The Legend of Nanapong
Nanapong Dance Contests gained legendary status and when it was recently announced that a Nanapong reunion series would be held, I was hopeful, but perhaps not that confident that they could pull it off. Nanapong was a group of, as Dean Barrett once described, possessed men – but many of the original Pongers have moved on. The bar industry has changed, as have the patrons. Expectations of in-bar entertainment are rather low today. Unable to attend the inaugural Nanapong comeback dance contest, I made sure I would be there for #2 – and boy oh boy, am I glad I did!
Nanapong DC2 (or dance contest 2), Rififi Bar, Patpong soi 2, March 2001.
The origins of Nanapong hark back to the first wave of Thailand discussion forums, the first real forums and not ASFO which was a newsgroup (remember them?!) and not a forum per se. These were the forums which predated the behemoth SlyGeezer. It was a different time and expat society was much smaller. These were the days when all of the major Thailand expat forums had a sex tourism slant.
Nanapong was born when some users broke away from the now defunct NanaPlaza.com forum, creating their own forum which was about friendship, a place where like-minded friends could have fun, fool around and just be themselves without anyone telling them how to behave.
There was Nanapong the forum, and Nanapong the group of friends, the latter made up of a core group of perhaps several guys who loved the nightlife. In some ways it was like a party club, with Nanapong forum members meeting up at The Living Room at the front of Clinton Plaza, the starting point for what would often turn out be a long (and hard) night out.
For the 'Pong boys, crazy just wasn't enough. These guys were at times wild, doing stuff like bar crawls along Soi Cowboy, and soi 33, where every bar would be visited and at least one drink had. Often they would leave a bar and almost every employee was starkers. Even on soi 33. Reports of their wild antics appeared on the Nanapong forum when they sobered up…which could be days later!
There were plans to develop the Nanapong site into a Thailand nightlife guide but the guys spent so much time partying that there was no energy left for much else!
The Nanapong website – as distinct from the forum – never really gained traction, but they did produce Nanapong calendars with photography from a very well-known photographer. They would probably be collector's items today.
One of the tenets of Nanapong was that they would party hard, but be respectful of the girls. They did some really crazy stuff, but at the same time were always generous with the girls and they were very welcome wherever they went.
Rififi, Patpong soi 2, March 2001, the night of Nanapong Dance Contest #2.
What would later become known as the first dance contest took place at Rififi in Patpong, the bar that is Club Electric Blue today.
That first dance contest was actually a bachelor's party for Q Man. The party was organised by the Pongers and was such a roaring success that the dance contest concept was born. Over the next 3 years a couple of dozen dance contests followed.
Donations were called for to cover costs.
Along the way the format was tweaked but the basic concept remained the same. Groups of girls from different bars danced off against each other over a couple of rounds. Guest judges would score each girl and the final round would see girls dance off to 3 songs to find a winner. Keen to secure the prizes, the dancing became more and more outrageous.
Word spread and the dance contests quickly grew in popularity. Bars were packed as punters piled in to bars as soon as the doors opened, keen to secure a prime seat.
The dance contest concept was taken to Pattaya and a number of contests featured dance-offs between girls from Pattaya and Bangkok. People didn't think dance contest, they simply thought Nanapong!
Snapped just after the great Nanapong Marmite fight.
The core bars where contests were held were Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy and Rififi in Patpong. Bar owners saw how successful the events were and were keen to invite the Pongers and be the host venue. Dance contests would be held in Pink Panther in Patpong, Rock Hard in Clinton Plaza, Suzie Wong's and Rawhide in Soi Cowboy and Hollywood Rocks and Cascade in Nana Plaza.
Dance contests were the talk of the forums. They became so popular that regular visitors would plan their trips around the date of the next contest. Even large bars would be full to overflowing.
Celebrities flew in. Big Bill, the larger than life DJ from Rock Hard in Patong, came up for one event and was the guest MC and DJ.
Other dance contests were MCed by a colourful Aussie with a filthy mouth whose online handle was Roota.
The Pongers would eventually settle on Father T as their preferred MC around 2003, the popular Texan's wit and humour adding to the occasion and bringing the night alive.
Everyone has a great time at Nanapong dance contests.
