Sometimes the madness of the city gets too much and you need to escape Bangkok. I had that feeling this week. The capital might have emptied out as cars with Bangkok number plates were reported to fill the car parks of hotels and tourist spots up and down the country. The city was relatively quiet and the weather at its best, but I wanted to get out of the city for a day, spend time outside, take a few snaps, see a few smiles and just get away from it. Pattaya is too crazy and Hua Hin, while doable for a day trip, is just a bit too far. So in the end we settled on Ayutthaya, a day at the temples and some riverside seafood in between checking out the sights.
The province of Ayutthaya is around 80 odd kilometres north of Bangkok and easy to get to. The best way to get there – primarily because it makes getting around once you're there easy – is by private car. Other options include taking the bus from the Mochit Bus Station, a minibus from Victory Monument or the train from the main train station at Hualumpong.
The main reason for visiting Ayuthaya, once a capital of Thailand and at one point said to be the world's most populous city, is to visit the historic park and the temple ruins.
The province is dotted with ruins but most of the best preserved and most complete ruins are on the island of Ayuthaya, an island which sits in the middle of the confluence of 3 rivers.
Once you've made it to Ayutthaya, there are various options for getting around. Many choose to use the historic city's tuktuks which come in a variety of designs and colours.
If you're staying for more than a day, guesthouses rent out bicycles so you can explore at your own pace.
As romantic as it might sound to roam the temples ruins of Ayutthaya by elephant, it's not possible. Short elephant rides operate near Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the temple with the three chedis.
Having done the elephant ride thing on my very first visit to Thailand, I have to say it is not recommended. Dreadfully uncomfortable and slow, it gets awfully perturbing when the beast screeches.
The great thing about riding an elephant is not the ride itself, but the street cred of having your photo taken riding an elephant, especially if you are the only person on it and can have the photo taken from an angle that makes it seem like you're in the jungle.
Ayuthaya has samlors but, just like elephants, they may be chic but they're not built for comfort. The basic design of Thai samlors predates World War II and the ergonomics and general comfort level are stuck in the past.
Tuktuk drivers are to Ayutthaya what Indian tailors are to Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok and Bangla Road in Phuket. Need I say more?!
The iconic temple with the 3 chedis has obviously undergone repairs and the steep walkways are not as rickety as some of the other temples where they are really quite scary. The stairs climb at a super steep angle and just watching some people come down was scary. Going up is easy, coming down is something altogether different. With ineffective handrails, I guess there must have been some nasty falls.
The market behind the Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit chapel is a tourist trap but with the most of the visitors Thai, the highlights are local food rather than silly plastic trinkets.
One of the curiosities of the market is the local dessert, roti sai mai. This is not a roti in the style you often see in street carts in the capital operated by young Muslim men, but often by young women. The sickly sweet dessert appeals to the Thai palate. What makes it interesting is the way the sticky gooey mixture is placed on the hot plate direct from the vendor's hand.
Temple ruins are strewn all over Ayuthaya. Large temples cost 50 baht for foreigner to get in while it's free for Thais. Many of the small ruins you can wander around freely with no charge to enter. As per usual, the Thai price is posted as free in the Thai language and the foreigner price in English only – to conceal the fact that price is determined by race. There is another much more annoying practice being perpetrated at some temples that I have not experienced before. So Thais get in for free – and this is clearly posted – however, if you as a foreigner go with a Thai, the staff at the ticket booth may try to make you pay for the Thai too – even though they have the right to enter free. This happened at two of the four temples we went to. A few words in Thai quickly put an end to that nonsense.
I never bore of the 37-metre long reclining (NOT sleeping!) Buddha, one of the many ruins sites for which there is no charge to enter.
Many are fascinated by the head of the Buddha statue in the tree. How did it get there?
We debated this on the way back to Bangkok and had very different ideas. The Western, pragmatic explanation involved Somchai, whiskey, moonlight and bit of fence jumping. The Eastern explanation reminded me of magic, was baffling but at the same time highly improbable.
Many of the Buddha statues are missing the head, which goes back to the period when Thailand was at war with the Burmese. Resentment from the Thais towards the Burmese still runs deep and it's not that long ago that whenever Thailand and Burma met in football things would erupt on the field.
There are many highlights and a lot to see. Even with a vehicle, we only managed to see 4 major temples, 2 smaller ruin sites with breaks for lunch and wandering around the market – and that was after making an early start. Still, one day in Ayuthaya is probably enough for most and watching most people they seemed to be on a spree to see and photograph as many spots as possible.
