Stickman's Weekly Column June 1st, 2014

Bangkok News & Views



I'm sorry to say there is no opening article in this week's column. There is still the mystery photo, readers' emails, girl of the week, news and views, news links roundup and legal questions and answers. Despite the absence of an opening piece, I hope you enjoy this week's column.


Stick





Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was taken of the walkway connecting Siam Centre with Siam Discovery Centre. I am afraid that due to abuse there are no longer any prizes offered. My apologies, but it simply became too difficult dealing with some people so I abandoned the idea of giving prizes away and now the photo competition is just for fun.


Thailand, yacht for sale


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 Sidegra to the rescue.

I was ripped off by a Sukhumvit street trader who sold me what I imagine was a fake Pfizer package containing four blue pills filled with what looked and tasted like washing powder. Obviously it didn't work, which was as distressing to me as it was to the large-titted lass from Country Road in Cowboy who suffered one less jolly rogering that night. With a baleful look she tried unsuccessfully to reimburse a third of her fee – lovely girl. A day or so later I then went to a highly regarded Sukhumvit hospital which was happy to prescribe the real Viagra – but which could only be purchased at their own dispensary for a ridiculous price. From one con to another! I declined and went to a respected international pharmacy chain where the very pleasant pharmacist assured me that the private hospital's practice is illegal and they should be able to provide me with a prescription that can be used anywhere in Thailand. He sighed, a knowing shake of his learned head, and wished me luck. I then went to an unbranded, family-owned, hole-in-the wall pharmacy; the type which I usually avoid because I wasn't sure I could trust them. The elderly Chinese-Thai gentleman in his soiled shorts (tied by a rope!) and string vest was delighted to assist me. In fact he poo-pooh'ed Viagra and offered me a Thai government-approved generic called Sidegra at a paltry 45 baht a pill! That's about half the street hawker's price for a fake, a tenth of the private hospital's price for the real deal, and some 13 times less than the going rate in Australia. Somewhat skeptical, I purchased a pack and recalled the Country Road girl to duty. It worked a treat! I wonder how many of your readers are actually aware of Sidegra's existence? There is no need to take a risk, both for their health and their pocket.

The dirty 'san is not the end of the road!

There is a huge Farang population in Isaan, both temp and perm, along with ESL teachers, Filipino teachers, African teachers, and an alphabet soup of nationalities in most provincial towns that play in the Thai football leagues. There seems to be no real website / blog / column equivalent of yours detailing the where / what / who for the various Isaan towns. I've been living out here almost 10 years, and see a lot of towns traveling for my job. Ubon has a lot to do and see, and there is a small scene in Nakhon Phanom, and Sakhon Nakhon even too. Khon Kaen is a hub growing in sophistication, there are good clubs in Mahasarakham, en expat bar in Kalasin near the bus station, Sri Saket has some great affordable nightspots (though expat bars come and go), Buriram, Surin, etc. Every province has its own crew of associated expats, but they usually don't know what's in the next town over! A column like that could drum up interest in local businesses, and prevent the downside of living up here, boredom. Not that anything compares to Bangkok. Also, there are myriad stories of how people ended up here, and the myriad shenanigans of failed relationships, and miracle stories of long-term happiness. People that live out here (in Thailand) tend to get jaded, but hearing a "Wow, I thought I had it bad" or "Wow, if they worked it out, so can we…", you get the picture. A lot of expats just isolate themselves, or are isolated. By getting to know other expats in the area, it blows off steam, and life is easier. People think living up in the "Dirty 'San" is the end of the road, but not really… For some though, it is, and not too bad. For some others…we all know those stories…sometimes, though, the buffalo really did die!

Aussies cancelling Thailand trips en mass.

I read with interest the trouble in Thailand. My daughter owns the franchise of a major travel agency and chatting with her yesterday, she told me that they have had nearly 150 cancellations due to the trouble in Thailand. My daughter told me that some were due to insurance problems, but most wanted just to go somewhere where they didn't have to worry. Now my daughter also told me that in just 3 branches the value of the cancelled trips amounted to over $900,000! She also advised me and my two mates to cancel our trip in August but I'm adopting a wait and see. We are being told by Australian officials that it won't be a quick fix.



