Carols are being played in shopping malls, Santa hats are being worn by sexy bargirls and shopping centres compete to put up the biggest and brightest tree. It's Christmas in Bangkok as the most important Christian holiday of the year is celebrated by people who will grab an excuse to party. Despite this being a Buddhist country where only 1% of the population identify themselves as Christian, Christmas decorations are everywhere in downtown Bangkok.
Most of the big downtown Bangkok shopping malls have Christmas trees outside and in the contest of mine is bigger than yours it's Central World which gets the bragging rights this year.
One of the most photographed scenes downtown, Mahboonkrong is emblazoned with neon. The team charged with decorating MBK at Christmas comes up with something different each year, whereas many malls use the same tree and decorations and look almost exactly the same year after year after year.
…like many malls, the Christmas tree at Terminal 21 looks rather familiar.
Proving that something can be both ugly and very cool at the same time is Siam Discovery Centre where the Christmas tree is made entirely of cathode ray tube televisions sets. Wouldn't it have been fantastic if they could have turned them all on too!
The tree outside Siam Paragon might not be the biggest, but it's probably the prettiest.
Many malls have opened since came along Paragon 9 years ago and many like Central World and Emporium have had a major overhaul, yet it is Siam Paragon that remains the place to be seen.
For most of the year the high-end Peninsula Plaza on Rajadamri Road doesn't draw the crowds like its more illustrious competitors but there's always a beautiful display come Christmas and New Year.
Bangkok's historic cinema, Scala at Siam Square, has put up a Christmas tree in the foyer.
* If you're ever a loss of what to do in Bangkok or simply have a few hours to kill, catch a movie at Scala. It's a fantastic cinema – a real cinema with a single auditorium – and is not part of a characterless cookie cutter multiplex. It has the requisite grand entrance with sweeping staircases that feature in many classic movie houses along with high ceilings, period decorations and a beautiful 30+ metre bas relief Thai mural. The ushers and doorman are decked out in a traditional uniform and best of all, it's usually quiet. Scala is not popular with the young set so you don't get the disturbances rather too common in cinemas in Thailand of incessant nattering and folks playing with their mobile not shy to have a conversation during the movie. If I only had a few days in Bangkok, a visit to Scala would be a must.
Surprisingly there was little reminder of the festive season at Khao San Road. Not one Christmas tree was seen, perhaps partially explained by the fact that almost all of the businesses in the Khao San Road area are Thai-owned. In contrast, on Sukhumvit Road a comparatively high number of businesses are foreigner-owned and operated.
On Sukhumvit Road, many shops and restaurants are decked out in a Christmas theme. Sunrise Tacos' flagship branch is full of Santa Claus dolls and other Christmas decorations.
Expat bars are full of Christmas cheer. At Patpong it's a case of trying to find a bar which doesn't have some sort of reminder of Christmas with Christmas trees, Christmas messages and many girls dressed up in red and white.
At The Strip in Patpong soi 2, the coyote dancer team don Santa hats on and off throughout the night. They take them off when they get up on stage because when they jiggle the hats can fall off!
This week's girl of the week, Jubjang, would love to find a nice guy to celebrate Christmas with. Asked if it could be arranged that the only thing she wears on Christmas Day is that Santa hat caused her to go the same colour as the hat.
How much do you think a Santa hat will set you back? 200 baht would have been my best guess. The hat adorning the lovely Jubjang will set you back just 9 baht at Tesco Lotus. If you're feeling miserly, word is they are even cheaper at Chinatown….if you can find them. On two trips through Chinatown this week I could not find a single piece of evidence that it was Christmas. Not one Christmas tree, not one banner with a Christmas message nor even the famed Santa hats being sold for less than 9 baht. Christmas is just another day in Chinatown.
A Christmas tree has been up in Nana Plaza for a couple of weeks now.
Wouldn't Layskool be a fitting name for a bar? I think I prefer it to its actual name, Playskool!
The girls of Playskool love to suck on candy cane.
Playskool's sister bar Mercury features Christmas-themed paintings on the mirrors. Ho ho ho!
For me, Christmas in Bangkok is a time of mixed emotions. On the one hand Bangkok is fantastic at this time of year and it's hard not to enjoy yourself when the weather is at its best, people are happy and there's a feeling of optimism about what New Year will bring. On the other hand your loved ones are on the other side of the planet. Christmas is about family and its religious roots are meaningless to me. Christmas is family time, the time of year you miss family most.
