Remembering A Bully
In an industry so full of colour it is a surprise that most of those in positions of power are remarkably bland individuals, many completely forgettable. There is, however, one fellow who stood out. He was loud, he was very proud and he could be incredibly brash. Let me recount a few stories and tell you about the guy some of us referred to simply as “G”.
The first time I met G was in his office in the Interchange Building. He'd been in Bangkok for many years but at that time I knew little about him. What I did know was that he was the boss of an emerging group which had bought the 2 Angelwitch bars and had taken over the top floor of Nana Plaza and created Las Vegas and Billboard. He wanted to talk about advertising.
I was told to be in the office on a certain day at a certain time. It wasn't a request and felt more like an order. I didn't like that so I didn't bother showing up. I would later learn that that infuriated G. He was not used to being stood up to. That's not to say I stood up to him, mind you. I just kind of ignored the request. Plans were made to meet the next day.
But first of all, let's rewind back a week and a half before that meeting. It's mid-2011 and the group G ran held the most elaborate gogo bar opening party ever seen in Bangkok, at Las Vegas (now Bubbles) on Nana Plaza's top floor. There was the usual free buffet and there were free drinks, but they weren't quite the usual. It was bubbles, the good stuff, Dom Perignon. Not lots and lots of bottles of Champagne but lots and lots of cases of Champagne. It was a who's who of the bar industry present with Farang and Thai bar bosses side by side. There were also some heavy hitters from law enforcement present, also invited guests. G and his lieutenants donned a tux and up on stage they talked about their new venture, the future of the Las Vegas, their vision for the future and what lay in store for the plaza. G spoke well, was open and honest. He was unsure of what the future held for the plaza but promised they would make the most of it.
As the champagne flowed, a dance troop performed choreographed shows. It was a fabulous night, exceeding everyone's expectations, and was unlike any bar opening before or since. The memorable night felt more Hollywood than Bangkok. It marked the dawn of a new era as the new bar group made an almighty statement!
I waxed lyrical about both the event and the bar in the opener of the column of July 3rd, 2011, Matching 5 Baht Chicken Legs With 8,000 Baht Champagne.
In the week that followed that I would return for another look and I hated to admit it, but the bar sucked! The opening night was an aberration. The special dancers were just that – a special troop brought in for one night. The beautifully decked out bar was understaffed. I was chastised by readers who ventured along to check it out after my glowing report and who gave the bar the thumbs down. It was nothing like opening night and me being me, that's exactly what I wrote in the next column:
How do you go from absolutely boiling to freezing in the space of just a few days? Ask the management of Las Vegas, the venue I absolutely raved about in the opening piece of last week's column! After a grand opening party that had many talking, just 3 days later, on Monday night to be precise, something had gone horribly – and I mean HORRIBLY – wrong! That night saw but a fraction of the girls in Las Vegas that were there on Friday night, and that was mirrored by the number of customers present. I stuck my head in Las Vegas a few times on Monday evening while bouncing around the plaza, and in the end decided it just wasn't worth going inside. Wow, how things can change!
When you're the only guy chronicling Bangkok's expat bars on a weekly basis, some bar owners don't just read what you write, they take it seriously. What I wrote on July 3rd went down well. What I wrote the following week did not.
I thought I was going to a meeting to discuss advertising. In their minds I had been invited along for a chat.
The meeting was not in the bar, but in their offices in an upmarket downtown office tower, on a largely empty floor. As soon as I arrived at the office I knew something was off.
This was no ordinary company office with a welcoming lobby and a smiling pretty secretary. I stood before a locked door through which I could see a small waiting room. Inside that small room was a hard-looking stocky Thai guy with a close cropped haircut. He opened the door and just looked at me. He did not say a word and was totally unwelcoming. That was my chance and I should have feigned ignorance, told him I was lost, looking for Starbucks and should have walked away. Instead, against my intuition (every time I don't follow my intuition something fxxxed up happens), I explained in polite Thai that I had a meeting with G and without a word he led me to the next door and entered a long key code. That door opened up in to a large office space which, again, was not really what I expected. Inside, a few office girls were pottering around, some doing admin type stuff and others playing on their phones. The decor was off; there was none! There was not much going on and was little in the way of filing cabinets or shelves. What was there was all very helter skelter and wildly disorganised like it had all been put there for show. Perhaps it had. There were half a dozen or so farang guys, milling around, talking amongst themselves. They weren't sitting at desks or on the phone, but just sort of there, doing nothing. A couple I recognised from around the bars, but I did not know them per se. They were dressed casually, not dressed for business – a couple looked like they had probably never worn business attire. It wasn't what I would expect in an office tower in the heart of Bangkok on a weekday afternoon.
I was met by the one fellow I knew, and led in to the boss's office.
There I would see the bizarre scene of a guy pounding – and there can be no other word for it but pounding – a laptop keyboard with what I can only describe as a seriously pissed off, borderline deranged look on his face. I don't know if he was actually doing anything other than, well, pounding the MacBook's keyboard, the index finger of each hand smashing down on the keys, his arms going up and down like pistons in an engine. Just as well it was a Mac, any other computer probably would have been obliterated he was hitting it so hard. He slams the screen down on the laptop, gets up from behind the huge desk he was sitting behind and paces. He's dressed like he just walked off the beach, in shorts and a t-shirt and he is pacing like a pent up bull. Everything felt off. It was perturbing. But what was I going to do? Turn around and walk out? It somehow felt like it was too late for that. He sits down and the rant begins.
Now the hardest part with G – for me, at least – is deciphering what he is saying. He has the thickest of thick southern US accents and when the rant started, it took me a few goes to actually work out what he was saying. Several times I had to ask him to stop and repeat himself – and that did not go down well. I got the feeling that he thought I was taking the piss.
Soon enough I understand what he is saying and I am shocked. It turns out that I was being accused of extorting money from him. Where on earth he had got such an idea from I had no idea.
I don't think it was a case of good cop, bad cop, but one of his lieutenants realised I had genuine problems understanding what he was saying. He slowly explained that they didn't understand why I made less than complimentary comments about Las Vegas in the most recent column when the previous week I wrote one of the most glowing reviews ever. Why would I say something nice one week, something not so nice the next week and send them an email the same time about advertising. That meant Stickman was trying to extort money out of them, right?
The atmosphere in the office was tense. I'm normally cool and calm and can play the cool heart routine well for that is genuinely my default position. But there is one type of situation respond badly to, and that is being accused of something I did not do.
It was just another stinking hot day in Bangkok and the view from whatever floor we were on – I can't remember which but it was one hell of a long way up – was straight down. There I was, sitting on one side of the desk in an office, flanked by his two lieutenants and the temperature felt like it was rising rapidly. I knew I wasn't going to be there long. I was going out the window. They were going to kill me. I was being accused of something I hadn't done and they were going to see if I could fly. I wanted to say that yes, I am a Kiwi and, yes, a Kiwi is a bird, but it's the one bird that doesn't have wings and cannot fly. I knew, though, that it wasn't the time for jokes.
The raging bull stood up, glared at me – his eyes as wide as they were wild. He moved to come around the desk towards me. Was I going out the window? Surely not! I had done nothing, was innocent of all accusations and the accusations were, well, totally ridiculous. But this was not a guy who looked like he would be comfortable with such a strong rebuttal.
How was I going to get out of there?
The two lieutenants weren't fighters, nor were they bodyguards, but they had size on me. One was tall, lean and looked very fit. The other had a bit of a paunch, but otherwise was in decent enough shape too. Physically I would not be able to take them on. I've no military background, have never boxed nor done martial arts. I've always wanted a Magnum but Thai laws won't allow me to own one. I was unarmed.
I back myself to run from danger – and know I can outrun most – but we were inside an office with two sets of security doors between the office and the corridor. I didn't know the security codes nor the layout of the building. And even if I could jump up, open the door, go out through the office in to the small waiting room, I would come across the Thai guy who was probably a dual bodyguard / security and looked ex army and mean. He was probably armed too.
The Usain Bolt approach only works when you know the terrain and have a long straight in front of you. And unfortunately, Jack Reacher I am not. I was fxxxed.
It wouldn't be accurate to say that I was scared, because it all happened so quickly. I had gone along to talk about advertising and within seconds I was being asked if I was trying to extort money. I barely had time to process what was going on.
For a moment I felt like I was in a gangster movie, like I was the good guy in the presence of the bad guy who had reversed the roles in his own mind and now he was the good guy and I was the bad guy!
It became clear what was about to happen. He was going to walk over to the window, open it, make a few comments about this not being personal but business is business and he couldn't be seen by others in the industry to show weakness. And then his colleagues would stand up at the same time, they would each grab me by the arm, drag me over to the window and throw me out. Not a single person in the room's blood pressure would rise. They wouldn't even bother looking down, would close the window and would return to whatever it was they were doing before I got there, all as if nothing had happened. Perhaps they would even go out for a bite to eat. The right people would be paid and that would be the end of it.
What happened next I do not know. Be it divine intervention or a large withdrawal was made from my account at the Bank of Good Karma, I do not know, but something happened. It was like someone flicked a switch, and the mood changed. G sat back down and seemed to settle down. He muttered something that I didn't understand nor didn't seek clarification on. I just nodded, or maybe I grunted. I don't remember, but what ever I did he grunted too and then he extended his hand. I shook it.
I was ushered in to another room, wondering what the hell had just happened. My head was spinning. G remained in his office. Maybe he returned to pounding the keyboard or maybe some other sucker had been summoned to see him and a practiced routine would play out again to unsettle the visitor, just as it had with me. In that other room we thrashed out advertising details and shortly afterwards I would exit the building. Breathing the downtown Bangkok air never felt so good. I haven't stepped foot in that building since.
I doubt that he ever really thought that I had tried to extort money from him. In retrospect that meeting was most likely his way of trying to intimidate me and to create fear in someone who he perhaps perceived had a little influence in an industry that he would soon become a major player in.
That was the first time I was officially introduced to G.
Opening night at Las Vegas in Nana Plaza, the best gogo bar opening ever!
G was the head of what was initially referred to as the Billboard Group, and later became known as the Nana Group. Neither was the official name. I don't think there ever was an official name. The group invested heavily in Nana Plaza, spending the equivalent of (* my best guestimate) around ten million dollars in a bunch of deals acquiring Angelwitch (both Bangkok and Pattaya venues), the two bars once known as Hollywood on the top floor as well as all of the bars in the Crown Group (8 gogo bars and all of the beer bars in the centre of the ground floor of the plaza). They would also acquire Hollywood Rock which would be renovated and renamed as Angelwitch 2. The old Nana Disco would become theirs and would be renamed to Nana Liquid. Crossed Pistons in the Raja Hotel car park was another of their bars as were a few other smaller venues around town, including the odd eatery. Some bars were owned by the group, some just by G and some had other investors involved. Between 2012 and 2014 the Nana Group was the largest player in Nana Plaza controlling around half the gogo bars and more than half of the beer bars inside the plaza.
I would see G around about when I was making my rounds but truth be told, I tried to avoid him. That first meeting remained clear in my mind. One night G approached me in Billboard and invited me out on to the balcony where he would explain that he had bought Nana Plaza for 1.2 billion baht. Those were his exact words – but that is not what happened. He wanted the plaza and he probably thought that the deal was about to go through, but the rumour mill had it that he couldn't raise the capital and a rival beat him to it.
Georgian G, or was it Texan G – I never did know for sure which state he came from – was the head of the local chapter of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club and his bars became drinking spots for Outlaws members. Some of the Outlaws would wear their colours in the plaza and Billboard always seemed to be their favourite. At one time the insignia for the club was placed inside and outside bars, but that didn't last. The presence of motorbikers put some off and while the Outlaws members spent up large, your average sex tourist and many sexpats felt uncomfortable in their presence.
I don't recall exactly when, but it was probably mid to late 2012 when a meeting was held on the ground floor of the plaza with all of the girls from all of the Nana Group bars told to be present. What had always been a welcoming bar area started to take on a rather different vibe. From then on there was an edge to the plaza, a mean edge.
Wherever G went, stories would follow. There was the one about him crashing and destroying his Ferrari to stories of him burning $100 notes in front of wide-eyed employees in his other operations away from the bar industry. G had his fingers in other pies, but that's beyond the scope of this column. He never denied he had other business interests. Had as in neither confirming nor denying if he still has them. That was not my business and I never stuck my nose there.
A couple of times I bumped in to him and his entourage and they would be paranoid about others in the bar. “Who are those two guys over there”, one of his lieutenants would bark at me. “You're supposed to know who these people are, who are they?” They always seemed paranoid that they were under surveillance.
G was a prolific contributor to the Republican party and one of his prized possessions is a photo of him taken standing alongside President Bush.
He wasn't just an economic conservative, he hated ladyboys – and I mean really hated them. The mere mention of ladyboys would just about send him in to a rage! When I wrote in a column that the ladyboy problem at the entrance to Nana Plaza had become so bad that some punters were turning their backs on the plaza he contacted the local constabulary and asked them to rid the entrance to the plaza of them. He called me himself to explain what he had arranged.
G didn't usually call you himself and you couldn't call him. G would change his SIM every week or two – I heard he changed the actual handset too – and he always used a Blackberry, even though he told me he preferred the Iphone. The Blackberry network is, after all, the most secure.
A ladyboy poses outside the jewel in Nana Group's crown, Obsessions ladyboy bar, said to be their most profitable bar.
G loathed ladyboys and must have hated it that his most profitable bars were said to be those with ladyboys!
On a Friday night perhaps 18 months or so ago, I was out in the plaza and bumped in to Thailand's best known investigative reporter, Andrew Drummond. Andrew covers the intersection of Bangkok's sex tourism industry with other businesses and G had long been on Andrew's radar. Andrew and I had been spotted in conversation in the back corner of Sexy Night and Dave The Rave – who G knew was a friend of mine – was instructed to call me. Mobile phone signals in the back corner of bars were still spotty back then but the call came through. I knew immediately from the tone of his voice that something wasn't right. Dave asked me to meet him outside the bar. When I exit the bar Dave is standing there with a grave look on his face. He tells me G wants to see me. I could guess the rest. G strides up to me and requests that I introduce him to Andrew.
To his credit, G went straight up to Andrew, offered his hand and invited him upstairs to Billboard where he said he would be happy to answer any questions Andrew may have for him. He strode off.
Andrew and I perched in the back corner of the bar and my mind wandered back to the first time I met G, and how I thought he was going to throw me out the window. Would he throw Andrew off the top floor of the plaza?
I didn't think anything good was going to come of the rest of the night so I made my excuses and left Andrew alone in Sexy Night. Andrew survived the night, and I admit I worriedly looked at his site the next couple of days waiting for an update, just to make sure he was ok.
G liked to party and enjoyed the company of the ladies. Once in Mercury he took a liking to a lady. I later did a photo shoot in there and the lady mentioned that he had been the best customer she had ever had. He was always very generous in the bars. 1,000 baht tips to ladies who had a drink with him was not uncommon.
He once made me laugh when he told that all the problems in his life started when he stopped dating models and started dating bargirls. He chastised me for covering the expat bar areas and told me that I should concentrate on the model agencies. Fewer people would have fewer problems, he said. Sometimes I just didn't know what to make of what he said.
Another time I bumped into him in the plaza, and he asked me how business was. It was lousy and I told him so. He went straight in to his pocket and pulled out three huge wedges of 1,000 baht notes. I took it to be 100 x 1,000 baht notes in each wedge, so 300,000 baht, or a little short of $10,000 right there in his pocket. He peels off a small wad of banknotes, hands them to me, tells me that he wants ads for his bars and that I should talk to his lieutenant about the details. And then he was off.
A friend who has had financial difficulties on and off over the years was helped out by G. He had to pay the money back, of course, but the loan was interest-free.
Sure, there were endless accusations that he had numerous business interests in industries not represented at any of the local chambers of commerce or known to any business associations, but he had a kind side too.
G had cash. Oh, boy, did he have lots and lots of cash!
A bar boss, who shall not be named, confirmed a story doing the rounds a few years ago, a story I heard from multiple people. Said fellow sold some bars to G and when it was time to close the deal he went to G's apartment to finalise everything. They passed 2 armed foreign security guards and entered a room in which there was a table stacked with bundles of 500 Euro notes. G pulled off a few bundles and handed them to the bar boss as nonchalantly as you would pay for a Big Mac. That was payment for one of the biggest bar deals in Bangkok expat bar history!
I guess it was a year or so ago when G said to me in one of the ground floor Nana beer bars that he knew that I knew what he and his comrades got up to. I tried to laugh it off. What do you say to something like that? I'd heard the stories but I don't go there. I don't talk about it and I sure don't write about it. He almost seemed contrite in saying that while some of the stories I'd probably heard were true, that they really weren't all that bad. He was not telling me to influence what I write, but he seemed to actually care what I thought. When he wasn't drinking he had a sharp mind and could be charming. In party mode he was unpredictable and could be a real bully.
Several times G told me I could name him and write what I wanted about him. He simply told me to make sure whatever I wrote was factually correct. Despite G's invitation, prudence told me otherwise. I cover expat society and the bar industry but at the same time you have to know when to back off. Push too far and things could get messy. This is Bangkok, after all and you don't want to get Bangkok-noveled.
It am sure it was never G's intention to mess things up, but I am firmly of the belief that his group caused damage to brand Nana Plaza. He controlled a group that at one time ran more than half of the bars in the plaza. Experienced bar managers were moved around, some idiots were taken on to manage bars – and in some cases lasted just weeks – and few lasted more than a few months. Fights between foreign bar managers and bar customers were common and even the odd fight between bar managers in his group! The plaza became a less pleasant place to be and some regulars were put off. The new owners of Nana Plaza spent millions on the exterior and the premises in general but in some of bars it was all going wrong.
Numbers were leaked to me and some of the Nana Group bars were hemorrhaging money. Bar names were changed, some bars were renovated, staff moved around but the bottom line didn't change. Europe was in recession, America wasn't doing much better and it felt like everyone was spending less. Bars were busted and there were hassles from those in charge. Efforts were made to create fancy websites and eye-catching marketing material, but things never really turned around. They opened some bars during the day time but that never took off. Billboard and Angelwitch did well for a period, as did their ladyboy bars, Obsession and Cascade. The problem was these 4 bars were subsidising others in the group, some of which had become a disaster.
Word was out that the group had money problems and bar after bar was put up for sale. It got so bad that some of the group's gogo bars were said to be averaging just 4 figures a night. G would tell me that he was losing 4.5 million baht a month in the plaza. True or not, I have no idea.
It all had a disastrous effect on Nana Plaza. There was an increase in ladyboy bars, some of the Nana Group's bars were a waste of space and with a climate of fear prevailing, expats privately talked down Nana.
Towards the end of G's tenure – I refer here to the period in which he spent much of his time in the plaza – I received emails from fans of the plaza who had had enough. The tone G set as head of the biggest bar group was affecting the general atmosphere in Nana Plaza – and not in a good way!
Sometime last year word got out that G had left the Outlaws and handed in his colours. Rumour has it that someone with his ear mentioned that punters were put off by the gang presence. Whether that was the actual reason, I have no idea.
G was named online as a kingpin of other business operations. I don't know if that was the reason he shaved his head and started wearing sunglasses indoors, but for a while it seemed like he was in disguise.
I bumped in to him early one afternoon in Thonglor. He was jovial and friendly. A proud patriot, seeing him wolf down an English breakfast brought a wry smile. He loved America and wouldn't hear a bad word about the place. America this, America that, I am surprised he ever left the States. Times had changed, he had been outed, his name and mug shot were out there and he was the talk of the bars. Only those on the inside know the true numbers, but it looked like his bars were hemorrhaging money. I won't say that day that I saw a broken man, but I saw a very different man from the one I thought was going to hurl me from a high-rise. The swagger, the strutting and the booming voice were all gone. Away from all of the bullshit, he asked me how I was. He stood there waiting for an answer, almost like a puppy expectantly waiting for its master to throw a ball. It felt to me like he wanted nothing more than a real conversation with a real person. The mask was gone. The exchange lasted just a few seconds and his security detail whisked him away.
G moved to Chiang Mai, opened a fancy new bar and word was he wouldn't be seen in Bangkok again.
A new romance and the birth of a baby boy just a few months back seemed like good reason for him to stay far away from his old stomping ground. The most recent sighting of him in Bangkok was walking out of the plaza the night of the big Spanky's party, a month or so ago.
The likable rogue Arsenal Alex got close to G for a while. In an email to a mutual friend, Alex described G as
an old-fashioned gangster. That irked G. Alex would later say that he thought G saw himself as some sort of Al Capone, running his empire through bribery, corruption and fear.
G was unpredictable and I was always a little wary of him. Chronicling what happens in the bar industry means I have to make the rounds of the bars myself, and making those rounds I bumped in to him often enough. G was one of the biggest players and I couldn't avoid him so I tried to maintain something of a relationship.
Everyone who knew G has their own thoughts of him. Bad stuff has been written about him elsewhere and some of those stories were legend amongst those in the know. I saw glimpses of the bad stuff, but also saw some touching stuff. Like every last one of us, there was good in him and there was bad. G and I got off to the worst possible start but after that he was ok with me. I will say that after first being introduced to him and seeing how he was with people generally, I still thought of him as a bully. Generous, charming and funny at times, but a bully.
Andrew Drummond has reported that G died in Northern Thailand this week, aged early 40s. For a long time G lived life in the fast lane. It was no secret that he had a life-threatening health condition although whether that caused or was a contributing factor to his passing isn't known.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken inside Madrid, in Patpong soi 1.
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 – Don't hide behind Briffault.
I am getting very tired of people quoting something they call “Briffault's Law” like it was the 1st Law of Thermodynamics or Newton's Law of Gravity which are provable scientific theses. Briffault was a surgeon and part-time novelist who wrote a 3-volume 2,000-page treatise on social anthropology. His thinking was never agreed to and the book was roundly criticized at the time. Today it is virtually impossible to find, in hard copy or online. Today, the only places this “law” is cited is in sex and online forums where men attempt to justify their failure with women. No credible anthropologist follows Briffault's ideas. Briffault himself said that his conclusions were meant for the animal kingdom only and were not to be considered relevant for mankind. I give you the newly invented Professor's Law: Those who cite pseudo scientific claims in order to justify their own failure in relationships will continue to fail, while those who look inward at their own shortcomings have a better chance of succeeding in future encounters.
Back to the future?
Who is gonna take over? I enjoyed Trink before the fools cut him off. Maybe he can take over your column? I am not kidding. If he is physically capable, why not?
Inflation in the bar industry.
Gogo bars are not the only things going up in price. I have been a member at The Pent for 3 years and go when I have friends in town and want a little wow factor, usually once every couple of months. They recently renovated the place and it looks great. The quality / looks of the girls has increased substantially. I was there 2 weeks ago and still had bottles on my membership so the cost was for girls' company only as well as a few plates of French fries and a fruit platter. We had a total of 5 girls from 10 PM till 2 AM. I was expecting a bill of around 9 – 10K baht for everything, not including any whiskey. I got the bill and it was 16K baht. I have known the sales guy for years and he said prices for everything had increased around 50% since the remodel. I think I will be running out my membership and will look for a new place. It was a Saturday night and it was about half as full as it used to be so I think I am not the only one not renewing their membership.
A new destination in old Bangkok.
I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere but there is a new ferry pier on the Chao Phraya, at the new “Yodpiman River Walk”, a couple of hundred metres north from the old ferry pier which makes it handy for anybody going to the flower market at Talat Pak Klong. The tourist boat ferry now stops there too. What's more, there are a couple of nice restaurants at this Yodpiman River Walk, and more being fitted out. I had dinner at the Mango Tree at the northern / upriver end of the complex the other night, and enjoyed a good meal at decent prices while watching the sun set over the river, looking out at the boats plying up and down river and Wat Arun nearby. The tourist ferry runs until about 9 PM so there's plenty of time to have sundowners and a good meal and still get back to the BTS at Sathorn, or to Banglamphu the other way, and without paying the prices of some riverside hotels. Perhaps you might want to check it out before you leave town and get some photos at the flower market?
The real Thailand.
I also got tired of Bangkok, the bar scene, the constant crowds etc. Moving to Chiang Rai and having a house with a yard, a car that I can actually drive with minimal traffic and living a semi "normal" life gave me an entirely different perspective on Thailand and Thai people. I am older and perhaps just tired of the big hustle in the big bang. I have said many times one of the wonderful things about Chiang Rai is that if not another farang ever set foot in the city that it would make zero difference to 99% of the locals. People here generally still treat farangs as a bit of a curiosity rather than a walking ATM. Maybe when you're a bit older and grey you might decide to retire to Chiang Rai. It really is a very pleasant place. Do some volunteer teaching at a public high school of dirt poor kids and the reward is not money but feeling like you just may help a few.
Beware on Pattaya baht buses.
This weekend I was down in Pattaya and after a 4-hour minibus ride from Bangkok I was exhausted. The road construction is a total mess. After getting off the minibus by Walking Street the girlfriend and I jumped in a baht bus to go over to Jomtien. The baht bus was packed. About half way between Pattaya and Jomtien the baht bus was boarded by 4 ladyboys. Not the nasty type you see trolling soi 4, they looked like office-working ladyboys. One happened to sit next to me. She had a big beach-style bag over her body and proceeded to pick pocket my cargo pants by reaching across her body behind her bag. I had my bag in front of me as well. Now this is the first time I have ever been pick pocketed. I thought I felt something in my pocket but didn't realise it until the baht bus was further down the road. It was a quick 6,000 baht haul for them. They didn't get my ATM card or credit cards, just the money out of my clip and they didn't get all my money. She was clearly just fishing for whatever. I have nobody to blame but myself and I usually never carry my wallet so it was that 1% chance that worked out for them. I thought you might want to mention to readers to be aware when riding the baht buses in Pattaya because I am sure this is a team targeting busy buses. The locals might fully be aware of this but the Bangkok guys might not be.
Beyond Onut it gets worse.
I was surprised to see the bit about farangs living in Bang Na. My first teaching gig in Thailand 8 years ago was in Bang Na. It was not by choice. I was placed there for a short-term 3-month contract. I do not jest, it's one of the worst places I have ever lived (and that includes war tours throughout the Middle East). From what I remember, it's mostly industrial and manufacturing, with superhighways and loads of shipping trucks. Polluted, overcrowded, and so much traffic, even on local sois. I've lived in some decent places in Thailand, but Bang Na is not one, and I question anyone who'd want to live there by choice.
Living beyond their means?
For years I have seen 13-year olds with ฿25,000 mobiles and everybody in Bangkok buying cars and expensive technology devices. I just keep scratching my head wondering where all this money comes from as I know the average salary is less than ฿20K a month. I spend 3 or 4 times per month what the average Thai earns, yet I often feel poor as everybody around me has new cars and flash stuff. Is the bubble about to burst?
Maria, escort exclusive with BangkokEscort.com
Lumpini Police invited bar and restaurant owners to a meeting at the station on Tuesday night so current closing times could be explained. The Lumpini police district includes Nana Plaza, Soi Nana and Sukhumvit Road from soi 1 down to the Asoke intersection – some of the most popular areas for Western visitors and expats to party. It also has the highest concentration of street bars. The police explained that venues without an entertainment licence would not be allowed to sell alcohol after midnight and those venues with an entertainment licence could only stay open until 1 AM. In Nana Plaza, some bars have an entertainment licence, some do not. Business owners were informed that midnight / 1 AM closing will last for some time and there would be severe punishment for any venues which didn't comply, including the arrest of the manager / members of staff and hefty fines. Repeat offences could see bars slapped with a closure notice. It should be noted that the police were not being heavy-handed at all, but simply explaining that they would be enforcing existing laws. Police have traditionally given bars an hour's grace, hence many bars popular with foreigners close at 2 AM. What police explained would be the new closing time was in fact the old closing time which has not been strictly enforced. I won't say that this meeting was unprecedented but I have not heard of a meeting like this taking place at the Lumpini Police station in very a long time. The initial reaction from bar owners was outrage, when in fact the police should be thanked for being open and fair with businesses. Calling a meeting to explain things is preferable to a dozen cops turning up at a venue, ordering it closed and taking staff to the police station!
The meeting was held at 8 PM and that same night officers were on the beat and vigilant. Uniformed police entered Nana Plaza at 11:40 PM and bars were told to wind down. At midnight it was strictly music off and lights out. All of the beer bars in the soi, even those of the powerful Hillary Group, had the shutters down and lights out shortly after midnight. There were no street stalls operating in Soi Nana at all.
The following day was Makha Bucha Day – a significant Buddhist day – which saw a dozen or so police officers milling around the Nana Hotel car park, keeping an eye on the plaza and Soi Nana in general. The sale of alcohol was prohibited that day and nowhere dared open. After the sun dropped below the horizon Soi Nana took on an uncharacteristic darkness.
But that was the end of the so-called crackdown. On Thursday night Nana Plaza was going strong well after 1 AM. 48 hours after the meeting where it was announced any venues opening beyond midnight / 1 AM would be punished it was business as usual.
The local blogosphere exploded with crazy talk that the sky was falling and the end of tourism in Thailand was nigh after nonsense was published online saying that this crackdown was Bangkok-wide. That was NEVER the case, something which took 2 phone calls and less than 5 minutes to establish. Some news services should be ashamed of getting that so badly wrong. What will they come up with next – perhaps they will say that bars no longer accept baht but bills must be paid in coconuts?
On Monday night, some venues in Huay Kwang were busted for selling alcohol late. Huay Kwang is not really considered an area popular with Westerners and is more of a Thai nightlife area.
The owner of Stumble Inn has acquired Big Dogs, the popular beer at the mouth of Nana Plaza – and one of the best people watching spots in the city. Stumble Inn and Big Dogs are separated by a single wall. Will the wall be knocked down and the two bars merged to create a new, mega beer bar? No, that's not part of the plan. Stumble Inn will remain as Stumble Inn and Big Dogs will be Big Dogs.
Management at Dollhouse has not abandoned its 70's / 80's music. I obviously caught another part of the playlist that night. They still play disco music every night and try to mix it up so there are no guarantees what time it will be played and no guarantees what songs will be played. And if you do make it to Dollhouse, keep an eye out for #32 who I find striking.
If you're a cricket fan and find yourself in the Soi Nana area, Chequers is showing matches via a satellite feed – and NOT a crappy internet connection like some bars where the broadcast jerks, jitters and makes for a frustrating viewing experience, especially if your country, like mine, is blowing every other team off the field.
And it's not just the cricket which bar bosses are banking on to lure punters to their public house. From next Tuesday, the Cheltenham Festival – probably the best jumps horse meeting in UK (I actually had no idea about that but so the boss of Crossbar tells me) begins. Crossbar will be showing the meeting everyday from 7 PM. You can watch horses at Crossbar or hos around the corner in Soi Cowboy – you choose!
Crossbar really is trying something different to get punters in the door. On Wednesday night, the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Corps of Drums will be doing a special one off performance at 8 PM. They have come to Thailand to perform for a few individuals and to promote British / Thai friendship and trade. All are welcome and you should either book seats or venture along to Crossbar early.
No, there is not a new gay bar in Soi Cowboy. The sign that currently says "Boy 2" should say Cowboy 2, but some of the neon has gone out. Boy 2 Cowboy 2 has a unique style and doesn't borrow anything in design from other bars. It has booth seating throughout and an upbeat atmosphere.
Half of the neon sign above Cowboy 2 is out.
I previously mentioned that the excellent No Idea Gastro Pub on Sukhumvit soi 22 was opening a little later a couple of days of the week and intimated that it may be because the soi has fewer visitors with Queen's Park Hotel closed for renovations. No Idea's change in opening hours needs to be clarified. It is only on Monday & Tuesday that No Idea has deviated from their regular operating hours. It opens just a little later – at 3 PM on those two days – but it has nothing to do with fewer customers. The decision was made to open a little later simply so the boss could have a little time off. 5 days off in 3 years takes its toll on the cheerful, effervescent fellow who is not the spring chicken he once was. He is the first to admit he could do with a few extra hours sleep!
Speaking of foreign bar bosses, a Patpong bar owner pissed off bar owners in Nana Plaza this week after he brazenly walked through the plaza handing out flyers to customers in bars promoting his own bar in Patpong. He does the same in Soi Cowboy although owners there have never said anything about it. Potentially stripping a bar of its customers doesn't go down well.
From a Soi Cowboy farang bar manager comes the story of how he dealt with a lookyloo who wanted to watch the show but refused to buy a drink. As is so often the case, the fellow said he worked for the Bangkok Post….maybe it's the same guy mentioned in last week's column?! Anyway, the bar boss said to him, "No problem. I will buy you a drink, but tomorrow I am bringing 20 of my girls to your office to watch you work!" It worked and the fellow got up and left.
Relationships between Western guys and Thai women are often a compromise as each person is very different. Let's take my relationship for an example and look at something as simple as the food we each like. I love Indian food and could happily eat it every day for the rest of my life. Give me Indian over anything. The other half tolerates Indian – and that is being kind. Like many Thais, she will only eat Indian if her pua really wants it. No way would she ever choose Indian otherwise! She loves seafood and while I like fish, most other seafood doesn't do much for me. I'll eat seafood in the same way I'll eat packet noodles…reluctantly. So when I heard that the Sunday buffet at the Indian restaurant Maya, on the 29th floor of the Holiday Inn on Sukhumvit soi 22, included not just Indian dishes, but a decent spread of seafood, I knew it would be a good fit for us. About half of the buffet is made up of Indian dishes with several curries, the usual selection of Indian breads and rice dishes and other Indian favourites. There's also a good selection of Western style salads, grilled vegetables, a decent selection of fresh seafood and an excellent dessert table. This buffet appealed equally to both of us. It's every Sunday from 11:30 AM – 3:00 PM and at just 700++ baht, it's great value. You and yours might like it too.
Foreign students in Thailand – or should that be holders of an ED visa because you can't really call someone who does not study a student – are being interviewed at Immigration when applying for an extension of stay to see how good their Thai is. It used to be that pretty much everyone was issued with a 90-day extension but now some get 60 days or even just 30 days. How many days one gets depends on the school you study at, the level of your Thai and the impression you make on the officer. Needless to say, whenever you visit any government department you should be super polite to the officer and use good, polite Thai. All Thais know this and you should do as they do – and besides, it's just plain good manners! Turning up at a government office looking like a dog's breakfast in a country where personal presentation is important is being disrespectful.
A series of historical reports looking back a year in to the investigation of the unsolved disappearance and death of Canadian Dave Walker, a popular expat who called Thailand home for decades, is being posted to DaveWalkerCase.com.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years from running this column and observing what single guys in Bangkok get up to, it's that endless encounters with a string of different women is NOT a recipe for happiness. A smorgasbord of sex might make for a fabulous couple of weeks holiday but in terms of long-term contentment, no, it doesn't seem to make people happy at all. The reason some foreigners move / retire to Thailand is the opportunities for sex. Irrespective of where you meet ladies, unlimited sex is no fast track to happiness and there's much more to life than an endless stream of beautiful women. It has long been my observation that in expat circles, those who get the most sex are not necessarily amongst those who seem to be the happiest. Sex just doesn't seem to be satisfying as a hobby and if you want to be genuinely happy, consider something like photography or riding a bike or fishing.
Earlier this year I spent an evening at Checkinn99 enjoying the Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir, listening to authors reading extracts from their works of fiction to a packed house of expat men and women. What struck me was how the mix of those in the audience had changed and how a night like that could be so popular. Entertainment expectations in the City of Angels today are very different from when I first arrived, as Bangkok's expat population moves away from its single male roots and is today much more diverse. For many, sexy girls in a bikini dancing next to a pole doesn't cut it any more and many expats are starved of quality no-hassles entertainment. Over 13 years ago I canned Checkinn99 on this site as a place to avoid. It was run-down and smelt like a French pissoir. I would later learn that it was run along traditional lines with an alcoholic manager who spent his time chain-smoking, that's when he wasn't road-testing new employees. That has all changed and while many bars in the expat bar areas cling to an outdated format that most are tired of, Checkinn99 is one of a small numbers to reinvent itself. It has become an example of how to satisfy the needs of today's diverse expat crowd who crave no hassles, good-value entertainment. In addition to its house band, CheckInn plays host to all sorts of shows and last year took a bold step and hosted two shows of Vagina Monologues – the controversial West End stage show written by Even Ensler and performed by a cast of 18 local women from Bangkok Rising – a group of supporters of women's rights. The show was booked out in hours and CheckInn somehow managed to accommodate two packed houses of over 210 expat women each night, not bad given its seating capacity is officially 130. Proceeds were donated to various disadvantaged women's groups. This coming Thursday and Friday, the 12th & 13th, from 6 – 9 PM, Checkinn99 will again host the Bangkok Rising group with Eve Ensler's latest works “A Memory A Monologue A Rant A Prayer”. This play may not appeal to the stereotypical Stickman reader, but might tickle the clit of the many local expat women in Bangkok starved of quality risqué entertainment. Don't be surprised, this column is read by some expat women! Limited seating means preference will be given to those who pre-book online at Checkinn99bkk.com.
Quote of the week comes from BangkokReal, "Thailand is not just about living the dream, it's also about knowing when the party is over."
Reader's story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "Goodbye, Farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Adieu".
A Pattaya reporter is involved in a drugs incident with Traffic Police Volunteer.
Thailand's latest tourism ad campaign tries to be cute but many consider it to be creepy.
Patong Beach in Phuket is supposed to be a place for a beach holiday but some are thinking again.
A Canadian coroner reports that 2 sisters who died in Thailand were most likely poisoned by a deadly chemical used to exterminate bedbugs in their hotel.
A fight broke out at Showgirls in Pattaya's Soi LK Metro after 3 drunk foreigners got a bit too rowdy.
Bloomberg looks at the reasons why Thailand's unemployment rate is so low.
The AP profiles what it calls Thailand's corrupt top cop.
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 girlfriend's brother-in-law had an accident a few weeks ago, which we think may be the other party's fault. The collision was between a car and the brother-in-law was on his motorbike. Brother-in-law was knocked-out and ended up in hospital for a few days. His insurance company paid the hospital bills. However, his bike is not insured. My questions are relating to his rights as follows:
1. To make a formal statement to police regarding the accident – the police are not letting him record his statement.
2. To obtain a copy of the police report – not provided by police to date.
3. The car driver is calling about payment for damages, yet only on the back of his own statement.
4. Not sure about his ability to get the motorbike back – it appears that the car driver has some say in this.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: It seems likely that neither party has first-class insurance. If the driver of the car had first class insurance it would be his insurance company contacting you and your insurance company for payment and he would not be doing it personally.
The insurance that covered your brother in law's hospital bills might have been compulsory insurance (Phor Ror Bor). The usual procedure in an accident is for the police to spray paint the position of both vehicles on the road to serve as evidence and help in determining the reasons for the accident.
Normally police require a statement and may have visited your brother in law while in hospital; it is your brother in law's responsibility to obtain a copy of the statement.
The police generally hold both vehicles until the issue has been settled. Your brother in law would need to contact the police to see why they continue to hold his motorbike, most likely it is because the issue has not been settled. Your brother has the right to ask for the police report and a copy of his statement. If he has not been given the chance to give a statement then he should consider taking this to the Damrong Dhamma Center at his province's Provincial Hall – the government has set up this office to assist citizens in issues such as this.
Question 2: At the end of this month I am changing condos to save a bit of money. A friend who used to live in the building I am about to leave was charged a cleaning fee when he left. His unit was not dirty and while I understand a unit being vacated needs to be cleaned, it shouldn't take the 2 maids more than an hour or two. There is no cleaning fee outlined in the universal condo contract residents in this building have. My unit has been looked after and kept clean but it seems that this inflated cleaning fee may be charged when I leave, making me think it is a mechanism by the condo building to return less of our deposit. In other buildings I have lived there has been no such cleaning fee deducted from the deposit upon leaving. Is it lawful for the building to charge an inflated fee for a cleaning that is not necessary and not outlined in the condo rental contract?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: You will need to check with your landlord if this cleaning fee is deducted from your security deposit. Oftentimes these fees cover not just cleaning but also repairing any small damage, re-painting and other tasks that will make the unit in a condition to lease.
You will need to discuss this with your landlord during the unit inspection when you are ready to move. If the condominium's juristic manager is also acting as the agent for the owner then they have the right to ensure that the unit is restored to a fit condition to be leased. However, for the landlord to have the right to deduct this from the security deposit it would depend on the written agreement and the condition of the unit when you moved in.
If the landlord refuses to return the deposit within the agreed timeline e.g. 30 days after the expiration of the lease, you can first remind the landlord of his / her outstanding responsibility. If the landlord still refuses to act on the reminder, then you could then proceed with legal action against the landlord for breach of agreement. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has experience in issuing legal demand letters in these kinds of cases, demanding that the landlord pay the required amount due.
Whether there would be any rights for the landlord to deduct part of the lease deposit would also depend on what was agreed (written in the agreement) as well as the condition and status of the rented unit upon you moving in. But if the landlord refuses to return the deposit within the agreed timeline e.g. 30 days after the expiration of the lease, the tenant / lessee could initially remind the landlord of his / her outstanding responsibility. And if the landlord still refuse to act on the reminder, the tenant / lessee could then proceed with legal action against the landlord for breach of agreement.
If you want to see pain being administered, check out Bar Bar in Patpong – don't expect to see it in this column.
The final weekly column will not be the kiss and tell expose some are hoping for. There are all sorts of secrets out there in the bar industry but I see zero upside in being the one to spill the beans. I'm no grass. If you were expecting me to whisper in the pilot's ear for him to loop over Sukhumvit Road before heading away so I can drop bombs up I'm sorry to disappoint you. I've worked hard to build good relationships with a lot of people in an industry that is not always squeaky clean and I have no intention of undoing all of that. There's bad karma in that and I firmly believe any pain we deliberately dish out eventually finds its way back to us.
Your Bangkok commentator,