Thai-style coup, nothing to worry about!

Over the past week, I have received numerous emails from friends back in the States inquiring about the political situation, and whether it's safe here. I'm sure most expat residents have received the same questions. It seems some of the major news stations including CNN, FOX, and others have had a lot of coverage about martial law, the Coup, and various politicos and Human Rights groups have voiced their disapproval. When most people hear the words martial law, or coup, they think of what's happened in Egypt, Syria, Somalia, and recently Crimea – pretty bad stuff. I told them that the army has taken control, suspended the constitution, disbanded the senate, arrested a number of politicians, cut off TV shows, banned anti-coup protest gatherings, and implemented a 10 PM curfew. I found it difficult to explain how despite all that, it's mainly business as usual during day, and other than seeing some soldiers carrying M16s, nothing to worry about other than getting home early. Trying to explain that a Thai-style coup is unique from other places isn't easy.

Interesting times ahead.

It now seems that corruption and illegal activities are on their laundry list. Going from what I've read and seen so far, I would not be surprised that a lot of the activities that many foreigners have appreciated about Thailand will be getting a light shone on them. It won't happen in the very near future as it still props up a fairly large part of the economy, but at some point organised crime and activities that have been tolerated but not necessary fully legal will float up towards the top of the list. The interesting question is whether the powers that be at that point will be going full tilt towards "morality" or whether a more pragmatic view will prevail. It will be interesting times ahead.

Freelancers adapt.

I just arrived in Bangkok and driving down Sukhumvit Road between sois 3 and 7 I saw a huge number of freelancers on the sidewalk. This was at 3 PM! I never saw that in the afternoon before. It must be a consequence of the curfew. The bars may close at 10 PM (now midnight) but the buying and selling of sex will go on, coup or not!

Preference for booze booths.

I'd like to respond to the email in the week before's column regarding booze booths. The last time I was in Bangkok was 2 years ago and I preferred booze booths over gogo bars. First, there's the atmosphere. Let's face it, Bangkok is the city of life. On the streets is where it's at, not in a small gogo bar with bad attitudes and not the prettiest girls. The atmosphere is nice outside, girls are friendlier and they are cheaper. You can get some cute girls for 1,500 baht for the night. If you don't like one booze booth, walk 15 metres and there's another. I found myself spending more time there than the gogos. The downfall, yes, I agree, it ain't a great look for the city. Drunken farangs staggering around at 7 AM on a working day is a sight any decent Thai wouldn't be happy with and no westerner would want that look in their own country. Yep, there's no dunny but a quick mention of the word hong-naam will give you directions to a free toilet somewhere nearby. Booze booths aren't great but the gogo bars with bad attitudes and the like? I'd take the former option thanks!



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Girl of the week


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It should be no surprise that it was awfully quiet this week around the bar areas and nightspots I cover in this column as visitors stay away from Bangkok amid concerns that fun will be curtailed by the curfew. Wednesday night was busy around the traps as Aussies flocked to the bars to watch the first State of Origin match but the rest of the week was a disaster. If you haven't been following the mainstream news, the nationwide curfew was relaxed earlier in the week from 10 PM – 5 AM, to midnight – 4 AM. But that hardly helped as fewer visitors to Thailand has seen the farang bar industry's long and painful lull continue. A possible quote of the week could be attributed to any of a dozen or so bar owners who this week each said something along the lines of "High season can't come soon enough", notwithstanding that the last high season was a disaster. Things are so bad that some Bangkok bars have not made a monthly profit this calendar year (as most expenses like rent, salaries and electricity are paid monthly, most bars calculate their profit by the month). Fewer customers means little is going on and there's not much to write about. Bars aren't changing hands, parties and events are being cancelled and few funny stories or amusing anecdotes are coming in. The bar industry is in the doldrums.

