Stickman's Weekly Column November 15th, 2015

Threats To The Bar Industry




For the hardcore sex tourists it would compare with the death of a family member, a loss which would take a long time to get over. For conservative Thais, it wouldn't necessarily be something to celebrate, but it would be a step towards restoring the country's morals. For the moderates it would bring mixed feelings, understanding that there are benefits just as there are downsides. In a changing world, will the farang sector of Bangkok's bar industry ever end?

The bar industry as a whole faces many challenges including rapidly changing demographics and a relative increase in prosperity. The foreign sector of Bangkok's bar industry faces its own set of threats. From least to most serious, here are some of them.




Pure Bangkok Escorts



10. Meddling NGOs

Foreign NGOs have a long history of involvement with those employed in the bars. Some would say they are there to help, others would say they are meddling with their own self-interests in mind. Sometimes completely new to Asia, often representing Christian groups and more often than not American, their ultimate goal seems not to save the girls from the bar industry but from Buddhism, and converting them to Christianity.

Most international NGOs have little real understanding of what's going on and roll out the usual clichéd nonsense of Thailand being the land of 3 million sex workers. Local NGOs on the other hand are much more pragmatic. Whereas the international NGOs have ulterior motives, the local NGOs are more about providing girls with skills that will give them the confidence to seek alternative employment.

The classic line used by unknowing international NGO staff meddling is that the girls working in the bar industry are exploited. Anyone with half a brain knows that nowadays the only people being exploited are the customers.

NGOs have almost zero effect on the industry.

9. Exposé By The Mainstream Media

A new exposé of the farang sector of the bar industry would hit TV screens every other year in Farangland, until two things happened : Thailand increased in popularity as a holiday destination and investigative journalism went in to decline.

Exposés of Thailand's farang bars have been done to death and with more Westerners visiting Asia every year and seeing things with their own eyes, documentaries from the bars are like a relic from the days when the only white people visiting Thailand washed twice a week and had a daily budget of 300 baht.

These days no respected news organisation is interested in the white man / Asian woman phenomenon and the few reports are fronted by a woman with less hair on her head than in her armpits and tattoos that look like Greenpeace symbols.

Thai bar industry exposés by foreign news organisations have been done to death and more often than not are full of hyperbole. Thai media understands that the bar industry is controlled by dark elements, people with power and influence who it's best not to provoke and seldom cover it unless anything genuinely newsworthy takes place.

* Just as this column was published I became aware of a documentary which aired on Channel 7 tonight in Australia about the recent bust at Rainbow 4 in Nana Plaza where a 15-year old was found working / dancing in the bar. One Aussie reader who viewed it said that it was full of hyperbole and contained some total nonsense including that the foreigner bar areas have tens of thousands of underage prostitutes. That's just plain ridiculous, and a total lie. A link to an article about the documentary can be found in the news links section.



8. Laws Enacted To Outlaw Sex Tourism

The Thais are not thrilled about the sizeable sex tourism industry that has become more visible not just in downtown Bangkok, but in Pattaya, Phuket and to a lesser extent other centres around the country popular with Westerners. So why don't they just legislate against it and outlaw this sector of the industry?

The issue for the Thais is not the exchange of sex for money, which is something Thailand has a long history of and largely accepts. The issue is the lack of discretion in the foreign sector of the industry and that it is so visible, from the colourful neon of Soi Cowboy, to the way foreign men parade their hooker du jour through parts of Bangkok popular with respectable Thai society.

No Thais are happy with the damage the industry has done to the country's reputation but they are pragmatic. Sex tourism brings in money.

Of course, some foreign governments have attempted to enact laws that attempt to prevent their citizens engaging in sex tourism. Sweden is the best known but proposed legislation didn't gain any support from other parties so it's not illegal today.

There is no reason to think anti-sex tourism laws will have any effect on the farang sector of the bar industry in Thailand.



7. Internet Sites Providing Too Much Info

This website and this column has long provided commentary of the bar industry, backed up with thousands of user reports, photos, and a chronology of an industry that spans a decade and a half. This is just one site; there are many more. YouTube has thousands of videos from Thailand's red light areas. There are porn sites featuring Thai working girls, several Thailand sex tourist forums and so much more. As far as the Internet goes, the genie is out of the bottle.

In a country obsessed with face and reputation, there is always a danger that postings / information online could be picked up by the Thai public and cause waves within the power halls of Thailand that have an effect on the industry. One such example is when a few years ago some Thai teens danced topless on Silom Road at Songkran and the video went viral. The girls were identified and a teary Oprah-style public apology followed with an admission that what they had done was wrong and immoral.

Could exposure of the bar industry online cause the authorities to act against the industry? Venues seen to be doing something seriously wrong could face temporary or even permanent closure, but in terms of the industry as a whole, it's unlikely much would happen. The authorities would never shut down all of Walking Street because of the thousands of videos on YouTube which clearly show sex for sale, for example. It wouldn't happen. The Internet could cause action to be taken against businesses or individuals, but it will not bring the industry down.



