Commenting on politics in Thailand is not something I'm comfortable doing, and I know most readers don't tune in to read about that. However, the need to put together something to stem the deluge of emails I have received about the upcoming shutdown of Bangkok necessitates a few thoughts in the current situation. So please forgive this foray in to politics and understand that the only reason I am putting it together is to provide a simple overview of the situation with some thoughts for those who are considering travelling to Bangkok this month.
January 13th is shaping to be the biggest day in the ongoing campaign by protesters attempting to eradicate the Shinawatra influence from Thai politics once and for all. Protest leaders have announced that on the morning of Monday, January 13th, 20 major intersections in central Bangkok will be taken over by protesters. Stages will be erected, infrastructure put in place and activities organised so that the protesters can take control of the intersections and remain there around the clock. Downtown Bangkok is expected to be paralysed and getting around, to, or from downtown Bangkok is going to become a nightmare.
The protesters have said that the occupation at each of the 20 selected intersections will continue until the caretaker Prime Minister resigns.
How can they take control of parts of the city like this? Police do not wish to get involved in what could potentially become a violent confrontation and protesters will not be prevented from effecting their plan.
There is no precedent for this. We can look back to the red shirt occupation of parts of downtown Bangkok in 2010, and the demonstrations held on Sunday, December 22nd, 2013, when 6 stages were set up to get some idea of what it might be like.
In April and May of 2010, the red shirts took control of the Rajaprasong intersection (the intersection with Central World, the Police General Hospital, Gaysorn Plaza and the Grand Hyatt Erawan). The encampment spread from Siam Square in the west to Wireless Road in the east. It went north over the Saen Saeb Canal to Petchaburi Road and all the way south past Lumpini Park and Chulalongkorn Hospital to the intersection where Rama 4 Road meets Silom Road. Many businesses in the area were forced to close. Those living in condominiums off Rajadamri Road had to pass through the demonstration area whenever they went out. Car owners could not use their vehicle as there was no vehicular access, nor could they take a taxi to or from their place of residence. Hotels within the area were forced to close for a period and guests were put up in hotels outside the protest area. It took several weeks before the protesters were repelled by the military, the protest compound destroyed and the area cleaned up in record time.
The hot season of 2010 was a dark time in Thailand's recent political history. Almost 90 people died in clashes no-one wants to see the like of again.
When 6 intersections were taken over by the current group of protesters 2 weeks ago, Bangkok traffic came to a halt. The skytrain and underground trains were overloaded and people stayed home. That was a Sunday. The great shutdown of Bangkok is planned for a Monday.
January 13th could be more disruptive to the city than the red shirt encampment. Where a few major intersections and main roads were taken over then, this time 20 intersections have been selected, from Lad Prao to Patumwan, Uruphong to Hualumpong. The affected areas are spread over a wider area.
Westerners are resident in every last corner of Bangkok these days, but the 3 main areas where we are found are still Sukhumvit, Silom and Khao San Road.
The Khao San Road area is a good few kilometres away from downtown and won't be affected with word that the protest site at Democracy Monument will be dismantled.
It will be a different story downtown.
Many intersections will be shut down including Sukhumvit / Asoke, right in the heart of the area popular with foreigners in Bangkok. The closure of this intersection alone will cause massive disruptions and huge inconvenience. And with the Asoke intersection, the Petchaburi Road intersection (about one kilometre straight up the road) and the Klong Toey intersection (about 2 kilometres south) all to be occupied, one wonders how anyone with a reservation at any of the many hotels along that stretch of Rachadapisek Road (AKA Sukhumvit soi 21) between Petchaburi Road and Sukhumvit will be able to get to or from their hotel. Will hotel guests have to get a taxi to the closest point and walk the rest of the way? It could be hundreds of metres or more! That's hardly appealing if you've just got off a transcontinental flight and / or you have a lot of luggage, and / or you're not that fit and / or you don't actually know your way around Bangkok!
