Stickman's Weekly Column February 3rd, 2019

The Increasing Cost Of A Trip To Bangkok


It’s not getting easier to choose Bangkok as a holiday destination. Prices have been creeping up and the strong Thai baht doesn’t help. I plugged some numbers in to a spreadsheet and was surprised at how a place I once considered an inexpensive destination is getting pricey.

I’ve long subscribed to the theory that you should put more thought and effort in to what you earn than what you spend. Put more effort in to earning more so you don’t miss out when you want to buy / do something. But with prices quoted for my next Thailand trip all heading north I thought it might be interesting to calculate just how much a trip costs me.

When I visit Thailand, I find two weeks is not quite long enough, but three weeks is a bit too long. 17 or 18 days is about perfect. Time it right, and I get 3 weekends which is good for catching up with friends in Bangkok who work during the week.

I fly to Thailand on Thai Airways. Partly habit, partly the benefits of lots of flyer points, but as much as anything, Thai is the only airline that flies direct between Thailand and New Zealand. A shorter flight means less time in the air.

But flying direct comes at a price. On international routes, Thai is no bargain. It doesn’t help that flying to Thailand from down here at the bottom of the planet you have limited options. At around the same price point as Thai Airways is Malaysian Airlines – but that means connecting via KL and a longer journey. Singapore Airlines is another option but again, you’ve got a stop you don’t want and besides, fares on Singapore Airlines are usually more again. Air Asia was flying between Auckland and Bangkok. If you were willing to spend another 8 or so hours on the journey each way, you could have saved a few hundred dollars. No, thanks. QANTAS is usually the best value between Bangkok and Auckland with special fares at $NZ 799 appearing a few times a year.

I know more than a few don’t like Thai but I have had good experiences with Thai over a long period of time. Thai use Dreamliners i.e. a brand new plane, on the Bangkok – Auckland route which is a big plus. And having used Thai Airways for so long I have plenty of miles which means a few perks. At the end of the day, I find the whole airport / flying experience decidedly unpleasant and am willing to spend more for the ordeal to be a little more bearable.

Plugging in some imaginary dates for next month, Thai was $NZ 1,240 – which is higher than usual – and QANTAS was a surprisingly high $1,360. Airfares out of New Zealand, appear to be higher this year than last.

But it’s accommodation which is the biggest cost. I said goodbye to slumming it a long time ago and prefer a comfortable room where I can get a good night’s sleep. For a stay of over 2 weeks I really want a bit of space, which means a suite. Bangkok can be a bit much at times and I want somewhere I can retreat to and relax in. Not a fancy place, but with enough space to spread out and not feel like I am in a small hotel room. And of course it needs to be downtown so I can walk everywhere.

Hotel rooms in Bangkok used to be incredibly good value – and some would say they still are – but prices have been creeping up. At each of the two properties I prefer to stay, the quoted prices for a stay before Songkran are up more than 25% over the last year. One used to charge around 2,700 baht / night and is now 4,000+ baht / night. The other was 2,400 baht / night but has shot up to 3,100 baht / night. Both remain fair value for what you get – a good-sized 1-bedroom unit downtown. 3,100 baht / night ($USD 100 / night) is a fair price for what you get, but on a stay of approaching 3 weeks it adds up.

So the cost of accommodation would be 55,800 baht, or at current exchange rates around $NZ 2,657. That means with just airfare and accommodation alone I would already have parted with almost $NZ 4,000.

I would like to say that after that it comes down to what you spend on the ground in Thailand but for me at least, the pre-trip costs don’t end there.

I live in a lovely part of the country where the air is fresh and the sun shines year-round. The downside of living here is that Auckland is 400 km away. I could fly to Auckland but that would mean a morning flight and they cost $$, so I drive up and park at the airport. The return trip works out at about $NZ 100 in petrol. And then there are airport parking fees which, according to the Auckland airport website for the dates of the imaginary trip, would be $NZ 134. Exactly the same as I paid a few months ago, one of the few things that doesn’t seem to be going up.

And after a 5-hour drive to Auckland Airport I’d be facing a 3-hour wait before getting on the plane with an 11+ hour flight ahead of me. So I happily pay to use an airport lounge which if booked in advance, is $49.

And then we have my two cats which need to be taken care of while I am away. That’s $16 per day, per cat. Given that I have to drop them off the day before I leave and pick them up the day after I return, that would be a total of 21 nights. Two x cats at the local cattery @$16 / night x 21 nights = $672. Pet ownership ain’t cheap!

The credit card is screaming – and you haven’t even stepped foot in Thailand yet!

I don’t have a daily budget in Bangkok. I know the city well and know my spending habits so I can set a budget for the trip and it usually runs almost close to that. To be frank, I don’t actually do a lot in Bangkok. I explore, I take photographs, I catch up with old friends and for someone who lived there a long time, I actually do quite a lot of touristy stuff. I don’t drink much at all and I certainly do not pay barfines or give money to scantily-clad, unwed mothers. For those of you who do, at the current rates I cannot imagine what your total trip spend runs to!

On a typical 17- / 18-day trip I’ll spend around 40,000 baht. Over half is spent on food. The rest goes on a mix of transport and getting around, the odd entrance fee, a few drinks here and there and a few knick-knacks I might pick up. And then there can be the odd repair bill. The cost of getting camera gear repaired in Thailand is between ¼ and ⅓ of what it costs here in New Zealand so when something fails I take it with me on my next trip.

 

Airfare $NZ 1,240
Accommodation $NZ 2,657
Spending money $NZ 1,904
Cats $NZ 672
Petrol cost to drive to airport $NZ 100
Airport parking $NZ 134
Airport lounge $NZ 49
TOTAL $NZ 6,756
  • Note: currently one New Zealand dollar = 21 baht, .69 USD, .95 AUD, .53 GBP

 

The total cost in New Zealand dollars of a trip runs around $NZ 6,756. In US dollars, that’s $US 4,661 and in Thai baht it’s THB 141,876. For a 2 ½ week break, that’s a decent chunk of change. Of course I enjoy visiting Bangkok but the number is bigger than it used to be and I have to ask myself the question: is it worth it?

Would I be prepared to cut a few corners to save money?

If I wanted to reduce the overall cost of the trip, I could fly a cheaper airline, stay in a cheaper hotel and perhaps reduce the length of the trip.

I’m not getting any younger and I find the whole airport / flying thing a drag so I’m not prepared to compromise on airline and stick with the direct flight.

And if I had to stay in a small hotel room, honestly, I don’t think I’d go in the first place. Bangkok is exciting but at the same time it can wear you down so I like to have need a decent place to get back to where I can relax. And while staying a few nights less would bring the cost down a little, I’d probably leave feeling I had not seen everyone / done everything I’d hoped to. So reducing the length of the stay is not really an option.

Spending the equivalent of $USD 4,600 a couple of times a year adds up. Bangkok used to be a bargain. There was a time when you paid little attention to the prices because everything was so cheap. 80 baht beers were everywhere. 50 baht Thai meals. 100 baht burgers. 1,000 baht hotel rooms / 1,500 baht suites. 200 baht high tea at The Oriental. Prices were so much cheaper than home. But prices have been heading up for some time and these days I don’t hear anyone say Bangkok is cheap. Some things are, but with everything averaged out over the cost of a trip? No.

As crazy as it sounds, the total cost of a trip to Tokyo wouldn’t cost much more than visiting Bangkok – so long as I was prepared to settle for a smaller hotel room and perhaps stay a few days less. And scribbling a few numbers down, I reckon I could have a trip of similar length in Australia, spending a few days in each of Melbourne and Sydney followed by a week on the Gold Coast for less, or certainly no more, than I would pay for a trip of similar length in Bangkok. Comparing the cost of a trip to Bangkok to one in Tokyo or Australia price-wise sounds crazy, but there are many scenarios under which the total cost of a trip wouldn’t be any different!

Bangkok is no longer a bargain unless you’re willing to cut corners or make sacrifices such as go down-market, go local or stay somewhere out-of-the-way. And honestly, unless you’re a backpacker or absolutely have to, once you reach middle age I really think one prefers a few creature comforts. I know I do.

While it’s not difficult to save money eating out in Bangkok, I figure if I am spending so much to go there in the first place I want to enjoy myself while I am there – and eating out is one area Bangkok excels. No steaks or anything like that (they’re much better and much cheaper at home, anyway).

And it’s not just comparing Thailand to alternative destinations but the other fun stuff that money could buy. If I took, for example, two trips to Bangkok this year and they run a little over budget and the total outlay across those two trips was $USD 10,000 – a not insignificant sum, I could trade in my car and get a new one with that amount of money. I could make a few small additions to the house. I could take a couple of short trips to Australia and a couple of Winter trips down to Queenstown. Or I could buy a heap of new camera gear / lenses. The cost of visiting Bangkok has reached a point where the opportunity cost is no longer trivial.

Everyone is keen to visit Thailand but with prices what they are these days – partly due to the strong Thai baht – Thailand just doesn’t have the same lure for me that it once did.

For me, the value for money in Thailand was a big part of the reason for visiting. Quite simply, you could do more for less. But now that you’re paying as much as you might pay on a trip to a developed country, I have to ask myself whether the value is really there. It’s not the total amount you spend, it’s what you get for that money. There are so many small things that can annoy in Thailand, things that go wrong and / or let you down. You lower your expectations in a way that you wouldn’t on a holiday in, say, Australia. When prices were lower the little things didn’t bother you so much. But now when, in many cases, you’re paying Western prices? There’s a whole world out there and if I am going to drop $NZ 6,756 (141,000 Thai baht / close to $US 5,000) on a 2½ week trip then there are other destinations to consider.

 


Billboard Bangkok

 

Mystery Photo

bangkok-mystery-photo-feb-2019-1

Last week’s photo featuring the Superman photo was taken about 50 metres west of Sukhumvit soi 3, very close to the branch of Carl’s Jr. in Nana Square. This week’s shouldn’t be too challenging!

 


Lighthouse Soi Cowboy

 

Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.

The pollution problem.

I’ve been in and out of Bangkok the past few weeks and I don’t think the pollution is as bad as it’s been made out to be. The haze hanging around is no different to what I see in Hong Kong, Saigon or Singapore at certain times of the year. Heck, I think I’ve breathed worse air in Sydney, to be honest. It certainly has made headlines irrespective and is a permanent fixture in the Thai papers alongside the upcoming election. Hopefully it might drive some change in Thailand. That info you posted with them wetting the dust at Asoke cracks me up – only in Thailand.

When’s the tipping point?

Barfines are getting ridiculously high. That coupled with high personal service fees make this an expensive endeavor indeed. I have been reading that mamasans and owners are skimming off the top on the girls’ fees, in addition to receiving the fee paid for the barfines, and that agencies costs to find and place girls have increased putting additional pressure on the pricing scale. When is the tipping point?

An industry out of control.

Just read your Lighthouse column – very interesting and I should visit. There are a few things I’d like to mention about Soi Cowboy and barfines. First, Cowboy 2 girls were recently asking for THB 7,000 barfines. Yep, no BS! Needless to say we walked away. Also, the coyotes at Tilac are available (at least from my experience) but the barfine is THB 2,000 which is not too bad for the quality. Lastly, my friend and I picked up 2 girls from the upper floor at Baccara which I visit often and we paid THB 700 for barfines + negotiated THB 6,000 for long time. We decided to go for dinner etc. Around midnight, the girls told us long-time was going to end at 2:00 AM, so long-time = 5 hours! WTF? We told them to take a hike and then picked up 2 tourists from Kazakhstan. Anyway, my point is that the industry is getting out of control.

The lure is not as strong these days.

All good things come to an end and after 18 years of coming to Thailand at least once a year, 2019 will likely be the first year without a trip to Thailand. I will visit Budapest and see how things go there. Just today I watched a video about the Nana car park and there was not one girl I would consider it worth spending thousands of Euros on flights and accommodation. It just confirms my decision to make a break with Thailand. My last trip in November I would rate as “acceptable” because on my last 2 days by accident I met a girl I knew from a visit before. So I have still kind of good memories. The days I can’t wait to get back to Thailand are truly over.

Thailand getting pang for the Brits.

The exchange rate is killing it for us British. Prices are rising sharply for the girls and beer prices are up a fair bit too. I used to do 3 trips a year to see old friends and make new ones. I’ll be lucky to do two a year from now on and I earn half-decent money in the UK, being a skilled tradesman. Oh, and barfines! Now up to 500 baht! When did it get that high in Pattaya beer bars?!

Changing Bangkok.

The heart has been ripped out of Bangkok. I walked down sterile Sukhumvit this evening. Where are all the street bars? Vast parts of town are no longer there – not closed but vanished! In the past, Samsen soi 2 was the place for a nice, inexpensive, quality street feast with a cold beer in to the early hours. At midnight it was dead, nothing there, a whole scene gone! What happened to all the people who worked there? Asking what’s going on, nobody wants to talk about it. Seeing a city I used to enjoy so much no longer there is a bit upsetting. I know things change and I know nothing stays the same, but what can I say? It’s gone, and it’s not coming back. It seems that vast swathes of the population have been swept away with no voice and nobody to champion their cause. It’s sad.

How to avoid police problems.

Here a tips how to avoid a police search being annoying at night. Put your bag on the floor of the taxi close to your feet. Have only 100 thb and your passport in your pocket. When they start the search they will be disappointed you have only a phone a passport and 100 thb on you. Be polite, and they will let you go in less than one minute. They are also stopping a lot of Japanese expats and not only farangs, and trying to get money from the ones who don’t have their passport on them!

 


Nana Plaza

 

 

While business has been described as steady across all three major Bangkok red-light areas, the usual suspects are moaning about business being down while failing to be creative, or try anything new to get punters through the door. Quick hint to the usual suspects: Go to Lighthouse on a Wednesday night and copy what they’re doing!

In Nana Plaza, Mandarin was closed on Friday. What was that about?

2:00 AM closing continues around town. On Friday night the Plaza was packed – like really packed – when the bars were ordered to turn on the lights and close the doors. Some bars were ¾ full and customers really didn’t want to go home.

Crazy House 2 is due to open some time over the next several weeks, but it is not the only new gogo bar coming to town. Over on the main Patpong soi, in the location that was previously The Den and Radio City, a brand new gogo bar is coming. More info when I have it.

And change is coming to Patpong soi 2 gogo bar Bada Bing with the owners looking at sending the dancers 40 metres up the soi to Glamour. What does that mean for Bada Bing? It sounds like it is going to close although no-one seems to want to use that word. (It’s really quite funny, one person told me that the girls from Bada Bing would be consolidated in to Glamour and another said the bar would collaborate with Glamour; it was as if they had to use a word beginning with C but were not allowed to use the word “close“!) Bada Bing closing would be rather a talking point because it is a bar that did pretty much everything right. Generally when a bar closes there are clear reasons why but in the case of Bada Bing, it has been well run, has always had lots of pretty girls and is known for playing good music. Is the declining tide on Patpong 2 responsible for claiming another venue?

Few bars attract rumours like Hanrahan’s on Soi Nana which I have heard multiple times has changed hands when in fact it hadn’t. So when said rumour popped up again this week I was cynical. But then I heard it from another, and then another. It can be confirmed that not only has Hanrahan’s changed hands, it is going to be renamed. All the staff except the manager remain as part of the deal. Hanrahan’s has been acquired by the former owner of Hemingway’s.

Talking of Hemingway’s, it is soon to be reborn on Sukhumvit soi 11 in the spot that was Zak’s, don’t expect to see the Hemingway’s V2 competing on price, nor selling drinks at give-away prices. Rent is said to be in the vicinity of a whopping 1.5 million baht / month – and that’s for a bar much smaller than the original! You’d have to be one smooth operator to turn a profit with rents like that.

Kangaroo bar on the main Patpong soi – said to go through more bottles of Listerine than any other bar on that strip – is currently closed. Why it is closed, for how long it is closed and whether the closure is temporary or permanent is not known. If the closure turns out to be permanent, it would mark the departure of a bar which must be 30 odd years or more old.

 

bourbon-street-superbowl-bangkok

 

Popular bar and eatery, The Game on Sukhumvit Road, right below the Nana BTS station, has been staying open a little later than other bars in the area. 3:30 AM closing is not out the question. For football fans keen to catch those late-night matches, it works well. And the railings outside The Game provide first-class people watching of the show outside which at that time of night can be colourful.

Still at The Game, there has been a right mess outside as the footpath and gutters are dug up and replaced along Sukhumvit Road. It might be high season but visitors must feel like they are walking through a construction site. The Game continues to be popular despite the jack-hammering right outside their doors which has been described as deafening. And with some pedestrians walking through the freshly laid concrete, foreign footprints look set to become a feature of Sukhumvit.

What a headache it is not just for bar and business operators but also for punters when on Sukhumvit you have the odd bar which can open late, most bar areas being told to close at 2:00 AM and out on Khao San Road everywhere has to close by midnight!

In last week’s column I mentioned how two young-looking Japanese punters had been observed paying 10,000 baht each to a couple of girls in Crazy House to party all night long with. It was not just the amount of money they parted with, but the fact they paid it all upfront. After publishing last week’s column I was reminded of a bar owner from Pattaya who went against the grain and insisted it was best to pay the ladies a large sum upfront. He felt that in most cases they felt duty-bound to perform and what followed would often be a gold-medal performance. I can remember him telling me how he had grabbed a sexy freelancer when he was up in Bangkok who he paid 7,000 baht in advance – and he maintained what followed was worth every last baht. The general consensus is not to pay in advance, but perhaps conventional wisdom has it wrong?

Another Nanapong dance contest is scheduled for later this month at Angelwitch in Nana Plaza where girls from that bar will dance off against some Nanapong-hardened girls from Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy. May the filthiest dancer win!

 

nana-pong-feb

 

ZippBike is a new beer delivery app set to launch in Bangkok in a few weeks, delivering cold beer to your door within the hour at sensible prices. In a city with 7 Eleven on every corner it just goes to show how some people really do prefer to do everything online / from their mobile device.

In last week’s column I mentioned Christopher G. Moore’s Special Edition of A Killing Smile made using leather from the booths at the original Thermae which was gutted in 1997. A few copies are still available. Dedicated Bangkok nightlife fans can grab one of the few remaining copies of this collector’s item here. Only 275 copies were published and it is right up there beside Nick Nostitz’s superb “Patpong: Bangkok Twilight’s Zone” as a must-have for fans of the golden age of Bangkok nightlife.

The large pharmacy next to Bully’s Pub which I reckon is probably the most popular drug store with expats in Bangkok is still open. There is very limited stock left and the store will close for good in the next few weeks. They will not reopen elsewhere and the staff / owners are looking forward to a long, happy and may I add much-deserved retirement.

In the Thai news this week was a story about a female traveller who assaulted security staff at Swampy Airport. CCTV footage showed the traveller passing through the metal detector which beeped. Said traveller, a young Asian female, refused to be scanned by security using a wand. From the grainy footage it seemed that the traveller was “off” and something wasn’t right. Staff insisted she had to be checked before she could proceed at which point she lashed out and whacked the female security attendant across the face / on the head! Outrageous behaviour. It turns out that said traveller was a Korean. She received a 1,000 baht fine – and that was the end of it. If she had been a Caucasian, would the punishment have been the same? Or might it perhaps have been more severe? As the other half said to me, it seems that some in the tourism industry favour Asian travellers over us whiteys and upsetting Asian travellers concerns them, whereas if whitey does anything wrong they throw the book at us. What do you reckon?

 

steakhouse-co-bangkok-valentines

 

Valentine’s Day is coming and if you’ve got a Thai other half then odds are that she will expect a bit more attention that day. Valentine’s Day is a much bigger deal in Thailand than Farangland. If you’re stuck for ideas, why not take her to Patpong? No, not the naughty bars but Steakhouse Co, which has a special romantic Valentine’s Day dinner offer for couples. Details above.

Under new tobacco smoking laws which come in to effect today, it is not allowed to smoke within 5 metres of a commercial enterprise such as bars, shops, restaurants or building entrances. The fine for doing so is up to 5,000 baht. But then smoking laws are like traffic laws in Thailand – many don’t observe them and there is not always a genuine effort to enforce them.

Two things Bangkok expat know-it-alls love to shoot their mouths off about are the condo market and the Thai economy – and many will tell you that both are in the toilet. To my eyes, the economy is booming – or at least those parts of it that are visible. New buildings are going up all over the place, huge new infrastructure projects are underway and old infrastructure is being updated. And consumption – even if driven by debt – is rampant. Export receipts are increasing, and tourism numbers just keep getting better and better. It seems to me that the Thai economy is trucking along nicely. But the Bangkok condo market, hmmm, I really don’t know what’s going on there. I know a lot of buildings are going up but the prices seem kind of steep to me. I can relay one real-world story from a friend who bought a unit off the plans in a development which is under construction by one of the best-regarded condo developers in the business. Said friend has since decided that he doesn’t want the unit after all and would like to sell his contract before the building is completed. Enquiring at the condo sales office about this, he learned that the building – which has been on the market for a few years and is still a few years from completion – is only 50% sold. And this is one of the big-name developers building what looks like a fabulous condo development in a prime location. In other words it should appeal to both Thais and foreigners. That pre-sales are still only at 50% suggests all is not well in the condo market. Seriously, some of the asking prices for new condos in Bangkok these days are astronomical.

 

scruffy-murphys-valentines-promo

 

News which broke this week about changes to retirement visas have some retirees in Thailand worried. New requirements starting next month mean you have to maintain a minimum higher balance in your Thai bank account of 400,000 baht, if using what is known as the money in the bank method. I won’t go in to all the details but it looks to me like the latest changes are to put a stop to the back-door method used by some who don’t meet the financial criteria and engage an agent to get the visa for them. What some of these agents did was open a bank account in the visa applicant’s name, transfer money in to that account in the morning, take the application in to Immigration who would see the balance, approve the application and issue the visa. The agent would then go back to the bank, and withdraw the funds….and presumably use that money for the next person’s application. From next month it looks like it will be more difficult to use agents to get a retirement visa which could close the back door used by those who could not meet the financial requirements. Some retirees who have used this method are worried that they may not be able to renew their visa. I imagine a new back-door will open, but it will probably be more expensive.

And Thailand is changing the way that you apply for a visa with the visa application system to all go online. It’s going to take some time to roll the whole system out – figure a couple of years or so. One news source reported that the Thai government was working on the new system in conjunction with VFS Global. If that is the case, the cost of getting a visa will go up. VFS Global is an international company that, amongst other things, acts as a visa application centre / document receiver in many countries. They levy their own service fee on top of the standard fee….so we can expect to pay more for our visas when the new system rolls out.

More misery for Brits with news that the weak Pound Sterling is the reason for visa fees at the Thai embassy in the UK increasing from April 1st. Details and new prices are here.

 

the-kiwi-bangkok-waitangi-day-poster

 

Reader’s story of the week comes from Kloth, “Farang-Thai Marriage“.

Quote of the week, “The only thing that would bring more customers in to a bar than Larry managing it would be a free blowjob machine in the toilets.”

A 17-year-old Brit is the latest foreigner to die tragically in a motorbike accident in Thailand.

A subjective list of the top 10 Bangkok nightlife bars does not feature a single gogo bar.

From CNN Travel, the most exciting new hotels coming to Asia this year has a few in Bangkok.

Taco Bell gives in to social media pressure and will add beef to its Bangkok menu.

Some Bangkokians are spending up large on funerals…..for their pets.

More than 400 schools were closed this week in Bangkok due to health concerns over the air quality from the pollution blanketing the city.

A Thai woman is charged in Pattaya for drugging a British tourist and robbing him.

The New York Times looked at the pollution in Bangkok and the worries over air quality as the Bank of Thailand says tourism numbers could take a hit.

An article about an Australian woman who overstayed her visa by 111 days and ended up experiencing first-hand the rotten conditions in the Immigration Detention Centre only has herself to blame. But reported elsewhere, there are claims she was working as an escort in Thailand!

 

 

billboard-nana-plaza-2018-13

Getting the opportunity to take shots like this is one of the perks of the column.

It’s taken 5 months and now I finally feel like I am in a nice groove. I’ve been happy with the last few columns and I’ve got columns mapped out a good few weeks in advance. The support team has been great gathering news on the ground and overall I feel that it’s all moving along nicely. The numbers aren’t where I’d like them to be but I figure that if I write the best column I can, hopefully old readers will return and new readers will discover it. Thanks for the 20 odd minutes you give me every Sunday, or whenever it is that you happen to tune in.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]