Stickman's Weekly Column May 7th, 2017

Hidden Video In Bangkok Bars

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In the students’ room in a Thai language school, an American and a Kiwi who had each just bought the same model digital video camera hypothesised how one would go about filming in the low light of a Bangkok gogo bar.  It was the start of the new millennium; Stickman Weekly had not been launched and most webpages didn’t even have photos.  Video online was a pipedream and YouTube was still years away. In the end we felt video camera tech wasn’t there yet.  Fast-forward to 2017 – the technology has evolved and there are millions of videos showing the Thai nightlife all over YouTube.

A search online for Thailand nightlife video returns millions of hits.  And there are two names that keep popping up, Bangkok112 and Bangkok69.

Bangkok112 and Bangkok69 are the big names of Thailand nightlife videos, and each has posted hundreds of high-quality clips taken in bar areas and even inside some bars.  They have captured people enjoying themselves without knowing they’re the star of a nightlife video.  And that has some people concerned.

Bangkok112 is the granddaddy of hidden video.  With a catalogue in excess of 500 videos on YouTube alone – some of which run close to an hour in length, this is more than a mere hobby.  Bangkok112 has turned his passion in to a lucrative earner.  Informed estimates put his profits at between hundreds of thousands and perhaps more than 2 million baht a month.  Bangkok112 could be making close to a million dollars a year posting hidden videos in the bar areas to YouTube.  If the young European can keep it up for a couple more years he could set himself up for life.

What sets Bangkok 112 apart from the rest is the superb quality of his recordings.  The low light of the bars is a nightmare to film in but he manages it with aplomb and many of his videos are crystal clear. While the equipment he uses isn’t known, his MO is.

Bangkok 112 wanders bar areas with a camera placed in a bag.  He moves slowly and points the bag – and thus the camera – in the direction of the action he wishes to capture.  He also has some favourite places to perch – the Balcony Bar on the middle floor of Nana Plaza is a firm favourite – and from there he operates the camera’s zoom, getting right in close and personal to girls and their customers.  In some of his videos he adds commentary by way of subtitles.  The quality of his videos cannot be questioned.  But the content can.

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Bangkok69’s videos are very good too, but either his gear is not as good as Bangkok112’s or perhaps it is the way he edits and processes his work.  Bangkok69’s videos don’t have quite the same vividness as Bangkok112’s work, but they are still very, very good.

Bangkok69 is a young Japanese guy with his own distinctive style.  Bangkok69 likes to get right up in to people’s faces and he often just stands there, right next to or in front of people.  He sometimes moves so he is right in front of people and manoeuvres so that he can record them front on.  In some videos he stands right at the entrance of a gogo bar while the door staff chat away to themselves unaware that they are being filmed.

While Bangkok69 and Bangkok112 have made every effort to conceal their respective identities, bar owners do know what they look like.  Both Bangkok69 and Bangkok112 have made mistakes which have led to them each being identified.

Bangkok112’s big mistake was a result of his trademark zooming in on people and following them as they move around.  Bangkok112 recorded a character in Nana Plaza wearing a distinctive outfit.  This person later found out that he had been filmed and was furious about it.  Because of the distinctive outfit he was wearing, he knew exactly what day that video was filmed.  He went to the operators of Nana Plaza about it.  Nana Plaza has a complete video surveillance system with four dozen HD cameras installed throughout the plaza capturing what goes on in every last nook and cranny.  They knew the date and the approximate time the offending video was taken and they could tell from the angle roughly where the video was taken from.  They went back through the many terabytes of recordings and checked out footage showing that part of the plaza on that date at that time – and there was Bangkok112, a young European, recording away.  Now they know what he looks like.

Bangkok112 was contacted by management of Nana Plaza who requested that all of the videos he had taken inside the plaza be removed from YouTube.  They pointed out that the videos were taken on private property and that there are signs throughout the plaza forbidding such video.  Nana Plaza took the opportunity to invite Bangkok112 to record officially sanctioned content within the plaza.  They could even arrange permission for him to film inside some bars, obviously under controlled conditions.  Bangkok112 did not take up the offer.

