It was the middle of the night when he woke up, bursting for a pee. He reached his arm out towards the bedside table and fumbled for his glasses. He couldn't feel them. He flicked on the bedside light and squinted, trying to focus on where his glasses should be. He couldn't see them. He fumbled around more, reaching down to the floor but his eyewear wasn't there. Nothing. His bladder was pleading to be emptied so he heaved himself out of bed and trampled the familiar path to the toilet by memory rather than by sight, conducted his business and returned to his slumber. The next morning he hunted high and low, turning the condo upside down looking for his glasses. He'd put them on the bedside table before he went to bed, but now they were gone. It would be months before he found his glasses and the secret of how they went missing would finally be revealed.
Gary returned to Bangkok in mid 2014 after a 3-month stint in the city as an intern in 2012. Leaving his old life in Salt Lake City behind, Bangkok would be a fresh start. He'd been mixed up with the Mormon church for a while and had managed to escape its clutches. He'd been married for a short time to a Thai woman in the USA but divorced her after she had supported him through college. He'd been out of work. Bangkok would be a new beginning for the baby-faced 27-year old.
What set Gary apart from other expats embarking on a new chapter of their life in Thailand is that he could speak Thai very well. He could also write the language. Gary had been in Thailand in 2009 and 2010 as a missionary with the Mormon church which is known to have an excellent language program. He was also comfortable in the Lao language. So in many ways Gary was an anomaly, arriving in Thailand as a new expat – but with a level of proficiency in Thai that most long-term expats never reach.
Gary arrived in Bangkok with a job offer from the respected American businessman he had worked for briefly as an intern in 2012. In Gary's passport was a one-year business visa. Gary was no stranger to him so when Gary asked his new boss if he could stay at his place for a few days, the boss agreed. Gary would have the sole use of a large, luxurious downtown condo just a few minutes walk from his place of work with the boss staying in another property across town.
For a young guy, Gary must have felt like he had won the lottery. He was young, clean-cut and fit. His Thai language skills were excellent. The opportunity Gary was given is the sort of thing us young expats stuck teaching dreamed about when we were the new kids on the block – a real job with a great company. For someone who wanted to be in South-East Asia, you couldn't ask for more. Gary had a great life ahead of him….but he would go on to completely screw it up.Gary's post-match comments on an American basketball match in the Thai language.
Gary managed a restaurant I frequented. I met Gary soon after he started and was impressed by his ability in Thai, especially given that his marriage to a Thai had been brief. He'd made astounding progress and had a real talent for languages.
Gary struck me as a decent enough sort, though I found him quiet for someone who had just arrived in Bangkok. New arrivals tend to be excited and can't shut up but Gary was nothing like that. He never said a great deal and would just sit there without an expression on his face, like he was in his own little world. He tended not to engage people nor initiate conversation and often spoke only when someone else said something first. The impression I got was that despite speaking Thai well, he was standoffish by nature, introverted and perhaps a little naive. Despite that, I just knew that Thai girls would go for a clean-cut young American who spoke Thai well so I gave him the usual spiel about life as a newbie expat, and a few tips and things to be careful of:
* Enjoy yourself with the ladies for a while but whatever you do, do NOT get serious with the first lady you meet!
* Avoid the likes of Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy and use online dating instead.
* Don't move a Thai woman in to your condo unless you're serious about her i.e. she is marriage material, and even then, don't do that for a few years.
* Always use protection!
I'm not one of those people who instantly warms to everyone they meet and in Bangkok I tend to be wary of people I don't know, even when someone I know and trust vouches for them. Gary had been hired by a good friend, but I had this niggling feeling that something about Gary just wasn't right. It wasn't that I thought he was just another Bangkok bullshitter, or a sex pest or a paedophile or anything like that, it was more that he just seemed to be a bit "off".
I would learn little about Gary and he never really offered a lot about himself, nor about much of anything for that matter. He didn't have much of an opinion about anything other than the Mormon church, which he despised. He'd been caught in their web for a while but managed to extricate himself from it. He just didn't seem to have any enthusiasm or passion for life, strange for someone so young, especially for someone who had just moved to Bangkok. It wasn't that he was cold or there was any sense that he was sinister or evil or anything like that. He was quiet, and largely kept himself to himself.
As a regular to the restaurant, I would chat with Gary a bit. We had each arrived in Thailand at a similar point in our lives and I was curious to see how he would get on.
Within a week of giving Gary a few tips about dealing with the ladies, he had broken two of the golden rules. He never offered much so you really had to probe to find out what was going on with him, but he was happy enough to reveal that he had been having unprotected sex with a lady he had just met and they were in love! I was dining with Lecherous Lee at the time and I remember us exchanging looks and thinking, here we go!
Lee would give Gary his standard speech, a speech I have heard him make numerous times. Lee likes to explain why he feels like the happiest guy in Bangkok. He is single, by choice, and lives alone, again by choice. Lee explained how his life would be completely different if he lived with a lady and how his freedom would be gone if a girlfriend had become pregnant. Lee and Gary were at very different stages of their lives – one retired, the other looking to build a career – but it was solid advice nonetheless. Those wise words didn't seem to register with Gary and he didn't seem in the least concerned, almost laughing it off. We had his best interests at heart, but the advice was unwanted. Gary knew best.
Gary would sit at the restaurant – his place of work – and do his own thing. He looked like just another customer and you'd never know he was the manager. He was always on Tinder, attempting to arrange liaisons. The only things he did as restaurant manager were reactive i.e. when staff came to him with a problem – and even then he didn't have much idea.
Gary became addicted to Tinder. He would go through a stream of young Thai women, as many young (and not so young) guys do in Bangkok. Some of the ladies he dated were extremely attractive, some models amongst them. The clean-cut, fit American who spoke decent Thai was having a blast in Bangkok.
Lee and I agreed that Gary wasn't fit to be a restaurant manager. He was socially awkward and seemed to have little confidence when around people he wasn't familiar with. Walking around tables in a restaurant in Bangkok, engaging with customers and asking them how their meal is should be a breeze, but Gary couldn't even manage that.
I don't know if there were complaints or whether the owner felt it wasn't working out with Gary but one day they had a chat and Gary was let go. Gary was given a chunk of cash to help him get on his feet but curiously, he continued to stay on at the (now former) boss's condo.
You'd think that if you were living at your boss's place and he told you the job was no longer yours that you would move out, right? Not Gary. The business owner is a super nice guy and knew Gary had been through a difficult period so he didn't pressure him to leave. Gary was living rent-free, expense-free, enjoying a large, luxurious condo in the heart of Sukhumvit.
It worked ok for a while. Gary had the condo to himself and the boss was staying in another part of town. But when the boss moved back to his downtown condo, Gary didn't move out.
It was mentioned that perhaps Gary should look for a place of his own to which he replied, "I'll take that under advisement". I have no idea what he meant by that but had it been me I would have thrown him out on the street there and then.
Eventually Gary was told he had to move on, several months after he had arrived in Bangkok.
Occasionally I would see Gary out with a date or bump in to him on Sukhumvit. More often than not he was in the company of a young lady. He would still eat at the restaurant but never when the boss was there. It was some time before staff realised that with Gary no longer working there he was not entitled to free food!
I left Thailand in March 2015. Gary was enjoying life in Thailand, enjoying the payout from the job in which he did little. His life seemed to be all about bedding beauties.
As best as is known, Gary didn't get another job. He did a little private English tuition for a while but most of his time appears to have been spent hanging out with friends, chasing girls online and playing in a local basketball team.
Gary had a one-year visa which was due to expire around the middle of 2015.
In late June, 2015, the business owner receives a credit card bill with a number of purchases he didn't make. The card had been used and maxed out at various high-end stores in central Bangkok. He checked his wallet for his credit card and it was gone.
The first purchase using the stolen credit card was a belt from a store in Terminal 21 for 1,300 baht. Buying an inexpensive item in a small store, the thief may have been testing the water. It worked, presumably his confidence grew and the next purchase was a few laptops. That was followed by a lofty bill at the Siam Paragon Food Hall before the biggest purchase of all, a number of iPhones from Central.
Why buy a handful of iPhones? Best guess is that they were either to be gifts, or more likely, were purchased as they can easily be converted in to cash. Take a brand new, unused iPhone still in its box to a second-hand mobile phone vendor and you'll get 75% of what you had just paid for it, in cash.
The business owner questioned the charges with the bank and the bank contacted the retailers. The bank relayed to the business owner what the retailers told the bank – the purchases had been made by a foreign man. The credit card holder was a foreign man so it must be him! He denied that it was him and asked the bank to go back to the retailers and get more details. One retailer checked video of the purchase which showed the customer and described him as a handsome, young, slim, clean-cut foreigner. "That's not me", the credit card holder bellowed down the phone, "I'm not young and I haven't been called handsome in years!" The bank invited the card holder to view the video footage taken from security cameras. The business owner recognised the face immediately. It was Gary.
