It's hard to believe that almost 15 years after I added a weekly column to this website as a means of including time-sensitive news and silly anecdotes and observations that didn't fit in to other parts of the site that I'm still writing it. I had no idea that this column would grow in to what it has and that it would become so relevant amongst a sector of Bangkok expat society. The column refuses to die and another year of Stickman Weekly has passed, another year of a ritual that has become almost as much a part of my life as brushing my teeth or getting dressed in the morning.
I was in countdown mode to leaving Thailand and had all but mentally checked out of both Thailand and putting together this column when a last-minute deal came together for the site to be purchased and the column to be saved. Just 48 hours before I was due to fly out I received the offer so many said would never happen – and with that my plans for the rest of 2015 changed. I left Thailand as planned – nothing was going to get in the way of that – but the site and the column continued. For 9 months I have been putting this column together from afar.
They said I couldn't survive outside of Thailand. You won't make it in Farangland, they told me, You've been gone too long to go back. But leave I did, and while I would not say New Zealand is perfect nor has everything worked out quite how I'd hoped, there's much to like about life down at the bottom of the world.
So why do I continue to write the column from abroad? Quite simply, continuing to put the column together was a condition of the sale of the site. It has been a test of myself as much as anything to see whether I really could manage it. And while whatever happens in Thailand today has no direct bearing on me, having spent so long in the country I maintain an interest in what's going on.
Since leaving Thailand, feedback about the weekly has been mixed. Some said I shouldn't reveal that I had left and just continue as if I was still there. I couldn't do that.
The main complaint has been the accuracy of bar news with detractors jumping on to the fact that I'm not there on the ground to see things with my own eyes. It's a fair comment, but double-checking reports before publishing them aside, there's not a lot I can do about it. I'm grateful to those who provide news and gossip while at times I want to pull my hair out when I receive reports from people I trust which contradict each other.
Finding people to help who are willing to help, who are either employed in the industry or visit regularly and know it well, who are truly objective and willing to look at things through neutral eyes has proven difficult. Many foreigners in Thailand have strong opinions and few offer observations and just stick to the facts without some sort of bias to support their belief (or to benefit their bar). It's enormously frustrating.
I've never taken a lot of notice of web traffic stats – which all remain strong – and am more interested in the feedback from long-term readers and friends. I'm the first to acknowledge that the column will never be quite the same as if I was living in Thailand, but I will always give it my best shot.
We all know Thailand has changed and there's no need to go over that again. Things are tightening up and the days of English teachers working without a work permit with confidence that nothing would come of it are over. Running a website in Thailand has always been very low-risk but how long will that remain? Setting up a website as a legal business in Thailand is a minefield and with all sorts of requirements, few Thailand websites run by expats in Thailand are totally legit.
You cannot operate a website with confidence if you're forever looking over your shoulder. No-one wants to get in trouble with the law in Thailand. That was never a reason for leaving, but I'm a whole lot more comfortable writing from Kiwiland than I would be if I was residing in the Kingdom now. If I was living in Thailand today, I would not be writing this column. I just think it would be imprudent. I rode my luck for long enough as it was.
So what's planned for 2016? The redesign of this site is coming along well and incorporates a modern look and is easier to navigate while remaining sympathetic to the original design. There will be an easy-to-use search function. Content will remain much the same.
I am very grateful to all who have helped with the column this year, from those who have provided news and gossip as well as those who have time and time again received my frantic last-minute emails and phone-calls to help verify bits and pieces. And to Mike who helps with the editing, not just pointing out errors but making suggestions, I am especially grateful for all the help you have provided over many, many years. I might be in Kiwiland but I won't be ending this column any time soon. You can continue to tune in every Sunday for my opinionated ramblings on life in Bangkok.
2015 has been a year of upheaval, a year of great change. I hope your 2015 was as good as mine and I wish you every success for 2016. See you in the new year!
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken in Ayutthaya of a famous old chedi in the middle of a roundabout near downtown.
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 – Exercising the right to be truly Thai.
Thais are expressing rejection of foreigners – including the hordes of Chinese tour groups – crowding their mass transit system and shopping malls not only because they find the situation inconvenient and unpleasant, but because this is one of few demonstrations they can get away with without running afoul of the military junta and those in positions of influence. The average Thai, who has virtually no influence or control over his or her fate, feels empowered to strike out at those with even less: outsiders. No-one is going to enact Section 44 or charge them with a vague offence for verbally or physically assaulting a non-Thai, and farangs in particular. Indeed, they may be encouraged and applauded for exercising their right to be truly Thai.