Bangkok112 continues to record what happens in the plaza, but does so by standing outside.  He lets the lens do the work and zooms right in on people.  Sometimes he films from the taco truck across the street. His video work may be top-notch but there’s something awfully creepy about zooming in on people in a red-light area who don’t know they’re being recorded, almost like there’s some sort of compulsion.

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The way Bangkok69’s identity was revealed was a little different to Bangkok112.  Bangkok69 posted a video which included a scene with two ladies chatting at the entrance of a bar in Nana Plaza.  This video was shown to the two ladies who were appalled that it had been uploaded online.  Thais have great memories and they remember the guy standing there as they chatted away, and were able to describe Bangkok69.  He’s a young Japanese guy who had a baseball cap pulled down covering part of his face.  He carried a small fanny bag and like Bangkok112, was described as a younger guy.

While Bangkok112 arguably produces the best videos, it is a clip by Bangkok69 which has elicited more emails to me than any other.  Bangkok69 posted a video taken inside the Thermae (fast forward to 4 minutes 50 seconds) which showed a lot of people and this video had punters angry.

Many people enjoy watching these videos, but few want to appear in one of them.

Let me reiterate that the quality of many of these videos is exceptional.  The high-quality versions posted to YouTube are full HD video – that is 1920 x 1080 pixels or about 3 times the size of the photos I post in this column.  A single screen grab from these videos shows amazing detail.

No-one wishes to feature in these videos.  Bangkok112 says that on request he will blur anyone’s face…but of course it could be too late by then and the damage could already be done.  It shouldn’t be opt out, it should be opt in.  The odds are that someone else will see you before you learn you’re the star of a Bangkok red-light district video.  Maybe your girlfriend will see it.  Or your wife.  Or a colleague.  Perhaps your boss?  It should not be incumbent on you to have to get your face blurred.

In fairness to them, Bangkok112 and Bangkok 69 are not the only players – but they are the two big names.  There are many others.

One of those others is an oddball Aussie known as Archie Luxury.  Considered by some to be amusing, obnoxious by others, his videos about the Thai nightlife sit somewhere between comical and corny.

Archie is a small player but even he managed to seriously piss off some girls in a video he recorded inside Nana Plaza.

With the cringeworthy title, “Pay For Play Sex, Nana Plaza, 3 Floors of Whores”, Archie went in to the plaza during the day time – when it hardly looks its best – and perhaps inadvertently, or was it intentionally – found one of the least attractive girls and recorded a conversation with her.  She knew full well she was being recorded but she had no idea a video of that conversation would be posted online. The girl was horrified when she learned she’d become a YouTube star.  That video is no longer available and Archie was decent about it, complying with the request to take it down right away.

 

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The owners of Nana Plaza take the protecting of its tenants and their customers seriously.  Nana Plaza would like it pointed out that the plaza is private property and hidden video is not allowed.  There are signs stating this very clearly throughout the plaza.

It should be pointed out that shooting hidden video could become an issue of defamation and as soon as videos are posted to YouTube the person who uploaded the video has broken the Computer Crime Act – and the punishments for that are very strict.  Don’t just think big fines, you’re looking at jail time. Thailand’s Computer Crime Act is one of the most draconian Internet laws in the world.

Anyone taking hidden video in Nana Plaza could find themselves banned from Nana Plaza for life.  While they don’t want to go down that path, Nana Plaza will file charges if they have to.  Everyone is given a chance to remove the content first, but charges are a possibility if they fail to comply.

It should be noted that Soi Cowboy is a public street so filming what goes on in the soi and outside the bars there may be on more solid ground.  That said, there are still all sorts of issues regarding image etc. so don’t take it for granted.

The common response from videographers asked to remove content is what’s the problem when, after all, it is free publicity – and surely all publicity is good, right?  That argument is easily countered – venues are not being promoted in a way the owners want it promoted.

Let’s not forget that most people want to be able to go out to the bars and have a good time without worrying that their face is going to end up online in a video shot in a red light area.  The bar area owners want everyone to be comfortable and not have to worry about that.  In fact the lords of Nana Plaza do not oppose people taking photos or short video clips in the plaza.  The issue is video taken with hidden cameras.

If you’re in Nana Plaza with your mates or family or boyfriend or girlfriend, you’re encouraged to take selfies and photos and shoot video.  In fact, Nana Plaza would love to host your photos and videos on the official Nana Plaza website.  They already post 50 shots a month with photos taken in the plaza which are also shared on the official Nana Plaza Facebook page.

The issue is those sitting in the shadows, secretly filming people wandering the plaza with a long lens, people who don’t know they’re being filmed.

And then there is the nightmare scenario, the daring guy who records what happens inside the bars.

Things got serious last week when it was discovered that someone operating under the name Khun Makamura had posted a dozen hidden videos taken inside gogo bars in Bangkok and Pattaya.  Some of the videos ran a full half-hour in length, were of a high quality and featured everything in the bars.

This is every bar owner’s worst nightmare.  If these videos got out in to the public domain, there is no limit to the damage they could cause.  Think massive settlements for bar owners desperate to keep their business.  If footage from inside a gogo bar showing full nudity or ping-pong shows or worse got out and was picked up by the puritanical, xenophobic Thai social media activists and the story got traction in the mainstream media, the pressure would be so great that the authorities would have to prosecute.  The bar’s owners, managers and the Thais whose names are on the licenses could find themselves facing life-changing consequences.  Years behind bars would be a very real prospect.  The seriousness of this cannot be underestimated and that is why bars are so concerned about hidden video recordings.

Khun Makamura was emailed and requested to take down the videos.  He didn’t respond.

After many complaints, it took 4 days to get Google / YouTube to remove the videos.  Each video was reported at least 7 times before Google / YouTube acted.

Makamura has since been identified as a middle-aged Japanese man.  His photo has been printed and distributed to all bars in the plaza as well as all security personnel.  If he’s spotted in Nana Plaza, he’ll be escorted out.

While all of these videos are entertaining and provide a historical record of the bars, their presentation is questionable.  They are made without permission of the girls or the bars and the videos that zoom in close on girls and punters are of the sleazy hidden-toilet-cam genre.

Hidden videos inside bars are a real worry, especially when you consider that most of us have a video camera in our pocket most of the time.  The latest mobile phones produce outstanding video recordings even in low light environments.  At this stage there is only one bar I am aware of that bans the use of mobile phones inside the bar for fear of customers snapping photos or shooting video – and that is Crazy House.  Could there come a time when bars or even entire bar areas ban cameras or even mobile phones altogether?

 

 

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Where Was This Photo Taken?

 

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Last week’s photo was taken on the corner of Phyathai and Petchaburi Roads.  This photo was from the archives and was taken a few years ago and that part of the city has been redeveloped.  In other words, it was a mighty difficult photo to get right.  This week’s, again, is kind of tricky…

 

 

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Stick’s Inbox  (The best emails of the past week.)

A sickness born of an affluent upbringing.

I find farangs begging in various ways to fund their hippie travel lifestyle disgusting.  I can understand the traveler who gets robbed and needs to get back home or the guy at the park who ends up homeless due to whatever reason.  Life happens and some people have misfortune or bring it on themselves.  However, the sense of entitlement that some of the younger generation have is disgusting.  I am referring to folks from the USA.  It’s really bad here now.  To go to a country such as Thailand where women have sex with hundreds of strange men to support their families, old people sit on the sidewalks selling trinkets to get by etc. and put your hand out (and perhaps take away from them) to fund your indulgences is reprehensible.  Particularly when there are opportunities at home, however mundane they may be.  It trivializes the real hardships of others.  The current generation suffers from afluenza, a sickness born of an affluent upbringing.

Begpackers not a new phenomenon.

You wrote about foreigners begging for money because they’re basically too lazy to go out and earn a decent quid.  This is not a new phenomenon in Thailand.  A mate and I were in Phuket having a brekkie beer or two at the Paradise Bar – that will give you some idea how long ago this happened – when a couple of blokes came in rattling a can asking for donations for their Swiss mate.  It wasn’t uncommon in those days for this to happen after a guy hired a bike, thought he was a grand prix racer and then plowed in to something big and metallic coming down the hill at Patong.  When we asked about their mate, it turns out he came to Thailand with a cheque book and proceeded to stay at all the flash places in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, etc, and paid by cheque.  He took off for his next destination before the cheque bounced – until he got to Phuket.  He stayed for 5 nights in a 5-star place, went to pay by cheque and they held him until the cheque cleared – which it didn’t.  The police followed the trail of complaints and were holding him in gaol until he paid off his creditors, hence the mates with the tin. They got nothing out of us and I wonder whether he ever raised enough to leave gaol.  I reckon if I was in a Thai prison for more than a day, I’d find a way to raise the cash!

The seafood temptation.

You’re right about Thais / Asians diving in to the seafood if it’s on the menu at a buffet.  A few years ago, I took my beloved to a seafood buffet in Australia with another Aussie / Thai couple.  We got there as the doors opened because the other couple had told us this was the best time to get the seafood. We grazed for the best part of 3 hours – more to the point, me and my Aussie mate had 2 or 3 helpings while the girls kept going back.  When we left, you could almost see the looks of relief on the faces of the owners; the girls had done justice to the prawns, crabs and especially the oysters.  I asked my wife what she thought of the feed as we were heading home and she didn’t think it was value for money.  I did some maths, based on prices of seafood at Coles and showed her that she had eaten at least AU$280 in oysters alone and probably another $100 in other food.  Total cost of both meals was just over AU$110, so we were well in front.  We have been back several times since and the owners now limit the oysters to 2 dozen per person, much to my wife’s disgust!  Luckily I’m happy to give up my oyster serving so all’s good – happy wife, happy life.

 

 

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Ethiopia to Bangkok.

I flew to Bangkok from Africa on Ethiopian Airlines.  Ethiopian is a Star Alliance member, and they fly the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Addis Ababa to Bangkok.  They have direct flights to Addis Ababa from North America and all over Europe, and I’d say it’s not an obscure or inconvenient routing for some of your readers to fly from their home countries to Bangkok via Addis Ababa.  Anyway, I’ve done this route twice now and there’s a quirk that might be of interest to some.  On both occasions, when my plane from Addis Ababa landed, I did the long walk to immigration, stood in the immigration queue, got up to the immigration booth, and then had the immigration officer shoo me away and tell me that because I was arriving on a flight from Addis Ababa I had to go to the health office first and get cleared before I could pass through immigration.  They don’t make any announcements about this requirement on the plane.  So I had to walk back into the pre-immigration arrivals corridor, walk a few hundred meters to the health office, fill out a health form asking if I’d experienced any symptoms, join the short line there, and then have my form and my yellow fever immunization card checked by the health office staff.  Then they stamped my arrival card and I had to go back and re-join the end of the immigration queue, which would be infuriating if it were a day with one of those 40+ minute immigration lines. There’s also a direct Nairobi-Bangkok flight where this requirement to visit the health office applies, not sure if there are others.  I’m pretty sure you have to go to the health office even if you only transited the airport in Addis Ababa or Nairobi.  On a related note, the Thai Red Cross Clinic is an excellent place to get a yellow fever immunization and card, 1,000 baht.  You can visit the snake farm when you’re there too.

The gogo bar model, revisited.

I think the basic problem with the gogo model is too few suitable girls.  There is a shortage of beautiful girls willing to work in gogo bars.  There are arguably too many gogo bars too, especially in Pattaya.  I was in Pattaya recently and was very disappointed by the gogo bars.  The barfine system there has become a mess with different barfines for different girls at different times.  It’s not customer-friendly. My take on this is that the shortage of desirable girls means that customers have to be actively dissuaded from taking these girls out of the bar by imposing extortionate barfines which are often 2,000 baht for the most attractive girls now.  If you add another 2,000 baht at least for short-time let alone long-time, you are looking at spending serious money.  Yet the girls are often not that special, lack personality, look bored and there is no guarantee they won’t be a starfish in bed.  If customers take these girls out of the bar, what is the point of going to the bar for other customers? There would be nothing to look at and so no customers.  The business model now is to lure customers in simply to drink expensive alcohol, buy lady drinks and have a flirt with the girls and watch them dance.  There are fewer attractive girls available but they are still poor value compared to those in beer bars.  For these reasons I didn’t barfine a single girl from a gogo bar when I was in Pattaya recently.  I found beautiful girls online and in beer bars and after the first night with them was able to negotiate 1,000 baht long-time and avoid barfines altogether.  Great value for girls I already knew to be lovely and good fun.  The most successful gogo bars will be those that manage to stick to the traditional model by cornering the supply of beautiful young girls and keeping barfines reasonable or those that offer something different.

 

 

 

Girl Of The Week

Miss Skinny, gogo dancer, Mandarin, Nana Plaza

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The Strip in Patpong soi 2 has been in a downward spiral since the ownership reverted back to the leaseholders.  Key staff have left including popular showgirl Soda who was featured in this column last year, and the vibe is not what it was.  Such a shame and it just goes to show what a difference a change in management can make to a bar.

This coming Wednesday is Visakha Bucha Day, a public holiday.  Expect bar areas to be closed as the sale of alcohol is prohibited that day.

A coyote dancer in a Soi Cowboy bar dances with a condom attached to her bikini.  Is this how some coyote dancers signal that they are available?  Whatever the case, it’s not a great look and management really should tell her to get rid of it.

Some Pattaya gogo bars are crying poor but not everyone is doing it tough.  From one long-running Pattaya gogo bar comes word that for the first time ever, the take in each of March and April was better than January.  That has never happened before.

Secrets in Pattaya was a favourite bar and I very much enjoyed everything about it from the music to the well mixed drinks (Secrets does great cocktails) to the general atmosphere.  Secrets has been looking at expanding for years and for a while the owner was scouting out locations in Bangkok but they never did find anywhere they thought was the right fit.  Word is that the owner is dating a Cambodian model and is serious about opening a new branch of Secrets in Phnom Penh.  Investors have been organised and it sounds like it’s really going to happen.  Whether it will be just a Secrets bar or an entire operation replicating Pattaya with a bar downstairs and a hotel upstairs isn’t known.

Still in Pattaya, Electric Blue will celebrate its 2nd anniversary on Saturday of next week, May 20th, with a dirty dancing party.  There will be 10 baht Tequila shots all night long.  Club Electric Blue parties have been known to get out of control so expect a heap of fun!

 

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Not that long ago Phuket frequently featured on the itinerary of many sex tourists.  I think there was once a consensus that Phuket was a better bet than Pattaya for those specifically seeking out attractive ladies. The bar scene on Phuket was worth naughty boys going out of their way for and many included a few days in Phuket as part of their Thailand sojourn.  But how often do you hear of naughty boys including Phuket in their travels today?  The few reports I hear from Phuket is that the bar scene is not a patch on what it was and not really worth it if nightlife is your main reason for visiting.  I also get the feeling that the Phuket sexpat community is dwindling in numbers.  I could have it all wrong and I should point out that I have not been to Phuket since late 2014.  But pretty much every report I hear these days gives Phuket the thumbs down for naughty boys.  Any comments?

Chinese visitors have been descending on Thailand in ever-increasing numbers but they’ve never really had much of a presence in the bar areas, the exception being Walking Street in Pattaya where flag carriers lead group after group from one end of the neon jungle to the other.  Now it would seem that independent Chinese travellers are hitting the farang bar areas in Bangkok.  A few bars have taken on Chinese-speaking door staff to welcome the Chinese and make them feel comfortable in an environment they’re not familiar with.  Could this be this the start of a new trend that sees more Chinese visiting the likes of Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy?

A lady of the night did not just want to be number 7, she insisted that the small disc with her number show 007 which she knew would be a great conversation starter.  007 must generate a lot of conversation which leads to more lady drinks and if she plays her cards right, more barfines, that there is real value in bearing that number.  This wouldn’t be lost on the mamasans and the way they are always looking to make an extra buck, I wouldn’t be surprised if they auctioned off a number like that to the girls in the same way that certain car registration plates can change hands for silly money.  What other numbers might prompt punters to show interest in a barlady based purely on her number?  69 comes to mind…

 

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Photo kindly provided by a reader.

 

It’s great that some customers are generous with gogo dancers and slip 100 baht notes in to the girls’ knickers while they’re dancing, something which often perpetuates and others in the bar follow.  Before she knows it, a lady can have made a few hundred baht which is a nice little bonus on top of her day rate and lady drink commissions.  Add all of those together and she could be over 1,000 baht – a decent day’s pay for most Thais.  Such generosity could cause ladies to more actively seek tips in the bar to the extent that they have less or even no interest in being barfined.  I noticed this on my last trip where there were girls whose main focus was on tips, presumably because if they make enough money that way there is no need for them to do anything else.  And frankly, who can blame them?

There has been much in the press the past few weeks about street food vendors being banished from the streets of Bangkok.  Obviously I am not there on the ground at this time but checking in with a trusted friend in Bangkok it sounds like what is being said in the press and what is actually happening are not quite the same.  In areas where food vendors were literally blocking the sidewalk – like parts of Soi Thonglor, Silom and Rama 1 Road through Siam Square) – the vendors have gone.  It appears that in other areas vendors can operate so long as they aren’t blocking the sidewalk.  The key point would appear to be whether they operate on the sidewalk or not.  For those who have designated areas – which may be just set back from the sidewalk – it is business as usual.

While I question what these begpackers in Thailand and across parts of South-East Asia are up to, I would stop short of calling it a scam. It seems – and I stress that word, seems – like most of them are youngsters with a strong sense of entitlement who simply cannot see how preposterous it looks that they as citizens of wealthy countries have their hands out in a much poorer country and are asking for money from those who in all likelihood have less than they do.  It’s not a scam but it is bloody questionable.  The scammers are the guys who make out that they have no money or they have fallen on hard times when that is not the case and they are simply taking advantage of others’ generosity.  Probably the best known example is the Dutchman pictured below.  This guy was seen in various high-traffic areas all over Bangkok around 2003 / 2004 with a sign saying he needed money for a ticket home.  I wonder what ever happened to him?

 

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This Dutch (NOT Spanish) scammer was a fixture around Bangkok in 2003 / 2004.

 

There was major drama for 3 visa runners on Friday when one of the best known Bangkok visa run companies took 5 people to the border with Cambodia.  The 5 visa runners exited Thailand, entered Cambodia, exited Cambodia but then only 2 were admitted back in to Thailand.  As best as can be ascertained, 3 of the 5 did not have 20,000 baht to show the Thai Immigration officer, nor any evidence of a ticket that showed when they would leave the country.  It has long been a requirement that if requested tourists must show funds to finance their stay and a ticket out of the country.  Seldom are these asked for but if they are asked for and you don’t have them, denial of entry is a very real possibility.  And no, a credit card doesn’t count – it must be cash (although it doesn’t necessarily have to be Thai baht; the equivalent of foreign currency is ok).

It is now possible to post comments about this column or any of the readers’ submissions via Facebook. We’re still trialling this and are not sure where it’s going but at the same time it is fully operational. There should be a box at the bottom of columns and readers’ submissions where, if logged in to your Facebook account, you can comment.  I do however need to stress one thing.  If you want to contact me about anything, or comment directly to me, or engage with me, you need to send me an email.  As I have said many times, I don’t do Facebook, even if there is a Facebook component to this site now.

 

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Reader’s story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, “A Room Of One’s Own“.

Severe turbulence on an Aeroflot flight to Bangkok leaves 27 people injured.

An elderly British tourist dies in a skydiving accident after jumping out of a plane over Pattaya.

A fight on Pattaya’s Walking Street between Thai women and Middle Eastern men is caught on video.

A New York Times correspondent enjoys 36 hours in the Golden Triangle.

A Thai man slams a foreign visitor who shuns local culture by putting their feet on a headrest.

If you thought Thailand got the worst of the West, think again and look what washes up in Cambodia!

In Buriram, a man is stabbed to death by his son because he forgot to add fish sauce to their soup.

 

SunbeltLegal

Ask Sunbelt Legal

Sunbelt Legal is here to help with any legal questions related to Thailand you may have.  Simply email your question to me and I will put it to Sunbelt and run their response in the next column.

There were no questions for Sunbelt Legal this week.

 

 

 

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Photos are so passé these days, video is the future.

 

 

As an aside to today’s opening piece, I note that there is a growing number of Thailand expat vloggers these days who post videos of themselves to YouTube commenting on various aspects of Thailand. Some touch on the nightlife and the underbelly of the expat community but most tend to steer clear of going too deep in to it.  That’s wise and anyone with half a brain realises that foreigners commenting on the less salubrious aspects of Thailand with their mug shot there for the world to see need to take care. While video is the future online, it’s not something I plan to get in to.  You don’t want to see my ugly mug sitting at my desk ranting about Bangkok…the current format works just fine, thank you!

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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