Many taxi drivers are already reluctant to go anywhere near Khao San Road due to the protest sites in the area. On one of the quietest traffic days of the holiday period it took me 5 cabs before I could find a driver willing to take me to Khao San. I cannot imagine taxi drivers will want to go anywhere near downtown when this kicks off for fear of getting stuck in traffic, or worse. It ought to be remembered that many taxi drivers come from parts of the country where the red shirt movement is strong and as such they may wish to avoid large groups of demonstrators from the other side of the political spectrum.
But there's still the skytrain and the underground train, right? They will operate as per usual. The concern, however, is that a massive increase in passenger numbers will cause huge queues. On Sunday 22nd when 6 protest stages were set up in downtown Bangkok the electric trains were packed. Queues to buy tickets were so long that some said it was quicker simply to walk to their destination – even if it was a few stations away. If I could make one recommendation, it would be a good idea to have a preloaded card so you don't have to queue to buy a ticket. Even then expect trains jammed to capacity.
The potential for inconvenience is massive and the easiest way to get around downtown Bangkok might be on foot.
The worry for visitors would appear to be inconvenience. Some hotels may not be accessible by taxi. At this stage it is all conjecture and we can't be sure how it will unfold until the 13th.
It may become a challenge to get to the various attractions around the city – and it might be even more difficult to get back to one's hotel downtown.
It could become more than just inconvenience if you had an accident or fell ill and needed urgent medical attention. It has been said that a lane will be kept open at each intersection so ambulances and other emergency vehicles can pass. Government vehicles, however, will not be allowed through.
For expat residents the situation poses a different set of challenges. Getting to and from work will surely be a challenge. Those whose work permits or visas require extension may experience more stress than usual. With that said, it does not seem that any intersections near the government complex where Immigration is located will be closed.
In terms of personal safety, foreigners need not be greatly concerned. The protesters have no issue with foreigners. With that said, should you come across any protest sites it would be prudent to keep your views to yourself. It should be pointed out that at least one office of the Immigration Department has warned foreigners about getting involved in the protests and has said that anyone actively involved could face deportation.
There have been skirmishes at some of the protest sites and people have been killed. As such extreme care should be exercised if you find yourself near any demonstration sites. The situation could become unpredictable.
Whether this shutdown will go ahead, who knows. It does seem that the consequences could be so severe that you imagine behind the scenes efforts are being made to avert it.
Is now the time to visit Bangkok? If you know the city well and you're not concerned about what could be serious inconveniences, then by all means come. If, however, you want a trouble-free holiday and don't like the idea of being inconvenienced, then perhaps it might be best to reconsider.
* Since publishing this article, the protesters have announced that number of intersections which will be occupied has been reduced to 7. That means the potential effect will be less severe, but the inconvenience still potentially very significant.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken on Khao San Road. There are two prizes each week, a 500 baht voucher to use at Bully's, on Sukhumvit Road between sois 2 and 4 and a 300 baht voucher to use at Sunrise Tacos, Bangkok's original Mexican grill with several branches in Bangkok.
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 and ONLY the first answer emailed counts! You MUST specify which prize you would prefer and failure to specify a prize will disqualify you from being eligible to claim one.
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 – When a little knowledge can be dangerous.
I had a chuckle at your story with the missus buying antibiotics. “Pharmacists” in Thailand have always amused me. It's unbelievable that they dole out some medicines willy nilly such as antibiotics (for a cold!), or worse, strong painkillers (Tramadol) or Benzodiazepines (Xanax, etc) with no thought of the possible consequences and with little or no advice. Last visit I was seeking some meds for a condition and was given a common med for the condition. However, I was quite sure it would interact with another med I was taking. After pointing this out, the white-coated pharmacist assured me it wouldn't. They were cheap, so I purchased them, but back at the hotel, I hit Google and not too surprised, found that they would not only interact, the consequences were potentially severe. It's worth bearing in mind that some who tend a pharmacy counter are simply sales people in white coats who may have some knowledge about a product in the same way a white goods salesperson knows their product.
I have been on the verge of writing a crazy rant about Russians since I arrived in Pattaya. I have been all over the world and have never met a group of people who were so rude.