A complaint was made to police and an investigation launched. A few days later evidence was presented to a judge who at approximately 10:00 AM on July 1st issued an arrest warrant in the name of Gary Royce Salmon.
It was known that Gary's visa would soon be up and the arrest warrant was lodged with the Immigration Department. Immigration informed investigating officers that Gary had flown out of the country just 2 hours earlier, with records showing that he passed through Immigration at 8:04 AM the very same morning the arrest warrant had been issued. Gary had left Thailand in the nick of time!
Gary would not have known at that point that he was a suspect in a criminal investigation. In the days leading up to his departure from Thailand i.e. the days after he had made the purchases with the stolen credit card, he posted regularly on Facebook. The Facebook posts included a series of photos of himself and his best friend, an international school teacher, enjoying cocktails at the fabulous, but uber pricey bar atop the Banyan Tree – not a common haunt for school teachers nor those who have not worked for the best part of a year. Gary was spending up large.
After leaving Thailand Gary continued to post on Facebook. Next stop was Hong Kong, another very expensive destination for someone who had been out of work.
While Gary was living it up, the police investigation continued. The Immigration Department provided the investigating officers with Gary's last Immigration entry card. The investigating officers wanted to check his last known residence. Would they find evidence of the crime there? Was he expected back? Would he be returning? Upon receiving the Immigration card they would discover that Gary had just written "Sukhumvit" as his address. It was a dead end.
The arrest warrant was in the system so if Gary attempted to return to Thailand he would be arrested. Perhaps after a few days in Hong Kong the money would run low and he would return to his beloved Thailand?
Time passed…..and there was no sign of Gary in Thailand.
Gary's Facebook went quiet too.
Where had Gary gone?
A month later, posts on Facebook revealed that Gary was now in Shanghai, claiming to be an entrepreneur. In a post in August he wrote, "Yes, I live in Shanghai now! I miss Thailand like crazy but business opportunities move too slowly there and very quickly here. Hope to see you in Shanghai."
Whether what he said about his reasons for being in Shanghai were true or not is not known. Maybe the China vagina wasn't doing it for him? It was clear that he really missed Thailand.
The days became weeks, the weeks became months….and still there was no sign of Gary in Thailand.
The credit card debt became an issue for the business owner. The bank called often, enquiring about when payment would be made. Thais aren't confrontational but no-one likes to get calls from financial institutions in a country where the smallest disagreement can escalate and cause life to get awkward. The business owner had to retain a lawyer and the advice was not to pay. It was stressful and was costing him money, and all because of Gary.
The business owner and I were communicating using the Line app to talk about the whole Gary affair. My emails from here in New Zealand always ended with something like, "Can I write about the Gary story yet?" He told me that he wanted to wait. Asia may be big but expat Asia is remarkably small and he felt that if I wrote the story up, word would eventually reach Gary and knowing there was an arrest warrant in his name Gary would never return to Thailand. He thought that Gary was probably in China on a 3-month visa and when that expired he would need to travel outside the country to get a new visa – and as someone who loved Thailand, returning to Bangkok was the obvious choice.
The 3-month point passed and still there was no sign of Gary in Thailand.
Gary had gone quiet on Facebook again, and searches of other social media and general online searches came up with nothing.
That all changed in December, 2015, when Gary resumed posting to Facebook. Big news, Gary was going back to Thailand for Christmas and New Year and he even posted the exact time of his arrival. A welcoming party would be waiting!
Gary wrote online about how he was counting down the days to his return to Thailand and he was clearly missing the place like crazy.
Plans had been made and friends were waiting in Thailand for Gary, including the friend he drank cocktails with on the top floor of the Banyan Tree the night before he flew out of Thailand. That friend had flown in all the way from Pakistan especially so they could hang out together over New Year.
Gary flew in to Thailand late on the night of December 22nd and was arrested on arrival. From the airport, Immigration sent him straight to the Lumpini Police Station where the investigating officers were based.
Initially Gary denied all knowledge of the crime and the charges against him but when presented with evidence, he admitted that it was him.
Did Gary really think he would get away with it? With CCTV cameras everywhere these days, what was he thinking? How could he possibly think he could use a stolen credit card in multiple high-end stores in downtown Bangkok malls with cameras everywhere without his image being captured? Was Gary really that stupid that he thought he'd get away with it?!
Gary spent Christmas 2015 and New Year behind bars.
On January 14th, 2016, Gary's mother posted this on Facebook:
To all of our friends and family,
We are asking everyone to join us in a fast on Sunday January 17th. We are fasting for our oldest son Gary who is being held in a Thai prison. On Monday January 18th he will have his hearing. This is when we think he will be sentenced. We are hoping for a good out come, but the lawyer says he could get 1 to 5 years. As a mother, I am hoping for the best and pray for the Lord's intervention on behalf of my son. I hope that all of you hug your kids tonight or just be grateful that you have them near you. I think this is the hardest thing because I can't be there and it is so far away. I just wanted to say thank you to all of the friends and family who have expressed their love and prayers.
Gary was looking at a prison sentence. I wondered how Gary would cope in a Thai prison. Communication would not be a problem and his understanding of Thais meant he'd know how to fit in. While no doubt it would be the last place on earth he'd want to be, I thought he'd cope ok. His superior language skills would make him a novelty and the Thais – inmates and guards alike – would probably see the Thai-speaking white guy as a curiosity and entertaining.
Word is that Gary's family was either unable to raise the bail money so the local church was approached to help. I imagine the tale of woe that was told. Their pure, God-fearing son was incarcerated in a prison abroad, an innocent victim! No doubt they used terms like "third world" and "not America" and pleaded with the church to help out by stumping up the money for bail so their beloved son did not have to deal with the atrocities of a jail on foreign soil.
The bail amount is not known, but estimates in a case like this where the value of the stolen money is significant could see a bail amount of 1,000,000 baht, or in the region of $30,000.
Gary was in the court system, but was out of prison and on bail.
Gary attended a court hearing in late February. Gary's lawyer asked the business owner what it would take to settle the civil side of things. The business owner is a fair and reasonable man, and said the money would have to be repaid in full and Gary would also have to cover the cost of the business owner's lawyer and the costs incurred dealing with the bank and the credit card bill. He estimated the legal cost at 50,000 baht. The lawyer didn't go for this.
Gary had been in court that morning but disappeared but was not there for the afternoon session. He told his lawyer he didn't feel well. That afternoon the judge asked the lawyer where his client was and the lawyer responded that Gary was scared of what was going to happen and that had caused him to be ill.
Gary was invited to visit the police station that evening to answer for not showing up for the hearing that afternoon. He had violated the bond requirement and a new warrant had been issued. It was a third charge of not showing up.
It was later revealed that in court that day Gary had asked the court-appointed translator various questions about the Immigration computer system, how it works and what happens to people like him with regards to their name in the system and the ability to exit and enter the country.
The next court hearing was scheduled for March 23, 2016. The lawyer showed up but Gary didn't.
Where was Gary?
Social media would, again, provide clues to Gary's whereabouts. Facebook posts on March 19 show that Gary was in Kuala Lumpur – which begged the question of how had he managed to get out of Thailand and in to Malaysia!
Gary had been arrested on December 22, 2015, on an arrest warrant issued in July. The case was before the courts. He was released on bail. Once bailed he would be free to go about his life in Thailand but obviously had to turn up for court appearances and, presumably, could not leave the country. One imagines that this would be noted in the Immigration Department's computer system and if he tried to leave a red flag would come up and he would be prevented from doing so. But is this really how the system works? Enough foreigners have skipped bail in Thailand that you can't help but wonder.
Or could it be that Gary somehow slipped out of the country without going through an official border checkpoint? Could he have perhaps walked across the border in to Malaysia, away from official border checkpoints? Did he have the sort of contacts you'd need to facilitate that? Or could he have perhaps taken a boat from Thailand to Malaysia?
Facebook posts show Gary partying large with the Kuala Lumpur pub crawl group on the night of Saturday, March 19. The court hearing on March 23rd in Bangkok must have been the last thing on his mind.
Gary's current whereabouts are not known. It is not known if he is still in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur on March 19 is the last confirmed sighting of Gary.
Maybe Gary finally realised that only dumb fugitives post on Facebook and has adjusted his online behaviour accordingly?
It took many months for the business owner, Gary's old boss, to put together a picture of what must have happened to the eyeglasses that he couldn't find in the middle of the night. That was the night of June 11 and he knows the exact date because it was his birthday. His credit card was stolen and first used on June 13, 2 days later. Some fancy chocolates – a birthday gift – were also missing from the fridge, also assumed to be stolen by Gary. His eyeglasses were found many months later by chance in a pot plant on the balcony of his condo. Why would Gary dump them there?! Gary must have made a copy of the condo key from the time he was staying there and used it to enter the business owner's condo. Earlier on June 11, the business owner had used his credit card to register an online account and left it sitting next to his laptop. He hadn't put it back in his wallet. Perhaps when Gary entered the condo, he had not expected the business owner to be there. Gary may have known that the business owner sometimes had small sums of cash lying around and it is assumed that was probably what he was after. Gary must have seen the credit card sitting next to the laptop and taken it. What is creepy is that he entered his former boss's bedroom while he was sleeping, walked right up to him, and for some inexplicable reason his ex-boss's glasses which he dumped in a pot plant out on the balcony. Was this frustration at not finding bundles of cash lying around?
Gary has a history of using people. He used his wife to support him through college and divorced her not long after he graduated. He used his boss in Bangkok to get a 1-year visa and his request to stay a couple nights until he found an apartment became 7 months and he wouldn't leave until he was told he must go. The business owner would be sitting at the dining room table and Gary would enter the condo, walk by and go to the bedroom without even saying hi. He used a church to post money for bail so he could be released from prison and flee Thailand. The bail money will of course be forfeited.
Asia has long attracted oddballs, felons and those whose story just doesn't add up. Gary Salmon arrived in Thailand as a young, clean cut, blue-eyed, Thai-speaking American with a great job and a fantastic opportunity. He fell in love with the Bangkok lifestyle, had many girlfriends, enjoyed the food and generally availed himself of everything about Bangkok that appeals to a young man. But Gary fucked up. Stealing a credit card and going on a silly spending spree buying a bunch of iPhones and enjoying a couple of nice meals means he can never enjoy the Thailand expat lifestyle again.
If Gary returns to Thailand he will be arrested. It's very unlikely he would get bail. He would be looking at several years behind bars. And upon completion of the sentence he would be deported and almost certainly blacklisted from ever returning.
As a young, clean cut American with good Thai language skills and a great job in Bangkok, Gary had been given a fantastic opportunity and had a great future ahead of him. He must have felt like he had won the lottery. But then he decided to rip up the winning lottery ticket and throw it all away.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken by the stairs connecting the ground and middle floors in Nana Plaza. Where is this week's?
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 revulsion can't be suppressed.
Your final words (Thailand is much more dangerous than most think) was a sage statement of fact. Now, after six young men who beat to death a handicapped bread delivery man, those words resonate more like a profound warning. It was sufficiently shocking to see a young Thai kick an elderly farang woman in the face. So when we see new video of a pack of cowards – four of them the sons of policemen – kill a fellow Thai it shouldn't register surprise. But the revulsion cannot be suppressed despite the predictability of violent attacks in very public places. You were correct that this kind of stuff has been going on for a long time but it's now getting publicised as it's recorded on smart phones. It provides sickening insight into the behaviour of young men in groups. However, the proliferation of these videos also seems to be giving license to young people to model those actions.
Could the Hua Hin beating have been avoided?
The British couple assaulted in Hua Hin were frequent visitors to Thailand. One would think they should have been aware of the pack-mob mentality and unpredictable violence when it comes to an argument between Thais and Foreigners. Were they lulled in to a false sense of security by having close Thai friends? If one carefully dissects the CCTV video segment, one can see that the whole dicey powder keg could have been deescalated with a simple apology and walking away. There were 2 or 3 critical moments when this would have defused the initial push & shove and essentially nothing would have happened. The catalyst for it exploding into a full-on street brawl, in my eyes, was the mother. Some news articles state 'she was attempting to reason with one of them', others that 'she was berating them'. The fact that she face slapped one of them suggests it was the latter. She does not stop there. Immediately after her son was taken out, she is seen confrontationally approaching one which is the exact moment when she gets punched in the face. Your website has time and time again emphasised the 'Thai versus Farang' mob mentality and even of more import, NOT to get involved between two arguing Thais, as you might become their common enemy and be set-upon. I have been in Thailand enough to intuitively recognise that. I have personally witnessed sudden eruptions of violence between Thais and knew better than to intervene (in fact, I just acted as if it was a common daily occurrence and went about my business while two hot-headed young Thai men were punching each other right behind me).
Slapping a Thai guy's face didn't help.
I have to comment on the attack on the Scottish people. I watched the video several times. The attack was brutal obviously and in no way did they deserve what happened but perhaps they had been coming to Thailand too long and were careless. The Thai guys were looking for a fight but the Scots made a mistake with their confrontation. The woman is shown slapping one of the guys in the face. Very foolish move. Unfortunately, as you well know, in Thailand you need to walk away most times – even if you are wronged initially. I was warned before my first trip here to walk on the other side of the street if you see a group of young guys like this. If I do come back I will carry bear repellent from home. What really needs to happen in Thailand is a group of young Farangs pound one of these groups of thugs senseless. Then perhaps they will think before they act next time.
Escalating the situation.
It seems to be a minority view, but I think the old lady shares some responsibility for escalating the situation. It's clearly visible on the video that she slapped the Thai man in the face about 50 seconds in to the video while they were arguing. That was the trigger which led to the escalation. I would say that the beating administered was far in excess of provocation, but it should also be noted that even old ladies shouldn't think they have impunity to hit other people. If she had done that to a drunken lad back in the UK, it's entirely possible there'd be a brawl as well. My experience is that middle-class women in the western world tend to believe they have immunity from physical assault. It's a very bad assumption. In general, it's not a good idea to be getting into any physical altercations with drunks regardless of whether it's London, Hua Hin etc.
Bad stuff happens really late at night.
The Hua Hin beatings were definitely an eye-opener. I'd like to think I would have been able to diffuse that situation if I was involved, but you never know. A more disturbing incident for me was the security guard who was robbed, secured with his own handcuffs and then beaten across from the Amari hotel at 3 AM a few nights ago. It's a place I've walked by very late at night on more than one occasion, though I never walk on the beach side of Beach Road after dark. Still, it could have very easily been me that was robbed so it's a little scary.
Philippines preferred to Thailand for safety.
The beating of the 3 people from England is appalling. I've never heard of this happening in The Philippines, a country that I'm leaning towards spending more time in because of more and more of these incidences occurring (getting reported) in Thailand.
A pink blazer doesn't fix everything.
Regarding All Thai Taxi, yes, the cars are hybrids, have state-of-the-art meters (some even print receipts), and drivers wear pink blazers, but are they really any different? My wife and I took one from Banglamphu to Mochit bus terminal the other day. Five minutes in to the ride, the driver said he had to stop at home to change his pants "because his jeans were too hot." While we waited in the taxi with the meter running, he went in to a small soi, re-emerging a few minutes later. You can take the driver out of the low-rent taxi, but you can't take the low-rent taxi out of the driver.
Mister pay before go hotel!
I'm in Pattaya now and I'm having a pretty good time. I've been here many times over the last 15 years – twice a year, every year – and I usually know what to expect regarding the nightlife. However, one thing that I definitely didn't expect is some gogo bars insisting that payment for a dancer's company must be paid in advance. Not just the barfine, but for the entire deal! I was out on Walking Street and this happened twice. Once at Happy A Gogo and the other time at a new gogo called The Bliss. We did not have to deal with this pay in advance BS at LK Metro, my preferred nightlife area, only at Walking Street. I can see why the gals would want to guarantee that they are paid for a deal that is mutually agreed on, but I don't like this new way of doing business. Very little incentive for a gal to provide a quality time and service. I'm not sure how widespread this new business practice is, but I'm sure that many of your readers would be interested in knowing about this development. I really hope this does not become the norm.
More shuffling of the deck chairs in Nana Plaza means more confusion for customers as bars that had ladyboys have been relieved of them while one bar which had a mix of girls and ladyboys has gone all-ladyboy. Chili (in a corner of the middle floor, beyond Rainbow 3) is now all-ladyboy and the new home for the crew who previously hugged the poles in the old G Spot and the old Rainbow 4. The girls – that is those born female – who used to dance in Chili have moved upstairs to Erotica. The easiest way for me to get my head around the changes is to think in terms of the old names of the bars. The bar we used to call G Spot (which was A Fairy Bar for a short time and is now called The Four) remains a girly bar. The old Rainbow 4 (and for a short time R & B Bar) which until recently had been full of ladyboys has gone back to being all girls. Think of The Four as being like the original Rainbow 4 with lots of pretty ladies, many of whom dance topless, whereas R & B is mainly coyotes with some topless gogo dancers. And just to really confuse matters, it looks like what was previously known as Rainbow 4 Bar and then R & B Bar is about to be renamed Twister.
One good thing to come out of all of this is that one of the so-called mixed bars – a bar with both ladies and ladyboys – Erotica, is now all-girl and completely free of ladyboys.
Bar owners and indeed the lords who lease the bars at Nana Plaza might not realise how confusing this all is for the average punter – but consider that when someone who chronicles the industry is confused, what hope does the casual visitor have?
So, I think I am right in saying that Nana Plaza currently has 7 all-ladyboy bars : True Obsession, Straps, Chili, DC10, Casanova, Temptations and Charades. In addition, there are a few bars which have a mix of ladyboys and ladies : London Calling, Playskool and Suckers. And then there at least two bars which have one or two post-op ladyboys who even most long-timers can't pick as not the genuine item (and I have been asked not to name those bars by the owners so I won't). What that means is that of the 25 gogo bars in Nana Plaza, at least 12 – almost 50%(!!!) – are either all or part ladyboy. If ladyboys are not your thing, the message is clear : stick to Patpong soi 2 where there are no ladyboy bars or Soi Cowboy where there is only one – Cockatoo – and unlike the bars in Nana Plaza the owners of Cockatoo clearly state outside that it is a ladyboy bar.
The foreign manager of Jail Birdz often perches at the doorway of the venue and tells passersby that the bar has ladies only, and no ladyboys. Taking it one step further and putting a sign up outside to that effect would be even better.
Indeed, signs have been erected at the entrance to all of the gogo bars in Nana Plaza but it's nothing to do with saying whether they are ladyboy bars or not. The large font signage outside the door to every gogo bar in the plaza states that the bar opens at 7 PM and closes at 1 AM, all of which everyone knows is horseshit! The party continues in some Nana Plaza bars until the wee hours and you can still get a drink in some bars until almost 3:00 AM. Some of the Thai-owned bars in Nana close around 2 AM while in the farang-owned bars it tends to be a bit later. The signs at the entrance to bar doorways appear to be face-saving. The authorities can point to them whenever a bar is busted for operating beyond the hours of their licence (which is 1:00 AM) and tell their superiors that the signage clearly says they close at 1 AM – which will be enough for face to be preserved all around!
On the subject of ladyboy bars, one of the reasons there are so many is simple: they make money! With that said, there has been a turn-around at Charades – previously known as Cascade – which is now quiet.
The Rainbow bars increased the price of standard drinks this week by 10 baht, from 155 baht to 165 baht. 160 baht seems to be about the average price for a standard drink in Bangkok gogo bars these days.
The larger than life backlit photos of pretty dancers on the balcony outside what was Bubbles which date back to when the venue was called Las Vegas have been removed as the area gets a refresh.
It would be remiss to say that Crazy House had become well known for the mamasan running off with the barfine change scam when it was just one mamasan cheating punters. But that's all it takes – one person to be on the take and a bar's name can be sullied. And now said mamasan is working in Nana Plaza. When a customer pays a barfine she takes the money from the customer herself – often a 1,000 baht note – and then she disappears. The guy has paid his drinks bill, the girl has changed out of her bikini in to street clothes, and he is standing there waiting for the change from the thousand baht note with the mamasan nowhere to be seen. She has been known to disappear for up to half an hour, knowing some guys just won't wait. They've got a sexy girl beside them and they are ready to go. Some just rationalise it as a small loss of a few hundred baht. Be careful of this mamasan and if this happens to you, ask for the manager!
It's been a really good week for the bars – especially venues popular with the Japanese. This week was Golden Week in Japan and many Japanese zip over to Thailand. Word is that bars popular with the Japanese have done a roaring trade and the Thermae was so busy that it was hard just to do a loop, which sounds like how it used to be in the good old days.
We get nervous when a bar closes in the first few days of a month with history showing that it is often because the owners don't have enough money to pay salaries. So when Jail Birdz on the top floor of Nana Plaza was closed on Tuesday night, lips started moving. Jail Birdz has been closed for 5 days and counting…
Speaking of Jail Birdz, it's run by the same people behind The Den in Sukhumvit soi 12 and The Den in Patpong soi 2. So what's the story with The Den in Patpong soi 2 being renamed to Radio City, while the format remains unchanged? A licensing issue, perhaps?
Speaking of difficulty paying salaries, word is that the closure of The Dubliner is because they were several months behind on the rent. The Dubliner had been having difficulty for some time and suppliers were insisting that alcohol was paid for on delivery – and that goes back to well before I left Bangkok. What I am hearing now is that the fight that broke out at the start of Songkran was between The Dubliner's well-known owner and the landlord of the property. A few people around town have smirks on their faces about the whole situation, given the rumours that have plagued The Dubliner for years – and I don't mean the rumours about those who believe that all of Ireland should be an independent republic – but the other set of rumours.
Strong rumours had it that The Dubliner sold this week for 9.5 million baht but the person who was said to have bought it denies it, although he admits to being interested in it. He states that a protracted court battle between The Dubliner and the landlord means a deal cannot be done at this time.
It's always nice to hear of bar operators thinking outside of the box which is exactly what is happening at Angelwitch in Pattaya which has introduced a happy hour with a difference. The idea is to get customers to stay in the bar longer towards the end of the night so from 1:00 AM until closing, every night, draft beer is just 60 baht.
I am also reminded that the Pattaya Angelwitch has a snake show, like The Strip in Patpong soi 2. The snake turns up to perform at Angelwitch Pattaya some Fridays – not every Friday.
I love getting Thais to try and say blue-ray, as in the video disc. Unless they speak English to a decent level it usually comes out mangled. Get your favourite Thai to say it – but don't model the words for them – point to a blue-ray disc and ask them what it is.…and don't laugh too loud at the result!
A bloke goes to Thailand and picks up a lovely new wife. A year later his mate at the golf club asks “How’s that lovely wife you picked up in Thailand?” “She died – rather suddenly.” “Oh, I am sorry – what happened?” “Prostate cancer.”
A friend had a rash on his back and wanted to get it seen to by a specialist so he went to one of the many skin clinics you find all over Bangkok. The receptionist sent him in to a room with a nurse who told him to take of his shirt so she could take a closer look at his back. <Sorry, dear readers, while I know this sounds like a great start to a porn clip what follows is in rather vanilla.> She studied his back and then looked at him and asked him why he was there. He explained that the rash on his back was itchy and he was concerned that it might be a problem. She laughed at him like he was a total fool and explained that skin clinics in Bangkok are where you go to get skin imperfections fixed, like pimples or freckles removed, or where you get treatment to make your skin more beautiful i.e. have it whitened. Skin issues of a medical nature are not what skin clinics deal with at all and he should get his stupid ass off to hospital and not bother her with something so pedantic!
Quote of the week is a comment of mine made on a reader's submission years ago which a reader reminded me of this week and which is every bit as relevant today, "Farang + money + poor Thai girlfriend = disaster waiting to happen!"
Reader's story of the week comes from Bangkok Barry, "Has Thailand Become Too Dangerous, and Why?"
A Brit retiree tells of his terrible ordeal in a Thai prison which started not long after being involved in a motorbike accident.
One of Bangkok's oldest neighbourhoods, Chinatown looks set for change as the developers move in.
A 6'5'' Thai cop helps a foreigner find the iPhone 6S he left in a Bangkok minivan using the Find My IPhone app.
Premier League champions, Leicester City's players have been warned against orgies in Bangkok.
The long-running and popular Walkabout in Phnom Penh has closed for good.
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 will soon enter Thailand on a tourist visa, but I anticipate being offered employment shortly after arriving. Is it possible to convert a tourist visa to a non-immigrant business visa, without leaving the country? If so, does it matter whether the tourist visa is single or multiple entry? Must there be a substantial number of days remaining on the tourist visa in order to convert it? If so, do these dates pertain to the permitted-to-stay-until date, or instead to the enter-before date of the visa?
Sunbelt Legal responds: It is possible to convert a Tourist Visa to a Non Immigrant Business Visa without having to leave the country. The list of required documents to complete this conversion is however quite extensive and the success of the application will ultimately depend on the potential employer's company paperwork.
The conversion procedure needs to be submitted at least 15 days before the expiry of the visa stamp. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has a highly experienced in-house visa team that would be able to assist with review of all the required documentation as well as the onsite application at the Immigration department.
Question 2: I wish to buy online 6 x 50g tubes of anti-fungal cream from an online pharmacy in Australia. I can buy such a product here in Bangkok over the counter at a pharmacy but it is only a small size. Will I have to be an official importer to avoid any problem with Thai customs?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Given that it is available without a prescription, you may not have issues requiring a special license, however the Customs Department will charge duty on the package which may not make the larger size worth the extra expense. You can check Customs regulations here.
Much of the feedback to last week's column and the emails featured in this week's column was reaction to the story of the bashing of the British family in Hua Hin that week. That incident generated a lot of comment from readers. The opening piece the previous week was a photo essay of Soda, a dancer at Patpong 2 with an exotic look. Despite this column being known for nightlife, fewer emails were received about Soda than the Hua Hin bashing, notwithstanding that Soda was featured as an opening piece and the Hua Hin bashing was something I only commented on in the closing paragraph. I believe this reflects the way much of expat society has decoupled from the naughty nightlife industry. Expats in Thailand seem to be more interested in other things these days. In recent times I've noticed that there are two topics which generate more interest than others. The first is safety / the danger factor in Thailand – and any incidents involving foreigners generate strong interest. I also notice anything to do with medical care, hospital treatment and whatnot in Thailand is popular. Bangkok expat society really is changing, eh?