The new challenge bar bosses face comes on the back of murmurings from some girls about heading off to new pastures, where there is no shortage of customers and where the money is much better. Hong Kong and Singapore are often mentioned, but the most likely destination for many is the south of Thailand, the border towns where Malaysians and Singaporeans cross the border to sample Thai food and round it off with something sweet for dessert.

Finding a taxi willing to turn the meter on has become a challenge during the hours of the curfew. If the driver asks you to pay double the metered rate then count yourself lucky as some passengers have been quoted ridiculous rates. A foreign chef left his restaurant at Asoke around midnight one night this past week and could not find a cab willing to take him the short distance up Rachada to Fortune Town, about 3 km or so, a journey which would normally run around 50 baht and take less than 10 minutes at that time of night. This week many cabbies were asking a standard 500 baht fare for journeys in the downtown area – and many would not budge. Said chef ended up walking home. He passed cops along the way who looked at him with amusement and did not say anything. Many Nana Plaza dancers complained to mamasans who in turn have passed the message on to bar bosses that getting home at curfew is a problem. Many dancers complain of being quoted 1,000 baht to get from Nana to their loom at Prakanong, Onut or Udomsuk. One local woman flew back to Thailand from a trip to Korea and waited in a line at the airport for 3 hours for a cab. Many bars continue to operate through the coup hours, but getting home late at night might be a problem.

It's easy to see why visitors are avoiding Bangkok for the time being. Early this afternoon police and heavily armed soldiers converged on Terminal 21, one of Bangkok's most popular shopping malls, and closed it after a small number of anti-coup protesters had assembled and were chanting anti-coup messages. The Asoke BTS station – that which many use to interchange with the underground train – was subsequently closed as were Ploenchit and Chidlom skytrain stations. This is Sunday, the busiest day of the week for shopping malls, and with most people paid their monthly salary this past on Friday no doubt Terminal 21, like other malls all over the city, would have been packed. Customers were forced to leave the mall, including 8 cinemas where moviegoers were told to leave and two floors of restaurants with many lunch-time diners forced to flee mid-meal! Shopping malls being closed down by heavily armed soldiers and police will freak out the very visitors Thailand wants to attract.



Bangkok coup





With the difficulties some have had finding a cab late at night, I wonder if naughty boys have found long-time easier to come by? If a girl goes short-time with a customer she may find herself outside the hotel looking for a taxi during the hours of curfew – and all the hassle that entails. It might be easier to stay with the customer all night and leave in the morning.

Popular Bangkok expat Jim who is a fixture at Club Electric Blue will celebrate his 40th birthday next Saturday, June 7th. It should be a fun night with a pig roast, 25 baht tequila shots and Andy will be making his famous Jell-o shots. All are welcome!

The work on both the facade at Bacarra and the interior is supposed to be completed before the end of the week and with a bit of luck the upstairs area will be operational again from this coming Friday.

Lighthouse has joined the list of bars in Soi Cowboy with a bunch of coyote dancers.

Many bars and nightspots have ignored the curfew completely and remained open for business, with a number of the popular spots on Sukhumvit soi 11 open as usual. Some have been well supported but others have not. Venue which thrive on a party vibe generated by a bar full of customers are often flat. Few customers means no vibe and it's just not the same.

An amusing coup / curfew anecdote from the owner of a popular Sukhumvit eatery which has both indoor and outdoor seating. Ordinarily customers head for the outdoor seating first, keen to sit outside and enjoy an evening in the tropics. However, since the coup started he has noticed it has been the complete opposite and indoor seating fills up first. Do customers feel safer and more secure indoors than out at this time? Is this psychology influenced because of the coup?

The sois of the nation were filled with the sound of people talking to one another on Wednesday afternoon after the government flexed its muscles and blocked Facebook for a short period. All of a sudden people didn't know what their friends were eating and the vain could not publish photos taken of the most important thing in the world, themselves! The social media giant which has more users in Bangkok than any other city in the world was blocked mid-afternoon and service resumed less than an hour or so later. In the short time it was offline some Thais were freaking out! Facebook is so big in Thailand that many people's lives revolve around it.



