It’s only a couple of decades since buffaloes roamed fields in the outskirts of Bangkok, passports went on holiday out of the country to a new visa while the passport holder drank 70 baht drinks in Nana Plaza all night long. That Bangkok has gone forever. As Bangkok goes through massive change, much of the advice that was passed down from previous generations of expats is less relevant today.
Expats once helped expats. Those who helped you were given help by the previous generation. Today with the Internet, most people seek Google’s help.
I was given a lot of advice when I first arrived in Bangkok. From those living in the same apartment building to my new colleagues, they all had the best intentions even if often it seemed to be a case of do as I say and not as I do.
What would I hope to be told if I was a new expat moving to Bangkok today?
- Visa & Work Permit
Get legal and stay legal. Make sure you always have the right visa and never overstay. Overstaying your visa may result in blacklisting.
Insist to your employer that your work permit is issued before you start work. Aside from the obvious, there is a huge advantage to working legally in Thailand. Work legally for 5 years continuously and the path to permanent residency opens up. 5 unbroken years of work permits and visas is what is needed to start the process to become a permanent resident.
New visa / immigration rules are frequently introduced and shifting goal posts can become a headache for those who wish to stay in Thailand long-term. Apply for permanent residency status and once granted, your visa problems are essentially over, forever. I am amazed so few people apply to become a permanent resident as the advantages in doing so are huge.
- Understand That You Do Have Rights
Yes, you are a foreigner and you will be constantly reminded that you are not Thai. But you DO have rights in Thailand!
One of the worst pieces of misinformation perpetrated by some is that foreigners in Thailand don’t have any rights. This is nonsense.
I can only guess that the reason some spew this nonsense is that they have seen foreigners lose disputes which makes them feel like foreigners don’t have any rights. More likely the problem was that the foreigner didn’t know how to go about working through the dispute and resolving the issue.
The most common disputes foreigners find themselves in Thailand are tenancy issues with their landlord – often relating to getting their deposit back – and employment issues.
In the case of disputes with landlords, it’s not a slam-dunk and, no, the foreigner will not automatically lose, as some claim. There are ways to work through such issues, but they are beyond the scope of this week’s column.
For foreigners in a dispute with their employer, Thailand’s labour laws are like much of the developed world – they strongly favour the employee. There are countless stories of foreigners winning a dispute against their employer after receiving (free) assistance from the Labour Office staff who advocate on the behalf of employees, Thai or foreign.
Yes, there are many stories of foreigners who have come a cropper in a dispute with a Thai and have not been able to seek resolution. In many cases the foreigner has gone the wrong way about trying to resolve the issue / seek redress. Going about things in Thailand as you would in your homeland might not be the best approach.
If you find yourself in a dispute with shady / powerful & influential people then resolution might be difficult. In fairness, most Thais would give up at that stage. But even then, there are still options. In all likelihood you won’t find yourself in a situation with such people anyway.
- Do Learn Thai
Assuming you’re going to stay in Thailand for a long time, do learn Thai. I’ve always thought that delaying learning Thai is like putting off buying something. When you finally buy it you wonder how you ever managed without it.
Yes, it can be a long road to reach a decent level of fluency and proficiency but when you get there it is worth it!
Learning Thai endears you to the locals and makes many things so much easier. You’re no longer like a baby relying on your wife or those around you to help in so many situations you’d handle yourself back in Farangland.
Understanding Thai to a decent level helps you understand the Thai way of thinking and grasp the nuances of not just what people are saying, but what they really mean. The respective values of Westerners and Thais are rather different, and learning Thai to a high level unlocks that. While we all ultimately want basically the same – a happy life and healthy family, the way we go about it can be somewhat different.
A word on the naysayers who say that learning Thai can be depressing because you understand what people around you are saying (and by definition it’s not worth listening to). Such comment is a reflection of the company you keep. Spend time with Thais from a similar background to yourself and you’ll find that they talk about much the same things as you do.
- Choose Where To Live Carefully
One of the first pieces of advice I got was to get a job first and then find a place to stay – ideally, somewhere close to / easy to get to where you work. That remains as valid today as it has ever been.
