their girls and often give in to their demands.
What has happened to the general politeness of the Thais? You'd never hear Thais curse in public in the past but over the past year or two things have really changed. These days I frequently hear coarse language spoken in public places, particularly the use of the offensive pronouns goo and meung and the curse word hia. And it's not just teenagers or prostitutes but the general populace. That said, it does seem to be limited to those aged up to about 30 and not those aged older.
Christopher G Moore remains the granddaddy of Bangkok fiction, even if he doesn't look a day older than when I first met him many years ago. And even with every long-term expat insisting on selling his thoughts on the shelves of Asia Books, Chris still dominates Thailand expat fiction. There's Chris, and there's the rest. When Chris recommends a novel it's worth taking notice and this week Chris did just that, recommending "Bangkok A Gogo" to me. The author, John Hail, is a long-time resident and Bangkok A Gogo is his first novel. It came out in paperback a few years ago and is now available as an eBook at just $3.99 on Kindle. The novel starts in a Bangkok bar but soon the reader is transported to the key times and places of Thailand's turbulent political history and to the jungle camps of Thai communist guerrillas and Cambodian rebels. Set in the 1970s and '80s, Bangkok A Gogo presents a unique vision of the political struggles that shaped Thailand's recent history and is written from an insider's knowledge of these events. The author is one of the best-known members of the Bangkok foreign correspondent community, a 25-year member and 2-time board member of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. Hail is an American from California and has reported on major events from Asia since 1976. He served as Bureau Chief for UPI and DPA, covering coups and earthquakes in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere in the region.
Following on from comments I made last week about how I am mystified by those who find alternative lifestyles so hard to accept even when it has zero effect on and no impact on them, I wonder what these same people think of the bargirl / tom situation in Thailand? Plenty of Thai females who claim to be straight are involved with a tom – and plenty of Thai bargirls are in a tom relationship. They do the dirty with farang men and then go home to their tom partner. I don't believe it's pure lesbianism, but their way of dealing with being lonely and lacking a support structure. Thais crave company and are most comfortable when friends or family are around. Alone time is a concept most Thais just don't get. Plenty of Thais don't have many real friends – and with most bargirls from the provinces it's especially so in their case. Living alone, they become lonely – and Thais really struggle with loneliness. Perhaps they're not ready for a boyfriend, perhaps they had a bad experience with an ex-boyfriend, who knows, but some become open to the advances made on them by members of their own sex. Unfortunately these relationships can be just as exploitative as a relationship with a bad guy, especially if she earns more or simply has more than the tom. Plenty of bargirls who service Western men go home to a tom.
Quote of the week applies to Thailand, "When you take a kid to Disneyland you have got to expect him to go on a few rides."
Reader's story of the week is "When You Have Had Enough" by Pattaya Gary.
An Englishman who rescued his kidnapped son from Thailand campaigns for tighter child passport controls.
Every traveller's worst nightmare almost comes true for 2 Aussies who find marijuana stuffed in their bag at Phuket Airport.
More Thailand visa stickers are discovered missing, this time 300 from the Thai consulate in Sawannakhet.
The Guardian reports that meth drug makers are luring Thai children with sweet-coated yaba pills.
A Thai official sends a questionable text message to the Australian honorary consul after yet another Phuket jet ski issue.
Dunkin Donuts gets heat from the PC police for what some are calling a racist ad in Thailand.
An Italian caught stealing 100 baht from a donation box at a temple in Phuket is looking at jail time.
Someone needs to tell Western visitors that tigers are wild animals after another becomes lunch for a tiger in Kanchanaburi.
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: My Thai girlfriend does not have a birth certificate. According to her, her mother gave birth at their farm and never bothered to get a birth certificate. Until now that has been no problem but now we want to get married in my country and there the authorities ask for such a certificate. Do you know how she can get one now? She is 25 years old. She says that it is very difficult for her to get official documents as she has an ID card starting with a 5. I have no idea what that means. She has got a passport and driving license. I would be really grateful if you could enlighten me?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: A Thai identity card that starts with the number 5 is for those Thai citizens who were accidentally left out of the registration process. This sometimes happens to those with dual nationality, for example.
What most likely happened is that when your friend reached the age of 15 her parents would have worked with the Village Headman and / or Sub District Chief and used neighbours as witnesses to verify that your friend is the child of her parents. This way she would have obtained the ID card.
Given this, it's unlikely she can be issued a birth certificate. However, she can apply for what is called a Birth Certification Letter. This document can be obtained through either the District Office where your friend's house registration is, or the District Office where she was born. She will need two witnesses, her house registration, Thai ID card and education certificate plus she would need to provide her birth date, birthplace, and parents' names. Check with your embassy if they will accept this document.
One of my all-time favourite quotes doesn't come from a great philosopher. It doesn't come from any of my childhood heroes, nor an influential teacher, or from my parents. One of my all-time favourite quotes comes from Dr. Seuss, the author of children's books! "Be who you are and say what you feel, because the people that mind don't matter, and the people that matter don't mind." This is a rule I live by. I know this approach doesn't endear me to some and without wishing to sound arrogant, for that I make no apologies.
Your Bangkok commentator,