6. Spotlight Put On The Industry Due To An Accident

I've often thought that the unintended consequences of an accident or freak event could bring the whole industry in to the focus of the Thai public and the authorities – and the fallout could have major consequences.

Let's say, for example, that Nana Plaza underwent a major overhaul and the owners hired respected local firms (architects, engineers etc) for the project. And let's say, for argument's sake, that there was a terrible accident and an engineer was electrocuted while installing a new Nana Plaza sign. And let's just say, again, for argument's sake, that he just happened to be the son of a police general or a politician or a high-flying businessman.

The mainstream media would rush to the scene, camera crews would be all over Nana and there, just 50 metres off one of the major thoroughfares of the city, they would film the scene of the death, and show a sign that announces the area is the world's largest adult playground. Extended coverage shows the soi's economy is based around sex tourism, and reports follows that drugs are sold openly and other ills regularly take place. Next thing you know the Prime Minister is talking about it in his weekly address which generates more interest, the head of the local police station is sent to an inactive post and the 1,500 odd Thais employed in the plaza along with the dozen or so white guys are looking for a new job as the Prime Minister orders this stain on Thailand closed.

An innocuous event related to the nightlife could cause a chain reaction. In the current climate in Thailand, this is not beyond the realms of possibility.



5. A Hi-So Thai Takes An Interest In The Industry

In much of the world, naughty bars have security at the door and only genuine customers are allowed inside. Passersby may not even know what goes on inside. The sector of the bar industry for foreign men is open and anyone can enter a bar (except Thai males not employed by the venue).

Imagine the scene: At a dinner party being held at the Thai ambassador's residence in any Western country, a guest mentions to the ambassador's wife how they had had a wonderful holiday in Thailand, with one small exception. They had been at the club floor of the JW Marriott Hotel in Bangkok, admiring the view high across the city when they spotted a party down at street level. When the free cocktails on the club floor finished, they ventured outside to check it out.

Just 3 minutes walk from their luxury hotel, they felt like they had walked in to a different world. The street was full of drunken, low-class Westerners. Street-walking hookers propositioned them and they were grabbed by ruffians trying to haul them inside bars with names like Hot Lips, Sexy Night, Erotica, G Spot, Naughty Girls and Suckers. They are amazed at how pervasive sex tourism is in the heart of Bangkok with bars stretching as far as the eye can see.

Imagine that the ambassador's wife took exception to this and wanted to do something about it. How difficult would it be for her to use her network of contacts – perhaps she was at university with the Police Commissioner, maybe the Interior Minister is her husband's best friend and who knows if her father plays golf with the Prime Minister. She makes a few phone calls to people in Thailand who can make almost anything happen.

The complex patronage networks in Thailand and not knowing who might be involved / behind certain businesses probably prevents too much happening.



4. Act Of Terrorism / Bombing In A Bar Area

When I first heard reports of the Bangkok bombing, my mind immediately pictured Nana Plaza as a molten mess of bars and bodies, with gory photos splashed across the front page of the Thai dailies.

A bombing in a nightlife area was a hot topic in sex tourist circles many years ago. Sex tourists felt that southern insurgents may bring their cause to Bangkok and with the average sex tourist's knowledge of Thailand largely limited to the bar areas, the consensus was that the best way to attract attention to their cause was to blow up a farang bar area.

A bomb would seriously hurt the tourism industry. It has to be said though that damage to the industry would have been much worse in the past than it would be now – sex tourism made up a bigger part of the tourism industry in the past than it does today.

A bomb in a sex tourist bar area would destroy that bar area and it would likely be rebuilt as something different. But how badly would it hurt the bar industry? Other bar areas would see a huge, but ultimately short-lived drop in girl numbers – as was the case in the wake of the bombing in Bangkok. Over time a semblance of normality would resume. Thailand and the Thais have proven themselves to be resilient.

Where once I think a bar area may have been a genuine target, today I am less convinced. Would the world show great sympathy if prostitutes and consumers of prostitutes were the victims of a bombing? A bomb in a bar area would destroy that bar area, but the industry would continue.



3. Bars Cooking The Books

Wherever there is prostitution, you usually find drugs and perhaps gambling. You often also find money laundering.

The economics of the farang sector of the bar industry sometimes don't add up. There are bars in Bangkok with expensive rents, massive and only a small number of customers, yet month after month, year after year the doors open, the lights come on and the music plays. To some of us it just doesn't seem possible they can be profitable. So why do they stay in business if they aren't making money?

The bars are leased so it's not like losses are offset by gains in real estate values and while some bar groups may have highly profitable bars subsidising other venues running at a loss, there are plenty of bars where the economics just don't add up. The answer is simply that some operators use bars to launder money.