Some of the best nights I've had in Bangkok's gogo bars have been at Nanapong dance contests and there are so many amazing memories.
There was the dance contest at, I think, Dollhouse in Clinton Plaza, where a couple of katoeys were given the responsibility of going around with the bucket for donations to help offset the cost of running the competition….and who ran off with the donated money, which Dollhouse Darel announced over the loud speaker system, unable to contain his amusement!
There was the DC (as they became known) at Rock Hard in Clinton Plaza where a 50-year old dancer from DC 10 Bar in Nana Plaza upstaged the young guns by proving what a snug fit a small Heineken bottle is. Thank God Rock Hard never sold the larger sized bottles.
Even with all that I have seen and experienced in Bangkok over the years, sometimes I wonder if some of that stuff really happened. Much of it was just so wild and so unbelievable that I still find myself shaking my head today!
The glamour girl of the early '00s, Dollhouse's #33, is on the right.
But the memory that sticks in my mind more than any other is rather innocuous. In one of the early contests, held even before this column had been launched, and featured Dollhouse's #33. Nicknamed Noi, she was an internet sensation at the time. Everyone was talking about her. A large chest expansion on a lithe frame made the most famous gogo dancer in the country. Deep in to the night and well in to the final round, the Metallica classic The Unforgiven plays. As the rock ballad builds up, all the lights in the bar dim, save for a couple of spotlights pointed at her. In what had been a rather restrained night, Noi decides it's time to let her gigantic headlights free. The crowd whooped up a frenzy and the most famous gogo dancer in the country soaked it all up. You had to be there, the anticipation was huge, the atmosphere amazing!
Nanapong's catchphrase is fitting…because if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing!
Club Electric Blue, September 2014, Nanapong Comeback Dance Contest #2.
I mentioned in last Sunday's column that despite September being the wettest month of the year in Bangkok we had had little rain and when I left home it was dry. But when I exited the underground it was fair teeming down and despite bringing a sturdy umbrella I was dripping by the time I reached Patpong. The commentator's curse struck. Heavy rain usually means a quiet night for the bars. At the same time the second Nanapong comeback dance contest had been heavily promoted. Would punters brave the elements?
The host bar's dance troop was on stage early, providing the foreplay.
Club Electric Blue opened in Patpong in 2003 after Andy bought in to Rififi, redecorated and rebranded. That was a night to remember, the bar opening with a dance contest. Things got out of hand and the bar was slapped with a 60-day closure order on its first night!
Club Electric Blue is the birthplace of Nanapong with a large plaque at the entrance testifying to this, the Nanapong birth certificate.
Club Electric Blue is also the spiritual home of Nanapong. Gogo dancers come and go, but Club Electric Blue always seems to have a fun, upbeat crew and when Nanapong comes to town, events are that teeny weeny little bit better at Electric Blue.
The Playskool team.
The back left-hand corner of the bar had been taken over by the girls of Playskool. Representing Nana Plaza, they were a bunch of cuties and today's girl of the week was amongst them.
In the front right corner was a troop from Dollhouse, the sexiest group of girls in the bar.
And then there was the home team, Electric Blue, a bar more deserving of the name of the top floor Nana Plaza bar, Wild Thing.
Sitting at the stage were a handful of judges made up of Bangkok nightlife webmasters, bar owners and farang businessmen.
The 5 girls from the host bar were first on stage and they wasted no time in showing off why they have developed a reputation for dirty dancing.
Next was Dollhouse. Well-drilled in dirty dancing, they used novel props including milk and yoghurt. The judges may have had had ringside seats and the best view in the house, but that meant they also got a dousing of milk, yoghurt and other fluids.
The final group to get on stage was Playskool, a bunch of cuties all new to Nanapong who the night would later show didn't quite know what they were getting themselves in to. Playing the sweet and demure card, they were somewhat restrained. The crowd will be looking for less being nice girls and more raunch when they host the next DC next month. Someone forgot to tell them that it's not just a dance contest, it's a dirty dance contest!
There were three rounds, each round featuring 5 girls from each bar on stage doing each other their thing.
