The Internet frustrates Thailand because they cannot control it. Instead, the country is emulating the likes of China and North Korea by implementing measures to monitor who is doing what online. And meetings are being held with the biggest names of the online world like Google and Facebook in an attempt to filter and / or remove material online that Thailand deems inappropriate. Hypersensitive Thailand is trying to control what is posted to and what can be read online in Thailand.
It was not always this way. It's not that long ago when the Internet really was not taken that seriously in Thailand. As recently as when the Yellows occupied the airport and the Reds controlled parts of downtown, you could say just about anything online and the Thais didn't care. There was always one subject you steered clear of, of course, online and offline. That was about the only topic off limits. You could say pretty much anything about anyone online and nothing would happen. Not any more.
The Computer Crime Act came in to effect in 2007, the same year the iPhone was introduced. Facebook had yet to become such a big part of Thai people's lives. The attitude towards the online world was still very much mai pen rai. It was different in expat circles, however, where Internet penetration was probably around 90%. Thais and expats alike felt almost complete freedom to speak their mind. It was the age of the keyboard warrior.
In the past two years, coincidentally – or otherwise – the period in which the military government came in to power, things have tightened up and now the authorities take the online world very seriously.
Today, the Internet is a big part of everyday Thais' lives, particularly social media. Thais have a love affair with Facebook.
The ease with which news articles, stories, experiences and opinions can be shared on social media has made Thais more aware not just about what is happening in the world, but about what is being said about their country. Where once the average Thai was largely clueless about how they were perceived by outsiders, now they are very much aware. And given that there's so much negativity posted about Thailand online these days, that's a problem.
How can a foreigner possibly know more about anything in Thailand than a Thai national, most Thais wonder.
So when something appears online about Thailand that a Thai – any Thai – doesn't like, it gets shared and before too long it causes outrage. When a Thai feels spurned, look out, but when the whole country feels spurned, run!
The worry for anyone posting anything online even remotely negative towards Thailand is much the same as getting in to a scuffle with a Thai on the street. It's not one on one, but one against 65 million.
This very phenomenon was evidenced this week when the mainstream Thai media carried stories about a video posted online by a foreigner who had walked Pattaya's sois 6 and 6/1 by day with a small video recording device.
Thais were shocked that someone would post a video online showing ladyboys offering themselves for sex. It didn't matter that what was captured was real. What mattered was that – in their minds – it damaged Thailand's reputation. How dare anyone, let alone a foreigner, do such a thing! The response was predictable and the person behind the videos vilified.
What I found most interesting was that the uproar was in response to a video first published online in 2013. Only now had it come to the Thais' attention. There would be thousands – maybe tens of thousands – of similar videos posted online.
The average Thai's comprehension of English (and other foreign languages) is poor, and online translators don't seem to translate well to or from the Thai language so the average Thai doesn't understand most of what is written online, unless it is in Thai – and hardly anything posted in Thai is posted by non-Thais. So it is often videos and photos that cause Thais to get their knickers in a twist.
But there are Thais with excellent English and some are in groups who hunt online for dubious posts about the country and its institutions.
Polarized by the ongoing political situation, a wave of nationalism has swept through Thai society causing some Thais to show themselves to be more Thai than their fellow countrymen. It's all for Thailand, they say. They scour the ‘net for anything which paints Thailand in a less favourable light. When they come across posts or pages online they consider dubious, they may report it to police.
Police are duty-bound to investigate all official complaints – meaning a complaint is lodged, the complainant's ID is recorded and the statement signed.
Spy on thy neighbour may sound like tales from behind the iron curtain but in Thailand it's very real. Thais are the world's great snitches and have zero compunction reporting on others if they feel they will gain even an iota of credit with someone in power.
Find yourself charged with the seemingly innocuous crime of expressing your opinion online and time behind bars becomes a possibility.
Comparing North Korea with Thailand in 2016 is completely reasonable.
So what does this mean for foreigners posting online about Thailand? Many websites, forums, blogs and social media posts about Thailand contain content which would be considered controversial at the least, perhaps even deemed defamatory.