Bars used to get away with murder in the old days in terms of not holding licenses, not being registered, not paying taxes and what not. That has all changed. The relevant authorities check the licenses, the tax man sends students along with a clicker to count the number of customers going in to a venue to tally up against a venue's records and it's much more difficult to be lax when it comes to legal requirements. It's not just a bar industry thing, Thailand is getting much more serious about enforcing rules, regulations and laws.

Various bars and bar groups have long been accused of being involved in money laundering and all it takes is a young enthusiastic official, or someone keen to make a name for themselves to show that the numbers don't add up and the whole industry could come under the microscope. And that would be a very big problem.

2. The Economy Improving

The better the Thai economy does, the more jobs there are. The more jobs there are, the greater the demand for staff. And the greater the demand for staff, the higher the salaries on offer will be. Lots of work paying decent salaries means less reason for ladies to enter the bar industry.

There will always be girls who enter an industry where the money far exceeds what they can earn elsewhere. However, all many ladies want is to be able to make a decent living in a regular job. If they can do that there is no reason to enter the bar industry. An improving economy means those girls who enter the industry are more likely to be troubled – drug addicts, girls with mental troubles and generally girls who you'd generally not want anything to do with. An industry dominated by troubled girls is less attractive to customers – and this is happening already to some extent.

The economy is the worst performer in South-East Asia by various measures. In time, however, as salaries increase, fewer women will enter the industry. It's happening already, albeit slowly.



1. Real Estate Values Rising

Commercial rents have soared in Bangkok as real estate values go crazy. Each of Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy and Patpong is located in prime real estate.

In the case of Nana Plaza, the rents are so high already that they exceed what most other types of business would be able / willing to pay. With at least two bars in Soi Nana paying over one million baht a month in rent, this is far beyond what a shop, restaurant or general retail outlet would pay for that location. Nana Plaza is unique in that the economy of the top half of Soi Nana is very based on sex tourism.

Bars in Soi Cowboy, on the other hand, still have relatively low rents, amazing given it's an even more prime space than Nana. Soi Cowboy's prime location adjacent to one of the city's busiest intersections makes you think it cannot remain its current format forever. Sooner or later a developer is going to come along and offer the land owners more than they are willing to turn down.

Patpong is a moot point because it's privately owned land and the owners seem happy operating in the current format, as they have for decades.

I seriously question the profitability and thus, the very viability, of the bars on the satellite bar sois along Sukhumvit. Think sois 7, 8, 22, 23 and 33. The general area is on an unstoppable path towards gentrification, and one imagines more sophisticated businesses and international brands would do better.

There will come a time when operating hooker bars in prime Bangkok real estate locations will no longer be viable. How far away is that? My best guess is 20 years, perhaps. Increasing real estate values won't kill the industry. Rather, I foresee the bar industry for foreigners in Bangkok shrinking slowly over time as the economy improves and as real estate values soar. In a couple of decades perhaps only small parts of what we know today will remain, as Bangkok's bar areas for foreigners go the same way as the bars did in the Wanchai area of Hong Kong.







Where was this photo taken?




Last week's photo was taken outside what was the most popular day-time freelancer venue when I first arrived in Bangkok in the '90s, and what is still the most popular day-time freelancer venue in Bangkok today, the Biergarten on Sukhumvit soi 7.


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 A maths lesson.

I pulled out a calculator on that 30 million tourists per year to Thailand number to break it down in to smaller numbers. Readers can check my math, but that is one 300 passenger-filled airliner landing and another taking off every 5 minutes and 15 seconds, 24/7, 365 days a year, just for tourists. That doesn't account for business and routine travel not involving tourism. If you're wondering why there are delays at Immigration, that is merely 3,500 +/- people per hour being processed in and the same number going out. Staggering, especially when you start considering the security factors.

Where is everyone?

I arrived in Bangkok on November 8th. The airport was dead, no line-ups at the taxi queue and SIM card replacement lines were walk right up. I was out of the airport in 30 minutes. That never has happened before. A little stroll in the airport? Washrooms, restaurants all quiet. My flight over? About 60% full. I did see some China tours groups – herding their people with colourful flags – it looks like these are controlled tours with little benefit to Thailand. That's the quietest I've seen it.

Budget airline blues.

It is interesting that both Nok Air and Thai Smile allow you to check in one bag free but you still see people getting on the plane with many more bags that are definitely oversized by the airlines' own definitions. A friend booked a premium seat on Nok Air (can do on Air Asia too) so he would have a front row seat and could exit the plane quickly. When the plane got to Don Meuang all was for naught with the plane stopping on the tarmac and the passengers all unloading on to a bus. Absolutely no advantage was gained by having a front row seat. When he wrote to Nok Air about it he did not receive a reply.

Changing attitudes.

