When Self-Control Abandons You
I can resist most temptations but there’s one thing that still gets me. I can spend a night in Bangkok gogo bars surrounded by pretty, smiling ladies who invite you to paw them but I never so much as lay a finger on anyone. I can try out all of the latest lenses in my favourite camera store in Central Rama 9 and leave without taking my credit card out of my wallet. But when it comes to the buffets in Bangkok’s 5-star restaurants, self-control abandons me and I often end up like a pig at the trough. When I was in Bangkok last month I was introduced to a buffet that stood out from the rest.
There are so many Sofitel and Novotel hotels in Bangkok that when a friend invited us along to the buffet at the Sofitel Sathorn I shouldn’t have wondered if I had heard him right. I knew there was a Sofitel on Silom, but on neighbouring Sathorn too? Mr. Google provided the details and off we trotted to the Sunday brunch at Red Oven at the SO Sofitel.
Sunday brunch is the premier buffet of the week in many Bangkok hotels and for some time the best hotels have fought for the title of Bangkok’s best brunch. At the top end of the market, Sunday brunch in Bangers can run close to 3,000 baht a head if you go for the free-flow alcohol options. The phrase Sunday brunch at any Bangkok 5-star property means you’re in for a treat.
On the 7th floor of the So Sofitel, the view from Red Oven looks north over the treetops of Lumpini Park, with the embassy district behind it.
The sprawling dining room at Red Oven has food stations all over with too many food choices to list. Thai, Japanese, Italian, Western, seafood and the most amazing dessert section I have ever seen in all my years of pigging out at Bangkok hotel buffets, it is hard to know where to start!
Bangkok has many 5-star hotels from the established true 5-star properties like the Oriental, the Dusit Thani, and the Sukhothai to the chains like the Sheratons and Marriotts, to the newcomers, some of which are more like 4- or 4.5-star, of which there are too many to mention. Seldom does a year goes by without at least a couple more 5-star hotels opening up somewhere in Bangkok. And almost all of them have a restaurant that does a buffet. With so much competition, why do I get so excited about Red Oven?
I’m not going to say that Red Oven is the best 5-star hotel buffet in Bangkok, but it’s probably the best I’ve had.
Buffets aren’t just about the quality and the selection of the food, but the setting, the service – yep, even at buffets service is part of the experience – and the general ambience. Red Oven is outstanding in all respects and even the red wine offered with the Sunday brunch – a French Burgundy if I remember right – was a lovely drop.
So many of the dishes at the Red Oven buffet are prepared with real finesse. OK, so all of the 5-star hotels use quality ingredients, but one of the things that sets Red Oven apart is that many dishes would stand up if ordered from the a la carte menu. They don’t have that mass-produced feel that many top hotel buffets cannot shake.
Some 5-star hotel buffets target the local market with a focus on seafood and Japanese, while others go heavy on imported red meats and have a wide selection of Thai dishes, targeting foreign visitors. Red Oven has a good mix of everything.
Red Oven is particularly popular with local Thais. There were some foreigners present and the impression was that many may be guests in the hotel. I didn’t get the feeling that Red Oven had caught on amongst expat society…yet.
The dessert trolley is often a let down at Bangkok buffets where the offerings often look much better than they taste. Not at Red Oven.
Red Oven has far and away the best selection of desserts I have seen in a buffet. The selection is so good that if you just wanted to gorge on cakes and sweets and ice-cream, you could – there are so many and the quality is outstanding.
The ice-cream at Red Oven deserves a special mention. We’re in New Zealand when it comes to ice-cream but I have to say that the homemade ice-cream at Red Oven compares with the very best mass-produced stuff in New Zealand – only the (very pricey) boutique vendors have better. The flavours are strong without being sickly sweet and the texture is perfect.
