The escort industry in Bangkok is booming with new agencies opening all the time. Some punters swear by escorts, claiming they offer a better experience while others say they are mutton dressed as lamb. In an effort to learn more about escorts and find out if they really are different to the ladies who work the bars, I sat down with three Bangkok escorts from BangkokEscort.com, all of whom have already featured in this column as girl of the week and as such are ladies I know and have something of a rapport with. Amongst them is the lady some say is currently the most popular escort in Bangkok, Bonnie. We talked openly about what it's like working as an escort, how they view their customers and how they compare themselves with girls who work in chrome pole bars. Some of their responses surprised me.
How do you get in to this in the first place? I mean, did you come from another sector of the industry or was this your first foray?
Bonnie: Some friends told me about escorting. They said that if I wanted to earn more money than any other job, this is what to do.
Linda: I thought this could make a lot of money so I thought I would give it a go.
And you, Priya?
Priya: Me too, I was attracted by the money.
So it's all about the money?
Bonnie: For me, no, it's not. Of course we would not do this for little or no money. For me, I am excited to meet new guys. Different guys have different mindsets and everyone has a different way of thinking. You learn so much from different people and this is a job in which I can meet a lot of people who are different to the people I met before. Together we can share experiences. Their experience, my experience, we talk a lot.
Priya: I have had customers buy me handbags and perfume…and a friend had a Swiss watch bought for her which was wow! So it's money and gifts too!
Linda: I had one guy who gave me a tip of 20,000 baht.
20,000? Where was he from?
<Whoops of exclamation and surprise from Bonnie and Priya, clearly they have never had a 20,000 baht tip>
Linda: When I saw him, I thought he was too old, like so old he could not do anything. When he gave me that tip I was shocked. He gave it to me at the start before, you know, before anything. He was from India and they aren't always generous. He wanted to book me again but I had another booking so could not. I talked a lot with him.
Were you scared when you first started?
Linda: I was scared, but I wanted to try. I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do it. I said to myself that I would take one month and see how it went. If I didn't like it, I would stop after a month. Soon I realised everything was great. Good money, nice men, everything was perfect…and today I am happy!
Priya: This is the first time I have done this type of work. I was surprised how easy it is and how well it has all worked out.
Bonnie: I felt excited because I knew I would meet a lot of people. You never know how it will be. It is exciting. I try to understand different people, learn about their way of thinking, what they like and don't like etc. I know I can learn from them. So for me it was also about what I would learn and I never really felt scared about what might happen.
Bonnie, Stickman girl of the week 19/10/2014
You talk a lot with customers?!
<All the girls laugh>
Linda: A lot of guys want talk time more than bedroom time!
Bonnie: Sure, guys want to talk. Talk, talk, talk, all day and all night. Sometimes I feel like I am a doctor and they need to talk to me!
Do you think talking is more important to some guys than sex?
Bonnie: Sure….and it's good that they want to talk.
Is it the same for you? <looking at Priya and Linda>
<Priya is embarrassed that so much time is spent talking, something which she later tells me was a big surprise as she thought it would all be about what happens in the bedroom.>
Linda: When I first see a guy it is nice to talk and to make each other comfortable, to develop good feelings, like you have known them for longer than you actually have. Then what follows is much better.
Bonnie: Sometimes a guy wants to have a friend. They don't want to be alone. They want someone with them and to experience Bangkok with someone. I think the main thing is that they don't want to be alone. Many guys who come to Thailand are lonely.
So escorts in Bangkok these days can do very well. 100,000 – 200,000 baht a month, 100K being the absolute minimum, and it can run more with tips, right?
<There are nervous looks backwards and forwards and no-one wants to say anything. It's almost as if they are wondering how the hell I know.>
OK, let me put it another way. I read a story recently about how street-walking girls in Soi Nana can make 120,000 baht per month, yet I think it's fair to say that many are rough – from the way they dress to the way they speak. You ladies are more elegant, you are polite and this is reflected in your fee. By calculating how many bookings you get it's easy to see you can make more. I don't want to know how much you make because, well, I can guess the ballpark amount. And I think it's great you do well. What I find intriguing is if you actually save money. I ask this because I know that some of the hot gogo dancers make the same as you, but some blow it all, even when they earn phenomenal amounts of money. The money just seems to go.