Even in the beer bars, it's not like the old days where a punter will pair up with some staff and be engaged in some stupid game like jenga or four in a row. The hostesses are kind of wall flies that will hang but are far from interested in hooking up.

No safe harbour.

I have read countless contributions to your column concerning women around the world and I have reached the conclusion that there is no safe harbour. It's a matter of choosing your poison, so choose the one with the sweetest taste.





Thais in Brisbane.

I keep in touch with some Thais in Brisbane. I have been friends with one Thai businesswoman since 2000 and often sit in her shop chatting with her and with some of her customers as they drop in and out. I always ask her customers if they miss Thailand – and I am usually greeted with a resounding, "No, Australia better than Thailand. Thailand no good unless you have lot of money." Then I usually ask if they will ever return to Thailand to live and the answer is normally "Thailand OK for a holiday but I like living here." When I tell them I would sooner live in Thailand than Brisbane, they give me this funny look. "What the matter with you? Here much better than over there." Most Thais I know do not socialise very much at all with other Thais because of the gossip factor. The game of one-upmanship plays a big part, dependent on the income status of the Thai woman's husband, almost always a Farang. I can't comment on the morality of Thai women here – but those I do know, who are married to Farangs, would not think of betraying their husbands. Before I went to Thailand, in 2000, I was very friendly with three Thai girls in the escort business – and all three of them came originally from New Zealand – one having first served at that job in Perth. I really liked all three of these ladies and would regularly take them to The Coffee Club for morning tea or lunch. I ended up going to Thailand with one of them and staying at her new house near Minburi. My Farang friends married to Thai women do not like to visit the Thai temple because they see the whole process as an avenue to play the one-upmanship game (wearing the gold) and the perceived feeling of insincerity of the whole visit. I am probably one of the few Farangs who genuinely likes to go to the temple, but then, I'm a tad strange, I guess.

The pecking order of Thais in Oz.

Here in Brisbane / Sydney / Melbourne, the Thais fall into categories: Whole Thai family units who manage to migrate, usually been here a decade or more. Often they run businesses or are gainfully employed and go-getters. Completely xenophobic, you'd get more interaction from newly arrived Somali war-refugees. Next are ex-bargirls who've married either wealthy / single / lonely Australians or the dead opposite. That is ones who have married real battlers. Go to the local wat at any festival and watch the pecking order – what kind of vehicles they arrive in, where they are allowed to park, how big the necklace / jewellery is and so forth. You'll almost never hear of or see a young, middle-class Western guy with good prospects going near a Thai (or any Asian woman except, perhaps, a Singaporean lass). Immigration scams are unusual in Oz and the authorities are ruthless with human trafficking here. What the younger working girls do is get in through a student visa. They need to be under 30 years old and be admitted to an approved TAFE for a 2-year degree or if smart, a proper university. Students may work in any legal profession (20 hours a week) provided taxes are paid and in Oz prostitution is not a restricted occupation which I believe it is in Kiwiland. A lot of young women from PRC and Brazil do the same but the Brazilians charge high whilst the Chinese are cheap and try to pass themselves off as Thai or Japanese! Occasionally one encounters an older (but often attractive) Thai woman who is a divorcee who tend to be the best of the lot. Back to the student girls from Thailand, they are often surprisingly high class and genuinely do study hard. Rarely tattooed. After two years studying here they return to Thailand armed with a business diploma and good English skills and may turn up in a bank or hotel reception in Bangkok or elsewhere and nobody is the wiser.



I have had the sad news that Tim Randall, my friend and fellow nightlife commentator, died suddenly aged 66 in his sleep in Angeles City in the Philippines this week. Better known as Baron Bonk during his years reporting on Bangkok’s nightlife, he moved to Angeles about six years ago. Bangkok Post journalist Peter Hill has written this obituary about one of the last great British eccentrics.


Not many people would uproot themselves and move to another country at the age of 60 because of the price of wine, but Tim Randall was never one to follow the herd. He lived his very eventful life his way, upsetting some with his strong opinions but never taking a backward step.

I first met Tim in a bar in Koh Samui, where he then lived, about 15 years ago. He was perched on a bar stool holding forth very loudly about politics in his upper-class English accent. My first impressions were not positive. I found him quite intimidating and never imagined that we would eventually become friends or that I would work for him on his various journalistic ventures.

Tim was never short of an opinion. He spoke his mind and hated political correctness. He often joked that he was unseated as vice-chairman of Chelsea Young Conservatives for being too extreme. He once told me that illegal immigrants to the UK should be placed on a remote Scottish island and provided with wood so that they could build their own houses. Only last year he told The Philippine Star newspaper that true democracy could only be achieved by “excessive use of the guillotine” on the country’s corrupt political families.

