Thailand, Land of the Free
The Thais are proud to say their country has never been colonised and delighted to explain that translated in to English, Thailand means "land of the free". Many Thais genuinely believe their country is free and that regular citizens are afforded a level of freedom that doesn't exist outside the Kingdom's borders. Given the way certain parts of Thailand's history are explained in the local education system, it's no surprise. But the way that some foreigners resident in Thailand also feel more free in Thailand than they do in Farangland floors me.
For starters, I'm surprised more foreigners resident in Thailand don't get upset at the requirement that they are required to go through a police check every 3 months, police checks they will have to pass for the entire duration of their stay in the country be it a year, a decade, or a lifetime. Foreigners residing in Thailand on 1-year visa extensions (retirees, those legally employed, those married to a Thai national etc) must check in with police every 3 months. It's known amongst expats as 90-day reporting; the foreigner has to report to the Immigration department – a branch of the Thai police – every 90 days. Failure to do so results in a fine. It's a quick, simple process where your current address is recorded and a check is made of your current status in the national computer system, as presumably your name is run through various databases and wanted lists. In how many countries are foreign residents required to report to police? I can't think of any, unless prisoners on parole and criminals on bail awaiting their case being heard are included.
The Thai authorities love to know what people are up to. Regulations were enforced for a period where Internet cafe customers had to register by having their ID card number (passport in the case of foreigners) recorded simply to use a computer with a net connection! One accepts such requirement when renting a vehicle, taking pilot lessons or wherever expensive items are used or there may be licensing issues. Being forced to register
to use a computer in a net cafe makes me think of North Korea. So many rules and regulations in Thailand are an ill-thought, knee-jerk reaction to a single, high-profile incident. Fortunately this requirement didn't last, and was soon
Similar regulations once existed for the use of mobile phones. The purchase of a SIM card on a pre-paid plan required ID be provided first. This has also gone by the wayside.
Hotels in Thailand – short-time and curtain hotels aside – have always insisted guests provide their passport when checking in – and the hotel in turn is required to report daily to the government the names and nationality of every guest. In many Western countries no such requirement exists although higher end properties may insist on an imprint of one's credit card to cover any services the guests avails themselves of.
In an age when identity theft is becoming lucrative for the bad guys and a worry for the rest of us, it's a real concern that in so many basic transactions in Thailand the vendor insists on taking a photocopy of your passport. In some Western countries – the Netherlands is one example – the copying of any form of ID is strictly not allowed and in breach of privacy laws.
Thailand doesn't have great relationships with its neighbours and driving anywhere near the border regions of the country you come across checkpoint after checkpoint, some police-patrolled, others with a platoon of soldiers. Foreigners from developed countries passing through are often waved through, but not always. While different lawyers give different answers to the question of whether foreigners are required to carry their passport on their person at all times or not, you don't want to be without it near the border. While I understand and accept the need to be able to prove who you are and that you're in the country legally, carrying your passport with you at all times is a hassle.
Checkpoints in Thailand on Thailand's roads are commonplace. Back home, the only time you see anything similar are booze buses on Friday and Saturday nights. My experience back home has always been of polite, professional officers. Police checkpoints here can be a different story. Drivers and passengers may be asked to get out of the car which may be searched – without permission granted or any reasonable grounds. I have received countless reports of traffic checkpoints in downtown Bangkok where a taxi is stopped late at night, the foreign passengers asked to get out and subjected to a search of their person without permission being sought first – as the law required! Thailand mightn't be a police state, but is this really freedom?
I'm all for police checkpoints in the interest of road safety and with an annual road toll of around 13,000 (yes, thirteen thousand) and alcohol very much a contributing factor, police
checkpoints where drivers are breathlysed has to be a good thing. However, the only rule I am aware of to limit people's drinking is that quite bizarre law that states alcohol cannot be sold in convenience stores or supermarkets between
2:00 and 5:00 PM unless the buyer purchases 10 litres or more, in which case it's ok!
On the subject of freedom and driving, even just going for a drive with no set destination is not really feasible in Bangkok. Sometimes you just feel like getting out and about with no plan other than to stop somewhere for a coffee and a bite. The traffic gets so bad that infringes on your personal freedom. In fairness, this is quite doable in much of the rest of the country.
In Bangkok sometimes even taking a stroll seems like a hassle. Throughout much of 2012 and well in to 2013 there were numerous reports of the boys in brown stopping foreign males in and around the Asoke intersection and carrying out a search of their person. Many readers told me they chose to avoid the area completely rather than be subject to that.
And it's not just the real world where freedoms are eroding, but the cyber world. The number of websites blocked by the Thai authorities is said to exceed 100,000. Many are xxx sites and no doubt some material that is disturbing and warrant being blocked. But why block porn websites when hardcore porn movies are openly displayed for sale along the busiest stretch of Sukhumvit Road? You've got to give Thailand credit – that's one freedom that I think doesn't exist even in the most liberal places in the West.
The requirement to provide ID or register to carry out some basic transactions, the lack of freedom of movement, and the constant checks by the authorities are just part of the lack of freedoms in Thailand. The country's constitution gives people the right to freedom of speech, while at the same time the country's draconian libel and slander laws are used as a mechanism to silence critics or opponents. Defamation is not just a civil matter but also criminal law – so getting sued for saying something less than stellar about someone is not your only concern; you might get a knock on the door from the boys in brown. And most worryingly, merely speaking the truth is no defence – you have to be able to show that what was said was in the public good.
It's not just the law you have to be concerned with when it comes to freedom of speech. Thais hold dear various principles and some things just aren't open for discussion. Freedom of speech constraints can start to feel like freedom of thought.
Thais know that we foreigners like to speak our mind and are not shy in speaking out about things we don't agree with. The police recently stated that things said about or related to Thailand are considered a crime in Thailand even if the wrongdoing takes place outside of Thailand's territorial borders.
For the average Thai freedom and liberty are not high on their agenda. The newest iPhone, wondering what's for lunch and skin-whitening products that actually work and don't cost an arm and a leg are of greater concern to many than personal freedoms and liberty. Thais haven't grown up with the idea of personal freedom, no surprise given that it's inextricably linked with individuality – and that's not something the local culture and society in general values. Thais are expected to conform, and conformity is the jailer of freedom.
In Thailand I don't feel anything like the freedom that exists in my corner of Farangland, and I am shocked that there are foreign residents in Thailand who say they truly feel free.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of Wat Traimit, on Traimit Road, which is between the Hualumpong train station and Chinatown.
Note: this week's photograph was taken outside of 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 – To the young 'uns.
The email from the guy in his mid-20s who writes, "The scene which is talked about may have been what most foreigners here did back then (I don't know) but it certainly isn't now, at least among people of my age." Yeah, I'm supposed to sound like the jaded old guy I am, but, OK pal – it's all great as you're a youthful stud who happens to be in Bangkok at the right time to meet Thai women who've shed many of their cultural proscriptions against co-mingling with farang, and now have communication vectors making it convenient. Let's hear from you in a decade or two, after maybe, just maybe, you've been raked over the coals by an avaricious family and your former teeruk has her golden parachute, your DNA in her kids. After you've grown weary of corruption / incompetence, built the house and learned you can't own the land, seen your fortune dwindle and learned how merciless Thai courts can be when it comes to divorce proceedings. Let's hope this doesn't happen – plenty of happy couples out there. But in your mid-20s, you don't even know what the wringer looks like, let alone been through it. And yes, there are those whose chick magnet days are memories, who've been married / divorced / through the wringer yet we still want to enjoy life, intimacy, friendship and sex (OK, maybe not in that order). We're not ready for the grave yet, we're just closer than you are. And we're not deluded that women in their 20s (or even 30s) will tumble all over us because we are shit-hot farang like you. Guys in their 20s have no concept of life without mobile comms. The older guys will say, yeah, right on – the target audience will think, there's those old guys complaining about "the good old days" again. I've seen both ends. Have you?
Cheap drinks attract the masses.
Being jet-lagged and the wife up country for a few days I found myself wandering around Sukhumvit at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning. I was surprised at the proliferation of Volkswagen drink trucks. I remember when there were only one or two. Now they're all over, especially around the Ambassador Hotel area. They seem to be doing landslide business, not only with backpacker kids siphoning buckets of Long Island Iced Tea but with seasoned Farang and their Thai teeruk. I'm no authority on the subject but if the gogo bars are hurting, I suggest this cheaper alternative to bar pricing could be cutting into their profits.
Getting a taste for the West.
You correspondent in the April 6 edition who commented on buying flowers for his middle-class girlfriend “My partner is from middle class society and after living in the west even she finds the incompetence intolerable sometimes” reminds me that Sydney seems to be full of Thais who have gone back to Thailand to live after working, studying and making money in Australia who find they can't stand the incompetence and the corruption, and after a few months run back to Australia as fast as they can.
Regarding Songkran, your opinion and mine match exactly. The childish behaviour, the drinking, and the general lack of respect for the true meaning of this holiday is horrible. I can imagine any reasonable person wanting to avoid it. It seems to bring out the worst in the locals and especially Westerners in Pattaya. It's appalling.
Ye shall not pass!
I feel sorry for the pathetic creature in your last column who hurled shit water, even if he is in his 70s. Wake up, and get a life; you must lead a lonely, empty existence. He should remember that as Farangs, we are guests in Thailand and as such we must change to Thai customs, not the other way round. I am in my 60s and totally enjoy going to my favourite bar and mixing it with the locals. Our bar has a Songkran motto: They Shall Not Pass. Every Farang, no matter how much they protest is in for a soaking, and I even chase those that stop or try to choose a safe time to pass the bar. If you do not want to get wet, either stay indoors for 3 days, or better still, go back to your home country. You are not welcome in Thailand! Yes, we had some arguments with some idiot farangs, but they all get a soaking, like it or not. This Is Thailand – do as the Thais do!
A bucket of misery.
I hope you have been able to dodge Songkran better than me. I regret arriving just in time for it, thinking I could escape. I got drenched within seconds of leaving my hotel in soi 33 yesterday morning to get lunch in the same street. I was carrying a book and a phone and was bone dry, clearly a non-combatant and indicated my unwillingness for anything more than a symbolic spray, but some c*** tipped the entire bucket over me. I wanted to punch them. I then ate lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant soaking wet. Paid a taxi driver 100 baht to drive me the 40 metres back to my hotel so I could avoid the gangs of retards – best 100 baht I ever spent.
Attacking from high ground.
I enjoyed your Songkran rant. I agree. I got hit with a bucket of water dropped from an overhead balcony on Soi 4 just outside Nana Plaza some years ago and it wiped out my hearing aid, which cost $1,000 to replace. There was a stack of those plastic stools by the curb and I was so mad I started throwing them one at a time at the people in the balcony above. The crowd at the Golden Bar across the street gave my temper tantrum a standing ovation.
Zoning, a solution to the Songkran madness.
Songkran has turned in to a very unpleasant experience, so much so that I get out of Thailand before it starts. It used to be one single day in Kata, Phuket, then bars full of Isaan girls appeared and they are hell-bent on keeping pissed up farangs in the bars as long as possible, so the old standard of dawn till dusk finished a long time ago. I just wish they'd zone areas so that if people want to fill their boots (literally!) they can do so, and those that wish to avoid it, can. But sadly it's just a time for people like me to cut their holidays short, or residents to stock up on movies, hooch and food and lock themselves away for the duration.
When adults behave like children.
Songkran brings out all the worst in Thais as they display an utter lack of respect for others, ignoring pleas from those who do not want to get wet and soaking them anyway, acting in a criminally irresponsible way by throwing buckets of water at motorcyclists, and turning areas of every town and city into no-go areas for those who simply want to go about their business. I can understand that it might be fun to have a water fight for 20 minutes or so, but they keep it up all day long, day after day. Adults acting like 5-year olds.
Girl of the week
Julie, escort exclusive with BangkokEscort.com.
Late 20s, and with experience in the industry,
some of the online reviews about Julie are amazing.
Wow, what a week it has been for Bangkok's red light areas with new records set. We must have had the quietest week ever, as well as the fewest employees ever showing up for work. So bad was it in some Nana Plaza bars that you could count the number of staff – including the cashier and the service staff on the fingers of one hand. Those bars which did stay open should have done what the owners of the likes of Spanky's, Club Electric Blue and Candy Land did and close for a few days, giving the staff a much-deserved break.
Stumble Inn, the popular beer bar on Soi Nana between Morning Night and Hillary, has a buffet every Friday at a bargain 199 baht. It features different dishes each week and is a mix of bar snacks, pub favourites and Thai dishes. It's served between 6 – 9 PM, only on Fridays.
Has New York Gardens – the area next to Sukhumvit soi 12 where Insanity and the original branch of Sunrise Tacos are located – been granted a stay of execution? Months ago I reported that the area was to be leveled after September and replaced by another office block, just what Sukhumvit Road needs. In prime Sukhumvit The New York Gardens is unique, with casual outdoor drinking and dining in the heart of the city and open around the clock. The good news is that the office building project appears to have been canned, at least if the rumour mill is to be believed. Word has it that the developer of the proposed 20-storey office building in that space, for which he would pay 900 million baht for a 20-year lease of the land, pulled out of the project a month or so ago due to the ongoing headache from the battle with his conscience in what was potentially a conflict of interest with a business partner he is involved with in other major projects, and who just happens to run a business in New York Gardens. While the rumour mill has it that the 20-storey office building will not be going ahead, there's new word that the land owner plans to build a 2-story arcade there. That would be totally lame. The land owners, however, have categorically denied this. So for the time being, no-one is sure what is going to happen. With a bit of luck the status quo might continue.
Bar rivalries are heating in Pattaya up with an odd tale from one of my favourite bars in Sin City where staff have been told to tell anyone asking about the former manager that he has returned to the USA. This is totally untrue and he is in fact now working in a rival bar just 40 or so metres away!
April 25th is ANZAC DAY, a day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand. Popular Pattaya gogo bar Heaven Above in Soi Diamond celebrates ANZAC Day every year with a free BBQ and a Thai food buffet. There will be lucky door prizes and drink specials. It's not only open to kangaroo shafters and sheep shaggers – all POMs, septic tanks and others are very welcome.
For those keen to get celebrate ANZAC Day in Bangkok, Checkinn99 will host its annual ANZAC Dusk Music Salute from 8 PM featuring the British Club Pipe Band and Royal Conservatory trumpeter Damian Samson who will play the Last Post. The ode will be read by a current or ex-serviceman or woman, to be selected on the day. To maintain high spirits, Checkinn will serve their traditional special – Stickman 1-litre draft jugs for just 199 baht and gun-barrel coffee (Bundaberg Rum with anything) at 99 baht all night. After the solemnities, Music of the Heart will perform a special line-up of Down Under classic rock. It's always a great night, and may the music reach out to those dark places where the fallen lay but are not forgotten.
A reminder about Club Electric Blue's rock'n'roll Tequila Sundays. The Patpong 2 bar was closed last week for Songkran but the previous Sunday hosted the first rock'n'roll Sunday. They threw the dice and came up trumps as Club Electric Blue had its busiest Sunday ever! It was packed most of the night, amazing when you consider Sunday is often dead. Ain't it nice to hear a bar trying something new and being so well supported!
The original Soi LK Metro gogo bar, Champagne, recently underwent a rebuild. It's nowhere near finished and the owners have grandiose plans. They have acquired adjacent shophouses and work progresses on what is going to be a giant gogo bar with the venue expanded to 4 shophouses. Word is that a number of LK Metro bars have seen a drop in trade over the past several weeks and with the bar business in the doldrums, it's encouraging to see some bar owners still willing to invest.
Sukhumvit soi 7 is a mess these days as the first hundred or so metres of the soi are being redeveloped. And perhaps its most famous property, the Biergarten is rough these days – not so much the premises but the dames and grannies in attendance, many of whom may well have been there when the Biergarten first opened. It's so rough these days that you could call it the house of the living dead.
And speaking of the living dead, the lounge lizards of the Nana Hotel lobby could do with a new place to assemble. There aren't enough chairs to house them all in the lobby and I get the feeling that they don't want to join the old ducks at the Biergarten.
Back to soi 7, the new New Wave on the soi which is directly opposite the old New Wave (that sounds kid of confusing, doesn't it) is a really nice spot. If you like bars with a bunch of pool tables and relaxed vibe, the new New Wave is worth checking out.
Running a bar was once the second most popular means of financing a stay in Thailand, after teaching English. Foreigners who had fallen in love with the country would either start up new or buy an existing bar and that would be their ticket to stay in Thailand permanently. It's a road many foreigners have walked. While millionaires have been made, making money from a bar in Thailand is no walk in the park, especially nowadays – and that message has finally got through with new arrivals aware of the hassles and headaches of bar ownership in Thailand. While running a bar isn't the option it once was, many new arrivals have the brainwave to set up an escort service. There are few barriers and it's not difficult to stay below the radar. There are none of the setup costs of a bar and all an escort service needs is a website and a dozen or so girls before you're officially a pimp! The rewards can be lucrative given that the split between the agency and the girl is usually 50 : 50. Most escort services start at 5,000 baht and go up from there so it can be quite an earner. Escort services are springing up like crazy in Bangkok reinforcing my belief that this is where a lot of the action will be in the future.
Bar owners have come to understand the importance of the internet to their business, how positive reviews online can generate more business and advertising in the right place increases exposure and gets more customers to the bar. Many also know that plenty of customers peruse bar websites before they visit Thailand. So why is it that so many bars either don't have websites, or have websites that do little to promote the bar? It's not rocket science. All you need is a brief description of the bar, a few photos of the interior, and good photos of girls who are currently on the payroll – and even better if the site is updated as girls leave and new girls start. Is it any coincidence that two of the most popular gogo bars in Bangkok – Club Electric Blue
in Patpong and Spanky's in Nana Plaza – each has websites that are updated somewhat regularly?
The tightening up on Thailand visas has hit the UK with reports from readers that where once the consulates accepted applications by post, an appointment now must be made for a face to face interview at a scheduled time. Whether this is the case all or some consulates and whether it applies to all classes of visa I don't know, but readers' applying for double-entry tourist visas and multiple entry non-immigrant visas have been required to attend an interview. The website of the Thailand consulate in Cardiff states, "UK consulates are no longer able to accept postal applications – please contact this consulate on the above number to book an appointment."
In a country where being polite i.e. what you say is so important, it baffles me that manners are often so bad! The focus on politeness seems to be about the spoken word, but manners, in terms of respecting others can be pretty poor, in my opinion. The classic example is in a restaurant where diners hope to enjoy not just the food but a convivial ambience while at the same time staff converse so loud that everyone can hear what they're saying. In a worst case but far from unusual scenario, one person may be on one side of the establishment, and the person they're talking to on the other!
The hardest part of putting together this column is not keeping on top of the news and what's going on in the underbelly of Bangkok. Coming up with something for the opener is not difficult and neither is dealing with some of the weirdoes who send email. The hardest part is being seen to remain impartial and stay objective when I write about stuff that relates to people I know and the businesses they operate. So what do I do when someone who it is widely known is a good friend of mine has worked hard to fine-tune their hamburger recipe and has reached the point that they now have what may be – I repeat *may be* – the best reasonably priced burger in Bangkok. Yes, the owner of Sunrise Tacos is a friend of mine but it should be noted that Sunrise Tacos is *not*, nor has it ever been a paid advertiser of this site. So let me stick my neck out and say that the Sunrise Tacos burger – they call it the American South-West Burger – is as good as I have had in Bangkok. It's a half pound burger made with Australian beef – and it's delicious! And at 210 baht ++ (add 20 baht for cheese), it's a great deal.
A reminder to consider having either a health insurance policy or plenty of cash on hand after a friend went through agonising stomach pain this week and within 36 hours was admitted to Bumrungrad and going under the knife. Thailand might be known for medical tourism and considered cheap by international standards, but what a gall bladder removal is a short and straightforward operation, yet cost more than a quarter of million baht. Of course, the same operation could have been performed in another hospital for a fraction of the price – but when they're slicing you open, do you really want to be going for the budget option?
Exercising in the morning is for me a time to reflect, a time to think and sometimes crazy stuff runs through my mind. This week I started wondering to myself what song best describes Thai women. I thought for a long, long time about it and this is what I came up with. "Woman Woman, Have You Got Cheating On Your Mind"
by Gary Pucket and The Union Gap.
Quote of the week comes from Jack Black, "Baccara is like some dysfunctional fashion parade where tattoos, fake boobs and hairstyles are the fashions."
An Aussie Dad is convicted after hiring an underage prostitute for his 13-year-old son
on a holiday in Ko Samui.
Rather than arrest those trying to knock motorbikes over with water cannons, police arrest topless ladyboys.
The behaviour of some Chinese tourists in Chiang Mai is giving Chinese a bad reputation
in the north.
From the Wall Street Journal, diners in Thailand are the best tippers in Asia (but why include
a photo of soi 33 massage girl?).
The Aussie media calls the Songkran road toll in Thailand
a shocking dark side of a popular tourist destination.
Popular Aussie journalist Alan Morison risks prison time as he stands up for media freedom in Thailand.
What it's like on the other side of the bars in Phuket amongst drug dealers,
tomboys, and a woman who sold her daughters?
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 read something on a Thailand website which I'm not sure about and I'd like to get Sunbelt's opinion. It was written that in Thailand if a man is not married to a woman who has his child and they split up the
man has no financial or legal responsibility to provide for the child and the mother has sole custody of that child. Is this true? I ask this question hypothetically as I am not in this situation but what would be interested to know what the
actual situation is if a child is born out of wedlock with regard to potential liability for child support.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: If the child is born out of wedlock, even if the father is listed on the birth certificate, he is not considered the legal father until DNA tests are done to prove it. However, the mother can take the father to Court to force a DNA test and once proven the father he will be required to provide child support.
Question 2: Could Sunbelt provide some clarification regarding drink driving laws in Thailand and what rights, if any, one has after being accused / charged with this offence? A few days ago I was arrested in Pattaya for drink driving
along with a number of Thais and farangs. Everyone who was asked to be tested failed. We were taken to the police station and locked up for the night. The next morning those who could produce 30,000 baht, their passport and a Thai guarantor
were able to gain bail after paying 5,000 baht to have your bail paperwork processed. Those who could not produce these things stayed another night in the cells. The next day we had to appear at the public prosecutor's office to pay 200
baht for I am still not sure what. Then off we went to the courthouse where we spent all day sitting on the floor waiting to be judged. Eventually a Thai woman called out our names and addressing us in Thai issued fines ranging from 2,800
to 3,200 baht. Those who didn't make bail were brought there chained together in a prison truck. There was no opportunity to plead either guilty or not guilty or contest the charge in any way. Everyone was deemed guilty and told to pay.
Today I am eligible to get my passport back from the police. Would a lawyer have helped? Is it possible to fight the charge?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: In most cases the evidence of the failed breathalyzer test is considered overwhelming and an appeal would be thrown out. You are entitled to a lawyer during court proceedings but in general, as this is a one-day only case, most accused do not ask for a lawyer. A lot of people will plead guilty to the crime and then throw themselves on the leniency of the court which will often give the lowest punishment available. Again, most courts will find the evidence of the failed breathalyzer overwhelming and would find you guilty in court.
When I went through a list of ideas to make this column better, one was visiting Pattaya weekly to provide more coverage of what's going on down there. Deep down I knew I couldn't face Pattaya every week, even if I just went for the day and returned later in the evening. It's been some time since I set foot in Pattaya, probably close to 6 months. I enjoy wandering around Sin City, taking photos of the general craziness, but that old feeling soon returns, I've got to get the hell outta here! Friends resident in Sin City all tell me the same – that the bar biz is slowing down in Pattaya, just as it is in Bangkok. Business on Walking Street is dismal with too many bars fighting for too few genuine bar customers. And just as in Bangkok, the struggle to recruit girls is a challenge. Even those venues which once swore they would never go there have been forced to bring in agency girls to supplement dancer numbers. There's a wind of change blowing through Thailand's bar industry and it's hard to tell how good or bad things really are as a new dynamic takes hold. Looking at Pattaya from afar, I wonder how many bars will struggle in the new environment. I really must get down there again soon to check it out for myself.
Your Bangkok commentator,