Stickman's Weekly Column August 30th, 2015

Thai Visa Sold




In the early days in Thailand I remember most foreigners in business in the country were making money. Bars, restaurants and language schools were the most common businesses you found foreigners involved in, while others were doing more quirky stuff, like on-site computer installations and repairs and niche travel services. When I first moved to Thailand the economy was in the toilet but those foreigners who were prepared to take a risk and invest in a business were often richly rewarded.





Fast-forward to today and it seems rather more difficult for foreigners to make a buck in Thailand. It should be easier – there are so many foreigners living in Thailand today giving them a much larger potential customer base – while at the same time it seems that many are doing much the same thing as those before them, and the market is saturated. Bars go under every week, ditto foreigner-owned restaurants. You see the same faces popping up around town using the same failed formula and it's often a case of OPM – other people's money – they suck in investors, try the same thing again and are surprised when, once again, they fail. What do they say about people who do the same thing over and over, yet expect a different outcome?

But there are many foreigners doing well in business in Thailand. They avoid all the rules and regulations and run an online business.

The early online businesses were basic websites producing original content, running affiliate ads and selling advertising space. It's an easy model to replicate but with so many similar sites, and affiliate programs not paying what they used to, it's no longer the easy game it was.

After the bloggers came the EBay sellers, some of whom did elegantly well.

Whatever online business you can think of, odds are there are foreigners doing it in Thailand today.

The big money to be made running your own business online is the same as doing business in the real world – it's not the income you make along the way, but the big pay day when you sell the business and cash out.

Has any online business in Thailand been as successful as the giant expat forum, ThaiVisa? It's not just the largest English language discussion forum for expats in Thailand, it's one of the largest expats sites in all of Asia.

But as good a business as it is, ThaiVisa has not been without its critics and along the way owner George has rubbed up a few the wrong way. One person he upset was Graham Beecham.

Graham was working for a property developer in Hua Hin and sold George a home. Soon they would be meeting for drinks on Friday nights. Ever the entrepreneur, George was always asking Graham how he could sell property on ThaiVisa. Graham never took it seriously until he saw how much traffic ThaiVisa had and saw the huge potential.

George and Graham agreed to set up ThaiVisa Property in which they would be equal partners with a 50% share each. It would use the ThaiVisa brand but be set up as separate entity from the main ThaiVisa site.

Graham ran around setting everything up but when it came time to be rewarded for his efforts, Graham never saw a single baht. He had a lawyer look in to the company documents and discovered that he only had 1% of the business, not the 50% he and George had agreed on. It got worse. It was discovered that his signature had been forged and many documents had been signed by someone using his name and forging his signature.

Graham filed charges against George in Hua Hin over disagreements arising from ThaiVisa Property. It was serious with the potential for jail time if George was found guilty.

ThaiVisa has always been much more than George and the site is said to employ a couple of helpers. Most of the work is performed by a team of volunteer moderators, without whose efforts the site would not exist. Despite the huge profits the site makes, the moderator team is unpaid.

Some years ago ThaiVisa had a working relationship with The Nation Group and there were rumours at one time that ThaiVisa may be sold for around 90 million baht. It never happened. ThaiVisa has far much greater traffic today and is more established and more dominant than ever. One would expect the value of ThaiVisa would be much higher today.

The value of a website is determined by many factors, one of which is its profitability. ThaiVisa is estimated to earn between $50,000 – $75,000 per month, much more than I had previously estimated. According to one source, the big bucks are paid into a company registered in Hong Kong whereas the company in Thailand shows a much smaller number.

It's difficult to accurately price a website and conventional business pricing models don't necessarily apply. Some say 12 months' earnings is fair, whereas brick and mortar business typically goes for 3 years' earnings.

My best guess – and it is only guess – is that anyone who wanted to buy ThaiVisa would have to come up with north of 100 million baht / or upwards of $3 million. At that price point, I reckon both parties would be happy.

The future of ThaiVisa is bright. No other forum is going to knock it off its perch any time soon. Congratulations, George, on building the most popular and successful expat forum in Thailand and a hugely successful online business.

This week ThaiVisa will announce that the site has been sold. The announcement will probably be accompanied with comment that it will be business as usual with some nice surprises coming, including the delivery of content through new formats. The deal is due to be completed on Tuesday and the announcement will follow shortly after. The buyers are unknown, as are details of the sale. Why George has chosen to sell the ThaiVisa cash cow now is a mystery.



Where was this photo taken?


Bangkok


Last week's photo was taken from the overhead walkway connected to the Sala Daeng BTS station, near Silom Road soi 2.


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 delightful dark side.