Bangkok buffets have increased in price steadily in recent years with many of the best buffets (usually Friday and Saturday nights) running close to 2,000 baht per head. Sunday brunches run higher still. They are fair value in Bangkok if you are a big eater, but most of the time you needn’t pay full-price. Many hotels have promotions such as 4 dine for the price of 2. Others have club cards which at several thousand baht for a year’s membership might sound steep but they come with vouchers for free nights in the hotel, free meals and a 50% discount in all the eateries in the hotel for a full year. Paying with certain credit cards can see hefty discounts and of course there are the online discount services like Eatigo. Plan it and don’t go along on a whim and you needn’t pay anywhere near full-price.
At one time I was a member of the Sheraton Sukhumvit Grande Club and I later had a Starwood Privilege card, each of which gave 50% discounts off the buffet at various 5-star hotels in Bangkok. I was a regular pig, stuffing my face on average once a week.
When Sheraton Grande had a New Zealand food festival several years ago, I went along 3 times in the week the Kiwi chef was in town. I probably consumed 5,000+ calories at each of those settings, about twice the energy a Marathon runner uses in one race. I could see what was happening to my waistline and gave the card away to a friend and never renewed my membership. With that card in my wallet it was too easy to fall back on that….if I didn’t have any plans at the weekend, I’d end up at the buffet. A few times a year is ok, but once a week is not!
Great buffets in Bangkok aren’t exclusive to the 5-star hotels. Bourbon Street’s long-running Tuesday (6:00 PM – 10:00 PM) Mexican buffet is as popular as ever and at just 295++ baht is a real bargain. And don’t laugh at the idea of a vegan buffet – May Kaidee just off Khan San Road has an all you can eat spread for 150 baht all in, every Saturday night with really delicious food.
Back to Red Oven, when I say self-control abandoned me, I mean it. 3 days after brunching at Red Oven I was back again for the dinner buffet. And just like a night on the tiles I regretted it the next morning!
Where Was This Photo Taken?
Last week’s photo was taken at the corner of Soi Nana and Sukhumvit Road, right where the motorcycle riders waiting spot is. A popular spot but the low depth of field in the photo saw few get it right.
Stick’s Inbox (The best emails from the past week.)
Email of the week – Air BnB, a better deal.
Greg Lange enthuses that hotel margins can reach approximately 65 percent. Given such high (some might say obscene) margins, economic theory tells us that competitors will enter the field, and that margins will decrease. It is no wonder then that later in the column you mention Airbnb’s operations in Bangkok: Airbnb is the market’s response to the sky-high margins hotels have for years enjoyed. If condominium boards in Bangkok would stop restricting people from renting their condos on Airbnb and kindred platforms, hotel margins would decrease. The hotel industry fears this competition, and calls it unfair—but should consumers sympathize with an industry where margins reach 65 percent? I, for one, am outraged at such margins, given that Bangkok’s top hotels renovate their rooms on average only once every 25 years, yet increase rates every year. In short, consumers should welcome Airbnb. And would-be hotel owners should take note: in a freer market that includes Airbnb, margins will likely be far below 65 percent. We should not be surprised if we learn that hotels and hotel associations fund condominium-tenant / owner advocacy groups that claim Airbnb’s transient renters are destroying the character of condominium life. Here every centimeter of the hotel owners’ language of public interest covers a good many hectares of self-interest. Finally, compare the 65-percent hotel margin Lange cited with his remarks concerning a Bangkok restaurant’s markup on a bottle of Corona: 110 baht wholesale for the beer; 200 baht on the menu. Presumably, the margin is well below 65 percent; restaurant margins are lower than hotel margins in large part because the market for the former is freer. Let’s laud well-run hotels, but temper our praise with the knowledge that their profits are driven by a high degree of restraint of trade.
Air BnB, Bangkok experience.
I rented a 1-bedroom condo in a high-rise for one month in Bangkok from Air BnB and had a great experience. The building was approximately 80% Thai and 20% foreigner so it was easy to fit in. If you act like a resident, treat security with respect, meet the owner, and not be loud / host parties, then Air BNB is a great option. But if you want to have parties or cram a lot of people in to a small apartment, then please stay away from Air BnB and don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Virtually all of the listings say that you cannot have parties or be loud so if an owner receives a complaint from neighbours or building management, they can cancel your stay and toss you out. The rating system is also a self-policing mechanism. Most users want to maintain a high rating so they can continue using Air BNB. The government will hopefully not crack down unless there are significant problems.
