Bill of Phuket
Across South-East Asia are a number of Western-owned and run guesthouses and budget hotels with a following, where you don't just get a comfortable room, you have an expat on hand who can point you in the right direction and provide info only known to locals. In Phnom Penh, there's Jim's California2 on the riverfront. And in Phuket there's Summer Breeze Hotel where American Bill has been the friendly proprietor for the past 10 years. I popped by to see Bill when I was in town recently for a chat about the Phuket of today and what must be a dream lifestyle, running a hotel at a popular beach resort.
So how did you end up here in Phuket, running Summer Breeze?
I started coming to Thailand in the late '90s. The first time I came I knew nothing. I had never even heard of Phuket! When I was in Bangkok I learned Phuket was the place to go for the sun and the beach, everything I was looking for on holiday so my next trip I decided on Phuket.
I stayed at Safari Beech Hotel on my first trip to Phuket. I walked around looking for another place to try something new and I found Summer Breeze which was run by an American. I liked the look of it and that was the start for me staying at the hotel.
In 2001, on my 3rd or 4th trip, I brought a friend who had never been to Thailand, Kurt Goldberg. He fell in love with the place too. We found out that Lester, the American owner, was thinking about selling so it was a great fit. Kurt still works back in the US and I was looking for something else to do so I was free to come over here to run it. It's a great partnership. I drew the short straw, as I like to say. I had to come over here!
So what does a hotelier do all day? Is it a case of sitting at the bar drinking Mai Thais and watching pretty women slink up and down the soi right outside the front door?
If that was all there was to it I would have been gone 9 years ago! I enjoy doing it. I am lucky and have great, extremely loyal staff. 4 of my staff have been here more than 10 years. I haven't had to hire anyone in over a year which is pretty unusual.
With so many staffing issues in Thailand these days, how do you do it?
Basically, the way I look at it is less is more. Once you establish what you want and you are around to oversee what you want then everything will be done. You cannot micromanage Thais.
I let them eat and they can eat any Thai food they want at all, and that keeps them really happy. They sit down together and eat and there are no restrictions. The results of that are great. The Thai thing is sitting down and eating a meal together and that togetherness is what the whole culture revolves around, the food. Food is number one for many, I believe!
So when did you guys take over this place?
We decided to buy in January 2004 and we took over at the end of June that year.
What timing, not long before the tsunami. That would have made for an interesting welcome to the island!
For sure. It was a nice introduction. It gave me a quick education on what goes on in to Thailand. I gained a lot of respect for the Thais when I saw the resilience after the tsunami and how quickly they rebuilt everything.
Was the hotel hit by the water?
We're about 500 metres from the beach. The water came up about 400 metres so damage-wise we were unaffected. We were inundated with people that evening who were displaced from the beach area and had nowhere to go.
As it happened, just about everyone ran to the hills and there were no restaurants open. There were no people around. I was lucky, my staff stayed here. To my knowledge we were the only place that was open serving food. Needless to say, there were long lines to eat here. We served until we ran out of food. Everything – bread, eggs, noodles, meat, rice, everything ran out. If it could be cooked, we cooked it until we ran out of it. People were hungry and they didn't have anywhere to go. No food stalls, no restaurants, no nothing. The people who worked those restaurants and food stalls had fled.
You must then have had second thoughts about Phuket in general and more specifically the hotel going forward.
Strange as it may seem, no, not at all. I knew it was a setback. We were in a pretty decent position. I knew it would be just a matter of time and our business was hurt only a little but to tell you the truth and to take a positive from a negative, it put Phuket on the map worldwide, especially in the US where many people had never heard of Phuket. The TV crews were here and they would start by saying We are here on the paradise island of Phuket so from all the negativity came a positive.
How is Phuket different today from the Phuket you moved to 10 odd years ago?
When I first came here the majority of tourists were single men and younger couples. Now there is a lot more families. There's a lot more 4-sar hotels and more upscale tourism.
What about the Bangla Road scene? How do you think that's changed over time?
Again, there are a lot more families now and a lot more lookyloos. They've heard of Bangla and they want to look and dip their toes in a little and see what's going on, but there's not nearly as much of the hardcore element as there used to be. There's still something for everybody here. Phuket can be enjoyed by just about anybody. It's like a circus at night and is still a fun place to go.
I think it's more entertaining than Pattaya's Walking Street. People say Pattaya is more diverse – and it is – but I think Bangla covers the full spectrum of visitors whereas Walking Street still feels, well, desperate at times. Walking Street is still more about sex, less about entertainment.
I haven't been to Pattaya in 5 years so I cannot compare but it is definitely much, much more diverse than when I first got here. And whether I like it or not, I guess it's a little more mature now.
I still enjoy it, I like to be here and we're getting more couples than we used to and a lot more older couples, and they all enjoy it. They like a little taste of the nightlife yet still being close to the beach.
Have things changed much in Phuket since the military government took over?
Despite what you hear with the words coup or military, I see it as a positive. It looks good to me that things are more orderly. People really now believe that there's a possibility that there will be less corruption, the Thai government could become easier to deal with, that things just seem to be more fair than they were before. Maybe it's an illusion, I don't know, but for myself, I am glad it happened.
Bangkok is being inundated by new arrivals as both long-time visitors and younger expats looking for somewhere relatively inexpensive and warm flock to the city. There may be 10 times as many expats in Bangkok today as when I first moved there. Is the same happening in Phuket?
I do see a lot more expats and many seem to be buying expensive properties. I think people who move here aren't the same type who are moving to Bangkok. There might be more retired couples moving here than moving to Bangkok as this is the paradise island <we laugh>.
There seems to be more of a defined low season and high season in Phuket than say Bangkok or Pattaya. Would you agree?
Yeah, absolutely, especially when it comes to accommodation. High season is nearly double the price of low season but in my opinion low season is way too inexpensive and maybe high season is a little more expensive than it should be. Low season prices are ridiculously low. If I had a choice I wouldn't mind evening prices out a bit, lowering the high season prices and increasing the low season price. I don't think there is anywhere near the same price differences between low and high season pricing in Pattaya and Bangkok as there is in Phuket.
Value-wise, where are you going to get this type of bang for your bucks? I don't think you can anywhere else. The low season rate for a standard room is 890 baht which is not even $US30! That same room is closer to $60 in high season. A suite is about $40 now and $75 in high season. It's still extremely cheap for a paradise island, in my humble opinion.
Some people want to save every dollar.
If you have people coming half way across the world to save $5 a night, that's a little ridiculous! They are haggling over $5 or $10 a night and they are coming all the way from the US so it is $35 – $70 they are haggling over in total. It's ridiculous!
Phuket got quite expensive for a time. Up until perhaps 5 years ago, accommodation prices were getting silly. Things seem to have stalled and now it seems, accommodation-wise at least, things are more reasonably priced. What's your view as a hotelier?
In the past 5 years the number of visitors has gone up tremendously yet we haven't raised our room rates at all due to the fact that there are so many new hotels and the competition is stiff. It is getting harder to show a profit and I think the vast majority of people that buy a business here will not make it.
I'm lucky enough that my partner and I purchased this property at a great time and got a great deal from another American, Lester. I believe the 3 tenets of real estate of location, location, location and we are lucky enough to have it. I feel bad for some of these hotels that are further away as that makes it difficult to make it.
Running a hotel, you must come across some real characters, those staying here, and maybe even those just eating or drinking in your restaurant. Without compromising anyone's privacy, have there been any amusing comings and goings?
I have seen just about everything there is to see but the vast majority of our guests are really great. We never have a problem with people getting too drunk or anything like that. Very seldom is there a problem.
I had one customer who was chased from outside the hotel in to his room by a couple of ladyboys. He thought they were going to follow him up to his room but the manager didn't let them go upstairs. He was staying on the second floor and he thought they were coming after him so he jumped out the window of his room out the back of the hotel!
You would think I would have had more problems than I have had, but you can count on one hand the number of real problems I have had.
What about say, the police coming after customers because a bargirl complained about a guest mistreating her or failing to pay? I know in Bangkok that sort of thing is not uncommon.
In all the time I have been here I have only had a couple of bargirls complain they weren't paid and Somsak my night manager takes care of that. He makes sure that sort of thing is settled quickly.
I have only had to call the police once or twice to settle a dispute.
We had one customer come downstairs saying that the girl who was with him had stolen his money. The girl absolutely refused and said she had not. It was something like 20,000 baht so we called the police. The police came, looked all over his room, checked everywhere and there under the toilet lid was 20,000 baht in a plastic bag. I don't know if the guy had put it there and was drunk and forgot or he wanted to get the girl in trouble or what. That was a couple of years ago. The customer then had to sort the situation out after making a false accusation.
Another time, I was sitting at the bar with friends at 4 PM and a guy came down the stairs completely naked. I ran over and asked him what he was doing and I could see his was out of it. We wrapped a towel around him and sent him back to his room. The next morning he came down and said somebody had stolen his money and I had to go and talk to him and explain how the day before he had been standing in the middle of the lobby naked. He didn't believe me! I showed him the CCTV video so he could see for himself. He didn't remember any of it. Maybe somebody had earlier put something in his drink. All the girls were at the bar and you know what they are like when they see that sort of thing. It was 4 PM, right at the change of shift, and there he was standing at the bottom of the stairs naked, looking like a goofball!
I have had only 2 people not being able to pay. Both were English. One of them went back to England and sent us the money. The other tried to stiff us.
A few months later I found out that the guy had come back to Phuket and was staying at another hotel. He owed us around 30,000 baht. I had some friends in the tourist police volunteers, farangs, go over to see him in uniform with a Thai policeman and tell him he should pay. He ended up paying what he owed us. It's surprising it has only happened twice in almost 10 years. No-one has actually tried to do a runner and take off without paying. I guess we have been lucky.
It seems to me that the infrastructure in Phuket has struggled to keep up with developments here and now they are playing catch up. Would you agree with that?
No question about it. They will build a new development and then later on they will think about parking or drainage or sewerage or whatever. That often seems to be an afterthought rather than planning from the beginning. There's a new road and underpass near Tesco and it's terrible near peak hour. There are new parking lot buildings being built at the airport.
I feel a lot of growth in the Phuket tourism industry has happened already. Here at Patong, because of the geography I wonder how much more they can build. Do you see a lot more upside in terms of growth here?
I don't really have a prediction in this area. I don't think it will grow that much more here in Patong. However, I do think that tourism will keep rising and get bigger and bigger and Thailand will be an even greater tourist destination. As far as people living here go, I don't really have a prediction. I don't see it getting too much more populous as far as resident expats go.
What about some general recommendations for people who come to Patong? Are there any must sees or must dos?
The number 1 thing is the beaches. There are great beaches up and down the island, really beautiful beaches. The scuba diving is great. There are some guys in to fishing and some love to come fishing here. The absolute musts include going up to Phangnga Bay, possibly going across to Phi Phi and Krabi. The whole area is beautiful.
Do you think Phuket has lost any of its charm? I see McDonald's and Starbucks everywhere, at least here in Patong. This place has changed. One of my disappointments about Bangkok is that it's much less exotic now. In some ways it feels more and more like just another international city, in the downtown area at least. Do you think Patong is going that way too?
Yes, I would have to agree. Like it or not, that's progress and the world is getting smaller and smaller. Less things are a mystery, or are exotic any more. I think that's just progress.
Phuket expats don't have the same representation online since the very sad passing of Nicke and the removal from the internet of his Phuket-info.com forum. What are the popular forums or websites for Phuket and Phuket expats these days?
There are two sites that I know of. One of them is Asiainfo.co and the other is Thaidreaming.com.
Yes, I felt a lot closer to many things that were happening through Phuket-info.com and Mai Tai bar. I gained a lot of friendships through there that I will probably have for the rest of my life. It is very sad and unfortunate that somehow it was not perpetuated and that it all came to a halt. It really is a shame. I met some great, great people through there.
Do you think that maybe it's also a time thing?
I get the feeling that the people coming here 10 or so years ago were a little bit more adventurous and more likely to want to explore. Today it seems that if people don't read about it online first then they don't believe it, like the cyber world is more important than the real world, which is just plain ridiculous. Maybe I am misreading it, but that is how I feel in Bangkok, at least.
Yeah, that's possibly the case. It did seem there were more "outlaws", not necessarily fugitives, but people leaving their own country to find something which it didn't have. You don't see so much of that now. You don't see people who are really truly individuals, their own people.
It's almost like people are bit like McDonalds and Starbucks too, all clones of one another. Many of the recent arrivals, at least.
You could be correct there. I definitely see that the new wave of tourists are less adventurous for certain. There are not so many willing to give a ladyboy a shot these days <we laugh>.
OK, let's tell the readers about your hotel and why they should stay here.
I am from Las Vegas and I was in the gaming industry for many years and I think customer service is always number 1. That's the way I try to make everyone's experience fantastic and make sure that there are no impediments or obstacles. Everything has to be easy, everything has to be clean. The staff here are friendly and easy to talk to and if you ever have an issue it will be resolved immediately. This isn't an opulent place but it is clean and comfortable. That's the way I look at it.
What about the future here – for the hotel, and for you personally?
That's a tough one. At the moment my wife and I are looking for a home in, possibly, Udon Thani but I will continue to run the hotel for as long as we are happy. Basically, as long as I am happy doing it I will keep doing it unless of course someone offers us silly money for the hotel and then I might move on.
You're living the dream!
That's what everyone says! Do you know how many people say they would change places with me in a heartbeat? This is the white man's dream, to live on a paradise island and be comfortable and happy.
If you sat back in your home country and thought about what you would really like to do, this right here comes as close to anything you could think of!
Summer Breeze Hotel is located on Soi Sansabai, which is just at the top of Bangla Road, the heart of Phuket's party zone. The rooms are spotlessly clean, the wireless internet fast, the staff friendly and the ground-floor restaurant has very good food at very reasonable prices – something which isn't easy to find in Patong Beach. Try the cheeseburger at 190 baht or the huge and very satisfying massaman curry for just 160 baht. When I was in Patong recently I ate at the restaurant a number of times and every meal was excellent.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of a number of buildings on Rama 4 Road including the HSBC Building and the Dusit Thani Hotel. It was taken from over on Sukhumvit with a long lens. More tall buildings feature this week, familiar buildings featured from an unusual angle.
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 – Plenty of options to meet ladies.
There was a time when the gogo bars were more fun and staffed with nicer girls. Times change. Today there are far more opportunities to meet Thai women than ever before. The Internet and mobile phones have completely changed the scene, and the days when the gogos and beer bars were the only place a poor farmer's daughter could find a customer are far gone. Some guys have to wake up and change their habits. I'm sure there is still somebody out there trying to sell buggy whips but the automobile is here to stay! Last month I had a friend move here. He is in his late 50's and not overly handsome, rich or charming. His Thai is crap. I emailed him a few months ago and told him the best ways to meet hot girls in Bangkok. These include beer gardens, large beer hall / restaurants such as Tawan Daeng, Internet dating sites, any of the dozens of bars and clubs which office gals hang out at, coffee shops etc. He has been here 5 weeks and has already met so many lovely girls that he is talking about moving in a nurse from a major Bangkok hospital but is apprehensive about giving up all his other babes! It really is that easy. The problem for many guys is that they just don't seem to be able to talk to women and continue to use the same old tired system of gogo bars and beer bars.
I arrived today at Suvarnabhumi and went up to Departures as that is where my wife always picks me up. Looking across the road at the turnstiles, I noticed that now they can turn both ways – rendering them completely useless. Another case of TIT!
I was fascinated by Soi Nana bars' preoccupation with Halloween barfines which in some bars increased from 700 baht up to 1,000 baht. The trouble is that the girls get nothing of the price rise and I wouldn't be surprised if many went home 'friendless' that night because of it. Why 'subsidise' the bars when the people actually doing the work get nothing in return?
Don't fight the tape.
Don't fight the tape is an old piece of Wall Street wisdom that I think applies well to Thailand. Based on my previous dozen years, I'd now be just a few weeks away from my 3rd trip of the year to Bangkok. This year, I've made only one and have no plans for another. You and your contributors have cited all the reasons. If I was going to boil it down to as few words as possible they'd be I just don't feel welcome there any longer. I always thought of Thailand as safe but I see an increasing number of violent crimes against foreigners and locals. Beyond that, there's the lousy attitude of so many in the service sector. When you find yourself being treated better at a 7-11 checkout than in a restaurant, what more evidence do you need? It was encouraging to read your new take on Phuket but the scams there are so legion that I don't see myself making that trip. I've gone to my airline website several times in the past month, found the flights I wanted but at the last moment decline to push the confirm button. I think high season will disappoint.
High season suggestions.
I did a bit of research amongst friends who visit Thailand and the Far East in general about what us later-life naughty boys are looking for. One topic that always hit the spot was the sense of adventure. I'm not talking sky diving here. It's the sense of excitement of doing things you might not do at home like spend the evening chatting up pretty girls, knowing you will probably wind up getting intimate later. This is something the modern Thai bargirl seems to have lost the knack off. Next was staff attitude. We poor, sad Westerners want beer / food / jet ski at a reasonable price and in the right order at the right time. We don't even mind the pricing too much. This, I must say, is still a major Thai failing. 3rd was, I'm sorry to say, eye candy! We all like to look at pretty girls. It massages our egos. So here's a couple of ideas for any bar boss that wants to up his take in the coming high season:
1) Public photo shoot. Let your girls parade their stuff (decently, of course). Charge guys with a camera 500 baht to come and take photos. Add in the drinks and offer a weekly prize as bit of web space where the results are published and the girls get to share some of the entry fee and get a prize as well if they are the subject of the photo of the week. All this could be done early evening when trade is slack.
2) Everyone's done dance-offs to death but if you put the coyotes against the rest it might make a fun event.
3) Spin and win, a simple spinner every time you buy a drink you can pay, let's say, an extra 50 baht for the chance of, well, anything from another drink to a free neck massage to free chips. And cater for other sporting events, not just football! I sat in a bar in Pattaya earlier this year and as the only customer asked to watch the bike racing on the big screen. After about 30 minutes there were another 10 or so tables watching, all drinking and eating and having chatted to some of them, they all said it was not the usual football / rugby obsession but something else to watch.
The pre-mobile era.
On the question of how things were before mobile phones in Thailand, people were late even prior to the mobile age. We often hung around waiting for people for half an hour or more. Eventually you would leave and later when you got home, they would call and ask where you are. Of course, traffic was far worse (and unpredictable) then, so it was always hit and miss as to how long it could take to get to a destination.
Does sir have a visa?
I was on my way back to Bangkok a couple of weeks ago departing Newark (NYC) via HKG and onward to BKK. The woman checking me in saw BKK as my final destination and asked if I had a visa. Fortunately I'm a good boy and by the book so I showed her my one year multi-entry non-immigrant B. I asked her if she flagged me because I had a well-worn passport with many stamps. She told me she didn't even notice my stamps and that they are flagging all Thailand-bound visitors to ensure they have an appropriate visa prior to boarding. I asked her if Cathay had to deal with ferrying back rejected passengers on their buck and she said bingo. I'm not sure if Cathay is overreacting, Thai immigration is really being capricious or some combo. What I do know is that it's going to damage tourism. The US share of Thai tourism is modest but I'm reasonably certain that Cathay may also do such checks on flights departing from Europe as well. Anyway, I'd advise readers to contact the airline representatives at the airport they are departing from to avoid any nasty surprises at check-in. I checked with a friend that arrived on Cathay from LAX and he wasn't asked for a visa so I suppose California really is more laid back than NY.
Girl of the week
Faith is an escort in Bangkok
Tall and leggy, she is a tiger in the bedroom, not a tigress but a tiger!
The number of foreigners wandering Sukhumvit is on the up with more visitors about than there have been for many months. And the one thing I notice about many? They are speaking German. Most are fairly young. The number of Russians in Bangkok is on the up, but still nothing like the number you see at the beaches and islands.
Dave is back on the mic at Spellbound making pre-show announcements, just like he used to at Angelwitch. It's still early days for the shows at Spellbound but the signs are encouraging – the shows are all original and already word is out that there's a new show bar in the plaza. On the back of reports that the Bangkok branch of Angelwitch is struggling with fewer customers and disgruntled staff, Angelwitch3 Spellbound has a prime opportunity to become known as the show bar in the plaza.
Another foreign manager has joined the ranks of farang bar managers in Nana Plaza, Underground the latest bar to place a foreigner at the helm. Here's hoping he has a few tricks to increase business in a bar that has failed to set the plaza alight so far. Ever since what used to be Voodoo was rebranded as Underground and changed format from a post-op ladyboy bar to an all female lineup, business has been miserable. Maybe they ought to revert back to the previous format?
PlaySkool in Nana Plaza has another disco party planned for Sunday of next week, November 16th. Kicking off at 7:30 PM, there will be shows, '70s & '80s music and free white line shots.
The soon to open Sukhumvit soi 12 bar which was once White Lioness is going to be called The Den. They hope to attract freelancers who in turn they hope will attract punters. I am reliably informed that there will be provisions for action to take place on the premises. Serious cash is being thrown at it and they hope to open next weekend although that seems optimistic. Initially I was skeptical about the location, given that there are basically no other cathouses in the soi – Darling Massage aside – but then you could say the same about soi 7 – yet the Biergarten has done well for as long as anyone can remember.
The Sportsman on Sukhumvit soi 13 will open a new upstairs section this coming Friday, November 14th. The new upstairs area is almost twice the size of downstairs and they plan to focus on showing rugby matches and Formula 1. Stowford Press, Brains SA Bitter and Guinness will be available on draught, along with the usual local beers. There will be a happy hour all evening on opening night on imported draught beers with premium drops just 199 baht. There will be a free buffet from 6 PM.
Who's idea was it to put the pennant flags above the entranceway at Nana Plaza? I guess they were part of the Loy Kratong celebrations – and if that is the case hopefully they will be taken down as fast as they went up. I don't know about other countries but in my homeland those small flags are often a feature of second-hand car dealerships – so seeing them reminds me of everything about used car dealerships from dodgy salesmen to overpriced, clapped out vehicles. Frankly, the sooner those pennants go, the better.
There is less discretion in the expat bar areas these days and I am surprised that the part of the sign out front of Nana Plaza declaring it as the world's largest adult playground has not been removed. A recently opened massage house in Sukhumvit soi 33 leaves nothing to the imagination with a large sign clearly saying body to body massage with happy ending. While these message are in English and not Thai, the lack of discretion strikes me as imprudent. I would speculate that in each case it was not a Thai who came up with these slogans, but a foreigner. We might scratch our head and wonder at some of the things our hosts do from time to time, but let's give the Thais credit for something – when it comes to adult entertainment they are discreet.
Down in Pattaya, the recent round of drinks price increase at Babydolls was the smallest drinks price increase ever in a bar, with prices up just 5 baht across the board. It was the first price increase in some time, despite costs going up on a number of products. But punters being punters and Pattaya being Pattaya, no doubt some will complain! In fairness to Babydolls, the bar treats its staff well, and pays a 55 baht commission on lady drinks which is more than most bars of that genre pay.
It's not that long ago that Pattaya's Soi LK Metro was being billed as the new punters' paradise. It is free of the throngs who flock to Walking Street every night. Soi LK Metro delivers what many punters wanted – a bar area with enough gogo bars to keep naughty boys happy without the need to venture further afield, and free of the over-commercialisation of Walking Street. Pattaya is ground zero for sex tourists and the vision of Soi LK Metro was to satisfy those disgruntled at what Walking Street had become, and what Soi Pattayaland 2 is no longer. Soi LK Metro promised so much but seems to have gone off the boil, and the general consensus is that business is not what it was. I am reliably informed that 3 Soi LK Metro gogo bars are up for sale. It makes you wonder where the industry is going when the soi which should be doing better than any other is struggling. Or maybe this is just a temporary drop in trade?
Still in Pattaya, rumour has it that X Zone, the bar some Sin City locals used to call the fisting palace, may reopen at the end of this month.
I don't like to harp on about the state of the bar industry at present but when a couple of American friends told me how they could not get a dancer on stage in Rainbow 4 to smile at them, at least I know that it's not just me the girls don't smile at! These 2 characters have some sort of game they play to see which girl they can make smile first….but apparently they could not get one girl to smile at them!
Margarita Storm on Sukhumvit soi 13 has pints of Stella Artois for 270 baht and pints of Hoegaarden for 280 baht. Buy 2 and you get 1 free.
For naughty boys in the UK who won't be making it out to Thailand any time soon but who crave some Thai company, an exclusive Thai escort agency has started up in London with rates the same as Bangkok. The only thing is that where in Bangkok you get a couple of hours to get to know your escort better, in London it's just 30 minutes. Checking out LondonDolls.com, wow, it seems the hottest Thai escorts are outside the country!
A couple of months ago there was a frenzy across the Kingdom amongst those who had overstayed their visa. Word reached every last corner of expat society that the Immigration Department was introducing new rules for those who overstayed their permission to stay. Under the new rules, anyone caught on an expired visa could find themselves prevented from returning to the Kingdom for anything from 1 – 10 years, and in extreme cases could be barred from ever returning. The proposed new rules have yet to become law and for the time being the most likely punishment for overstaying a visa by 40 days or more is the mandatory 20,000 baht fine. It goes without saying that if you are on an overstay you should get it sorted out now before (or is that if?) the new law comes in to effect.
Why is it that some Americans in Thailand get ugly over Mexican food not to their taste, to the point of becoming abusive if their idea of what Mexican food should is not matched by what they are served? Contrast that with Brits in Thailand who I have never seen get similarly upset about Indian food in Thailand, even if they are served something which is not what they expected. I have heaps of American friends and find Americans to be far and away the most generous people I know, and most Americans are not that fussy when it comes to food. So why is it that their expectations of Mexican food turn some in to, I hate to say it – but it is the only word that seems appropriate – an asshole? Seriously, it seems with some Americans you could badmouth their mother or their wife and that would bother them less than if you served them Mexican food that was not to their taste or not their idea of what Mexican food should be! I'd love to hear from Americans about why this is so!
At this time of year for just about every year I can remember there are usually news reports and warnings that the height of the Chao Praya River is up, and that riverside communities are going to be inundated with water, that markets will be flooded and that business and commuters will be disrupted. This year there has not been so much as a peep about the level of the Chao Praya. Good management of the river and water supply or an awfully dry rainy season? Call me a cynic, but the latter methinks.
Many Thais are showing a greater interest in news reports concerning foreigners in their country. Incidents of national interest such as the brutal murder of the two backpackers in Ko Tao was big news for days. More news items which seldom made the Thai press in the past, such as the American English teacher from Udon Thani who made his way up to the 27th floor of the View Talay condo in Pattaya this week and jumped, are being reported in the Thai press and not just on English-language news websites. You might even hear about such events from your Thai other half or colleagues before they hit the expat grapevine. Quite a change and whether it's down to better reporting, a change in reporting policy or simply that the Thais are more interested in foreigners in the country, I don't know.
Ezra Jansen is a 31 year old South African male who went to Phuket in June of this year, and has not been heard from since. His family has contacted the authorities. If you have seen him or know him, please contact his loved ones using the details below.
Quote of the week, "Time heals lots of problems and the Thai attention spans seem to be fairly limited to opportunities immediately at hand."
Reader's story of the week comes from Woofer, "Beware The Ides of March".
A Brit excited at his first trip to Thailand is reunited with his money and passport after leaving it in a taxi.
One of the co-founders of Pirate Bay was arrested at the border with Laos in Nongkhai this week.
A French woman is attacked and robbed by 2 scoundrels near Khao San Road late at night who were caught soon after.
Over the border in Cambodia, foreigners without work permits are being fined by the authorities.
The Pattaya Flying Club got a new member this week when a 53-year old American jumped from the 27th floor of a Pattaya condo building after he had run out of money and did not want to go home.
An English woman savagely attacked on her first night in Thailand has her insurance claim refused back in the UK.
The dangers of visiting Thailand are highlighted from the author of the upcoming book, Thailand Deadly Destination.
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: A member of my family (my brother) is married to a Thai lady and has the prospect of being allocated a plot of land in Northern Thailand which will be registered in the name of his wife, passed down by her parents. It is the intention to use this land for home building for him and his family, but also to allocate a plot of land for my own home to be built on. The plan is for me to allocate funds to my brother in order for him to facilitate the building of his house and in return I would be allocated a plot of land to build my own home. The intent would be that the funds that I allocate to my brother would be deemed to cover the long-term lease of the land. Could you please advise if a concept along these lines is feasible, and /or what are the outline steps we would need to follow? Finally, can we assume that Sunbelt Legal would be able to assist in drafting up the necessary documents to make this arrangement legally binding should the plan come to fruition?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds:There are no restrictions on foreigners leasing property in Thailand so it is possible to have a long-term lease (or another type of servitude called a usufruct) on the property. For a long-term lease to be valid it must be registered on the title at the local Land Department office. Rental can be a single lump sum payment or in increments, depending on how you choose to draft the lease agreement.
The lease will bind you (as the lessee) and your sister-in-law (as the lessor). It would be at her discretion of how to utilize the funds received from leasing out part of her property, and whether she would use this to build her own house.
One thing to consider is how you would feel if their marriage were to end in divorce, not that theirs will but divorce does occur and before committing to such a major investment you should consider every eventuality.
You should also be aware that there are many different kinds of land titles and in some rural areas the land title issued by the government does not allow for construction of a home. It is also important to ensure that she is the owner of the land. It is best to bring a copy of the title to a qualified legal advisor to review and ensure that there are no other liens on the land and that it is eligible for a lease. You should also ensure that you draft a legal lease agreement before dispersing any money. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in drafting lease agreements and can assist you in ensuring that your lease serves your need.
Question 2: I am employed by a school in Bangkok, with a work permit and extension of stay. The school also gives us private health insurance, although it is minimal. I pay tax every month, and have done so for the 5 years I've worked there, but when I enquired about the social fund for getting government health care, I was told I couldn't. Have I been opted out of the social fund?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: If you work in a public school then most likely you are registered in a Teachers' Welfare program and not the Social Funds System. It is possible for a foreign teacher to be registered in the Social Funds System but you will need to discuss with your school what type of program they currently use.
These tattoos are at the mild end of the scale of what you see these days.
As more young people embrace tattoos, there are also more Westerners getting Thai tattoos, be it the traditional sak yant variety or phrases written in the Thai script. When I see the way some decorate their body these days, I wonder if they are competing to have the most extreme or most confrontational tattoo. Let me first say that I respect people's rights to do with and mark their body as they please. Your body, your choice. At the same time, let's also acknowledge that some tattoos often elicit a reaction – and in some cases the reaction may not be positive. It could be intimidation. It could be fear. It could even be disgust. It's all very well saying that tattoos are the fashion accessory of the modern citizen, but don't things go and in and out of fashion? Why do those with tattoos that could be considered extreme or confrontational often place them on parts of their body where it is difficult, impossible even, to conceal them. Modern tattoos (as distinct from traditional / Buddhist tattoos) are more popular in Thailand today than they once were, but not nearly as popular nor as accepted as they are in the West. I wonder how those with extreme / dramatic / confrontational tattoos are received by Thais. Some of the tattoos you see on customers in the expat bar areas go beyond merely being antisocial; some can cause you to question the person's mental state. But then just when you think you have seen it all, someone comes along with tats that are even more extreme.
Your Bangkok commentator,