Kai Tak Rules, said the Englishman in the bungalow next to mine who I had struck up a friendship with. I'd just flown in from New Zealand and he'd just flown in from Hong Kong. I had no idea what Kai Tak Rules meant. What happens on tour, stays on tour, he explained. He was in Thailand for a weekend of fun and his wife in Hong Kong would never be told what the boys got up to. We hung out a few nights and he kept reiterating the same thing to me over and over again, In Asia you've got to compartmentalise your life.
It's not just expats around the region off for a dirty weekend who are wise to compartmentalise their life. Expats in Bangkok ought to consider compartmentalising aspects of their life too. And it's not necessarily about being deceitful.
As expat society in Bangkok becomes more diverse, the city is home to more Western females and more professionals. Some conversations which may have been de rigueur in expat circles just a few years ago are very uncool today. Embassy staff are unlikely to compare notes around the water cooler about what happened the previous night in Patpong and the going rate at the Thermae is no longer the most popular topic of discussion in teachers' rooms.
But some just cannot break the habit. For those attracted to Bangkok by the bar industry, Bangkok is the bars and the bars are Bangkok. It's like they don't know anything else.
95% of expats get it; they know when and when not to talk about these things. But a small percentage don't get it.
There's little more embarrassing in a social situation than someone piping up with one of those words you just don't mention in polite company, even in Bangkok. Bargirl, gogo bar and ladyboy are cringeworthy enough in polite company, but when short-time hotels or blowjob bars are mentioned embarrassment turns to humiliation.
One of the biggest drawbacks of being Stickman is that people think you like the bars, they're part of your life and you want to talk about them, when nothing could be further from the truth. With friends I never talk about this sort of thing and few find it particularly interesting.
Even in mainstream pubs and bars, naughty bar talk might not go down well with those at adjacent tables where your fellow imbibers could very well be the Bangkok Female Farang Book Reading Group. Yeah, if you haven't visited Bangkok in a while it really has changed that much.
It's one thing to talk about that stuff in Thailand, but it's another dimension in Farangland. I never thought I would be embarrassed here in New Zealand by folks who can't help but bring the conversation around to hookers and bars in Thailand. When I was in Thailand is a surefire way to get people's attention here in Farangland and is a great conversation starter, but is it really necessary to drag the conversation around to bargirls, ladyboys and the like in decent company?
Many of us may have enjoyed the bar scene once, and may still pop by occasionally for old times' sake, but it doesn't mean it's the only thing we want to talk about. There's more to life than Thai bars, bargirls and ladyboys and there's a zillion more interesting things to talk about, especially when in polite company and even more so when you're accompanied by your other half.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken outside the Metropolitan Administration City Hall which is in the old part of the city, not far from Khao San Road.
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 state of the Bangkok gogo bar industry.
The gogo bar scene is dying because no-one is being innovative. Is there a formula for bar design? Dark and dingy. Disinterested staff, annoying, too-loud music, dirtier by the month, inadequate toilets, zero maintenance, run-of-the-mill shows, lousy sound system, ugly girls, poor service after the barfine is paid. I'm not saying ALL bars have ALL these faults, but none have none of them. I'd hate to own a gogo bar, but I know if I did, it'd be better than 99% of the bars in Bangkok. Get a designer in, someone with a vision. Don't rely on a theme, make the bar look amazing too – imagine a Bed Supper Club layout with a multilevel stage. Give the girls clean toilets and private changing rooms (I hate seeing those shitty grey lockers and crap thrown all over the place). Give the guests top quality bathrooms too (I can't believe the shitbag in Rainbow 4 expects a tip for hiding the damn toilet roll!). Non-smoking and smoking areas as a minimum and then decent extraction in the smoking areas. (Girls can opt not to dance in the smoking area). Employ hair and make-up artists to make the staff look like porn stars, not farm-hands. Buy some decent costumes and have someone with a bit of common sense to ensure the girls with saggy bellies aren't wearing skimpy bikinis. Girls know what their ugly bits are and they'll feel better and act better (not to mention LOOK better) if those are covered up. Pay hot girls more money. Pay hot girls with big tits even MORE money! They're worth it! Get a feedback system so the awesome girls get rewarded. Let girls pick their own drinks and add 50 baht to the cost for the commission. Enough of that shitty ethanol masquerading as 'Tequila'. Get some decent bartenders and some proper spirits and mixers in. Less of that crappy no-name vodka and obscure cola-esque drink. Employ a sound / light / handyman. When something is broken, fix it! Replace those dead light bulbs and blown-out speakers and not with some crap from Klong Tom. JBL or equivalent. Buying lights? Get ones that nobody else has and stop buying the same shit as everyone else and expecting to look different. Get some comfy sofas. We're not on the terraces watching football, we're trying to relax with a girl. Of course we'll stay and spend if it feels right. "Oh, but that's all really expensive!" Yes it is. You know what else is expensive? Bankruptcy. The first person to open a gogo bar with a gentleman's club vibe is going to make a fucking fortune. There's no competition. Look at the money guys drop in The Pent and The Pimp! There's a ton of guys ready to drop serious cash in Bangkok and I'm one of 'em, but not in a place that smells of piss and can't be arsed to touch up the paintwork or buy some nice clothes for their staff!
