A Gloomy Day In A Lovely Park
There are many reasons why you might choose to stay in lower Sukhumvit. There’s Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza. There’s the many shopping malls and a great choice of places to stay short and long-term. And there’s another reason to stay on Sukhumvit – easy access to one of the best places to exercise in Bangkok, Benjakit Park.
It was another gloomy Bangkok rainy season day. We hadn’t seen the sun in days and with low-lying cloud it could rain at any time. Hardly the sort of weather that makes you want to venture outside, right? Perhaps, but when you’re staying so close to the park and are heading back to Farangland in a few days you’ve got to make the most of your time. Rain or shine, I need my daily exercise and in Bangkok that means a visit to the park.
Benjakit Park and the adjascent Tobacco Monopoly cover a huge expanse of downtown Bangkok. They are bordered by Rachadapisek Road to the east, Rama 4 Road to the south, the expressway to the west and Sukhumvit to the north.
While they sit side by side and there are access points between them, the Tobacco Monopoly and Benjakit Park are distinct. The Tobacco Monopoly is a cigarette factory and Benjakit Park is, well, a park!
Benjakit Park is downtown Bangkok’s second park, the small and younger cousin of Lumpini. It looks a lot smaller to the naked eye, but with a 1.9 km walkway and cycle track, it’s not that much smaller than Lumpini with its 2.5 km circuit.
Benjakit Park (สวนเบญจกิติ – Suan Benjakit in Thai) is busiest from first light until around 8:30 AM or so on weekdays, and a little later on weekends. And the numbers out for a walk or a run pick up again in the afternoon from around 4:00 PM. So if, like me, you prefer to exercise when it’s quiet, between 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM is best. That said, after 11:00 AM things really heat up so you might want to be done by then.
Benjakit Park opened in late 2004 so it doesn‘t have the history of Lumpini Park and you don’t get, for example, the groups of older Chinese Thai men who hang out, enjoy tea and play board games together.
And neither does Benjakit have anything like the population of monitor lizards of Lumpini Park. If viewing magnificent monitors is your plan, you’re much better off at Lumpini than at Benjakit.
There are paddleboats for hire, and bicycles for hire at Thai prices i.e. it’s so cheap it’s almost free.
There is a community of people who live within the park, and no, they’re not homeless. At the northern end of Benjakit Park, behind a row of hedging is a 200-metre long private road with traditional wooden Thai housing on either side.
This small community within the grounds of Benjakit Park predates the park and has the feel of a far-flung Thai village. There are a few vendors selling the usual – som tam, noodle soup, pre-cooked curries etc, but you’ll see few outsiders and the customers are mainly those who live in that little community. The housing is a benefit to the families of the employees who work in the park and Tobacco Monopoly. Rent is free and they only pay for power and water.
The park is open from well before the sun goes up until long after the sun goes down, 5:00 AM until 9:00 PM.
From the Asoke intersection at Sukhumvit, walk south towards Rama 4 Road for about 5 minutes and the main entrance is on the right. You can also enter by walking to the very end of Sukhumvit soi 10 where a small gate leads in to the park.
Locked up at night, the park doesn’t attract the homeless or those down on their luck. There is the odd stray cat – though nothing like the plague Lumpini sometimes suffers from. And there are no soi dogs, unlike the adjacent Tobacco Monopoly which in places feels like a soi dog breeding facility. There are armies of them and while they’re generally docile during the day, look out early evening when they come alive!
Adjascent to Benjakit Park is the Tobacco Monopoly. What is Benjakit Park today was until 15 years ago part of the Tobacco Monopoly grounds. The oddly named Tobacco Monopoly – essentially a huge cigarette factory complex in downtown Bangkok – opened in 1939.
The Tobacco Monopoly is a throwback to the past with many older buildings featuring local architecture from the day and is fascinating to wander around. With many old Thai-style buildings and structures, some of which are in a state of decay, it feels more far-flung province than prime real estate slap in the middle of the capital. Exiting Benjakit Park and entering the Tobacco Monopoly feels almost like going back in time.
Parts of the Tobacco Monopoly are over-grown, and untended. Grass and weeds thrive in the tropics and the once pretty football field in the middle of the Tobacco Monopoly must have been removed from the fixture list last year because the once idyllic ground which was until recently used by one of Thailand’s semi-professional teams has turned in to a jungle and it’s hard to believe that just a year ago competitive matches were played there.
The Tobacco Monopoly is huge and is self-sufficient. It has a fire station and its very own – and sizeable – hospital.