He wore many hats in his colourful life – disc jockey, postmaster, chef, restaurateur, publican, security consultant, journalist, author, restaurant reviewer, nightlife guru, publisher and manager of various businesses – but one constant was his love of fine food and wine.

Lunch or dinner with Tim could be lengthy and ruinously expensive, especially in Thailand with its high taxes on imported wines. He was a generous host and often picked up the tab when he invited me to discuss projects over a meal and a few bottles of his favourite French wines. Even though he was not short of money, he eventually tired of ludicrous restaurant wine prices and corkage charges in Bangkok and decided to move to the Philippines in 2009 after living in Thailand for 10 years.

Tim was born into a military family in England and attended a prestigious public school, Millfield in Somerset, before graduating in business and managerial economics at Mander College in Bedford.

After working mainly in the hospitality industry and as a DJ, he moved to Hungary in 1991 to become managing director of Budapest Week, the first English-language newspaper in Eastern Europe. That was where he started to write about restaurants and nightlife under the pseudonym Sam Worthington, which he also used to write at least 10 books and numerous dining and bar guides. He also reviewed restaurants for the Budapest Business Journal and Warsaw Business Journal.

Tim once wrote: “I gained a reputation as a man who knew what good food was, enjoyed a drink or several and did not mind saying naff was naff even if it upset a few people.”

After making his first trip to Thailand in 1989, he became a regular visitor to the Land of Smiles and eventually moved there full time in 1999. He set up his Upright publishing and marketing company in Bangkok in 2001 and soon became a well-known nightlife commentator and restaurant reviewer through his Baronbonk.com, Asiabugle.com and Samworthington.com websites.

Tim noticed a great change in Bangkok’s nightlife over the years. “Asia held a mystique and bars were fun, raunchy places,” he wrote of his early visits in the 1990s. “Bangkok was a party town and the party happened in those days in Patpong, a Patpong that was very different from now – for then it was fun. The bars were as much about drinking as anything else. Yes, we all knew that when the party was over, we could find a willing girl to go home with us. The cost of that lady was not excessive, no more than we had spent on booze.

“So the early tourists came for the craic, the fun. Certainly the US troops came for that and relief from a nasty war. The girls were fun as they knew that is what they were there for.

“Fast forward to today and what have we got – too many tourists intent on one thing only: Asian pussy and lots of it. That attitude has changed everything. It has made the girls much harder. It has made the bar owners realise they are no longer running a bar where customers spend money freely on having a party. Now customers are parsimonious and have a single drink as they research the talent.”

Tim’s books are as eclectic as the man himself. Perhaps the best known is “Kelly: the bargirl who would be president” but he also wrote thrillers, a guide to reviewing restaurants, a humorous book about two dogs and a trilogy about a world after nuclear devastation in which the central character, Ted Dennison, bears a remarkable similarity to the author in terms of background and personality.

“I am very interested in politics and my writing is intended to be political, looking at the world through the jaundiced eyes of one who has spent too many hours in bars – both working and as a customer – as well as somebody who has dabbled in politics and travelled extensively,” he wrote.

“I have strong views that some may describe as right-leaning, but I have seen what a dirty world it is. I have no illusions about the need to look after the genuinely downtrodden but also believe that the human being is at his best when made to work for what he wants. I believe that merit and competence should be the only criteria for success.”

Tim’s life in Angeles City was typically varied. He opened a pub, The Firkin, and online magazine Angeles City Voice in which he reviewed restaurants and the city’s nightlife. He even kept goats and grew mangoes for a while. In May he became chief operating officer of RCW Group, a construction and solar power company.

Despite having a leg amputated about 10 years ago, he managed to drive an all-terrain vehicle around Angeles City. It was a familiar sight parked outside the restaurants and bars where he enjoyed life and offered his robust opinions to anyone who would listen.

Despite being an old Asia hand, Tim lost $70,000 in a tree plantation investment scam in Thailand two years ago. Typically, he didn’t sulk but immediately got working to bring together other defrauded investors so that they could seek compensation. He was a natural leader.

In many ways, Tim reminded me of Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson-Wright, the larger-than-life but also deceased hosts of British cookery series Two Fat Ladies who were known for their love of food and forthright views. I would have paid good money to have enjoyed a lunch with the three of them together. It would have been a priceless exhibition of the sort of political incorrectness that only the English upper class can achieve.

Rest in peace, Baron Bonk.



Tim, during his time as a DJ, in the early '70s.



Tim, on his all-terrain vehicle in Angeles.



Tim, at his former pub in Angeles, The Firkin.