Getting around Bangkok can be difficult, be it by car / taxi, electric train or even on foot. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are long-term accommodation options all over the city so think first about where you’re going to work (and / or play) and choose somewhere to stay not too far from there.
- The Naughty Bars And The Modern Expat
The days of Thais quietly giggling amongst themselves at the embarrassing behaviour of their highly paid expat boss fooling around with girls from boondocks are over. If you wish to be taken seriously by your Thai colleagues and Thais you do business with, don’t be known as someone who hangs out in low-end bar areas – and that is how Thais view the likes of Cowboy and Nana.
The girls in the bars come from difficult backgrounds, and many are troubled. The damage that can be done to the reputation of an expat known as a frequent visitor of these areas cannot be underestimated. Reputation is everything in Asia.
This doesn’t mean you can’t stop by occasionally. Show friends visiting from out-of-town what the fuss is all about when they visit you. But leave it at that.
Young expats seem almost immune and chrome poles are not a magnet like they can be for older expats.
- Teaching Is A Last Resort
Don’t teach In Thailand unless you have to, you genuinely want to or you are a career teacher.
Many of us taught in Thailand because there were few opportunities for Westerners who wanted to live in and experience Thailand, outside of teaching. Not that long ago teaching was the only real option.
Those days are long gone and there are all sorts of interesting and well-paid employment opportunities in Bangkok for foreigners today.
The cost of living in Bangkok has rocketed up over the past decade and an English language institute teacher’s salary doesn’t cut it unless you’re willing to make sacrifices.
Of course, international school positions pay well – but any decent international school will only hire qualified, experienced career teachers.
If you must teach English, use it as a stepping-stone to move on to something else.
- Don’t Settle Down With A Thai Woman Too Fast
It would be easy to roll out the old cliché about how you can take the girl out of the bar but you can’t take the bar out of the girl. That’s so ‘90s and most expats know that hookers generally don’t make the best wife.
Most single foreigners relocating to Thailand get involved with a local lady. Relationships are easy to start but the success rate is not always great.
Many Farang / Thai marriages go bad because the couple got married too fast.
Take your time to really get to know her and don’t be pressured in to getting married before you are ready. Live together by all means, but don’t put a ring on her finger until you have been together for a year at absolute minimum, or better still, have lived through a full calendar year together.
You and her grew up in very different worlds. You have different ideas about so many things so it is in both of your interests to take time to really get to know each other and see if she is right for you, and you for her.
As an expat employed in Thailand, you have much opportunity to meet a great lady. Don’t rush it and consider another piece of advice from old Asia hands, don’t marry the first lady you meet!
- Be Wary Of Other Expats
Be wary of your fellow expats and be careful about who you let in to your life in Thailand, and what you reveal about yourself.
Backstabbing, snitching and general bitchiness are all more prevalent in expat Thailand than in your homeland. While many expats thrive in Thailand, plenty don’t. Some expats fail, become miserable and become resentful of those who do well for themselves.
Just because someone comes from the same part of the world as you / supports the same Premier League team / lives in your condo, is friendly and says hello doesn’t mean you should open up to them and let them in to your life. At the bottom end, Thailand has long been a magnet for fxxxed up Westerners and increasingly there are people who did ok for themselves in the past but have fallen on hard times. It’s noble to help out those with problems but at the same time be very careful who you let get close to you and what you reveal about yourself. More expats have problems with other expats than they do with Thais.
Be careful who you befriend and never forget that other expats can become a problem if they decide you are not “one of them”.
- When You Get Sick
Thailand’s medical tourism industry is booming, many private hospitals look like flash hotels and generally, medical care in Thailand is ok. But not everyone has a positive experience.
There are stories of unnecessary procedures carried out. Misdiagnosis is not uncommon. And prices for anything medical have soared in recent years.
My view on medical care in Thailand is that it’s fine for anything minor, but for any procedure where a scalpel will be used, get a second opinion. And if you’re not 100% confident, get on a plane and fly home to get treatment there.
