As visa regulations slowly tighten up and some feel their hosts aren't so keen on them staying long-term, the shoe is on the other foot as some guests question whether they wish to continue their stay. Discontentment in expat society is growing as all of the usual frustrations combine with the seemingly never-ending political situation and a relentless stream of bad news stories involving foreigners. If recent conversations are anything to go by – those I have been part of and those I have overheard – more than a few expats are seriously questioning their future in Thailand.
Expats in Thailand have long commented that they feel like the proverbial square peg which won't fit in a round hole. We knew this place was different when we first arrived, we accepted it and we embraced the differences. We'd gain a greater understanding of everything and it would all work itself out, right? In a year or two, we'd feel like we were part of society, right? In time we'd better understand the country, its people and would feel like we were part of society. We would feel valued, be respected, maybe even feel that our presence was wanted. The feeling of being an outsider forever on the fringe wouldn't last, right? 1 year becomes 2….soon it's 5…..and before you know it 10 years have passed. Time marches on and one day we wake up and realise that things haven't changed. How can it be that after so long in country, being gainfully employed, married to a local, possibly with Farang / Thai children and conversant in the local tongue yet we still don't feel like we belong?
The political situation and ongoing discord may not concern foreigners resident in Thailand, but it has done little for our confidence with the current conflict dating back more than a decade. Divisions remain. That the military government brought calm to a situation that threatened to boil over doesn't mean everyone is happy. There's a tension which isn't lost on foreign residents. You have to tread carefully, choose your words wisely and even then it can be so easy to upset locals. What happened to the laid back attitudes this place was once famous for?
Foreigners are on the outer when it comes to local politics and the political situation hasn't caused (m)any expats to leave, but it has damaged our confidence in the country and weighs on the minds of many, especially those in business or heavily invested in the country.
I don't think Bangkok has ever been a relaxing place to live, but these days it's more taxing. One wants to be nice, to be a decent human being but daily challenges – often things that should be simple and easy – become unnecessarily complicated. Dealing with incompetence, being subtly insulted and knowing that in a dispute with a local, no matter how innocuous it may be, the playing field isn't level all wears you down. You subconsciously erect a wall around yourself shielding yourself from the nonsense and at the same time compromising your general enjoyment of life.
For some, the perceived decline in fun and value of the bar industry is a reason to look elsewhere. Even as the country moves further and further away from an image of sex tourism, there are some for whom the primary reason for relocating to Thailand is the bar scene. As the industry changes, there is a perception that other countries in the region, namely Cambodia and the Philippines, offer more for less.
One such person for whom the decline in the bar industry and a perceived deterioration of attitudes towards foreigners who made the move is Pattaya Gary, a long-time contributor to this site. Gary clocked up more than a decade in Thailand with a number of years spent in each of Phuket and Pattaya. He couldn't shake that feeling that he wasn't liked and wasn't respected. A long-time visitor to Angeles City in the Philippines, he felt it offered more for less and 10 months after departing Thailand's Sin City for the Philippines' equivalent, he has no regrets. Gary still enjoys quick trips to Thailand for a few days, but that's enough.
And then we have the wildcards, the relentless stream of bad news stories involving foreigners in Thailand, from accidents that never should have happened to murders where the suspect is never caught or there is doubt that those arrested are scapegoats to foreigners leaping off tall buildings to the issue that remains a major talking point in Bangkok expat circles, the police stops and checks in downtown Bangkok, many expats are made to feel vulnerable. Despite their relative wealth, some feel like second class citizens.
Talking about the downside of life in Thailand and planning one's escape has always been a popular topic in expat circles, right up there with gossiping about where so-and-so met his wife. Usually it's just talk, but you get the feeling this time that some are serious.
Whether anything comes of all this talk and whether there is any sort of expat exodus, only time will tell. The practicalities of upping and leaving one country for another means that few will probably go through with it. That said, the fact remains that there is a growing discontentment in some expat circles.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of a street corner near Charoen Krung and Maitri Chit, in between the Hualumpong Railway Station and Chinatown.