Going high-end in Bangkok.
I couldn't agree more with you that at the higher end of the tourism industry you will not find better value for money on the many excellent 4- and 5-star hotels in Bangkok, even in high season. For the mainstream tourist, Bangkok is still an excellent city break. I never had a problem with service in any hotel or restaurant – always friendly and welcoming. Bangkok has some of the world's best malls that will keep wife / girlfriend happy for hours and just try to find accommodation for 3,000 baht in Hong Kong or Singapore – the best you can expect is a windowless hovel with scowling reception staff.
How things have changed.
Your piece this week summed up everything I've seen happen in Thailand these last 5 years. I left in 2010 and feel that I got out at the right time. You noted that it's been in steady decline since then, no doubt as a consequence of all the continued political instability and fear. All the things we loved so much about the country – freedom, happiness, smiles and hospitality are in short supply these days. Now with the economy hurting, a military junta in no hurry to give up power and continuing to intimidate while not working to solve any of the internal causes of the problems, along with the unspeakable looming event, how far our beloved Land of Smiles has fallen.
Internal strife opens up dating opportunities.
If the Junta maintains power long enough it could screw up the economy to the point where the Thai baht gets so weak and the economy so lacklustre that prostitution could become an option for Thais again. Look at the recent auto show, orders were 20% below expectations. Bad press regarding slavery in the Thai fishing industry will show how horribly foreign migrant workers are treated, along with Thai nationals in some cases. And don't forget the human trafficking "investigation" by the current administration. Recent comments from Thai officials are so embarrassing it's hard to find a word in Webster's to adequately categorize them. Section 44 of the current constitution? If the Junta keeps it up, sanctions may be possible, and I do not think it'll be the Chinese coming to the rescue. The China government will leverage sanctions to squeeze every last drop of blood out of the Thais. The current government is digging a hole from which it is becoming more and more difficult to recover. On the plus side, this is the beginning of the golden era to get in to a long-lasting relationship with Thai ladies from every level of social status. Anyone with eyes wide open would want a possible exit if things get too hot. Expats provide that, either geographically or economically. I actually think this is a prime time for the non-monger to relocate to Thailand. So many lovely, single Thai women looking for stability and a life with fewer worries. It's so easy for expats: just keep your mouth shut regarding the monarchy, the current administration and love life.
Consolidation is in order.
The problem isn't tourist numbers – 1995: 6,952,000; 1996: 7,244,000; 1997: 7,294,00; 2015: 30,000,000. Those first 3 years the bar business was heaving. I think the major problem is the increase in the number of venues. I remember an internet cafe I used to go to in Jomtien. Say it needed 5 customers to cover cost. They had ten. The next trip cafe2 opened next door, they need 5 to operate, cut into the profits of store one, but cafe3 came along which also needed 5. The following trip all three cafes gone. In 1991, there were barely a few bars on Pattaya Second Road, and nothing on the outside of Nana Plaza. No discos other than NASA out on Soi 71. I watched as tourist arrivals increased as did the number of bars on Second Road, Soi Buakhao, Jomtien, Soi LK Metro, bars up and down Soi Nana replacing photography and convenience stores. Now the whole country is saturated with places that need 5 customers to operate and building has gotten way ahead of sustainable numbers. Hooters has come to Nana and one is going up on Beach Road also. The good businesses have to be good with ice-cold beer, good prices / value for money and good service to sustain themselves. Others like Insomnia which is jammed packed nightly is trendy for now but something else will come along and replace it just as they replaced Lucifer's. Some consolidation is in order and happening in some instances.
Phnom Penh warning.
I know some travel to Phnom Penh. My message is to be extra vigilant. My mobile phone was plucked from my shirt-pocket by a guy riding bitch on a passing motorcycle, in broad daylight, on a stretch of Monivong Boulevard where you can speed, slow, then speed again and not get slowed by traffic. If the guy had fumbled I would have dodged it, but it was precise, and they were speeding off before I knew it. Got to the hotel where the manager was in the corridor and asked me how I was doing. I told him not so great as my phone had just been stolen by some guys on a moto. He was concerned, and asked me if I wanted to fill out a police report – I said what's the point? He didn't have an answer to that. Fired up the laptop, remote-wiped the phone, reset my important passwords. Gone, baby, gone. Got over a year of use on the unit, now it belongs to some scumballs who'll resell it. But in their next lifetime, they're going to reincarnate as intestinal parasites within some particularly disgusting creature.
Phnom Penh not quite an option.
As one of the many who have left Bangkok last year as part of the expat exodus you so often refer to, I identified very much with your article about how things are currently in Thailand. As an eager beaver who arrived in mid-2012, I have felt the disconnect from Thailand given the intense changes the country and Bangkok as a city have undergone in a few short years. How I wish sometimes I was lucky enough to experience Bangkok in the early 2000s. Will we ever have that again? I doubt it very much. I found Phnom Penh to be a lot fresher from a people's perspective (much nicer etc) but the overall safety concerns have kept me from contemplating a move there.
The new branch of Hooters in Soi Nana, where Golden Bar used to be.
Golden Bar, the beer bar out the front of the Nana Plaza popular since the '90s, was dismantled a few months back and this week its flashy replacement opened, a branch of the American chain, Hooters. Count me amongst those intrigued to see how popular it becomes in what is Bangkok's sleaziest sex tourism strip. Will this be the start of the gentrification of Soi Nana? Somehow I doubt it.
As has become a tradition, popular Soi Cowboy gogo bar Tilac had a roast pig with the trimmings on Christmas Eve, their way of saying thanks to the many customers who have supported them throughout the year. If you missed out on Christmas Eve, another beast will be sacrificed on New Year's Eve.
Proof that even the greats can't make a successful return with Renoir 2015 in Sukhumvit soi 33 closing after just a few months of miserable trade. The cheap furniture was ripped out and some soi 33 regulars have a wager on which bar said furniture will show up in next.
Wall Street on Sukhumvit soi 33 has sold, and is closed for the time-being as the premises undergo renovations. Will that be where the used furniture ends up?!
The first hostess bar reached on Sukhumvit soi 33 for many years was Christies, which was located about 75 metres in to the soi in a standalone building on the left-hand side. Christie's closed a few years back and was replaced by Velvet which was popular for a time with the club / model crowd who previously weren't typical soi 33 visitors. But Velvet didn't last and is no longer and guess what has returned to the same spot? Yep, Christie's is back. Soi 33 has about as much life in it as Elvis and Christie's old crowd has not been enticed back so how long will it last?
In the early 2000s Monet was one of the most popular bars in soi 33 but ever since it relocated next to Dali, with the interior of Dali essentially split in two with Dali taking the larger half, Monet the smaller, trade has been muted. Monet is currently closed as the owner appears to be concentrating on Dali. In fact, many of the failed soi 33 bars mentioned today are run by the same fellow who has leases up and down the soi. Contrary to popular belief, he does not own the bars and is simply a leaseholder.
Short-time needn't run you 2,000 or 3,000 baht in Nana Plaza and in the very near future a short-time trip in Nana Plaza will set you back just 200 or 300 baht. Bargain, right? Not so fast! Signage went up on the ground floor of Nana Plaza for a new food outlet offering burgers, hot dogs and kebabs called Short Time. It replaces the failed Monster Ink.
Back to soi 33, Mojo's, the live music venue which features coyotes in the small sub-soi off soi 33 and opposite The Office, gets few customers these days after a long period in which it was one of the busier bars. It's still open, but like, well, pretty much all of soi 33, trade isn't great.
When the original owner of Livingstone's, the once popular bar /restaurant / boutique hotel on soi 33 sold a couple of years back to a Frenchman, the space was painted white and renamed Ocean. The new French owner had grandiose plans to fill the space in the Spanish hacienda-style building that housed the boutique hotel with a modern bar and restaurant with a club feel aimed firmly at the Thonglor party crowd. Breaking away from the traditional soi 33 crowd was always going to be a risk and while Ocean was popular for a time, the venue has reverted back to what it was before he took it over, a boutique hotel and bar. Rumour has it that the owner is in negotiations to sell and if the deal goes through it could become a spa / alternative medicine venue / vegetarian restaurant & cooking school which would be a great use of the space.
