It's 6 days since the bombing in the heart of Bangkok killed 20 and injured more than one hundred and the perpetrators have yet to be caught. Grainy video and an identikit picture of the person who planted the bomb have been released but amidst much conjecture and speculation, little else is known. As the world watches the investigation, the spotlight is on the Royal Thai Police like never before. Will they crack the case and bring the perpetrators to justice and at the same time restore confidence, or is this all going to fade away and become yet another unsolved case, albeit an awfully high profile one?
It has been widely reported in the mainstream media that the Thai Prime Minister suggested investigators look to the American TV show Blue Bloods for ideas on how to solve the crime, comments which have been decried from many quarters.
From the outside looking in, there appeared to be a rush to get things back to normal. Less than 48 hours later, it looked like business as usual at the site of the explosion as camera crews from around the world beamed pictures of Thais at the Erawan Shrine going about their lives almost as if nothing had happened.
But word on the street was that Bangkokians are anything but happy.
Friends living downtown tell me that despite pictures being broadcast of a city putting on a brave face, Bangkok is on edge.
When thunder roared in the night sky a couple of nights after the bomb, one friend living just a kilometre from the blast zone said it was beyond unnerving.
In the days following the bombing, offices emptied out and when the sun went down the streets of Bangkok were quiet. Streetside restaurants and shopping malls which would typically be full with the after-work crowd were uncharacteristically quiet. On streets, in shopping malls and in the expat bar areas it was not business as usual. Private residences were preferred to public places.
In the bars, the girls ordinarily show almost zero interest in current events talked about how scared they were in the aftermath of the bombing. They stayed home and the number of girls in some bars plummeted to the point that some venues questioned whether it was worthwhile to stay open. Some girls talked of a supposed list of places that could be targets – and all three nightlife areas were said to be on this imaginary list.
Bargirls don't read the foreign press so they won't know that the BBC's Bangkok front man found shrapnel at the shrine when it reopened after the forensic team had combed it for evidence. And neither would they know that Jonathan Head reported that he had tried to take the shrapnel he found at the scene to Police National HQ but was turned away.
A number of foreigners with but a passing resemblance to the bomber have been detained by police and questioned for hours. And Social media was at its ugly worst as innocent foreigners were outed as the bomber, and subsequently received a slew of death threats from Thais. Some were so scared that they went to the police for help.
Nana Plaza got a metal detector at the entrance and getting in to the plaza is like checking in for a flight.
At Patpong there has been no reported visible increase in the number of uniformed police on patrol. Patpong soi 1 is largely the domain of mainstream visitors who have been spooked and the Patpong night market was dead this week although come the weekend things had picked up a bit.
Uniformed soldiers walked through Soi Cowboy and chatted with customers sitting outside bars. It was reported that 30 police would be on duty in and around Cowboy. If they wanted to set up metal detectors at each end of Soi Cowboy it would be easy enough to do, but they didn't.
Across town in Khao San Road, smiling police and army personnel went around thanking visitors for coming to Thailand and handing out stickers. They also provided a phone number for foreigners to call if they see anything suspicious. It's a nice idea, even if past experience tells us that there is no guarantee that the phone number would be answered and if it was, that the person on the other end would speak English. Covered by a large media contingent, it smacked of a PR stunt.
There was a large police presence along Sukhumvit Road near Asoke in the days following the attack, each officer spaced about 50 metres apart. Security was beefed up at many downtown buildings with extra security staff. At some buildings all entrances had a desk with security staff checking people's bags.
On Friday, firebrand politician Chuwit Kamolvisit who is known for speaking his mind come what may, slammed the way the Bangkok bombing has been handled, from the forensic team's collection of evidence to the speed at which the authorities rushed to reopen the shrine.
The foreign press has had a field day and even today's Bangkok Post featured a damning editorial of the way the investigation has been handled.
The authorities ought to consider that perhaps the best way to minimise damage to the tourism industry is not to paint a picture that everything is normal, that Thailand is safe and people are still smiling, but to actually carry out a thorough investigation in a transparent manner and bring the perpetrators to justice. Such action would be the best outcome for their precious tourism market and restore face at the same time, something mere words can never do.
I'm not familiar with the TV show Blue Bloods but the one thing that I have learned from police TV shows is that the first 24 hours following a crime is critical if the culprits are to be apprehended. The longer it takes to make an arrest, the greater the chances that the perpetrator will get away with it, and the greater the chances they will strike again.
