I look forward to summer every year but this year would be different. The other half’s sister and her best friend would be visiting. For 2 weeks there would be 3 Thai females in the house. One can be a headache at times; how would I cope with 3?!
Despite the other half’s insisting otherwise, I knew that looking after our 2 Thai visitors would fall firmly on my shoulders. These two Thai girls are great. They are fun-loving and love to try new things, but like so many Thais they can bore easily. And while they are adventurous and like to try new food, they get testy if they don’t get their favourite Thai food. Oh, and their English is pretty basic too. Few Thais live in this part of the country and the Thai restaurants aren’t great. Their visit would not be without its challenges.
Summer in this part of the world is perfect. The weather was true to form and played its part.
Eating is everything to these girls. They will drive for hours in to the countryside just to eat at a favourite restaurant. And as soon as the meal is over they will drive all the way back to Bangkok.
They have been known to drive all the way down to Chumphon and back, a 450+ km / 6-hour drive each way, just to eat at their favourite seafood restaurant. Food really is everything to these girls.
Their visit coincided with cherry and berry season. Cherries transform on their way from Farangland to Thailand. In New Zealand, cherries are just another summer fruit. But on the plane to Thailand, they morph in to a premium product and the price shoots up. What can go for as little as $NZ 7/kg (USD $5) / kg here, can cost anywhere from 450 – 1,400 baht / kg on the streets of Chinatown / in the supermarkets of Bangkok. So when they heard fresh cherries were available from the orchard at a fraction of the Thai price, they went crazy. Every 2 days we would drive to the local cherry orchard, and fill the car with 2 kg boxes of cherries. Self-control has never been a strength of Thailand and whatever self-control these girls had was abandoned as they gorged on cherries like there was no tomorrow.
Ditto across town at the pick your own raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries and blueberries. I don’t know whether it’s possible to put on weight with berries but these girls sure did their best to show that it is.
You can’t underestimate the importance of food to Thais in general. While eating one meal, they are already talking about what the next meal will be. Life really does revolve around food for so many Thais. When they’re with family or friends, at work / doing business or relaxing, traveling or in Thailand, food is a big part of it. I swear if the food was good enough and kept coming, these girls would have been happy to stay in the house for the whole 2 weeks. Food trumps all!
One balmy night we were lounging around out in the garden, a couple of bottles of wine knocked off but the girls wanted to drink more. Only a bottle of Champagne remained. They’d never seen Champagne opened before and it had been a while since I had opened one – so when I told them to gather around, they did so studiously, with one recording the moment, as you do. I pointed the bottle of France’s finest in to the night sky, wrapped my mitt around the cork and gently twisted. As with so many things French the cork had a mind of its own, sailing off in to the night sky until almost out of sight, at which point gravity kicked in and started coming back down to earth. Except that it changed trajectory on the way back down and landed on the neighbour’s roof with an all-mighty crash that scattered the Thai women in 3 different directions, like they were running away from the scene of a crime. With Thais even the simplest things can be fun.
It used to be said that to convince a Thai to do something you should get the idea across that it will be sanuk (fun). I would learn that the way to get these girls to do something was to tell them that there would be great opportunities for selfies and taking photos. Posting photos of themselves in exotic places on their Facebook page is a big deal. It’s especially good if the photos are pretty and show something Thais aren’t familiar with.
They would search on Panthip.com – the largest Thai language forum – to see if any Thais had been to where we were about to go. If not, it quickly became a must visit. Post photos of places few Thais had been was a big deal. Never underestimate how much Thais love to show off.
Using this approach, I almost managed to convince them to walk the Tongariro track described by some as the best one-day walk anywhere in the world. But at 22 kilometres in length and a whole day trip, that sounded like hard work to them so we stuck to shorter walks.
The trip was not without its anxieties and at one point they felt jinxed. We went to a waterfall one day and when we got home that evening it was reported that someone had drowned at that waterfall that day, not long after we left. And then the very next day we went to the local beach, and later that same day when we got home someone drowned there too. There was much anxiety about what would happen the next day.
These two ladies are very popular with Thai men and there are always suitors showing interest in them. But to Kiwi guys these two slim and attractive ladies were almost invisible. Seldom did they get looks from Kiwi blokes. They didn’t know what to make of it because they have always had a lot of interest shown in them. They weren’t miffed – that would be much too strong a word – but they couldn’t get their head around how some heavy Kiwi girls covered in tats would get looks while they were basically invisible.
On a day trip to Wellington, they were drooling over two shirtless guys at the beach and went for a slow, oh so obvious walk right past them. They didn’t get so much as a look and returned deflated!