Club Electric Blue boss Big Andy had his troops fired up and his gong cheer (cheering team) were on fire, entering in to a rapturous chant of Electric Blue!, Electric Blue! throughout the night in the same way that there are always some at busy sports matches who start a Mexican wave.
The event was MCed by Father T. The witty Texan introduced the girls before each round, explained the rules and added to the occasion with quips, anecdotes and witty comments throughout the evening.
After 3 rounds, 5 finalists were chosen to dance off for the prizes.
It was a golden night, showered in sanuk, many open-mouthed at antics unseen in a Bangkok bar before, and quite possibly never to be repeated outside of a Nanapong-organised event.
Every aspect of the night was just brilliant. Electric Blue boss Big Andy ran around meeting, greeting and keeping on top of things; I even saw the big man do a dance with such elation that you'd think the Hammers had won the Premier League. Nanapong kingpin Farangman co-ordinated proceedings and wasn't shy to pass props to the Dollhouse girls when they were onstage, a bar he has connections with. The DJ, whoever he was, was fantastic and proof – as if it was ever needed – that a quality DJ makes a big difference. Nanapong and Club Electric Blue pulled it off, recreating the atmosphere of the Bangkok of old with antics possibly never seen before in a Bangkok gogo bar.
For those who experienced the bars in the '90s and the start of the new Millennium, you remember how the atmosphere was different, less business-like, all about fun and ultimately addictive. This night was just like that. Actually, maybe it was even better. Atmosphere-wise, this was the best night in a Bangkok gogo bar in more than a decade. Antics-wise, it reached a new level. Heard shit on the grapevine about what took place? Trust me, no-one is exaggerating!
It wasn't just the audience who had a blast, but all of the girls too, from the Electric Blue girls to the support teams from PlaySkool and Dollhouse, it was smiles all around, all night long.
If you missed it, don't make the same mistake next time!
The next Nanapong dance contest takes place at PlaySkool, on Nana Plaza's ground floor, on Sunday, October 12th.
And if you're going to be visiting Bangkok over the high season, mark these dates in your calendar for planned dance contests:
January 25th, 2015, Dollhouse, Soi Cowboy.
February 22nd, 2015, Club Electric Blue, Patpong soi 2.
Many think of Nanapong as an era, but I'm not sure that's right. Nanapong is a bunch of fun-loving guys with an innate ability to bring the best out of gogo dancers, transcending era. No-one else has organised such wild entertainment that exceeds anything Bangkok's gogo bars have ever seen.
The on-stage antics are one thing, but if you know where to go you can see much of that elsewhere. It might make the prurient salivate but for the purists that's not what all the fuss is about. What Nanapong do, and what no-one else does, is recapture the special atmosphere of the farang bar areas of Bangkok of 15 years ago. It is that which sets Nanapong dance contests apart.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the Lexus dealership at the start of Sukhumvit soi 18 and it proved easier than the previous week's photo with 30+ clever readers getting it right. So I made this week's a little more difficult, but obscure, it is not. If you are a regular to downtown Bangkok, I bet you've walked right past this spot.
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 the joke backfires!
Several years ago my sister and brother-in-law came to visit me in Bangkok. I took my sister and her husband to Woodstock where we had a drink, and then together with some visiting English guys I was working on a project with, I thought I'd pull a fast one on them and took them to what was the only katoey bar in Nana at the time. Of course I didn't tell them it was full of ladyboys because I wanted to see how long it would take them to figure it out. We sat down, ordered a beer, when one of the Brits commented, "I think this is a poofter bar!" At that same instant I heard someone call out my name, and she ran over to meet me. Everyone looked at me in horror thinking I was a regular! It was the first time I'd stepped foot in the bar, in fact I often walked around on the upper floor just so I didn't have to pass the place and be confronted by ladyboys grabbing at me. Turns out the girl who greeted me was one of the girls who used to rack balls in Woodstock (that sounds really rude out of context). She was the ONLY genuine girl working in the bar but I couldn't convince everyone that not only was it my first time in the bar, but that the one person who knew me was actually a girl. Gotta love it when a joke backfires so badly.
Sukhumvit, the next Orchard Road?