I note that in Bangla Road, Phuket's busiest bar strip, there is a bar called Crazy Horse, which has a sign that looks very much like the sign for Crazy House in Bangkok. The question that is being asked is who copied who? It doesn't matter really though because if there ever was any dispute, Crazy House would win – about that there is absolutely no doubt. That bar can do whatever it likes!

The Game Sports Bar, beside the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 9 and under the Nana skytrain station, will host its 2nd anniversary party on Wednesday, June 4th. There will be a *free* buffet from 7 – 8 PM, and live music from Tinderbox, an English-Irish acoustic duo.

The on-again-off-again Monday and Tuesday night food special at The Londoner was on again this past week as one of Bangkok's longest-running expat pubs resumed discounting with all food menu items discounted 30%.

The development on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 13 is a new 2-storey branch of Sunrise Tacos which will be known as Margaritaville. The 24-hour branch hopes to open its doors at the start of July and the name suggests it will be more than just food, but a place to drink with an outdoor seating area which will offer a ringside view of the madness that is Sukhumvit Road. I note Sunrise also has a new breakfast menu – details in poster form below.

If you're new to the country, here's a piece of advice a Thai lawyer gave a friend of mine that really does make sense. After this friend had business difficulties, his lawyer said that he was far from the first foreigner he had assisted who has had similar problems. In his opinion, foreigners in Thailand should not get involved in any business or serious personal relationships until they have a feel for the way things are done in Thailand – which are often very different from the way things are done in Farangland. He suggests that foreigners in Thailand should wait until they have lived here for 2 years before getting serious.

In America, Mexicans in the kitchen may be joked about with the question asked whether they're even in the country legally. In Thailand, a Mexican in the kitchen is a celebrity chef!



Readers have been asking about travel insurance and if I had any idea on how they could find a travel insurance policy that was valid in Thailand at this point in time. I don't know, because I never get travel insurance. I remember once looking at a policy and the premium seemed outrageously expensive for the limited cover offered. If flights are delayed more than so many hours, there are IATA rules outlining what the airline has to do so you're effectively covered for that. When it comes to medical care in these parts, you'd need something bad to happen for the bills to mount up and as someone who is fit, healthy and considers himself careful, medical issues are not a concern for me. So, what about you? Is travel insurance important to you, or do you throw the dice as I do?! And if you do take out travel insurance, do you know of any companies offering policies which are valid in Thailand at this point in time?

My online dating days are long gone, but I still enjoy hearing stories from friends and those who play the online dating game. Online dating all but killed marriage / introduction services as people moved to use online dating services and did it themselves. Online dating now has an uncertain future and the next big thing – and that which likely is going to kill online dating – is mobile dating. A friend demonstrated Tinder to me this week, a mobile dating app that took the States by storm. Tinder requires but a smartphone and a Facebook page. There's no need to sign up, no need to fill out a profile and amazingly, there is no need to pay. Yep, Tinder is free. The app uses your GPS location info along with data from your Facebook profile to find those of the opposite sex in your area with whom you might be a match. It displays photos of females located nearby who are online and you simply swipe the screen one way if you like them, the other way if you don't. If you each happen to like each other it then becomes possible to communicate via messaging. Oh so easy to use, it's going to be huge here and already Thai birds have signed up. The combination of its simplicity, the price being right and the way it utilises your existing Facebook profile makes me believe that online dating is going to go the way of Geocities, MySpace and other Internet relics.