I live on Pattaya's 'dark side' (as it's affectionately known), which is anywhere to the east of Pattaya's Sukhumvit Road. In fact, it's anything but 'dark' these days with a pleasant variety of bars and some excellent restaurants. I can't honestly say that the majority of the girls working in these bars are anything special but I frequent them because they are friendly and attract mostly expats who live in the area. A few weeks ago I went in to a totally non-descript bar which I hadn't visited before where first sight of the girls nearly made me turn around and walk out. The chef reminded me of Miss Trunchbull, although later I discovered she was a lovely lady and serves excellent bar food. Moments before turning around and walking out, a girl came from the back of the bar and in one minute my heart was lost. There are no adjectives to describe this girl so I'll simply say that she was truly beautiful. In the weeks that have followed we have formed a very close friendship and every time I walk in to the bar she simply takes my breath away. I have told her that she would have no trouble finding work in a top hostess bar and almost certainly modelling work, but she seems to have no idea how beautiful she is and simply doesn't believe me! It never ceases to amaze me how quite astonishing beauty is sometimes found in the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times.

Does the theory fit?

The only theory about the bombers that ticks every single box is Saudi Arabia. Man of Middle Eastern appearance – Tick. The day after the bike event (obvious blue diamond connection here) – Tick. Motive – Tick. Logistics and know how – Tick. Barbaric enough – Tick. The Thais killed 4 Saudi diplomats plus a member of the Saudi royal family. As recently as July 2014 the Saudi government expressed they were "furious" that the Thai government had intervened in the case to ensure justice was never met. The very fact that no-one is even mentioning this very obvious theory also lends weight to it as it could almost never be discussed. Heck, even the flights to the Middle East all leave Bangkok around 11 PM to midnight. Enough said.

Just like the Philippines on a normal day.

The first I learned of the bomb going off was around 7:15 PM while waiting for my pizza at Madrid in Patpong Soi 1. The news came on the TV and everybody downed tools and watched in disbelief. After dinner, I wandered into Patpong Soi 2 and visited a couple of bars. Everybody was still carrying on with their jobs, but there was tension in the air and a number of girls predicted the customers would drop off. Since then, I have been staying in the Sukhumvit area and can confirm that things are very quiet here. I decided to take a trip to the Erawan Shrine on Thursday to pay my respects and it was surreal – McDonald's staff were handing out free Cokes, workers were still repairing the damage and Thai girls in full costume were doing traditional dance. I appreciate that they are quickly trying to get things back to normal, but surely a major crime scene like this would be closed for forensic analysis for some time? Security in city buildings has been increased, bags are being searched and metal detectors are in use. It all reminds me of the Philippines on a normal day.

Thai logic.

The weekend before the bombing I had been looking online for hotels between December 24th and January 3rd in Bangkok, and a few days in Pattaya. After the bombing I thought I could probably book cheaper. How wrong I was! The following weekend every single property both in Bangkok and Pattaya that I had looked at the weekend before on Agoda ranged from between 10% to 40% more expensive. Go figure!





The tuktuk driver who wasn't cagey.

Last month my friend was in Bangkok with his son. He bought his son a gold chain with amulet. Taking a tuktuk back to his house on Rachadamnoen opposite UN, on same side as the Boxing Stadium, they were stopped at a red light at Saphan Makkawan when a motorcycle pulls up and snatches the gold chain from his son's neck and takes off. The tuktuk gave chase for a couple km but just couldn't keep up. They went to the police and since my friend speaks Thai well, it was easier.
1 – The tuktuk driver got fined (I think it was 1,000 baht) for not having a cage installed in his tuktuk. The law is that all tuktuks must have a cage to prevent just this sort of thing happening. I was riding in one and it had a sign, "Beware of thieves keep all belongings in tuktuk do not hold bags outside tuktuk."
2 – They said the cop was great, helpful and eager. The cop said, "I love CSI and watch every episode. I wish I could do those things but the equipment we have here is shit."
3 – Police checked every camera through the 6 or so intersections the motorcycle went through. They got a good description of the bike. He even drove straight past the UN and get this – half the cameras didn't work, including the cameras at the UN. Only in Thailand!

Justice in Abu Dhabi.