The tale of misery that is Sukhumvit soi 33 is nothing new and it's many years since most venues on the road were profitable. In recent years, soi 33 has seen dozens of failures and its heyday was before my time in Bangkok. I guess that makes soi 33 kind of like Patpong, clinging to the past although in fairness to Patpong, the Silom end of Patpong soi 2 is vibrant.
Are two of the venues that managed not just to survive in Sukhumvit soi 33, but thrive, relocating to Pattanakarn Road? The Londoner is supposed to open out on Pattanakarn Road – the latest I hear is that the doors will open in June, 2016 – and Tenderloins, the steakhouse in the middle of soi 33 next to the tree, has opened a new branch on Pattanakarn Road, apparently opposite where The Londoner will be. Pattanakarn Road is quite some distance from Sukhumvit and I'm not aware of a concentration of foreigners in the area which you imagine would be a key for such venues to succeed.
Prices have only been going one way in the bar industry in Thailand in recent years and for those on a budget, a dalliance with a girl on Pattaya's Beach Road, also known as the Coconut Bar, can still be had for 700 baht although some Beach Road girls are now asking 1,500 baht for a quickie. Word is that some are insistent that you go to their short-time hotel which could be for any of a number of reasons: 1) They may get a small commission every time they use a particular short-time facility; or 2) It's close to their spot on the beach and they can get the deed done and get back to the beach quickly; or 3) Perhaps they have a friend in a specific room hiding under the bed with a plan to remove cash from a customer's wallet and a customer's phone from their pocket while he's having his wicked way on top of the bed.
Eliminate any ideas from your mind that this is to be a watershed high season for the bars. Everyone said that December took ages to get going but word from the streets of Bangkok and from a friend in Pattaya is that the bars are pumping. Word from Walking Street was that it was full and there's no room for anyone else. Long may the bars stay busy and long may the holiday vibe last.
It would appear that I spoke too soon in the column last month when I wrote that there was no need to be concerned about being stopped and searched by police in and around the Asoke intersection after errant police officers had been instructed to stop these unlawful searches months ago. Comments from readers and friends resident in Bangkok show that police have resumed stopping and searching foreigners in the same area and using exactly the same MO for, apparently, no other reason than they are a foreigner. 3 first-hand reports came in this week including one from a friend with 10+ years in Thailand. It's exactly the same MO as before. The cops ride two on a bike along the main Sukhumvit Road, in the left-most lane, about as slowly as it is possible to ride a bike, scrutinising all foreigners they see along the way. When they spot someone who matches the criteria they're looking for, they pull over and hassle the person. A few direct questions are followed by a request to search their pockets, wallet and if they're carrying it, a bag or backpack. While not expressly stated, the tone is inference is clear – refuse and they might make your life difficult. One friend observed two cops this week doing exactly this and at one point a Thai guy wandered right in front of their bike totally out of his mind on meth or something and the cops simply swerved around him and continued on! They paid plenty of attention to farangs – even slowing down to look at a farang guy walking with two kids. The story has not broken in any major news sources yet but if these searches continue I expect it will. No doubt the same excuses will be made – either the police are fake or they are police from another police district being opportunistic in the wealthy, farang-ridden Thonglor police district. No locals believe this for a moment as police throughout Thailand know everything going on in their district.
Should expats and visitors be concerned about a quote from Thai police in a Bangkok Post article published this week? Are Pattaya's chapter of the gang in brown getting tough on foreigners or was this a show of force as 100 odd police raided two venues on Walking Street? It was reported that "Anyone unable to produce their immigration paperwork was taken to Pattaya police station for questioning." Does that mean that no passport on your person is a problem? I doubt it. The consensus is that the news report was bigger than the actual event.
But word out of Pattaya is that police in Sin City are getting tough on those caught drink-driving. It has been reported that anyone caught driving over the limit will be fined 10,000 baht and will go straight to jail for one month. On the one hand I am in favour of this – drunk driving is a massive problem in Thailand, amongst both Thais and expats – but I do have concerns. The major concern I have regards the condition and calibration of the equipment used. A news article published perhaps a year ago stated that a percentage of breathalyzer units were either faulty or incorrectly calibrated. Don't quote me, but I seem to recall it was something like 45% were not functioning as they should. The other concern I have is that the threat of going straight to jail for a month could be used by the odd errant official against drivers to pay, even if they are not over the limit. Having been accused of doing things behind the wheel that I didn't do by the boys in brown before (accused of driving at 145 km/h when the needle never got above 110), it makes this campaign a little scary. As a side note, Thailand has confusing laws regarding drink driving. If you've held a driver's licence for 5 years or more, the legal limit is 50mg of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. If, however, you've held a licence for less than 5 years it is only 20mg. These limits are lower than a lot of Western countries.