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 – This ain't….Black Label.
When I first came to Bangkok some 20 years ago, I was a gin and tonic drinker. But outside the big hotels, the quality of the gin and the tonic was generally so bad that I decided to switch. My drink of choice became Black Label and soda – mainly because at the time a lot of bargirls would drink it so the bars tended not to use counterfeits. When you ordered a Black Label, that's what you got. And that has stood me in good stead for 20 years. I've never had a bad one. Until this week. For the first time ever I was served counterfeit Black Label. I was in a bar in the main Patpong soi. I'd been there twice the previous week with friends and drunk with no problems. But on the third time I went alone. I'd already had a few drinks elsewhere but as soon as I tasted the “Black Soda” I realised something was wrong. I'd bought the mamasan a drink so she was sitting next to me and she saw my face. I said I didn't think it was Black Label, it tasted like a cross between Black Label and Jack Daniels, whisky but with a sweetish aftertaste. She assured me it was Black Label and the girl behind the bar showed me the bottle. It looked fine, it had the tax sticker and looked like a brand new double-size bottle of Black Label. I sipped again but it still wasn't right. The mamasan thought maybe it needed more whisky so another shot was added. At that point I knew something was wrong because it tasted horrible. The mamasan got the girl to pour me a small measure of neat whisky. I drank it slowly and got the warm glow you get as it goes down. But instead of the warmth spreading across the chest that you get with a good whisky, this burned like acid. Almost immediately there was a strong aftertaste, something like burned orange, which was quite horrible. And then thirty seconds later my mouth went completely dry, as if I hadn't had a drink all day. Parched, totally parched. So bad that I had trouble swallowing. At that point I got a bit worried because it was clearly like no other alcohol I'd ever drunk. I figure what had happened was that the cheap alcohol had evaporated in my mouth causing the drying effect. I immediately drank a whole bottle of water to hopefully neutralise what ever it was I'd swallowed. I told the mamasan that it definitely wasn't Black Label but she just pointed at the bottle and insisted it was. I paid my bill and yes I had to pay for the “Black Soda”. It's scary and I'm going to have to rethink my choice of drink.
I am thinking of taking legal action against the Bangkok Police because of all the face I have lost. All my friends have been stopped by the police at least once but not me. It is obviously a case of age discrimination! Of course, if they do ask me to pee I would tell them that at my age I cannot go whenever I feel like it but if they come up to my apartment at 4:00 in the morning when I often have to pee, fine…
The benefits of taking the bus.
There is a way by which one can largely avoid the police searches occurring. Don't walk through the Asoke intersection or go through by taxi. Catch a bus instead. I have never heard or seen the cops stop or search city buses, only buses en route outside Bangkok. I have been cruising through this intersection for years, completely immune, and yes I have seen police shakedowns from the safety of my bus seat. I am aware that this does not address the nub of the issue, but it is a simple way of avoiding the hassle.
Morlam A Gogo.
I could not agree more with the anonymous writer of a submission about the music in gogo bars. He hit the nail on the head when he said how much fun the girls have when morlam music is played. It's what they grew up with, it is what is played at festivals when they go back home to their village, and it is what they frequently hear on TV. The DJ will occasionally play it very late in the evening and the girls light up, and it's not only because they've been drinking all night. I have no doubt that the majority of girls prefer that to farang music, and I'd really love see one gogo take the plunge and play morlam exclusively. I'm sure it would be the most fun place in town and it really would make it stand out from the mediocre crowd.
Justifying car alarm music.
Your contributor who wrote about music in gogo bars struck a nerve with me as he clearly doesn't have a clue about modern dance music or why it is needed. I, like most people, hate unwelcome piped music especially in a public place, bar, restaurant etc. There we go to eat and talk and hate to shout over a din we probably didn't choose in the first place. I am a creator of dance music with 2 hits and many unsigned tracks on my hard drive, and really don't sympathise in the case of any frequenter of a strip club, gogo bar, disco or any kind of place designed to attract nubiles. These places need dance music! Imagine their existence without it. No dance music = no girls dancing = no action afterwards. It is incredibly skilful to create, especially to make it sound good in the clubs. I have given my lesser mp3s to DJs and watched the floor empty. It's the mixing that makes or breaks even the most basic of tracks, and that's why they (the engineers) want $1,000 a day to do it right. The A-list writers of that music are either rich / lucky and have budgets for their team (e.g. David Guetta) or not like most of us. Many writers, performers, engineers, singers and $000s of equipment / software are needed to do one car alarm track, never mind a Rihanna classic. As a separate note, I guess the bars do not pay the correct public performance royalties or money for their stolen mp3 collection, so that slaves to their art get their 5c slice. The girls get paid. The manager gets paid. The beer supplier gets paid. So why not the creator of the music without which the clubs would be very boring? Sorry for the diatribe; this just happens to be a thorny issue with me and many others.
The last man standing.
Now that you are getting ready to 'escape' it would be a good time to do an essay / article on all of the Thai-farang genre websites that have come and gone over the years. All of them probably had some rude thing to say about you and your website and yet you are still standing. It is always fun to tour the cemetery.
For those who don't go out until late and especially those who like to party until the sun comes up, the night is darker than usual. It's been a while since the so-called late night venues have been closing early, many forced shut at 2 AM sharp, although some manage to get through until 2:30 AM and the odd venue doesn't turf punters out until 3 – but that is as late as it gets. There remains one venue open later, you know that place, over beyond MBK which for reasons I won't go in to cannot be mentioned. The word is that we shouldn't expect a reprieve in the capital any time soon. As far as previously popular late night bars go, word from the authorities is not to expect them to resume the hours of old until….2016! That seems rather a long time, much too far away to be making predictions, but the word is clear – the crackdown on the (illegally operating) late night venues is different to most crackdowns – this time it's for real.
Hot Lips is now Candy Land 2 fter the bar changed hands this week.
Another newish bar in the plaza, Underground, remains very quiet. It too is without a manager with the Brit manager who had previously been in charge not seen in the plaza for some time. And its 125 baht happy hour price will do nothing to entice punters in, that price being higher than some bars regular prices! While not openly listed for sale, it is understood that the bar is on the market.
Towards the back corner of Nana Plaza's ground floor, London Calling currently has both the spiciest and the fleshiest shows in the plaza.
Friday night is perhaps not the best night to check where things are at for it is expected that every Friday night, regardless of the time of year, the bars will be pumping. I did the rounds of Nana on Friday night and was amazed how quiet some bars were. Well in to the night, three gogo bars had not a single customer and many had less than 5 customers, some big name bars among them. Are the DC10s arriving empty this high season? At a subterranean venue the girls were grabbing those walking by, hoping to get someone, anyone, inside. A bar planning to install a bubble machine had the same number of bubbles as customers, zero. It seemed that only Angelwitch, Spanky's and the Rainbow bars were drawing a good crowd.
Where I think Nana Plaza differentiates itself from the 2 other major bar areas is that the plaza has a critical mass of genuinely good bars. As such, despite the major problems some bars in the plaza face, I don't think business in the plaza generally will be unduly affected. Those bars that have problems will see fewer customers and the well run and popular bars will benefit…and the plaza and Soi Nana as a whole will continue to thrive.
You wouldn't say it was rocking at Cowboy this past Friday either, but doing a quick run through the soi late on Friday it was faring better than Nana.
Christmas is coming early at Spellbound on the ground floor of Nana Plaza. Next Saturday, December 20th, Spellbound will host its 1st anniversary party. In addition to the nightly shows that kick off at 10 PM, there will be some special shows performed. The management say you should expect the unexpected. There will be a free buffet and a selection of standard drinks will be just 100 baht all night long. As Dave The Rave says, the gogo stage in Spellbound is full of eye candy done out in an array of lingerie.
If you're in to rock and enjoy live music, check out the recently opened Cave in Pattaya's Soi LK Metro. It opens early, around 2 PM and goes through until late. There's a happy hour from opening through until 8 PM, with local beers starting at 55 baht. Rock music video clips are played throughout the day until the resident band gets going at the end of happy hour. They play until around 12:30 AM then it's back to video clips. The Cave is built to look like rock and built to play rock, and is the brainchild of the former owners of Lolita's Hua Hin and Bliss Lounge who have gone from oral delights to aural delights.
The Shark Bar Dancers Union is doing its best for all employees of the popular Soi Cowboy bar with an agreement in place amongst the girls that short-time is to be quoted at a standard 2.5K baht. Private negotiations are always possible, but many of the most popular dancers will not budge.
Girls moving from bar to bar is nothing unusual as they jostle to find the best salaries, working conditions and the most generous customers. However, with girls so difficult to come by these days, some bar bosses get quite concerned if they perceive that another bar has poached their girls – and that sometimes boils over to anger.
Why is it that so many bar owners spend so much building their bar, but so little on marketing? When it comes to bar websites, don't get me started! The website for an up and coming Bangkok gogo came online this week and the owner went so far as to get a famous European photographer involved. The challenge of a low light environment, the major nuisance of flashing bright lights which throw colour balance and metering to hell, subjects moving which makes focusing a challenge and not overdoing it with auxiliary lighting which can kill the mood and the feel of a bar makes bar photography tricky. This guy was said to be a specialist of nightspot photography but he struggled…and that's being kind. But what really got me was that there was not one photo of any of the ladies faces. It was like they had done a photo shoot for a restaurant and shot plates with raw ingredients, and not the actual food itself.
Following on from the myriad reports of police stopping and searching Western men walking in and around the Asoke area, large international media has finally picked up on the story. Reports appeared in Fairfax Media (Sydney Morning Herald, The Age etc.) newspapers this week. Al Jazeera is working on a story expected in the next few days and at least one Thailand TV channel has shown an interest in reporting on it. After a barrage of bad publicity, can they really continue stopping people? Time will tell.
A couple friends who live on Soi Thonglor itself and who walk around the neighbourhood day and night tell me they have never once been stopped on that road despite it being a major dining and entertainment area, and home to many Westerners. Around Asoke, however, it is a different story.
The police searches have jumped the Asoke intersection and police have been seen stopping pedestrians between Nana and Asoke this week and asking for ID. In the area between Nana and Asoke the police seem to be interested exclusively in men from Africa.
And we have word from a senior, no, make that a VERY senior policeman, on what to do if you are stopped by police on the street. He says there is no need to carry your original passport with you and a copy is enough – although it should be noted that virtually every cop and every lawyer answers the questions of whether foreigners should have their passport on them at all times differently. He confirmed that it's not normal for police to require one's urine to be tested unless there are reasonable grounds to require such a test. So if you are walking in broad daylight minding your own business, it's simply not reasonable. If stopped and asked to undergo a urine test, it is recommended that you say to the cop, "Please show your ID and let me take a photo of it." Say that you require a witness, and that you will talk to a lawyer about the police and make a complaint as soon as the test has been carried out. Also, you should ask the cop to quote the part of the law and his reasons as to why he can ask you to pee. These are the recommendations from a senior cop.
Now's the time to think about making a booking for Christmas dinner if you haven't already. Many places will be putting on a Christmas spread from British pubs to hotel restaurants to favourite farang restaurants.
Next Sunday, December 21st, Checkinn99 (between sois 5 and 7 on the main Sukhumvit Road) will host a Jazz Dayfest. For those of you in to jazz, 15 bands will perform from 12 noon until 9 PM. This is the highlight of the year of CheckInn's Sunday afternoon jazz. There will be soul food on the menu all day, drink specials with Stickman Heineken draft jugs just 199 baht & house mixer specials. For those who haven’t discovered Checkinn99's Sunday Jazz Jam sessions, more details are here.
But it's not all good news at CheckInn99. After 57 years of being one of the most recognizable streetscape signs on lower Sukhumvit, the Wattana Council ordered the removal of their historic street awning to make room on the footpath for the new Bangkok bicycle path. The idea is that its removal will allow tourists on bicycles better access at night to shop in the night market stalls. OMG, whose idea was that?! Apparently, bicycles can be rented further up Sukhumvit Road, somewhere… That the historic Checkinn99 has been nominated by Trip Advisor as one of the Top Twenty Hidden Gems in the world (across 3.5 million listings) for the last 2 years and that the sign might have had an element of heritage value fell on deaf ears. Once again we are reminded that nostalgia and heritage are concepts not recognised in these parts where there is very much a preference for all that is shiny and new.
Jake Needham's Big Mango is iconic Bangkok fiction and along with Steve Leather's Private Dancer and Chris G. Moore's A Killing Smile, is a must read for those who enjoy the expat fiction genre. Jake's latest Asian crime novel, The Dead American, was published a couple of weeks ago and last week it hit #3 on Amazon's Hot New Releases list. This is the third book in Jake's Inspector Tay series, set primarily in Singapore. There is a Thailand connection though with Tay's spook pal, John August, still claiming to be a Pattaya bar owner and Tay makes a reluctant visit to Pattaya to track him down. After The Umbrella Man, Jake's second Tay novel, it looked like August might be dead, so it was quite a relief to find out he really wasn't. Seven or eight years ago when Jake published his first Inspector Tay novel, The Ambassador's Wife, Jake created a Pattaya bar for August called Baby Dolls, and some time later a real bar of the same name opened. Coincidence? This time in Pattaya Tay visits Secrets, but Jake's Secrets is quite a bit different from the real one. I haven't read The Dead American myself yet so I cannot say whether Mister Egg makes a guest appearance. The Dead American is only available as an e-book and, right now, it's only available from Amazon. You can find it at Amazon USA here and at Amazon UK here.
An article in the press this week which announced that for a few days of New Year ATM inter-region fees would be waived on ATM withdrawals drew applause on some local forums as users interpreted this as meaning they could make fee-free withdrawals from their accounts in Farangland. I think such celebration is premature and inter-region refers to transactions carried out from a province outside where your account is held so, for example, if you make a withdrawal at an ATM machine in Chiang Mai but your account is held with a branch in Bangkok then the transaction is fee-free. Yes, Thailand's banking system imposes fees on inter-provincial account transactions.
On the back of the news item I linked to in last week's column where an amateur photographer scaling Unique Tower (the tall unfinished building down by the river and the Saphan Thaksin BTS station) discovered the body of a 30-year old Swede hanged, comes word that the fellow who found the body had trouble getting the attention of the authorities. He first called the emergency number and reported what he had found. The call was answered…but no-one came. He called another Police department number and they accused him of a prank call – which is kind of amusing because it would be one hell of a prank. I mean, how often do the cops get a phone call reporting a decomposed foreigner's body has been discovered on the 43rd floor of an uninhabited building that can only be reached by scaling the unfinished building's stairways by foot! Eventually word reached one of the taxi radio stations which broadcast what was going on and soon after the authorities responded and discovered that there really was a body.
I am hearing more reports from business owners looking to sell who are contacted by folks showing interest in purchasing their business who it turns out are scammers. Unfortunately it often takes time before they discover that the person or group of persons showing interest in their business are not who they purport to be. These scammers are getting more sophisticated and go to the extent of renting space in office buildings, have professional websites and they create a picture that purports them to be the real deal. In most cases they don't have any money and as the deal gets closer to going through, excuses about the money not being available are made. It seems that what they try to do is agree to buy a business at a low price, and then hurriedly hunt for people who do have money to buy a percentage of the business at a high price. Their end game is getting a controlling share of the business, essentially for free. Remember the story about Arsenal Alex? It's much the same MO.
Quote of the week comes from Stu, "It's time to ring the bell and leave Thailand when you get your first rejection from a bargirl."
Reader's story of the week comes from Woofer, "Beware The Ides of March Part 8", the final part of a very well written, brutally honest bargirl-done-me-wrong series.
The southern border town where Malaysian men cross in to in the pursuit of night-time fun, Sungai Kolok is profiled.
The Thai Navy's helicopter rescue team saves a Greek who climbed a cliff on Larn Island and ended up stranded.
Australia's Channel 9 goes undercover at the Ko Phangan Full Moon Party and its report is damning.
Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reports on the harassment foreigners are facing on Bangkok's streets.
A Latvian visitor is in hot water after it is discovered who had fake visa stamps in his passport.
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 am married to a Thai woman. She would like to open a hot dog / sausage stand on Khao San Road because she sees so many Farang in USA eat this food after drinking late at night. My question is this: Can I help her / work with her? We could probably hire a couple of people part-time but do we need to?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Helping your wife sell hot dogs / sausages would be considered as working (even if it is voluntary and without wages). You would therefore be required to have a work permit. To obtain a work permit, the applicant must have a juristic entity i.e. a limited company to support his / her work permit application; this includes meeting the Labour Department's requirements. It would be at your discretion whether you would need to employ full-time or part-time staff, but if you intend to obtain a work permit, the Labour Department requires that the company (that you will have your work permit under) employs 4 (full-time) Thai staff. Sunbelt Asia has extensive experience setting up Thai Limited companies and can assist you in this process should you decide to go this route.
Question 2: I will be coming to Bangkok for a week later this month. I am prescribed a prescription drug could Adderall. This drug is a stimulant and a controlled substance in the States. This drug is more or less government-regulated meth. I take it daily to deal with my attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I am worried about getting stopped by the boys in brown while walking the streets in Bangkok and being forced to take a piss test. Adderall will make me fail the piss test as it will show up as me having used methamphetamine. I don't do other drugs but I am sure if I fail a drug test for meth they will think I am doing ya ba. So my question is what would you recommend I do if I get stopped and fail a drug test over this? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I am really not sure how to handle this.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors recommends that you carry your doctor's prescription with you to Thailand when you travel. You may wish to also bring a letter from your doctor re-affirming the prescription. If you are stopped in a legitimate stop and your urine is found positive for a prohibited drug then you can prove your innocence by showing the medication as well as the prescription or letter from your doctor.
Should this prove not to be enough then we recommend that you contact a lawyer immediately to argue the case. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors would be able to represent you in such a case and communicate with the police to make them understand the prescription.
If this is a rightful / legitimate test, and if your urine has been found positive for prohibited drug substance due to the intake of prescriptive medication, you will have the right to prove your innocence and defend your case by showing the medication you took as well as the prescription issued by your doctor.
Question 3: Often in Bangkok on Sukhumvit, the police tell me that since I am driving a motorbike I must stay in the far left-hand lane. Is this really the law? Also, what is the compensation rate, per kilometre, when using one's car for business travel? Our Thai accountant in the office insists that it is 5 baht / km. Is that right?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: According to Section 35 of the Land Traffic Act, slow or slower vehicles are required to drive on the left-hand side. Trucks and motorcycles are designated to drive in the left lane unless it is a designated bus lane. Fines for not doing this range from 200 – 500 baht.
Compensation rates for using one's own vehicle for business travel depend on the company. Some companies consider only fuel costs while others would also calculate wear and tear in to the compensation provided. You would need to check with your employer on the rates they have set.
I am not predicting an expat exodus per se as many of those moaning and groaning about the state of things are habitual moaners and groaners. But for sure, there are more than a few who genuinely want out but don't have the balls to up and leave. And I bet there are more than a few who have dug themselves in to a hole that would make it difficult to leave. Certainly, more expats seem discontented these days. My decision to leave Thailand in 2015 was made at the start of this year and announced in this column in March. My mind has not changed and Q1 of 2015 will see this column come to an end. Not long to go…
Your Bangkok commentator,