In the West we tend to let our hair down at this time of year. It's family time, of course, but also a time to eat, drink and be merry. In Thailand that's the lifestyle many of us lead year-round so come Christmas Day I don't feel any particular desire to let my hair down. In many ways Christmas Day is just another day. I'll take time off from doing website stuff for the day, probably do an extra lap at the park and have a nice dinner. The highlight will be Skyping with family back home.
For many Thais the end of the year is a stressful time, especially for those responsible for supporting family upcountry. Those working in the big smoke who return to the family home face expectations of gifts of money for family – not just for ma and pa but the entire clan. These expectations can be so great that some may choose not to make the journey, so great is the pressure which may even be unreasonable given their modest salary and the relatively high cost of living in the capital.
Thanks to everyone for tuning in to the site and this column this year. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken on the main Patpong soi, very close to the deliciously named Pussy Collection bar.
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 – Letting go.
A common saying among those who ponder male / female relationships is A woman marries a man hoping she can change him for the better. A man marries a woman hoping she will never change. For some of us who came to Thailand over 15 years ago, we found an environment we fell in love with and we hoped that she would never change. Some people continue to return on holiday or stay on living in Thailand year after year hoping that somehow the magic will return. They grasp at straws, finding limited solace in brief flashbacks of the old Thailand that occasionally appear almost as an apparition in the form of an old school bar, a hidden market, a random act of Thai hospitality or tucked away in a forgotten klong. Given globalization, technology and the changing demographics that your readers have rightly noted, a return to what she was is highly unlikely. Therefore, there are two remaining choices that are much better than wallowing in the past and both require letting it go: Accept the new normal and live with it or move on and find the next paradise. It's out there, but it's not her(e) i.e. Thailand anymore.
Critical decisions have to be made.
Leaving Bangkok?! Why, that means it can be done! This is why you're going to be told again and again that you can't POSSIBLY leave because you'll miss _____ and _____, wah wah wah and blah blah blah. Expect polite blowtorching. As I get older, I realise the critical decisions that must be made. Think about it: many people are born / live / die within 100 km of their hometowns or at least within their country's borders. Infrastructure is friends, family, national health plan. Thailand's expats are not exactly in the same category. You see some people who've just plain given up.
So close to picking up sticks.
The latest stab in the back for me was the elimination of beach chairs from all Phuket beaches. The beaches were the main reason I moved here. I've probably spent over 200,000 baht (the cost of buying 200 chairs?) renting a daily chair here over the years, which I don't mind, mostly because of the convenience of having an umbrella and food and drink on request. That's all gone now. Now, I read about grandfathers who can't even bring their grandchildren to the beach with their own umbrellas to shield them! The authorities would rather let the infant fry in the Thailand sun. That thinking alone causes me to question the Thai mentality. The worst part is that those making the decisions on what is allowed on or at the beach are people who never go to the beach! I am at the point where just one more insane policy change or new enforcement of the rules of an existing law that has always been there and depending on who thinks or can benefit from it will cause me to pick up sticks.
Been there, done that.
I hardly even glance at Soi Cowboy as I walk down soi 23 these days. I've been there, got the coffee mug. The experience is so hollow to me now and it's hard to believe I was so excited by that scene for so long. I was truly manic for it. It's good to know that I will never marry a bargirl or even contemplate a business relationship with one again. I'm done with it.
I went in to Shark Bar on Friday and it was fairly busy. Soon two cuties came over and sat down. Feeling generous I told them to order a drink each and they came with no problem. Awhile later I was just getting ready to order myself another beer and the two girls another drink when one of them got up and went away. Shortly thereafter she came back with two new lady drinks that I had not ordered or told them to order. I asked who ordered these and she said nothing so I asked the server standing closest to us what was going on going on as I had not ordered those drinks and she said the other girl had ordered them herself. Long story short I said, "Well I'm not paying for drinks I never ordered" and a short back and forth later both girls, their new drinks and the bill were gone. The kicker was when I paid the bill for my one beer and two lady drinks the server said "No tip?" when I handed her back the empty checkbin folder. I laughed in her face and said you expect me to tip when I was ripped off. Stop your girls from being thieves and I would have been there for a long while and bought many more drinks and tipped, but now fat chance. She had the gall to call me keeneow when I walked away!
Morlam A Gogo is a no go.
Had to laugh at the email about Morlam A Gogo. There is not a chance in hell of that happening. The girls might like Thai music but most customers do not, and that's why they don't play it. Usually they will play one or two tracks if you take in a CD but tips are expected. This is another aspect of life here that has gone down the pan – there are not so many concerts and traditional places are closing all over the place. It's nothing like what it was, but then where is?
Isaan music in bars = lively bars.