Those secret gifts we give ourselves.
I am I glad my memories are from another time. Memories are those secret gifts we give ourselves when we privately think back on the fun we had in our lives. I've got some good ones and I know you do! I don't have to worry about making one more trip to visit Thailand before I die. The place I remember doesn't exist anymore.
I am happy to think that my trips to Thailand were made in better times, and I have to be content with that. Heavy Thai women with "Tequila tummies", stupidly high prices, and greatly reduced services amounting to just a few minutes' time? How sad. Since everything is relative, however, I'm sure many guys in a wide age range are still happy to get over there and lose themselves for a holiday or more per year. After all, particularly for younger guys who know their way around the dating sites, more romantic(?) options are actually available now than when I used to visit, so I guess things can even out if a guy "has game". But for me, I'm very glad I was there back in the day. Ladies who actually seemed to enjoy my company and were happy to go out for an evening at the Hard Rock, or for dinner, etc. and who were in no rush to head off. Rarely being told "short time" if I asked a lady what kind of date she preferred? The feeling of some kind of connection that extended more than a few brief moments? Having an almost unbelievable choice of stunners, whether I was in a gogo bar, a beer bar, freelancer bar, massage parlor or Eden Club? Going almost an entire trip without seeing an overweight working girl? Oh, yes, please! Those things were my paradise and am very happy for my memories. I don't think I could enjoy the way things are there now (except, perhaps, for the food and cultural sites, which I still miss and would like to experience again and to a greater degree). To the younger gentlemen who are just getting acquainted with the experience, if you only knew. Paradise lost, indeed.
A cheap night out.
Maybe a 5,000 baht short time isn't so bad – I usually spend around that and end up going home alone!
How things have changed.
During my long absence from Bangkok I'd heard that things were changed down demimondaine way (to risk a Trinkism for a second), but nothing had prepared me for my experience on a recent trip – as you imply but don't quite say, one quarter of the fun at four times the price. Not that I indulged – after two hours of barhopping, trying to escape techno and rap, being ignored or having blatant demands for drinks made with no preamble to soften the blow, I was not in the mood anyway. But I was quoted 1,000 baht for the barfine, three thousand ST for the deed. Add to which, as you wrote, the hotel, the ancillaries, and you're looking at 5K. I didn't bother to argue the toss, so no doubt the figure can be brought down a little, but still, no bargain when compared both regionally and internationally. Last time I indulged in Bangkok, about 15 years ago, the total came to 1,500, if memory serves. That's inflation; although judging from the lack of customers in the bars on a Saturday, I'd say word is out and many of those that do indulge have moved on to greener pastures, leaving wide-eyed tourists to sip their one drink and leave. I expect you'll be inundated with emails in a similar vein to mine, but I doubt they will do anything to arrest the decline of what was once an enjoyable night out – mostly for the customer of course but often for the girl too – with a happy ending.
It's not all doom and gloom!
I enjoyed the column again as I usually do and although I would agree that your leader this week does bear a lot of truth in many cases, in my recent experience it's far from the doom and gloom that you might think. I still enjoy nights out in the gogos and still do bar fine on a regular basis. (I know sad old git!) My own preference is for what I call a leisurely short time (absolutely no interest these days in long time so I can't comment there) and it's far from the 10-minute encounter you seem to have concluded is the norm. I stay in serviced apartments when I'm in Bangkok and take the girl back there or often arrange for her to come round, if it's a repeat liaison. I find if you take a little thought and care in the selection of the bar and the girl it's still the case that you can get an enjoyable almost old school experience that still represents reasonable value in this day and age. Some girls do ask for 3,000 baht (and I won't pay that myself) but I still find plenty that are quite happy with 2,000 baht or 2,500 baht. And many bars still only charge 600 baht bar fine. And I don't use short time hotels. I give certain bars a wide berth and only take girls that I'm getting the right vibes or chemistry from. And often won't take a girl the first time I meet her. I also don't think it's fair to include the cost of your beer or the lady drinks in the total cost. I'm going to be drinking anyway so to me that is in no way part of the cost. And whilst some might argue you have to include lady drinks I would disagree. Many people including myself will often go out, have an enjoyable evening and buy a number of lady drinks with no intention of bar fining. Where a bit of fun and banter with the girls in the bar is an integral part of the evening. Whether it results in a bar fine or not.