Like many urban Thais, these mid 30’s ladies look younger than their actual age. At a supermarket they were asked to show ID when buying bottles of wine and also out at a bar. The legal age to buy alcohol here is 18 – and some places have a policy of asking to see ID if the customers look less than 25 years old. Needless to say, this made their day.
Thais don’t always respect rules, and no matter how much I tried to explain how things work here, they just didn’t get it that fluttering one’s eyelashes and smiling doesn’t work in Kiwiland when you’ve broken the rules.
Why are we driving so slow, I was asked several times. They just about had a heart attack when I told them how much a speeding ticket would cost and insist that fluttering one’s eyelashes still works in Thailand without needing to reach for your wallet.
I had explained that the baggage allowance was strictly policed on Thai Airways flights departing Auckland. Two people travelling together meant they could take a combined total of 60 kg checked baggage. We weighed it before they left home and they had 78 kg, I told them to repack their stuff and put as much in to their carry on bags as they could. They got their checked luggage down to 63 kg, 3 kg above what is allowed. They just wouldn’t believe me when I said that this would still be a problem and they would get stung with an overweight charge. No, it’s Thai Airways, we’ll be fine, they insisted.
Sure enough, at check-in at Auckland Airport they were told excess luggage fees were a whopping $70/kg. They managed to repack those 3 kg in to their carry on (which, fortunately, was not weighed).
I have to add that I find it ironic that these slim ladies were facing overweight baggage charges when the combined weight of their luggage and themselves would be much less than most of the Kiwis on the flight. While these two ladies weigh barely 50 kg each – plenty of the Westerners on that flight would weigh twice that or more. Wouldn’t it be nice if air ticket prices and baggage allowances took the passenger’s weight in to consideration?
These 2 Thai ladies were a pleasure to host and show around. They were heaps of fun. In the end I needn’t have worried how it would be with 3 Thais in the house. My concerns were unfounded. They were a delight. I hope they come back next year. The South Island beckons.
Last week’s photo was taken of the walkway connecting MBK with Siam Discovery Centre. This week’s photo is rather dim, I know, but I still think a good few will get it right.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
Mia noi spotting.
On the mia noi thing, when I lived in Bangkok back in the early 00’s, the wife and I would go to Emporium on Sundays to grab a burger. As we walked around I’d see all these older, distinguished, well-dressed, Thai men with younger, quite pretty women shopping in high-end stores. I always joked with the wife, “Isn’t it nice that fellow is taking his daughter out to buy her some nice things…” I always figured those older fellows must live somewhere outside of Bangkok or they would have chanced bumping into acquaintances. The Emporium was the “new” chic place to shop back then. I imagine the new mall down on the river is the in place now.
An Indian’s view of the mia noi concept.
My impression about the mia noi concept is that she is the second wife with some kind of social acceptance but no legal binding. I’m not sure about legal standing, inheritance or social acceptance of the children though. While I’ve found Indian and Thai cultures and social practices to be very similar in many aspects, in this particular area they differ significantly. Sex outside marriage and premarital sex, though not unheard of in India, are still a social taboo. Even in the recent past, sex with a married woman (not his wife) was considered a criminal offence in India. In that respect, the acceptance of customs like mia noi and gik in Thai society is quite fascinating.
Air Asia’s inane check in system.
Regarding Don Meuang airport, I now refuse to fly Air Asia if I have luggage. They employ an insane system of having to line up for a machine that prints you a luggage tag that you then have to affix to your luggage. Then you have to queue again to hand over your luggage at a check-in desk. Why the check-in desk can’t print the luggage tag and affix it as every other airline does I have no idea. Then you have to wait by the luggage screening area to make sure your suitcase goes through without setting off an alarm. Again, I’ve never experienced that anywhere else. It is so much hassle using Air Asia even for domestic flights that, after I forgot about the nonsense they put you through and bought a ticket, I rebooked on Thai Smile and will swallow the money I’ve lost on the Air Asia flight. It will be well worth it to avoid the hassle.
Flying out of Don Meuang is the problem.
I find flying in to Don Meuang fine. I dislike flying out of there. Flights to Cambodia always depart from Gates 1-6, the bus gates, and that departure area is always jam-packed and overcrowded with Chinese tourists. It’s hard to find a seat, and then you are crammed in to a bus to the plane. It’s an uncivilized way to travel. The check in for Air Asia international flights can be a zoo but you have to know how to play their game. There is a general check in line for Air Asia international flights that is usually quite long. Directly across from that counter is a set of check in desks for flights departing soon. The staff holds up a sign 90-105 minutes before each flight with the flight number and destination on it and then waves people showing boarding passes from those flights into this “departing soon” check in line. That line is always much shorter than the regular check in line. So the key is that you don’t want to show up at the airport 2-3 hours before your Air Asia flight and get into the long general check in line; you want to show up about an hour and 45 minutes before your flight and wait for them to wave you into the shorter line for flights that depart soon.
