My Old Soi
Thailand may not have been colonised but tell me of a neighbourhood in Bangkok which doesn't have foreign residents, or a soi where a stream of white faces don't traipse up and down daily. As the number of foreigners resident in Thailand continues to rise, long gone are the days when farang were concentrated in certain areas, most within the proximity of downtown. Today, where is the best place for a foreigner to live in Bangkok?
I never thought I would like living in the farang neighbourhood of Sukhumvit and resisted it for years. For a long time I had the idea in my head that Sukhumvit was full of hookers, over-priced restaurants, and about as untypically Thai as you could find within Thailand's borders. When I eventually relented and moved to Sukhumvit, I quickly came to like it. The best place I lived in all of Bangkok was Sukhumvit soi 16. I never realised how ideal it would be for me and within days of moving there I was sold on soi 16.
In a city with horrible traffic, location is a big deal. I'm not aware of anywhere designated the official centre of Bangkok. You could argue that it's Rachaprasong, just as there would be a decent argument that the centre of the city is where Silom meets Rama 4. These days I'd be more inclined to say it might be the Asoke intersection – where the skytrain and underground meet, where there are many office buildings, major hotels and a very popular shopping mall. Sukhumvit soi 16 is not much more than a stone's throw from the Asoke intersection. In other words, it's awfully convenient.
* Foodland on soi 16 is on the ground floor of the multi-storey green car park building in the centre of the photo.
Sukhumvit soi 16 is an oddity because it doesn't actually connect with Sukhumvit Road. You have to walk down Rachadapisek Road from the Asoke intersection, past Exchange Tower and about 150 metres down on the left is where Sukhumvit soi 16 starts.
Sukhumvit 16 runs south for about a kilometre to an intersection where you can cut across back sois to lively Sukhumvit soi 22 and beyond to sois 24 and 26.
Continue further and it becomes Soi Pai-Sing-To and eventually ends at Rama 4 Road, across the road from the Klong Toey Market.
For its entire length, Sukhumvit soi 16 is never more than about 100 metres from Rachadapisek Road, with Benjakit Park across the street. West-facing apartments and condominiums on Sukhumvit 16 get one of the best views in the city, an expanse of green that is the park and the Tobacco Monopoly's grounds with the business district behind it. It feels almost New York-esque, like a multi-million dollar apartment on Fifth Ave looking across Central Park and the skyscrapers behind.
At the top end of Sukhumvit soi 16 you have a number of mid and upper range condo buildings. You'd be hard-pressed to find a room for under 30,000 baht a month until you've ventured a good few hundred metres down the soi. Further down it gets more affordable and at the bottom end you hit some canals and a small, colourful slum community.
The slum communities towards the bottom of Sukhumvit soi 16 – actually, officially Soi Pai-Sing-To remind you that you're in an Asian metropolis, not a Western capital.
The area has a variety of residents from slum-dwellers to the uber wealthy residents of the towering Millennium Towers which soars above soi 16. I believe one of Bangkok's best known expats and – the city's premier private investigator – Vincent Calvino, describes views from a condo which strongly suggest he lives on soi 16.
Soi 16 has a small number of eateries and restaurants, but nothing like the concentration you find on other sois in the area. The soi has been a bit of a graveyard for restaurateurs with many venues folding before they had a chance to celebrate their first anniversary. Even the branch of Subway in a decent location on soi 16 directly opposite Foodland failed under different owners.
Soi 16 is not known for its street food and the short strip of vendors on the soi do most of their trade at lunch time, closing around mid afternoon. They take up much of the pavement making parts of soi 16 precarious for walking – hot woks on one side and rumbling trucks or speeding motorbikes on the other make parts of the soi harrowing for pedestrians. Throw in a few lively soi dogs and walking along soi 16 is no fun.
One of the many contrarian aspects about Bangkok is that it is both a great walking city and a terrible walking city. It's great in the respect that at ground level there is SO much going on – and so much to see – you will miss much of Bangkok life if you move around by any other means. But Bangkok is not a great walking city in terms of its pavements and walkways which can be narrow, crowded, uneven and in some cases, non-existent – pedestrians have to walk on the road and hope that vehicles don't collect them. Soi 16 is annoying in that there are stretches of perfectly decent pavement at the top end, but further down there may be nothing – no designated walking path despite a number of apartment buildings sprouting up in recent years.
From Sukhumvit soi 16, all of the Sukhumvit bar areas are just a walk away. Soi Cowboy is just minutes from the top of the soi. Nana Plaza was about a 25-minute walk and soi 22 / soi 33 were a leisurely 15 – 20 minute stroll away.
Perhaps the best thing about soi 16 for me was its proximity to Benjakit Park. Bangkok has no shortage of fitness centres these days, but count me amongst those who prefer to get their daily exercise outside – and you can walk there in less than 10 minutes from soi 16.
There's scant choice of places to exercise outside in downtown Bangkok with two main choices – Lumpini or Benjakit. Benjakit Park was just a few minutes' walk away and while it might not have the variety of Lumpini, I always thought it was a better choice for those who exercise with the walking / running area separate from the cycle lane so walkers and runners don't have to dodge cyclists.
There are a few hotels on soi 16 and a few massage shops but nothing like the busy sois of lower Sukhumvit. That means you don't have taxi drivers parked outside hotels calling out every time you walk by.
The other soi on Sukhumvit I really like is soi 10. Being a dead-end soi, it's quieter than soi 16, while it also has direct access via to Benjakit Park. It's in the hooker zone insomuch that it's between the Nana and Asoke intersections, but it's bar-free and quiet at night – unlike many sois in the immediate area. Rental rates for a decent place on soi 10 were a little higher than soi 16 when I last looked. I always wanted to keep my rent below 30,000 baht per month – which seemed like a challenge on soi 10.
Rental rates have moved up on soi 16 in recent years – as they have all over town. A smaller room at the lower end of the soi in one of newer buildings will set you back 15,000 – 25,000 baht – for a relatively small unit. They're popular with Westerners in their early 20s to their mid 30s. The mid-range condos – often older buildings with much larger units – tend to run around 30,000 baht per month up but if you hunt hard you can find some good deals and are more popular with an older crowd. Like much of downtown Bangkok, condo asking prices in the newer buildings are around 100,000 baht per square metre up.
If you're looking for the convenience of living in a quiet soi downtown that is close to both the underground and the skytrain, walking distance to bars, restaurants, shopping malls and perhaps the best park for exercising in central Bangkok, take a look at Sukhumvit soi 16. I won't say it's the best place to live in Bangkok, but I sure enjoyed my time there.
Thaifriendly.com – dating in Thailand with Thai girls from Bangkok and all over Thailand!
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the Fussball table upstairs in Margarita Storm, at the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 13.
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 retiree's nightmare.
Regarding your comment at the end of the column, growing old with money problems in a foreign country must strike fear in those nearing retirement. Some are financially irresponsible, especially in a place like Thailand where so much is based on face and showmanship. Living beyond one's means is a world-wide problem while consumerism and consumption is encouraged by super low interest rates. Buy now, pay later. Schools should teach kids about money but they don't. Mortgage, interest rates, amortization, credit cards, stocks and bonds should be explained to kids. What is more important than being financially secure? It may sound shallow but it's not. Money solves many problems. However, some are victims of circumstance. A failed marriage, sudden health problems, or deceit can derail the best laid out plan. Some guys move abroad and lose all commonsense doing things they would never do at home. A column devoted to hard luck cases in Thailand would make for an interesting read. The German word Schadenfreude comes to mind, but there is also a degree of learning involved.
No longer tempting.
Your “Goodbye, Mr. Average” both describes what Bangkok's notorious entertainment zones have become while at the same time foretelling what they may well transition in to over the next few years. While Cowboy, Nana and Patpong are shadows of their illustrious past, they refuse to succumb and continually reinvent themselves. Perhaps they'll assume a Vegas-like attraction, a promising naughty allure that delivers a whimsical and far less tangible result. But who knows for sure? The Folies Bergere has survived nearly a century-and-a-half while delivering far less than it did in its heyday. Those of us, however, who recall the halcyon days are unlikely to find that future – or the present, for that matter – tempting.
The status and perks of mia farang.
Most of your information is based on Bangkok and may not be applicable to elsewhere in Thailand. I agree that the Bangkok scene has become hard-hearted and greedier over the last several years and you'd be hard-pressed to find any marriage-minded working girls now, but in Pattaya there are still a lot of girls who go to work in bars for the main purpose of finding a farang husband. Of course, they want and love the money but the goal is to land a more permanent security where they don't have to work at all and can enjoy the status and perks of being a farang's wife. You're certainly right that in general the guys going to Pattaya are not the cream of the crop in terms of being promising potential mates, but even the bad guys get sucked in to the "I lub you" act and usually both end up getting about what they deserve (a costly, pay-as-you-go, short-term marriage). Believe it or not, there are also good guys who have found good wives working at a Pattaya bar (granted not many) so I tend to look at it as more a matter of karma how well both the men and women fare when they venture into the Thai-farang sex industry.
Time for something drastic.It just might be the time for something drastic in the gogo scene. Perhaps it would work in this climate to brand your gogo bar as a lady drink free place. Same prices for the ladies drinks. It just might be that punters wouldn't mind paying a little bit more for their drinks in general in these places. I don't have the numbers, but I believe that a place full with customers should make a profit if they are all drinking. You'd have to be creative in supplementing girls' income though. Train girls in asking for drinks with the greatest profit to give them something? Perhaps only short-time, time-based, not one shot would also help?
Bar decline and regulars.
What is desired is fantasy, or the girlfriend experience. It seems the slow decline began with the appearance of body art. Of course the lady isn't your girlfriend but you could pretend. It is, however, much harder to pretend when such a girl would never be one you would willingly choose for a girlfriend! Men are visual creatures; always have been and always will be. I would be willing to pay an admission if it went towards improving the staff. Maybe they could charge 100 baht, which would rake it in with the tourists, but have a 200 baht card which gives free admission for one year for regulars.
Where do bargirls go?
I used to spend time in Jakarta. One of the girls I knew asked X for “company”. Fast forward a few years and I am sitting in a bar in Singapore, and here comes the same girl, now asking X x 3. (She wasn't terribly hot to begin with). Where will she end up? She has no other skills, other than entertaining expats. She is a nice girl, but it got me to thinking, what becomes of her when she can't reel in the occasional drunken tourist? No education, no marketable skills (aside from the unstated)…
Chinese in Nana?
All those “Chinese” visitors to Nana Plaza could be – and probably are – Japanese. It's been my experience, both In Hawaii where I lived for 17 years before moving to Thailand in 1993 that most Caucasians do not recognise physical uniqueness between Eastern nationalities, even when they live amongst a mixed Asian population, even when the difference is obvious. For example, Koreans are missing the epicanthic fold and have only a single upper eyelid; many Koreans get that changed in Thai clinics and hospitals. It should also be noted that the Japanese, who love ladyboys (called “new-halves” at home), have been frequenting Nana for several years, they often arrive in groups of half a dozen and more, and are one of the reasons there are seven ladyboy bars there. At Obsessions, many of the girls deliberately use makeup to look more Japanese. And it's not just the ladyboys. Two bars in the Rainbow group now have Japanese signage outside. If you can't tell the Asian punters apart, go to Google; there are dozens of sites that may help. And keep in mind: we all look alike to many Asians, too.
South of the border.
I relocated to Malaysia due to work commitments. We love it here and my Thai wife has no inclination to go back and really enjoys life in another country. As a long time expat (17 years) I can say that Thailand has lost its sparkle. I have to go back once a month for work commitments but always look forward to coming back to Malaysia. Going once a month I get to see Bangkok for what it is – an overpriced, dirty cesspit. We enjoy walking down the road in Malaysia with no motorcycle taxis speeding down the sidewalk (when there is one), not seeing ugly cables strewn down every street, not having to walk down Sukhumvit which is now full of market stalls selling sex toys, porn videos and Viagra / Cialis. As a Muslim country you would think the alcohol laws are stricter but no, you can get a beer any time. There aren't any no alcohol days. The people are nicer, friendlier and seem genuinely happy that you are in their country. Taxis by law have to put on the meter and you get a printed receipt if you ask for one.
Soi Cowboy was closed at midnight on Tuesday night, police ordering all bars on the soi to shut for the night. This included bars around the corner on soi 23 – but curiously, only as far up as the Queen Victoria. Further up the soi, Whisgars and The Clubhouse remained open and the beer carts weren't shut down either. The 7 Eleven and Family Mart branches in the area did a roaring trade selling alcohol to those who had not yet had their fill. This was a Cowboy thing and it was business as usual at both Patpong and Nana.
A female tout can be seen outside Suckers on the ground floor of Nana Plaza most nights shouting out in Mandarin, the clearest indicator yet that Chinese are visiting the plaza. Who says the bar industry isn't changing?
Everyone hopes Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy can recapture the magic of old. I don't know who's behind it now but since reopening it hasn't impressed. Perhaps those running the bar would consider seeking help from someone in the know – and knocking on Big Andy's door would be a good start. With 16 years running bars in Bangkok as well as stints in Pattaya, there's little Big Andy doesn't know about the bar business. Andy's bars have enjoyed wild success over the years and let's not forget that Big Andy was the co-founder of the original Dollhouse with Darel. Getting Big Andy involved strikes me as the best way to get Dollhouse humming again.
The nasty stabbing incident in The Strip reported in last week's column was even worse than first reported as more details have emerged of the horrific knife attack on one coyote dancer by another. The wounds required over 400 stitches and looked more like the carnage of a machete attack than a knife fight. Some two weeks later the victim is still in a great deal of pain, and making trips to hospital for dressings to be changed and for extra medication to help cope with the pain. At least one girl in the bar claims the attack was planned.
When I was in town in September I thought Black Pagoda in Patpong soi 2 was outstanding. Happy girls meant a fun vibe which reminded me of the old days. Today, signs outside Black Pagoda advertising for staff show the bar is offering a whopping 1,500 baht per night for new staff with no lady drink quota. That is equivalent to a monthly rate of 45,000 baht. You'd think there would be a queue of girls outside the bar every night keen to join the bar's ranks but there isn't, a very clear indicator of just how hard it is for bars to find new staff.
And just a few metres from Black Pagoda, the open one week closed the next Glamour looks like this time it has closed for good. It's not known what will come of that space.
Black Pagoda's sister bar is the fetish house Bar Bar, Patpong's fetish bar. It will celebrate its 10th anniversary on March 25th. There will be a sushi girl buffet. More details nearer the time.
As trade becomes inconsistent with the high season behind us but the low season not yet upon us, perhaps more bars should consider introducing happy hours. 4 popular farang-owned gogo bars on Soi Cowboy start the night with a happy hour – Tilac, Lighthouse, Shark and Dollhouse. At Tilac, happy hour runs until 9:00 PM with almost all drinks on the menu just 90 baht. Dollhouse has a limited number of drinks on its happy hour menu, priced at 95 baht and the happy hour runs until 9:30 PM. In Lighthouse, most drinks on the menu are just 80 baht until 9:00 PM and its sister bar, Shark's happy hour finishes early, at 8:00 PM – and all drinks, bar cocktails and imported beers are 80 baht. Shark and Lighthouse usually have dancers on stage before 7:00 PM, Tilac around 7:15 and Dollhouse around 7:30 or so. All 4 are good choices for an early start to the night.
Lighthouse has really come along with a much improved lineup and decent attitudes. #515 is cute.
And speaking of Tilac, it's hard to imagine it will ever be as good as it was several years ago – when it was head and shoulders above all other chrome pole bars in Bangkok – but it's humming along nicely and some of the coyote dancers are rather fetching.
Smile when you walk in to the one and only entrance in Nana Plaza because you're on candid camera. Nana Plaza recently installed a more sophisticated surveillance system that I am told leaves no corner of the plaza out of big brother's sight, as the plaza joins Soi Cowboy as a bar area under constant surveillance. Patpong and the secondary bar areas on Sukhumvit in sois like soi 7, 7/1, 22 and 33 don't have the same sort of security coverage within the bar area, I am told.
Crossbar, on Sukhumvit soi 23 about 200 metres up from Soi Cowboy, has increased the number of UK ales it offers by adding to the existing list of Fullers London Pride, Porter, IPA and ESB. They now have Courage Directors, Young's Special London Ale, Young's London Gold, Young's Double Chocolate Stout (is this a craft beer?) and Wells IPA. All are priced at 240 baht net and Crossbar doesn't add service charge or tax to your bill.
One of the most fun things an old Asia hand can do in a gogo bar is take along a first-time visitor and watch him, not the girls. This week a first-time visitor made it along to one of the most popular farang-owned gogo bars in Nana Plaza and his comments were hardly what I expected. He felt that the bar was a fun place – more so than he thought it would be. He liked the interaction between the girls and the customers and felt the fact that there was no cover charge and drinks prices were lower than he would pay in a pub in the UK made it very good value for money. However, what put him off the whole thing and caused him to leave after 40 minutes was the way his drink was constantly checked by staff. They checked how much beer he had left in the bottle at least half a dozen times (to see whether it had finished and whether they should harass him to buy more). That put him off so much that he decided the industry – not just that bar, but the whole industry – was not for him!
Many readers of this column are, or at least were, regular bargoers, but if you are one of the few who perhaps doesn't have the confidence to visit alone, consider taking a tour. The original nightlife tour operator is Bangkok Hangover Tours which offers clean tours of the naughty bars i.e. it is NOT a tour with a bunch of lecherous sex tourists but with mainstream visitors who want to see what it's all about. There are many such operators but Bangkok Hangover Tours is the original.
The future of the bar industry is interesting for many reasons, not least because of the changing profile of visitors to Thailand. Where once Caucasians represented the largest number of visitors and were the big spenders, all predictions are that Thailand's tourism industry is going to be totally dominated by Asians, particularly Chinese. It's likely that the top 4 or 5 countries by visitor numbers will be Asian. Given that some bar operators have indicated they are in it for the long haul, you'd think they would be doing their research now and exploring new opportunities to get in early to service the changing customer base. The farang tourist market is not what it was and all indicators are that the bar crowd is more mainstream. Bangkok's farang bar areas may need to reinvent themselves as Bangkok's bar areas look like they will go the way of Amsterdam's. Do the current crop of bar owners have the savvy to make it work with a new crowd?
Thai women have lovely hair but straight hair can get boring. There's something about long wavy hair that looks really great on some Thai women, especially women with a darker complexion like ladies from the south or some of the darker ladies from the central region. Yeah, yeah, I know, hair is one of the best physical features of a Thai woman so why change it – but like so many things in life, the same flavour eventually gets boring, right? Sadly (for me), wavy hair is a look few Thai women go for.
I am firmly of the belief that potentially one of the most dangerous things you can do in Thailand is fire a Thai member of staff, be you their manager or the business owner. The loss of face combined with the loss of their livelihood puts huge pressure on that person to respond in some way – and if they have even the mildest propensity for revenge, LOOK OUT! There are effective ways to call off a relationship with a Thai woman that reduce the chance of fireworks, but if there is a strategy to fire a Thai employee, I don't know what it is. It's one of many reasons why I would not want to be a business owner in Thailand or a manager with staffing responsibilities.
The ongoing visa crackdown (specifically the limitations on ED visas and the removal of the double-entry visa) has made it more difficult for young foreigners wishing to stay medium or long-term in Thailand who are not married to a Thai national and not legally employed in Thailand. One of the unexpected consequences of this according to a real estate agent is that young foreigners are less willing to sign a one-year condo lease. Short-term leases are becoming more common with inquiries for leases of 3 or 6 months. Foreigners aren't confident they can get visa after visa to stay long-term and if there is no guarantee that they will be able to remain in the country, they aren't prepared to sign a longer lease.
The number one priority for anyone planning a long stay in Thailand should be ensuring that your visa is always valid. You should never overstay your visa, notwithstanding that Thailand has up until now gone extremely easy on those foreigners who have chosen – yes, I use this word *chosen* – to overstay their permission to remain in the country. For those foolish enough to let their visa lapse, you ought to be aware that on March 20th – that is just 2 weeks from today – new rules come in to force and those who overstay their visa may be prevented from returning to the country for a period of time. If your visa is not up to date, you have 2 weeks to get it sorted out before the new penalties come in to effect!
What's up with all these foreigners in Bangkok who go from the airport to their hotel using a combination of the airport link train, the underground or the skytrain and then insist on fumbling around the streets trying to find their hotel while dragging luggage that is every bit as oversize as some of the city's gargantuan expats' bellies? The flagfall in a Bangkok cab includes the first kilometre and is just 35 baht – or about one US dollar. Why oh why would you battle the heat, the humidity, the fumes, the uneven sidewalks and the zooming motorbikes to save a measly dollar? Some things just don't make sense to me.
Quote of the week, "It's only when you meet a woman the same age as yourself you realise how old you are!"
Reader's story of the week comes from Mr. Anonymous, "Who Stole Thailand's Sanuk?"
The UK's Independent newspaper takes a look at just how safe Thailand is for visitors.
The Pratunam Market is the next street market to be targeted by Bangkok's authorities tasked with cleaning up the city.
The UK's Telegraph asks how safe South-East Asia is.
A Scotsman injured in a motorbike accident in Thailand is taken from scene in handcuffs.
A Swiss man dies in Jomtien after choking on noodles from his noodle soup.
A Thai policeman is caught red-handed on security camera, filming up a student's skirt.
In two separate incidents in the same Pattaya beer bar complex, a Brit and a German are assaulted.
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: Is the investment visa still available as a means to get 1-year visa renewals in Thailand? My understanding is you either have to purchase a condo or invest in Thai bonds at a value of 10 million baht or more. With most decent new condos north of 10 million baht and offering good value for money compared with other capitals in South-East Asia, I am thinking of buying. Will this entitle me to an investment visa? If yes, how does it all work?
Sunbelt Legal responds: The Investment Visa remains an available option and is offered to applicants who bring 10 million baht into the country and put it towards either property, government bonds or an account in a Thai bank. It should however be noted that holders are prohibited from earning a wage in Thailand, but should get an unlimited right to stay here – as long as you renew your visa annually. The list of requirements in order to successfully apply for an Investment Visa are:
• Must have been granted a “Non-Immigrant visa”.
• Must have evidence of transferring funds in to Thailand of no less than 10 million baht. (Copy of evidence showing a transfer of funds from a foreign country to a bank in Thailand).
• Must have evidence of investing in the purchase or rental of a condominium unit for a period of no less than 3 years issued by a relevant agency or government unit, at a purchase or rental price of no less than 10 million baht. That means you must own the condo for 3 years before you can apply for the Investment visa extension. (Copy of condominium purchase agreement and copy of the ownership registration of the said condominium issued by government or relevant agency or a copy of a long-term lease agreement are the needed documents):
• Must have evidence of investing in the form of a fixed deposit of no less than 10 million baht with the bank which is registered in Thailand and has Thai national holding more than 50 percent of its shares (Funds deposit certificate issued by the bank and a copy of evidence of funds deposit are required documents) :
• Must have evidence in the purchase of government or state enterprise bonds of no less than 10 million baht ( copies of bond certificates are needed documents).
It is important to note that simply purchasing a condominium unit exceeding 10 million baht today will not afford the applicant the right to the apply under the Investment Visa category. The purchase needs to have been completed for 3 years, and this fact reflected on Title Deed, before this becomes a viable option.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in assisting people in obtaining Investment visa extension and can help you obtain one once you are eligible. If you are planning on purchasing a condo please remember that due diligence and a legal review of the purchase agreement is important.
The new version of this site is supposed to be launched very soon. It's not something I have had anything to do with other than setting out at the design stage that any update should be sympathetic to the original look of the site and not be in any way radical, lest long-time readers feel betrayed. There will be various changes including a new email address. It should be noted that the current email address – [email protected] – will remain the email address to contact me personally. Where I once did everything on the site, soon the only thing I will do is produce the weekly column. Anything about the weekly column or anything personally for the one you know as Stick should continue to be addressed to this email address. To the new email address that will appear on the new version of the site some time soon, you can also send email to me but please note that it may be read by others.