The best hotel recommendations.
Interesting point about hotel recommendation, before the days of TripAdvisor, and other review sites, when looking for advice on a place to stay I found the best source was the more experienced bar girl, after all, who has been to more hotels?
Dirty secrets from the bar industry have become public knowledge over the years, much to the chagrin of bar bosses and bargirls. We all know the fact that most bargirls have a Thai boyfriend or husband that they go home to. We are also aware that hardly any bars carry out STD testing. Telling comments posted online this week from a long-time Pattaya bar boss who shall remain nameless leaked the latest dirty secret. Replying to comments about the style of music played in gogo bars, said bar boss replied that he prefers rock – and this is what many of the older guys want – but that would not be best for the bar, far from it in fact. The market has changed, he explained, and in this large, popular Pattaya gogo bar right on Walking Street it is the young guys who are the big spenders – and the music they like is modern dance music. Playing older music attracts an older crowd – and in Pattaya that often means low spenders. The younger guys who spend large like modern music. So the next time you complain that you don't like the style of music in a bar, now you know why – in Pattaya gogo bars the younger guys have overtaken the older guys as the spenders.
After a difficult few years, Spanky's in Pattaya has closed and the space has reopened with a format change. The name says it all and the bar is now known as Katoeys Are Us.
Dollhouse returned to Pattaya this week with the two original Dollhouse owners behind it. A brief from one of the bosses suggests they are thrilled at how things have started, "We're smashing it!"
Secrets in Pattaya has gone full circle and has freelancers again. What will the salaried girls employed by the bar make of that?
It seems the new Touch A Gogo on Soi LK Metro where Oscars used to be has taken all the staff from Shanghai, the new gogo on Soi Lengkee.
Bar boss and raconteur Ricky was to open Pandora last night. When word gets out that the endearing bar boss is at the helm the punters will trot along, as much to see Ricky as check out the new bar.
In Bangkok the consensus is that a good November for the bar industry has been followed by a very quiet early December.
The Tunnel, the lane that connects Sukhumvit sois 5 and 7, is still in a state of broken rubble and smashed shop fronts. A couple of the old bars mid-way along are still operating with customers bravely traversing trodden down paths of broken concrete and demolition rubble. There hasn't been a peep from the owner about the renovation.
Whispers have it that New Wave Bar in Sukhumvit soi 7 might be closing end of the year. This is a rumour only at this stage and I have not been able to confirm it.
With a few bars in Soi Cowboy open through until 3:00 AM, some bars that previously opened around 7:00 PM have slipped back their opening time and may not open the doors until 7:30. Long-running smaller bars which have traditionally opened early – think the likes of Fanny and Toy Bar – still open early.
The basic rule of gogo bars in Bangkok remains – bars that show more attract more customers and do more business. Coyote dancers are often real lookers, but that experience you can find elsewhere. Many punters go to the gogo bars to see what you can't see elsewhere.
A night market is being held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the space that was once Washington Square until the end of the month and features a mix of vendors selling clothes, shoes and trinkets. There are food vendors and even a food truck run by a young farang couple.
Next Saturday, December 19th, from 8 PM until late, Checkinn99 will be on a Mission from God with their highly popular Blues Brothers show. Get ready for a fun evening of black suits, dark shades and a tight band of horns. On stage will be the Blues Sisters (aka Music of the Heart band) joined by the touring Dutch swing band B2F recreating the energy and excitement of Jake and Elwood Blues. The Blues Sisters will storm the stage about 9:30 PM with a cavalcade of hits, routines and fun. Go dressed in theme clothes – even a Fedora hat and dark glasses are enough. Nuns, Country and Western or even as Cab Calloway…a great night of music in typical laid back Checkinn99 style. A cover charge of 250 baht includes a welcome house drink. More details at Checkinn99.com.
And if you've never checked out CheckInn99 and want to give it a go, Checkinn99 does 1-litre jugs of Heineken at just 199 baht which has to be the cheapest permanently priced Heineken on Sukhumvit. The venue promotes these as Stickman jugs It should be noted that some venues do jugs of Leo at this price. I also like the cocktails at CheckInn99 where you get a BIG glass – their Long Island Iced Tea is a killer – one glass and you'll be smiling; two and you might well be in trouble!