Bangkok taxis not so bad in comparison.
Don’t think taxis in Bangkok are any worse than in many other cities. I have many good experiences as well. In Saigon, I was involved in a shouting match resembling the Russian roulette episode in The Deer Hunter. Not a car from Vinasun or Mailinh, obviously, but some shady small company. The meter was rigged, ticking up a ridiculous amount of money. I ordered him to let me out. He locked the doors. We screamed at each other for 5 minutes (I might have mentioned the war…) and the meter just kept spinning. Finally I caved in.
How to get serious with errant cabbies.
If the authorities were serious about taxis refusing fares all they need to do is get a few hundred army lads to go out in civvies and arrest every driver who turns them down when they try and get a ride. Do that a few times, and then again the next week, and the drivers might get the message.
Bangkok pricier than California.
What you’ve been saying about costs in Bangkok resonates with me. While some things are still remarkably reasonable, at least by American standards, I have certainly noticed a relentless march upwards over the years. And there are a lot of things that simply make me scratch my head as to why they cost so much, such as prepared food in the malls. I live in the bay area in California, now the most expensive place to exist in the western hemisphere. And I see prices listed in many shops in Bangkok that are more than what they cost here in California. It makes me wonder what the profit margins are in some of those places, as I know they definitely don’t have a California cost-structure!
Down in Pattaya, Thursday, March 7th has been confirmed as the last day for Secrets Bar and will mark the end of an era. Secrets will shut and the new bar Scooters at Secrets will reopen some 3 weeks later, on March 29th. Secrets’ popularity soared on the back of genius marketing by the owners who set up a Pattaya-centric forum several months before the bar opened, and generated a lot of buzz about the soon-to-open bar. Despite a crap location on a quiet soi off Walking Street, Secrets was a huge success. Night after night, month after month and even year after year, Secrets boomed. The well-designed bar had it all from a great team of girls, mamasans equally popular with the girls as with were customers, a good music playlist and Larry, the best bar manager in the business. But nothing is forever and Secrets bar will soon close. And it seems fitting that the Secrets’ forum will also close, with its last day mooted for this coming week. Both Secrets bar and the forum’s heyday was many high seasons ago. I guess the same could be said for Pattaya itself.
Still in Pattaya, a new gogo bar opened on Walking Street this past week, Pin Up A Gogo. Cool name.
From bars at the end of their lifetime to those at the very beginning, what do the soon-to-open ladyboy gogo bar in Soi Cowboy in the space that was Shadow Bar, and the soon-to-open all-lady gogo bar in the space that was The Old Dutch have in common? Let me know if you figure it out.
The latest from popular Sukhumvit soi 23 gogo bar Crazy House is that they’re not charging an entry fee per se, rather they’re doing things Bacarra-style whereby you have to order and pay for your first drink at the entrance to the bar – and then you can go inside and collect it. Unlike Bacarra, Crazy House doesn’t have an outdoor bar area where you can order and get the drink right there. Instead you pay outside the bar and walk inside to collect it. The system at Bacarra works just fine but there has been some resistance at Crazy House. Whether Crazy House sticks with this system in light of all the chopping and changing they have been up to, who knows.
3:00 AM closing has returned to Sukhumvit and all is back to normal on sois Cowboy and Nana.
Word from the frontlines is there were plenty of tourists around the traps this week and Patpong enjoyed a good weekend, and is said to be looking better than it has in some time.
The Silom Road end of Patpong soi 2 has the been the hot spot in of Patpong since, oh, around 2011 or so. But that very specific area’s sparkle is fading. First there was the closure of Club Electric Blue which became a steakhouse. Then there was the ownership change at The Strip which just isn’t what it was. And as has already been widely reported, Bada Bing will close at the end of the month. There could more change coming with news that the owners of Black Pagoda have been in talks with other parties. To be clear, Black Pagoda is not for sale, but there have been talks with another operator in the area (who was not interested in taking over the space). At the Silom Road end of Patpong soi 2 that leaves Glamour which is still very much worth visiting.
And Glamour is doing its bit to get punters through the door. From tomorrow, Monday February 18th, there will be a new happy hour with Asahi beer, house whisky, gin, Vodka and rum at just 50 baht from 7:30 – 8:00 PM and then 100 baht from 8:00 – 9:00 PM. This new happy hour will run through until March 31st.
A friend snapped the photo below of the rules hanging on the wall in Hangout Bar, one of the pool bars in the Queen’s Park Plaza complex on Sukhumvit Soi 22, opposite the Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park. Great stuff from the bar and wouldn’t it be something if other bars had these rules – and actually enforced them.
When times are tough, businesses go under. But not in Bangkok, it would seem. Weak businesses that can’t make it usually make way for new, innovative businesses that have to fight hard to survive. So why then if times are tough in Bangkok are so few bars going under? Part of the reason is that a relatively small number of groups run a lot of the bars across the 3 major red-light areas. Overall, these groups seem to be doing ok but it begs the question: are some bars being subsidised by other bars within the group that are profitable? If so, it’s a worry because it prevents the natural order of things with weak bars being replaced by new bars. The problem is that in Bangkok, licences for gogo bars are essentially limited. It is not possible get a licence for a new gogo bar in Soi Cowboy or Nana Plaza, so the only way someone new to the industry can get involved is to buy an existing bar that has a gogo bar licence. At Patpong, new gogo bar licences can be applied for because Patpong is a designated entertainment area. The other 2 areas are not designated as entertainment areas. There are always people who would like to open a new bar in Cowboy or Nana but they cannot because of the licence issue. New blood is needed in the bar business now more than ever but under existing laws it is very hard to enter the industry, at least in the areas where you’d want to be.
In last week’s column I mentioned the secret Facebook forums used by Thai women to exchange intel about the foreign man they are dating / chatting with online. In fairness to these forums they aren’t all bad. When an obvious gold digger comes on to the forum and asks how to find a rich foreigner to take care of her forever, plenty of members will give said lady a spray. Thailand is changing and these ladies will remind her that it’s 2019 and the days of foreign men handing over silly money to a grub are coming to an end. It’s amusing to watch the gold diggers get put in place by their own. These days it seems Thai women are less inclined to get involved with a Western man because they want to get a leg up, but rather they want to get their leg over.
The pound has been flirting with 40 baht for weeks and this week it finally fell below that psychological barrier. Even money changers who offer the best rates are now paying less than 40 baht to the pound. Of course, for Brits working in Thailand it’s not bad at all and a visit back home will be a bargain.
There have been numerous changes to immigration law / visa rules recently – and you just know that there are more to come. What’s next? It can’t be too long before visa extension fees increase – it is many years since that last happened. When that last happened fees jumped from 500 baht to 1,900 baht.
I have mentioned the Thailand Elite visa before and given the increasingly frequent changes to visa rules and the worries some have about being able to stay in Thailand long-term, it’s worth mentioning again. The Elite visa essentially allows you to buy a visa allowing you stay in Thailand hassle-free for at least 5 years. Once you have this visa, you needn’t worry about the goal posts moving and you’ll no longer be subject to the whims of individual Immigration officers. Some say it’s overpriced and maintain that it’s not worth it, but I guess it all depends on just how much you want to stay in Thailand, and how much you’re willing to pay. There are various tiers of Elite card with the cheapest 500,000 baht. If used correctly, the cheapest Elite visa allows you to stay in Thailand for 6 years – so around 80,000 baht / year. If you really want to stay in Thailand and don’t have any other options, the Elite visa isn’t such a bad deal.
I keep hearing horror stories of retirees living in a hovel, eating on the street and wearing clothes they bought years ago. It’s worth repeating that Thailand is no bargain and in many cases you genuinely might be better off back home, especially as much of the West have turned in to welfare states where broke retirees will be housed and looked after. Don’t get sucked in to the nonsense that the West is all bad and you’re better off in Thailand.
If you’re thinking of building a house in Thailand, there’s a lot of good information at : CoolThaiHouse.com.
Quote of the week comes from ThaiVisa, “A farang in Thailand without money has the same status as a soi dog.”
Chinese investors continue to pour money in to the Thailand property market.
The South China Morning Post looked at some Russians who now call Pattaya home and have made it the most Russian of cities in Asia.
A former All Black is involved in a motorbike accident in Thailand.
I give the column a final once-over before pressing the publish button. Some weeks I can’t shake the feeling that it errs on the negative. Prices for this and that are climbing, cab drivers not turning on the meter, unsmiling government officials, scams around every corner and so on. Am I trying to outline all of the problems you face in Bangkok? No, not at all. I think a big part of the reason there are a lot of issues outlined is due to the piecemeal way I put the column together throughout the week. Other than the opening piece which I write in one go, everything else is done in bits and pieces. A paragraph of news here, a paragraph of my views there and an email from readers to slot in up there. The column builds over the week and comes together not long before it’s time to publish. Each little problem covered might seem innocuous at the time but if there are a lot of issues raised in one column, the accumulation of them all can give it a negative tone which I’d really rather avoid. It is not my intention to be negative or to complain, while at the same time I won’t shirk issues that need to be raised. Honesty is everything. I won’t ever put a positive slant on something I don’t truly feel that way about. At the same time it would be nice to produce a column that made readers feel like they want to go straight to the airport and jump on a plane to Bangkok!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]