THIS WEEK'S EXPAT BAR NEWS AND GOSSIP ROUND-UP

The Thais are often said to have poor problem-solving skills but that accusation cannot be made at the owners of Rainbow 4 in Nana Plaza which was closed a few weeks ago when an underage girl was found dancing. Several months back, the Rainbow Group bought the bar next door to Rainbow 4 which was once known as G Spot and for a short while as Candy Land. The Rainbow Group renamed it Fairy Bar and rethemed it as a ladyboy bar. Fairy Bar did ok initially but soon went in to decline. Fairy Bar has been sold (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and renamed R&B Bar. A hand-written sign on the door of Rainbow 4 says the Rainbow 4 girls can now be found in R&B bar next door. Don't expect to hear any rhythm and blues though, just ear-bleeding techno pop nonsense. This is similar to what happened in Pattaya a couple of months ago when authorities ordered Casino Club closed for operating later than allowed. They took over the old Diamond Gogo and the sign says "Operated by Casino Group".

The opening of Equality in the spot that was once Nana Disco has been a disaster. One reader popped by and reported there were a grand total of 5 ladyboys on stage and just one customer. As one bar boss eloquently said, "Equality will sit nicely alongside Hooters. The look-but-not-touch, tight, white t-shirt-wearing, hot-pants-clad sexy girls serving 600 baht burgers and 200 baht beers opposite the world's biggest whorehouse where anything goes. The mind boggles."

The massive police presence on Soi Cowboy on Friday night was enough to worry regulars, let alone first-time visitors. It was in fact part of a PR campaign with officers from the Thonglor Police Station walking along the soi and handing out flyers in English and Japanese outlining the services they offer including the rights of visitors, such as how foreigners CAN take photos / or record video of policemen and how any search of a person by an officer must be carried out at a police station.



Soi Cowboy police

Photo of the huge police presence at Soi Cowboy on Friday night, kindly provided by Big Jim.



Pandoras Gogo bar on Soi LK Metro in Pattaya has only been open for a month, yet is selling for 2 million baht and the owner is said to have received a deposit from a buyer. Word on the street is that the buyer is well-known in the bar business and his name rhymes with "tricky".

The Australian owner of the new gogo bar being built in the old Le Katai location on Soi Lengkee was caught talking with the building team at the construction site. That's no crime, right? Well, maybe it is….if you're instructing them to do this and do that. That could be considered working, right? And at that very moment, a bunch of excited men in tight brown uniforms just happened to come out of the shadows. They wanted to stick around so a donation was made for them to go and find their next victim. Who tipped off the men in brown?

Girls are on the move in Walking Street after a mamasan from Sugarbaby took a bunch of girls with her as they all became new employees of Crazy House.

Are mamasans increasingly looking for the best deal for themselves by using girls as leverage? A mamasan from Paradise A Gogo did exactly the same thing as the mamasan from SugarBaby, taking a bunch of her girls with her to a new, better paid position at Bachelor Gogo. Many bars have considerable difficulty recruiting girls these days and will roll out the red carpet to a mamasan who brings an entire troop with her.

If bar bosses aren't worried about mamasans leaving and taking a bunch of girls with them, they should be. Who'd want to be a gogo bar owner / manager when all it takes is one small argument – let alone a more attractive offer from another bar – and your mamasan and a troop of girls could be gone with the wind.

For those that knew Woot, formerly of TQ2, and who also worked for a while in Sweethearts, he can now be found at the new gogo on Soi Diamond named only Gogo Tending Bar.

Progress is slow on construction of the new bar in the space that was Oscars A Gogo on LK Metro. The new bar is to be called Touch when it opens, eventually.

The new bar on Walking Street once known as Silver Star A Gogo is to be called Taboo.





When Manchester City meet Liverpool, possibly the best place in Bangkok to watch the match is Stumble Inn on Soi Nana. The bar owner hails from Manchester and is a died-in-the-wool blue. On the other hand, the bar's manager was brought up on Merseyside and is firmly in the red camp. Footy banter is commonplace in the bar but this fixture promises to spice things up to a level that rivals even the most vengeful som tam maker. The match of the round kicks off late Saturday night at 12:30 AM, which is actually on Sunday morning – but you get the idea. Stumble Inn will offer their usual free beer offers to all customers turning up in the red of Liverpool or the blue of City and their popular 'predict the score' competition could see you with 3 litres of Draught Chang to tuck in to, free of charge. There will also be a free finger buffet doing the rounds prior to kick off. So if you like your football but don't want to stop the party, Stumble Inn is the place to be!

Chiang Mai has never been able to compete with Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket when it comes to places to party. Some weeks back I mentioned that the police in Chiang Mai were enforcing the law with bars shut by midnight and only the odd club open until 1 AM. There has been no change and nightspots are still closing early. In the past these crackdowns haven't lasted long – usually only a couple of weeks – but this time the cops are serious. It's been early closing for months.

A reminder that the next official Nanapong dance contest will be held this coming Saturday, 21st November, at Club Electric Blue in Patpong soi 2. It will double as boss Big Andy's 60th birthday party. The return of the Nanapong dance contests has proven hugely popular so if you plan to make it along, get there early, as in very early! If you've never been to an official Nanapong event before, it's something all fans of Bangkok's naughty nightlife ought to do at least once.