Just to add my thoughts about bar music, not in gogo bars, but in two bars I drink at, namely KS Bar and Bar4 in Soi Nana, which each play the usual stuff. However, when the DJ puts on Isaan music the girls go berserk! It's a joy to watch as they really enjoy themselves. It transforms both of these bars.
What high season?
I went out Friday night here in Pattaya and many places on Walking Street were totally dead, or at least not near what I'd expect for a Friday night. It looks like high season might disappoint again this year.
Enough to make a foreigner explode.
I'm seeing the posts about the police stopping people and checking passports, but this ain't something new. I've lost count of the number of times I've been stopped and searched, including 3 times when I was in a taxi. The last time I was on the back of a bike and got stopped outside Penalty Spot. It just so happens one of the staff I know walked out and asked why they stopped me and they said they were searching for explosives! Each time they always pat my pockets in what I assume is hoping to hit payload (drugs).
Girl of the week
Jubjang, coyote dancer, The Strip, Patpong soi 2
19 years old and 169 cm tall, Jubjang is a 1-year veteran of The Strip
She tells me she likes sleeping and taking photos (of herself!)
The week started slow in Bangkok's expat bar areas with trade not what you would expect for this time of year but by the end of the week customer numbers had swelled and come Friday it felt like high season. The peak of the high season runs from Christmas Day through most of January.
Bars in Bangkok's red-light bar areas expect to be open until 6 AM on New Year's Eve as has been the norm in previous years. One of the busiest nights of the year, bars are keen to retain girls in the bar for much of the night so expect to see barfines shoot up in most bars to 2,000 baht upwards and at least one bar in Cowboy plans to set barfine rates for New Year's Eve at 5,000 baht. In Nana Plaza, another venue plans to implement staggered barfines for the night with a very high barfine until midnight, at which point it will drop a bit and then at 2 AM it will revert to the standard rate.
It should be noted that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are just another 2 nights in the bars and I'd expect standard barfine rates in most bars.
The bubble machine is operational at Bubbles on the top floor of Nana Plaza. It's not actually in the bar itself but out on the balcony where it blows bubbles out across the plaza. The bubbles get punters' attention and the idea is that they will entice customers upstairs to see what is going on and then in to the bar.
If you don't know where to go on Christmas Eve, the best beer bar on Soi Nana, Stumble Inn will play host to local rock band Earth Collide. Stumble Inn will have all of the Boxing Day action from the English Premiership.
The next Nanapong dance contest will be held at Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy some time next month. The date has yet to be confirmed but should be announced soon.
Soi Cowboy is set to be the backdrop for scenes in another feature film with a farang crew and cast filming scenes in the outdoor section of The Old Dutch on Thursday morning this past week.
The official Patpong Map has just been released with an initial print run of 5,000 copies. It includes a history of Patpong, useful tips, how to get to get to Patpong, emergency numbers, details on night-time tours etc. It can be picked up at many locations throughout Patpong including Le Bouchon, French Kiss and G's German Restaurant. On Sukhumvit Road, the branch of Asia Books on the ground floor of the Landmark Hotel will also carry it. Best of all, it's free. There are plans for a digital version.
On Monday night of this past week, Pink Panther in Patpong soi 2 was visited by officials looking to collect a licence fee from the bar for the MP3 music files played on its computer. Word spread in Patpong that music licence officials were in the area and the reactions could not have been more mixed. Some bar owners ignored it completely while at least one farang-owned bar in Patpong soi 2 turned the computer off and switched to playing music from original CDs. One bar group's marketing guy just laughed and said that these characters (no-one seems to know quite who they are, who they represent and even whether they are official) come sniffing every 6 months or so and the easiest thing to do is ignore them. It all sounds rather dubious and as is so often the case in Thailand, finding out what is actually required can be a headache.
Despite the loss of Checkinn99's famous old sign due to a crazy plan to turn the footpath on the busiest stretch of Sukhumvit Road in to part of the Bangkok cycle path, business is brisk in one of the city's oldest nightspots. Do I detect a publicity stunt?! Anyway, the staff and band at Checkinn99 are putting on a Christmas pantomime on Tuesday, December 23rd and Wednesday 24th starting at 8 PM. It's a musical spoof comedy they wrote themselves with a line-up of classic panto fun suitable for the whole family. You can book online at Checkinn99bkk.com. On Christmas Day and Boxing Day Checkinn99, the wonderful house band Music of the Heart is joined by touring Dutch swing band B2F to make up a combined 15 piece Swing Band and they will repeat the highly popular Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller Tribute night. Bookings are recommended.