The hospital is a mystery – you see the odd nurse and orderly but no ambulances, and no-one coming and going. There is nothing like the crowds and the energy so common in hospitals in Thailand, most of which are as busy as an international airport. And this is a hospital in downtown Bangkok of more than a dozen storeys in height.
Another of the curiosities within the grounds of the Tobacco Monopoly is all of the buses parked up. Not your local Bangkok buses nor intercity buses, but buses available for hire with the most elaborate and beautiful paintwork. Often you see rows of buses parked up with teams of Somchais cleaning them inside and out.
You can enter the grounds of The Tobacco Monopoly through one of the gates connecting it with Benjakit Park. Or you can simply walk down Soi Nana to the very end. The gates may or may not be open but pedestrians seem to be allowed access. I guess what I mean is that I have never been challenged when going through but whether that means you’re allowed to pass or not, I honestly don’t know. It is, after all, a working factory – and the sort of place that no way would you be allowed to pass through in the West. But this is Thailand and one of the beauties of the place is that the locals are much more laid-back about such things.
I’ve never been able to get my head around the commercial viability of the Tobacco Monopoly which sits on the primest of prime real estate. At the same time it’s nice to know it’s there. It’s such a nice change from the congested and harried sois that are the norm in much of Bangkok.
Back to Benjakit Park, it is no Lumpini Park, right? It doesn’t have the history or the variety of features, or the variety of pathways or the tree cover or the many places to perch and have a picnic. Benjakit Park doesn’t have the same majesty with its waterways and lake in the shadows of the skyscrapers of the Silom business district beyond.
Granted, Benjakit Park is not as big, nor as beautiful. And in terms of convenience at Lumpini Park, the Silom MRT station is right next to the main entrance. So why choose to exercise at Benjakit over Lumpini? You don’t have to choose one park over the other – your daily exercise can include a lap at both!
A lap of the circuit at Lumpini Park is 2.5 km. A lap of Benjakit Park is 1.9 km. Doing a few laps in just one place is kinda boring….so if you want a bit of variety, do a lap of each. A pathway connecting the two parks is a bit over a kilometre long so a lap of each and a return journey between the two parks should be around 6.5 km – ideal for an hour’s / daily walk.
Near the entrance to Benjakit Park at Sukhumvit soi 10, a pathway with a distinctive green colouring follows the klong, heading west. Take that pathway which leads you past the back of Sukhumvit sois 10, 8, 6 and right next to the bottom of Sukhumvit Soi 4 (Soi Nana), across the expressway, past rows of low-income housing blocks, over traditional Thai-style communities, across Wireless Road and the embassy district near the vast plot that is the US Embassy, and dumps you in what is effectively the north-eastern corner of Lumpini Park. Go a hundred or so metres down the road in the direction of Rama 4 Road and the Lumpini Police Station where you enter the park proper again, past Lumpini Primary School – and 10 minutes after leaving Benjakit Park you’re in Lumpini Park!
The pathway connecting Benjakit Park and Lumpini Park is a route I have taken dozens of times without issue, but it’s worth noting that on my recent visit to Bangkok there were two occasions when I took this path and came across the same two rough-looking undesirables perched against a motorbike doing a lousy job to look unthreatening. I’d bet the farm these punks were looking for trouble. Once you’re on this elevated pathway the nearest exit could be hundreds of metres away – there’s steel cage-like fence on either side and even if you were to climb that, you’d be jumping either from a height or in to a klong. The impression I got was that these two punks were looking for a soft target. There is absolutely no rationale to perching on a motorbike at that point of the pathway and loitering – unless they were looking for trouble. Grab someone’s mobile phone and wallet, and zoom off on the motorbike would guarantee an easy exit – and no doubt this is one of increasingly few places in downtown Bangkok without CCTV cameras. Thais don’t like to be out in the heat so if you’re on this pathway after 9:00 AM you can walk from one end of the pathway to the other and not share it with a single soul.
Benjakit Park is a wonderful space just a short walk from Sukhumvit. The Tobacco Monopoly is a curiosity with fascinating grounds which are fun to wander around and explore. If you enjoy walking and exploring, Benjakit Park and the Tobacco Monopoly are worth checking out.
Last week’s photo was taken at Sam Yot Junction, the new MRT Station beyond Chinatown and very close to Little India. It will be great when that station opens – getting to / visiting the old part of town will be so much easier. This week’s photo was obviously taken inside a bar – but which bar?
And good news this week – I have secured a prize provider for the next 5 weeks. The first person to email me with the location of this week’s photo wins a copy of Hardship Posting Volume 5. You will need to provide a postal address for the book to be sent to you by snail mail. The prize is available to anyone in Asia. Here’s a bit more about Hardship Posting volume 5.