Air BnB, Pattaya experience.
While I continue to use hotels in Phuket & Samui, I’ve converted to using AirBnB in Pattaya (instead of hotels in Bangkok) as my base when in country. It’s quite cost-effective (~$45 – 55 / day) to rent a furnished condo with in-unit laundry, and getting to / from BKK Airport for international arrival / departure is easy. I can land, head to the AirBnB condo to stow my gear, stock up on some food, and then re-pack only what I need for the next leg of the trip and fly out from U-Tapao to Samui / Phuket. Then I can return, wash up some things, decompress / rest, and head to the next leg of the trip. I generally stay at View Talay 6 which has many condo rentals including an office which has arranged short-term rentals since before AirBnB got in the business. The location being right next to Central Mall is convenient, and it’s well insulated from the noise of Pattaya daily life. It’s a bonus to be able to easily walk to Lee Kek restaurant – open 24 hours for decent quality food. The hotels in Pattaya that allow separation from street noise (Marriott at Royal Garden, the Siam Bayshore, the Amari, etc…) are all in the $120+ / night range during low-season and can easily go higher. AirBnB is a bargain by comparison, and the main benefit of the platform is to be able to pick from among the many units where owners are seeking to rent. It’s also a positive to have recourse from a western company if things go wrong. I still use hotels where the AirBnB inventory isn’t competitive, but there’s no question my behaviour has changed with the entry of AirBnB into Thailand.
Where is Miss Roi Et?
The toll of dead and injured during the Songkran holiday period is well documented, and I have found myself wondering if I know one of the victims. I had struck up a good relationship with a dancer at a Soi Cowboy bar, and although she had recently given up her role and returned home to Roi Et we kept in regular touch by Line and had arranged that she would return to Bangkok to see me. Then suddenly during Songkran my messages not only went unanswered but unread. I asked at her bar if anyone knew what had happened or if she had a friend there who knew her number, but no. So now I’m left wondering if she became one of the statistics. I’ll never know and I’m sure it will bother me for years to come.
Suggestions for Hooters, Soi Nana.
I read your discussion on the problems at Hooters on Soi 4. I’ve been there quite a few times since it opened and have some suggestions for the owners if they’re interested. First of all, there are too many guys working there. Men bartenders flirting with the girls and male security guys killing the vibe. There shouldn’t be any guys working there, if you ask me. Nobody going in there wants to see any men working there. Hiring Filipina managers is a step in the right direction but more needs to be done. It’s also obvious that the girls were trained to keep their distance from customers. The girls never hang around and chat with the guys. They are all business with attitudes to boot. Where do they think they’re working? There’s even a sign by the men’s bathroom that says something obnoxious like, “If you think you have a chance with a Hooters girl…you don’t!” That’s real nice! <A number of reports from readers as well as word from friends resident in Bangkok are testimony to that sign being nonsense! – Stick> And that’s basically the attitude you get from the girls when trying to talk to them. The place is also designed terribly. The bar is in the wrong spot and really limits movement at the entrance. The girls are supposed to be the show. There’s not enough seating that gives a good view of Soi 4. Even sitting at the bar overlooking the street, the counter is too high, in my opinion. And when it rains, the roof leaks water on to the counter and bar stools. I hope they get rid of all the guys working there and hire some Thai girls that like talking and flirting with customers. Then it would be a lot better.
Young guys love Pattaya.
A phenomenon I noticed in Pattaya this trip was the number of young, fit, good-looking western guys in their 20s or early 30s hanging around. It was very noticeable how younger, attractive bargirls ignore anyone over about 35 but rush in to the street to mob the young guys. Not surprising, but interesting. The days of older men easily finding young women in places like Pattaya may be drawing to a close and more creativity end effort might be required. It does seem odd to me that young men should be so keen on prostitutes. At that age I wouldn’t have bothered as there was no need.
Girl Of The Week
The biggest news of the week from Soi Cowboy is also the smallest. Cactus has had made an architectural blunder that makes you wonder if the plans were drawn up at the end of a long night of heavy elbow bending. They have modified the end of the stage in such a way that only punters in top physical shape can enter the bar. The space is perhaps only 40 cm wide. Even the girls need to turn sideways to squeeze past.
Angelwitch in Nana Plaza has long been known for its shows and now has a YMCA show with the girls performing in Village People outfits.
I reported in the column of March 5th that Climax, the mega popular freelancer venue in the basement of the Ambassador Hotel, would soon close. Climax had become run down and no maintenance had been done or improvement made despite it turning over massive money, hundreds of thousands of baht every night. That was a strong indicator that not all was well. I was pilloried when I wrote that Climax would close and the old chestnut came out – how could Stick possibly know when, after all, he is in New Zealand. That’s the line everyone uses to refute anything I say these days that they disagree with. Ironically, when I wrote that column I was nicely settled in Bangkok at the time. The beginning of the end was when several dozen men in green raided Climax on Saturday 10th September, 2016. Word at the time was that everyone in the packed bar was piss-tested for drugs but no-one tested positive, something anyone familiar with the venue knew was not possible. Despite attempts by Climax to renegotiate a new lease, the hotel wouldn’t budge. They wanted Climax out and that was that. Whether Climax will be able to find a new location in Sukhumvit remains to be seen with commercial space in the prime strip between Nana and Asoke and its side sois highly sought after.
The early stages of the annual bargirl shuffle are underway. Typically at the end of April when dancers come back from a long Songkran holiday up-country, some decide for one reason or another to change the bar they work at. So if your favourite girl is not back in her bar, she might have relocated.
It is also the time of the year that farm-fresh girls follow their friends from their village and make the trip down the highway to Bangkok and Pattaya and take their first steps on stage. These girls are often sweet and fun but their English can be almost non-existent.
In Japan, yesterday was Showa Day, Wednesday is Constitution Memorial Day, Thursday is Greenery Day and Friday is Children’s Day – all of which are national holidays. This is what is known as Golden Week. If you’re on the prowl in the bars of Bangkok this week, you will be competing with planeloads of Japanese guys so you might want to go out earlier than usual and up your budget to make sure you get the pick of the crop.
After declaring it the best bar I visited on my last trip, Tilac is getting its mojo back. Word is that the girl count is down as plenty still haven’t returned from up-country but my partner in crime tells me the girls who are there are very much in party mode. Tilac has an odd-shaped main dance floor and a number of smaller dance stages making it one of those bars where a lot depends on where you sit as to how much fun it is.
Were there some dramas late on or near Soi Cowboy last night? Some time after midnight a regular reader was leaving Soi Cowboy when he heard frantic screams coming from at or near Bacarra. As he walked down Soi 23 towards Sukhumvit Road 3 ambulances had their sirens on and were screaming to get up the soi, heading for Soi Cowboy. Does anyone know what that was all about?
Progress on Toh Roong, the large complex on Soi Nana in what was the Raja Hotel car park continues to be slow. Photos from friends suggest it is not much closer to opening than when I was in town. This is the complex that some speculated would become another gogo bar area, perhaps Nana Plaza II – which it will not because new gogo bar licences cannot be issued in Soi Nana and without them, bars cannot operate in the gogo format. I do scratch my head at the name of the place and wonder if perhaps it might be aiming at the (presumably, lower end) Thai market. I mean, how many venues targeting foreigners have a Thai name?
According to an unrelated article in the Bangkok Post this week, offering traditional massage service without a licence is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 2 years and a fine of up to 60,000 baht. How many masseuses working in massage houses with foreign customers have the requisite licence, I wonder?
Going up to departures to grab a taxi in to town has long been a trick used by those of us who prefer to avoid joining the often slow-moving taxi queues at either of the Bangkok airports. Technically, taxis are not supposed to collect passengers from departures, but that rule is seldom enforced. One must ask whether the authorities will double their efforts to prevent passengers jumping in a taxi at the departures level after a Brazilian model was raped by a twice-convicted rapist taxi driver she hired at the departures level of Don Meuang this week? Knee-jerk reactions and crackdowns are common in Thailand so watch this space.
Do you have an air hostess fantasy but aren’t keen on joining the mile high club? Keep in mind that the flight crews of Turkish Airlines, British Airways, and KLM stay at the Royal Orchid Sheraton near the river.
Is it just me or is there a greater sense of entitlement in Thailand these days? You see it with the Thais and foreign residents too. From foreigners begging on the streets of Thailand – not because they are broke but because they simply want more money – to foreigners begging online by setting up pages on sites like GiveALittle where they brazenly ask for money so they can travel around the world, what is the world coming to? I even had a feminist from New York email asking me for a donation so she could travel to Chiang Mai to teach in an orphanage. It looked like she had emailed anyone with a web presence and info on teaching in Thailand. Do these people have no shame? Perhaps a dozen or so columns ago I mentioned how many expats in Thailand were asking others for a loan – a word which has a very different meaning in Thailand to their homeland – and how a couple of people had the audacity to ask me to lend them money. Seriously, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone less likely to lend money than me. I am amazed at the way so many people are willing to put their hand out and ask for free money these days – and just how prevalent this phenomenon is in some foreign circles in Thailand.
Thais do respect people of age and, yes, that includes foreigners. One challenge many Thais face is that they don’t know how to address older foreigners respectfully in English so they come up with terms like “mama” and “papa” when addressing older folks. This might seem quaint to some, insulting to others, but don’t be offended at their choice of words. They are simply trying to be respectful without the English skills to articulate it.
I am not infrequently asked by readers how they can help their Thai darling get a decent job in Thailand and the impression I get from these emails is that she might have caused him to think there are not a lot of job openings out there. Let’s put the record straight on this. Employers are crying out for staff in Bangkok across a range of professions and any lady who is presentable – and especially any lady who has reasonable English – can find a job. Restaurants with foreign customers are crying out for staff and salaries start around 12,000 – 15,000 baht plus a share of tips. There is so much work out there now that if she tells you otherwise, she’s either misleading you or is totally out of touch with the situation.
On the subject of employment and recruitment in Thailand, it is not illegal to discriminate by age in Thailand and it is not at all uncommon for job adverts to specify required height, skin colour and even state that applicants should be of a cheerful disposition or words in Thai to that effect that may be a euphemism for something else. Getting back to age, as far as Thais are concerned, for females especially (and particularly in jobs which are not professional / require a degree or specific qualifications), those aged over 35 may find it difficult. In many jobs in Thailand, 35 is considered old for a female applicant.
I see more in the mainstream press this week about the possibility of iPads, laptops and other large electronic devices being prohibited from being carry-on on flights from more locations and not just a few countries in the Middle East. This really is a worry for those of us who cannot imagine travelling without our computer or camera gear and who would be very, very reluctant to travel if forced to check said equipment in. I see that Emirates has cut a number of flights to the USA because this ban on taking said equipment in to the cabin saw passenger numbers drop to levels that the airline claims made some routes no longer viable. Worrying times.
Reader’s story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, “The X Factor“.
A Bangkok Post writer posts elegantly about her foreign husband’s experiences with Thailand Immigration.
A Thai man kills his daughter and then kills himself, all broadcast live on Facebook.
Newsweek asks if Thailand has too many tourists.
Hooters restaurants in Asia (presumably including those in Thailand) will see staff don more conservative outfits as Hooters aims to be more family-friendly.
A Bangkok cabbie who raped a Brazilian tourist is caught.
With a deficit of females, Faroe Island men are turning to Thailand to find a wife.
A new high-end Bangkok dance club opened on Sukhumvit this week.
The Washington Posts publishes a brilliantly gritty photo essay on Angeles City.
Just like Bangkok, street vendors are being forced out of business in Vietnam too.
Sunbelt Legal is here to answer all of your legal questions related to Thailand. Just drop me an email with any questions you may have and I will put them to Sunbelt and run their response in the next column.
Question 1: I have a usufruct on land in Thailand. I wish to bring some lawn seed in to the country. I have used local seed and turf to try to keep a lawn good all year round where I reside here, but to no avail. Is it possible for me to import in to Thailand a non-invasive Australian government approved seed for this purpose? If yes, what protocols would I need to follow?
Sunbelt Legal responds: If it’s just for a personal use then it is important to check with the Customs Department first on what is the amount allowed into the country for personal use. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can assist you in dealing with the Customs Department to find this information.
Question 2: I have some friends, both Australian, who are married and living here on a retirement visa. The husband recently passed away, and the wife is under 50. I believe she ‘piggy-backed’ on his visa, so I’m wondering how his death will affect her right to stay in Thailand, at what already is a very difficult time for her.
Sunbelt Legal responds: If the primary retirement visa extension holder passes away, the spouse on the dependent visa will lose their visa and has 7 days to leave the country and obtain a new visa. It is important to remember that when the spouse dies, the Thai bank accounts in his name are frozen and the dependent will be unable to access them unless the primary spouse has written a will and named an executor. Once the remaining spouse has access to the funds they can then transfer those funds to a bank account in her name and apply for the retirement visa on her own merits.
This is why it is so important for expatriates in Thailand to have a will in place covering assets in Thailand. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in handling these issues with Immigration and in drafting wills so that the remaining spouse is not left in dire financial straits with no ability to obtain a visa in a timely manner.
Question 3: Can a holder of a Thailand Elite visa (original lifetime version) qualify for BOI Investments (background in hospitality) and receive a work permit, as well?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Every entrepreneur with a qualified business project can apply for BOI privileges. The current type of visa has no effect on the decision of the BOI department. However, once privileges are granted then you will have to change to a Non-Immigrant Business visa to apply for a work permit. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can assist you with the BOI process, visa and work permit. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us for an initial consultation.
Question 4: I have owned a condo in Bangkok for approximately 10 years and the chanote is in my name. My ex-girlfriend’s name is on the tabian baan blue book. Her name is the only name in the book. We broke up a number of years ago but remain friends. At the time I forgot to get her to remove her name from the book. I have recently been getting debt recovery letters from two of her historic creditors (a student loan and a defaulted phone contract). Currently, she is married and lives in Europe and has said she will remove her name from the blue book when she is next back, but this isn’t planned for a couple of years. My questions are:
- Can the creditor make a claim against my property for her debt?
- Can my ex-girlfriend remove herself from the blue book while out of the country? She is willing to sign what is needed.
- Can I forcibly remove her from the blue book?
- I would also like to get a yellow foreigner tabien baan book for myself. Can I do that whilst she is on the Thai version?
- Is there a problem of her being on the tabien baan if I decide to sell my condo?
Sunbelt Legal responds: To cover your questions in order:
- The name in a tabian baan doesn’t provide any rights on a property. Only the name in the title deed does. Debt letters were sent according to her present house registration.
- She can’t remove her name from the tabian baan or house registration book from outside the country as it has to be done in a district office. She will also need to register a new address in another tabian baan.
- Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has never heard of anyone doing this, it seems unlikely that it is possible.
- Yes, you can apply for a yellow tabian baan yellow book either with her name on the Thai blue book or not.
- Although her name on the tabian baan does not affect the sale legally, the new owner may be unwilling to purchase a condo that has the name of someone living outside the country on the book and who may not be coming back. If you have no plans on selling then the best course of action would be to wait for her to return and remove herself from the tabian baan.
I thought the interview with Big Greg that opened last week’s column came together well. I just wish there were more people in Bangkok who are not just as interesting as Big Greg, but as open as he is. It would be nice to do more interviews – they are easy column openers to put together and are generally well-received. What I increasingly find these days, however, is that while people are generally happy to talk about pretty much anything off the record, getting them to talk about things on the record and allow me to run their thoughts in the column is another story altogether. If you have any suggestions for interesting people who are open to the idea of being interviewed in this column, do let me know as I’d like to schedule a few interviews for when I am next in town.
Your Bangkok commentator,