Down in Pattaya, Heaven Above will host 3 end of year parties. December 24th and 25th are their Christmas parties and December 31st the New Year's Eve party. It will be the usual format with a free BBQ, Thai food and drink specials all night. 50 Baht happy hours from 7:30 – 9:30 PM featuring draft beer and local spirits. It doesn't matter if you have been good or bad this year, naughty girls will be waiting to meet you at Heaven Above on Soi Diamond, just off Walking Street.
If you have no plans for Christmas dinner, Sunrise has a set Christmas menu with a choice of turkey, pork chop centre cut or salmon with all the trimmings and dessert for 595 baht. It's only available at the Sukhumvit soi 12 branch and Margarita Storm on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 13. This deal runs on Christmas Eve from 6:00 PM – 11:00 PM and on Christmas Day from midday until 11 PM.
A few readers emailed me about a sentence in last week's column which said that the DC10s were arriving empty. It was pointed out that the DC10 is an old plane which has not been seen at Suwannaphum Airport in years. That a few people emailed me probably means many more thought the same. That sentence was a veiled way of saying that DC10 Bar in Nana Plaza had not a single customer when I stuck my head in Friday of last week. Don't take everything I write literally!
The widespread outrage from expats and the anxiety generated amongst foreign visitors by the police stopping and searching foreign males in and around the Asoke intersection was picked up by the international press last week and that coverage has extended to more news outlets and websites this week. It finally came to the attention of senior policemen who commented in one newspaper that either the cops were "fake" or the cops carrying out these checks came from another police district and were not from the district in which the checks were carried out. Whatever.
A scathing report was broadcast on local Thai TV channel TNN24 on Thursday night about the police stops with something I have never heard happening before reported. A young German resident in Bangkok claims that he was stopped by police on Sukhumvit and a bag of yaba (methamphetamine) was planted on him. I had never heard of this before. He insists the drugs were not his. He claims he was then taken to a guesthouse on Ekamai where he was initially asked for 150,000 baht to make the matter go away, the perpetrators eventually settling on 30,000 baht which was all he could come up with. He said he paid because he was scared of what might happen if he did not, notwithstanding that he had done nothing wrong and the drugs found on him were not his. It should be noted that the details of this incident vary greatly from other reports. That this fellow was picked up on Sukhumvit soi 11 (which is well west of Asoke, thus outside the area where the reported police stop and searches have taken place) immediately sets it apart from all the other reports. That he claims to have had drugs planted on him goes against everything else I have heard and that he was taken to a guesthouse and shaken down is again, new.
Now for a bit of good news about these stop and searches. I pass through the Asoke intersection at least 4 times a day every day, without fail. In the past week I have not seen anything to suggest that these searches are still happening. Added to that, neither has one reader reported to me that they have been stopped in the Asoke area this past week. I'm not saying that this nonsense has ended, or even that there is a temporary lull, simply that I have not seen anything with my own eyes and neither has anyone said anything to me or written in about seeing anything. It sounds to me like words have been said behind closed doors and hopefully this is the end of it.
Between the Phrom Pong and Thonglor BTS stations on the even-numbered soi side of Sukhumvit Road is one of the remaining Vietnam era hotels, the Rex Hotel. Rumour is that it has been sold. If that rumour can be confirmed – and I have been unable to do so – I wonder what sold means. Will the new owners continue to operate it as is? That would seem unlikely. Is it going to be refurbished and continue to operate as a hotel? With the way this city is rapidly modernising that would not seem the most likely choice. Or, as seems to be the case these days, will the historic property be knocked down to make space for a much larger development, likely a strip mall (as in the American terminology of a strip mall and not the Bangkok terminology!). If it is the end of the Rex Hotel, it's goodbye to another old remnant of a Bangkok that is fast disappearing. As I wrote in last week's column with the tearing down of the classic bar sign and frontage at the CheckInn99, heritage, nostalgia and sentimentality seem to be foreign concepts in these parts. Will the temples be the only old stuff that will survive in Bangkok?
On the subject of a more traditional Bangkok, I like to take the Saen Saeb Canal boat whenever I can. It might not be comfortable but it's the quickest way to get from downtown to the historic part of the city as it cuts through the city like a knife through butter. I see no more foreigners taking it these days than when I first came here – when the city had far fewer visitors and a relatively small number of expats. Also when talking about a more traditional lifestyle, I see foreigners eating on the street these days, a few street food hot spots like Sukhumvit soi 38 and the Khao San Road area aside. It does rather seem that the new arrivals – visitors and expats alike – live a life in Thailand little different to that they lived at home. They go to Starbucks, watch Western movies in modern cinemas, go to international style bars and restaurants and are more engrossed by their iPhone than what's going on around them.
If you're going to get yourself tested for STDs – or tested for anything for that matter – it might be worth taking note of what happened to friend of mine in Angeles City. Granted this is Thailand and that is the Philippines but still I think there's a lesson to be learned. One of my friend's girls got tested at a small downtown clinic and the poor lass tested positive for HIV. My friend decided that he would get himself tested and went not to a downtown clinic, but to a proper laboratory. He took her along so she could get retested. The cost in the professional lab was half that of the small clinic and the great news is that they both tested negative. OK, so this happened in the Philippines but the point remains that if one is going to get tested it would seem prudent to go to a big-name hospital as opposed to a smaller clinic.
This page has the most comprehensive info I have seen compiled on mobile phone plans and mobile internet options in Thailand. It outlines all of the plans and the many different options available from the local mobile phone companies. Someone has done a great job putting it together.
The digital camera revolution has put an end to the days of naughty boys trundling from the Nana Hotel across the road to the photo store to get the spicy shots they had taken over the course of their holiday printed. That shop used to do a remarkable trade in bedroom shots. Film is history and almost everyone has gone digital. Probably there are even more spicy photos taken these days and what I understand some do is copy the spicy shots from their digital camera or mobile phone to a "hidden" directory on their laptop. That way if the contents of the computer are examined – such as when crossing international borders – the photos are hidden. The general attitude of the authorities seems to have changed and where once they turned a blind eye to stuff like this, these days they are much more interested. Many naughty boys share something in common with serial killers – they keep a memento from each of their conquests. If you take such photos you had better be technologically savvy because finding files in a hidden directory won't take a competent official very long. In addition to that, remember that delete does not actually delete photos, but rather simply remove the files from the directory and unless over-written by other files, the deleted files remain and are easily retrievable! You might think that by deleting photos from your computer – or your camera's memory card – that they are gone. It doesn't work that way! I don't wish to be alarmist but the way things are going these days and the way that infractions by foreigners in Thailand are more likely to be scrutinised – there seems to be a real desire to catch foreigners up to no good these days – you amateur porn movie directors ought to be careful.
The Australian government has been increasing the cost of partner visa application fees considerably in recent years and these annual price increases show no sign of stopping, despite the downturn in the Aussie economy. Come January 1st 2015 partner visas will increase a staggering further 50%! An offshore partner visa will increase in price from $3,085 to $4,627. If your application is ready, make a point of submitting it before the end of the calendar year to avoid the price increase. It's going to be a happy 2015 for the Aussie government!
Quote of the week comes from Bangkok Real, "It isn't easy to give up on Thailand."
Reader's story of the week comes from Bangkok Real, "It's My Affair, Goodbye to All That".
The police are looking at claims of tourists being targeted by police on Sukhumvit Road.
Is 90-day reporting to be abolished? – This article suggests that perhaps it is.
The Chinese tourists who threw scalding hot water on a flight attendant on a Thai Air Asia flight will be blacklisted.
Hotel bookings in Pattaya by Russians are down 70% for high season on the back of the Russian currency crashing.
A tragic end to a young life as a 24-year old Swede jumps to his death from the 13th floor of a Bangkok condo building.
Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: My wife and I were married in the US. Can we get divorced in Thailand and what would the process be?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Your ability to get divorced in Thailand would be dependent on two major factors: the nationalities of each person and whether or not the marriage was registered with the Thai Embassy if your wife is Thai.
If neither spouse is a Thai national then you would not be able to divorce in Thailand.
If your wife is Thai then it would depend on whether or not you registered your marriage with the Thai Embassy in the United States. If you did, then you would be able to get divorced in Thailand since your marriage would be in the system and you could register your divorce at any District Office. You would need to bring your passport (ID card and house registration for Thai) as well as return the marriage certificates (each was given an original when they registered their marriage). It should also be noted that if there is any dispute over assets or custody then your best option would be to obtain legal counsel. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has English and Thai-speaking legal advisors who can provide assistance in this case.
If you did not register your marriage with the Thai Embassy then you would also not be able to divorce in Thailand as under Thai law the marriage must be registered in Thailand.
I really do think we have seen the end of the stopping of foreigners by police in and around the Asoke intersection and the subsequent search of their person and requests to provide a urine sample roadside. The outcry by Westerners resident in Bangkok as well as some visitors was eventually picked up by local and international media which brought the spotlight on it. This carry on has done nothing for Thailand's reputation at a time when the tourism industry desperately needs good news stories. The authorities have put on a brave face and come up with some odd explanations for why it might have happened. Behind the scenes however there has been fury with threats of job losses and the local equivalent of being transferred to the Siberian front. Hopefully this really is the end of it, and an early Christmas present for all who frequent the area.
Your Bangkok commentator,