Last week's photo was taken from Bangkok's Suwannaphum Airport, overlooking the garden from the domestic flight gates cafeteria area / food court. Note, I want to know where this week's photo was taken from, not necessarily what is in the background!
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 – Back in the saddle again…
I noted with interest the link last week to a story about a 68-year-old New Zealander dying while in bed with a Phuket sex worker. This cause of death seems to be one of Thailand's best kept secrets, because the truth seems to be that hundreds of foreign men die “in the saddle” (as it once was called) on holiday here every year. What made last week's story unusual was that it happened in the sex worker's home, rather than in the john's apartment or hotel room, thereby making it difficult for the woman to do what most do in such a situation: flee, leaving the dead customer behind, heart stopped by a pre-existing cardio-vascular problem (which may not have been diagnosed), enhanced by chemicals and unaccustomed physical exertion. A couple of years ago I met someone on the staff of the US Embassy whose primary job was notifying the next of kin of their husband's (father's, brother's, etc.) death and then helping the survivors handle the red tape once they arrived in Bangkok (or not) and shipping the bodies home. In all cases, death was due to a heart attack in bed and in virtually all there was an open package of an erectile dysfunction drug (Viagra or one of its competitors) nearby. The man from the US Embassy told me it was rare there wasn't a week without at least one and in one memorable week, he said he had four deaths alone at a hotel in the Nana area. And this is just the Americans! Quoting from webmd.com: “ Impotence is common among men with heart problems. So common, in fact, that erectile dysfunction is increasingly being recognized as an early warning sign for heart disease. Heart patients are often treated with drugs called oral nitrates, such as Nitro-Dur and Isordil, in addition to other medications. Men on nitrates cannot take erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis because the combination can cause dangerous drops in blood pressure.” Other reputable websites will confirm. A chemical stimulant commonly known as Poppers has as its main ingredient a “nitrite” rather than a “nitrate” but has the same effect. This recreational drug has been leaving corpses in its path dating back to the gay bathhouse scene of the pre-AIDS 1980s. To my knowledge, they are not sold in Thailand, but are still available in the US and much of Europe and, of course, are widely available on the Net. Be warned.
Ladyboys and non-disclosure.
There is a bar in Pattaya that has a sign that reads "There are no ladyboys in this bar." However, it's placed inside the bar, facing away from the street, where only people inside the bar can see it. So maybe there's a reason for not placing it where people on the street can see it, for fear of angering ladyboys and ladyboy fans who would interpret it as discriminatory and might take things to an undesired level to punish said bar for displaying such a sign. Personally, I like your idea of disclosing what a bar is all about.
It's cheaper at home.
In the USA we have many apps that lead to free sex. There are not as many people travelling for the sake of sex like in the pre internet days. Thailand used to be the mysterious sexy place that we only dreamed of visiting. Lonely men heard of the fantasy and when they went they were in a small club of people visiting an exotic land. Fast forward to about 2000 and there was info online for newbies. The secret was out. Now we have an entire generation who grew up with info online and nothing hidden. Videos and websites that 20-somethings and even 30-somethings have spent over a decade seeing. Now sex at home is cheaper. Craigslist girls offer sex for free as girls take naked pics of themselves and you can get sex that night with a non working girl. I have read about the sex clubs in Europe that offer sex for one entry price – and even a drink and snacks included! Thailand is still a vacation destination. There are millions of Instagram pics and Facebook sites saying come to Thailand but the bad side is also out there for all to see. More people want ladyboy shows than the secret sex world. Many western girls are trekking to the sex areas to look. The hardcore will still find a secret place but the bars in general will never be the draw they used to be. Tourist central is the future.
Why limit how long a visitor stays?
If Immigration is flagging those who stay 90 days without a visa during a 12-month period, what's the ultimate objective? Is it to generate more visa fees or is it simply to limit the time individual visitors spend in the Kingdom? Or is it somehow aimed at getting more well-heeled tourists to replace the more frequent visitors? Whatever the objective, I don't see how it's working out. There's no doubt that many people are arriving at the main international airports but that doesn't seem reflected in upper end hotel prices. A random check on Agoda for check-in on February 29 finds the following rates at popular 4 and 5-star properties: La Meridian Silom, $111; Dusit Thani, $91; Banyan Tree, $135; Grand Hyatt, $135; Marriott Mayfair, $96; Hilton Sukhumvit, $114. When I was regularly visiting the city a few years back, these prices would have been about 25% higher. The great hordes coming to Bangkok must be staying elsewhere in the country or occupying lower-tier properties. Immigration's effort doesn't appear to be translating in to attracting more high-spending visitors. I may be missing something, but if tourism is the one area of the economy that seems to be working, it would seem logical that you'd want to increase the number of frequent visitors.
The last two times I've taken a taxi from Suvarnabhumi Airport I've encountered the same situation. When I sit down in the taxi, I look for the meter. I don't see it, so I ask the driver where it is. He flips up the end of a small towel spread out on top of the meter, with the end covering the display. Both times the meter had apparently not been reset from the previous fare, displaying over 100 baht in each instance, to which my fare would have been added. In the first instance the driver apologised and reset the meter quickly. In the second instance the driver got a bit angry until I yelled at him to stop the car. He calmed down, offered a muffled apology, and we continued the journey.
The Thai government has been making changes to its visa policies, and one of the changes it made was to create an online application process for Visa-On-Arrival. It seems like a great idea, so I tried to use it on a recent trip. Huge mistake. After I handed in the printed online-VOA form, I was waved aside to wait. And wait. And wait. People who were behind me in line got their passports back and I kept waiting. It was ~30 minutes later before I finally got my passport back. The agent who simply stamped form after form had no idea what the new-fangled online-VOA was and a supervisor who showed up eventually had to deal with it. Even though the Thai Immigration Bureau is trying to push the improved approach, the staff at the airport wasn't trained to implement it. Unfortunately, this is par for the course when it comes to Thais trying out new ideas. Oftentimes, the idea is good but the follow-through is terrible.
20 baht guest fee.
I am staying at the Ambassador on soi 11. It is listed as a "girl-friendly hotel". It has started charging 20 baht to bring a woman to your room. I have a female friend – not a lover – living in Bangkok who had to pay 20 baht to come with me when I changed to sneakers in my room. I later had to put her on the room register in order to let her come with me from time to time and, to pick me up for shopping. Another guest almost had to pay security 20 baht to take a copy of his passport so that he could bring a guest. He laughed and told them they could go and look at the copy already at reception and he did not have to pay.
With Darel's ongoing difficulties, it's all downhill at Dollhouse, Soi Cowboy.
One of the biggest brand names in the business, Dollhouse in Thailand dates back to 2000. The first Dollhouse branch in Clinton Plaza followed by locations on Walking Street and Soi Cowboy as the owners built on the brand's success. Many of us have fond memories from Dollhouse over the years when they were the home of the original Nanapong dance contests, to Miss Noi AKA double-D number 33, to the fiasco in the weeks before Clinton Plaza closed when the seats in Dollhouse were moved on to the stage and the girls danced where the seats used to be! Central to Dollhouse's success has been its co-founder, Darel. But the popular American has had a tough time of it recently, his personal problems getting the odd mention in this column. Unfortunately these issues have had an impact on the bar and Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy has closed for the time being. The dolls finally decided they had had enough of Darel's recent eccentricities and the entire female staff walked out following a meeting this past Monday. The previous Friday, the popular Welsh manager departed. Desperate to keep the goldmine going, a handful of day-rate coyotes responded to an SOS call on Tuesday by Darel. They lasted just one night. On Wednesday Darel was at the bar, alone for the most part, puttering around as if it was going to be a normal night. But anyone sticking their head in Dollhouse found an empty bar. The bar had not been cleaned and was a mess. Come Thursday night the bar was locked and the lights were off. Ditto Friday. On Saturday night one of the doors was open while the other was barricaded with barstools. There was some traffic in and out of the bar, Darel telling some it was a private party with a $2,000 charge per head. I wouldn't be surprised if he said that Elvis was on stage performing a duo with Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe was doing a strip tease. The water supply has been turned off and the smell of urine from the men's room upstairs is only going to get worse. Some of the Dollhouse troop have sought employment elsewhere with Jail Birdz on Nana's top floor the major beneficiary. Darel posted on Facebook on Thursday that he would be seeing everyone in the Spring, which some took to mean he was going to take some time out, but come Saturday night he was back in the bar. No-one knows what Darel will do next and really, anything is possible.
Dollhouse's problems could affect Soi Cowboy which – let's be frank – only has a small number of genuinely good gogo bars. Pretty neon on the outside doesn't mean a great bar on the inside. With Dollhouse closed for the time being, that's one fewer decent bar. You'd think that with Dollhouse closed other bars in Cowboy would benefit but that's logical thinking – something best avoided in Thailand. Fewer decent bars in Cowboy is just as likely to cause folks to go elsewhere i.e. Nana where there are more good bars to choose.
The aggressive hello girls outside bars in Soi Cowboy will do what they can to get punters inside. One guy was a human rope in a tug of war between bars on opposite sides of the soi this week as girls from one side pulled on one arm trying to get him in their bar while girls from the bar opposite pulled on his other arm. Fun if you're in the mood, annoying if you're not.
Early closing hit Soi Cowboy this week and other bars in the immediate vicinity with venues ordered closed at 1 AM. Even Penalty Spot on the main Sukhumvit Road was forced to close its doors at 1 AM.
Early closures transcended police districts last night with bars in Queens Park Plaza closed earlier than usual and Equality on the ground floor of Nana raided around 4 AM – which sounds late, but is early for a venue which peaks long after everywhere else has closed.
Cowboy was described as slow this week and while some bars are doing ok, multiple reports have it that trade was noticeably slower this past week on Sukhumvit in general. The word is that while there are fewer Westerners about, the shortfall of white faces is more than made up for by Chinese and those from other parts of the world.
Still in Soi Cowboy, minor internal renovations are taking place at Long Gun which seems to be in a perpetual state of improvements – but never really looks any different!
Has popup hit the gogo bar industry? A mini chrome pole bar has popped up on Sukhumvit Road, the first time such a bar has been seen on the main Sukhumvit drag in many years. Everything is so new at Hot Licks Bar & Pool, a hole-in-the-wall between sois 5 and 7 (near the soi 5 end), even the young women who shimmy in shorts and modest bikinis seem almost innocent; there are no stiletto heels and thigh-high boots, they dance barefoot and between sets slip on rubber flip flops. In a block better known for CheckInn99 as well as the 24-hour Nuch ladyboy massage parlor and a lineup of sidewalk alco-carts (along with a Starbucks and a McDonald's), the bar offers eight dancers, cheap beer (80 baht) and barfines (500 baht), four poles, 15 stools and, upstairs, two pool tables.
Rio in Soi Cowboy has been closed for a couple of weeks. Rio is, of course, one of the Arab's bars and with the Arab's unusual practices and policies it is not known whether the closure is related to his recent policy of closing a bar when he doesn't have many girls and consolidating them in to a smaller number of bars, or perhaps there is some other reason.
The building less than a hundred metres up Sukhumvit soi 7 on the left that housed, briefly, the ill-fated ThaiVisa bar, now forms an elbow-shaped area of wreckage that includes The Tunnel, where no progress can be reported. With demolition now on two sides, being in the Check-In Bar – the ladyboy lounge, or Country Road – the live rock venue, both still operating in the ground floor of the 7 Inn short-time hotel, is reminiscent of London during the blitz, when your favourite pub was in the only building still standing on the block.
From down Pattaya way, I was surprised to hear that Super Baby, the long-running and once uber popular Soi Diamond gogo bar, closed this week. Super Baby has been around forever and hired some of the most attractive ladies in the business.
And Pussy Galore – another long-running bar – in Soi Pattayaland 1 closed too! For bars like Super Baby and Pussy Galore to close at the start of February – at the end of the busiest month of the year – strongly suggests the high season has been a disappointment.
A reader tells me more Pattaya beer bars are charging 500 baht for the barfine, intimating this is the new standard. It's a year since I was in Pattaya and a few years since I stepped in to a beer bar so I have no idea. But for sure, the days of 200 baht barfines and 1,000 baht long-times being standard beer bar pricing are very much in the past.
A handful of readers alerted me to a post on a popular Bangkok expats Facebook page where yet another guy has reported that he was stopped by the cops and searched on Sukhumvit soi 26 – the same general area where foreigners have been stopped and searched by police in recent years.
I don't know if a fetish house is the sort of establishment one typically celebrates Chinese New Year, but why not? Demonia in Sukhumvit soi 33 is Bangkok's longest running fetish bar, having opened way back in 2003. It will celebrate Chinese New Year in a way that only a fetish bar can. Think restraints, whips, eerie music, dim light and general monkey business to celebrate the year of the monkey.
The concept of sponsorship – men sending money to a bargirl to support her in exchange for her not working and staying exclusive to him – is becoming a thing of the past. With many bargirls refusing to do long-time, there is little opportunity for any attachment to grow. Fewer sponsors will have a negative effect on ladies' income, right? I doubt it. Bar ladies have various income streams including their salary from the bar, commissions on lady drinks, commissions on barfines, commissions at short time hotels and payment for services rendered. Stipends sent from abroad by sponsors can be significant sums, but such customers – the ladies still see them as a customer – tend to be needy and can take up so much of a girl's time that she can easily rationalise the method preferred by ladies today of doing multiple short-times a night instead of going long-time.
Reports from readers have it that if your flight arrives in Bangkok at busy times, the queues at Immigration may be very long. Some readers mentioned that it seemed like fewer desks were manned by Immigration staff than you would expect. Whether this is a contributing factor to the long queues or it's simply a case of many flights arriving at the same time is not known.
The popular Sukhumvit soi 38 street food scene is no longer and demolition of the row of shophouses on the right side of soi 38 where most of the popular street vendors were located has started. Some vendors can be found in the open space that was the ground floor of the Sutti Mansion Apartment building, on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 38 – but is it the same? There's rather a difference between dining on a lively soi under the skies and being crammed in to the ground level lobby / parking area of an apartment building. The spoil sports now want to get rid of the flower market by the river, or Bark Klong Dalat as it is known in Thai, another market with a rich history. These markets / street food alleys set Bangkok apart from other big cities. I don't wish to live permanently in the past, but they are a real loss.
Speaking of traditional Thai-style places, do you have any favourite places – be they bars, restaurants, shops or whatever – that can be described as truly Thai, and without international influences? I was asked this question recently by someone keen to experience parts of Bangkok they hadn't seen before, places which are typically Thai and which you wouldn't find outside Thailand. And you know what? I couldn't think of any, at least not in Bangkok. I have a few favourite Thai style restaurants around the countryside / in far flung provinces but in Bangkok, no. I like the old part of the city, the Chao Praya Express Boat (even if it is horribly overcrowded with foreign visitors these days) and even the Saen Saeb Canal Boat is a fun reminder of old Bangkok, but those aside, there's not a lot that I can think of in Bangkok that is unmistakably Thai. Some of the older hotels in Isaan I like, especially properties that have Thai style decorations in the lobby with traditional Thai murals and restaurants that haven't changed in decades, where the waiters are gracious and done up in a bow tie. Do you have to venture further afield these days for a truly authentic Thai experience?
What's happening on the ground with the enforcement of traffic laws? I hear that most cops won't entertain the idea of taking a backhander. So just like 200 baht beer bar barfines, are the days of slipping 100 baht on the sly to a copper over? It would be interesting to hear first-hand reports from the ground.
Quote of the week made me laugh, "Bangkok is lifestyle suicide for most Western men."
Reader's story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "Look for the Girl With the Sun in Her Eyes and She's Gone".
The Thai wife of a Dane jumps to her death from View Talay Condominium in Jomtien.
A Brit is gored to death by an elephant on Ko Samui.
32 senior citizens in Pattaya playing the card game bridge were surprised when their club of 22 years was raided by police, army and local district officials before they were taken to the cop shop.
Dubbed the butcher of Bangkok, a Spaniard is accused in the murder and dismembering of a fellow countryman whose body is found in the Chao Praya River.
A large residential home in Bangkok which resembled an entire apartment building was engulfed in flames on Friday.
Phuket police confirm that they retain foreigners' passports as long as they see fit when carrying out an investigation.
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: Pursuant to the question about wills and banks in Thailand, how compliant are banks in releasing funds? To qualify for an O-A visa, I need to deposit about THB 500,000 – and the rest from my superannuation pension to make up the funds. First, how can I open a bank account before the O-A visa process begins? Second, if one expires whilst in Thailand, assuming a valid Thai will as advised, with the exact name of my son and daughter specified as beneficiaries, how do the two children go about obtaining that THB 500,000? Would they need to get a lawyer and the original will and actually rock up to the branch where the deposit is held? Would they need to travel together? Or can the funds be released to them whilst they're in Australia?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Banks in Thailand will only release funds to the owner of the account when he / she processes the withdrawal in person with the bank account passbook. Exceptions could be made if the owner of the account (the authorized signature) endorses the back of the withdrawal form (which is a Power Of Attorney). Please be reminded that bank would not be able secure your funds if the withdrawals were processed through the ATM, that is if you happen to give your ATM card and password over to another individual.
As for your visa, there are two options: a Non-Immigrant O-A long stay visa that is issued overseas by a Thai Embassy or Consulate and has some very specific requirements to obtain. This visa is valid for one year and most likely the Embassy would accept your bank account in Australia as proof. You can also apply for a single entry non-O visa overseas and then apply for an extension of one-year based on retirement. With this single entry non-O visa, you can open a bank account in Thailand. In general, banks allow foreigners with a non-Immigrant visa to open accounts but some banks may allow it with a tourist visa. This is a branch by branch situation, however.
So if the Thai Embassy / Consulate accepted your visa application and granted you a Non-Immigrant “O-A” visa based on you providing your bank account information in Australia, you should then open a personal account with any bank in Thailand on your arrival. You should then start the money transfer (from your offshore account in to your account in Thailand) the funds amount equivalent to or greater than 800,000 Baht as required by the Immigration. This would enable you to extend this retirement visa in Thailand.
For an account in Thailand, if the owner of the account is deceased, the beneficiary should report the death to the bank. The bank will then freeze the account until the authorized Executor gets in touch with the bank and either closes the account or retains the funds. This would stop anyone from being able to access the account with the ATM card. Occasionally, the bank may release the funds to the spouse of the owner but more likely they would freeze the account and wait for the executor.
In order for the beneficiary to get hold of funds, an executor must be appointed by the court in Thailand. It would be the official executor's responsibility to approach the government and / or private sectors in reclaiming whatever assets that are in the deceased party's name and to either distribute them to the beneficiaries in accordance to the will or equally (if there is no will) or to liquidate the non-liquid assets and to distribute the funds derived from the liquidation to the beneficiary(ies) accordingly.
In order to be appointed as the executor, the designated candidate must attend the court in person. The beneficiaries do not have to attend court as long as each have provided the designated candidate for the executorship with a letter of consent and their statement that they have no objection to this court appointment.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors strongly advises drafting a will in Thailand to appoint your executor and to name beneficiaries so that funds are distributed according to your wishes.
Question 2: I'm currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments via oral medication. Occasionally, I experience pain that requires pain relief, most notably Oxycodone 10 mg. I have read differing requirements on this, one requirement is a small amount not to exceed 3 grams is legal (Oslo Treaty?) while another requirement is the application and successful issuance of a permit from the Thai government to carry such a drug. As an opiate and with Thailand's strict reputation towards opiates, I need clarification. Both require a letter from the physician who issued the prescription, its intended use and frequency as well as why it's being used. Can Sunbelt Legal interpret the legal requirement for such a drug? I wouldn't plan on carrying more than 4 pills (less than a gram).
Sunbelt Legal responds: According to the Ministerial Regulation from the Ministry of Public Health (effective as of September 29th, 2009), travelers travelling to Thailand under medical treatment are allowed to carry medication containing narcotic drugs in Category 2 for personal treatment in a quantity not exceeding 30 times of the prescribed usage and must follow the applicable regulations strictly.
You are also required to obtain a permit, Form IC-2, issued by the Food and Drug Administration prior to travelling to Thailand. It must be completed two weeks before the arrival date.
You will also need to attach the medical prescription by your doctor indicating the following:
1. The name and address of the patient.
2. The identified medical condition.
3. The names of the medications and the reason that those medications were prescribed for the patient's treatment.
4. The dosage and total amount of medications prescribed.
5. The name, address and license number of the prescribing physician.
The traveler will also need a certificate issued by the competent authority of the country of departure to confirm the patient's legal authority to carry medications for personal use. The abovementioned documents and information needs to be submitted to:
Narcotics Control Division
Food and Drug Administration
Ministry of Public Health
Nonthaburi 11000, Thailand
Tel: 66 2590 7346
Fax: 66 2591 8471
If you send email or fax, note that the original documents must also be sent as a follow by postal service or courier.
At times it can be frustrating writing this column from so far away, particularly when it comes to covering bar news. Where once I roamed Bangkok's bar areas, camera over the shoulder, pad and pen in my pocket – smartphones weren't even thought of when I started writing the weekly roundup – today I am reliant on others to be my eyes and ears. My network of contacts spans bar owners, bar managers, friends and readers. Most I know, a few I have not even met. In the case of bar owners and bar managers, I usually take them at their word. If they tell me about what is going on in their bar or that bar area, who am I to question it? Other reports I have to verify, and this can be time consuming. In the case of newsbytes that mightn't show a venue in a positive light, bar bosses can be reluctant to verify them or may even refute them when they are in fact true. What that means is that from time to time misinformation makes it in to the column. It happened when I was in Bangkok and it happens when I write from afar. Same, same. I do my very best to verify everything but sometimes errors or misinformation slip through. It's regrettable, it's darn near unavoidable and it's immensely frustrating.
Your Bangkok commentator,