In last week's column I extended well wishes to a bar boss / friend who was in hospital and receiving treatment for diabetes complications. He has since been discharged after a 3-week stay and raved about how well he was looked after and the very reasonable cost. A 3-week hospital stay in which he was treated by doctors speaking perfect English, cared for by nurses who he felt couldn't have done anything more for him cost less than $1,000 all in. This included an operation / amputation, all treatment, all medicine, all medical supplies….everything! In recent years prices have shot up in Thailand for pretty much everything so it's nice that there are still good deals out there. That said, it doesn't make me want to visit hospital any time soon! The name of the hospital? Chulalongkorn Hospital, a highly regarded government hospital in downtown Bangkok.
Quote of the week comes from a reader, "Suspect all long-termers in Thailand because they have been shrewd enough to survive decades swimming with sharks and only another shark can do that."
A British woman dies after falling from a tuktuk in Thailand.
Immigration puts a bunch of foreigners who had overstayed their visa on show at a press conference.
A Brit is accused of dangerous driving in Jomtien, killing a Russian and injuring another.
Drummond reminds us of a nasty Thailand scam perpetrated by many in uniforms popular at this time of year.
The Daily Telegraph took a closer look at the verdict in the trial of the two Burmese lads charged with murder in Ko Tao.
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 and I had a wedding party 5 years ago, but no papers were signed. 3 years ago I bought a condo in my name (only my name). One year ago we signed marriage papers in Thailand, just before our daughter was born. We live and have been living from the beginning in Thailand. Is my understanding correct that since the condo was purchased and paid in full before marriage papers where signed, the condo would in case of an uncontested divorce (both parties agree) taking place in Thailand NOT be common assets, and I would walk away with the condo? Other assets in Thailand such cash and equity obtained prior to the marriage would since there is no prenuptial agreement in place be shared 50 : 50, or will I be able to bring out what I brought in? What about offshore assets such as property as well equity which has been earned after signing the marriage papers?
Sunbelt Legal responds: It is possible for a person to lay claim to assets bought during the relationship (without the formal registration of marriage) as shared assets under the claim of life partner. However, once you legally registered the marriage the assets gained before the legal registration could not be claimed on the basis of being a life partner. Instead, the marital assets would only be those assets acquired after the legal marriage. Therefore your condo would not be considered a marital asset. Additionally, any savings or other assets that you held prior to the legal registration of the marriage would not be considered marital assets. However, interest earned on that savings, for instance, would be considered a marital asset.
The same theory would apply to offshore assets, but you will need to take the local rules and regulations of where those assets are located in to consideration.
Thailand has great eye candy, but that's not what I miss the most.
I'm often asked what I miss the most in Thailand. I thought I'd miss the eye candy but that's not near the top of the list, not even close. There are restaurants I miss but actually, I prefer the food here. There are a lot of city walks I used to take that I miss. It's not just the walk itself, but the characters I would see along the way, none of whom I knew, but people I came to recognise and who were as much a part of the scenery as the buildings and landmarks along the way. I don't miss the nightlife and I don't miss drinking – all I've had to drink in the past 9 months is about a dozen glasses of wine. What I miss most is that in Thailand expat circles, no-one asks you what you've done that day, as in What have you achieved today? I cringe when I'm asked that question here in New Zealand, especially when it is asked by those whose life I would describe as "on the treadmill to nowhere". Many just don't seem to get it that some of us have said to hell with the idea of a 9-to-5 job for 40 odd years and would rather live our life on our terms and enjoy the world while we have the health to do so and before the world becomes totally fxxxup up. Answering the question with something along the lines of I went for a run this morning, met friends for lunch and then went to my favourite net cafe, had a great coffee, checked my investments and downloaded some TV and movies I shouldn't makes the average Kiwi look at you like you've got 3 eyes. In frustratingly sensible New Zealand, many see my lifestyle as beyond odd, daring and almost confrontational. In Thailand, it was anything but. I miss the fact that in Thailand you don't have to account for your time to anyone.