The Hardship Posting series collects contributed stories from expat readers in all parts of Asia, with each book containing about 400 amusing and amazing stories, covering all topics from airline experiences, to dodgy immigration officials, work stories, to language and miscommunication faux pas, to hotel and holidays gone wrong, maids and drivers, and of course stories about girly bars and ladyboys.
“For years readers have been hounding me for the next volume, and for 10, 11, 12 years I kept saying ‘Next year, next year …’. Suddenly we find ourselves 15 years down the track and here it is,” the author admits. “In the meantime, there’s a whole new generation of expats who’ve never even heard of these books – whereas once it was impossible to miss them at every Asian airport. Now we’re working hard to re-find that audience.”
Hardship Posting kick-started the whole Asia expat books genre in 1999, and even outsold Harry Potter in Thailand. “Briefly!” adds Lloyd.
“I’m pleased that the expert on all such matters, the one and only Colonel Ken was again up for the challenge again, and colourfully links each chapter with his unique perspective as a barstool philosopher,” says Lloyd.
“Volume 5 is the biggest and the best one yet is what you’d expect me to say, but technically it is – 500 stories coming in at a whopping 488 pages, submitted by everyone from the CEO of a global Wall St listed company, to a Bangkok ladyboy bitching and moaning about her foreign customers. This volume really offers the full 360-degree perspective of expat life for the first time.”
There are also a dozen specially commissioned cartoons by Pattaya-based English cartoonist Mike Baird, whose humourous insights grace newspapers in the region. Previous contributors have included Hong Kong-based cartoonist, Larry Feign.
Stick’s Inbox, the best emails from the past week.
Cheap Charlie, and proud!
I just wanted to drop a line or two regarding advice from Larry on retirement in Thailand. I was staying in the Soi Buakhao area in Pattaya and talking to a long-term Brit expat friend in the Queens Arms. He told me that there are many old-timers surviving in Pattaya on the UK state pension (about 21,000 baht per month). They are renting very basic crash-pads for approximately 6,000 baht, and living on toast and cheap local produce from the market. I reckon they have a daily budget of about 300 – 400 baht for pocket-money. They have turned frugality into an art form. What is quite surprising is they’re able to take pleasure in being miserly and are proud to be thought of as Cheap Charlies! Many are wearing the clothes of the financially challenged. After handing over the rent money, there is even enough cash left over for a couple of happy hour beers each day (no lady drinks, mind you). No doubt on this budget there will never be enough cash for hiring women or any similar luxuries – such as health insurance! I guess the attraction is the weather in Thailand which certainly beats the hell out of freezing their way through the long English winter and I don’t blame them for escaping that. Just the sort of visitors the tourist board is trying to deflect away and yet the balloon chasers remain in great abundance down Soi Buakhao way. I occasionally see Facebook fundraising pages for Brits that need a million baht for life-saving hospital treatment because they had no medical insurance. I remember years ago you posted a photo of a poor soi dog all covered in sores with the caption “Bangkok, not a good place to be without any cash”. That photo and caption stated all we need to know.
Earn in the West, spend in the East.
It is unfortunate that many Westerners say they are no longer satisfied with living in Thailand. I love Bangkok. In my opinion some expats come to Thailand with unreasonable expectations, too little money, and in some cases a bad attitude. Unlike some expats, I live very modestly and spend my money just as carefully in Thailand as I do back in California. Eating inexpensively at food courts (such as the excellent one at Terminal 21), spending little for unnecessary items, and not splurging on excessively priced items works great for me. Some of the prices quoted by the visitors on your website seem excessive. For example, when I go to bars at Nana or Soi Cowboy I can have an enjoyable night out by having no more than one or two beers and buying a lady drink or two. I do not have a car or a motorbike as both are unnecessary and expensive. When I select a guest to come back to my apartment I only pay a reasonably price. There is no reason to spend excessively on anything in Thailand. To be blunt, it does not really matter how much money an expat has if he cannot or will not control his wasteful spending. Some people totally mismanage their money and then complain that they do not have enough. People who move to Thailand with too little financial resources are foolish and deserve little sympathy. The trick is to set up your income from abroad (where it is plentiful) and then spend it in Thailand (where things are inexpensive). It takes self-control on one’s spending but otherwise it does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out.
YouTube and the authorities.
I have noticed on YouTube so many videographers popping up. Some are quite interesting and do quite a good job showing off different areas and dispensing information, to the downright pervy ones just walking up and down Walking Street. Given the various rules and regulations within Thailand (especially regarding computer crime), I wonder how long it will be before one of them falls foul of the authorities?
Soi Nana this week.
I was in the Nana area for a few days and although I don’t frequent gogo bars I went to the usual suspects (Hillary 1, Hillary 2, Bar 4, Morning Night etc.) and they were all very quiet. I’ve got to know some of the girls who have been there for years and feedback is that it’s dead. In Hillary 1 last Wednesday there were 3 customers, myself and 2 mates. That was it. The feel of the place is certainly changing and the new developments keep on encroaching in the area. The new Westin / Novatel on the corner of sois 4 and 6 opens on October 1st, over the road from Hillary 1, and it would seem the future of the few small bars down soi 6 is limited with them all being run down and tired-looking.
Larry, I presume?
I’ve been in Phuket for 4 days. Last night we were in Diablo Gogo on Soi Bangla. One other customer in the bar and as we were leaving that one customer stopped me and asked me if I was Larry. He said he recognized me from The Life Of Larry Stickman interview. Your popularity runs far and wide Larry
Former bar manager Dean Rowe, AKA Noddy from Pattaya soi 6’s Butterfly Bar (part of the Nightwish Group), took a leap from a balcony in Saigon a few weeks back. The friendly Aussie had been praised for doing much to help visitors to Pattaya, especially first-time visitors. He had been caught overstaying in Thailand last year and banned for a period and was hanging out in Vietnam, attempting to somehow work out the overstay ban. Very sad indeed.
Down in Phuket, word is that our Arab friends have made their claim on Soi Bangla and taken over Tiger Disco – which some now refer to as the Arab quarter. It’s also popular with Indians – so much of the music played is Arabian and Indian and would be unfamiliar to whitey. Who would have thought that part of Soi Bangla would head in this direction?! It’s been four years since I was in Phuket and I hear less and less about Soi Bangla, almost like it’s no longer part of the naughty boy circuit – although it has to be said that younger guys often prefer the scene in Phuket to Bangkok and Pattaya. Larry, who was featured in the opening piece of last week’s column, sent me a note from Phuket this week and said that it was dead.
Back in Bangkok, the grapevine has it that a number of the ladies who dance at two very popular Nana Plaza gogo bars under the same ownership are amongst the many victims in a fraud reported this week in the Bangkok Post. Word is that some girls had been investing as much as 10,000 baht per week, some for a period of several months – and now it appears all of that money has disappeared. Here’s the Bangkok Post news article.
Billboard in Nana Plaza held their 3rd anniversary party under current management last Saturday. It was packed to the gunnels and from all accounts, a great night was had. The owners put on a free feast and amongst the fare was 100 pizzas which were devoured.
Hillary 3 is the odd one out. Hillary 1, Hillary 2 and Hillary 4 are all on Soi Nana while Hillary 3 is about three-quarters of the way up Sukhumvit Soi 11 on the left. Hillary 3 is to undergo a major overhaul and will close from tomorrow (Monday, October 1st) for around 2 months.
And word is that the Hillary Group has taken over Bangkok Bunnies in Nana Plaza which is good news. The Hillary Group are experienced operators and should be able to turn it around. Even die-hard Nana fans acknowledge that Bangkok Bunnies has been dire for quite some time.
If you’re in the bar biz and don’t know how to fill your bar, drop by Lighthouse in Soi Cowboy on Wednesdays and copy their formula. Lighthouse is packed every Wednesday with 100 baht drinks all night long. It reminds me very much of the long-running special at The Londoner when it was on soi 33 with 2-for-1 drinks all night long on Wednesday – and it too was packed. Lighthouse always has a decent lineup and Wednesdays draws an eclectic crowd with English teachers, Cheap Charlies and some of the who’s who of Bangkok blogging rubbing shoulders. Why don’t more bars offer specials like this? At 100 baht, they’re still making a decent profit. Some bar bosses just don’t get it!
Just another indicator that the bar industry is not humming are the meagre salaries paid to foreign bar managers these days. Once upon a time the position of bar manager in a gogo bar was a well-paid job with a salary that gave you a decent lifestyle. By comparison, bar bosses used to earn considerably more than your average Bangkok English teacher – but I doubt that’s the case these days. 10+ years ago I’d say the average monthly salary for a foreign bar manager was around 70,000 baht a month – with many perks like free drinks (which it ought to be noted is not just free drinks in the bar they manage but usually means free drinks in many other bars too, from other bars owned by the same boss to bars where they are friendly with the owner / manager). For those who enjoy a drink, 10 years ago a monthly package of 70,000 baht per month and what was effectively unlimited free drinks was a tidy package. For some time, one bar manager was on a salary that included a decent rate and a small percentage of the bar’s monthly turnover which meant he earned over 100,000 baht a month and some months earned up to 130,000 baht – and this was way back in 2004, 2005 and 2006 when that went a whole lot further in Bangkok. He lived in a 200+ square metre apartment downtown, ate Western food most nights and frequently took trips back home. Not a bad gig. Compare that with a foreigner currently managing a big name Bangkok gogo bar who earns a paltry 40,000 baht a month. And on top of managing the bar he is also responsible for all of the online marketing. There just isn’t the same money in the bar industry these days.