Big Andy will host a pre-birthday party at Club Electric Blue in Pattaya on Thursday 19th. A pig will be BBQd, there will be 10 baht Tequila all night and a special show will be held at midnight.






Complaints about the new multiple-entry tourist visa which was launched this past Friday continue and I have to admit that in one respect they have a point. Consider how things are the other way around – when a Thai applies for a visa to visit the West. To keep it simple, let's use America as an example. A Thai can apply for a multiple-entry tourist visa to visit America. This visa has a validity period of 10 years and allows stays of up to 6 months per year. And the fee is just $160. The best that foreigners applying for a tourist visa to Thailand can hope for is the multiple-entry tourist visa with 6 months validity – and that will set you back $200 – which is more than a 10-year visa for the USA costs! It should also be noted that China and India also offer 10-year tourist visas and even Russia offers tourist visas with a 3-year validity. With these considerations in mind, Thailand – a country heavily promoting itself as a tourism destination – hardly offers a great deal, does it?

I would describe the paranoia about the abolition of the double-entry tourist visa (which has effectively been replaced by the multiple entry tourist visa) as bordering on paranoia. Some say this is the beginning of the end and that foreigners are not welcome in Thailand blah blah blah – the same old nonsense that gets said every time there is a change in visa regulations. My personal feeling is that the Thais should put in place a couple of conditions for visitor visas which are transparent and would make things much more simple. A rule that no visitor can stay in Thailand for more than 6 months in a calendar year on tourist visas / visa waiver stamps or a combination of both would be fair and reasonable. Anyone who wished to stay longer would need a reason (work, retirement, marriage etc) and the appropriate visa. Alternatively, anyone who wishes to remain in the country year round can buy the Thailand Elite Visa.

News reports this week about a young Norwegian cop stopped by security at Suwannaphum Airport and found to have two bullets (but no gun) in his luggage is a concern when you consider the so-called bullet scam at Manila Airport in the Philippines. The bullet scam has been highlighted in the mainstream media including this article from Australia just last week. Here's hoping this nonsense has not come to Thailand.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you can order a 6 kg turkey from Sunrise Tacos with sides for 8 people all for 4,995 baht plus VAT. They have a limited number of turkeys and in the holiday spirit are selling them at a very reasonable price. Turkeys are being sold by the importers at a much higher price than last year and at this time, not one retailer has been seen to have turkey for sale. Earlier in the week the price was 1,200 baht a kilo yet this whole dinner package is cheaper than one uncooked turkey – and that is even if you can find one in a store! You can visit Sunrise Tacos on Silom Road, on the corner of Soi 4 (opposite Soi Convent) to reserve the take home dinner package. Payment must be made in advance to lock in your confirmation. Pick up can be on Thanksgiving Day or any day from November 22. Delivery is 150 baht within Bangkok. Call 02-6328588 for more details.






It's a number of years since banks in Thailand introduced the 150 baht fee for withdrawals made from foreign bank accounts at ATM machines in Thailand. Initially, a couple of banks held out – AEON and Citibank – but eventually relented and imposed the fees. Given that the exchange rate offered by banks isn't always great and that the bank in one's homeland also imposes a fee for withdrawals made outside the country, the total cost of a cash withdrawal is not insignificant. The 150 baht fee jumped to 180 baht a couple of years back, and earlier this week jumped again, to 200 baht. Sure, using an ATM card is the most convenient way to access cash in Thailand – but you pay for the privilege. That's why I suggest anyone holidaying in Thailand brings currency from home and exchanges it at any of the private money changers like Super Rich or Vasu where the exchange rates are much more attractive and the transactions are fee-free. And don't do what people often did in the old days and change cash in to US dollars at home before taking it abroad as every time you exchange currency you pay for the privilege. Wherever you come from, the private money exchange outlets in Thailand will happily take your currency (even those currencies which may not get great rates like the South African rand and the Scottish pound) and still give you a good rate.

An email in last week's column highlighted how a reader carried oversize / overweight items in to the cabin on an Air Asia flight and was not challenged or penalised despite it exceeding both the physical dimensions and the 7 kg weight limit. Some readers wrote in to say that they had been charged an arm and a leg by Air Asia for checking luggage in to the hold when checking in for the flight, luggage for which they had foolishly not prepaid when they booked the ticket. At the same time it was obvious to them that some passengers were carrying items on board that far exceeded the size and weight of their own, yet Air Asia staff said / did nothing. Some say Air Asia is indirectly encouraging people to carry oversize / overweight luggage in to the cabin rather than checking it in as there are few checks ever made. The message is simple: if you can't beat' em, join 'em! Apart from the melee that is check-in at Don Meuang Airport for morning flights, I quite like Air Asia.