Bonnie: I can tell you about girls like that who work so hard but who have no money. Some girls take drugs and spend money on guys, young guys, tall guys, handsome guys, often guys who work in karaoke bars. They do this because they work so hard. She is not happy with her life because of her work so she spends the money she earns making men happy on men who will make her happy. And these guys will take all of her money. Also some of the girls in the bars and on the street are addicted to drugs. Some send money home to raise children and look after their family and things like that, things you don't see. She doesn't keep her money in Bangkok. Many ladies do that. Some of my friends work on the street and many of them take drugs. Also, many play cards. They waste a lot of money on drugs which causes them not to sleep and then they waste so much money on cards while she is flying high. Some like to drink too.
So the money is the upside, but it can also be the downside? Because I don't believe anyone gets in to this industry and then thinks they are going to spend their money on drugs, gambling and male prostitutes.
<Awkward moment as the girls see how things can go full circle and there is silence. I decide to change tack and be a little more "gentle".>
OK, so do you see yourself as different to girls in bars and on the street. I mean, let's be totally honest, their backgrounds and your backgrounds are probably quite similar. What are the upsides of escorting?
Linda: Working through websites is better than working on the street or in a bar. Customers book us from their hotel room and that is where we go to meet them. If there is a problem, we can follow up. If we meet a guy somewhere else and there is a problem then we cannot find him. I heard about a guy who killed a lady and that scared me so working via websites makes us feel safer and more confident.
Bonnie: All of my customers are businessmen. We get a higher class of customer. Many have taught me how to make money and how to live well. I learn so much from guys who are successful.
Priya: We meet nice guys. We often get taken shopping and treated really nice. We eat in nice places and generally go to the sorts of places that we would never get to go to otherwise and never get to experience, and that is nice. This is a really nice benefit.
Bonnie: Just being away from a smoky environment is good. There's no pressure to drink like there is in the bars and I like that.
Tell me about the escorts' network. Do you talk together about customers? Do you compare notes and your respective experiences? Do you warn each other about customers who might not be so nice?
Bonnie: Everyone is different. We ask each other about where we have been, where the best restaurants are and where customers like to go. We can compare notes on places to take guys to, like tourist attractions as many want to see the life of Thai people. Also, some want to do simple stuff like eat street food.
Hehe, you'd think there would be a less expensive way to do that!
<I get 3 sets of eyes looking at me, puzzled, not understanding what I mean.>
So do you share customers?
Priya: Sometimes when I go to see a customer, I will help promote my friends. I will say how good they are and encourage him to try. If they want a lesbian experience then I can make a recommendation.
Bonnie: But not me, please, I am not a lesbian!
Bonnie: I tried once but I cannot do it. I really don't like it!
So you're happy to recommend your friends? This is totally different to gogo bar girls who can get bitchy and temperamental if a guy who was once their customer chooses to go with a different girl in the same bar. Do you have any feelings if someone goes with you and then tomorrow chooses another girl?
Priya: It doesn't matter. I often get a good tip and eat nice food with the customer so that is enough.
Bonnie: If the customer is happy, I am happy. I always check to make sure they are ok. If he wants to see me again, that's nice but if he wants to choose someone else, that is ok too!
Linda: I'm the same. I am more concerned about the customer's happiness.
This is different to gogo girls who can get quite territorial and can even create an ugly scene if a guy chooses another girl in the bar.
Priya: No, escorts aren't like this.
So why are gogo girls like that?
Bonnie: Gogo girls like to control the guy and control the situation. They think only about themselves. That is their style to control things and look after themselves. We meet high-class customers. Almost all of my customers are businessmen and they would not accept that behaviour. Gogo dancers drink a lot and they have to compete with so many girls in the bar. It's all about competition. They will do whatever it takes without limits to get the customer to choose them, even if what they do might be, how can I say, the bad way. There is a lot of envy and jealousy. They also want a guy to look after them as they don't want to work like that. In a gogo bar it is about sales and persuading a man to choose you however you can. We are different and cannot control that. We just wait for the phone to ring.
So what about you girls? You say the gogo girls want to taken out of the industry and looked after. Is that any different to you? If someone comes along and wants to take you away from this work and support you then what will you do?
Bonnie: I think it is more difficult for us than for gogo dancers.
Why? How? That doesn't make sense!
Bonnie: Almost every man who books us has a family. The guy is just looking for a good time with a girl and some company. He is not looking for a wife. Most are like that. In bars I think there are so many broken-hearted guys. I have seen it with my own eyes.
Linda: I have never thought that I am going to have a rich guy come to me.
You're not confident in yourself?
Linda: I am confident but I just don't think it will happen. It's more about his circumstances than mine. He is only looking for a bit of company and fun, and nothing more. Meeting a guy who will take care of me does not even enter my mind. But, if someone did come along, of course, I would be delighted.
