Stickman's Weekly Column April 23rd, 2017

Chewing The Fat With Big Greg

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He is the American businessman with an infectious laugh and the face behind a number of successful businesses in Thailand including Sunbelt Asia and Sunrise Tacos.  He also happens to be one of my best friends and there’s little I enjoy more when in Bangkok than hanging out with him and chewing the fat. From gossiping like two little old ladies about what’s going on in Bangkok expat society to much more important stuff such as where to find the best burger in town, our conversations cover all manner of topics.  I first interviewed Greg Lange 9 years ago but so much has changed since then that I thought it might be nice to have another chat with him about life in Bangkok today.

 

 

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The last time we sat down for a chat you had a gold Rolex on your wrist and your passport in your shirt pocket.  Today I see neither.  Have you fallen on hard times and sold them both?!

Ha!  I’m a Millennial now!  I love the story behind the Rolex, where it takes about a year to make one watch in Switzerland.  Even though they produce one million watches a year, still today it takes a year for their expert craftmanship to make one.

But I’m now like many others.  A smartphone tells time just as good as a watch.  When the IPhone 4 came out, around that time the watch stopped and took a while to fix.  I got used to the watch being off my wrist.  I have changed from having a piece of art with old school technology to using just my smartphone.  Sad to say, it’s why Swiss watch sales are declining now every year even though they still make beautiful mechanical watches.  Siri is winning.  Same for stamp collecting, it’s less because of emails and banknote collecting, less cause of credit cards.  Technology is king.  I’m still a huge fan though of Warren Buffett who wears a Rolex still today.

So how is the business environment in Thailand for foreigners these days?  Is this still the land of milk and honey?

When you last interviewed me in 2008 Thailand was ranked #13 in the world by the World Bank for ease of doing business.  It is now #46.  And guess what country is #1?

I have no idea.  OK, actually I think I do – New Zealand.

Exactly, how did you know?

We rate #1 in all sorts of surveys; we punch above our weight!

It was Singapore for 10 years.  Now you are the champions.

This interview has got off to a great start, eh!

We have found many more companies are comparing Bangkok to Hong Kong or Singapore or everywhere, even Ethiopia, for where they will establish the business.  Where Thailand does very well is with companies looking to set up in the ASEAN region.  Bangkok is easily accessible and has modern infrastructure.

But it’s not all great here.

One of the things that Thailand has the lowest score on when you talk about ease of doing business is paying taxes.  It rated 109th out of 190 measured countries.

You might say how hard is it to pay taxes?  New Zealand has an estimate of 34 hours to do the annual corporate income tax audit while the World Bank states in Thailand the average is 160 hours per corporation.  That’s 16 more business days!

The other part of the equation is the interpretation on tax which all depends on who you talk to.  Different people give you different answers.  Let me tell you a story to show you what I mean.

A corporation was subleasing a large space above their business and the in-house accountant of the lessee deducted 5% withholding tax on the rent they owed the landlord.  They got audited a couple of years ago and the VAT officer said this was wrong.  The landlord had been providing a service as the entrance to the business upstairs was not separate and the landlord should have invoiced as a service, adding 7% VAT on top of the service amount.  You owe x amount of baht for back payment of VAT plus penalties!  They contacted us as a new client to see if we could help sort it out.  The tax department didn’t care what they understood before.

What a headache!  It was that sort of thing that put me off living in Thailand– you just never knew where you stand on, well, just about anything.  So moving along, is it still easy to make money here?

The golden age might have been the years up until around 2008.  A lot has happened in the 9 years since.

There are a lot fewer Westerners here doing business.  5 years ago, there were 5,000 members of AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce.  Now there are 2,500.  Every year the 4th July event sees the numbers in attendance less and less and less, except for last year when the Saturday fell on the 4th July.  So probably the number of Kiwis and Aussies and American and British and Canadians are down too. But the Chinese and Indians are up.  Our client base is made up mostly of these nationalities and we are seeing fewer of them, yet there is more competition.  Competition is good but the reality is that the pie is smaller now.  Maybe there were 3 or 4 major players before and now there are 20….and we’re all fighting for a piece of the pie.  Fortunately, we get referrals and repeat clients every year.

 

 

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What trends do you see in the Bangkok business world these days, from a foreign business owner’s perspective?

The trend of many factories has been down since 2012 till now.  That was the year minimum wage in Thailand went to 300 baht a day and for many factories it was an increase of 78% which is significant if the staff is over 500 people.  The Europe crisis started and people had less purchasing power.  The factories could not increase their prices because China was very competitive, lowering prices to get more market share.  Meanwhile commodity prices and raw material increased that year for several factories.

As for retail, rents in Bangkok have gone up dramatically in recent years because of soaring property prices.  Wages have also gone up dramatically.  Now the minimum wage is 9,400 baht a month. Unemployment is still around only 1%.

A bit over 10 years ago I can remember waitresses in Korat earning 2,500 baht a month with a small amount in tips on top.

Now you’re looking at a minimum of 15,000 to 20,000 baht for a receptionist in Bangkok.  Salaries have more than doubled in a short space of time.

But it is rents that are really the killer for bar and restaurant owners in Bangkok.  They have gone way high.  Look at Sukhumvit soi 11.  There are far fewer locations in the prime areas so as far as restaurants go, brand new places open up down side sois rather than on the main Sukhumvit Road. Many have opened recently.

But you have more visitors and new markets to service, right?  What about all the Chinese coming?  Do you think bars and restaurants and hotels will need Chinese-speaking staff and menus?

It would be helpful if someone knew Chinese, but are they going to get rich serving food as a waitress?  As far as menus go, what sort of money is there in it?  If you’re Thai and you speak Chinese, a tour guide could do well.  A foreigner in the tour guide business can’t do it – it’s a restricted profession.  So many of these tour groups from China are these zero dollar tours who spend all their money in China before they come.  I am not saying you cannot make money there, but I am not sure it’s where the money is.

I think many people who were here at the time would say that the golden years were perhaps from 2004 to 2008 in business for foreigners here.  There are still people coming here and are successful but it is a different business climate now.

You’re not wrong.  This site made 4 or 5 times back then what it does now.  Those were good times alright!

Starting a business in Thailand, it helps if you were successful in your own country.  It is more challenging here.  You must still do your research, must still work hard and I think luck comes with challenging work. You’ve got to adapt to the unfamiliar environment and be willing to change until something works the way you want.  If you have a suitable location, it will help.  If you have an outlet in say, Lad Prao, you might need help.  If you have a fantastic location on Sukhumvit or Silom then it will be much easier.

I understand there are more hoops to jump through these days for foreigners doing business in Thailand. What are some of these changes i.e. company registration, work permit, visa etc?  For example, a mutual friend of ours set up a company as a sole trader and has no staff – in fact he never had any staff – but you can’t do that these days, can you?

People like that are grandfathered through.  I still have a valid work permit as a sole proprietor obtained around 15 years ago.  That’s part of the reason why there’s a lot of misinformation.  People thought you had to have 4 Thai employees.  That was never a work permit requirement and that regulation was only for the visa. That changed when the Department of Labour met Immigration.  It was legal whereby you could exit the country every three months.  Back then some people had ghost employees.  Now the Labour Department comes out and meets the employees of foreigner-run companies and asks them questions like how do you get to work, which bus number do you take to get to work, how long does it take – all to check that they really are genuine employees and not ghost employees.  They want to make sure these people are real people and not just in the social fund system.  The foreigner setting up a company in Thailand now must have 4 Thai employees and there is no way around it unless you are in a BOI company or representative office.

When I was talking about Westerners, you need to look at the age breakdown.  The majority moving to Thailand now are in their 20s and early 30s and then late 50s, 60s and some in their 70s.  There’s a whole expat generation that is less well represented from say mid 30s to mid 50s.  They’re not coming to Thailand to resettle like the old days.  Part of that is due to the Thais who have got a Western education and are coming back and taking the jobs those people would have gone for.  Also, international school fees and the whole expat package are so expensive that some companies just don’t want to pay it any more.  I sat in one restaurant and observed customers over a period and when it comes to Westerners it is amazing how true it is.  The number in that age group is less.  What have you seen?

I agree.  I think there is a much lower return rate for Westerners who visit Thailand.  And I think some of the Westerners moving here today are either younger guys who have lost their way, or older guys who have had a very long association with Thailand and been dreaming of retiring here for 10, 15 or 20 years. I think most people who come here now enjoy it, but there’s a whole wide world out there and they don’t become addicted and return 2 or 3 times a year, year after year as people used to.  I get the feeling that today people want to explore further afield.  Where Thailand was once exotic, now it seems most people make it here.  Tourism worldwide is going gangbusters with more countries opening up so there are so many more places to visit.

And the older guys are dying off!  I think ultimately there will be fewer Western foreigners….here just like there are fewer Swiss watches!

I think there are lots of young people around, but I don’t expect them to stay that long.  They don’t seem to have the same passion for the country and they’re more about accruing experiences so I just can’t see that many of them sticking around.

Several people asked me if I was to move to Thailand today, what sort of business should I look in to.  I think Thailand still has a huge advantage especially with BOI companies because you don’t have to have any Thai employees at first – and it’s a low startup registered capital to get BOI approval.  They’re very supportive.

So what is a BOI company?

BOI is a Board of Investment company which can be owned 100% by a foreigner and there are no taxes for up to 8 years on profits and dividends as approved by the BOI committee.  It’s in several categories like factories and the easiest category is if you’re doing software development.  Anything internet-related they’re very accommodating of.  Even though wages have gone up, labour costs in Thailand are still much lower than many other countries.  There are two other countries that might compete as a place to run a business like this – Philippines or India.  But if you wanted to choose the place to live between these three countries, I think Thailand compares favorably.

Also, if you look at say the cost of an office in other places in the region like Singapore or Hong Kong, Bangkok looks good.

If you want to do anything IT related you’re in the right niche and we’re the right firm to help you get approval.  We’ve done hundreds of BOI approvals.  100% foreign-owned, you get the tax write-off, there is no need for Thai employees and you only need to remit 25% of paid up registered capital for the certification in the first 6 months.  The two-year visa and work permit with BOI approved companies is one-stop so it is all done in one day with no traipsing backwards and forwards between Immigration and the Labour Department.  You can even enter Thailand on a tourist visa and we can get that converted so you don’t have to exit the country, go and get a non-immigrant B visa at an embassy outside Thailand and return.  Also with some companies, for import duties you get an exemption on equipment along with other reductions for importing raw material and exporting product.  One more additional advantage, your BOI company can be eligible to own land for the business as a foreign company.

This sounds like a really viable option for digital nomads – and there’s LOTS of them in Thailand and I bet more than a few would like to be in the system and legal without the need to do visa runs and worry about whether their next visa will be approved.

Are there any other businesses would you recommend a foreigner keen to do business in Thailand look at?

There is another sector I would consider going in to – a hotel.  The margins are great because you always have that property and you’re just renting space repeatedly.  The expenses aren’t high – mainly labour costs and maintenance issues.  Margins are often around 65%.  Anything you’re able to run where you don’t have huge costs and you can sell the same thing repeatedly is huge.  You can do a Usufruct where you don’t own the land but you have the right to operate, or you can get a 30-year lease which is registered with the Land Office.  Do it right and the profits can be good.  In certain islands such as Samui where there’s a limited number of flights in I’d not consider it because growth is limited.  I’d look at other areas which are up and coming and that would come back to research.  Who is the competition?  More and more parts of Thailand are being explored as people hunt for the next gem, the new adventure.  Everyone knows Samui.  What about Ko Lipe, for example?  It is one of the most beautiful islands in the world.  Or Khao Yai, just two hours from here where there are vineyards and a great climate.  It is cooler than Bangkok and they once said it had the 8th clearest air in the world – all this right here in Thailand!  What a wonderful country it is when you escape the jungle of Bangkok.

If someone has a limited amount of money, Thailand really is a clear winner in many respects.  I mean how much would it cost to start a business in your home country?

A certain type of businessman will continue to prosper here.  I am a firm believer that people who have done well here are people who would do well at home.  I think for people who want to set up here as they want to escape from home for whatever reason they might not succeed here.  People who have the drive and fortitude to succeed at home can succeed here too.  Will they do as well as some people did here in the past?  Maybe not, but there are still foreigners here making good money.  Software, online businesses, hotels, exporting unique goods, BOI companies etc.

As for living here, I felt Thailand had a huge disadvantage 9 years ago on internet.  Internet speeds were not good.  Today there are fibre to the home connections with 100 MB connections for less than 1,000 baht a month and it is consistent.  This has really improved.

Thailand is in some ways a lot easier to live in these days.  It’s not just the Internet, but that helps.  No matter if you’re from Sweden or America or wherever, you can get these Thai Expat TV boxes or TV connections, all over the Internet.  You can watch your favorite sports live which you never could before. You can get so much food from back home here now.  Bangkok is Bangkok but when you get out and away from Bangkok, Thailand really is a beautiful country.  Krabi, Ko Lipe and some of the islands are just incredibly beautiful.

If we were to do another interview in 9 years, what would we see?!

 

 

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2026?  Haha, I don’t want to still be visiting here then! <We both laugh loud!>

OK, I want to touch on something else.  Sunbelt Legal helps people who have legal problems and the New Zealand embassy always told me that of all the New Zealanders who had legal issues here, half were due to overstaying their visa.  Have you seen many changes or effects since the Immigration rule change that means people can be barred from Thailand or prevented from returning for a period of time?

We could help people with overstay issues before the rule change happened.  People with very long overstays, like 10 years or more.  A lot depended on their nationality but for the most part it could be worked through.  There were some who would pay the fine after we had been in touch with Immigration beforehand.  Some hired us to help them and meet them at the airport but they never turned up and we don’t know what ever happened to them!

It’s more difficult to get some visas to stay long-term.  There were certain Thai embassies that if someone was looking to explore to invest or to stay here to do research, they could get a one-year multiple-entry visa from.  Now they usually need a company in their homeland willing to send a letter to support what they are doing, a real verifiable company – and a company at this end doing the same.  And then you need a friendly embassy.  That has all totally changed.

Now with the terrorist threat like the bombing in the second half of 2015, individual lawyers are responsible for the people whose visa application they assist with.  When a lawyer applies for any visa they help with, Immigration wants the lawyer to be in a photo with the visa applicant along with the Thai director if there is one!

So it’s all getting tougher?

Every year the rules change and you just have to find a solution.  We’re problem solvers so whatever hurdle there is you just deal with it.  You could say that there is a lot more “dealing with it” these days! We don’t complain as that is what we do, solve problems.

I know of perhaps a dozen foreigners with websites in Thailand who I would estimate have each made over a million dollars running their website in Thailand – and yes, I mean dollars, greenbacks, not baht – and none of these have ever been legal.  They never registered a business, never had a work permit and never paid taxes.  How dangerous is it for the increasing number of foreigners who do business online in Thailand but who don’t get legal and try to stay under the radar?

The odds are that no-one would ever know.

I asked a senior official at the Department of Labour about this.  They pointed out that if someone was in retail selling boxes of shoes, selling art or paintings or something like that then there would be evidence.

But if it is entirely a service online, no chance.  If they knocked on the door and the person closed the open pages on the computer there would be no evidence.

You always recommend foreigners doing business in Thailand get legal from the outset.  Without identifying anyone, can you tell me of any funny stories or horror stories?

There was a funny story I remember from a few years ago of a mutual friend of ours who had a distribution business.  The tax people came calling and just before they arrived a large box of documents was delivered from the accountant.  He could see they were looking in that direction so he went and plopped his bulky frame on the box and looked them straight in the eye and said, “Everything is with the accountant, we’ll have to get it to you.”  They said they would come back in 2 weeks, but they never did. He was making a lot of money!  He always managed to show losses whereas in the box was all the proof they needed that he was doing huge sales!  He was praying the box would not give out under his not inconsiderable weight!

Away from business and looking more at the people behind the businesses, do you find Bangkok a bit more vanilla these days, at least in terms of the characters in business?  I often think back to people like our old mate Boss Hogg, or Marc of Eden Club and some of the other characters we’ve seen over the years.  These days people seem a bit more, perhaps not serious, but certainly less colourful….which might not be such a bad thing in the business world.  Would you agree with that?

There used to be a lot of personalities here and it was fun.  Yeah, I can’t try to think of someone as colourful as those people, I can’t think of even one person.  The Swiss watch days!

Around 2005 or 2006, I was asked to do due diligence on a gogo bar on the top floor of Nana Plaza.  The asking price was, as I recall, around 50 million baht or at the exchange rate of the day, about 1.2 million US dollars.  I wasn’t sure what was required but they wanted me to help out and in the end we agreed I would spend a few nights there, estimate customer numbers, estimate the average spend per customer, estimate the total take, and then come up with a rough guestimate of the venue’s expenses which they would check against the official receipts.  The bar eventually sold for in excess of 40 million baht.  Today, similar bars are selling for much less and at a best guess, bars these days change hands for about 1/4 of what they used to.  What do you make of that?

And perhaps they should only sell for a small fraction of that.  Wages for the girls had to go up.  I heard there are far fewer girls in the business.  Drink and rent costs have gone up much higher and actual drink prices have not gone up as much as rent and salaries.  I have been in a bar with friends maybe less than 5 times in 15 years.  With increased competition, prices can’t go up.  How many hours can a bar open to make their money?  They open at 8 PM and close at 2 AM.  They are making their money over 5 or 6 hours out of a possible 24.  What’s the average lady make these days?

My guess is around 10,000 or 12,000 baht up to a high of 30,000 baht a month?  1,000 baht day rates are not uncommon.

The mobile phone / smartphone has changed it.  These girls don’t need to go to be a gogo dancer any more so they have cut out the bar.  So, the guy that goes there must pay for the barfine, lady drinks and there’s at least 1,000 baht.  He picks up his phone and it’s an instant 1,000 baht saving.  Smartphone wins again over the Swiss watch!

What’s an escort cost?

On Smooci, it can be as low as 2,000 baht.

Ha, that is very cheap compared to other countries!  Deliveries are skyrocketing.  Same logic!  You know people just want to stay home and get stuff brought to them.  This is a real trend I am seeing – people want to stay home in Bangkok, they want their food delivered and now they want a girl delivered too! Thanks, Siri!

Your friend with the escort services is doing good, right?

 

 

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Business is booming!  It’s silly money!

I used to like searching the Sunbelt database of businesses for sale in Bangkok, reading the description of gogo bars listed for sale and trying to work out which one it was.  But you would never confirm for me if I had the right one or not <we both laugh>.

That was fun when you thought you knew and I had to keep a straight face <big grin>!

So, do many of those businesses come up for sale now?

Not really, because there are more syndicates operating these days, big players with several bars and they are trying to buy up even more bars.  Like your interview last week with Bryan Flowers – he is buying up large.  What happens is that if someone has a bar for sale they will go direct to the big player to sell.  For sure, there are fewer bars for sale now than in the past.  Lots of kittens before, but now it’s just a few fats cats…. the little ones have all been gobbled up!

I notice in New Zealand and other parts of the developed world that there is a movement towards eating out good, but eating out affordably.  I see a lot of new operators here with small food eateries.  What do you see going on there?  Are there opportunities for foreigners operating eateries and restaurants?

As for the food sector, if you want to be in the restaurant business, find a fantastic location.  And if you’re buying a restaurant based on cashflow, make sure the person is selling for a reason that is valid and the numbers are real.  When you find a good business and a fantastic location you can take it to the next level.  We have mutual friends who purchased a good business two years ago.  They’re hands on and it is now up 25% on where it was.  They’re a middle-aged European couple.  They made the place nicer inside, installed more equipment and were more hands on.  It was a good business and it’s even better now.  The owner had moved away and it was hard for him to manage from 10,000 miles away.  It sold for 2.5x earnings.  They have already got the money back on their investment.  Now they own a great business in a fantastic location and nobody flinches at 200 baht Corona or 300 baht Belgian beers.

People want to operate a business here.  What can they relate best to?  Everyone needs to eat and drink. How difficult can it be to hand a beer to a customer or serve food?  They think it’s easy.  But when they look for a location they find it difficult.  That’s why today there are so many people operating out of shophouses down sois.  Not always well-decorated and they may have a limited budget.  Especially on imported beers and whatnot, the tax is high (Corona, as an example, is 110 baht wholesale), which makes it much more expensive than at home.  It might be $3 or $4 for that beer at home, but that is the wholesale price here.  To meet rent and make profit, they are going to have to sell it at 200 baht or 300 baht in the case of some Belgian beers.  They sell to tourists who know the prices for these beers back home and they think the operator is taking the piss but they’re not – they must sell at those prices to survive!  Buying Chang or Singha would be an alternative, but the small, neighbouring Thai business could charge much less and then the margins are really squeezed.  If a vendor is outgoing and has a fan base then it can work.  If you can create hype then you can do well.  Here’s an analogy.  You have two horses. An 8-year old that will soon be cat food and another which is a thoroughbred.  Feed them in the morning…they are both going to eat a bucket of oats.  The reality is that rents are going to be high, your salaries are going to be high, the costs are high.  Sell on Sukhumvit or sell on a side soi, the costs for the product is similar.  On a side soi many costs are the same, it’s only rent that is different – and even then, it could still be 100,000 baht for a small shophouse down a side soi.  Your margins can be really squeezed.

What would it cost to start a bar in New Zealand?

My best guess to set a place up well would be around $200,000 Kiwi dollars, so say around 5 million baht.

You can start a bar here for much less than that.  You can get all the licenses here quickly and cheap.  So, people with a limited amount of money can do something but they may not have the money to buy on the main road and instead they end up way down a side soi.  They had better be active online because they need to get people in.

We had a mutual friend who had a place on Sukhumvit soi 16 and it never did well.  It was taken over by a Dutchman who made it work as a destination for Dutch football fans.  Here was one businessman who didn’t make it work but the day it was taken over by someone else it was like switching the light on.  Even though it was well down a soi, if you can create a niche – and I think that is a key word – you can develop a following.  You cannot open a massage outlet or a tailor’s shop without massive competition.  If your location is not great you had better create a niche or do things very well.  Don’t just create a Dutch place, but a place for Dutch football fans – very targeted marketing and then when it gets popular others will come along.  You start with a niche and it grows from there…otherwise you are going to be staring at empty walls with no-one in your space.

 

 

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Greg Lange and some of the Sunbelt Asia staff.

 

 

When you started Sunbelt Asia 15 odd years ago, did you realistically expect to still be in this business in 2017?

Absolutely I expected us to be around!  On the legal side, we were the first to substantially lower the service rates on work permits and forming companies.  On the acquisition and merger side, it’s still a niche business and there are still people who wish to sell businesses for reasons such as partnership dispute, divorce or health reasons, or simply they want to retire.  These are good businesses.  And then there are some businesses which were not the right fit for that person and they want to get out.  It always must be handled in a confidential manner so employees stay and that is why I felt Sunbelt Asia would always have work.

And the future?

I’ll be around for another three years or so till my son John graduates in the States and takes over.  As for Sunbelt Asia Legal, there are people who want to get work permits and want to live here and form a company.  I am willing to talk with anyone even if I’m 100% retired then.  I am not looking to invest but I am happy to give advice which is straightforward and tell people what I think.  And Sunbelt Asia Accounting has the accounting and auditing department.  People still need to file VAT and withholding tax and do audits so there is a future there.  With Sunbelt Asia Business Brokerage, we have the experience of 15+ years.  We help both sides.  If a buyer goes directly to a bar owner who wishes to sell and they hold the money until closing without us being involved, with several prospective buyers they never saw their money back if things go bad.  We have even had situations where people circumvented us.  We introduced a seller and an interested party and they then went behind our back and when the interested party had a problem they came back to us to get us to help get their money back.

Where do you see things going?  I voted with my feet and left.  I will always have a small place in my heart for Thailand, but as for running a legitimate business here, I think it’s just too hard.  Too many silly rules that make no sense and too many restrictions.  That’s what I think, and I think some people who have been around a while feel similar.  Where do you see things going for foreign business owners in Thailand or people who want to get in to business here?

The negative is that Thailand doesn’t feel the competition yet of other countries who are more involved with free trade deals to offset the prospect of protectionism in global trade.   I’m talking about imports in to Thailand and Customs which is its own country in itself.  An example, I know a company which was importing clay to make ceramics.  They had 11 shipments over five years and now Customs recently said they should not have allowed the shipment of this clay to be imported while the Department of Thai Agriculture says this kind of clay is allowed.  The penalty is four times the cost of the goods.  It is three years since the last shipment and now they just got notified cause someone at Customs was looking at old shipments, and they want to levy the fine.  They are staying in Thailand because of the craftmanship.  In 2012, they had 230 employees  Now its 90 employees.  Thailand used to be 70% of their retail portfolio and now its 8% as they deal direct with China and export to as its more about price than quality.

The bottom line is that you can still make money but it’s not as easy as it was 9+ years ago.  You must work.  I never hear of people getting rich overnight here like you used to.  Can you still get rich here despite the challenges?  Yes, you can.  But it most likely takes longer and will need more work.

And as you are asking about the future here.  I predict if you wanted to know “Can I start a successful business in Thailand” in nine years, people will talk to their smartphone and be asking their digital personal assistant such as Siri, Echo or Now how long of time it will take, rather than typing the question in Google. Something my Swiss watch can’t do.  <We laugh together>

I am looking forward to our next interview in 2026 to see if the smartphone screen is obsolete and you won’t be taking pictures anymore of me typing on my phone!  Then you will start out asking where my phone is!  Ha!  But if I’m not around, a real millennial, my son John will be here.  He loves Bing cherries too!

 

 

SunbeltLegal

 

 

Where Was This Photo Taken?

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Last week’s photo is taken on one of the side sois off Sukhumvit soi 23 which is still actually called soi 23 to complicate things, close to the Narz nightspot. Only one reader got it right and I strongly suspect he lives nearby!

 

Stick’s Inbox  (The best emails received at Stickman HQ this past week.)

BigHe irony!

The word “he” is coarse Thai slang for vagina.  The name of the clinic you mentioned could thus be mistaken for the “big vagina” clinic.  But of course unlike men, very few women wish to increase the size of their genitalia.  To avoid confusion, perhaps the clinic should change its name from BigHe to Biggie.

No need to super-size.

I had a good laugh at your latest editorial.  I think I am probably average but it’s never been something I trouble to think about.  If ever I do worry, I will just head into a hands-on gogo and will hear those sweet words, “You very big man”.  Problem solved.  Best thing, real Thai girls have tiny hands – it’s all about proportion.  Losing a few pounds works too.

Oh to be young again.

It blows my mind that someone would spend 75,000 baht to have their manhood injected with the expectation of enlargement and the hope of no adverse side effects.  That said, if someone could come up with an injection or whatever that would enable “the thrill” and “the desire” to be like it was back when in your 20s – that is something I would consider!  If a 50, 60, or 70-year-old could enjoy the same intensity as a 20, 30, or 40-year-old, that may be worth it.

Upgrading your joystick.

When girth is your girl’s primary concern then you know that is a field so well plowed that you are neither needed nor appreciated.  Waving about 75,000 baht cash will buy you a lot more beautiful playmates than waving about your upsized joystick.

Songkran best avoided.

I was in Bangkok over Songkran.  I walked from soi 8 to soi 2 via the alleyway to soi 6 and down through soi 4.  A ton of water was being thrown.  Of the 7 people I asked not to dowse me only 3 did, 1 even asked just a little and I said ok.  2 simply blew me off.  I will never visit or go out during this holiday again while the water is being thrown.  It’s hot but there are a lot better ways to cool off.

Songkran on Soi Nana.

Soi 4 was extremely busy at Songkran with the road packed by Stumble Inn.  We were prisoners in our hotel and we couldn’t go out without getting drenched.  Absolute pain.  The news reported that police were clamping down on anyone throwing water.  I didn’t see one policeman during the whole 3 days of water fights on Sukhumvit soi 4.

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Tasting before saucing.

I thought it was just me who had a problem with Thai women ordering food and then dousing it with their favourite condiments.  I watched a working girl in Soi Nana order a bowl of food then put 9 teaspoons of dried chillis on it while yakking on her phone.  She finished talking, tried the food, and could only say “phet, phet, phet“.  I met my wife 17 years ago and we travelled from Pattaya to Chiang Mai, stopping at which ever eateries took her fancy.  The first few times we ate together, I watched her pile on the sugar, fish sauce, dried chillis, etc.  In fairness, she watched me try the food first, then decide what condiments to use.  After a couple of days, she asked me why I didn’t just put all the seasonings on first and I explained that the same dish could taste quite differently, depending who cooked it.  The response was a snort of derision but that lunch time we both had a bowl of chicken soup from a roadside vendor.  She did her usual “trick” with the seasonings then tried her food and pronounced it rubbish because it was too sweet.  I suggested that the 2 teaspoons of sugar she put on might have had something to do with that, but she couldn’t/  wouldn’t agree (how could a farang tell a Thai how to prepare Thai food?).  I offered her my soup to try that I hadn’t seasoned and she found it was fine, so I’ve now managed to covert one Thai in to tasting before saucing.  In saying that, we’ve been to places where we’ve both tasted our food before adding the flavours and at one, we were asked by the cook / owner whether we thought they’d poisoned the food and on another occasion the owner suggested we were being rude by tasting first.  Wife took the lead on both occasions and simply walked out.  Wonder how many others can be converted?

Beware Facebook!

I’m in the “no Facebook” camp.  I tried it for a while and found it to be tedious, boring and intrusive.  I tried to clear my information and it is damn near impossible to delete all your data and info.  I did manage to change my date of birth for fear of identity theft.  I will have to have my 16-year-old nephew who serves as my IT expert try to cleanse my involvement.  I’m sure it has some sort of value by exposing information to countless people but I find it to be an enormous time-waster.  Most of the devotees to the site are of a certain make-up.  There is only so much information I need and knowing some obscure friend from childhood has lost her Aunt Emma to severe tick bites isn’t part of it.  If you can develop a useful purpose and reap a benefit good for you.  I’m just too skeptical about Facebook management and the control they exert.  Be careful how much you depend on the site.

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Girl Of The Week

“C”, from Trat province, gogo dancer, Dollhouse, Soi Cowboy.

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dollhouse-a-gogo

 

Rumours about the construction of a roof over Nana Plaza have been doing the rounds since the current owners purchased the property but nothing has happened to date.  Word from the head honcho of the plaza this week is that, yes, they do intend to put a roof atop the plaza.  A structural engineer group has spent time in Nana Plaza performing weight-bearing tests and also testing the concrete.  The plaza was built 35 years ago without a lot of drawing plans and whatever there was have long been lost.  It will take 4 weeks to complete the tests at which point they should have a better idea about what is involved. Another issue that has been identified with the construction of such a roof is just how they will reverse cranes out through the narrow entranceway.  The owners are confident that the new permanent roof will be installed over the top of Nana Plaza by the end of the year with the goal to have a dry red-light area which will make the plaza more attractive to both tenants and visitors.

And still on the subject of Nana Plaza, new leases for the bars will be issued soon with a 9-year option available which would be a fantastic guarantee for bars.  Many businesses in Thailand only get a 3-year lease and with rents soaring it means much uncertainty for business owners which is no good for anyone.

You have to laugh at those bar bosses who complained about trade over Songkran with some having the cheek to increase barfines to 1,000 baht at a time when fewer punters ventured out.

It was quiet in the bars this week in Bangkok with reports from friends that the number of girls in the bars was still well down.  That’s nothing unusual for the week after Songkran and I wouldn’t expect things to return to normality until next weekend.

And it wasn’t exactly business as usual in Nana Plaza on Friday night with the lights going out at 1 AM, something to do with the orders of some big wig.

And just a few klicks away on Patpong soi 2, festivities came to an abrupt end at Club Electric Blue on Friday night with girls piling out of the bar at 9 PM with the bar closed for the night due to electrical issues.  Back towards Silom Road, The Strip had few girls.  But proving it was not all doom and gloom on Patpong soi 2, recently renovated Glamour was doing very well on Friday night with a large number of pretty dancers and plenty of customers.

On Soi Nana proper, business is all over the place with some bars booming and others looking ill.  The latest version of Strikers in the car park of the Nana hotel which has only been open a few months is up for sale with an asking price of 20 million baht.  Word is business isn’t great, but it is profitable.  And another once popular Soi Nana bar, The Tavern, has been in a slow demise since founder Scott passed away.  Elsewhere, Stumble Inn and Morning Night are rocking along nicely.

A little further down Soi Nana, the shophouse that was once the popular Jool’s bar has iron cladding across the front with a large 7 Eleven logo on it, so it looks like yet another branch of the convenience store chain is coming to Soi Nana.

 

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Still on Soi Nana, the arrival of Hooters on Soi Nana raised eyebrows with many soi 4 regulars suggesting that it was out-of-place and wouldn’t make it.  I felt that it offered something sufficiently different and that it might do ok but it sounds like the regulars were right and I was wrong.  Hooters in Soi Nana went through 4 managers in the first 8 months and regulars have commented that the number of punters it attracts has dropped.  And who can blame those for choosing not to return after Hooters’ VIP card debacle.   Available to those who spent 3,000 baht or more – which some did specifically to get the VIP card – the card program has been cancelled and the benefits of being a cardholder are no longer available. Those who have complained about this have been told in a polite way to harden up – and some have responded by refusing to return.  After so many failures, Hooters has changed the profile of their managers and the profile of a Western male with experience in the hospitality industry has been dumped in favour of young, pretty ladies from the Philippines who look great, smile all day long and love to say, Yes, Sir!  Rumour has it that Hooters had secured a 15-year lease for the spot on Soi Nana so it will be interesting to see how things go if punter numbers don’t turn around.

On the subject of Hooters, apparently the branch of Hooters across the border in Phnom Penh is getting closer to completion.  It was supposed to open around this time last year – which I guess just goes to show that it is not only in Thailand where these sorts of projects fall hopelessly behind schedule.

Word from Bangkok this week that street food vendors are to be cleared from the city’s streets have received widespread criticism.  I have to admit that while I seldom eat at street food vendors, I still like the idea of being able to do so.  For many Thais, eating on the street is the one affordable dining option available to them.  Many Thais in Bangkok are migrant workers from the provinces who live in ultra cheap shoebox-like rooms with no cooking facilities and for whom most meals are eaten out.  Only the most simple things are prepared in their room like packet noodles.  I do understand the reasons why street vendors are being cleared out but at the same time the disappearance of many aspects of the city that I used to love is kind of sad.  Most Bangkokians like the idea of their hometown being a modern metropolis and hope one day it will resemble the likes of Tokyo or Seoul – and I get that – but at the same time I cannot help but feel they are killing some of the best – and most-loved – parts of the city.  The authorities were slack for too long and boundaries were pushed so far that eventually something had to give.  But to outlaw street vendors altogether in Bangkok seems excessive.

 

mlbdate

 

Readers who have shared their experiences with Airbnb properties in Thailand know that the owners of those properties are aware that listing on Airbnb in Thailand is in conflict with the law.  One reader mentioned that the owner of one Airbnb-listed property he stayed at in Bangkok said that if anyone asked who he was and what he was doing to just say that he was a friend of the owner.  In another case, the renter was asked to sign a bogus document saying he was staying for longer than he actually was. When asked if said document was a government requirement, the owner claimed that the management of the condo insisted on it.  There is much interest in Air BnB in Thailand so do let me know of your experience using it in Thailand.

Ever fancied having your very own condo in Pattaya and umm, err, living the dream in Sin City?!  A reader has a 2-bedroom condo in Pattaya for sale and has just reduced the price from 6.5 million baht to 5.95 million.  Details here.

I have not mentioned learning Thai or using Thai much recently.  I still remember that for the vast majority of foreigners living in Thailand that there is value in being comfortable in the local vernacular. Yes, there are arguments against learning a language that is only spoken in one country but I still maintain that if you’re going to stay a long time there is much value in reaching a decent level.  The exception would be those who work in an office where either the language of the office is English or the local staff are well-educated and mostly comfortable in English and / or you have the money to move in parts of society where most everyone is comfortable in English.

 

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Quote of the week comes from Pattaya resident Nat Charaporn, “Why are foreigners so crazy?  We see them doing the strangest things.  I want to know if they are like this in their own country.

Reader’s story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, “A Good Country For Whiny White Men”.

The Nation reported that as at the end of this year there would be no more street food vendors in Bangkok.

Thai police claim to be getting wise to Russian criminals in Thailand.

Those in Pattaya don’t think Sin City’s flavour will change any time soon.

A Brit is tied up by locals in Pattaya after he runs across people’s homes in his underwear.

Operators of the once popular Nataree Massage parlour are sentenced to lengthy jail terms.

 

sunbeltlegal

Ask Sunbelt Legal

Sunbelt Legal is here to answer all of your legal questions related to Thailand.  Email any questions you may have to me and I will forward them to Sunbelt and run their response in the column.

 

Question 1:  I wish to make it as easy as possible for my executors upon my death to finalise my affairs. I’m not planning on falling off the perch just yet, touch wood.  The assets in my country (Australia) are legally covered by my will, however I wonder what issues my executors may have in accessing my bank account in Thailand.  I have read (maybe incorrectly) that you should also have a Thai will so you can avoid having to go to court in Thailand to clear funds.  Is there a conflict in having two wills in two countries?

Sunbelt Legal responds:  Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors always recommends that there be one will for assets in Thailand drafted by a Thai lawyer and a separate foreign will for foreign assets.  Wills from another country with an executor named there might have difficulties in Thailand.  Required documents are:
– Passport copy and address of a person who wants to draft the will.
– Passport copy and address of an executor.
– Name of the bank, branch address, bank account name and bank account number in a
format xxxxx1234 (please mention only last four digits).

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience drafting Thai wills and ensuring that your wishes are enacted in distributing your Thai assets and can draft a Thai will in both Thai and English.

 

Question 2:  Does Sunbelt Asia have a 24-hour phone contact number for legal representation in the event that you believe it is in your best interest to get legal advice and assistance?  At a price, of course!

Sunbelt Legal responds:  Although Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors does not have a 24-hour hotline, our legal advisors are able to provide immediate support for clients after work hours.

 

 

smooci-stickman

 

 

I like email.  It works well.  It is reliable.  Emails tend to contain full sentences written in proper English which I much prefer to silly short-hand text messages.  But more than anything, what I like most about email is that there is no expectation of an immediate reply.  Send an email and odds are you’ll get a reply the same day.  Send someone a text or an instant message on WhatsApp, Line or the like and there is an expectation of a reply within 30 – 60 seconds.  I don’t like that sort of expectation placed on me as the receiver of a message.  How can anyone consider it fair to expect someone to reply so fast?  They might be eating.  They might be driving.  They might be sleeping.  They could be doing any of a million things that prevent them from not just replying at that moment in time but even reading the message then.  I take email management seriously.  Send me an email and I will reply promptly.  It’s not the same with instant messages.  I will reply, but it won’t be right away.  I bring this up because if you wish to offer thoughts on the column, share ideas or run an idea past me, please do it by email. [email protected]  Email works well very well and I’ll reply in a timely manner.  Send me a message on a forum, via Facebook, or a tweet and I might not even see it.  Call me old-fashioned, but email still works best with me.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

 

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