The Thai police need to catch those behind this and show the world that this was a single, horrific event. Until the perpetrators are caught, the worry is that it could happen again.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of Sukhumvit soi 38 which is best known for its thriving street-food scene.
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 – The good old days.
I still remember the good old Grace Hotel Coffee Shop where all the girls were looking for, at minimum, the whole night. Prices started from 20 baht all-night "for taxi". I was slim & young which helped. The Grace was heaven on earth for young farang as most ladies were not only nice but also pretty. And safe – the Grace had its own VD clinic and no girl was allowed to enter the coffee shop without a health certificate. In the days before HIV, it was 99.99% safe. The coffee shop was a medium-sized, L-shaped place, 3 jukeboxes in 3 corners blaring mostly the same song, packed with young farang and plenty of Thai, a mix of curious secretaries, freelancers and left-over bargirls who tried their luck after midnight curfew. I went back for nostalgic reasons some years ago…what a dis-Grace! It was full of old Arabs and fat Thais. If somebody can revive the old Grace, he will become a millionaire in any currency in 6 months. My God, it's 38 years ago yet it's still fresh in my memory!
Swamped at Swampy.
I will tell you about the Chinese in Thailand. The last several trips (but most noticeably in 2015), every time we get to the airport (flying in), the place is crazy. Crazy in that it is literally swamped with hordes of Chinese tourists and usually with a number of tour operators holding a flag so their large group know who to follow. You can hardly move. Insane is an understatement. I am just glad we get picked up from the air-bridge by an official with a golf buggy and get whisked through the premium immigration lane because when I look over at the main immigration area it is packed with Chinese and looks like a 2+ hour wait. Last week, we arrived at 3 PM on a Cathay flight and it was so packed that the golf buggy could not make it all the way to the premium immigration and we had to walk a bit. Well, walk is not quite the word – it was push our way through hordes of Chinese milling in all directions to finally get to the queue. Outside the airport I haven't noticed the presence of the Chinese, but arriving they are everywhere. They had better start building a new airport soon because the current one simply will not cope.
Getting to Bangkok from the US.
It used to be a breeze to get from anywhere in the US to Bangkok on as many as a half dozen US legacy carriers. Now, not so. With multiple mergers now complete, there's only one US airline offering direct service, unless you're willing to "code share" and then there are three. Delta still has one daily flight via Tokyo's Narita (a 767, the smallest wide-body in its fleet). American (now reported to be the world's largest carrier) and United both require you to use another airline for the final leg in to Swampy (Tokyo, if you're lucky, Mumbai if you're not). Airlines have a built-in advantage hotels do not: they can shrink availability by cutting flights or substituting smaller aircraft, or in Delta's case, both. Big carriers from the Gulf, China and Japan were quick to seize the opportunity and are offering non-stops from an increasing list of US cities, making it possible to reach Bangkok with one stop. Punters from Europe enjoy a much greater choice with Gulf carriers offering both capacity and frequency along with most of the EU legacy carriers.
Real trouble in Pattaya real estate.
I have a friend who is vacationing in Sin City for 6 months who has several foreign friends who permanently live either in Pattaya and Jomtien and are involved one way or another in real estate. They confirmed what you wrote – that there has been little or no activity in the real estate industry lately. Sales have dropped and they say you could go to any condo block in Jomtien and be able to buy a brand new condo that nobody has ever lived in. That includes View Talay and others nearby. One person also stated that the Royal Cliff area has been hit so hard that a person can't sell anything there.
Tourism industry fallout.
The Hong Kong Travel Industry Council has done something I've never seen: cancelled all tours until month's end under a red alert. When it's black, there are no tours, but now they're cancelling retroactively. This means the airlines will charge a fee and customers won't get 100% refunds. This will cause some aggro among would-be Thai tourists from Hong Kong. We'll see about September 1 but if it's still red, given this move, people won't be booking tours. Of course you can always go solo. I wonder if Cathay will offer dirt-cheap deals? I dunno what they think in China and stats are not easy to come by, but if I were the General I would find some scapegoat and torture him until he confessed, conjure up a plot, and say case-closed as quickly as possible. This thing is bad.
Fight fire with fire.
I heard early this morning about the terrible carnage at Erawan Shrine in Rachaprasong and I can hardly believe this happened in the city I love. I called a friend in Bangkok this afternoon and she and her family are OK and I just got off the phone from another friend and her family is ok too. Authorities say it was 3 kg of TNT in a pipe bomb. Who could believe that a human could do this in such a place of peace and worship? When this piece of scum is found, it should be executed without a trial in a public place and made to endure the absolute maximum pain possible until death. Then, just feed the body to the fishes in the Chao Phraya with no funeral or any recognition that it was human. Thailand really needs to clean out the shit from The Kingdom. They should also clean out the bikie element running tattoo shops and drug trading. Just execute all of them. Until Thailand is seen as being serious in cleaning out all the undesirables, The Kingdom will always be vulnerable to acts of terrorism. I don't know what else to say other than it feels as if a piece of me has been badly hurt.
Security same same.
I arrived in Bangkok on the afternoon after the Erawan Shrine bombing, expecting to see a heightened state of security. Nope. Right after my flight landed and as I emerged from security a man rushed past me in to the secure area, with a security guard simply looking surprised. He didn't try to stop him entering, or challenge him or chase him. Okay. Then the charade of security continued on the underground railway where the so-called security staff shine a torch at your bag, sometimes without it even being opened, as you pass. WTF good is that? I had a large bag with a laptop computer at the top hiding what could have been a few kilos of explosives underneath. No problem for the security staff. Just waved on through, with nothing in the bag touched. Sadly, with such imbeciles in charge of security, Bangkok and Thailand deserves whatever it gets. They are like children in a man's world and haven't got a clue.
A media scrum took place just inside Nana Plaza. (photo supplied)
A metal detector has been installed at the entrance of Nana Plaza. (photo supplied)
When you think of precautions being taken on Soi Nana and visitors playing it safe, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is condoms. But the extra precautions being implemented in the interests of safety on Soi Nana has nothing to do with safe sex. Security has been beefed up at Nana Plaza and on Soi Nana generally – which is less than 2 km away from the site of Monday's deadly bomb attack. This past Friday night saw a major police presence in Nana Plaza as the bigwigs made a show of visiting. A number of security measures have been implemented in Nana Plaza, including the installation of a metal detector at the entrance through which everyone entering the plaza must pass. Additional security cameras are being installed at the front of the plaza and there will be a full-time CCTV camera attendant monitoring them. In addition to the token security guards who used to perch at the entrance, there is now security at the entrance and guards assigned to each floor. Suitcases will not be allowed inside the plaza – so those who use the short-time hotels in the plaza to stay all night may to have find new digs. All sports bags, handbags and backpacks are to be opened and their contents checked although it does rather sound like it will be done MRT-style with the directive stating that security officers may use a torch to peer in to bags but may NOT put their hands inside. Finally, there will be undercover officers on the soi. Perhaps the owners of the plaza ought to change the slogan on the main sign at the entrance to Nana Plaza to read the world's safest adult playground?
Trade in the bars fell off a cliff in the days following the bombing but come the weekend things had improved. The number of girls reporting for duty was so low on Tuesday that some bars considered closing for the evening. One popular Patpong gogo bar had just 7 girls show up on Tuesday. And it wasn't just the naughty bars doing it tough – in bars without barfines it was little different. Despite the brave faces and bravado, many Bangkokians admitted that they were scared to be out and about.
Fallout from the bombing has caused the grand opening of the eagerly awaited Bangkok Bunnies in Nana Plaza to be delayed. 10 builders from the construction crew didn't report for work the next day as they left for their respective hometowns. They will wait until they feel it is safe before they return. As such, the bar won't be ready in time for the grand opening that had been scheduled for this Friday. Besides, with trade down it hardly seems like the right time to be throwing a party.
The Den in Sukhumvit soi 12 is proof that you need more than just a great concept to succeed. Since opening its doors late last year The Den hasn't set the world alive, despite offering a compelling product. To recap, The Den is a beautifully done out, plush freelancer bar with drinks at very reasonable prices. It differs from other spots around town – the soi 7 Biergarten being the obvious exception – in that it is the place to go for afternoon delight. The concept, as one expat joked, is that it is the place to go and have a bit of fun while your wife or girlfriend is at work. Cheater's paradise he called it; the Ashley Madison of Bangkok perhaps? The owners of The Den have not been deterred and are to open a second branch on Patpong soi 1.