Priya: Everyone is hopeful that they will meet the right guy. All of us. Sometimes I think that all of the best guys only exist in fictional stories. But if the right guy came along, of course it would be nice.
You earn good money. How much would it take to get you out? I mean, you can earn well in to 6 figures baht per month and that rather limits the number of available suitors.
Priya: It would not be necessary for a guy to match our current earnings.
Bonnie: I want security. If I am going to stop working, I don't want it to be for 5 years or 7 years, but for all of my life. I want to feel safe and secure forever, not just a temporary thing. Not like the last guy. 4 years and then he said goodbye. I wasted my time for nothing. I was married, I mean married properly with a marriage certificate and then he just disappeared. Gone with the wind back to France. I cannot contact him at all, and have not been able to get a divorce. It was so wrong. He just cut me off and I never heard from him again. I have had a hard life. I don't come from a great family. It has made me tough.
A lot of guys say you should never marry a girl who worked like this. What they seem to be forgetting though is that they too have a history. Would you marry a guy who was a frequent user of prostitutes?
Linda: We have to look at people closely and try and figure out what sort of person they are. What is it they are really looking for. What a guy does and what a guy says are not the same. We must look at what he does, and not what he says. Only then we can decide.
Linda, Stickman girl of the week 16/11/2014
OK, so you seem happy enough in what you do and the money is good but it's all a big secret, right? I mean, how many people know what you do?
Priya: No-one knows. I don't want anyone I know to find out. I don't want them to know, especially my family, but basically anyone who knows me I don't want them to know.
Linda: I absolutely cannot let anyone who knows me know. I make sure that the photos of me online are not a great resemblance to me because if there is even the smallest chance that they would know I want to eliminate that.
Bonnie: Just a few close friends know. Others I cannot let them know about this. If they ask me what I do, I say I work with international tours as a guide.
I mean, you're not exactly being truthful to, well, just about anyone. I understand that some things are on a need to know basis but still… Does this make life difficult?
All three: Difficult.
Bonnie: Some of my cousins saw condoms in my bag and I had to say that I always think safety first. I tell them I have a boyfriend and use condom to be safe.
<What Bonnie intimated but did not explicitly say – because it was already understood – is that in Thai society good girls don't carry condoms. Condoms have an odd place in Thai society whereby their use is encouraged, while at the same time most people think that condoms are only for sex with hookers or sex with casual partners, neither of which are looked at favourably by social conservatives.>
There must be customers who don't want to use condoms.
Priya: Just 3 days ago I had a customer didn't want to use a condom.
Tell me more.
Priya: He was American. He was 58. He said if he used a condom he would not be able to finish. I insist on being safe. We don't know about his past. He is not a young man. We don't know his past and where he has been.
Oh, come on, I know what happens! If someone is clean cut, looks healthy, is young, and offers a couple of thousand baht extra for skin to skin contact, you would, wouldn't you?
Bonnie: Sometimes people look good on the outside. I know a lot of people are HIV+ and I don't want get it. You cannot tell if someone is HIV+ by looking at them. I have a cousin who is HIV+ and I don't want to be like him. It's not just HIV, it's all the other stuff too like Syphilis and other diseases.
Linda: I'm scared of HIV. I want to look after my family. If I am HIV+ then I cannot help them.
Bonnie: I had one sadistic customer who grabbed my throat and wanted to simulate rape sex and have sex without a condom. Some guys look at me, see my tattoos and think I am a sadist. Someone even said I look like a female gangster who is up for anything. They think I like to be hurt. Some even talked about drugs and whether I would like to do that with them. I tell them I cannot do anything like that. They seem my tattoos and think I am bad. They don't understand that I just like tattoos, I like the art. Also, some guys want to take video but I will not let them.
Is that a problem these days? I mean, even a smartphone can record clear enough video if the lights are on.
Linda: I have had guys who wanted to take video of me. Actually a lot of guys want to do that.
Bonnie: I check all the time for recording devices. This is a scary part of what we do. I caught one guy trying to record me with a small pen that had a camera in it. I made him delete the video.
You do know that delete doesn't really delete data at all and that it can be got back?
<Silence, 3 girls looking decidedly unhappy.>
I understand a big part of escorting is online reviews. What do you make of customers posting reviews online about your performance in the bedroom?
Linda: I like it. If there is any bad stuff it lets me know how to improve. If the review is good then we can get more customers.
Bonnie: I want to say thanks to everyone who has written nice stuff about me. Really, I want to say thank you very much!
Wow, I thought this sort of thing would bother you.
Bonnie: Why? It's not our real names or the real us. It's just a job. We don't take it personally.
Priya, Stickman girl of the week 3/8/2014
What are your dreams and aspirations? Are they the same now as before you started this work, or have they changed?
Linda: I really don't know what the future is. If I can find some business or something else then I will stop for sure. But now we just want to make money.
You make good money…so good in fact that it won't be easy to stop. I mean, can you find anything else that makes anything like the same sort of money? How long do you think you can do this for?
Linda: That's true, this money is very good. But our body can only take this lifestyle for so long.
Priya: As we get older, we don't have the capability or the feeling to continue to do this.
Bonnie: Even though we make a lot, there are a lot of expenses. So we need to look ahead and plan for the future and we need to use our money wisely. We can only make very good money for a limited time so we should not waste it.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken inside The Strip in Patpong soi 2. This week's photo is from one of my favourite parts of town…
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 – Shining the spotlight.
There were a couple of videos on YouTube of the police searches of foreigners. In one, the cop realises he's being filmed and moves to block the sight line of the camera. None of the times I've been searched have had the required barriers, lights and signs that Sunbelt mentioned. Facebook is buzzing with stories and outraged citizens. One guy's 14-year old son was searched on his way to a school at 7 AM twice! I get pissed off with the mentality of the expats who spin stuff like, "We're guests in their country…" and "Thai cops can do anything they want…" That's bullshit. The reason we're singled out is because of spineless assholes like this who bend over every time a cop talks to them. The cops know we don't complain and meekly accept being treated badly. And they know we're probably not connected. If cops started randomly stopping Thai males at all hours of the day and searching their bags, there would be an outcry. And things DO change here by applying pressure and shining the spotlight. Thais hate to be in the limelight for the wrong reasons. A few YouTube clips and news reports would bring about a U-turn and a hasty excuse. Keep the momentum going. Hopefully some bigger media outlets will pick up on it.
What's in the smelly bag?
I had been out on the hash, dinner, and then a stop at a bar on Soi Cowboy. I was leaving Soi Cowboy around 12:30 AM and walked down Soi 23 to Sukhumvit. I looked right and saw 3 or 4 boys in brown searching two farangs. I was headed outbound so just kept walking. Then I heard a Thai telling me to stop. I didn't stop but just kept walking. He repeated himself a couple of times. Finally, he caught up to me and tugged on the bag I was carrying. He told me to stop which I did. He said he wanted to look at my bag. I said, "No". He looked puzzled. He asked again to search my bag. I again said "No". Then we stood and looked at each other. I told him I was going. He said, "No". I began walking away and after a few steps he got in front of me and said I had to stop and search bag. He then yelled at one of his group to come over which he did rather quickly. This other policeman then also asked to check my bag. I said ok. Are you ready? I went out running earlier in the evening. Inside was all of my sweaty, wet, running clothes that were wrapped up in plastic bags. Up until this time I spoke English. Then I spoke Thai to them and produced one sweaty towel in a plastic bag. I asked them if it stunk (he said yes). Then I produced a pair of running shoes in a plastic bag and held it up to his nose and asked if it stunk (he said yes). Then I produced a plastic bag containing my T-shirt, shorts, and socks and held it up to his nose and asked him if it stunk (he said yes) and laughed. I showed him my stick of deodorant and that was it. I told him I wasn't carrying any ya-ba, heroin, or ganja. He did ask if I had a passport. I said yes but not with me but if they like they can come home with me and check it. That was it. I wanted to comply with them but I also didn't want them to get it so easily. I wanted to make them work a bit. The only thing I was worried about was something being planted on me. They did not ask me to empty my pockets at any time which surprised me. So there ya have it, a first person account of what transpired.
No longer a doubting Thomas.
I was among those in the doubting Thomas category about the Asoke police activity, as I often find myself in that part of town at all hours, and have yet to be accosted by any of the boys in brown. However last night I witnessed a couple of motorbike-riding westerners stopped and searched, in the intersection itself, blocking traffic.
Considering visiting elsewhere because of police stop and searches.
Please continue to write about the police stopping westerners. The Bangkok Post had an article a week ago regarding a white couple that got stopped twice doing a weekend visit (once when they were in a taxi). I don't mind showing my passport, but the prospect of being frisked on the street while carrying several medicines like Viagra, pills for an upset stomach, painkillers etc and not wanting to explain that. And pissing in a cup is plain humiliating! The next time I visit Asia, I might skip the place.
Extras off the cabbie menu.
The last few years in Bangkok the experience of cabs offering access to all sorts of services related to scallops and the likes are on the wane. I can't really remember when I was last propositioned for a detour. It could be that my age is rapidly advancing (now 40) that makes me undesirable, but I'll place my bets on the cabbies being more polite.
The Asian Tiger Economy has been built up with Foreign Direct Investment especially in the automotive industry and services industry with foreign visitors increasing. Year on year foreigners ploughed money into Thailand either through tourism spending or setting up SMEs and the Thais are better off. Not to forget the transfer of knowledge from expats sent to Thailand to train the local workforce. But expats being sent abroad numbers wise is nothing compared to years past, which means in the future Thais are going to lack the skills for further development and will fall behind other countries. Add the coup into the mix, the Russian ruble at historic lows, Japan back in recession, low growth in Europe, and a strong baht, does it look great for Thailand in the years ahead?
Lack of understanding, or lack of class?
In your weekly column a couple of weeks ago you posted an image of profanity scribbled at some construction site. The following which happened a couple of months ago might throw some light on the matter. I was heading down a BTS walkway when I noticed an obvious Thai mother and daughter coming from the other direction. They looked decent middle-class. The woman was in office wear, knee-length skirt and blouse, while the girl, toothpick skinny like most Thai teens, had on jeans and a t-shirt. There was nothing outré about the girl at all, no eye shade, coloured hair, tattoos or any such – just a regular kid going some place hanging on to her mom's arm. Except that her shirt said "Fuck off you lousy wankers" on the front! Of course, I did a double take and then another to be sure I wasn't seeing things. Scratching my head after it struck me that this bizarre incongruity of a sweet kid sporting a pretty vicious profanity on her chest was actually the result of two forces in Thai society intersecting. First, even educated Thais often have little English. Second, face – a friend or family member who understood what the shirt said might have been reluctant to mortify mother or daughter. So, there they were ambling along oblivious to the effect they were having on people with better English. And the engineer in charge of the site you pictured may simply not understand what that graffiti means.
Thailand's appeal remains.
I just booked another trip for February. It'll be my 13th visit in 12 years. Thailand, like me, has changed a lot in that time for sure. Gone are my rose-tinted glasses, but I still very much like the place even if the flaws are more obvious. Gone too are the really cheap prices but fortunately I've managed to progress also and my budget is less limited today than back when I first visited. What I most enjoy is the feeling of freedom, the chances to meet new people and the getaway from politics and bullshit back home. Sort of a mental holiday as well as a physical one. Looking forward to going back again.
Girl of the week
Muay, 20 years old, coyote dancer
@ The Strip, Patpong soi 2
Inside The Den, Bangkok's plush new freelancer venue in Sukhumvit soi 12.
The Den, on Sukhumvit soi 12, had a soft opening yesterday. Located 100 metres down Sukhumvit soi 12 on the left-hand side, The Den hopes to be to Bangkok what Kinnaree is to Pattaya – a place to hang out during the day time and early evening, where you can relax, have a few drinks, and where company is available if one so desires. Decorated in the traditional style favoured by high-end gentlemen's clubs with oil paintings and plush red sofas and lounge style seating along with a shark tank above the bar in the centre, the interior is comfortable and relaxing. Drinks are competitively priced with local beers running 120 baht. This week the doors will open around 2 PM. The official grand opening is next Saturday, December 13th, after which time The Den plans to open around 11 AM. Strictly speaking it's a freelancer venue, but it is hoped that girls from Cowboy and Nana looking to earn a little extra will drop by The Den in the afternoon before heading to their primary place of employment. Unlike other venues popular with naughty boys during daylight hours, the girls can earn commissions on drinks bought for them as well as a small commission should she be invited to the hotel in the adjacent building. Going head to head with soi 7's Biergarten, the appeal of The Den for men is that it is comfortable and cool. And for the girls they can make money from commissions which means at worst their basic daily expenses should be met. The Den aims to fill a niche that I don't think the likes of the Biergarten and Gulliver's have ever really satisfied. The Den is the most significant new naughty boy-oriented venue to open in downtown Bangkok in years.
Part of the reason for the delay in the fit out at Jail Birdz on the top floor of Nana Plaza – which is based on Alcatraz on Walking Street – is that the builder needed to get a structural engineer to sign off on some of the design work for the cages the girls will dance in. Featuring cages that the girls will dance in, Jail Birdz promises to be much more elaborate than your average gogo bar.
At Soi Cowboy's Dollhouse, the renovations are now complete as the long popular bar has undergone something of a sprucing up while retaining its original flavour. The addition of a fireman's pole where the girls can slide down on to the stage is one of the new features.
At long last, Suckers in Nana Plaza – previously known as Lollipop – has a new neon sign to replace the temporary sheet of canvas which had been draped over the old neon sign. When the names of some bars in The Nana Group hurriedly changed overnight a few months back the group covered the old neon signs with temporary canvas signs with the new name. It was a dreadful look and it has taken until now for them to be replaced. Suckers is a fun bar with a fun crew but you should note that it features a mixed line-up – the dance floor features both those born girls as well as those born boys but who now consider themselves girls. But don't let that put you off, it really is a fun spot.
The raid on Golden Bar reported in last week's column was carried out by 3 agencies at once with the army, police and BMA officers there not to check for bar or liquor licenses, or staffing issues, but to check the fire alarm and that there was a fire extinguisher in place! Do such checks require more than a dozen officials? When you look at the bar itself, an outdoor bar that spills out on to the street, it's not like smoke would be contained within the bar or punters prevented from escaping. Amazing.
Last week's Nanapong dance contest was well attended and was won by one of the home team from Dollhouse. Some felt it was less of a dance contest, more of a tasting contest.
Down in Pattaya, long-time Misty's manager Paul has left, and as best I can make out he is not working at the moment.
Heaven Above will have their annual Bosses' Xmas Party on Friday, December 12th. This is a Christmas Party for all of those who cannot be in Pattaya over the Christmas Holidays. The bar is decorated for the holiday season, and their version of Santa's helpers will be in costume ready to listen to your holiday wishes. There is a free BBQ, Thai food & drinks specials all night. 95 Baht San Miguel and 65 Baht Heineken Draft will be available all night and there is a 50 Baht happy hour from 7:30 – 9:30 featuring spirits, draft beer and soft drinks. It promises to be a very merry night.
Still in Sin City, a Pattaya beer bar has installed secret CCTV cameras in the ladies and gent toilets, even in the cubicles. What's that all about?
If you are a regular user of some escort services, you can purchase a package which offers you a 10% discount on a few escort agency services. This VIP package also includes various e-books about Thailand. The total package costs $97.
Soi Sribumphen is Bangkok's original backpacker / budget accommodation area and predates Khao San Road. Even today there are remnants of its heyday with some of the original guesthouses still in business. The soi just south of Rama 4 Road is perhaps better known for the legendary Wong's Bar, the Malaysia Hotel and one of the city's best yet most affordable Italian restaurants, Lido. Soi Sribumphen has long had a bit of a reputation, attracting the down and out. Naughty Nigel hung out there for a while – or is it hid out? – and there are a few foreigners in the soi in the same set of clothes every time I venture down that way. Some girls who walk the perimeter of Lumpini Park at night reside on Soi Sribumphen. The soi also has a reputation for drugs and druggies. So it was no surprise this week to see the Immigration Police go through the soi and check the ID of some of the foreigners in the soi. Those dressed well were ignored while those who looked rough were questioned.
The Immigration Department in Chiang Mai is aware that statutory declarations made by Americans at the US embassy in Bangkok and the consulate in Chiang Mai do NOT verify that the statement made by the citizen is true, rather that the person who claims to have made the statement really is the person who made the statement. Some Americans (and all other nationalities) get a stat dec from their embassy which states that they have income from abroad that fulfils the required criteria to qualify for a retirement visa. However, there have been a number of cases where it has later transpired that the person doesn't have that level if income at all. This loophole has long been exploited by some retirees and Immigration in Chiang Mai is cracking down. Previously, Immigration accepted the document at face value. Now, however, Americans using this method are asked to show proof that they do actually have such income. A printout of the account will suffice. At present it is only Americans targeted, but one would reasonably expect that all nationalities will be looked at as the practice is certainly not limited to Americans. Of course there is another means of meeting the financial criteria for retirement – showing a local bank account with 800,000+ baht deposited.
The ED visa is the visa of choice for those aged under 50 who aren't married to a Thai and who are not legally employed but would like to remain in the country. Immigration is aware of the widespread abuse of this visa as a means of staying in the country and introduced further changes this week tightening up on the abuse of ED visas. Now, when one signs up for a Thai language course they wait for the paperwork needed for a visa to be processed (which can take weeks) at which point they travel out of the country to a Thai embassy or consulate, apply for a Non-Immigrant visa and upon entering the country get 90 days permission to say. This can be extended ONCE ONLY in country at the local branch of Immigration for 90 days (meaning a total stay of 6 months). At that point the process must be repeated i.e. you must get a new set of paperwork, exit the country, go to an embassy / consulate etc. What is interesting is that if you're studying something other than the Thai language, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, the previous rules for multiple 90-day extensions apply. How long will it be until Immigration adds financial requirements to the ED visa process, as they are required for retirement visas?
In a city with an expat populace for whom backstabbing seems to be something of a pastime, there is one well-known expat I have never heard anyone say a single negative word about – author Dean Barrett. The popular old Asia hand will be at CheckInn99 on Tuesday, December 16th, to launch his latest novel, "Pop Darrell's Last Case". Pop by to meet the legend and grab a signed copy of Dean's latest.
For those who enjoy Thailand-related documentaries, search your favourite torrent site for "The Embassy", an Australian series that looks at Aussies in trouble in Thailand and follows staff from the consular services section of the Australian Embassy in Bangkok who help them out. It gives confidence to Aussies that their embassy staff are both competent and very helpful.
Across the border in Cambodia, one of the country's best known expats, Peter Hogan, passed away on Tuesday. For a long time Peter was best known as the owner, webmaster and driving force behind the country's most popular expat forum, K440. He sold the site a few months back. Peter, who was perhaps better known by his online handle Keeping It Real died on Tuesday morning, soon after arriving at hospital. He was aged just 49. May he rest in peace.
For some of the best coffee in downtown Bangkok, stop by Wonder Wall which is located on the cross soi connecting Sukhumvit soi 31 and the top of soi 33. There's an outdoor deck area, free wi-fi and the coffee is excellent and reasonably priced.
There are heaps of visitors in town at the moment and the trend of previous years continues with fewer and fewer single men, at least as a percentage of total visitors. The two groups most conspicuous are Chinese – often youngish couples, and groups of young white women.
And a common sight on the streets of downtown Bangkok these days is tourists dragging their luggage with map in hand, looking for their hotel. Again, they're often Chinese or young Western females. It looks like they caught the Airport Link train downtown and then the skytrain or underground to the closest station to their booked accommodation from where they will make their way on foot. Given that Bangkok has ultra cheap taxis which despite frequent complaints generally work well, and that a fare from the airport to downtown is only about 300 baht with tolls i.e. less than $10, is Bangkok seeing an increase in budget travellers? You seldom saw this in the past; I mean, how often do you see someone carrying their suitcase from the Nana or Ploenchit BTS stations to the Nana Hotel?
Quote of the week, "If the Immigration Department actually wanted to really crack down on visa runners and abusers of the system half the farang population of Thailand would disappear."
Reader's story of the week comes from Mr. Anonymous, "Music In Bangkok Gogo Bars".
In Thailand, those with HIV struggle to keep, or even find employment.
An Aussie teacher is the latest in a long line of foreigners drugged and robbed by prostitutes in Pattaya.
Tourists in Phuket have been told to bring their own umbrellas to the beach.
Gavinmac penned an amusing obituary about a well-known English expat in Cambodia, Peter Hogan.
Some shocking experiences of being stopped by the police in downtown Bangkok are being reported.
A 30-something year old Swede is found hanged on the 43rd floor of an unfinished building in downtown Bangkok.
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 an Australian passport and work legally in Thailand. My partner is a Thai citizen. We are having a village wedding soon. I am a divorcee and she is a widow. We both have the relevant documents to show this (mine in English, hers in Thai). I read recently that we may be able to register the marriage in a government office in Chaiyaphum which is close to our home. Is this true? If so, do you know the name of the office and its location?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: In order to marry legally in Thailand you must first go to your Embassy and obtain an affirmation of freedom to marry. You will need to show your divorce decree at the Australian Embassy in order to obtain this document. Once you have this document you must then take it to a certified translator, have it translated into Thai and then take it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification. Once this is done you can legally marry at any District Office. Your fiancé's records will be online in the Thai government's database so she does not need to do any similar procedure.
There are 16 districts in Chaiyaphum and each would have their own district office. Once you have the certified document from the MFA you may marry at any of them. Sunbelt Asia can help you with the translation and certification process once you have the affirmation but you must go to your Embassy in person to obtain the initial affirmation.
Question 2: My apartment contract will expire soon and I will move to a cheaper room. I am concerned whether I will get my security deposit back (44,000 baht) as the office in the building has been known not to return the money of departing tenants. My apartment is in good condition with no damage and I have always paid my rent on time. I am sure there are legal steps that can be taken to retrieve the money if the building office refuses to return it, but when the deposit is only 44,000 baht, it's hard to think that it would be worth my while and that it would be wiped out by legal fees. Are there any legal avenues available to me i.e. if you go to court can you also sue for legal costs? Are they any other options?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: If your landlord refuses to return the lease security deposit within the agreed time (it should be stipulated in the agreement), you may first remind your landlord in writing of his / her obligation per your lease agreement. If your landlord fails to act upon your written notification then you will then need to retain a lawyer to proceed with further legal actions i.e. issuance of demand letter and lastly proceed to court (Civil Case) for breach of agreement. Before doing so you should discuss this with your lawyer about court fees and / or legal fees being added to your claim. But at the end it would be at the judge's discretion to award you the claim either in part or as a whole. Sunbelt Asia can assist you with the demand letter should your landlord refuse to return your deposit.
Question 3: In January 1998 a foreigner bought a room in a condominium in Pattaya in a 'foreign name'. At that time the condominium was within the 49% foreign ownership limit. A law allowing the foreign quota in Pattaya to rise above 49% was passed on the 12th April 1999 and operated for 5 years. Many foreigners bought rooms in the condominium during that period and foreign ownership increased to 75%. Until recently there was no problem in transferring title deeds from foreigner to foreigner. Now the Land Office in Pattaya refuses to transfer from foreigner to foreigner and they say that chanotes in a foreign name must be transferred to a Thai name until the foreign name ownership drops below 49%. Was there any provision within the 1999 law, or later laws, to deal with the obvious discrepancy that would occur after 2004?
I am told that a lease on a property will not be registered by the Pattaya Land Office if the Lessee and Lessor are related, the reason given is that the Lessor would be acting as a nominee. Is this the correct legal position?
I understand that the Land Office charges 1.1% of the total rental price to register a lease and 1% of the value of a mortgage to register a mortgage on a chanote. Can you tell me how much the Land Office charges to remove the lease or mortgage from the chanote?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: The Land Office charges 1.1% of the total rental price to register a lease and 1% of the value of a mortgage to register a mortgage on a chanote. We would need to know how much the Land Office charges to remove the lease or mortgage from the chanote first.
It is true that in 1999 there was a temporary revision to the Condominium Act to promote foreign investment in the real estate industry. The campaign received unexpectedly low feedback as there were only 2 condominium projects across Thailand that had foreigners owning more than 49%. Therefore in 2008, the Act was again revised so that foreign ownership went back to the 49% foreign ownership limitation. Those foreign owners owning their unit prior to the effective date of the Act (4th revision) will not be considered as violating the condominium act, but should they decide to sell, the Land Office must comply to the revised act in retaining the 49% foreign ownership limitation level. According to the land act, leasing of a property is something that the owner could do regardless of the nationality and / or family of the Lessee. But it describes the penalty for being a nominee, therefore it would be at the officer’s discretion if they felt that such seller is a nominee owner trying lease back to property back to the true owner.
Government fees for deregistering of a mortgage is 50 baht per plot, while deregistration of the registered lease is also 50 Baht per plot.
The issue of the boys in brown stopping foreigners in the area east of the Asoke intersection and jumping out of the shadows like serpents leaping out of the jungle has finally made the mainstream media. Regular readers know this issue has been covered in this column since 2011. For 3 years reports have run in this column, yet only now has the mainstream media become aware of it. I wrote about how a cop stopped me at Asoke, in November, 2012. There was a scary report from a fellow stopped near soi 22 and dragged in to the police booth on the main Sukhumvit Road, way back in November, 2011. And what the guy stopped by police whose girlfriend was asked to submit to a pee test in a side soi off soi 22 at night, some 2+ years ago. The clichéd 2 coppers on a bike stopping foreigners just east of Asoke, asking questions and in some cases requesting a pee sample is nothing new. The Post has run a number of letters over the past couple of weeks from people who have been stopped and today's edition ran a letter to the editor from the friend of a first-time visitor hassled on his first day in the country – this past Friday – who was so shaken that he changed his holiday plans and flew to Malaysia the next day, vowing never to return to Thailand. Articles have been published on various online news sites. A Facebook group has been set up and features many first-person reports. The issue of foreign men being stopped by police on Bangkok's streets even made the Wall Street Journal this week. Will the widespread coverage it is now attracting spell the end of it?
Your Bangkok commentator,