1. I am standing in front of an elevator. I push the button. 20 seconds later a Russian woman squeezes in front of me to be able to get on the elevator first. Then the doors open and she barges in without waiting for the people inside to get out. I have seen this elevator behaviour every single time a Russian gets in an elevator.
2. On the sidewalks, I always get out of the way for older people and families. But after a while of me always yielding to every single Russian it starts to piss me off. So I just started slamming in to them. Then they look at you like why didn't you move!
3. On the baht bus two Russian women screamed at some man as soon as they got on. He was so shocked he moved and then they squeezed into his seat. What the hell!
They never smile. They yell at the Thais in Russian who look at them bewildered. I swear I am a happy go lucky person. When I come to Thailand I do my best to speak Thai and be respectful of their country but this situation has me really pissed off. Just now I was in line. A Russian guy just gets in front of me with a long line behind me. When the gentleman in front of me was done I barged in front of the Russian and ordered. He looked at me steely-eyed. When I finished ordering I said, "Sir, the line is back there". He looked at me like he didn't give a fxxx or maybe he had no idea what I was saying, but he looked pissed. I told the cashier the ladies behind me were next. She ignored this and served the Russian. I asked to speak to the manager and told him about this behaviour as it was not the first time I'd seen it. There are people who are not waiting in line and cutting in front of others, I told him. You should care about this in your restaurant. I know asking a McDonald's manager to solve this isn't going to do shit. I took Russian in college. I can speak it fairly well and I took a ton of Russian history. I have always felt they were decent people but when you actually interact with them in Pattaya they are total and complete xxxxs. Ahhh, I feel better now!
The Russian issue here in Pattaya is nearly at a crisis point. Axxx <Name removed as the guy is a famous foreigner in Thailand – Stick> had quite a long night and was restrained by security this AM when he had finally had enough of drunken Russian homosexuals disturbing his room and threatening his safety! Everywhere you go in Pattaya they permeate the environment. These are not the civilized wealthy Muscovites most would welcome, but Siberians with small money who had a harsh life growing up.
Bring on the tourist entry fee!
Have you heard anything more about the proposed 500 baht tourist entry fee? I was thinking that it could actually be VERY good! The Thais need to be careful of what they wish for. Consider this. When I am in Thailand, if I have any medical problem it is all covered under the 500 fee – which is designed to cover medical costs for foreigners when in Thailand, I believe. Where else in the world do you get a guaranteed medical cover with no checks for pre-existing conditions for a mere 500 baht? It is a bargain! I am in Singapore. I get diagnosed with a medical problem. All I now have to do is get on a place to Bangkok, pay the 500 to get in, and bingo, I now get my medical problem treated at no cost. No checks on whether I had the problem when I arrived, no need to access my health risks against my age or anything like that. Nothing! Just get to the Immigration counter, pay 500 baht and you are covered! Just amazing! I hope they bring it in!
Smokers speak out.
When I visited Bangkok in November, on your advice I visited a gogo that used to be good, went downhill, then improved once more. And you were correct, Erotica had a very presentable line-up with some very cute dancers, with the body type I prefer and on my first visit I spied a few that I could have barfined. I was only looking on my first swing through Erotica and a number of other places, so I didn't make any moves that night. I returned a couple of nights later fully intending to barfine somebody, but it was not to be. Somebody started smoking where I was sitting, so I upped and relocated to the other side of the bar. I had no sooner sat down when another punter came in smoking. He plonked himself down too close for comfort, a staff member got him an ash tray and he continued to puff away. I motioned to one of the staff and she brought me an ash tray. I waved the bloody thing away, waving my hands in his direction, with no result of course. I told her I don't like smoking, but she feigned ignorance. I called for the checkbin, paid my bill and left, not to return again whilst I stayed in Bangkok. They had lost me with this stupid blind-eyed approach to smokers and their filthy habit!
30 years and refuses to learn Tagalog.
One thing about Filipina women is the advantage they have over the average Westerner by their use of Tagalog. I have been married to a Filipina now for 30 years and cannot break her off the vice. When she converses on the phone I feel like a stranger in my own home. I have let her get away with it for far too long. I have often asked her to change but she defies me. Obviously there are a lot of things they discuss which they do not want their husbands to know about. They are more devious than the average Western woman.
Girl of the week
Som, coyote dancer, Strikers Sports Bar, Soi Nana.
She dances only on Friday nights, Saturday nights and some other holidays.
Bangkok attracts so many tourists that first-time visitors might think I'm exaggerating when I say the city is quiet. There are plenty of people around but it's not heaving like you'd expect at this time of year. You can get a seat in just about any bar, a table at most restaurants and a room in just about any hotel. And that is not what you expect in high season. It used to be that popular hotels would be booked through high season months in advance. A friend turned up in town without a reservation, walked in and got a room at the city's most popular sex tourist hotel and was told they had plenty of rooms available.
New Year's Eve in downtown Bangkok was bedlam, but pretty much every other night hasn't felt anything like the peak of the high season. The political protests and the general uncertainty of what might happen next has caused plenty to stay away.
Away from Sukhumvit, I notice that MBK is much quieter than I would expect with fewer foreigners about.
You don't hear so much about the rip-offs in Patpong these days where unsuspecting visitors are invited upstairs to watch an infamous ping pong show and are presented with a bill many times higher than they expected. Sadly, even with all the warnings online and in guidebooks this scam has not gone away. A couple got stung for 3,800 baht for 2 Heinekens at one of the rip-off bars this week before escaping. One bit of good news, though, is that the Patpong Group increased the rent for one of the scam bars so much that they closed this week.
Still in Patpong, Club Electric Blue is continuing its 50 baht draft beer special. Management had extended it from last summer through until the end of the year and has announced that it will continue indefinitely.
Carlsberg pints are 99 baht all day, every day, at the Robin Hood on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 33/1 and this deal will run for the foreseeable future.
The random checks by police on foreigners in the Asoke area have resumed (that is if they ever stopped) with a reader being approached by the boys in brown while waiting at the bus stop at soi 23.
And from over the border, a hotelier friend in Phnom Penh mentioned that his hotel's occupancy rate is lower than it has been in previous high seasons. The political protests and demonstrations Phnom Penh is seeing are not dissimilar to what is taking place in Bangkok, although they are about a completely different issue.
Down in Pattaya, Oscars is the newest gogo bar in Soi LK Metro. It's the brainchild of popular Pattaya expat, Howard, the fellow behind the Pattaya One media empire. Howard has been around forever and while he is relatively new to the bar business, he has plenty of friends who are bar business old hands. The bar features a fancy design with none of the multi-coloured lighting you see in other bars. They are one of just 2 Soi LK Metro bars to offer Asahi draft beer which is 69 baht during happy hour and 75 baht after 9:00. Happy hour runs 7 – 9 PM when bottled beers are 75 baht and spirits 100 baht. The music playlist has none of the mindless techno stuff you hear in so many gogos.
The other new gogo bar on Soi LK Metro is Amethyst which has shows similar, in fact almost identical to, Angelwitch. Prices are on the high end for LK and match Walking Street. The bar has a mezzanine floor that girls drop down on to the stage from by sliding down poles like firemen.
There are now 14 gogo bars on Soi LK Metro and to be frank, most of them are much the same inside with a simple stage in the middle, gallery seating around the outside and stools at the stage. The newer venues have fancier lighting but the overall impression is much the same. The problem some bars in the soi face is girls. There just aren't that many in some bars. One more reason is dilution – there are more and more bars opening and beer bars turning into gogos. Gogo bars require more ladies than a beer bar so the owners hire coyotes / agency ladies who come with high barfines because the owners have to recoup the cost (700 – 1,000 baht a day to the agency) and they really don't want the girls leaving the bar. They set barfines high, the girls aren't barfined and it makes the bar look full! And basically this works. There is widespread criticism of the agency girl concept and the way that, in Pattaya at least, it seems the agencies have cornered the market on the girls. Younger, more attractive and less hardened girls can dance for 20,000 baht a month, and with tips and commission on lady drinks they can take home 30,000 – 35,000 baht a month without having to have sex with strangers which is great for them.
Service girls in gogo bars pestering customers for a lady drink is a growing problem and quickly gets tiresome. It can and does cause some customers to up and leave. Bar customers understand that dancers will ask them for a drink – fair enough, the girl is there to earn and doesn't want to waste time with a guy who is not really interested in her. It's bad enough when a mamasan asks for a drink – and they can be quite direct in their request – but service staff? The word "kee-kaw" (which translates as habitually asking for things, and has a very strong, negative connotation) gets rid of such girls quickly. The unfortunate consequence of not buying them a drink is that they can become needlessly spiteful, and mouth off about you to others in the bar, hijacking every little thing you want to do, meaning the whole experience in the bar is ruined because you did not buy them a drink…which just about makes it seem like blackmail when you think about it!
Is Thailand the only country where you can get a divorce agreement when you're not even married?! A friend recently parted ways with a lass he'd cohabitated with for a year or so. When he mentioned to her that things weren't going as he had hoped and he thought it might be best they parted ways, she dug her heels in and did not want to move out – as is not uncommon with local girls on to a good thing. He somehow found himself down at the police station where a document was drawn up which was essentially a separation agreement outlining what he will give her (various items from his condo such as TV, rice cooker etc) as well as a one-off cash payment as a settlement. In return she had to agree that she would never contact him again via any means, never turn up at his current or any future place of work or condo, never contact any of his friends or girlfriends be they current or future etc. Everything was documented in great detail. This particular cop shop in a part of the country with a lot of foreigner men said to my friend that they draw up many such documents every day!
The UK's BBC3 is screening a TV series called Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents where kids go on holiday with their mates and their parents spy on them to see what they really get up to. The episode scheduled to screen at 9 PM on Monday 13th January is set in Thailand.
Christopher G Moore's latest Vincent Calvino novel The Marriage Tree is now available on the Kindle. It retails for just $7.95, about half the price of the paperback edition which can be found in branches of Asia Books.
Winter sports are not something you associate with Bangkok but the odd ice hockey match is played in the city. This coming Thursday, January 9, on the 7th floor of Central Rama 9, The Flying Farangs and TWHL are hosting their third annual Team Canada vs. The World charity hockey game. Entrance is free and donations are accepted on behalf of the Thai Red Cross. The ceremony begins at 8:30 PM. Excitement is guaranteed but I am told fights are not. With that said, there were fights in the previous 2 matches!
Quote of the week is the lyrics in a Paul Simon song, Questions For The Angels, a fit for many foreigners in Thailand, "If you shop for love in a bargain store and you don't get what you bargained for can you get your money back?"
Reader's story of the week comes from Codefreeze, "My First Night in Bangkok".
A Swede is ripped off in a Chiang Mai bar and forced to pay 50,000 baht for 5 small
bottles of beer!
If you thought the quality of expats in Thailand was questionable, Gavinmac takes a look at expats in Cambodia.
Foreigners in Phuket are pretending to be deaf and eliciting donations from restaurant customers.
An English charity worker falsely accused of being a paedophile is released after spending 14 months in a Thai prison.
Pattaya as a retirement option is looked at by the UK's Channel 4.
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: I'm going to Pattaya in a couple of months and wonder if is there any problem taking a few packets of Viagra through Bangkok, 3 packs maybe. I won't have a prescription. The stories of how some farangs have been treated by Customs for minor infringements is frightening and I can't find much reliable information on the net. I use Viagra with Dapoxetine. The other thing I've read is that there might be problems taking e-cigarettes. Any info would be much appreciated.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: E-cigarettes are illegal in Thailand. However, we are aware that in some cases, when a person hand carries one E- cigarette through Customs for their personal use, the officer, may, at his discretion, allow it. However, Viagra is a controlled item in Thailand and Customs would require that you have a doctor's prescription for it.
Last week's column, this week's and next week's are all lighter than usual. It's holiday time and I'm currently away from Bangkok. I'm trying to keep on top of what is going on and am grateful for the assistance of friends and those in the industry who have helped me collect news.
Your Bangkok commentator,