I doubt I was the only Stickman reader whose blood was left boiling by the story of the ill treatment of a Thai woman in Abu Dhabi airport by vengeful Gulf Arab locals. For what it's worth, a friend of mine managed to get his own back on a couple of them recently, hoisting them with their own petard. He was on a flight from London to Abu Dhabi in business class and some overweight Emirati woman kept banging in to his seat on one of her frequent walkabouts, waking him up repeatedly. He finally snapped and said, “For f*** sake stop slamming your fat ar$e into my seat”, or words to that effect. She took grave offence and told her husband, who told the crew he would be officially complaining to airport police on landing, as insulting an Emirati in the UAE (which they weren't even technically in) is a serious offence. My friend overheard that the Arab couple had a connecting flight leaving one hour after they landed in Abu Dhabi. After landing, all 3 were taken by police into a windowless room where a written sheet was produced which my friend had to sign, to say he apologised and would never do it again etc. Apparently once the paperwork has started, nobody gets out of that room until the statement is signed. So he deliberately stalled, asking for legal definitions to be explained etc. The Emirati couple became increasingly desperate for time, even offering to drop the charges, but my pal managed to stall until they missed their connecting flight. Justice!



The authorities are desperately trying to get the message out there that Bangkok is safe and there is no need for tourists to be concerned about safety. At the same time, another branch of the authorities is playing party pooper. For those whose primary reason for visiting Bangkok is to enjoy the party lifestyle, this past Friday night was a let-down with bars along Sukhumvit soi 11 closed at midnight and on Soi Nana it was lights out at 1 AM.

Bangkok Bunnies may not yet be the super-sized bar it will be when it's completed but already it is one of the bright spots in Nana Plaza as reader after reader reaffirms that some nights there are more than 100 dancers in the bar. More girls attract more customers. Do check it out.

On Patpong soi 1, Kiss has been closed for underage dancers. The length of the closure is unknown. There is no relationship between Kiss at Patpong and Kiss at Soi Cowboy, the latter being one of the Arab's bars.

The police are cracking down on underage dancers at Patpong and have informed bars to erect a sign in the Thai language which outlines 4 rules: (1) Venues can only open from 6 PM – 1 AM (even though everyone knows most Patpong bars open until 3 AM!), (2) Anyone aged under 20 is not allowed on the premises, (3) Drugs are not allowed on the premises and (4) Weapons are not allowed on the premises except for uniformed officers with the legal authority to carry a weapon.

District, up the end of Sukhumvit soi 11 and formerly known as Q Bar, was boarded up last Sunday afternoon and is closed until further notice.

The general consensus is that Nana and Patpong seem to have taken a bigger hit than Cowboy since the bombing. With the odd exception, bars at the Pong are doing the worst of all the bar areas, partly because a lot of girls still haven't returned to work through fear of further bombs. The girls constantly talk about the situation and whoever put the idea in their heads that bar areas were on a list of possible targets has really scared the crap out of them.

Will the metal detector that was installed at the one and only entrance to Nana Plaza last week become a double-edged sword? It may add a layer of security, but at the same time some have commented that the idea of having to walk past a security checkpoint and through a metal detector to enter what is supposed to be an entertainment area is off-putting.

Down in Pattaya, it's the boss's birthday at BabyDolls so mark Saturday, September 5th in your diary. The fun and games kick off at 8 PM.

Popular bar manager Ricky was close to buying / opening a small bar near LK Metro but his backer got cold feet after the Bangkok bomb.

Which highly-rated Pattaya bar boss had such a bad hair-cut that he chose to shave all his hair off and is wearing a baseball cap until it grows back?

Mister Egg's replacement at Secrets Bar is going to raise eyebrows with a female farang appointed as the new guest host – not mamasan, not manager but guest host. Presumably that means a white woman will be looking after the customers who are predominately white men…and let's not forget that many of these punters blame white woman for all of the ills in their life and their own shortcomings. Seldom do you see a white woman employed in the nightlife industry. I recall a white French lady was part of the management team at Mandarin in Nana Plaza some years ago but off the top of my head, that's the only white lady I can remember involved in running a naughty bar. This coming Tuesday is Secrets 9th anniversary so drop by, enjoy the party, fill your belly on the free buffet and make a point of welcoming the white lady!

It sounds like Angelwitch in Pattaya is being influenced by Billboard in Bangkok which should come as no surprise as they are owned by the same group. Pattaya's Angelwitch in soi 15 off Walking Street – the same soi as Club Electric Blue, BabyDolls and Sapphire – has installed a Jacuzzi upstairs. This Wednesday, September 2nd, they will host a Bubble Blast party with 100 baht pitchers of draft beer, 2 for 1 drinks before 10 PM and other specials. If you haven't swung by Angelwitch recently, now sounds like a good time to stop by.





Some of the security checks that were taking place at the entrances to many downtown office buildings in the wake of the bombing have stopped. Do Thais have short memories, or has someone somewhere made a decision that the danger has passed and such checks are no longer necessary?