It’s more about the doctor than the hospital so research your doctor carefully and when you make an appointment at the hospital, specify the doctor you wish to see. Most hospital websites list the doctors, their areas of specialty, where they trained etc. Any doubts whatsoever, get a second opinion, and even a third.
- Don’t Lose Sight Of The Future
Many expats move to Thailand not necessarily to further their career or make money, but to enjoy life. And Thailand is a great place to enjoy life. It can be easy to lose perspective. Don’t lose sight of your career and financial goals, lest you end up aged, unemployed and broke.
Do you plan to stay in Thailand permanently? If you return to your homeland, will you still be employable? What you will do when your work life ends?
Thailand is not going to support you if you’re out of work or when you retire, so you need to plan accordingly. Do you have enough in retirement funds to be able to move back to Farangland if need be? The goalposts in Thailand are changing and some retirees are unable to meet the new financial requirements for a retirement visa. Some will have to return home. You should always be in a position where you would be able to move home if that was the best decision, or it was forced upon you.
Are you familiar with the rules and regulations regarding qualifying for the pension / superannuation / social security in your homeland. In many countries there are residency requirements. Australia requires you to have been resident in the country for at least 2 years before you apply for it. In New Zealand you must have been resident in the country for at least 5 years after age 50. The UK requires xx years of contributions. Every country is different and you need to be aware of the situation in your homeland and keep on top of it because things change. You need to be aware that at some point you might no longer be able to stay in Thailand and may be forced home.
If I was moving to Thailand as a fresh-faced expat today, this is the stuff I hope someone would tell me.
Last week’s photo was taken outside Crazy House on Sukhumvit soi 23. The photo was taken at night and was under-exposed but plenty of people got it right which is no great surprise given how crazy popular Crazy House is.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
Rampant inflation in the bar areas.
I visited Champagne A-gogo in Soi LK Metro, Pattaya last night and bought a nice girl a drink. I then asked her about prices. She quoted me 2,000 baht barfine and 3,000 baht short time at a nearby hotel which I could use for 500 baht. All up 5,500 baht for short time plus any added tips. Does anyone seriously take up an offer like this?
Time has marched on.
The bars are a bit of a yawn these days. When you come to the realization that many of the brighter, hotter girls are using the Internet you have to ask yourself if you really wanna spend all that cash on someone who’s too stupid, dull, fearful or lazy to get on the Internet.
All the bars need.
I still believe a good bar needs only girls, no tattoos, and no smoking. This formula will always be the best.
The Internet effect.
I’ve been reading your recent weekly articles and reader submissions, noting some recurring themes: Thailand isn’t what is used to be, prices are way up, the girls have changed, the pollution, etc. As someone who wasn’t there for the 90’s heyday, I have to say that the reader submission, “Errol of Judgment“, illustrated the point more succinctly than I’ve read so far: the Thai bar girls of 2019…the new breed, the girls with tattoos, the girls with phones. They have the world in their slender but coarse fingers. And your response that Thailand is no longer the carefree, happy-go-lucky place that it used to be. Those few sentences really illustrate the point, because even though I wasn’t there then, I can imagine a time where girls didn’t have the tattoos, weren’t glued to their smartphone, and what the world was like during that time. I’m wondering though, why did it change, what’s the cause? My guess is 3 primary reasons:
- The growth of emerging economies, and the increase of tourists from places with huge populations like China and India.
- The growth of the travel industry.
- The internet.
The internet is a double-edged sword. On one hand, social media, travel forums, and other sites have increased interest in places like Thailand. There’s so much access to information that nothing stays a “secret” anymore. Word spreads, and things change. On the other hand, we rely on these sites and platforms for information. The internet has also changed people’s behavior, and in some cases not for the better (see the new breed of Thai bar girl glued to her phone).
When a lady drink is not just a lady drink.
At the risk of being negative, I appreciated your cost of holiday article from a couple of weeks ago. Things have definitely become more expensive. I guess the last 5 years have seen an explosion in prices for the basic necessities of grog, food and women. It’s exemplified by the piss-taking at Crazy House. I went there recently with a mate. Ordered a Jim and Coke and was immediately set upon by two naked seagulls looking for a lady drink. As they were unclothed and great eye candy, I was smitten enough to get them one each. Lo and behold, the bin arrived and to my dismay they had a Sangsom and Coke each, charged at two lady drinks EACH. This is out-and-out piss-taking. Bangkok is expensive when it costs 1,000 baht for one drink each for my mate and I, and the vultures. This needs to be called out every time for what is nothing but a rip-off. Why anyone wants to go to these places is beyond me. By supporting them we acknowledge that we are idiots and want to be stitched. I’ll stick to my standards at the other end. It’s only 90 baht still at Country Road and Corner Bar and you will not be hassled the minute you cool your heels in the door. Barfines are ridiculous at Crazy House as too are the asking rates for short time and long time. Plenty of fish in this Thai ocean. I’ll wait for the next run of salmon at the other end of town, thanks.
Weigh the luggage and the passenger.
Cebu Pacific, one of the leading low-cost airlines in Asia, weigh the passenger with the carry-on baggage. This may be because the aircraft they use are small and not only weight but also weight distribution (too much at the front and the airplane will not get the nose up and too much at the rear hinders landing). Flying into Borocay was always interesting such the runway was marginal for landing.
Manchester United host Liverpool at Old Trafford in a Premier League match that will be shown live at Stumble Inn in Soi Nana tonight. Kick off is at 9:15 PM, Thai time. Pints of Tiger & Chang are just 100 baht during the game. Correctly predict the final score and you win a free 3-litre tower of beer. My prediction would be 1 : 1.
No, Sukhumvit soi 33 is not officially dead yet, but it is dying the slowest of deaths. Once known for hostess bars, soi 33 today is a mishmash of eateries, hostess bars, beer bars, oily massage shops, straight massage outlets, Japanese BJ bars, live music venues, a fetish house and more. The area around what was once Livingstone’s has been broken down and all the shophouses located on the road (where Tenderloins, Dali and Moulin Rouge once stood) have are all gone. The Firm which opened a couple of years ago in the Renoir building closed some months ago. There is something new in that space now but like most of the soi, it is hardly doing great trade. Goya and Survey are basically all that remain of the old-style hostess bars. One scratches their head and wonders just how long the soi can go on in it its current form with so many venues struggling, especially when you consider that soi 33 really is prime real estate. Once it shakes off its reputation, Sukhumvit soi 33 will be ripe for redevelopment.
knocking shops massage houses on Sukhumvit soi 22 and on sois 24, 26 and 26/1 are gaining in popularity. The full monty will set you back around 2,000 baht which is much more palatable to naughty boys than the prices being asked in chrome pole bars in the 3 main bar areas.
Down in Pattaya, Angelwitch closed many months ago. Word on the grapevine was that it would reopen as a ladyboy bar. That has not happened and what was once one of the best bars in Pattaya has been in mothballs ever since. A sign of the times.
Pattaya still offers something you don’t get elsewhere. I received an hilarious email from a friend who was out one night this week in a Pattaya gogo bar best not named. “I met an old friend and as we chatted a girl blew the guy next to my mate. Then she went back and danced on stage with no trip to the toilet in between. Heaven help the next man she kisses!”
Pin Up A Gogo, the newest gogo bar on Walking Street, has snared mamasan Tam and a few of the girls from Secrets. It’s said to be packed with girls but big crop tops, large shorts, loud music and expensive beers hardly put it on the must-visit list. Word is the Japanese and Chinese have taken a liking to it.
Long-time Pattaya bar manager Paul will celebrate his birthday this coming Tuesday, February 26th, in his second home of Babydolls. Drop by and celebrate with him.
On the subject of Babydolls, the bar has been up for sale for some time now. I thought it might be a decent buy as it has a good reputation, the asking price wasn’t outrageous and its location off Walking Street meant rent wouldn’t be out of this world. But the market has been down for years and the days of gogo bars changing hands for 20 – 30 million baht is the distant past.