This Thursday, August 27th, Stumble Inn will celebrate 5 fantastic years on Soi Nana. Happy hour will run through until close with live music keeping things lively and a free buffet to keep your energy levels up. For a great time with some fun people, do stop by!
In Patpong, word is that Bada Bing currently has a great line-up and is worth stopping by (although I would perhaps wait a week or so as many bars are down on girls who are scared to go to work at the moment).
The local police made a show of force in Patpong on Thursday night. As they wandered around Bangkok's oldest bar area they stopped by bars, not to talk about security arrangements in the wake of the bombing, but to remind bars not to employ underage or non-Thai dancers!
Club Electric Blue will celebrate 12 years in Patpong next Saturday, August 29th, with an anniversary party. All are welcome!
Down in Pattaya, manager Mister Egg has left Secrets. Mister Egg's departure is a big loss not just for the bar, but for the forum and in some ways it mirrors the departure of former Secrets boss, Larry, who after leaving Secrets bar also switched to posting on a rival discussion forum. For those who enjoy visiting Mister Egg when in town, he can now be found just around the corner at Sugar Baby, on Walking Street. Prior to managing Secrets, Mister Egg was in charge at Baby Dolls. One of the reasons for moving to Secrets was that he found the comings and goings in Baby Dolls – which is very much a hands on bar – all a bit much. Maybe he came to miss the hands on stuff because Sugar Baby – at least the back corner behind the pillar – features the sort of action you get at Baby Dolls. The reason(s) for Mister Egg's departure have not been made public while the grapevine has it that Secrets is doing terribly. In addition to Mister Egg' departure, the foreign accountant has gone too. When asked for comment, Mister Egg said that he didn't want to work for an Arsenal fan any more. Touché.
I am looking forward to many late nights in front of the TV from the middle of next month watching the Rugby World Cup live. That's something I can do here in New Zealand, and something some in Thailand thought might not be possible given that Setanta, which some call the rugby channel, does not have the rights to broadcast the Rugby World Cup in Asia. Fear not, Fox Sports does have the rights so all you need to do is tune from True Visions channel 669 over to channel 680. Fox Sports 2 is on 689 and Fox Sports 3 is on 690 in addition to channel 183 showing Fox Sports in glorious HD.
There was something about the ageing Don Meuang I liked. Unlike Suwannaphum, which feels so cold and sterile and is a place I preferred to avoid, I rather enjoyed venturing out to Don Meuang to meet friends or family flying in to Thailand. Perhaps it had to do with memories of that first ever trip to Thailand, or perhaps it's that when Don Meuang was the only airport was when Thailand just seemed to be more laid-back and fun. One memory from the many trips I took to Don Meuang was the scene of foreigners saying goodbye to their teeruk before flying home. Seeing a Thai lady crying at the airport as her foreign beau was about to depart was a common sight. It was mostly an act, of course – she was keen to make a big impression so that when he returned to Farangland he would send her money, and if she was really lucky he'd give her all his remaining baht there and then too. Those goodbyes were so profitable that many girls would take the trip up from Pattaya up to Don Meuang to see him off. That does make it sound like they all were gold-diggers and I'm sure some weren't. In recent years I don't remember seeing that scene played out, which I guess is a symptom of the way the industry has changed. Girls seeing off a guy at the airport had most likely spent days or maybe even weeks with him, while today most girls don't want to spend any more time with a guy than they have to.
The modernization of Bangkok has become rather predictable. When a piece of land is cleared in the suburbs you can expect a condominium block to go up. Downtown it could be a condo or a hotel. If it's a really big expanse of land, a shopping mall will follow. If it's a small spot like a shophouse or two, a 7 Eleven store is most likely. So it should come as no surprise that the space at the start of Sukhumvit soi 33 that was once The Londoner has a sign outside stating that it's going to be yet another 7 Eleven. With one 7 Eleven and two Family Mart stores in soi 33 already, is there really demand for another convenience store?
A funny aside to the horrible bombing in Bangkok this week, BBC's man in Bangkok Jonathan Head was reporting live when a middle-aged guy walked hand in hand with a dark-skinned beauty behind him during a live broadcast. When the man saw the camera and it dawned on him that he might be seen hand-in-hand with a lady who in all likelihood was not his Mrs., he immediately let go of her hand!
The ground floor of Sutti Mansion, where it is hoped Sukhumvit soi 38's food scene will continue.
With Sukhumvit soi 38's street food vendors told they must vacate the area in early 2016, the open air ground floor of the budget apartment block Sutti Mansion, at the corner of soi 38 and the main Sukhumvit Road, could become their new home as a mix of old and new vendors now operate out of what was once the building's lobby. Lighting has been upgraded and seating is set up each night. It's all under cover and diners are protected from rainy season downpours. It's nice to see the way Thais help Thais beat the system in a positive way.
I won't stick my neck out and say that Thailand is any more dangerous today than it was in the past because I just don't know if that is the case – even though it does feel that way to me. What I can report is that a reader who has been visiting for 40 years was attacked by Thai men this past week. Photos of his injuries show he received a very nasty blow to the head. That is bad enough but what is really sad is that calls to the police went unanswered. After 40 trouble-free years of visiting Thailand, this was the first time he had experienced any trouble at all. To put things in perspective, it happened very late at night in Pattaya.
I was on the phone with a little madam in Bangkok this week who exclaimed that it was almost 40 degrees and she felt like she was melting. Checking online, the Mercury in Bangkok was hovering around 38 at the start of the week, unseasonably hot for this time of year. You usually only see temperatures north of 36 in Bangkok in April and while you expect hot and wet at this time of year, not that hot. The weather is one thing I don't miss about Bangkok.
Quote of the week comes from a mate in Bangkok, "For a country obsessed with its image, Thailand excels at looking foolish."
A Q&A appeared online showing how the Southeast Asian economic zone could change the region.
A Facebook posting outlines reprehensible behaviour towards a Thai female by police in Abu Dhabi.
As a backdrop of the Bangkok bombing, the LA Times looks at what it calls a country sliding into dictatorship.
A Bangkok Post editorial takes an honest look at the state of Thailand's police force.
An Aussie blogger living in Bangkok is wrongly accused of being a terrorist on social media.
The BBC finds shrapnel evidence at the bomb site that it says the police may have missed.
Foreigners with a passing resemblance to the Bangkok bomber are being rounded up for questioning.
Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: I am facing divorce due to my wife's progressive depression and ADHD. We have 2 daughters together. I'm here on a marriage visa, but expect to get full custody of our children. Is there any way I can obtain a new visa as a father for my 2 daughters and if so, how do I go about that? Further, we'd like to transfer a piece of land in to both my daughters' names, aged 2 and 6. Is that possible?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Once you divorce, your non-O visa extension based on marriage will no longer be valid and you will need to get a new visa. You may wish to consider obtaining a multiple-entry non-O visa before the divorce is finalized. This will make it easier to apply for the extension based on supporting a Thai dependent child quickly. You would only need to claim one child for the extension.
You will need to show 500,000 baht in a Thai bank account for two months (for the initial application) for the extension as well as the court ruling declaring that the custody of the child has been given to you.
Transferring ownership of property to minor children is possible but can be problematic as the courts will not allow any transfer or sale of the property without a court ruling so long as the child is a minor. If you wished to sell in the future then this could be an issue.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in handling dependent child visa extensions and can assist you with this process as well as with the intricacies involved in gifting land to minor children.
Seldom has a year gone by over the past decade when Thailand's tourism industry hasn't faced a major issue that has threatened to have a dramatically negative impact. From the ongoing and seemingly never-ending political problems, SARS and bird flu, the Bangkok floods and the airport closure to name just a few, the industry has proven itself to be resilient and always seems to bounce back quickly. The Erawan Shrine bomb attack this week took things to a new level with the loss of 20 lives, amongst them foreign visitors. The challenges of the past have often been the fear of the unknown. Could you find yourself stuck in Thailand and unable to fly home because the airport was closed? Would you be unable to do anything or go anywhere because the city was flooded? In the past it has always been a case of the unknown, and not knowing what might happen. This time around the bad shit has happened already. Here's hoping it's a single event – an horrific event – but a one-off. In the short-term one would expect a drop in visitor numbers, even if there have not been reports of widespread cancellations so far, which is encouraging. That notwithstanding, it's critical that the police get to the bottom of this case and bring those behind it to justice and eliminate the fear of any more attacks.
Your Bangkok commentator,