In last week's column I wrote about the first week of a 2-week trip around New Zealand, as I took a much-needed holiday and set about reacquainting myself with my homeland. This week continues where I left off, at Lake Tekapo, in New Zealand's South Island.
As nice as Lake Tekapo is, like much of the South Island, it's awfully quiet. There are tracks to walk, mountains and lakes to take photos of. Winter comes early in this part of the country and many of the activities didn't strike me as fun at this time of year, so it was time to head further south.
But not before taking the obligatory snap of the little church by the lake, a favourite spot for Asians to get married at.
From Lake Tekapo I drove south to Arrowtown, an historic gold mining town home to the first Chinese immigrants to New Zealand.
Arrowtown is a 15-minue drive from Queenstown and home to wealthy Kiwis and increasingly North Americans keen to escape that part of the world. A lovely (if rather chilly) part of the country, real estate prices in the area look like telephone numbers.
The heart of the South Island's tourism industry and the Mecca for adventure and adrenaline activities is the Central Otago town of Queenstown. Set on Lake Wakitipu, across from the Remarkables mountain range, surrounded by ski fields and valleys producing the best Pinot Noir in the world, it's a stunning setting but at the same time it's the usual paradox of popular tourist areas – a heavily touristed centre slap in the middle of some of the country's most pristine nature.
Perhaps the most popular thing to do in Queenstown is ride the gondola up the hill. Instead I ascended the adjacent mountain. On foot. It only took an hour to reach the 907 metre summit of Queenstown Hill which actually gets you a little higher than the gondola. Passing goats and berries growing wild, it's an easy walk and the reward is a great view.
As magnificent as Central Otago is, before too long each town starts to look much the same. Another lakefront town, another row of trees shedding autumnal leaves with snow-capped mountains in the background. Queenstown, Glenorchy, Te Anau, Wanaka, Tekapo, I could go on and on, as magnificent as each is, they start to look the same and I found myself craving something different. It was time to leave Otago and head for the coast.
I'd always thought of Oamaru as just another small, uninteresting South Island town. It probably has a rugby team good enough to take on some national sides and being on the coast no doubt the seafood is great. This JAFA suspected it didn't have much else.
How wrong could I be?! Oamaru has an historic quarter with the best preserved buildings in the country, where some shopkeepers go as far as dressing like it's the 1800s, giving it something of a Dickens-esque feel. There are penguin colonies, quirky shops and I was right about the seafood. Oamaru is a seriously cool little town.
I have to take back what I said last week about Thai hoteliers. In Oamaru I came across another Thai hotelier – and unlike the last bird this guy was on top of his game. Goodness only knows how a camp Thai dude copes in a conservative, small, cold town full of oldies, but he seemed happy enough.
One of the drawbacks of small town New Zealand is limited food choices – often it comes down to fish and chip shops or full-blown restaurants. There's not a lot in between. If you want to refuel but are not looking for a fancy meal, something like an American style diner would be perfect, but they are few and far between in New Zealand.
I miss the food in Thailand, right? Actually I don't. I miss the odd item like the burgers at Margarita Storm and the ridiculously low prices in the likes of Took Lae Dee, but that's about it.
Travelling around New Zealand is great, but isn't perfect and it would be remiss not to point out some of the issues and frustrations.
Something that started to really annoy me was orchard shops with boards outside listing what's on offer. Often there is no correlation between the fruit for sale that day, and even the price on the sign (which in by-the-book New Zealand probably breaks a zillion laws). Call me a racist – I am simply calling it as it is – in every case I came across this, the vendor was, um, err, how do we say this politely…..not New Zealand-born.
An exhibit from a Chinese settlement in gold mining town, Arrowtown.
Much of New Zealand's South Island is white and in some small towns there's a real prejudice against non-whites. It might be fuelled by recent high-profile reports of car crashes involving tourists causing accidents which in some cases have killed locals. I hate to perpetrate this, but visitors from the emerging continent seem to forget their eyes should be on the road, not the mountains.
Kiwi hoteliers look at you with great suspicion when you ask for a cash discount. One fellow even blurted out, "Mate, what sort of operation do you think I'm running?" Maybe Thailand corrupted me more than I realise?