Word is that the owner of a certain Pattaya forum which previously announced that it would close down this past week received an offer from someone who wanted to buy it. The offer was turned down. Whether the offer was substantial or not, I have no idea. A number of Thailand-centric websites have changed hands in recent years and in most cases for less than I had expected. Some smaller sites sold for the equivalent of just a few months’ profit, which hardly seems worthwhile for the seller. It might be that the value of websites generally has stagnated but for sure, the Thailand expat websites which have changed hands in recent years all went for less than I thought they would.
Nana Hotel has been popular with naughty boys for 50+ years, and some of those who moved to Bangkok for the nightlife moved in to the Nana Hotel…..and never moved out. Stories of expats living in the Nana Hotel year-round were legendary – but they all died off, right? Wrong! There are still a few retirees resident in the Nana Hotel. Some hang out in the public areas from late morning through onwards and share war stories. They’re happy, all power to them.
Crocodile meat is nothing new on menus in Thailand but seeing a whole croc being grilled is not something I remember seeing before. At Crocodile Grill in the Khao San Road area a serving of crocodile meat will set you back 300 baht.
The arrest of a Spaniard in Bangkok this week accused of raping a Thai woman could have ramifications for foreigners living in Thailand. The Spaniard was reported to have been the holder of an Elite visa. I have written about the Elite Card / visa previously and how it is an option for those keen to avoid visa worries. The Thai authorities, particularly the Immigration Department, has a history of knee-jerk reactions and crackdowns when a foreigner is accused of a crime in Thailand. Could the arrest of this Spaniard see Elite Card holders come under greater scrutiny?
Foreigners who take on Thais online are fighting a battle that is hard to win, something an American teacher in Thailand with a large following discovered this past week. A war of words erupted on Facebook that drew unwanted attention to the high-profile language teacher who got in to a situation that would show him in a bad light and go on to do irreparable harm to his reputation. Tempers flared, things were said in the heat of the moment, it all escalated and war broke out on social media! When Thais go to war on social media, they will rally the troops and playback 101 will see them post screen captures of what has been said as they attempt to drum up support from the public at large. It can get nasty quickly and if it happens that the foe is a foreigner who has said negative things about Thailand, it’s going to get nastier. I won’t go in to all the details of what happened because it’s all kind of silly, but what I will say is this: It’s not worth getting in to a war of words with Thais online. Thais love drama and they won’t back down. They just have to be right. This is not a Thai vs Farang thing – Thai vs Thai battles online get similarly nasty. Some years ago on Thai TV, a fellow with a high profile commented that a certain province was best known for eating dog. A backlash from residents of that province followed and his reputation took a hit. In the end, he went up to that province and prostrated himself to locals in a very public apology. This is not to say that you can’t say what you think or make negative comments or criticise something online with Thais – because you absolutely can. But if you bang on and on about things on social media and use profanity then things can escalate and you might find yourself in damage control.
Quote of the week comes from a friend, “Bangkok is a case study in negative externalities.”
Reader’s story of the week is one I really enjoyed, “Errol Of Judgment“.
Across the border, Cambodian Immigration is keeping on top of overstayers.
Bangkok expat fiction writers Christopher G. Moore and John Burdett appear together on a podcast.
A young Spaniard is accused of raping a young Thai woman in the Thonglor area.
A video recorded in a hostel lobby shows the aftermath of what happened to an American alleged to have taken a local lady back to his room when he shouldn’t have.
I enjoy your emails and I reply to them all, and usually in a timely manner. I figure if you’re good enough to take the time to send me an email, I should be good enough to send you a prompt reply. But sometimes I get emails from people who are just plain not nice. Nasty, abusive or sometimes the person behind the email address seems like they are not quite right. I welcome all comments be they positive, negative or otherwise. But if they’re abusive or nasty, I have zero interest in reading them. I’ve probably only blocked a couple of dozen people over the years but if you have sent multiple emails and never received a reply, it’s probably because your email address has been blocked and your email never reached me…
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]