I enjoyed very much this past week's column, especially since I live in the Sukhumvit corridor. But I have to tell you, buddy, you are dead wrong about the ban on street vendors benefiting everyone. How about the vendors? Already poor and many of them deaf as well, they have effectively been put out of work by the crackdown. In the past, most worked their tables and stalls between 10 AM and 10 PM. Now they cannot open before 6, reducing their sales window from 12 hours to four. And as one vendor told the Bangkok Post, the people on the street in the evening hours in Sukhumvit are not shopping for clothing. This vendor ban is nation-wide and there is a lot of predictable non-compliance. I wouldn't be surprised if there are areas where it's being ignored completely. In Phuket it's another Sukhumvit, maybe worse. I had two friends from the US go there last week and cancel their rooms after a day and return to Bangkok. Why? No more chairs and umbrellas on the beach; they didn't want to sit in the blazing sun. This past week, more than 1,400 vendors went to Phuket's governor and asked for their jobs back. He told them to find something else to do. Removing the vendors from Thailand's streets and beaches doesn't benefit tourists or residents. Not only does cancelling the lively street life remove much of the local colour that is so attractive to visitors, so, too, it takes away one of the choices residents have when they shop. Singapore banned street vendors many years ago and lost a big piece of its soul. Will all the mega-malls still being added to Sukhumvit create another Orchard Street? Is this what Thailand wants? I hope not.
Going to Thailand is always a trade-off. As a farang, we put up with ridiculous nonsense in order to get cheap food, accommodation and sex. We prance into the kingdom on stallions and leave on crutches. The truth and public descent is outlawed. Rational thought is frowned upon. Group think is rewarded. It's an exercise in frustration and madness. After reading the works of your farang sages and masters, I have to re-evaluate my sanity.
Enjoying the high life.
I have lived in Bangkok for the past year and my friends and I have become pretty bored with the gogo bars. The main reason is that they just aren't that entertaining. The dancers don't seem interested in dancing and many are simply overweight, show stretch marks or aren't pretty. We want to see hot girls that know how to dance and listen to great music. We now head over to Monte Carlo across from CDC. We pay 10,000 baht for 5 bottles which works out to about 2,000 each per night. For this we get a live band that really knows how to play, a stage so large that there is over 100 girls dancing as well as an awesome sound and light system. The girls are attractive to gorgeous and a number of expensive cars in the parking. This customer base is not going to settle for overweight, single moms with a beer gut. You also don't get kicked out at 2 AM; at 3:30 AM when I left, the place was still full. If the bar owners at Nana and Soi Cowboy would take a night to go to Monte Carlo, maybe they would start to understand how to have a full club every night with customers that spend a lot of money. I would guess just this one club can make more money in a single night than all of the Nana bars combined. At the end of the day, a gogo bar is selling entertainment and these bars should get a clue on what that means. They would be utterly ashamed of what they are trying to sell after a night at Monte Carlo.
I just got back to Bangkok yesterday and paid a considerably higher taxi fare than when I was here 10 days ago. This is my 12th visit to Thailand, so I know a thing or two about the place. I insisted on the driver using the meter and he gladly accepted. The meter started at 35 baht. I watched it jump to 70, and then 80 without displaying any numbers in between. Not far after we left the airport, the meter was at 100. I noticed something strange about the meter, like there was some kind of cable splitter adaptor coming from the meter and splitting off 2 cables on to something else. I don't know what. A second odometer, perhaps?! The final tally on the meter to get from Suvhanabhumi to Soi Nana was 330 baht plus 50 baht for airport pick-up plus the tolls, and it said we had travelled 50 kilometres. There was not much traffic. I paid 220 baht on the meter 10 days ago to get from the airport to Soi Nana. I know it's only a few dollars, but I really don't like being scammed. I was on to him and he knew it. I smiled at him as he helped unload my bag and I said "very good meter trick". I thought you and your readers would like to know about this.
Taxi fares too low.
I sympathise with the reader who struggles to get taxi drivers to switch on the meter. Isn't the underlying problem the crazy low meter rate? I can't figure out how the driver's time, fuel and depreciation on a new vehicle could possibly be covered by the current fares. I can't remember them rising in ages. I think that it's likely that drivers need to optimise their routes to maximise their returns. Raise fares, and I wouldn't be surprised if the problem would be notably reduced.
I came across a situation a few months back, which I still don't have a clue whether it was a scam or not. I barfined a gogo girl and took her to my hotel. As she was leaving the hotel, I also went out. She asked me where I was going. It was about 1:30 AM in the morning. I told her that I was going to have some food and she could join me if she wanted to. She said she knew a good Thai food place which remains open till late. We hired a tuktuk and went there. It was a small restaurant with an all-Thai clientele except me. We sat at a corner table and ordered some foods and drinks. It seemed that my lady frequented the place and a lot of people there knew her. Soon another lady came to our table and started chatting with my lady. She introduced this new lady to me and asked if she could sit at our table. I said OK. After a while another man stopped at our table and same routine was followed, as my lady introduced him to me and asked if he could also sit at our table. This way the team started growing and within an hour it was a crowd of 10 sitting at our table, drinking and chatting in Thai non-stop. I kept enjoying my own drink and didn't bother much. After a while I decided to leave and asked my lady to bring the check. She went to the cashier and soon the rest of the group dispersed and I was sitting alone. My lady returned 10 minutes later and very hesitantly said, "They've charged a huge sum. They've added all the drinks that the others had". I asked, "How much?" She replied, "10,000 baht!" I said, "OK, no problem. Please tell the cashier that I'm not carrying that much money right now and I'll pay tomorrow". She responded, "There is an ATM nearby". I said, "I don't carry my ATM cards when I go out late at night at any unknown place." (which was true.) "You please come and stay with me tonight and I'll give you money tomorrow which you can bring here". So we left for my hotel and the next day after having brunch together, I handed her the money. I'm new to Bangkok, and I can't still understand if it is common practice or was a scam.
Girl of the week
Nut, 20, Playskool, Nana Plaza
Bangkok-born and bred,
she swims every morning to stay in shape.
Things are looking up for businesses in the tourism industry as many downtown restaurants and bars have more customers than is typical in September. It feels busy, unseasonably so. I don't wish to tempt fate but if things continue like this then there is every reason to be confident that the upcoming high season will be a good one. Yeah, you don't have to remind me that that's the very same thing I said late last year and look what happened. Maybe I had better shut up!
A night spent in Sin City this week showed that down the road it's a very different story. Bar trade in Pattaya is not what it is in the capital. Walking Street is bedlam, as usual, with this incredibly annoying phenomenon of a bottleneck near where the Tourist Police van parks nightly as hordes of Chinese tour groups stand at the start of the neon jungle, making it difficult for others to make their way through. Pattaya's ground zero is full of wanderers and gawkers but not that many aren't buying.
If you haven't been in Sin City for a while and are looking for a little afternoon delight, the chrome pole bars of Soi LK Metro aren't the place to go. Some Soi LK Metro gogo bars had been open through the afternoon but that changed a while back and none are open before 6 PM these days, due to police orders.
The shutters remain down at Bar4, the beer bar on Soi Nana which was closed by police early on the evening of Friday before last. The bar has opened up some days for what appears to be maintenance and perhaps cleaning, but has not been open to customers. It is not known when it will reopen.
There's no change at Underground on the ground floor of Nana Plaza, where the outside beer bar is open but the bar proper, the gogo bar, is closed. The houselights are on so girls passing through to the toilet don't get scared, but that's the only sign of life. There's no music being played, and not a sexy dancer to be seen. Word is that the owners of Underground – newbies to the industry in Bangkok – secured the lease for Underground soon after they took over London Calling – have been unable to find a team of coyote dancers. Here's hoping they manage to overcome that small but ever so important detail because empty bars are no good for anyone.
If golf rocks your boat, note that Stumble Inn in Soi Nana will be showing the Ryder Cup live from this coming Friday, September 26th.
If you made it along to Spellbound this past Thursday to celebrate Tukata's birthday, you might have wondered about the outfits the dancers were wearing. They were about as unsexy a garment as it would be possible to wear, a total disaster! Imagine beige-coloured grandmother tights from toe to belly with knickers underneath. Fortunately it was a one-night only thing and the bar reverted back to sexywear the next night.
On the ground floor of Nana Plaza, some bar owners and bar managers have got their knickers in a twist over the signs for Underground and its sister bar, London Calling. Some feel that the signs are so bright that they drown out everything else. It's the same complaint some of the same people made about the huge, but short-lived Nana Main Station sign which was erected out the front of Pretty Lady Bar. In that case I thought the complaints were valid but this time around I don't see what the problem is. To my eyes they are not that big or that bright.
The venue directly right across the soi from Darling, behind Insanity in Sukhumvit soi 12, which used to be the White Lioness Russian bar before it morphed in to the short-lived Monaco Gentleman Club before being closed for a loooong time, is being gutted and refurbished. Rumour in the soi is that it will reopen with an Isaan music theme and coyote dancers. Word is that it will utilise the house attached which has rooms downstairs and the VIP rooms upstairs.
Basic websites are easy to put together, especially if it's just a basic information website with few text and photos. So why is it that so many bars have – I am sorry to say – such crap websites? The Nana Group's used to be good – slick design and fantastic photos – and Electric Blue's is good in that it is comprehensive and updated regularly, but many others are appalling. Photos often show ladies in a bad light, the site is never updated and shows photos of girls who have long since left the industry and the main page may even list the next event as a party which was actually held years ago. To bar bosses who complain about business, you're missing an opportunity. Why not take an objective look at your website?
On the subject of bar-industry related websites, over the years a number of readers have suggested that I create a new section on this site which highlights ladies of the night who are alleged to have ripped off customers. It's a crazy idea. It's mean spirited and it would be flirting with the law. In Thailand merely writing or saying something potentially damaging to someone's reputation is libelous. It does not matter if what you say is true – unlike in the West, speaking the truth is NOT a defence in libel cases! With this in mind, a website that named and shamed Thai working girls could see the owner / webmaster in the gun. It's simply not viable. As I wrote last week, don't get your expectations too high when it comes to prostitution (and that applies anywhere in the world).
For anyone interested in starting up a Thailand-centric website, a reader has a couple of domain names for sale. Farang.co.uk is offered for £100 and the wonderful Barfine.me – a fantastic domain name – is yours for £300. Email: [email protected]
Craig Hurren is a Bangkok-based novelist who has just finished his second book. His first, The Killing Code, sold over 13,000 copies and has 80+ reviews on Amazon. The second is the sequel, The Killing Chase, and some of it is set in Goldfinger in Patpong. To help with the expenses of self-publishing (including copy editing, line editing, proofreading, cover design for print, cover design for e-book, formatting, etc), Craig has turned to Kickstarter for funding. If you'd like to invest, you can find more details here.
The border checkpoint at Tak province where you can cross over in to Myanmar was once a popular point for foreigners to update their visa. However, that has all changed since the notice below was erected. The Immigration Department is serious about the visa runner situation and reports from visa run companies is that far fewer people are doing visa runs compared with just a few months ago, let alone a few years ago. Irrespective of border point, it seems there are fewer foreigners making border runs. What has happened to them all? Have they left the country? Are they all now on ED visas? Who knows? You've got to feel sorry for the vendors on the other side – a slump in visitor numbers will have a negative impact on the income of the vendors on the Myanmar side of the border.
When is the best time to go out to the naughty bars? Ask 10 people and you'll get 10 different answers. Friday is usually the busiest night, followed by Saturday – and as such these two nights have the highest number of girls. Being busy might be a reason to venture out that night, or it might not, depending on how you feel about busy bars. With many girls doing multiple short-times a night these days, you don't have to go out early to find attractive ladies as many return to the bar less than an hour after they leave, ready for rounds 2 and 3. Also consider that some ladies don't turn up for work until after 8:30 PM and may not get up on stage until after 9:00. The girls can be more fun later in the night with a bit of liquor in them although the later it gets, the fewer girls there tends to be. Personally, I am not a big fan of Thai women when they've had a lot to drink but many guys seem to prefer that. Some bars open the doors early with most of the crew on board early, such as Tilac in Soi Cowboy which is good from when the doors open, at 7:15 PM. Some bars in Nana aren't worth visiting until well after 9:00 PM. There are so many variables and different bars can be better at different times of the night. There's no hard and fast rule.
Just because a Thai lady has never worked in the bar industry does not mean that a relationship with her will be easy. That's a common misconception. These days more Western men meet Thai women online than anywhere else. Just because she is a so-called good girl – a dreadful term which is insulting to bar lasses – doesn't mean a lot. Many go on to discover that whether a lady worked in a bar or not is not the main issue in Thai / Western relationships – although dating a bargirl does come with its own unique set of challenges. While Thai girls look great and many are very sweet and, yes, many want a foreign boyfriend and really do want the relationship to work, the bottom line is that the local attitudes towards relationships can be rather different to that of Westerners. It's not about right or wrong, just different. What can be very frustrating for those living in Thailand is that due to your surroundings you tend to do things the Thai way, so you try and adapt. That can be challenging when her way of thinking and some of the things she believes in go very against what you may believe in. The point I wish to make is that many of the Farangland haters will tell you that a relationship with a Thai woman is easier than with a woman from your homeland. It isn't. Thai women are probably easier to meet and you might be able to find a prettier woman in Thailand than in your homeland, but in terms of a genuine, long-term relationship, they are just as much work in Thailand as a relationship in Farangland.
Quote of the week is comments about a Nana Plaza farang bar boss, "He looks like Vincent Van Gogh just before he committed suicide!" I won't say who this refers to, but feel free to let me know who you think in an email.
Reader's story of the week comes from an Average Thai Girl, "The Class System in Thailand".
Two young Brits are found dead on a beach in Ko Tao, in southern
A Thai woman decides life is no longer worth living and jumps in to a crocodile enclosure!
A Brit whose passport application takes longer than he thought it would ends up in the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre.
Thailand's southern islands are painted in a negative light in the UK's Telegraph following the slaying of two Brit backpackers.
Steve Leather penned a fun article about surveillance team training in downtown Bangkok.
A drunk passenger forces a QANTAS flight from Bangkok to Sydney to be diverted and land in Cairns.
Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: My Thai wife moved to the USA with me 3 years ago. At that time her student loans were in default and have remained that way. Her mother apparently co-signed some of these loans and is concerned the home she lives in will be taken by the bank.
Upon moving to Thailand in March of next year, I want to get this sorted out because every time my wife calls home her mother berates her for not getting the money from me to pay off these creditors. It's my understanding that the government unit assigned to deal with this issue meets every year and invites debtors in default to participate in some kind of counseling to bring the loans current via a relatively large payment that is almost 100% of the principal / interest. I've asked my wife about this but she is not sophisticated enough to explain accurately or with any level of detail what the process is to get on a payment plan and get the loans current. When she calls the bank holding the loans she is told to make a payment equivalent to half of the outstanding amount of $3,000. The bank apparently will not provide a signed agreement to which I'm adamant we have to provide her mother legal guarantees that her home is safe.
I want to hire a lawyer who can negotiate an agreement with the Thai bank reducing the principal owed for the receipt of one payment made, a fraction of the amount due, to eliminate the student loan once and for all. Also, is it possible to draft a legally binding document that reflects the one-time payment in satisfaction of all amounts owed?
Will the bank take into consideration my wife is a US citizen who has no assets to collect to agree to take a payment that is a fraction of the amount owed?
Will a court allow a Thai bank to take her mother's small farm in Isaan if we can't come to a negotiated agreement to settle the loans and they remain in default?
My wife also defaulted on all her credit card debt. Does Thailand have a bankruptcy court where we could get the student loans and credit card debt eliminated, something equivalent to a chapter 7 bankruptcy or are student loans as protected for discharge as in the USA?
What would it cost at a maximum to have Sunbelt handle this matter?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Although the bank holds the loan, the government assists the borrower in obtaining the loan and the process goes through the Ministry of Finance. The purpose of a student loan is for those students with limited funds to progress in their education. The repayment of the loan is expected to begin 2 years after the borrower completes their education. Total repayment must be made within 15 years. Should any borrower fail to make payments for 4 consecutive years then the lender will send out a Termination Letter as well as request a loan recall and arrange a meeting with the borrower to negotiate a compromise agreement before going to Court. Alternatively, the borrower can produce a guarantee that the outstanding loan will be repaid within an acceptable period.
If the borrower lets the loan lapse for more than 4 years without a payment and does not attend the negotiation meeting then the lender will file with the Courts to have the borrower notified and the borrower will be served with a warrant setting a court date. The borrower, now as a defendant, will need to attend court to either defend the claim or request court mediation assistance or proceed with the trial.
For the defendant to have the case withdrawn, they would need to either begin making payments on the loan with either a single payment or multiple payments, be responsible for lawyer's fees, and present proof of completed payment.
As your mother-in-law is acting as the guarantor, she will be affected by the non-performing loan. Both your wife and her mother will be contacted. If it were to proceed to court, your mother-in-law would be a co-defendant in the case and there is a chance that her house would be seized and auctioned off to pay the loan if the award were to go in the lender's favour.
It would be best for your wife to touch base with the office to negotiate with the institute on arranging repayment.
As for the credit card debt, it is always the responsibility of the cardholder to contact and negotiate with the bank's in-house legal team to discuss the possibility of debt restructuring. Please note that the debt restructuring may affect your wife's credit score.
Question 2: With all of the recent clampdowns, I've been thinking about my situation. I enter Thailand on a 60-day tourist visa to buy jewellery in Thailand to send back to my country in Europe to sell. Sometimes I fill my suitcase up with jewellery and sometimes I use a cargo company to ship it back. I do not sell any jewellery in Thailand – only purchase it here. My question is could buying jewellery be considered work? Am I doing anything illegal?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has heard different interpretations depending on location and officer. Theoretically, this is considered working and there have been instances where the officer has made this determination and required a work permit while in other cases the officer may determine that a non-B visa is sufficient. Pattaya has been seen to be particularly strict in regards to the work permit. At a bare minimum you should obtain an invitation from the company you plan on meeting with to obtain a non-B visa. This visa can be obtained from any Thai Embassy or Consulate outside of the Kingdom. One of the Thai companies that you intend to meet with will be able to facilitate your business visa by providing you with a set of company documentation to support your application. The company will also be able to issue a sponsor letter (stating that you require a business visa for the purpose of exploring buying from them), which will need to be submitted along with the company's paperwork. Depending upon which Thai Consulate or Embassy you visit to make the application, you will receive either a multiple entry one-year or a single-entry 90-day Non-Immigrant B (business) visa.
However, in Pattaya, we understand that if a vendor agrees to be your employer as you will be meeting with them to negotiate, you can ask them to help you obtain a 15-day temporary work permit and no visa will be required. Most vendors will not be aware of this 15-day work permit and will be hesitant to help you obtain the documentation that you need. Your best option is to have a Thai-speaking lawyer explain the procedure to them.
Another alternative, if you plan on traveling to and from Thailand on a regular basis for purchasing items for export, is to set up an export only company. This can be 100% foreign-owned and will enable you to not only obtain an export license but a work permit.
Sunbelt Asia has extensive experience in setting up export only companies and obtaining export licenses. We are also able to assist you in communicating with your vendors in obtaining both the necessary documentation and the temporary work permit, and we would be happy to meet and go over your options with you.
Since the military took control of the government back in May there has been an effort to target problems in the country and a heap of highly publicised crackdowns, many centred around corruption. There have been crackdowns on crooked officials, crackdowns on bar closing times, crackdowns on street vendors infringing beyond their designated space, crackdowns on foreigners using visas for purposes they weren't intended and many others. Many expat residents feel things have improved. That may be the case in some areas, but not all. Zipping down to Pattaya this week, we were stopped by the boys in brown and accused of driving at a speed I am not even sure the vehicle we were travelling in is capable of. When the other half protested, said it was BS and that she would call a reporter friend we were waved on hurriedly without further ado. It's never nice to be accused of doing something you didn't do, worse still when the accusation comes from those empowered with enforcing the very rules you have been accused of breaking. Sometimes I think corruption is like a limb that has gone bad. You know there is only one way to deal with it, but actually carrying out that action isn't easy. Are those in power willing to make the hard calls and cut out that which is rotten for the greater good and long-term survival?
Your Bangkok commentator,