Ayutthaya is known for noodle soup Ayutthaya-style and there are many large noodle soup restaurants packed with locals. Ah, no thanks.
Instead we chose to eat at Sai Thong Seafood on the main road on the southern part of the Ayutthaya island which was excellent. Cars parked hundreds of metres away and Thais willing to walk in the sun to get to eat there was proof of its popularity.
Ain't that swell, they even tell you where to pee! Well, the whole area is a UNESCO site and an historical park so you can't just go peeing any old where, you know!
Ayuthaya makes for a great day trip from Bangkok. If you haven't been, do go. You can get there easily from downtown Bangkok in about an hour and can either do it on your own, or take a tour. For most people a day-trip will be enough. It's usually a good few degrees warmer than the capital so I'd avoid Ayuthaya in the hot season. With the weather expected to be pleasant through until around mid-February, there's plenty of time to visit before it gets hot. Get yourself away from Sukhumvit and Silom to visit Ayuthaya – it's very much worth the effort!
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of a shrine near the Pratunam intersection, not far from Platinum Mall. This week's photo was taken outside Bangkok and might be the most difficult I have ever run…
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 – Special occasions not special for everyone.
I had an interesting talk with a bargirl on Soi Nana who told me she hated the 24th and 25th December. Not only did the bar make the girls dress in a certain way which cost the girls their own money, but the bar also doubled the barfine to 1,000 baht until midnight when it reverted back to 500 baht. However, real scorn was shown for Loy Kratong when she told me a similar tale about the barfine but the costs of make-up, hair and costume could easily exceed 2,000 baht! If soi 4 was as quiet as you infer over Christmas, I can imagine quite a few peeved women in a certain bar to name but one.
Quiet in the sois.
Interesting to hear the bars were quiet over the last week. You know it must be dire when my beer bar girlfriend calls me from her Nana beer bar on a Saturday night and asks me what I am doing as she is bored! Needless to say, being in a bar on the Gold Coast on a Saturday night entertaining 2 Brazilian language students who were getting slightly under the weather on 5 dollar Margaritas made me realise that holidaying at home this year was a good call. "Sorry, honey, I sleeping", was my response – and haven't we all heard that one before!
Stuttering world economy could hurt local tourism industry.
I think the interesting thing in 2015 in relation to Thailand's bar scene will be the global economy. Russia is being hammered, the oil price drop is causing many problems for the likes of myself (and anyone involved in high-paying forms of the industry and exploration / provision), China's economic slow-down and the knock on effect on the likes of Australia. Whilst these do not affect Thailand directly, the effects on potential visitors may be huge.
After living full-time in Hua Hin for 12 years, there has been a definite change of attitude from tourists here. Originally, most tourists I met here came for up to a month but returned year after year. Many slowly increased their stay to 2 months, and often 3 months. Most of them also re-booked their accommodation for the following year before they left. In the last couple of years the majority have reverted to visiting for less than a month (often with a month somewhere else as well) and now, I hear, some are giving the country a miss this year – allegedly for a year or two, but obviously this gap could become longer. Most of these people are couples aged 50+, but I've had similar emails from single guys who also aren't planning to come this winter. And for all of them it doesn't seem to be primarily the money issue that has caused the change. In a word it seems to be ‘boredom’, although there might be many reasons for this. Perhaps dissatisfaction is a better term.
More fans of Morlam.
Interesting how you are receiving positive emails about playing morlam music in the bars, isn't it? If I ran a bar that is what I'd be playing. It also links in to what you wrote about Thailand becoming the same as everywhere else. That goes for the music in the bars as well. Nothing Thai or exotic about it, just really poor quality western music which is of no real interest to the girls at all. Thai girls like Thai music. Nothing could be more natural, and that is what sparks them into life, not the anonymous car alarm nonsense. Has anyone ever seen the girls jump to their feet to dance to Aerosmith or Guns n' Roses? Add Thai-style decor and some kind of scanty Thai-style costume and I bet you wouldn't be able to get in the door. Next time I see Dave The Rave I'm going to mention it.
I was interested in your point on Facebook because I found the opposite to be true. I met a girl in Patong last month who had just started work. Checking her Facebook after we became "friends", I could see what was not on her wall. She had worked the same bar in 2012 so I had wasted my time showing her around the island! She was happy for me to become a friend to add to the other 521(!) as her English boyfriend. In addition to the dozens of guys from all over the world she has kept in contact with for when she returned to Patong, it's another status symbol to have a long list of boyfriends in addition to the endless selfies. There's even a selfie clearly taken on the loo…she's so vain! The advantage of briefly being a friend is you get to see all the messages to other guys, pictures of them with other guys the day after they wrote how much they miss her etc. I unfriended her quickly because I'm not jealous but I don't need that and my friends don't need to see all this crap. They have so many "boyfriends" on Facebook they won't even notice.
FLB Bar, ahead of its time.
I think FLB Bar in Pattaya was ahead of its time. They use to have red numbers when the girl had her period and green when she was ready to go. Surely bars employing coyote girls could employ the same colour scheme – green means she is ready to go and red or any other colour that she is a coyote and is not good to go.
Bar biz recruitment ideas.
I agree the talent is what keeps us going back to certain gogos and you can spot good management right away. For example, a few months ago Crazy House was the hottest place on Walking Street. In just a few months the mamasan drove out the best dancers and many moved across the street or next door, but they had a good thing and didn't pay attention. Anyway, you focus on employee retention. Good thoughts, but as a businessman let me say "cliffs" don't work well for bonuses. It would be far better to have an ever increasing raise. So, for example, I know many staff are worth a 40,000 baht bonus, BUT the money coming at the end of the year is too far away. I guarantee she quits the moment she collects. Let's remember some of these girls do 100k baht a month or more. So instead I suggest you give a 500 baht raise every month she stays. At the end of the year you are paying her 6,000 baht more per month. It cost you 38,000 baht. But at the end of the year, she is unrecruitable because she will not take a big pay cut. Similarly, bars should consider a loyalty program for customers. Gogos aren't a good value with 1,000 baht bar fines so I need an incentive. If I got 1 free barfine for buying 3 in a 30-day period that might be compelling enough reason not to shop around. The tourists won't be around long enough, but locals are a significant customer base. Lastly, positive incentives are more powerful than negative. Some bars fine the girls 10 baht a minute for being late. This is stupid without an offset. Every barfine should give a girl an hour's time off. So the next day she can come an hour late without penalty. I know a smart manager who lets the girls come any time as long as they get barfined. Some know they will always get barfined so they show up at 11 PM.
Girl of the week
Da, gogo dancer, Spanky's, Nana Plaza
Tragedy struck on Soi Nana a few days before New Year when the wing mirror of a bus driving down the soi struck a pedestrian on the back of the head right outside Stumble Inn. The middle-aged male Caucasian went crashing to the ground right outside Soi Nana's best beer bar. Kind-hearted girls from the bar rushed to his aid and valiantly tried to bring him around using menthol nasal inhalers. The police were called and with the guy convulsing and in and out of consciousness, an ambulance soon arrived. Sadly, he didn't make it and is said to have died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. Like so many sois running off Sukhumvit, Soi Nana is bustling and full of life. At the same time it's narrow – both the road and the sidewalk – and the short section from the mouth of the soi down to the entrance of the plaza is an obstacle course of street vendors and their carts, bargirls, bargoers, beggars, loitering ladyboys as well as all those who live and work in the soi all fighting to get by. It's a nightmare to traverse, worse even than Sukhumvit Road itself between sois 5 and 7 when the vendors set up after dark. Some pedestrians choose to walk out on the road and avoid the obstacles on the footpath. Whether this poor fellow was out on the road when he was hit is a moot point. It was a horrible accident and a tragic way to go.
At the start of the week – before New Year's Eve – the expat bar areas were packed but not all bar bosses were celebrating. Some commented that while the crowds had finally arrived, the big spenders of years gone by – those who run up bills of 10,000 baht or more – the sort of spenders who alone can make the difference between a good night and a great night for the bar – were absent. Many visitors seem drawn to the expat bar areas after seeing Hangover 2 and the highlight isn't the women, or even having a few drinks in and experiencing a Bangkok red light area, but getting selfies to post to Facebook. That seems to be the way the world is going these days….go somewhere amazing to tick it off the list and get proof that you've been there before heading to the next place on the list. Anyway, after New Year's Eve the number of visitors dropped noticeably. It was still busy, but not as busy as before New Year. The situation wasn't helped by a dramatic drop in dancer numbers with many bars running with half a crew as staff took time off to go home and visit family.
Many Sukhumvit hotels are full with not a single room vacant. At one large hotel in the zone wait staff say they have never seen it so busy and a friend who has stayed at the same popular 4-star hotel on Sukhumvit every year for the last 10 years reports this was the first time he has ever had to queue at the breakfast buffet. Word from Pattaya is that many hotels are similarly full. So they should be, from Boxing Day through the first couple of weeks of January is the absolute peak of the high season.
