Isaan. The local word for Thailand's north-east elicits a reaction amongst foreigners who know the country well. Thailand's poorest region. Red shirt country. Where 90% of the working girls who work in foreigner bars come from. It's dry, it's poor, it's the least visited part of the country…and it's where I ventured for a break away from all the crap going on in Bangkok.
It's been 5½ long years since I last made the trek up through Isaan. As I revisit parts of the country I have not ventured to in some time, I would make the 620 km road trip up Route 2 passing Korat, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and on to Nongkhai with views across to my final destination of Vientiane, the sleepy capital of Laos.
The sun was coming up as I left the condo and by the time I was clear of Bangkok's busy morning streets the shadows were still long. I'd managed to escape the city before the morning traffic rush and now had clear intercity roads ahead of me. I was off on what may well be my last trip to Isaan.
Coming from Bangkok, Korat (AKA Nakhon Rachasima) is the first of the 20 provinces in a region with a population of around 20 million people that you hit.
After a brief pit stop at the pretty Lam Thakong Dam, the first stop proper was the huge Wat Luang Phor Toh temple, about 40 km south of Korat City. They've been working on the temple forever – well over 10 years – and there's probably at least as long to go until it's finished. With estimates said to exceed a billion baht, it's mighty impressive and if you're travelling in your own wheels – the only way to really see Isaan – it's worth a stop.
We would take the Korat City bypass and skirt around the outside of Isaan's largest metropolitan area, anxious to avoid the worst traffic in the region. Korat City is a pleasant enough place, but hardly known for any must-see sights or attractions.
Still within the province of Korat, 50 km up the road are the temple ruins of Phimai, the finest and best preserved examples of a Khmer temple in Thailand. Phimai itself is just another small Isaan town but the temple ruins which resemble a mini Angkor Wat have put it on the map.
I first visited Isaan in 1998 and it felt poor, poverty-stricken even. Thailand had been hit hard by the Asian Economic Crisis and those in unskilled jobs were often paid below minimum wage. I remember waitresses in Korat earning 2,400 baht per month, making another 1,000 or so baht a month in tips. There were no shopping malls of note. The Mall in Korat had not yet opened.
How things have changed!
Today Isaan's major cities feel moderately prosperous. Wander the city centres of Korat, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani and houses are nicely kept, there's much construction going on and the malls are bigger than in many Western countries – and this is the poorest part of Thailand. The concentration of iPhones and new Japanese cars doesn't lag far behind Bangkok. Today there is money in big city Isaan.
200 km up the road from Korat is Khon Kaen, a city where the old traditions remain, a place where the guidebook descriptions of Thailand are still accurate, where you're waied when you enter a decent hotel or restaurant. We would break the journey and overnight in Khon Kaen, an unremarkable city but one with comfortable hotels and decent restaurants.
* If you find yourself hungry in Khon Kaen, Didine's is worth going out of your way for.
Educators and health and safety folks in the West would have a heart attack at the site of school kids hanging on to the back of this songtaew in Khon Kaen.
One of the reasons I sold my car was the constant hassles from traffic police. Being stopped often and accused of things I hadn't done became so tiresome that I eventually had enough. From Bangkok to the border we passed 6 traffic checkpoints where police were waving vehicles over. Whether it was my angelic, innocent looks, the Buddhist amulet hanging from the mirror or the fact that I wasn't exceeding the speed limit by too much, we didn't get stopped once. On the Korat City bypass road some drivers were stopped and piss tested at 9:30 AM. Drawers were dropped roadside and urine samples provided on the spot.
The city of Udon Thani is much like the city of Khon Kaen which in many ways is not that different to the city of Korat – just another provincial capital with not a lot to see. The attractions of Isaan are not so much the sights, but the vibe, the people, and the food. There is a reason it is the least visited region of the country, but that's not to say you shouldn't visit. Isaan is no place for package tour visitors, but is rewarding for those who like to meet the locals and scratch beneath the surface.