Popular Bangkok hotel President Palace on Sukhumvit soi 11 has closed for 10 – 12 months for renovations. This includes the Champion sports bar.
This email was received from a reader is not printed in the emails section but rather here in the news section because it is newsworthy and suggests that police searches in downtown Bangkok may have resumed, or at best, an errant duo are up to no good:
I just wanted to let you know that I was shaken down by two cops on a scooter well up soi 23 on my way home after closing time in Soi Cowboy. As I just read the "do they hate us" piece where you tell the world this is a thing of the past, I beg to differ. I was by myself, dressed well, sober and not in any way loud, rude or provocative. Just a guy walking up the sidewalk on an otherwise quiet street. On the corner I met an American and gave him directions as he was a block off where he wanted to be. Then two coppers on a single scooter jumped us, and went straight for our pockets. No explanation was given as to what exactly they were about or why. When they realised that neither of us was intoxicated, nor scared of them, they seemed displeased. I knew they were in the wrong, but didn't have a big problem with it as there was nothing in my pockets of interest to them. I was more worried that they would steal my cash when going through my wallet. In retrospect, I should have worried about them planting drugs on me, I guess. They did look at all my cigarettes and so on. Anyway, this was 48 hours ago, so the shakedowns are still a fact, regardless of the pamphlet story from 2 weeks ago. They seemed worried that anybody would see it, as it was a deserted corner at that time of night and they were sort of looking over their shoulder. This occurred on the corner where soi 23 meets Sukhumvit, 21 soi 2, the crossover street leading back to main road, Thanon Asoke Montri. We were both alright and went on our separate ways as there was nothing for them to bust us on. They did not plant stuff on either of us. There was no talk of urine samples either.
The previous Stickman column opener about how gogo dancers in Bangkok are a poor and pricey option for a bit of fun was specifically about that sector of the industry, gogo bars in Bangkok. It was not about the entire industry. Thai-style parlours charge much less, have prettier girls, and even a specified time, usually 90 minutes. And if you don't fancy going to a place which caters to Thais, consider Devil's Den in Pattaya which has similar standards.
One has to be careful when generalising because there are some great bar bosses out there just as there are some real ratbags, but do bar bosses stand behind their product? Can we expect standards similar to what we might find in a more mainstream business? I ask this question after a foreign gogo bar owner made little effort when it was reported that a lady who dances in the bar stole some belongings from a customer. The bar's response was that it was a personal matter between the girl and the customer. Eventually the items were returned but not until the customer put a fair bit of heat on the owner. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened in a farang-owned bar.
A couple of years ago some long-term expats said they had had enough of Thailand (in most cases they were resident in either Bangkok or Pattaya) and they were heading east to Cambodia, most bound for Phnom Penh but more than a few mentioned Sihanoukville as their destination. The visa situation was getting too difficult for them in Thailand hence they were heading to Cambodia were $300 gets you a 1-year visa, hassle free. Was that a short-lived thing? Did they go and if they did, did they stay in Cambodia or perhaps later return to Thailand? One hears little about it now.
Several months back the Immigration Department announced that those overstaying their visa would not just be fined but would face a stand down period in which they could not return to Thailand and in the case of long overstays, they would be blacklisted and banned from returning. Presently, the punishment for overstaying your visa in Thailand is a fine of 500 baht per day up to a maximum of 20,000 baht. From March, those who overstay their visa will be barred from re-entering the country for a period of time. The longer the overstay, the longer the period of time in which you cannot return. When this was first announced there was much worry amongst those on long overstays who were told that they should exit the country before the new regulations came in to effect and clean the slate, so to speak. Clearly, some did not listen because the announcement that these regulations will come in to effect in March has seen a new round of folks asking what they need to do to avoid being blacklisted. Idiots.
Here in New Zealand, using large banknotes to pay for something anywhere apart from a supermarket reminds me of trying to pay a Bangkok taxi driver with a 500 or 1000 baht note. Probably 95%+ of people here use a debit card for most transactions. Some prefer not to use cash at all. Last week I was touring around the east coast of the North Island and stopped at the small stand outside some orchards to buy cherries and even for the smallest of transactions they expected you to pay with a debit card and they had a mobile debit card reader there. You could pay with cash if you had to, but you'd have to have the exact amount as no-one else paid cash and they had no change. Even picking up a coffee on the run sees most people here using plastic. This all got me thinking as to whether Thailand follow the model of countries like New Zealand (and I guess much of the Western world?) which are on the path to becoming cashless societies. Consider that of Thailand's 67 odd million people, less than 10 million make a tax filing and I imagine many don't even have a bank account, or deal entirely with cash. But getting away from cash seems to be the way many countries are going – and we just know that the West loves to pressure developing countries in this sort of thing. Interesting times.
Quote of the week comes from a reader, “I remember when "the Land of Smiles" was reality and not just a TAT slogan.”
Reader story of the week comes from Mega, "Border Town".
The New York Times paints a sad, but accurate picture of how things are in Thailand today.
The Nation reported on the proposed blacklisting of foreigners who overstay in Thailand.
Another convicted foreign paedophile is found teaching at a school in Thailand.
Shocking revelations are made by the chief investigator in to human trafficking in Thailand.
A young British woman is killed when her motorbike is hit by a pickup truck in Phuket.
A Brit with a hatred of ladyboys finds himself beaten up by a couple of them on Pattaya's Beach Road.
Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: My Thai wife purchased a townhouse from an individual. The townhouse is located on property owned by the Thai Railroad Authority. The developer of the property built several buildings, signed a 30-year lease with the Thai Railroad, and charges each owner of a townhouse a monthly fee. My wife's sale was facilitated by the developer and they prepared all the sale documents. After paying for the townhouse, the individual gave my wife the owner's book of the townhouse, which actually doesn't have a name – apparently he did not register the townhouse in his name. He also turned over all his payment receipts from his original loan. We took all the paperwork to City Hall to register the townhouse in my wife's name and it turns out that the 30-year lease signed by the developer expired several months ago. As such, the government worker at City Hall refused to register the townhouse in my wife's name. We talked to the developer and they said they are in negotiation with the Thai Railway to renew the contract and just wait until everything settles. As it turns out, all the other townhouse owners are lobbying the Thai Railway to deal directly with them for a lease renewal and not through the developer as it will be cheaper for the owners. The Thai Railway has not made any decision, nor do they seem to be in any hurry to make a decision until a new government is elected. In the meantime, we live in the townhouse, pay the water and electricity in the old owner's name, and not pay the developer any monthly charge since they no longer hold the lease contract with the Thai Railway – everyone seems to be happy. Can you give us advice on what to do?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Since the land your wife acquired is of a leasehold type, you and the home owners will need to see the master lease to find if there are other options to renew the lease once the initial lease has expired. It is important to note that for a state enterprise to liquidate their assets, they would need consent at Ministerial level. Therefore, you will need to see response(s) from the government and the Thai Railway on method(s) and approach that they would take help and to resolve disputes and to help home owners.
Question 2: I have a business idea which I am considering in Thailand. It involves importing a high-quality food product from my country in to Thailand and marketing / distributing / selling it in Thailand. I believe there is demand for this product in Thailand and would look at both direct sales i.e. direct to customers – possibly online / possibly via a booth or stall – as well as getting it in to large retailers. My question regards the requirements for importing and distributing a food product in Thailand. What is required i.e. does it need to go through an FDA approval process? What does this involve and what sort of costs is one looking at? Any guidance would be much appreciated. FWIW, this is a high-quality product that is indigenous to and exported from my country and sold around the world so I would not expect there would be any problems with it.
Sunbelt Legal responds: Due to increasing consumer awareness and protection where consumers are becoming more aware of their rights in cases when a product used or bought has gone wrong, the issue of Consumer Protection plays a major role in the FDA approval of any consumer product, and the FDA will require the business to strictly follow the regulations, even with a product that has already been tested overseas or has a strong brand overseas.
Thailand's FDA will still need to investigate the product before issuing a license and allowing formal importation of the new product. A license is required for each different type of product. Consumer products are required to obtain FDA approval and clearance. The preliminary required information would be the details of each product's ingredients, nutrition facts, and confirmation of place of origin. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has experience in navigating the FDA approval process and obtaining approval for imported products.
CheckInn99 is celebrating Christmas with 30 x 1-litre jugs for Stickman readers. All you have to do is correctly answer this question: Who is the legendary dame interviewed in the Stickman weekly column of 20/5/2012 who has been a feature at CheckInn99 for decades? Email the answer to me and if you're one of the first 30 people to answer correctly, you win a free Stickman jug at CheckInn99! CheckInn99 will have free snacks on offer for Stickman readers and the focus will be meeting other Stickman readers, a slideshow of Stickman photos including many of which have not been published previously and general revelry. If you aren't one of the first 30 readers, you're still encouraged to pop by, and Stickman Jugs will be just 199 baht. This slideshow and free snacks for Stickman readers will take place on Wednesday of next week, that is December 23rd, from 6:00 – 8:30 PM. All prize winners who can't make it on Wednesday of next week will have until the end of January to claim the prize. Thank you to all readers for your support this year from Stickman and CheckInn99.