New announcements on the skytrain ask commuters to report any suspicious behaviour to guards. I wonder what the guards would do if such a report was made to them?

You know a country is no longer a total backwater when Starbucks arrives. The announcement this week that Starbucks will open its first branch in Phnom Penh at the end of the year with many more branches to follow shows how far Cambodia has come.

The Thai authorities often respond with a crackdown when things get out of control or are deemed to have gone too far. Given that it appears the Bangkok bombing was the work of foreigners, will the Thais (once again) crack down on visas? Will they hold off introducing the new multiple-entry tourist visa which was recently announced? The Thais are in a tight spot – on the one hand they want to promote tourism and encourage long-term stays – while on the other they don't want to make it too easy for foreigners with ill intentions to stay in the country. Will there be any fallout from the bombing in terms of the issuing of visas?

The Immigration Department in Chiang Mai might have a brand spanking new office but the processing times for some visa extensions remain a sore point for many locals. Some say that more officers are needed to process the ever-increasing number of foreigners living in the area. Even if you get to the Immigration office before sunrise, you may not get your passport back until just before sunset due to the huge volume of visas the officers must process each day. I don't know what the situation is in Chiang Mai with agents these days but if they still operate as they used to, it seems to be that it would be well worth paying their fee so you don't waste a day sitting around, waiting and waiting. It's worth noting that most Immigration offices are very efficient and generally you're in and out in an hour or so.

The real estate market in Pattaya really is slow, and very much a buyers' market. A friend bought a condo in Sin City this past week, paying less than 4 million for a unit the owner paid over 6 million baht for just 2 years ago. There are property bargains to be had in Sin City at this time.





I was in town this week so I popped in to the Thai Airways office purely out of curiosity to see if airfares between Bangkok and Auckland had dropped in price post bombing. (Note: sometimes the Thai Airways office has specials that are not available online.) I am amazed how much Thai charges for a return flight between the fine city of Auckland and Bangers. A couple of weeks ago a ticket was $NZ 1,782 for a return trip flying in the next 2 months, or close to 41,000 baht. Since the bombing, the price dropped to $1,380, or around 31,000 baht. In terms of distance from Thailand and comparison fares, Auckland is almost exactly the same distance from Bangkok as London – it just happens to be in the other direction. Frankly, I was surprised that the price had dropped as Thai is the only airline operating direct flights and discounting even when flights aren't full never seems to be part of their strategy.

A long-time reader tells me the cheapest air flights he has seen in a long time from the States to Bangkok can be had on China Southern Airlines. If you get your timing right, a round trip flight from LAX to BKK is less than $600 – great price!

According to data from the last census, there are approximately 8,000 Thais living in New Zealand. But when it comes to New Zealanders living in Thailand, the New Zealand Embassy isn't sure how many Kiwis live in Thailand. The best estimate is around 2,500 – and there are less than 500 New Zealanders registered with the embassy. According to data from the 2010 United States census, there were 237,629 Thais living in the USA. Comparing that number with previous census data there is a clear trend showing the number of Thais living in the States increasing. I cannot imagine that there are anywhere near that number of Americans living in Thailand. My best guess – and it's nothing more than a guess – is that the number is probably more like 60,000 – 70,000 Americans resident in Thailand. Can we therefore assume that the rough ratio of Thais living in Western countries compared to Westerners from that same country living in Thailand is around 3 or 4 : 1?

It seems to me that expats in Thailand are more likely to fall out than friends are in Farangland, or at least that has been my observation. A good American mate introduced one of his friends from the US to Thailand. That guy moved to Thailand and in to the same building as his good friend who got him hooked on the place. Before long they had a falling out and haven't spoken since. One of the challenges I found when socialising in Bangkok was that there were certain people who had once been mates who no longer got on – so you had to think about who to invite and who not to when arranging a get-together. Is life in Thailand more stressful than life in Farangland? Are friendships in Thailand perhaps not as strong, or is it that many are not really friends, more like acquaintances / drinking buddies? Or is it perhaps that Thailand attracts people who have had fractured friendships throughout their life? I'm curious and would love to hear if you agree with me and if you do, what you might attribute the phenomenon of friends falling out so easily in Thailand to.



Angelwitch

Baby Dolls, Pattaya

The Strip, Bangkok



Quote of the week, "I've always thought that when you worry too much about losing face, it turns out looking just like your ass."

Reader story of the week comes from Guantin, "Humbled By My Kik".

Airport authorities arrest a foreign journalist who was in Thailand with body armour and a helmet.

There are plans for 4 new border checkpoints to open allowing passage between Thailand and Cambodia.

Vice profiles a massage parlour in Chiang Mai that employs birds who were once jailbirds.