A Pattaya gogo bar is advertising 170 baht lady drinks. It took me a while to realise that 170 baht is apparently a competitive price for a lady drink these days. If 170 baht lady drinks are a reason to visit a bar, how much are other bars charging?!
The American Bar & Grill, in the second small sub-soi on the right off Sukhumvit soi 8 / opposite Lolita’s, looks set to change hands. The owner is doing what it seems more and more long-term Thailand expats are doing and heading back to his homeland with his family, in his case the USA. Do stop by and wish him well before he leaves.
The Hardship Posting series features whacky and bizarre tales from expats in Asia. Think the readers’ submissions section of this site on steroids. Stu Lloyd has published the latest in the series, Hardship Posting Volume 5 – the first new edition in 15 years. Hardship Posting volume 5 is available now at bookstores in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Thailand (Asia Books carries it), or from the author’s own site at www.stulloyd.com and also www.amazon.com/author/stulloyd. Or if you’re lucky, you might win a copy in my mystery photo competition.
Why has the Thai word klong (meaning canal or small waterway) been adopted by so many foreigners living in Thailand and used in place of the English word. It’s a word you often hear expats use, yet there is no reason why. It’s not like there is a certain nuance to klong that cannot be adequately expressed in English. I use it too – and I don’t know why!
The one I refer to as the mad scientist is still doing his thing, scrawling indecipherable diagrams and formulas over walls, pavements and lampposts in downtown Bangkok. I’d go as far to say that he has been busier than ever and I saw more of his handiwork this past trip than I did on previous trips / than when I lived in Bangkok.
When people say to me, “I haven’t been in <choose one of> Nana Plaza / Soi Cowboy / Patpong / a gogo bar in X number of years” I chuckle when I clearly remember being in such a place with them not that long ago. I get it that some prefer to put a distance between themselves and the bar scene – but in Bangkok it’s hardly something to be ashamed of. The other one I hear more and more these days – or at least I heard a lot when I was in Thailand recently – was, I have not been on ThaiVisa in years referring to the popular Thailand-centric forum for foreigners. Again, it’s hardly shameful to take a sneaky peek at ThaiVisa – so why do so many people say they have not been on the site, especially when they are awfully au fait with what is currently being talked about on the site?
In Thailand changing one’s name doesn’t cause even the slightest stir. Thais have been known to change their names frequently and for all manner of reasons. One Thai lady I know in her early 30s is on her 4th name. Why change one’s name? The fortune-teller may suggest that their luck is down and it’s because of their name. Relationship after relationship going bad could be attributed to their name. Basically, any string of back luck, be it work, love-life or whatever could cause a Thai to change their name – in the hope that this will change their luck. Sometimes all members of a family will change their names at the same time. Attempting to explain that changing one’s name in the West is not common and there is often a stigma that it is done by those trying to escape something or conceal their past is totally lost on the average Thai. So don’t go thinking that a Thai is dodgy because they have changed their name. In Thailand, changing your name is almost as natural as squatting when you take a dump.
Reader’s story of the week comes from Recovering Nice Guy, “No more “Nice Guy” in Thailand”.
The Bangkok Post looks at the issue of Indians and bogus marriages to Thai women so they can get a marriage visa and remain in the country.
An Australian newspaper looks at what it’s like to be an Australian consular official in Thailand.
The Thai brother-in-law of a Scot married to a Thai woman admits to hiring a gunman to kill him.
The super cop known in the Thai press as Big Joke is picked to be the next head of the Immigration Department.
A young Aussie turned a gun on himself and shot himself in the head at a shooting range in Phuket.
Video has emerged of a security guard at Don Meuang Airport trying to hit a Chinese tourist.
People change. Our attitude changes. What we believed once we may no longer believe in. It’s hardly unusual. When someone’s ideas change it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them nor are they being deceptive. While feedback about the return of the column has been positive – thank you – a handful of readers have pointed out that some things I have said since I resumed are different to what I said when commenting on similar issues years ago. Yep, because my thinking on some things has changed! Straight guys come out as gay. Meat eaters turn vegan. Drinkers turn their back on the bottle and vow to never drink again. And my take on some things has changed too. It’s really no big deal!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : email@example.com