Muay Thai AKA Thai boxing is gladiatorial, fabulous to watch and most foreigners who see the odd fight really enjoy it yet it's surprising that it's not the tourist attraction it ought to be. Whether that's because little seems to be done to promote it to tourists or whether it's because of the outrageous ticket prices charged at stadiums in Bangkok to foreign visitors that are higher than you would pay to see the All Blacks play the Springboks or Liverpool clash with Manchester United, I don't know. The idea of paying 2,000 baht for a ticket to watch a sport you don't really understand while locals pay just 200 baht puts many off. But from now until July you can watch Muay Thai fights for free. A ring has been set up outside the entrance to MBK near the National Stadium skytrain station. MBK Fight Night takes place every Wednesday from 6:00 – 8:30 PM. These are real fights, not staged and some international fighters compete. This past week featured a Kiwi (who should have stuck with rugby for he took an absolute pounding!) There is a Facebook page you can reserve seats.

From the author of the Killer Ladyboy series comes a new story, Vampire Ladyboy. It's set in Chiang Rai in 1897 where one night a gentle farm labourer called Bo is brutally assaulted by a gang of drunks. At the point of death he is bitten by a vampire bat. He becomes one of the undead and seeks revenge. The story shifts to present day Bangkok as a reborn Bo wreaks havoc. The sexy ladyboy will stop at nothing to create chaos as thousands die and thousands are infected as panic grips. It's a fast-paced, blood-soaked tale.



Sunrise Tacos



The Strip



The Game



Jim's birthday party, Bangkok



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The Strip Gogo Bar Bangkok



Quote of the week, "You know you're in Thailand when as a 40-year old a 27-year-old girl asks you, without a hint of irony, if she's too old for you."

Reader's story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "Mystery Woman".

An American who teaches in Bangkok loses his bag with 2.2 million baht and miraculously it is found and returned to him.

A gun-toting Aussie bogan is arrested in Phuket.

13% of Thai women aged 15 – 49 believe their husband / partner has the right to hit them.

The UK's Telegraph asks if the party is over and looks at the effects of the coup and curfew on tourism.

An Aussie who is befriended by and accepts a drink from 2 ladyboys on Pattaya Beach is drugged and robbed.

The Thai driver who accidentally killed the British couple cycling around the world is fined 1,000 baht.

Only in Thailand do sellers of pirate goods complain they have to pay bribes to stay in business!




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: What is the law about constructing buildings (hotels / condos) near the beach? Is there a set limit on how high they can be if they are only a few meters off the beach? Where can I go to notify the relevant authorities about illegal construction? Thanks for your help.

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: There is a ministerial regulation that covers the construction or modification of any buildings near a public water source such as a lake, swamp or the sea. According to the 55th Ministerial Regulation in the year 2000 (B.E. 2543) Issued Pursuant to the Building Control Act. 1979 (B.E 2522), the second paragraph of Article Number 42 stipulates that any structural building located near a large size public water resource must move building line back 12 meters away from that public water resource. Local regulations may also have different requirements, adding more distance.

As for the height, it will also depend on the zoning and the distance that the building is situated away from the shore which will then governs the height of that building. Local governments have regulations in regards to the height and that may vary depending on whether or not it is in a city or not.

Complaints about illegal construction can be made to the local office of the Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning. But be reminded that normally permanent buildings will be required to have building permits and architectural plans approved before beginning construction and that inspections by officials will be made before, during and after the construction.






World Cup Thailand 2014


With all that has been going on in Bangkok recently, let's end this week's column on a bright note. The soccer world cup kicks off in 10 days. It's fun to follow major soccer tournaments in Thailand as the Thais really get in to it. Bars and restaurants will be decorated with flags and kit of the competing nations and in many bars the girls will be decked out in the teams' colours. Which team will win sport's biggest prize? I'm not a betting man, but it's hard to look past the favourites, Brazil and Argentina. But the favourites never interest me. I'd like to see England do well and if they pick enough Liverpool players in the starting line-up they have a chance. But if they don't make it past round 1 it would be no great surprise either. Spain and Germany also look good but for an outside chance, I like the look of Uruguay. A couple of truly world-class strikers and playing in their home continent, they can't be ruled out. The World Cup will give us something to keep our minds away from stuff closer to home.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


FIFA World Cup Bangkok