Pausing for a lighter moment, a poster on SlyGeezer this week mentioned Thais have a propensity for suing others for deformation.
Thailand has changed so fast that I don't think I would be comfortable running this website if I was resident in Thailand. I already self-censor but I just wouldn't take the risk.
How other Thailand site webmasters cope, I have no idea. The thoughts of many foreigners would make the Thai establishment seethe.
The real worry these days is Facebook where merely liking a post has landed people in big trouble. Sex tourist forums, blogs and the like don't capture Thais' attention nor are they taken as seriously as Facebook.
Even here, 10,000 km away in New Zealand, Thais are nervous about posting anything even remotely controversial about their homeland on Facebook. Even those who have dual citizenship and zero plans to move back to Thailand worry about saying what they really think online.
The days when the Technology Crime Division officers lacked the expertise or resources to investigate cyber crimes are the past. News reports show they are very capable at unmasking those posting online and bringing them to justice in the real world.
Call me paranoid, but from where I am sitting there has been a seismic shift in the attitudes of Thais towards the Internet. Freedom of speech as we know it in the West never really existed in Thailand, but things have deteriorated and today you have to be mindful of what you say and post online about Thailand if you're resident in the country, lest you get a knock on the door.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the bar and cashier's counter in Spanky's in Nana Plaza. Only a couple of people got it right.
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 – Social media and Thailand.
I believe your final comment in this week's column represents a tipping point for Thai tourism. The difference is social media, as you correctly pointed out. Thais can convict Burmese of the Koh Tao murders, they can use Lese Majeste in an attempt to stifle free speech and control the population, but they cannot fool those outside of Thailand with an internet connection. The endemic corruption, the outrageously skewed Thai system of "justice", the horror of its participation in human trafficking, and a Junta living and ruling with an early 20th century mentality have all caught up with it. Policies leading to a credible election are sorely needed. I wish Thailand Godspeed if they undertake such an effort.
Finding ways to warm up.
It was interesting you wrote last week that Vietnam can be decidedly chilly and that was a pleasant relief after Thailand. I read that as I was shivering in deepest Isaan. It got no warmer than 13 degrees on Sunday with a strong wind chill as a storm front came down from China. I've experienced 8 degrees before, very early in the day but it has always warmed up quickly. Not this time. The problem is that Thailand does not do heating so it was warm socks, long trousers, a sweatshirt and even a jacket indoors!
Viet / Thai similarities.
I share your view on Vietnam – it's an interesting country. I have visited several times since the mid '90s and had a part-time girlfriend for a while when I worked in Hong Kong. Saigon and Hanoi have changed a lot in the last 20 years. I agree that the women are more conservative than Thailand, the nightlife much quieter and not in your face. But, just like Thailand, a lot of Viet girls work in bars – but in Singapore or Phnom Penh, rather than Vietnam. And some can be just as mercenary as Thai girls. I used to know this beautiful Viet lady living in Saigon who had an American expat boyfriend, but was also receiving money from an Aussie and a Frenchman at the same time.
Where's the barfining happening?
Regarding girls who allegedly get barfined 2, 3 or even 4 times a night, I certainly didn't witness it this past week. Normally, I frequent Shark Bar. I'm usually there from 10 PM – 2 AM. I watch the show, buy a couple of ladies drinks etc. I like French Frank who is honest enough (for a bar owner) and have never had an issue with padded bills or overzealous mamasans. With the exception of a hostess who said she would barfine herself and pestered me for 30 minutes, I never had an issue in the place. What I will say though is that I rarely see barfines getting paid. I have no idea who actually takes these girls. Take last Saturday – I must have sat through 10 rounds of shuffling on stage and no change in line-up. I am incredibly picky when it comes to women. It's a rare day when a gogo girl can turn my head. I like white skin, European features and big titties. I had my eye on one girl in Shark. Blonde hair, fake titties and a good nose job, Japanese-style. In my eyes 9/10. Fake, but 9/10. I had my eye on her all night. I bought her a couple of drinks. Not once did I see arguably the best gogo dancer I've seen in years being barfined. No-one took her. 2 AM came, she waied me and left. This was repeated the next night. Strange, given all the talk of multiple customers. As for the ugly girls, I have no idea how they pay the bills.
You buy me drink?
A few days ago I went to a bar which had just opened up at the far end of the street of girls. I sat down and ordered a beer. A mid-30s lady came up, sat down and typed away on her phone. She then looked up and said, "The girls in this bar don't go with customers. You buy me a drink?" "Right, so the deal is I pay 180 baht to watch you play on a mobile phone?" She turned back to the phone and carried on typing. I suppose that was value for money, really. I could have paid 180 baht for the excitement. What happened to friendly girls of the past? I would sit down, get a frozen face wipe, a quick back rub and have a girl nibble my ear, irresistibly ask for a drink and give me her undivided attention for an hour or so with not a bloody mobile phone in sight. Only in my memories, I suppose.
My dog, the mother of our puppies, disappeared on Friday night. She often stays out overnight and likes to lay in the driveway near the road, and I'm hoping that someone stopped and stole her. Then she might be well looked after. There is absolutely no way she would have just walked away. She loved playing with the puppies and that night when we returned from dinner she was jumping up and licking like dogs do. An alternative is that she was stolen to be sold to Laos or Vietnam for eating. Apparently they just scoop them up in a big net. It does seem that she wasn't hit by a car as there is no sign of a body and she's pretty savvy with traffic, but then my wife has seen someone take a dead dog near our house to be used for food before the owner could collect it. The worst thing is not knowing what has happened. I really, really don't like this, and laying out four bowls of food instead of five made me physically sick on Saturday.
How common is recklessness?
I did some stupid stuff on my last visit. I f***ed 3 girls without protection. First time for me. I take testosterone and antibiotics so no children or STDs for me. I know you hate this. In a couple more bars I stopped the girl at the very last moment. Is this common?
Brow-beaten at the airport.
The brow beating by Thai officialdom begins before you even leave the airport. There are now A5 size notices on the Immigration windows declaring that it is "unwise" to have an image of Buddha on clothes or tattoos, etc. Leaving the Customs area there is a big hanging poster saying the same.
It is with huge sadness that I report that the grand dame of Bangkok nightlife is no longer with us. Mama Noi, the immensely popular CheckInn99 figure, passed away this morning. Mama Noi was 76 years old and had been a popular figure in Bangkok nightlife for more than 50 years.
A Thai Village Festival Party was held last night in CheckInn99. It was Mama Noi's suggestion, and was described as one of the most fun nights the bar has had. Mama Noi was the life of the party and enjoyed herself immensely.
At 9 AM this morning she was not well and rang a close friend to come. Unfortunately, she passed away before they arrived.
Checkinn99 will hold a special wake in Mama Noi's honour tomorrow night – Monday, February 1st, at 8 PM with a very special purpose. Recently Mama Noi shared her wish with the custodians of CheckInn99 that they set up some form of support fund / bursary for young ladies who need help / support in the way she needed it when she arrived in Bangkok nearly 56 years ago. The wake will also feature a slide show of her history. Details of funeral rights and the cremation will be announced on Checkinn99.com.
The interview with Mama Noi published in this column in May, 2012, was one of the most popular columns ever and Mama Noi was overwhelmed by the number of Stickman readers who ventured to CheckInn99 to meet her. Some nights, two or three Stickman readers would turn up to meet her and many months after the interview she would delight in telling me how many people were still coming in to see her. To all readers who made the effort to stop by and introduce themselves, and who allowed Mama Noi to share her life story with you, thank you. She delighted in the attention and was made to feel very special.
Mama Noi combined charm and dignity with a cheeky and flirtatious manner that endeared her to everyone. May she rest in peace.
Mama Noi, in CheckInn99, May, 2012.
Some punters may say that there is a danger in going with bargirls. And they're right, there absolutely is – from valuables being pilfered to contracting an STD to bargirls doing drugs and having them in their possession, the list is long. But what is seldom mentioned is that there is a similar danger for girls every time they go with a customer. A lady from a Patpong bar found this out the hard way this week. At around 11:15 PM this past Tuesday, January 26th, a dancer from Club Electric Blue in Patpong was barfined by a customer who was known as a regular in the bar. Just a few steps from the bar she was assaulted by that guy and suffered serious injuries including a broken jaw which required a stay in hospital. Amazingly, this incident took place just steps from the bar's entrance. Details are a little sketchy, but what is believed to have happened is that the lady walked outside the bar with the customer and was at the steps which lead to the car park building. She stopped and said that she wanted to eat her Mama noodles which it is assumed she was either carrying from the bar or had just bought. The guy got angry, threw her to the ground, slammed her head on to the steps then poured the hot noodles over her head. Stills taken from CCTV cameras in the bar show the man. He is described as English-speaking, around 175 cm tall and is big, possibly around 120 kg. He was in the bar on his own. As he is a regular in the bar it is assumed that he is an expat. After 17 years of running bars in Thailand, this is the first time owner Andy has seen anything like this. A reward of 20,000 baht is offered for information leading to the identity of this guy. If you recognise him from the photos, or perhaps know who he is – people often talk – get in touch with Andy at Club Electric Blue.
MILFS on the ground floor of Nana Plaza has not been a hit and will undergo a change of format. Brand new 9-foot Brunswick pool tables have been ordered as it is rethemed as a sexy pool bar. You will be able to shoot pool with girls in skirts but without panties. Pool will be free for customers.
The operator of Nana Plaza is trying to get high-speed internet hooked up in the plaza. The idea is to get a fast connection to the office on the top floor and then split the connection to all the bars in the plaza and provide each with a net connection. Accessing the net on your mobile phone can be spotty in the back of some bars, especially bars on the middle and ground floor so a fast wireless connection would be great. Customers who can't find what they're looking for can get online and book an escort while the girls will be able to use their mobile phone between dance shifts and communicate with their sponsors in the West. Seriously, if this wi-fi connection happens, it could make the girls even more standoffish than they are already.
The Den in Patpong is a leader in what I suspect may be the next area bars target to increase revenue – tiered barfine pricing. But there's tiered barfine prices in some venues already, I hear you say, with one rate for the dancers and other rates for wait staff or showgirls. The barfine price system at The Den in Patpong is different again and depends on how long you wish to take the lady from the bar. The Den was initially promoted as a freelancer venue, which implies there is no barfine. But this is not the case at all. The barfine for taking a lady short-time is 600 baht and you are limited to (a very reasonable) two hours. Long-time barfines run 1,500 baht if you take the lady before midnight, or 1,000 baht if you take her after midnight. If you choose to use a room on the premises, 500 baht gives you one hour. And just to really confuse matters, The Den is yet another venue where not all of the girls boom boom. How long will it be before other bars introduce similar tiered barfine rates?
It's no secret that before Hooters opened in Nana Plaza some opportunistic recruitment agents went through the plaza trying to entice girls to work in Hooters. More rules and a lower salary meant it was always going to be a hard sell. Apparently, the recruiters were on a commission and made all sorts of claims, as incentivised salespeople are wont to do. Now there is speculation about whether any of the Hooters girls used to work across the road. A couple of readers claim they know staff from the Soi Nana branch of Hooters who used to work across the road whereas the management of Nana Plaza insist that none of the Hooters girls used to work in Nana. Who's right? It seems to be something of a sore point and the manager of Hooters has been told not to recruit inside Nana or else. Umm, errr, it's hardly illegal! It's more difficult than ever to recruit pretty girls and operators are becoming very protective. When it comes to staff, some are almost like drug dealers protecting their patch.
Different gogo bars have a different vibe and often a different strategy. The Thai-owned Rainbow bars, for example, make money on barfines as some girls go multiple times per night. They aren't concerned about whether you buy them a drink or not and they are used to some customers (often Asian) pointing to a girl dancing and barfining her based entirely on her looks, without saying a single word to her. Other bars strive to keep customers in the bar so they spend more on drinks – Angelwitch would be a good example. It is of course a generalisation, but farang-owned bars are more about getting punters to stick around whereas Thai-owned bars tend to be more about turning the girls over.
I had the following paragraph lined up for the column until I was made aware that early closing has hit some parts of Bangkok again: "That most of the bars in Nana Plaza and plenty in Soi Cowboy and Patpong are open until 3 AM is attributed as having a negative effect on trade in the late night bars. Late night spots traditionally appealed because everywhere else had closed, but the extra hour that many are now open makes a big difference and some late night venues are feeling the pinch." Word is that both Soi Cowboy and Patpong are being closed at 1 AM, a full 2 hours earlier than usual. What the real reason for the early closure is, we can only speculate. How this will affect late-night venues, again, I am not sure. Sigh, not being on the ground in Bangkok makes it more difficult to follow up on this sort of thing. As a reminder, each of Patpong, Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy are in different police districts (Bangkok has 50 police districts) and bar closure times are enforced by the local constabulary, hence closing times are not uniform across the city.
While Spanky's Pattaya closed a couple of months back, the owner retained the property and changed format to a ladyboy bar, Katoeys Are Us. The venue features ladyboy shows every 45 minutes starting at 8:45 PM, and the performers are said to be much more energetic than girly show bars. Happy hour runs from 8 PM – 10 PM when all drinks are 2 for 1 and from midnight until closing it's buy one, get one draft beer. What sets Katoeys Are Us apart is that some of the girls from Tiffany go to the bar after they finish at Tiffany. They arrive at Katoeys Are Us around 11:00 PM and are on stage performing shows at 11:45. These are real deal professional showgirls. And if you're still not convinced to check it out, as a friend once said, You can't call yourself a 'real monger' until you've been blown by a Thai ladyboy! If you've yet to get your monger's badge, do drop by Katoeys Are Us is in Soi Diamond.
Bar bosses are lousy at marketing and letting punters know what's on offer in their bar and how it's different from the competition. Take MILFS in Nana Plaza, for example. If you don't know what that crass acronym stands for, it's Mothers-I'd-Like-To-Fxxx. The concept was that MILFs would have older ladies, something I personally thought was an excellent idea. Older as in ladies aged in their mid 30s, and not "old" per se. I'm in no doubt that there is a market for that but given that the average punter prefers bars with an average age somewhat lower, the venue really needed to promote what they were about and engage their target market. I don't know that they managed that. Likewise show bars. Walk in to a bar with chrome poles and even long-timers may not know what the bar's concept is. Is it a regular gogo bar? Is it a show bar? Is there a mix of ladies and ladyboys? Are all / some / none of the ladies barfineable? Why don't more bars have signage outside with a few key points such as whether it's a show bar – and if it is, what time the shows are etc. And why don't bars that are ladyboy-free make a better effort to communicate that? A simple sign saying "This bar is a ladyboy-free zone" wouldn't hurt! It's ridiculous that some bars have signs outside that say no weapons and no drugs yet don't promote what the bar is all about. Pretty much all bar owners could do a whole lot better marketing their venue.
Why do some expats claim to be fluent in Thai when they most certainly are not? And why do they include such nonsense in their profile on a company website? What an embarrassment it must be to claim that you're fluent in a language and later people realise you're not. Business is about confidence – which is partly built through honesty – but how can someone be confident if you make silly claims? Claiming fluency in Thailand is amazingly common.
Finally, there is some clarification on why some people are getting challenged at Immigration after visiting the country a number of times on visa waiver stamps. There had been much confusion because some people reported being asked questions after x number of visits while others claimed to have visited just as many times without so much as a word said. A visa run company advises that the Immigration computer system has a system alert feature which flags any traveller who has spent 90 days or more in Thailand in a calendar year on visa waiver stamps. It would seem that the number of entries someone makes to Thailand on such stamps is not relevant – but the total period of time spent in country is. If a flag comes up it seems the Immigration officer must ascertain your reasons for visiting and then has to make the decision whether to allow you entry or not. It seems that generally they will tell you that this time it's ok but next time you enter you must have a visa. I am not aware of anything official being announced by Immigration nor does there appear to be anything in the Immigration Act about it – but then there needn't be. Anyone who spends so much time in a country other than their own should expect to be asked about their travel plans. This applies only for time spent in Thailand on visa waiver stamps i.e. those who arrive without a visa. If you have a visa in your passport this does not count towards the 90 days in a calendar year and there won't be an alert.
To those who insist Thailand is not getting the tourist numbers the government claims, how do you explain the long queues at both Bangkok airports as well as in Phuket? Word is if at busy times, the queues are longer than ever.
One explanation for why Thais may have difficulty understanding foreigners speaking Thai when just a tone or two is out is that it's because they don't expect foreigners to speak their language. When Farang opens his mouth the average Thai prepares themselves to decipher English so unless the spoken Thai is spot on they are not expecting it and are caught off guard. It sounds plausible to me.
Reader story of the week comes from Pretender, "Nerds And Ladyboys Are A Natural Fit For Each Other".
Thailand embarks on mass surveillance of social media as Somchai is insistent that online you play by his rules.
A Brit dies in Thailand after drinking a massive amount of alcohol.
If the curtain is about to fall, what would you like to be doing when you check out? A Kiwi in Phuket goes out in style.
A ladyboy in Pattaya gets 2 months imprisonment for throwing her flatmate's dog off a balcony to its death.
A video of a walk around Pattaya featuring sois 6 and 6/1 and many Thai ladyboys causes a stir on Facebook.
A photo essay of a container village for migrant workers in Samut Prakan ran in The Guardian this week.
A long-running feud between two Pattaya gogo dancers ends up in a fight outside the bar and one stabbed with a corkscrew!
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'm a retired American with assets in 2 Thai banks. I have a US will but have not executed a Thai will. I have heard anecdotal stories of the heirs of expats having trouble getting access to assets from Thailand in cases where the account holder has passed away. I have sufficient assets in the US that my estate would require probate. My question is whether there is any way to organize the transfer of assets in Thailand to a beneficiary designated on the account, such as "payable upon death to ________", or designate a power of attorney over the account. I assume it is always prudent to have a Thai will?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Under Thai law, if you die without a Thai will then inheritance is according to Thai law : So, if you have no children and no spouse it would go to your parents etc.
Level 1 – your children and his spouse.
Level 2 – your parents.
Level 3 – your brothers and sisters of full blood.
Level 4 – your brothers and sisters of half blood.
Level 5 – your Grandfathers and grandmothers.
Level 6 – your uncles and aunts.
Your parent will also be upgraded to Level 1 beneficiaries.
In addition to the spouse's entitlement for the marital assets, she will also be considered as the Level 1 beneficiary.
If you have assets in Thailand then you need to have a Thai will to ensure that your Thai assets are distributed according to your wishes. You cannot instruct the bank on how to distribute them after your death – that is what the will is for. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in assisting foreign residents draft and register wills so that their assets will be distributed according to their wishes. Please be aware that a Thai will does not cover assets outside the country. For that you need a separate will drafted in that country to cover those assets.
This week I found myself in the Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of New Zealand's north island. It's a lovely part of the country with fabulous weather, food & wine. I made my way to the top of Mata Peak where you get fantastic views across the region. Just a few others were milling around, taking in the views when the serenity was broken by a familiar ring tone. I didn't register at first that it was not a standard iPhone ring tone, nor was it a common Samsung or Nokia tune. I recognised it but couldn't place it. It was a sound I used to hear often in Thailand….and then the penny dropped, it was the distinctive ring tone of a call being made on the Line app – which is ultra popular in Thailand. I looked across and saw that the phone belonged to a Maori guy with an enormous belly. I resumed looking through the camera viewfinder taking photos when I realised something was not right. Someone was speaking Thai, not great Thai, but definitely Thai. I looked in the Maori dude's direction and he was having a conversation with someone in Thai. I tried not to tune in to what he was saying but intrigued, it was impossible not to. Obviously he was chatting with his special someone. When he ended the call I walked over and surprised him as much as he had surprised me by greeting him in Thai and complimenting on his linguistic ability. We got to chatting and it turns out he rents a house in the north-east of Thailand and had basically checked out of life, living a rustic lifestyle in Thailand because, in his words, New Zealand was a giant rip-off. Who would have thought that on top of a mountain in far flung provincial New Zealand I would overhear a fellow countryman of mine speaking Thai with his beloved in Nongkhai?