With a craving for some spicy local fare, we asked a tuktuk driver to take us to the best Isaan food outlet in town. He took us up the wrong soi and with his contraption absent a reverse gear – Isaan tuktuks are a motorbike and a carriage – he manually pushed the tuktuk back down the soi to the main road.
We didn't stick around Udon Thani and drove on to Nongkhai, the first place I visited in Isaan.
In mid '98 I took an overnight bus – now that was scary – and arrived first thing in the morning in lovely Nongkhai. I was charmed with the place, from the deep reddish clay that cast a warm glow over everything to the friendly locals to the delicious gai yarng (grilled chicken). Nongkhai epitomises much of what I like about Thailand – friendly people, good food, warm weather, low prices – without the inherent drawbacks of a big city.
Tourist numbers to Thailand have increased five-fold since that first trip to Nongkhai and visitor numbers to the Isaan outpost have increased similarly, yet the small town charm remains.
My favourite attraction in all of Isaan is Sala Gaewgoo, a Buddha statue park with some structures 20 metres tall or more. Of no significance historically, it's still quite a sight to take in and such a shame it's so far off the beaten path – and visited by so few.
A young elephant is walked along the riverfront promenade by handlers selling sugar cane. The development of Nongkhai's riverfront is tastefully done and lined with restaurants and bars. On Saturday nights a market sets up. There's none of the over-priced junk or rip-offs that you get at tourist markets; it's a local market for local people.
What Nongkhai didn't have on that first visit but has plenty of today is farang retirees. Downing beers from lunch-time and not shy to paw their partner in public, farang retirees are found in every corner of Isaan. And why wouldn't they choose Nongkhai over Pattaya? It's quaint, cheap and the locals are lovely.
Beer bars in the Pattaya beer bar mould have sprung up in Nongkhai, so many that I would say that Nongkhai now has more farang bars than Khon Kaen did, say, just 5 years ago. Nongkhai's foreigner bar scene is so developed today that there is even a ladyboy bar.
The Isaan region is poor but with relatively few visitors you don't have the tourist scams found elsewhere. Beggars are the real deal – no money and an empty belly.
Employees of the long-running expat hangout, The Danish Bakery, pose for a photo.
As nice as Nongkhai is, it was time to continue the journey and cross the Mekong River. Next stop Vientiane, the capital of Laos!
Tuktuks are the most common form of transport for visitors, but taxis can be found and the negotiated rates are reasonable.
One of our taxi drivers had already paid off his Japanese sedan and makes 20,000 baht+ a month profit running visitors between downtown and the airport, or downtown and the bridge to Thailand.
Vientiane is an easy place to visit. Visas are issued on arrival with little fuss. There's no need to change money and Thai baht, US dollars and even Euros are widely accepted.
The spoken Lao language is basically the same as the Isaan dialect (the Lao script however is a little different to Thai but if you're a competent Thai reader you can make your way through it). Locals all understand Thai, but may respond in their local dialect. Those in the tourism industry speak decent English and the days of French being the second language are long gone.
The Thais have erected mobile towers on their side of the Mekong so you can use your Thai mobile in Vientiane.
Vientiane is one of the world's sleepiest capitals and its sights can be seen in a day. Make that a half day if you're templed out. The riverfront area is pleasant enough but less developed than Phnom Penh, a city with which comparisons are inevitable where each has its tourist epicentre at the riverfront.
Vientiane is not Bangkok. Vientiane is tiny. At Pha That Luang, the most important temple in the country and an icon of the city, for an hour I have the temple grounds all to myself with not another visitor to be seen.
Vientiane attracts an eclectic mix of foreigners. It's very much on the Indochina backpacker trail and downtown dorm beds with air-con, hot water shower, free wi-fi and even a free breakfast go for a ridiculously cheap 40,000 kip, or about 160 baht. There are a few fancy hotels but most properties cater to those on a budget. The French comprise a higher percentage of visitors than they do in Bangers and you see the odd naughty boy although Vientiane is hardly known as a naughty boys' destination.
Local Lao food can be hit and miss and the quality of the ingredients reminds me of Cambodia – not a patch on the quality you get in Thailand.
We did have a great meal at Makphet, a restaurant which serves what it describes as modern Lao food and is a sister restaurant to the excellent Rom Deng in Phnom Penh. Street kids and marginalised youth are taken in and trained on all aspects of the service industry from cooking to waiting tables. It's not cheap by local standards but the food is terrific.
In one of the many patisseries near the riverfront fabulous coffee, pastries and fancy cakes eclipse all but the very best hotel bakeries in Bangkok. The French influence in Vientiane is obvious from the architecture to the food, the French signs outside government ministries to the sophisticated fashion of the few elite and well-to-do.
Laos is no place for nightlife and most bars and pubs close before midnight. Still, it's the home of Beer Lao which even non-beer drinkers sometimes enjoy.
The 4th floor Bor Pen Nyang bar and restaurant (bor pen nyang is the Lao equivalent to the Thai phrase mai pen rai) overlooks the night market, the Mekong and offers views of Thailand. Like almost everything in the Lao capital, drinks are ridiculously cheap. Large bottles of Beer Lao run just 15,000 kip, or about 60 baht, and drinkable wine is, unlike Thailand, inexpensive. There's not a better spot to enjoy fine beer while sweet, cute but shy Lao working girls appear embarrassed giving you the eye.
Vientiane is a sleepy town without a great deal to see or do, with an atmosphere not that different to small-town Thailand. But unlike the other side of the border, fantastic coffee is widely available as is the region's best beer. There's a touch of European sophistication with many very good French restaurants and in the Laotian people you have some of the nicest people in all of South-East Asia.
In some ways Vientiane reminds me of a cross between Phnom Penh and Malaysia. You have the riverside setting of the Cambodian capital along with the French influence. At the same time you have the conservative feel of Malaysia, outside of KL that is. Charming Vientiane is great for a brief visit and is a first class destination if you feel the need to escape the madness of Bangkok, enjoy some peace and quiet and recharge your battery.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken outside Club Electric Blue in Patpong soi 2. This week's photo was also taken somewhere in downtown 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 – The charms of Chiang Mai.
The longer that I spend in Chiang Mai, I see that the foreigners that move here are a different type of person than those I have met in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket. Most of the retired expats I know, while not wealthy, seem to be educated and had moderately successful careers so they live a pretty good life, have a decent pension and savings. The nightlife is pretty tame by comparison, and very few of the guys I know ever go to the beer bars – and most wouldn't know what the going barfine or ST rate is. And the younger expats are generally not the corporate types but teachers, students or those looking to start a small business. And the tourists tend to be young backpackers or family-oriented. You don't see sex tourists. If wild nightlife or a beach is important to you, Chiang Mai is not the place. But if you want a mid-sized city with a low cost of living, friendly people, nice countryside and mountains, golf courses, good restaurants and street food, Chiang Mai offers a good quality of life.
Have things moved on?
Your closing statement about bar owners asking for help hints at a bigger story. Maybe the bars are packed but not the ones your site often focuses on. If younger foreigners are coming to Thailand but they don't go to gogo bars, where are they going? If more and more Chinese are visiting Thailand, then there must be more hotel KTVs and Chinese-style bars. Where are they? That is where the prettiest girls would be found. If record numbers of Russians are coming to Thailand but don't make a big presence in the bars you focus on, where are they going? If there is a lot of new money in the hands of Russians and Chinese, are the gentlemen's clubs seeing more trade? Soi Cowboy and Nana seem to be from a bygone era. This doesn't mean that the nightlife scene is necessarily dead, but it has shifted. But to where? If the land on which Nana Plaza sits is real estate gold, then it should be demolished (I speak blasphemy, I know). The long and constant frustration that the nightlife bosses cannot turn around their bars at the traditional nightspots suggests to me that the party has moved on and that Nana and Cowboy are surviving on nostalgia. Times have changed and so has the scene. But the unanswered question seems to be, to where exactly?
Evolution of the species.
Recently I was on a computer that did not automatically block your website so I was able to catch up on your weekly. Some weeklies have many photos of girls. Maybe it is a photo thing that I just do not understand, but the girls looked like elephants. It is hard for me to believe that this is the result of dietary change as they go from country girls to city girls. I wonder if we are witnessing some sort of advanced (sped up) example of evolution. And when I factor in the future – all of these girls are going to gain weight from the waist down as they age – and it drives a stake in the dream of finding a nice Thai woman and settling down. This theory of mine can be seen in the malls of America where the woman are now hippos, elephants, and whales – frighteningly huge monsters of zero sexuality, femininity, and interest. It frightens me to think that we are witnessing some kind of ramped up example of female evolution. But it is there for all to see. At night when I watch TV I now find myself saying 'fat', 'fat', 'fat', 'fat' as woman after woman appears on the screen. Local or national news shows display this depressing spectacle. And it is almost impossible to find a fat American woman who is not married. What is up with that? What kind of men marry or live with these monsters? Thank God in heaven that I have a memory – a memory of years ago in Thailand when the ladies had smiles and petite feminine figures. Sweet Jesus on a cracker – thank God for my memories. Dana.
Fingerprinting by Immigration.
Interesting about fingerprinting starting at Thai Immigration. In Zambia of all places, this has long been standard practice – all 10 fingers plus a print of each hand. This is done using a device with a glass top which looks like a mini scanner that has basically never been cleaned. Some start bitching when they are asked for prints and if you are behind a Chinese national add 10 minutes. I expect guys with any kind of criminal mentality will steer clear of Thailand when printing starts.
Enforcement of Immigration regulations.
To leave the US without a visa for Thailand, the Thai immigration requirements are that you must hold a return or onward ticket. When my tickets were originating from Thailand and using the return portion of the ticket, I would be required to show a return or onward ticket before being issued a boarding pass. So I would buy an onward ticket fully refundable allowing me to board and then request a refund. Of course not once on arrival did Immigration request to see a return or onward ticket as required by Immigration regulations. My daughter at 11 always uses a ticket that originates in Thailand but I am able to produce a Thai birth certificate which normally gets me a waiver at the check-in counter. So it seems to me the easiest way to deny entry at any border with a tourist visa or visa exempt entry would be to enforce the existing rule of having to show a return or onward ticket showing a departure date within the stay allowed. Open tickets are not accepted.
Bangkok expensive? Try Oslo!
My wife and I are in Oslo for an ethnic photo exhibition. If foreigners in Bangkok complain about the prices, how about the prices here where it's $25 USD for a cheeseburger, $15 for a beer!
What of the future?
This is to those out there like me who don't want to see the end of the site! Yes, the site is what it is because of the one man who "mans" it. There are many out there who would do a good job of running the site. There would be growing pains. There may be philosophical differences. But there are expats who understand Stick's position and who are also smart enough to keep us coming back and actually having a place to be and meet comrades. Not just naughty boys but men who just like to hang out with others who may understand our particular inclinations. I am sure Stick will work out the proper monetary transition needed to give up ownership of the site. Unfortunately, I myself am not in Bangkok local nor do I have the monetary means. This is a call to someone who really is interested. Someone who is willing to donate his life to sharing with the rest of us who knows the workings of Thailand, someone who can actually write a little better than average. We know that at first it would be a huge adjustment for us. The alternative is no site. I say to Stick allow a few guest writers in to audition. To give us a little taste of change. Maybe run the site from afar? I don't know the answer, but I am calling out to those who are serious.
If you somehow missed the news this week, martial law was declared in Bangkok on Tuesday and 2 days later a full coup d'état was announced as the army ousted the caretaker government and took over running the country. Once again we have soldiers on the streets of the capital but unlike the period of the red shirt occupation in 2010 when we last had militarymen on patrol, there aren't any to be seen on Sukhumvit Road. Soldiers are positioned at Khao San Road and in other parts of the city, but for downtown they are conspicuous by their absence. So what does it mean for foreigners in Thailand? With a curfew in place and people ordered to stay off the streets between 10 PM and 5 AM, those who like to be out late have fewer options. With that said, as each day passes more bars are reopening and more are staying open later than they are supposed to. Bangkok actually feels safer now than it has in some time, but tourist numbers are expected to plunge. Business owners can scream until they're red in the face that it is still safe to visit Bangkok – and they're basically right – but soldiers on the streets is not a sight holidaymakers are comfortable with. With doubts over the availability and validity of insurance for travel to Bangkok, along with upgraded travel advisory warnings from many countries, visitors have some tough decisions to make.
The bar industry has long operated by its own rules and much that happens in the industry is on the fringes of or even outside the law. In Soi Nana the curfew has become something a farce with some bars flouting it and staying open until well after midnight. At this stage I am genuinely unsure how much I should write about which venues remain open beyond the period of the curfew. With each passing day more bars are making the decision to open later. While on the one hand I want to let readers know what's going on, on the other we have to acknowledge that there is a coup in place, and promoting venues that shouldn't be open may be imprudent. I personally will be at home tucked up in bed by 11 PM as per usual, preserving my Mr. Boring reputation, but for those who wish to party late, you can find what you're looking for. Just consider that there could be consequences.
For desperate naughty boys who don't wish to venture outside after 10 PM curfew, escort services offering delivery are operating and it is business as usual at this time. If you've got an itch that needs scratching, try BangkokEscort.com or PureBangkokEscorts.com. Some of the Thai-style massage parlours on Rachada Road, are also open until late.
If you were to find yourself outside during the hours of the curfew, you could be forgiven for thinking what curfew? The roads aren't deathly silent and downtown Bangkok is not a ghost town after 10 PM. Taxis continue to operate as do essential services.
This ongoing political strife in Thailand and the coup d'état will result in fallout well beyond the country's borders as many who visit the likes of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar first fly in to Thailand and spend time before heading to their next destination. Thailand is often a big part of their trip and if it's dicey, some choose not to make the trip at all – so tourist arrival numbers in neighbouring countries drop. Friends with businesses in Cambodia report they are trending in a similar pattern to Bangkok.
Nana Plaza has become a symbol of resistance as some bars in the soi openly flout the curfew. Word as the column was about go live was that some bars plan to open until 2 AM tonight, a decision I seriously question – but what would I know?
In Patpong soi 2 Club Electric Blue will be open tonight and hopes to welcome customers all night long. Bar Bar and The Strip were already open at 4 AM and will stay open until late. Bada Bing flip flops every day and today they are already open. On Patpong soi 1, the only bar that has opened the last few days is Superstar and it has been closing around midnight.
No word from any Soi Cowboy bar bosses at this stage but I would expect most bars to open early, after just a few were open on Friday night.
For late-night partygoers, at least one popular Sukhumvit late-night venue is planning to open until at least 5 AM so if you're looking for someone to climax with, you should be able to find what you're looking for.
Down in Pattaya, a number of popular bars are opening mid afternoon and will close around 11 PM.
The situation with bar opening times is fluid and may change at any time. With that said, it does seem bars are opening a little later each night.
Progress has stalled on the reconstruction of the top floor of Bacarra as the owners look at a new design. There is no time-line as to when the top floor will reopen and my probing questions to those in charge resulted in one word being repeated, "undetermined".
Black Pagoda in Patpong soi 2 has installed a Panties Vending Machine inside the bar which dispenses the girls' used panties and they are proving to be great sellers with punters snapping them up like hot cakes. I kid you not! I'm all for bars trying new things, but never expected this!
Down in Pattaya, one of the most popular gogo bars for a number of years, Babydolls will celebrate its 6th anniversary on Tuesday, May 27th. Babydolls is opening mid-afternoon until around 9:00 ish and all are welcome.
Secrets planned and much hyped Penthouse pets night scheduled for this past Friday was cancelled. Secrets hopes to reschedule it for some time soon.
The long-running Living Dolls Showcase on Walking Street has been ordered closed for 60 days for pushing the limits with employee ages.
If you're looking for a white lady to entertain you after dark, head to Mixx, the disco in the basement of the Intercontinental Hotel popular with freelancing working girls which seems to have usurped Spasso's as the busiest high-end nightspot. There's no shortage of Russian and other former Eastern bloc country birds flying in for a month to peddle their pussy. True to their left-wing philosophy there is no free market and they have formed a working girl's union with a standard going rate of 10,000 baht for a night's entertainment. They are described as educated and are said to speak reasonable English – but don't expect any of the sweetness you find with local birds – and they can be very direct. Chit chat is of no interest to them and if they believe you're not in the market they'll quickly move on to the next guy.
On Craigslist a street-side booze booth described as being in a prime location under the Nana skytrain station was offered for sale with an asking price of 170,000 baht. One has to wonder just what you're getting for the money. Booze booths are not proper businesses and as such they do not typically come up for sale. It's kind of ironic that they're trying to sell a business which cannot open at this time due to the curfew, and which likely comes with very little, if any, official paperwork.
As bars fight for what feels like a smaller pool of customers, is a change in strategy and thinking needed by bar bosses? Where once bars competed to get as many customers in the door as they could, with fewer bar customers these days they ought to look at ways of increasing the customer's spend and the yield per customer – as opposed to just getting bums on seats. One suggestion is extending happy hour prices for those who were in the bar early. If, for example, a customer was in the bar at happy hour time and had already ordered a couple of drinks at happy hour prices – say a minimum of at least 2 – would it perhaps convince said customer to remain in that bar if the prices stayed at happy hour rates until they left? Bars do profit from selling drinks at happy hour prices and when you consider customers also buy lady drinks and may pay a barfine, it's in the bar's best interest to do all they can to keep every customer in the bar. The odd bar allows customers to pre-order a bunch of drinks at happy hour prices before the happy hour finishes – perhaps more bars should adopt a similar model and actually market it. Increasing the yield per customer is easier than fighting for new customers.
If you like hanging out at Nana and are looking to save a few pennies, there's a new place to put your head down in the area with bargain room rates. In Soi BJ (the second sub-soi on the right off Sukhumvit Soi 8 which is home to Lolita's and Kalasing) is Hostel Shane which has a special opening promotion price. Air-conditioned rooms with hot shower and free wireless internet are just 299 baht. I have no idea what the place is like, but if your expectations aren't high, you can't go wrong at that price. The place is brand new so while rooms may be basic, they should still be ok.
Following on from the opening article of last week's column about the Immigration Department looking more closely at those who exit and re-enter the country on back to back visas, 2 people I know did just that this past week – exiting the country and re-entering without any problem – and in each case without any comment from the Immigration officer. They're both Westerners and both exited and re-entered at land crossings.
Apparently the Labour Department is getting stricter with the issuance of work permits. Some branches of the Labour Department now insist that the medical certificate requirement is followed to the letter of the law and that a blood test is carried out checking for tertiary syphilis, HIV and other diseases before the Department will accept and process the work permit application. Are the old days of a doctor in a small clinic glancing at you, declaring you fit to work and signing a medical certificate over? Is it really necessary to prove you are free of diseases which only a tiny percentage of the population is infected with and which it is incredibly unlikely would be contracted during the course of your employment?
Westerners envious of Japanese getting the prettiest bargirls belittle the Japanese to make themselves feel better citing the rule of 4s – 4 inches, 4 minutes, 4,000 baht. Thai bargirls now have their own version to describe Western punters in Pattaya beer bars, which is this week's quote of the week. It is the rules of 1s, "1 drink, 1 thousand baht, 1 to avoid!"
Reader's story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "Hardship Posting".
A Brit teenager dies after falling from a train
in Thailand while trying to have a sneaky cigarette.
Be careful what you take back to your homeland after a Thai-bought taser gets an Aussie in trouble.
Derogatory comments Miss Thailand made on Facebook 6 months ago about the red shirts have come back to haunt her.
A Swede is seen arguing with his Thai wife before he jumps from the 3rd floor of his guesthouse to his death.
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 would like to help my Thai wife (legally married) establish a bank account that I would not be able to access or claim funds from in the event that we were to divorce. Would the best way to do this be for her to open a joint account with her mother? If so, could this be a US dollar account?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: According to Thai Law, section 1474 (1) to be specific, all assets earned during the marriage are considered as marital assets. Even if she were to have a joint account with her parents, in the case of divorce the joint account would be considered as a partial marital asset. Regardless of how much either party had contributed to the account, the courts would assume that half the funds came from the first co-owner and the other half from the second co-owner and so her half of the joint account would be subject to division if there were a divorce.
However, if you both agree, you can stipulate the list of assets that you would give to your wife, and vice versa, when registering the divorce at the District Office. Other issues such as child support, alimony etc could be listed in the Memorandum of Understanding filed with the Divorce Certificate. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in drawing up the necessary Memorandum of Understanding for divorce proceedings at the District Office and can assist with translation if ever needed.
Question 2: I am scared I am going to fall between the cracks and not be able to stay in Thailand. I do online consulting and all of my customers are in Australia. I am paid in to an Australia bank account and file a tax return each year. What would be involved in me becoming legal in Thailand so I can remain here? I have been told I can start a company as a sole trader and the costs will run around 12,000 baht per month. I could sustain this but any more and it would not be worthwhile. Is this something Sunbelt can help with? I am not interested in hiring any staff and don't wish to open bank accounts in Thailand as that would likely put my clients off. What can you suggest for me?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Unfortunately a sole proprietorship is only available to Thai nationals. There is an exception for Americans via the Amity Treaty, however most Work Permit Offices will not issue a work permit to a sole proprietorship.
However, Thailand does have a trade agreement with Australia that allows Australians – either individuals or corporations – to operate certain businesses in Thailand and allow them majority ownership of that company as well. The Australian entity would be required to incorporate a limited company in Thailand and / or to establish a Regional Operating Headquarter in Thailand (depending on the business industry and objective). However, unless you plan on working for an Australian company this option would not necessarily work for you.
Once the company is established you would still need 4 Thai staff, in the case of a Limited Company in order to obtain a work permit. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in this kind of setup and can assist you in obtaining legal status.
Question 3: A friend who travels to Thailand 10 months of the year has run in to a problem. He purchased a car a year ago, paying cash and he signed all the papers put in front of him. His live-in girlfriend who is not a bargirl has now claimed that the car is in her name. He asked an American friend to look after the car while he is in Australia. He called his friend in the village in Udon Thani and was told the girlfriend had turned up with the police to take the car back! My friend has zero Thai language skills. What are his options now?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: It is difficult to determine options without further information. We would recommend that your friend get in touch with one of the legal advisors at Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors for a free initial consultation where the following questions would need answering:
* Where was the car purchased?
* Who did he purchase the car from?
* Does he still have any contact with the seller?
* Does he have proof that he paid for the car?
* Does he know what type of documents he signed?
* Does he still keep a record (receipt or agreement) concerning the payment and purchasing of the car?
Your friend should consider meeting with one of our legal advisors if he is in Bangkok to go over this list of questions and determine the best possible course of action.
2014 is the tourism industry's annus horribilis. Thailand has an uncanny knack of bouncing back from the political problems and natural disasters that have plagued it over the last 10 years, but the reality now is that Thailand has become synonymous with risk, and risk is something international travellers are anxious to avoid. The question that must be asked is whether Thailand's famous resilience and robustness can withstand yet another test.
Your Bangkok commentator,