Smaller South Island towns are full of solid, sensible folk but they aren't places which will give someone who spent much time in Thailand any excitement.
But most people who visit New Zealand don't go for the sort of excitement you find in Asian metropolises. The country excels in other ways, lives up to the Tourism Department's 100% Pure New Zealand campaign and is a landscape photographer's dream.
Rediscovering the freedom of hassle-free road travel has been intoxicating. I'd almost forgotten what it's like to drive on good roads, where most drivers are generally courteous and, unlike Thailand, there are zero hassles from police.
One of the great disappointments of Thailand was how in recent years the police presence on intercity roads increased as the constabulary became hungrier. It wasn't that bad when I first drove in Thailand but ultimately was one of the reasons I sold my car. When I tell Kiwi friends I kept being stopped by cops and accused of stuff I had not done, they understand why I escaped.
As much as I enjoyed my time there, I was happy to leave the South Island. It might have the prettiest scenery and the friendliest people, but unlike the North Island – Auckland and Wellington at least – it feels remote, to me at least. New Zealand is down at the bottom of the world in the middle of nowhere, but in the biggest city and the capital you don't really feel that. In the South Island, you do – or at least I did.
This 2-week trip wasn't just a road trip and holiday, it was a chance to check out what was happening around the country, reacquaint myself with the place and hopefully get some clarity over where would be the best place to live. It was always going to be a 2-horse race between Wellington, my place of birth, and Auckland, the city I spent most of my life before departing NZ. I kept an open mind and if I came across somewhere else I liked, I'd consider it.
Christchurch, the South Island's largest city, doesn't suit. The weather is too extreme and I've long felt that folks down there are less welcoming to those from other parts of the country. The city is pretty in parts, but lacks the character of Wellington or the sheer beauty or vibrance of Auckland. It's also less cosmopolitan than the two northern centres.
After Bangkok, small-town New Zealand wouldn't work. New Plymouth was pleasant enough and Blenheim was surprisingly nice. But the former is too cold in Winter and the latter felt too much like a city-sized retirement home.
Ultimately it comes back to Auckland, the economic engine, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and where all of my family and most of my friends are, and Wellington, with its understated sophistication, its character and a lifestyle which, dare I say it, would be closer to what I had in Bangkok than Auckland could offer.
Downtown Wellington has its own character and is not another clone where streets are lined with Starbucks and McDonald's along with branches of local chains. Reasonable real estate prices mean smaller independent stores and eateries thrive in the city centre giving Wellington its own unique character. Cuba Street reminds me of Siam Square when I first arrived in Bangkok – full of interesting, independently-owned and run stores.
The same cannot be said of Auckland which feels more corporate, a place you go to make money. Auckland has 4 times the population of Wellington, more to do and the weather is better. Decisions, decisions…
So I've shirked mention of the women situation. It's a disaster, right? The only luck I am going to have is in the local parlour, yeah? I'm surrounded by rotund women with thighs like pine trees, arses like the back of a bread van and mouths like a machine gun, right? Oh, man, how far from the truth can you get?!
Big New Zealand cities have long been *great* places for a single guy who has his shit together. In Auckland and Wellington there are heaps – and I mean HEAPS – of attractive, single woman. Gym memberships are soaring, there's always been an outdoor culture and in recent years people have become much more health conscious. The horror stories I hear from some Bangkok expats about women in their corner of Farangland simply aren't valid here. If women in short skirts and tall boots do it for you, go to Wellington, while Auckland is teeming with single, attractive Asian women and plenty of single white birds too.
Further, in today's edition of New Zealand's most respected newspaper was yet another article on the country's man drought, and how in the 25 – 49 age group in New Zealand there are just 91 men for every 100 women, the most acute male / female imbalance of any OECD country. This is even worse (or better, depending on how you look at it!) than in 1945 after two world wars demolished NZ's male population. Look out, ladies, the Stick is on the prowl!
I've been gone from Thailand a few weeks and to be frank, the place is hardly on my mind. Honestly, at this point in time, Thailand means about as much to me as Sierra Leone or Uzbekistan or East Timor. Whether things remain this way, only time will tell…
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken around the corner from Panthip Plaza on Rajadamri Road, with the Indra Regent Hotel in the background with its name blurred out.
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 – Bye-bye Thailand, hello Malaysia.
I moved to Penang, Malaysia at the start of this year after living in Thailand for more than 15 years. I bought land, built a house in Hua Hin, the works. Last year I decided to check out Malaysia. In the end it was a lifestyle upgrade while still being able to live in the tropics. I got the multiple-entry MM2H visa so no more trips to Immigration for the next 10 years. Recently my wife and I returned to Thailand for a long weekend. We had a great time. It was almost like when I first came here. By not living in Thailand, it made the experience of being there so much better. Once freed of the bullshit, we were able to enjoy the silly Thai people for the lovable characters they are. Don't get me wrong, Thailand is a mess. Knowing that after the weekend we were leaving to go home to a safer and saner place allowed us to enjoy ourselves. Thailand is great for alcoholics and sexpats. It's no place to raise a family, buy a home or feel truly safe, particularly late at night. It's not cheap and its infrastructure is falling apart. I thought that I could work around its drawbacks but in the end I found something better.
Isn't it strange how different people see things so differently? You had no emotion at all walking through Suvarnabhumi on your journey out. I nearly always have a lump in my throat when I leave Thailand. Never a day passes I don't wish I was there again. It always feels like home to me. Crazy, isn't it? I can live in Australia and I can live in America – but the place I love most is the place I cannot be always. I must have walked over a dead Thai's grave at some time.
Readjusting to Farangland.
I had the same feeling about all I left behind in Thailand. I was just empty inside, like there had never been such a place like the land of (fake) smiles. After everything, life in Farangland ain't that bad. It only takes a little time to get used to real home after years of illusion of the non-existent paradise of Siam.
Missing things that don't exist.
Give yourself a year. I came back a little over a year ago after being married to the bargirl from hell in Isaan for 9 years. The adjustment to life in the States kind of reminded me of my return from Vietnam in 1968. Sometimes I find myself missing things that didn't exist, like the loving wife. I might go back for visit later but would include Vietnam. Thailand is not that exciting for me anymore.
Gone, but not forgotten.
I have listened to a raft of both well-informed Stickman readers and barstool bullshitters over the last few weeks who have talked about you more than a bit. I even had some Thai Visa exec crying in his beer over your sources! But overwhelmingly everyone was highly complimentary about what you've done and achieved. It's apparent that not everyone likes all you have written, but they are compulsively addicted to following you. Your eye with the lens is what puts you ahead. Stick's writing style is what sucks them in! Don't for Gawd's sake think of getting a day job!
Where the moderators are like brainwashed detectives.
It's amazing your article did not produce much noise on ThaiVisa <It did, but threads were hurriedly deleted – Stick>, that streamlined internet forum I have been a member of for almost 10 years with some 430 contributions. After 10 years in the country one would assume that one gathers quite some knowledge of what goes on in Thailand and how money buys. I ask myself how ThaiVisa really operates within those standards. This morning I made one of my rare short contributions on ThaiVisa to counter another member saying that a particular Immigration office takes money. I was polite, did not put anybody down, and just wanted to put the record straight. The message was taken off the board in a hurry. Go figure! Do I want to be an active member of such a forum with gullible members where moderators operate like brainwashed detectives?
Is the end nigh?
Reading Stickman Weekly the last few months reminded me of when I worked in Birmingham, England, about 50 years ago. There was a jeweler's shop that had big signs plastered all over its windows, “Closing Down Sale, Last Seven Days, Closing down this week”. When I went back to Birmingham 2 years later, you guessed it; there was the same shop with the same closing down sale. So in marketing there is nothing new under the sun. I do not know your real situation but one thing I have learnt over the years is: When the cup has a crack in it best to throw the cup away!
To be a Master Monger!
I love your posts about Thailand and the escort / party lifestyle. I am an American and have been with 30 escorts in my life. I am 24 and I plan on traveling the world and visiting the many sex tourist destinations. My dream spots include Thailand, Germany, Amsterdam, Australia, Brazil and so much more! Obviously, my body count pales in comparison to you and your friends. I just wanted to know your advice of how many escorts / whores I must sleep with to be considered an experienced sex monger. Is it 200? 500? 1,000? What are the countries I must visit to truly experience the great escorts of the world? Thanks so much. Keep up the good work.
Business bleak on Soi Nana?
Soi Nana has predictably and noticeably died on its arse since Songkran. Much quieter and it happened quick. I reckon the low season will be really low this year and I don't normally say that. One factor is that the Aussie economy has gone down the dunny. The AUD is almost at parity with the NZD. The mining boom is over. Not so many cashed up bogans from mines in Bumfuck, WA, coming over and throwing stupid (and believe me, I've seen stupid money being parted with) money at birds. The pendulum is slowly swinging back in the sexpats' favour. The days of having to pay a guarantee to buy an average bar girl out of her beer bar are, hopefully, a thing of the past. Not that I care, I'm a happily married man!
Underground on Nana Plaza's ground floor (previously known as Voodoo) has long been a troubled spot – and that's putting it kindly. As a ladyboy bar it had exclusively post-ops – but ladyboy connoisseurs prefer their chick with a dick. As such it never challenged True Obsessions which packs the punters in every night. Underground has a new owner and hopefully the miserable record will become a thing of the past. My feeling – and I don't wish to be negative – is that part of the problem is the entrance which is set back from the walkway on the ground floor of the plaza, almost concealed.
Speaking of failed Nana Plaza bars, Bubbles (formerly the failed Tokyo Player and before that the failed Las Vegas), has been in darkness the past few days. Has the axe fallen on another Nana Plaza bar? I don't know exactly what the story is with that bar's ownership because you can't trust a thing the boiler room guys say and yeah, it was a boiler room owned and run bar which some time late last year Bubbles was gifted by the late "G" to two of his lieutenants. With monthly rent running hundreds of thousands of baht and an inferior location in the back corner of the top floor, Bubbles occupies pretty much the worst spot in the plaza and I doubt it turned a monthly profit in the past 3 years. WithBubbles closed, the coyote dancers are to move across the way to Jail Birdz where construction has resumed.
With Bubbles closed and no guarantee that Jail Birdz will ever open, it doesn't look good for Billboard, the only bar with ladies on the top floor. Who will make the trek to the third floor for just one bar?
Long-running DC-10 on the middle floor is the newest ladyboy bar in the plaza. I've lost count of how many bars in Nana Plaza are now exclusively ladyboys – and plenty other bars have a handful of ladyboys, some obvious and others not.
The boys in brown continue to keep a close eye on Nana Plaza and while there has not been much visible presence, they have their spies. This week, at least two gogo bars have been told to close by 2:00 AM sharp. The stage must be clear of all dancers by that time so bear this in mind when visiting Nana Plaza. Meanwhile, further down Soi Nana, Hillary 2 is still rocking well after then which is frustrating the hell out of Nana Plaza bar bosses.
There's much speculation about what's going to happen in Nana Plaza in the next couple of months when the lease agreements come up for renewal. As has been mentioned in this column for 18 months or more, bar bosses are screaming for a reduction in rents. There has been talk that bar owners in the plaza are going to get together and make demands of the landlord. I can't see it happening. And talk of threats of a mass pull-out by owners are just that, talk. There's too much bickering amongst the various bar owners for there ever to be a united front. The Thai owners do their own thing and the bosses of the Rainbow Group, for example, need not complain for their bars are already highly profitable. Amongst the various foreign bar owners in the plaza, there are personality clashes, some bar bosses are seldom sober, some bosses don't get on, some aren't respected and then of course there are some bars which are profitable. Talk of tenants going elsewhere is nonsensical because there is nowhere to go! The only area in which new gogo bar licenses can be issued is Patpong and there is no prime space available there. If Nana bar bosses did the unthinkable and tried to stage some sort of protest, the girls would go elsewhere and they would have cut their own throats. It ain't gonna happen.
And if you think that I am being overly negative, here's a recent but unattributed quote from a farang bar manager in Nana, "I believe the place will look like Detroit soon."
I understand that some guys like girls who look young. I also understand that some guys also get off on the distasteful practice of fingering ladies in bars. But for those of you who swear by that bar in soi 23 which is known for young girls and disgraceful behaviour in the bar, a venue that I never mention in this column, doesn't the ridiculously loud music put you off? It's ear-splittingly loud! Honestly, how can you stand it in there?
Down in Pattaya, it seems the manager at Sweethearts, Jason, has quit to become the customer relations manager at Sapphire in soi 15.
In the same Pattaya soi, legendary bar boss Big Andy has turned around what was Private Dancer. Less than 2 weeks after it was rebranded Club Electric Blue Pattaya and given a new format, this past Friday night they had over 80 girls working! That is exactly the way to get a new bar off to a great start. But there's much work to maintain things. Running a bar is like a good shag, it's one thing to go hard at the start but the ultimate success is in keeping it up for a sustained period. How long can Big Andy keep it up for
One soi over in soi 14, work has resumed on the location next to Secrets, what was the old Movida spot. No-one seems quite sure what they're going to do with it.
Not only did the Irish Rover in Soi LK Metro put up the price of a cooked breakfast by 30 baht – something which has sent shockwaves through Pattaya expat society – they have also removed mushrooms from the platter. I understand they deemed that item too healthy for an Irish breakfast plate.
Photo provided by reader Monty.
A semi-balding, white-haired, bearded Westerner has been spotted walking around Soi Nana in nothing but his daks. He is an older foreigner, probably north of 60 and is notable by the large suitcase he drags around. A couple of weeks ago a middle-aged French guy was sleeping under the BTS steps at Asoke station. It's amazing how people end up like this.
It's interesting to observe bar trends elsewhere in the region. In Phnom Penh, live music venues are said to be drying up and unable to sustain themselves. Folks on the ground say this is due to exactly the same reasons some bars and bar areas are struggling in Bangkok – high rents and a lack of visitors who meet the profile that the venue is targeting. Slur Bar, Oscars and Equinox are all said to be hurting. Long-running Phnom Penh bar Sharky which used to be a haven (or is that heaven) for working girls went live music and got rid of most of the hookers – and is struggling to fill the place. At least one Phnom Penh local feels that Sharky screwed up as they could have had the lion's share of working girls. And in another iconic Phnom Penh freelancer venue, Martini's lease is up in June so they might go by the wayside too. This year's (s)low season in Phnom Penh is going to be more interesting.
Some of the happiest expats are those who float between their homeland and Thailand, spending a few months in one place until they get bored, or annoyed, before going back to the other. They jump between Thailand and their homeland and for the most part, those on such a plan seem to be happy. Would I consider doing that? No, it does not appeal to me, at least not at this point in time. A number of readers have suggested that but no, it strikes me as being a bit too unsettled and a little too costly. Maintaining two homes is beyond me and living out of a suitcase doesn't appeal.
If you don't think it's possible that I can produce enough nightlife content and you crave to know more about what's going on around Bangkok's expat bar areas, there are two other sites which comment on that lifestyle that I recommend. BangkokEyes produces a monthly roundup of what's happening in the bar areas and Dave The Rave also provides tidbits of news and upcoming events in the bars too.
Quote of the week comes from a Thai complaining about the heat, "Hell couldn't possibly be hotter than Bangkok!"
Reader's story of the week comes from Dan and is another Isaan girl-done-me-wrong story, " An Extraordinary Adventure".
A pickup truck crashes in Thailand – nothing new in that, except in this one there were 26 passengers!
Andrew Drummond reveals that the owner of Paradise A Gogo in Pattaya has another source of income.
Three Thai women duped in to the flesh trade in Bahrain are rescued after one woman tips off her boyfriend in Thailand.
A Thai woman is scorned online for using both hands to apply makeup while driving a car!
A local man suffers the wrath of his Thai wife upset at his philandering who pours acid over him while he is sleeping, killing him!
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 for Sunbelt Legal this week.
OK, that's all for the reports from New Zealand; next week things revert back to Asia. I am hopeful that next week I will finally be able to give a full and detailed explanation of just what is going on with this site and why the column didn't end like I had been saying it would. The explanation is actually rather simple. While some are concerned about just what the reason is, surely the main thing is that the column continues….and I am still running it? Unless, of course, I am an imposter and the original Stick has gone and I am masquerading as him…
Your Bangkok commentator,