Dasa Book Store on Sukhumvit Road between sois 26 and 28 is considered by many to be Bangkok's best second-hand book store. If you enjoy browsing second-hand book stores, do stop by. Eyebrows have been raised as Dasa is now also offering CDs for sale. They currently have over 500 CDs in stock, and want more. They won't just take just anything, however, so if you have CDs you'd like to sell, email them a list of titles you have. They pay cash for CDs or give a higher amount for store credit, which can be used to select CDs or books. Even in this era of digital downloads they say there are many music lovers and collectors who still want to buy real CDs. Dasa co-owners Don and Kaweewut have experience in the music retail business, both having been managers for branches of Bangkok's Tower Records in the late 1990s. Don was also owner and manager of Murmur Records in Orlando, Florida, for over 12 years before moving to South-East Asia.






Quote of the week, "I tell myself after each visit it will probably be my last visit to Thailand but inevitably the lure persists."

Reader story of the week comes from Bangkok Barry, "Bottom of the Barrel".

A 16-year old fake watch seller brandishes a knife when a Dane refuses to buy a fake timepiece in a Pattaya beer bar.

Drugs can get you up to 50 years in Thailand while a Dutchman is jailed for 103 years for laundering drug money in Thailand.

An Australian is attacked by a Bangkok cab driver and misses his flight home along with his grandmother's funeral.

An unpaid bar bill of 79 baht sees a Finnish tourist whacked on the head with a stiletto by a ladyboy!

The raid on Rainbow 4 where an underage girl was found is highlighted in this documentary from Australia

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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 have separated from my Thai wife and moved from our home in Udon Thani in to a rented condo in Bang Na, Bangkok. We are not divorced although I'd say that's probably where things are going. We don't have any children. I have a non-immigrant O visa and an extension of stay based on marriage until late January. We're having a cooling off period but I honestly don't think things between us are recoverable. If our situation is still then as it is now – legally married but living apart – can I apply for my next 1-year extension of stay on the basis of being married to a Thai national (which, technically, I still am / will be at that point in time). I'm 45, don't work in Thailand and am too young to apply for a retirement visa. Any other thoughts or advice you might have about my situation would be much appreciated!

Sunbelt Legal responds: The main requirement to obtain the extension of stay based on marriage to a Thai wife is that you must be legally married and both of you must go together to Immigration to make the extension application each year. Immigration may require proof that you are living together, either in the form of photos together and / or a letter from the village headman stating that you are living together.

If you and your wife are estranged and she would not assist you in obtaining the extension then you would not be able to obtain one.

Should you get divorced, you would need to leave the country within a few days and obtain another visa outside the country. You could consider the new METV tourist visa or consider finding work, or starting a business. With this you would be able to obtain a business visa and work permit which would enable you to stay legally full-time in Thailand.



Question 2: What legal options are available when cosmetic surgery goes wrong in Thailand?

Sunbelt Legal responds: The first course of action would be to go to the doctor to have the mistake corrected. If they refused to proceed with the correction there are two options; one is to file a formal complaint with the Office of Consumer Protection – there is one in Bangkok and at each Provincial Hall. The second option would be to go directly to Civil Court and file a case against the surgeon.

The patient / customer should initially discuss with the surgeon who operated on the patient to correct the mistake. If they refuse to proceed with the correction, you can either file a complaint to the Consumer Protection division or directly to the Civil Court.



Question 3: I will soon retire to Thailand and will qualify for the retirement visa and rent a home and begin a new phase of my life. Once retired in Thailand, I plan to purchase a vehicle and understand that I can do so legally and actually register it in my name. My question relates to that the fact that, for a variety of reasons, I will not do any of the driving myself, but will have close Thai friends, all with a valid Thai driving license, do the driving for me. Sometimes, they may even use my vehicle to run errands for me. If, while using my vehicle, one of my Thai friends is involved in an accident and is at fault, am I, as the registered owner of the vehicle, legally liable for any damages? Or, are the damages all the responsibility of the driver?

Sunbelt Legal responds: Liability would depend on the situation. For instance, should the driver of your car hit someone and flee, then police would trace this back to your car and as the owner you would need to prove that you were not the driver at the time of the hit and run and that the driver was your friend.

You also need to consider the best insurance coverage for your situation. There are two common types of first class insurance; one that names two specific drivers for the vehicle and one that does not specify anyone but allows any driver to use the vehicle but still provides standard coverage.



farang

How popular are foreigners in Thailand?





The links to Thailand / expat news articles of interest this week make for sorry reading. A Dutchman is jailed in Thailand for 103 years while other stories highlight Westerners set upon by locals. These sorts of stories are not uncommon, so when you read story after story with a similar theme you have to ask yourself whether the Thais really care for us at all, or do they perhaps – as some expats claim – hate us? That's a topic that could be a topic for an upcoming column…



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick