There was an uproar last week about the soon to be published book titled, “Thailand: Deadly Destination” which claimed Thailand is the world's most dangerous destination. No-one need have got their knickers in a twist because no sane person believes that ridiculous comment. What is a concern, however, is what happens to foreigners who do experience a problem in Thailand. Some who have been in that situation report that you can find yourself very much on your own.
The many ways in which foreigners come a cropper in Thailand reads like a list of horror movie plots. You have those things which can just as easily happen elsewhere like road accidents, or theft of your belongings from a hotel room or condo. And then you have that seemingly ever-growing list of things which are more likely to happen to you in Thailand than elsewhere like being mugged by a ladyboy or being told by Jet ski hire operators that the Jet ski you hired has been damaged, when it hasn't.
When the proverbial hits the fan, it's time to call Thailand's finest. Thailand has a 3-digit emergency number but don't expect the cavalry to break any records getting there. If you require urgent assistance in an emergency, posting a plea for help to Facebook might be more effective.
The Police have various branches but who should you call when assistance is needed? The emergency number? The local police station? The Crime Suppression Department? The Tourist Police? It's all rather confusing. Thais say the best thing to do is to visit the local police station in person. That's all very well if you wish to report something that has already happened, but what if the boogeyman is pounding at your door? You're on your own, farang!
In fairness to the police and response times which might not be what you expect, they are underpaid, under-resourced and expecting the same speed of response and level of service you might be used to at home is asking a bit much. With the local cops it seems to be a case of all or nothing. A minor crime can see a no-show; a serious incident or crime and half the station turns up.
Minor issues on the home front can often be resolved by calling building or compound security. But if it's late at night, good luck rousing him from his slumber. And if you do get hold of him, hope he is sober! (Which begs the question of why so many foreign residents buy beer for the security guards, yet expect him to be there when help is needed.)
In my last residence I witnessed a few altercations between Western residents and their live-in girlfriend. In one incident a guy ran out of the lift in to the lobby, yelling at the head of security that his girlfriend was going crazy in the condo and destroying property. The security guard says to the guy that she's probably high on ya ba, and then gets on the walkie talkie and says to his colleagues that it's time for a break! In another incident, a couple were rolling around fighting on the floor of the lobby as the security guard averted his eyes and looked the other way.
Security guards in Thailand should be congratulated for the smartness of their presentation, the crispness of their salutes and their warm and welcoming smiles. Preventing outsiders from entering the building and dealing with any general security issues seems not to be part of the job description. Many are consummate professionals….professional doorman, that is. Security guards they are not, at least not by many people's definition.
Thailand's annual road toll of 26,000+ is dominated by accidents involving motorbikes – around 75% of those killed were on two-wheeled vehicles. Foreigners are well aware of the danger of being on a motorbike in Thailand…but many aren't deterred.
A friend had an accident while on a motorbike taxi on Thonglor recently. The rider veered in front of oncoming traffic, hit a car and my pal was sent head over heels and face planted the road. His injuries required multiple hospital visits. He's frank about who is at fault: the motorbike taxi rider for performing such a dangerous manoevure and himself for getting on the motorbike in the first place. He knew the dangers. Never again.
If you are involved an accident in Thailand and end up in a state in which perhaps you're not conscious and / or unable to communicate, you lose control over what happens to you and become dependent on others.
While Thailand has ambulances, it doesn't have general ambulance services and most ambulances need to be ordered from a hospital. In the case of accidents or emergencies, often it is rescue services who are first on the scene. Rescue services are charitable organisations manned by volunteers who do their very best, but who do not have the same level of training nor anything like the resources that emergency first responders have in more developed countries. In the case of minor injuries or accidents these guys are great, but in more serious cases there is cause for concern. Under-resourced and under-trained, the injured are plugged up, bandaged up, hauled in to the back of a pickup truck and raced to the nearest hospital with an open emergency department.
And when you get to the hospital, it can be a lottery. For many foreign residents the jury is still out on hospital care in Thailand. Some Westerners swear by medical care in Thailand, claiming private hospitals in Bangkok are every bit is as good as hospitals in the West. Others are less enthusiastic.
Another concern for foreigners in Thailand is the great unknown of being caught up in the legal system. How do you find quality legal representation in a country where many lawyers don't specialise in one area of the law, but cover it all? And while lawyers are professionals, unlike other professionals – such as doctors – English may not be a strength.
The experience of a friend who had been in trouble in Thailand and wished to return to the country typifies what can go wrong when legal help is sought. While back in Farangland, a lawyer was recommended to him. He contacted the fellow and explained that he wanted to check and see if there were any charges pending against him. Specifically he wanted to know if he would have any problems at the airport upon flying back in to the country and whether there would be a welcoming party. He was quoted 18,000 baht for this info and the money was duly sent. A few days later he received an email that said that overstay in Thailand is charged at 500 baht, the maximum fine is 20,000 baht – but he needn't worry as he was not currently on overstay. The lawyer had completely misunderstood what he wanted and provided him with useless info. 18,000 baht down the drain!
There have been a worrying number of cases where foreigners have said that they felt like their lawyer was keeping a case going to milk them for more and more money. Some foreigners report paying hundreds of thousands of baht without so much as an itemised bill.
The best lawyers in Bangkok charge similar rates to lawyers in the West. Conventional wisdom has it that if you get in to trouble in Thailand you get the very best lawyer you can. Go for one of the big name firms.
Being caught up in the country's legal system can feel like being stuck in a maze that even the best lawyers don't know the way out of.
The last line of defence for foreigners in trouble in Thailand may, or may not, be your embassy. Just like antibiotics, they may be able to fix a problem but they shouldn't be relied upon because they might not be effective.
Some embassies don't have a great reputation, but then when you look at the nonsense some of their citizens get up to and the shit they must have to deal with day after day after day, is it any surprise? You are NOT the responsibility of your embassy and those who badmouth their country's reps in Thailand are often those who failed to have a plan B and ended up in a mess through their own doing.
There are many things you can do – all of which are just plain commonsense – to avoid getting in to a bad situation in Thailand in the first place.
Don't take unnecessary risks. Motorbike taxis, for example, might be convenient, but there is an inherent danger.
Small problems can become big problems in Thailand. Nip them in the bud early.
Have backup plans for everything, from a financial buffer to the number of your preferred hospital in your phone and in your wallet.
Have health insurance or be in a position to self-insure i.e. have cash readily available. A friend was refused treatment by a private hospital until he could come up with 400,000 baht, the request was made while he was having a heart attack! And yeah, they wanted cash – a bank book with proof of funds was NOT enough.
Maintain good relations with locals. If you have managed to nurture good relationships with Thais of standing or influence, they may be willing to help you if you find yourself in bother, difficulty or even in trouble. Thais are predisposed to helping foreigners in need in their country, especially if you are the victim.
In general, Thais won't jump in to assist the injured at the scene of a road accident, or intervene in a street fight (even if it is a guy beating on a girl) but they will help someone who is distressed, is the victim of a crime or requires general assistance.
Thailand is not a dangerous destination; the big concern is what happens if you come a cropper, are a victim of crime, are involved in an accident or you just happen to find yourself in trouble. If you're unlucky you can find yourself very much on your own.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of a recently renovated site on Khao San Road and what was previously the Tom Yum Goong restaurant. No-one got last week's photograph right!
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 – What happened to respect?
Went out last night to a Thai disco with my girlfriend and 3 of her university friends. None of the girls were bargirls (one married to a rich Chinese, she showed up in a late model Merc; another works in Singapore with her husband; the third is a Marketing Manager at a MNC). We decided to go and eat on Sukhumvit before going out. All four girls were made up, dressed to the nines and looking sensational. We got out of the taxi and hadn't walked 2 metres in front of Pacific Place when a young Westerner came up to us, grabbed one girl around the waist and said "How much to spend the night?" The girl, shocked, immediately burst into tears while, before I could react, another girl shouted in English. "We are not hookers! Go away!" They say "All that glitters is not gold." I say "Not all Thai girls are prostitutes. Be respectful."
Exodus of the shineables!
One of the downsides I've found of having a proper job in Bangkok nowadays and hanging out in a naughty area is that there aren't many people on soi 4 that wear "shineable" footwear these days. Visa crackdowns and whatnot. That's made me a prime target of that pesky, spiky-haired Cambodian shoeshine guy. To his credit, he's extremely well-natured and takes rejection (daily) extremely well. He should get a job in sales. Better than 90% of the chumps you encounter here!
Alcohol, the relationship killer.
I feel like you've left out one of the major reasons why so many Farang-Thai marriages / relationships don't work out…alcohol! The way I see it, a large majority of farangs living in Thailand are alcoholics and that has to be a factor not only in why farang men stumble into marriage with women they've known for a week, but why they have marital problems that often end in divorce. Alcohol makes people unpredictable, irrational and thoughtless of other's needs. A guy who is always loaded is far more likely to let his lower brain rule since the big brain isn't operating on full capacity and that always ends in trouble. I'm sure the divorce rate among couples where one or both are alcoholics is much higher than the average, regardless of where you are in the world.
I think culture and money are the big stumbling blocks for a lasting relationship. Regarding money, my approach is to stay in profit. This means if there is a demand for sin sot, a car, a house or whatever, just open a bank account for the girl and make a calculation how much her company is worth for you a month (ok, not very romantic) and put that amount each month in to the account. Then tell the girl from this account you will pay for the sin sot, house, car etc but if she takes money out of the account it will take longer. So if things go wrong, the girl still has the money in the account, but you only paid what you think her time with you was worth it.
Does she always have to win?
I saw myself and my ex-Thai wife in many of your comments. In a successful marriage compromise is essential, yet to a Thai, compromise is not in their culture. It seems the Thai goal is to win. Trying to solve a problem with my Thai wife (who spoke perfect English) was like trying to grab air. When threats and violence enter the picture then game over. Perhaps in the Thai culture threats and husband / wife violence is normal, but in my life it is not.
The great East-West divide.
There is a gaping, grand canyon between Thai and Western cultures. The emotional coldness of Thai women is something I could not understand. Yes, they express love all the time and then, in the same breath, talk about a new 55-inch TV. Reading this it sounds like I was 'dating' working girls but, no they were hotel managers, office workers. To guys thinking about going down this path, you can expect the following demands fairly early in the relationship; new furniture, a car (for her folks), 30,000 baht every few months, a Scoopy (scooter) for her little sister, a credit card in her name linked to your account. And a basic dowry is 1 million baht. The issue of building a house will come up a bit later. But be warned: the financial demands will never end. I gave up and cut my losses.
I don't know if Thais understand the concept of quality service. We used a food ordering service a few weeks ago ordered a dish called the "Hot plate special, a special Tandoori mix of all your favorite veggies". My wife is a vegetarian. The dish comes and it's ALL meat. I called to complain and I'm told by the ordering service that there is a meat version of the 'hot plate special' which is all meat. Well, I had given them the specific order code so it wasn't my fault, either the menu is wrong or they handled the menu wrong. I give them shit, ask them what they are going to do about it. They blame it on the restaurant and say there is nothing they can do about it. In the west they would apologise and bring you a 2nd dish. Worst case they give you a credit for the next time you order. Here they do zero. I've been to Thailand quite a few times and have always enjoyed it. But this time, staying longer, we are seeing a lot of little things. And we wonder "are these things we never noticed in the past?" or "has Thailand changed?"
I just had a really weird experience. A service girl at a pub I frequent just came up to me and gave me 100 baht, saying that she gave me the wrong change 2 days ago! I have to admit to being a bloke that doesn't bother checking checkbins or change as it's really all only pocket change in the greater scheme! But, I can say I was somewhat shocked given it was in my usual socialising (i.e. naughty boy) area. Although, I can honestly say that, at least where I live, I still find Thais to be a pretty honest bunch. I think it's the viewpoints of travellers here that only experience all the tourist rip-offs that skew the picture.
Mistrust of local healthcare.
Regarding your email of the week last week, Thai hospitals can't be trusted. Money, rather than the well-being of the patient, seems to be the motivating force. Three examples: a friend fell down the stairs and was told he had a broken hip and a 100,000 op was needed. When he said he didn't have that kind of money the break miraculously disappeared and it was found to be a sprain. Another friend was feeling in need of some TLC and went to a hospital claiming he had hurt his neck in an accident. He hadn't. Not only did the hospital agree he was injured but they produced an x-ray to prove it and said he needed to stay at the hospital for two nights for observation! And I visited a dentist who said I needed three teeth extracted, I deferred and never had any trouble in the future.
Girl of the week
Ashley, escort exclusive with, ThaiEscortsBangkok.com
22 years old, from Buriram, Ashley is a little pocket rocket and the
photos of her in a bikini on the ThaiEscortsBangkok website are sensational!
A large group of police gathered in Nana Plaza on Friday night with many photos taken and the largest group of uniformed officers assembled in the plaza for some time. It seemed to be very much for show and there was no word of a crackdown, piss-testing or anything like that. Thai TV was present so if you were in the plaza on Friday night maybe you might appear in the background in TV reports.
A game of cat and mouse is being played at Cowboy with a crackdown on uncovered cracks. Soi Cowboy bar bosses have been on edge as mamasans' orders change by the hour between garments on and garments off as intelligence reaches them via the gossip-heavy and notoriously unreliable grapevine that the authorities may or may not be on their way. Bar bosses are paranoid at this time of year of drawing unwanted attention to their operation – an infraction could see them face a 30 or even 60-day closure, an unprecedented disaster in high season as bar takes soar.
A huge banner hangs from the top floor of Nana Plaza promoting new gogo bar Jail Birdz which is currently under construction. Peeking inside it's clear that the Bangkok's newest gaol is still some time away from opening. With the high season here and many venues reporting trade is up sharply, the investor behind Jail Birdz ought to prepare the new bar for the inmates playmates.
The dreadful pennant flags that were fluttering in the breeze at the entrance to Nana Plaza didn't last long and have been removed, thank goodness.
But the pennant flag disease has spread to Patpong and lines of the pointless triangles are mounted on the chrome pole bar's ceiling. Why are these stupid things making a comeback?
A magician had set up a table and was performing magic tricks in the main entrance area just inside Nana Plaza this week. Girls from the bars really got in to it; customers did not – and some seemed miffed that the girls showed more interest in the magician than in them!
The next Nanapong dance contest will take place next Sunday, November 30th, at the recently renovated Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy where girls from the host bar will dance off against 5 of Big Andy's sexy dancers from Club Electric Blue. If the last few dance contests were anything to go by, get there early to get a good seat.
In last week's column I mentioned that Wild Thing in Nana Plaza had changed hands and that it will be closed for renovations, after which it will reopen as the renamed and rethemed Bubbles with a bubble machine installed. Word from another bar boss says that bubble machines are the bane of a bar. Upon hitting terra firma the bubbles burst and make the floor of the bar slippery. That mightn't sound so bad….but when bargoers start slipping over and ending up on their ass – and many punters aren't young men – that can be serious. Said bar boss laughed and said that if I wanted anyone offed to send them to his bar with advance notice and he will turn the bubble machine on. Maybe the new owners of Bubbles have a sideline business lined up?!
There are bars with a greater number of girls, bars with prettier girls, bars with better music and bars with a more fun vibe and keener pricing, but the overall package offered by Shark Bar – one of the first bars to open on Soi Cowboy each night – with a good happy hour (when most drinks are just 70 baht) and a full crew on board, heaps of pretty & friendly dancers, and being coyote-free (something I pick to become important to punters in 2015) makes Shark stand out from the crowd, in my humble opinion. If I had to spend a whole night in a gogo bar, Shark in Soi Cowboy is for me probably the best bar of its genre at this time.
Some really lovely ladies are dancing at The Strip and are part of the reason for the bar turning around. Thankfully they also don't seem to play music at ear-splitting level any more, either. The Strip in Patpong soi 2 is worth another look.
A couple of the current lineup at The Strip, Patpong soi 2.
One foreign bar boss excitedly told me that he has a new mamasan starting on December 1st who has promised to bring 15 girls from her village, none of whom have any industry experience. The days of mamasans turning up with a troop of new girls is something I thought was long gone.
Why is there such a large mirror in the cubicle in the men's room in the Dollhouse? For that matter, why is the cubicle so big? Is taking a dump not the only thing that happens in there…?!
If Shark is the plastic surgery clinic, Dollhouse is valley au natural! The difference in girls between these two bars is incredible. In Shark, it seems half the girls have customised headlights.
Christmas trees started going up in downtown shopping centres last weekend, and Xmas trees and other Christmas paraphernalia has also started going up in restaurants and bars. Expect to see Christmas decorations in Bangkok through until the next major festival the Thais embrace, Valentine's Day. (And if they weren't in to Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year was cancelled, we'd probably have Christmas trees until Songkran, in April!)
I spend less time on Sukhumvit at night these days. When I do I see more police stopping foreigners and checking their person than ever. Out with the other half a few nights ago on Sukhumvit, just east of the Asoke intersection we walked past 2 policemen who had parked up their motorbike and were standing at the mouth of a soi. As we walked past, they flashed their torches in our faces, grunted, waved the torches over us and said nothing. It was, it has to be said, kind of creepy. Then, as we walked down the soi, perhaps a minute or two later, the two coppers zoomed past us on their bike. A couple of hundred metres further down the soi, around a bend, we came upon them again. They had stopped two guys with English accents and were going through their wallets, pockets – and one copper was checking one guy's mobile phone. These two English guys were reasonably dressed and respectable looking, which legend always had it made you invisible to the local constabulary. Clearly that's no longer the case and the cops in and around the Asoke intersection (always to the east of it, it should be pointed out) seem more vigilant than ever stopping and checking foreigners in the area.
So you're on Sukhumvit often and you don't get stopped nor even see the coppers, right? More than a few readers have said that in email. I wish I was imagining it, I really do, but I am not. This week I bumped in to one of Bangkok's best known foreign authors and noted a lanyard around his neck which struck me as strange as he is not in anyone's employ, to the best of my knowledge. When my eyes focused I saw the card was actually a laminated copy of his passport, prepared for the frequency of his interactions with the local constabulary on Sukhumvit around the Asoke area!
Ever wondered about all the CCTV cameras in the bar areas – and specifically whether they are hooked up and actually recording, or are dummies? Following on from the discovery of the dismembered body of a female in a suitcase in Kanchanaburi province, the boys in brown were able to identify the remains as a lady from Si Saket who had been reported missing by her family. They traced her last known movements back to her place of work – the most popular gogo bar in Nana Plaza, Rainbow 4. This week on Thai TV we saw the last known recorded moments of the lady's life as she walked through the plaza hand in hand with a tall, solidly built, bald Caucasian who is now a person of interest. The footage from the cameras is decent – not ultra sharp, but pretty good, and certainly good enough to help someone who knows the guy to identify him. So with all of this in mind, don't be an asshole in the bar areas because if you are and someone lays a complaint, you are on camera.
The longer you do a job, generally the better you get at it, right? But I wonder if that is the case with hookers. It takes a while for working to get used to what they are doing, and I guess most probably get better at it after a little time. But do they continue to get better and better at their job? I think not. The environment they work in with the heavy drinking, the constant bullshit, the drug use and some less honourable punters mistreating them has to wear them down and before long they can be a different person – hard, cold and without any of the sweetness they had when they first started. This should be a concern for naughty boys as fewer enter the industry.
The original annual farang get-together, the Ploenchit Fair, will take place Saturday next week, November 29th, at Bangkok Pattana School, Sukhumvit soi 105. It gets going at 10 AM and goes through until after dark. The British-themed fair's name goes back to the days when it was held on the grand, sprawling lawns of the British Embassy on Ploenchit Road which have long since been sold and are now occupied by the Central Embassy shopping centre. The Ploenchit Fair hasn't been held on Ploenchit Road in the post 9/11 era as it was felt that hosting such an event in the embassy grounds posed a security risk. It's a good day out and a great place to bump in to people you might not have seen in a while.
The old buildings that had been a fixture on the southern side of the middle of Khao San Road were pulled down a few months back and have been replaced by a newer building that some say has hints of a colonial style although to my eyes I can't see it.
Khao San Road this week.
The number of foreigners doing same-day visa runs from Bangkok to the border and back has plummeted as the Immigration Department's crackdown on the use of back to back visa waiver stamps bites. One visa run company which used to operate two full-sized buses to the border everyday now operates one minivan which makes just two trips to the border each week. Despite the so-called visa crackdown, the number of foreigners residing in Bangkok seems to be on the up, especially young, single Caucasians who are not employed in Thailand – and as such not eligible for a 1-year extension of stay based on work or marriage. This group has almost entirely moved over from tourist visas – which requires exiting the country every 2 or 3 months – to an Education (ED) Visa, which requires a visit to the local Immigration office every 3 months to apply for an extension. It should be noted that recent reports from the main Immigration office in Bangkok have it that 3-month extensions are not guaranteed and some people report getting 2-month extensions only. Expect to converse with the officers in Thai, which should be a cinch if you're actually studying the language.
Why is it that Thai women are so photogenic but many look less stellar in person? It's not an Asian thing per se, because Vietnamese women are not nearly as photogenic as Thais, but often look great in person! There is something about Thai women, even less attractive Thai women, that makes them photogenic. I can't put my finger on just what it is.
The funniest thing happened this week. A bar boss complained about the cost of online advertising increasing. When I mentioned to him that he had recently increased the prices of drinks in his bar he responds, "But that's different!" I didn't push the point.
It's Thanksgiving Day on Thursday of this week with a number of deals around town at American-owned and operated restaurants. The perennial favourite is Bourbon Street where a bonanza buffet will set you back 950++ baht. Sunrise Tacos original branch at Sukhumvit soi 12 has a set meal deal at 595++ baht. Sunrise also has a deal where you can order a turkey and sides for 8 people and collect it on the day. Bully's, between Sukhumvit sois 2 and 4, will serve a bountiful Thanksgiving Buffet between 1:00 and 9:00 PM. Imported US turkey plus over 15 side dishes along with scratch made assorted pies from the Sunrise Kitchens for 795++ Children at 395++. Reservations for Bully's can be made at 02-656-4609 and details for all the other details are below.
Quote of the week comes from Teacher Paul, "The best thing about Thailand is it's so laid back, and the worst thing about Thailand is it's so laid back."
Reader's story of the week comes from Casanundra, "Thai / Farang Relationships".
Two Americans steal human body parts from a Bangkok museum and attempt to send them to America.
An elephant tramples its handler to death and runs off with two Russian tourists in southern Thailand.
Thailand claims to be the world's number 1 medical tourism destination.
The family of an Englishman who died in a tragic accident in Thailand launch an appeal to bring his body home.
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.
No questions were received for Sunbelt Legal Advisors this week.
What a week it has been for the profile of foreigners in Thailand. To start on a positive note, the ongoing spat between Shark and the local constabulary appears to have been resolved. We then had the truly shocking story of the two Americans who stole body parts from a hospital museum and tried to send them to the US. They managed to flee to Cambodia and I am sure we will see them back in Thailand before long where an arrest warrant has been issued for them. Next was the release of video footage from Nana Plaza of the Rainbow 4 employee whose body was found dismembered in a suitcase in a river in Kanchanaburi. She was last seen with a tall, bald Caucasian in Nana Plaza. Then there were reports of a brutal attack on a young German in a park in Udon Thani City. He was attacked with a hoe in what may have been a copy cat attack with similarities to the Ko Tao murder of the two Brits, another story still getting plenty of press. Is the relatively recent increase in high-profile incidents involving foreigners in Thailand indicative of an increase in crime, or is it expected with the increased numbers of foreigners visiting and living in the country? Or is it simply that in the information age these reports get more air time?
Your Bangkok commentator,