Popular Crazy House on Sukhumvit soi 23 does a roaring trade every night and the star of the bar is #50. At a party held upstairs for the girls on New Year's Eve she was awarded the most barfined girl of the past 3 months, with a whopping 165 barfines. That means she has averaged 55 cocks customers each month for the past 3 months. Interestingly, it is said that she is seldom taken by the same customer twice. As impressive as these numbers are, there are girls out there even more popular!
It looks like the maintenance crew had better get their ladder out as the main sign at the self-described world's biggest adult playground is short a few letters with P-L-A-Z in Plaza not illuminated.
In Bubbles on Nana's top floor, a shower cubicle has been installed, as has a Jacuzzi. Later in the night are shows in the tub with foamed up girls. I note that the shower cubicle has been installed just inside the main entrance which goes against the grain. Usually they are placed at the back of the bar, out of sight from prying eyes.
It's one thing that Underground in Nana Plaza has a mix of ladyboys and (genuine) female coyotes, quite another that staff deny the bar has ladyboys when customers ask. That might be one reason why to my eyes it's currently the quietest bar in the plaza. Standing outside Underground talking to the staff with Nana Plaza's longest serving foreign manager by my side, the hussies denied that the bar has any ladyboys. At the same time a couple of ladyboys towered over us and were licking their lips at the sight of Dave The Rave's freshly polished dome. Underground's welcome crew could be part of the reason for the venue failing to gain traction.
Surely bar bosses and bar managers are aware that many customers are appalled at the idea of bars presenting post-op ladyboys as ladies. This is relevant in Nana where there are now a full handful of bars with a small number of post-op ladyboys mixed in with those born female and where it is not widely known that there are any ladyboys at all. In some cases, even long-termers with a finely tuned radar don't know. It is quite within the realms of possibility that some guy is going to find out too late, and he is going to see red. And in a worst case scenario we could have a tragedy on our hands.
At the one and only entrance and exit to Nana Plaza there appear to be more security guards than usual. Where previously there was 1, sometimes 2 security guards on duty, this week there were 4. Many bars have their own security so the total number of security staff throughout the plaza probably runs 20 or more.
Is a new bar to open on Soi Cowboy, in that long empty single-shophouse space between Cockatoo and Sahara? I've been asking questions and nobody is talking, even when clearly some know.
Velvet in Sukhumvit soi 33 was a strange sort of venue. It started off slowly but didn't take long to become a real hot spot for the so-called in crowd. The roller coaster ride continues and now it seems to be closed, whether permanent or temporary I do not know. For the time being, at least, the lights are out at Velvet.
On the back of the prediction in last week's column that something is going to give at Nana Plaza come the middle of this year when the rental contracts roll over and key money is due, there have been asked which bars are affected. The answer is all of the bars within the plaza itself – being all of the gogo bars, the 3 short-time hotels and the beer bars – as well as the beer bars on the street front outside Nana Plaza meaning Morning Night, Stumble Inn, K&S Bar and Hillary 4. The bars within the plaza have contracts direct with the land owner. The 4 beer bars directly out front of the plaza are subleased by the owners of the plaza to a Thai lady and subleased to the bar operators. The rest of Soi Nana is unaffected.
Whatever happens come mid-year, we might see a different approach to the way bars are owned and operated in Nana Plaza. A few bars in the plaza are already operating on what are being termed management contracts. This is what happens when the bar owner no longer wishes to run the bar but at the same time he is unable to sell it, so he retains ownership and someone else comes along and pays him a little more than the rent and runs it. There are all sorts of pros and cons for all parties involved. So long as sky-high rents remain, management contracts might be the way things go.
A nasty trend is emerging in the bar business. As bar owner after bar owner comes to realise that peak gogo has passed, a couple of foreign bar bosses are looking at running their girls to other countries in the greater region where they will offer services at premium prices. It is fraught with danger, reckless and the very definition of human trafficking. Those currently exploring opportunities should think very carefully about what they are doing. If anything goes wrong you're going to end up on the front page of the Post – and it won't be as businessman of the year.
The local news channel TNN24 ran a report last night following on from the complaints in social media about the two policemen stopping foreigners and checking their person in and around the Asoke area. It was reported that no policemen in the police station in the area where the checks took place matched the description of the two policemen. As such, they say it is considered doubtful that the coppers were from that station. What seems to be misunderstood is that it was not just two cops carrying out these checks but a number. Never mind, with all of that nonsense seemingly behind us the good news is that it seems that foreign men being stopped is a thing of the past with no-one reporting being stopped.
For many of us who have experienced the dark side of Bangkok, there's a blur between reality and fantasy. Corruption, sex and seduction can just as easily be experienced first-hand as through the works of Bangkok fiction writers. Crime, mystery and thriller novel writers, along with poets and photographers will come together for the popular Bangkok Fiction: Night of Noir at Checkinn99 this coming Thursday, January 8th, from 7 – 9 PM. It will be an evening of readings, signings and evocative art & imagery representing the Bangkok Noir. The line-up includes Dean Barrett, James Newman, Tom Vater, James Dibiasio, John Daysh, John Gartland, Kevin Wood and more, all of whom have a following in Bangkok and beyond. A mini art exhibition of works from impressionist artist Chris Coles will be on display and available for sale. I have also been invited to exhibit a range of Stickman photos and included amongst them will be many previously unpublished images. Entertainment following the event will be provided by the house band Music of the Heart. Voluntary door proceeds will be used as funding at the Klong Toey Slum Kids Day Care Foundation which Checkinn99 supports. Checkinn99 has become a little trickier find since the street signage was removed. It is located down a dark corridor which is something of a hole in the wall on Sukhumvit between sois 5 & 7, directly opposite the Landmark Hotel. Bookings can be made online at Checkinn99bkk.com and are recommended. It will be an evening not to be missed for fans of Bangkok expat fiction.
Sunrise Tacos has a popular happy hour promotion at its Silom soi 4 and Sukhumvit soi 12 branches with Heineken and Tiger pints just 99 baht and house wine from Chile at 100 baht until 7 PM.
From a friend in business over in Phnom Penh comes word that the high season in the Cambodian capital is not setting the world on fire. He reports that in the Penh, Xmas was a bust this year and Christmas Eve totally dead in the nightlife zone. Pontoon continues to bring the punters in as people go where the people are. The Cambodian working girls are complaining that many out and about are backpackers who don't make viable customers.
From Thai social media this week a photo was posted online of a 50-something foreigner standing outside Central Lad Prao Shopping Centre with a professionally printed placard with a message in Thai. He was protesting at Thai women who he claims were losing their Thainess as they changed their appearance to look more like foreign women. It was a gentle and polite protest and the reaction from Thais online was generally positive. He rounded the message on the placard off by saying that there is nothing in this world as beautiful as a natural Thai woman – and that sort of comment will always go down well with the Thais!
Of course the point he totally misses is that most men like sexy, racy women and where once Thai women were demure and very conservative in their appearance, things have changed, in Bangkok at least, where for many it's all about overtly sexy. Thai women know what men want and will do what they can to stand out from the crowd.
I commented a few years ago on the number of foreigners cycling around Sukhumvit and downtown. I thought they must be doing this for exercise but some have told me they cycle to save money. Really, to save money?! Bangkok taxis are cheap, although taking a taxi isn't convenient if it's peak hour. The skytrain and underground are cheap but obviously they only cover small sections of the city, and the buses are so cheap they are basically free. Would someone really use a bicycle in Bangkok for the purpose of saving a few baht? The air quality is dire and the driving standards poor that it strikes me as a mug's game. It could be a fun photo essay to put together of foreigners cycling in this city.
Quote of the week comes from a reader and is short and sweet, "Thailand is the perfect place for a single guy but no place to raise a family."
Reader's story of the week comes from Andrew, a superb article on the current state of Internet dating in Thailand.
Even if resident or employed in Thailand, foreigners still have to pay the highly inflated foreign price at Thai national parks.
Gangs of youth on motorbikes with grenades are a cause for concern in South Pattaya.
The law has been strengthened so drivers who refuse to submit to a breathlyser test face much stiffer penalties.
A Swiss tourist is attacked in Pattaya by 3 street vendors after refusing to buy anything from them.
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.
There were no questions received for Sunbelt Legal this week.
The bars were busy this week and other parts of the city popular with visitors were mobbed. A run down to the river, through the old part of the city and Khao San Road was not the usual relaxing affair with throngs of visitors everywhere. Available taxis were hard to come by, restaurants were full and even modest roadside pad Thai stands had queues! I've never seen the backpacker area and old part of the city as busy as it was this week. Long may it continue!
Your Bangkok commentator,