A Brit who has highlighted abhorrent conditions inside Thai workplaces could be looking at jail time.

Three terrified tourists are rescued after an elephant they're riding kills its mahout and flees with them still on board!

Casino Club in Soi Diamond faces a possible 5-year closure order after it was found open at 7:30 AM.

Fortune looks at the slowdown in China and its possible effects on Thailand.



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: A local hospital informed me that they have found a bill for me that is 6 years old and they would like payment. They never contacted me via registered mail, phone or email, yet they have all those details to contact me. I am at this hospital at least 2 times a week and was never told of this bill. Under Thai law do I still have to pay and are there any exceptions?

Sunbelt Legal responds: According to Section 193/34 of the Civil and Commercial Code, the hospital is only eligible to claim for unpaid treatment fees from their patients for no longer than 2 years after the treatment provided. You should remind the hospital of this regulation in any correspondence. If they continue to send the bill then Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can communicate with the hospital to have the bill removed from your account.



Question 2: I have a female Thai friend who got pregnant by an Australian man. This man denies paternity and – living in Hong Kong – is beyond her reach. I would like to help her by gathering information on how she could pursue matters to get some form of child support. I have searched Google and I found some interesting information in the readers' submission section and tried to get in touch with one author but the email account is not active any more. I thought that maybe you would know someone who is experienced in this field, someone who I can ask about how I can help my Thai friend to enforce child support.

Sunbelt Legal responds: It would be difficult to request or claim for child support when the suspected biological father is not a Thai citizen, has no permanent / residing address where the court order can be delivered and is located outside of Thailand.

Also, since the paternity is not proven, even if she were to pursue legal action against the man he would not be arrested upon arrival in Thailand by Immigration as this is not considered a criminal case.

It is important to note that Thai law requires a DNA test if the parents of the children are not married at the time of the birth of a child, so she would need to wait for him to return to Thailand and apply to the Family Court for a request for a DNA test to be served.



Question 3: I want to buy a house in Thailand, in the suburbs of Chiang Mai. I don't have a Thai wife and I don't expect there will be a Mrs. Steve in the future. My question is how can I buy a house in my name – please note I specifically want a house. I don't want a condo as I don't care for the condo lifestyle. I want to be just outside of the city, have access to central Chiang Mai but lead a quiet and peaceful life. I have been told I can buy a house in a company name, but what does that involve? Does it mean I have to set up a company and go through all of the rigmarole that entails, just so I can have the house in my own name? Are there other options? I know there are always work-arounds in Thailand so I am hoping you may have a suggestion. If you could help me to understand how I can own a house in Thailand in my own name I would be very grateful.

Sunbelt Legal responds: As you know, foreigners are not eligible to own land in Thailand. Starting a company to own the land does carry with it extra expenses and some possible risks. The majority of shares must be held by a Thai entity and the Business Development Department may check to see if the Thai shareholder did, in fact, invest in the company. Also, they may check to see that is an actively trading company. You will need to maintain the company and so will incur costs for monthly filings, the half-yearly report and the annual audit.

Another option would be a 30-year lease or a usufruct. The 30-year lease can be renewed but there is no document that will enforce a renewal agreement, which would be at the discretion of the landowner. A usufruct would give you the right of use of a property for your lifetime. The lease or usufruct is added as a lien on the land title at the Land Office and the owner cannot sell or lease the property while the agreement remains in place. This arrangement does not give you ownership rights but would enable you to enjoy the use of the property.

Some foreigners have had difficulties when trying to separate the ownership of the land and house without a lien such as a lease or usufruct as it appears to the Land Office that you are trying to minimize taxes and transfer fees. Also, it is seen as the Thai person trying to help the foreigner indirectly own the property. Even if you manage to separate the 2 items, there is no real ownership certificate for a house, unlike a plot of land where there is a Title Deed Certificate to confirm the ownership of each plot/parcel. It is for this reason that Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors generally recommends that you go with a usufruct or 30-year lease registered on the title of the land.

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in drafting both leases and usufructs and would be happy to guide you in choosing the one that works best for you.






What are you going to do next Sunday? A trip to church or the temple, perhaps?



It's nice to know that you look forward to tuning in to the column each Sunday. Knowing that people all around the world enjoy reading my weekly round-up and ramblings motivates me to do my best to produce a readable column each week. I am very reluctant to ever miss a column, even when life is busy. With this in mind, I am sorry to advise that next week there won't be a Stickman weekly column published. I have a crazy schedule this coming week and just don't feel I have enough time to put a worthwhile column together so think it is better to take a week off rather than produce something weak. My apologies in advance.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick