Overdevelopment and high prices put paid to the love affair I'd once had with Phuket. After my last visit 3½ years ago I wasn't sure if I'd ever return. But Bangkok can be a stressful place and sometimes you need a break, a few days away. I wanted a break at the beach, just me, all alone. Hua Hin is pleasant enough but I didn't really fancy it. Pattaya I've visited too many times to mention and it's even more stressful than Bangkok. And Samui has zero appeal. That left Phuket. I'd give it one more chance.
Things didn't start well. I left blue skies and clear roads in the capital and arrived to the heaviest of monsoon downpours, an airport car park so full that the driver couldn't find a way out and when we finally did escape that maze, traffic was every bit as jammed as Bangkok at peak hour. I was having second thoughts about Phuket already.
The island's topography means that Phuket has microclimates. By the time we reached Patong Beach – via Kamala to avoid massive road works and traffic jams – the sky was blue, the roads were dry and, I would later learn, it had not rained at Phuket's most popular beach all day.
Phuket's busiest beach looked nothing like it did the last time I was there when it was over-run with beach chair umbrellas and rude operators. Looking postcard-perfect, the scene at Patong Beach has been wound back 25 years. Things were looking up!
Bronzed and lean, the beach boys are living the dream. Practicing English by day while renting out jet skis, they practice Japanese at night with female visitors who are drawn to them.
When asked if I wanted to hire a jet ski, I responded that it was too expensive. It was explained they are insured and that makes them expensive. The inference was that as they are insured, nothing could go wrong and anyone taking a jet ski for a spin is protected.
If you don't monitor the Phuket (or Pattaya) media, you mightn't be aware of the infamous jet ski scam. Upon returning the jet ski to the beach, the gang points out some pre-existing (usually superficial) damage and claims that the cost of getting it fixed is high. Further, as it will be out of commission for a period they will miss out on potential income – and they need to be compensated accordingly. A Phuket newspaper had published a story a few days earlier of how an Aussie had been ripped for 50,000 baht in this very scam.
Despite promises from the authorities that they are aware of what is going on, news reports suggest that little has changed.
As the sun drops below the horizon, the sky changes hue faster than an Indian tailor can say wanna-buy-a-suit.
It's last call for parasailing, with probably the most dramatic views of the day.
The centre of nightlife on Phuket is Patong's 350-metre long Bangla Road that becomes pedestrian-only after dark. The top of the road (away from the beach) is a mix of the odd bar, restaurants, shops and cafes. From about half way down it's mostly beer bars and beer bar complexes.
There's a lull on Bangla early evening but after 8:00 PM or so it picks up and is every bit as vibrant as Pattaya's Walking Street. Bangla Road is more upbeat and is largely without the seediness and desperation that mars Pattaya.
Phuket has long had the reputation of being the most expensive destination in Thailand but the island's nightlife isn't expensive and a night out will cost you less than in the capital.
While there are several gogo bars and a good few discos, the scene on Bangla is streetside bars and beer bars. A cold beer runs 100 – 150 odd baht. Lady drinks can be pricey so if you're price sensitive, check the menu first. In some beer bars a lady drink will set you back over 200 baht.
Dining out is no bargain if you don't know where to go with many restaurants charging a premium over downtown Bangkok prices. One modest restaurant nowhere near the beach had a sign advertising a pork chop with fries and vegetables at 545 baht. You'd pay 100 baht in a Thai-style restaurant in Bangkok and around 300 baht in a Sukhumvit Road British pub.
The outrageous prices once charged for hotel rooms in Patong are no longer as supply has caught up with demand. If you don't mind being a 10-minute walk to the beach you can get a decent room for less than 1,000 baht. If you want a great room just 90 seconds from Bangla Road in a well-managed, American-owned hotel which rates highly on TripAdvisor, head to Summer Breeze Hotel.
The days of Bangla Road full of single males making a beeline for Rock Hard A Gogo are the distant past. Today it's more couples, families and groups of friends there for the drink and the vibe, the working girls little more than a fun backdrop. To call Bangla Road a sex tourist destination would be like saying Bangkok is a poor city. What was true long ago is no longer the case today. Single males on Bangla seem more interested in beer or their smartphone.
A handful of sois run off Bangla Road, some with 50 or more beer bars. Soi Sea Dragon is one such soi, a large covered complex with a lane of beer bars and several gogo bars.
Patong's beer bars are far and away the best in Thailand, the benchmark by which all other beer bars should be measured. They are the best done out, the most comfortable and have the most attractive maidens.
The attitudes in Patong's bars are so much better than you find up north. Bar staff are friendly for the most part and you aren't sneered at if you decline an invitation in to a bar or refuse a lady drink request. It's all much more laid-back.
Point a camera at girls outside a bar in Pattaya and they start flapping their arms like they want to fly away. It's supposed to be an area for tourists but visitors aren't always treated nicely. Point a camera at ladies outside a bar in Phuket's Bangla Road and they pose, smile and some even politely ask whether you can email them a copy of the photos if they give you their email address. Everyone on Bangla knows who's paying their salary and tourists are embraced and treated how visitors should be. Patong was full of nice surprises.
In Pattaya the beer bars have become synonymous with less attractive ladies. Not so in Patong. Pretty ladies dance in the beer bars, many of which have chrome poles.
The percentage of girls hailing from Isaan isn't nearly as high as it is in the capital or Sin City. There are more southern girls and whether this has anything to do with the better attitudes would be pure speculation.
The street front bars do a roaring trade – they have to with rents that wouldn't be out of place in Soi Nana.
The beer bar complexes of Bangla Road are large with bar after bar after bar. The bars at the back of complexes see far fewer visitors as girls sit around, waiting for customers, in many cases pretty girls who look hungry.
My impression was that there was much less playing around on mobile phones. And not once did I see the sort of contempt some bar staff show for customers that has become increasingly common in the worst run bars in Bangkok.
But they're not all ladies on Bangla. If the concentration of visitors is anything to go by, the ladyboy performers on what is nicknamed Soi Katoey are the highlight of Bangla Road.
The ladyboy troop comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, some so feminine that it would be easy to be fooled, some so masculine they wouldn't look out of place on a rugby field.
Up and down Bangla Road, visitors have their mobile phones out taking shot after shot. There are almost no issues taking photos although when the ladyboys dress up in their fabulous cabaret outfits they expect to be paid to have a photo taken with them. Bangkok and to a lesser extent, Walking Street, could really learn from this.
There does rather seem to be a live and let live attitude in Phuket that is so refreshing compared to the stuffiness of Bangkok.
Ladies or ladyboys? Honestly, I just don't know. Either way, they look nice enough.
Phuket used to be dominated by Scandinavians with Nordic flags and slogans in many of the bars.
Nowadays there seems to be more Aussies, helped no doubt by direct flights to the island from various cities in Australia. And Russians, like all of the major beaches and islands in Thailand there are heaps of Russians.
Single male visitors to Pattaya are usually there for the women. Single male visitors in Phuket are more likely to be there for the beer.
Russian girls wander around with placards promoting strip shows. In Bangkok they wouldn't last 5 minutes but at Patong there seems to be a greater appreciation of what tourists want to see and a desire to satisfy them.
Signs in Russian are everywhere and many businesses have brochures, menus and advertising paraphernalia in that language. With that said, the Russian strip shows seem to be targeted towards Westerners and Asian visitors, not Russians.
Comparisons between Patong, Pattaya and Bangkok's entertainment areas are inevitable.
If you find the attitudes in many Bangkok bars have soured and you perhaps don't enjoy it as much as you once did, or you find Pattaya just that little bit too one-dimensional, consider taking a trip to Patong. The epicentre of Phuket's party zone has a more upbeat vibe yet remains laid-back.
Patong is more diverse and more cosmopolitan than ever. It features more entertainment and there is less emphasis on and less interest in the sale of sex. Bangla is more about drinking and entertainment whereas you'd have to say that Walking Street still feels like it's more about sex.
Whether it's Patong Beach that has changed or whether it's me, I don't know. It's hard to be objective when trying to understand why your personal viewpoint has changed so much.
After my last visit to Phuket some 3½ years ago I wondered if I would ever return. This most recent visit reminded me why the island once appealed as a place to live. I'm glad I gave Phuket another chance.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken inside the Robin Hood pub which is at the corner of Sukhumvit soi 33/1. Not a single reader got it right which is amazing given that it's probably both the best and the busiest British pub in Bangkok.
FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.
EMAIL OF THE WEEK – There is hope.
I am heartened by recent developments in the Ko Tao case. For a change, a real credit to the wild-card social media factors in play. Those Scotland Yard boys look like no-BS coppers. This and recent conflagrations involving Thailand and "the outside" (AEC, Milan, UK media) may portend a sea-change in this state's evolution and for the truth that everybody knows rather than the hierarchy that routinely assuages everybody's active conscience. I am optimistic.
It's ironic that people are photo sensitive in this age of iPhones and selfies taken at any place and any time and instantly uploaded to Facebook.
Identity theft concern.
The issue of photos / identity theft is going to get worse. I try to dodge ALL photo ops. I use an ancient, Photoshopped version of my face on my work blog, yet nowadays you meet people for lunch and out come the mobile phones. We must have a bleary, badly exposed pic to slap on Facebook.
The future of the bars?
There were a lot of comments last week about the death of the bar scene. I don't believe it. Things rarely die, they evolve. Darwin had it right. I don't see the Bangkok bar scene ever dying 100% but I do see it changing with the times. How might it evolve?
1- As we see more Chinese tourists we might see more karaoke and girls working there rather than dancing.
2- More escort services as cell phones proliferate. Why dance for 6 hours and get nothing except aching feet when you can watch TV and wait for a phone call or email?
3- More bars like in Phnom Penh where the girls wear t-shirts and blue jeans and chat you up rather than dance.
4- More tourists / couples such as in Phuket. More foreign women drinking in the bars.
5- More specialty bars catering to a specific need.
I have no idea what will actually happen. What I do know is that for millennium men have been ready to pay for sex, and I don't see that stopping anytime soon.
Correlation between height and cup size?
My friend girl from Lighthouse and her friend ex-mamasan from both it and Shark Bar assure me that the Shark Bar girls are graded on height, not cup size. This raises the obvious question as to whether there is a correlation between the height of Thai girls and their cup size!
Multiple visits, no visa, no hassles!
I thought I'd give you an update on my recent experiences with Immigration. After the interrogation about having quite a few 30-day stamps in my passport, it has been fine. I've come to Bangkok 5 times in the last 2 months with no visa and no questions asked, not a single word from anyone at Immigration. Maybe the drop in tourism $$$ has changed things? Every story I've heard about people being turned away was because that person either did something stupid (like asking about overstays before his passport was even stamped) or because they turned up with a passport stuffed with 3 years of back to back 30 day stamps and Cambodian visas from the 2 hours a month they spent in Poi Pet!
Taxi wait at Don Meuang.
At Don Meuang Airport, arriving after 5 PM the place was a bit busy to say the least. I went to the taxi queue and the line was backed way up in to the terminal. None of the serpentine lanes were open. It looked like it would take well over an hour to get a taxi. I went upstairs to catch an incoming taxi. The first one wanted 300 baht and would not turn on the meter. I got out and caught another and he took me for the 131 baht fare. Traffic was absolutely horrible on Chang Wattana both getting to it and on it. It took a long time to get to my condo in Meuang Tong Thani. I gave older taxi driver 100 baht tip for all of his trouble with my thanks.
Invasion of the Filipino ladyboys.
You made a comment about the freedom of labour when the new ASEAN rules come into place. I spend a lot of time in Thailand and enjoy the carnal delights it has to offer. I dabble in ladyboys. I have noticed a large increase of ladyboys coming from the Philippines looking to ply their trade. Some, not many, actually work in bars. This is a rather new development. I have wondered how long it would be until foreign girls and bar owners got a visit from the authorities. I spent some time with one girl from the Philippines who has enjoyed some popularity. She was working in a ladyboy bar in Bangkok. Take a wild guess what happened when punters came to the bar looking for her? Guess what happened when she enjoyed popularity? Yep, that green-eyed monster known as envy didn't take long to make an appearance. Needless to say she doesn't work in that bar anymore. The Thais don't like any form of competition on their own patch. It's an admittedly small sample but I find the Filipina ladyboys hotter than their Thai counterparts!
Nina, escort, exclusive to PureBangkokEscorts
Nina is 23 years old, and 167 cm tall.
Halloween parties took place up and down Sukhumvit this past week and with Loy Kratong next week, these two events mark the turning of the tide, the period when visitor numbers to Thailand traditionally start to accelerate as high season approaches. To say high season cannot come soon enough for many bar and other business owners is the understatement of the year.
Big Andy of Club Electric Blue will celebrate his birthday Saturday after next, November 15th. Andy has long been a popular figure in Bangkok bar circles so drop by on the 15th and wish him all the best.
In Soi Cowboy, The Arab has always marched to the beat of his own drum, done his own thing and refused to be influenced by others. One of the most obvious points of difference is the opening time for a number of his bars which open much later than pretty much all other venues. Some of The Arab's bars open so late that you wonder if the bar has in fact been ordered closed with neon in the likes of Midnite not turned on until around 9 PM or so. That gives those of his bars which open late just 5 hours to make money. Does he even care about making money?
Reports from Pattaya are consistent – it's been a quiet month as big name bars report numbers declining to the point that some bar bosses have told me privately that they want out of the industry. From one bar owner comes word that the number of customers visiting the bar is actually up, but the average spend per customer is down. Are customers more price sensitive these days? On a similar note, I have to admit that when a Bangkok bar boss recently told me what the average spend per customer on drinks was I was floored – the number was MUCH lower than I thought it would be.
In last week's column it was mentioned that What's Up in Pattaya had plans to open a second floor but that appears to be on hold. No reason has been given but a decent guess would be that it has been such a bad year that many bar bosses have lost confidence in the future and as such renovations and expansion plans have been put off.
And rumour has it that Babydolls in Pattaya was to increase prices from yesterday. I haven't stuck my head in for some time but Babydolls is consistently voted amongst the best bars of its genre so if anyone can afford to increase prices, I guess they can.
Still in Sin City, the newest gogo bar, Palace, has opened, and the old beer bar on the corner of Soi Happy is also being converted into a chrome pole bar.
From Pattaya's Soi LK Metro, the original manager who took Champagne to the next level fell out with the boss, moved to Showgirls and has since gone full circle and is now back where it all started! He is running Club Malibu A Gogo which is from the same team behind Champagne and Kilkenny's and is located right next door to Champagne, in what was previously Bulldog Bar. There is a walkway between the two bars at the back. Malibu has draft beer at 75 baht during happy hour from 6 – 8 PM. They have implemented some of the Champagne gogo shows with the showgirls starting in Champagne at 9:00 PM before moving over to Malibu around 9:30. The music is slightly different in Club Malibu to give it a different feel. I am told there is a cracking line up now and the shows are worth checking out.
Spicy A Gogo on Walking Street will reopen on November 23rd when its 30-day closure order expires. It was issued after security staff assaulted some Kuwaiti customers.
City bicycle tours are like taxis – ideal in expensive cites but not really necessary in a city where public transport options are ubiquitous and cheap. In Bangkok bicycle tours strike me as being quaint but I wonder how well suited they are to Bangkok given the state of the traffic, the lack of respect for road rules, the heat and the pollution. But with that said they are popular and there are various locales around the city where you can see bicycle tour groups earnestly pedaling by. I guess it was only a matter of time before they expanded to take in the nightlife and the Nana area is now on the list of places bicycle tours visit, at night. They stop for a breather in the Nana Hotel car park where this week one group seemed to be having quite a laugh at the scene before them. At the same time, those in the beer bars looking across at them were having a laugh at their expense too! Fancy pedaling through Bangkok early evening in the rainy season when you could be sat at the railings at Stumble Inn enjoying 80 baht beers. I know where I'd rather be!
In last week's column I mentioned the recently installed super large and super bright video screen at the Asoke intersection. Apparently an even bigger screen is going up on the giant Mahanakorn Building, next to the Chongnonsee BTS station. At this rate will Bangkok soon resemble Tokyo?
Speaking of Tokyo, I read that on the Tokyo Metro mobile phones must be set to silent. Oh, how the Thais could learn from that.
Crossbar on Sukhumvit soi 23 has introduced a new menu with a number of new food items added. There's also a weekday daily special food item. Chili Monday features Chili Con Carne with a choice of rice or chips. Brunch Tuesday is sausage, eggs, beans and chips. Wagyu Wednesday is a 160-gram Wagyu burger with chips and coleslaw. Indian Thursday is chicken curry with rice, 2 poppadum and naan bread and finally it's Pie Day Friday where you can select any pie with chips and peas. The daily special item is priced at a reasonable 240 baht, and is available all day. Crossbar also has a 3-hour happy hour from 4 PM – 7 PM.
Is popular steakhouse El Gaucho – which has to be the city's most popular steakhouse now – moving from soi 19 to soi 11, or is a second branch opening in soi 11? I have heard both versions and don't know which rumour is true.
If you don't wish to join the taxi queue at the airport, you can still grab a taxi at departures which has just dropped passengers off, at the top level. A little athleticism may be necessary to leap the barriers which have been installed to stop precisely this from happening. This is one occasion where security guards live up to the land of smiles nickname and don't do anything to prevent you from grabbing a cab, other than grinning!
Are real estate agents the new English teachers? There are a heap of foreigners new to the city trying their hand at real estate – and Remax seems to be mentioned all the time.
Many foreigners working in Thailand don't get legal for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons cited is that they feel they don't get a return on all of the compliance costs and hassles of getting legal. There are in fact some advantages that should not be overlooked. Once you're in the system with a work permit you are required to contribute to the social fund. By doing that you are then eligible for free treatment at a designated local government hospital. While this might not appeal – you might have your own medical insurance or you simply might prefer to seek treatment at a private hospital – consider the case of a friend of mine living up north. He has lived and worked in Thailand legally for several years and he is in the system, so to speak. He has been in poor health for some time and this week he underwent a quadruple bypass at the recently built heart centre at a government hospital in provincial Thailand. His health was so poor that the doctors warned him that he might not make it through the operation. He went under the knife with a team of Western-trained surgeons operating on him in a modern heart centre, and fortunately he made it through the operation ok. The cost to him of getting a quadruple bypass at this modern heart facility? Not a single satang. It was totally free! There are advantages to being legal!
Before mobiles were common in Thailand (and they certainly were not when I first moved here), how did those of you who were here then cope dating Thai women? Thais are known for their tardiness and ladies turning up an hour late or more to a date is not that unusual. Were local women so tardy back then? Of course the crazy thing is that even when everyone has a mobile phone they will seldom let you know if they are running late!
If you think things have got tougher here for the average foreigner here in the last year or 2, you would not be alone. The other half said to me this week that she says it is more apparent than ever that more and more foreigners – and she meant Westerners – are often treated the same way as the poor in Thailand. She believes this is because they don't know their rights nor do they have the connections to help them if they should fall in to a difficult situation. The advantage with picking on foreigners, she says, is that as opposed to the average poor Thai, Westerners in Thailand have money. This came from the mouth of a Thai without any discussion prompting from me whatsoever.
Quote of the week, "Whilst Thailand may be changing, attitudes towards it have not and those with the most disagreeable views about the country are those who have never been there."
Reader's story of the week comes from a Thai lady, "Dating and Relationships – An Average Thai Girl's View".
A public relations guru says that Thailand's sliding reputation is costing much
more than just tourism dollars.
There is much cynicism about how effective proposed changes to Thailand's education system will be.
Business is so bad in Pattaya that one bargirl turned to selling drugs to supplement her income.
All-night parties will soon be outlawed in some of the country's most popular holiday islands.
From the New York Times, the dog meat trade in Thailand is under pressure and may be banned.
Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: I hold a British passport and have homes in various countries. I want to make a regular monthly payment to a Thai national living in Thailand and I want to make the payments out of my Thai bank account with Krungsri in which I have adequate baht. It is a bank account in joint names.
For the last 50 years of banking in Britain, I have set up a standing order when I have wanted to do the same thing. Like many other people I have had countless standing orders on my accounts and throughout my life I had assumed this is fundamental to any efficient banking system.
I was astonished when Krungsri told me it is not possible in Thailand to set up a standing order out of any joint account and I cannot even set up a standing order from an account in my sole name unless I use Internet banking.
For certain reasons I have to use the money in this joint account. Both the other account-holder and I want to go to the bank and set up this standing order.
I have two questions:
1. What can we do to set up this regular payment using the money in this joint account?
2. We can transfer this money to a joint account with a different bank. Could we set up a standing order elsewhere? The banks we have been to have amazed us by saying they cannot do it so we hope you could make some suggestions.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Different banks offer different services. If the bank you are with doesn't offer the service you want then it's best to check around to find one that does. If your current bank does not offer it then you will need to switch banks. After a short preliminary search we found that Bangkok Bank does offer this service. You can check the websites of the varying banks to find another one that may also offer this service.
As for the standing order, as it's a joint account the co-owner may be required to complete the process of setting up a standing order.
Question 2: I have been thinking about the feasibility of a legal document like a pre-nuptial agreement but for girlfriend / boyfriend. The agreement could include provisions like any money given cannot be considered an ongoing stipend; when asked to vacate the condo / apartment / house the woman must do so within 24 hours and is financially liable for damage; if told not to, talking with the employer / co-workers / whomever else is specified will be considered slander / libel; upon breakup any jointly owned items will be split up in proportion to the contribution of each party; etc. Would such a document provide legal support? The big question is whether your new Thai girlfriend would ever sign such a document. But maybe if you steel yourself and accept that asking her to sign may break up the relationship then and there, you might find someone who understands enough about farang culture and is independent enough to sign. Either that or when things go south she'll just kill you. However, I think the pre-nup would be primarily useful for the less reckless farang who is willing to hold out for the right lady. There's not much hope to teach the reckless. They need to learn by experience.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds:Since this is a non-formal relationship there would be no “alimony” due but please be reminded that assets acquired during the relationship may be claimed for half ownership on the basis of a life partner. However, life partner status would depend on several things including introducing your partner as your spouse, a non-legal ceremony etc. Assets owned before the relationship would be considered as each party's assets, and only what was acquired after the relationship started. Assets that were converted or upgraded from your personal assets owned prior to the relationship i.e. you sold stocks to purchase car would also be considered your own personal asset.
As for having her move out as the result of a separation, this would depend on who owns the property or holds the lease.
You cannot stipulate that she is not permitted to discuss the separation with anyone. However, if she worked to destroy your reputation you may have grounds for a defamation case.
With the end of the rainy season hopefully just a week or so away, a couple of bar bosses have not been shy to point out that it was about this time last year when I predicted a bumper coming high season. The tail end of last year's low season had been good but when the political shenanigans kicked off again any hopes of a stellar high season were killed. What about the coming high season? There are arguments as to why it will be a good one (many people have put off trips and are anxious to visit), just as there are similarly decent arguments it will be another disappointment (martial law lingers, the country's reputation has taken a hit and economic recovery in the West remains slow). What do you think?
Your Bangkok commentator,