Stickman's Weekly Column April 14th, 2019

A Few Hours In Paknam


As skytrain extensions stretch out across Bangkok, unseen parts of the city are becoming more accessible. What better way to spend a few hours in Bangkok than jump on the skytrain and go to a part of the city you’ve never been before?

Within Greater Bangkok there are what I like to think of as lots of little Bangkoks, each area or neighbourhood may be part of the greater city, but often each has its own flavour. And with the Sukhumvit line – I think today it’s known as the green line – now extending down to Samut Prakan and beyond, it was time to explore another part of the city. It had been described to me as an old neighbourhood on the river that had retained its original character. I had notions of samlors, local food made using traditional recipes not commonly found downtown and riverside family-run seafood restaurants. It sounded perfect. Next stop, Paknam!

 

 

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The Samut Prakan Tower rises over the area.

Paknam sits a dozen or so kilometres south-east of Onut, and is probably closer to 20 km from Asoke. It mightn’t sound all that far, but Bangkok traffic being what it is, it is a long way.

When the skytrain opened the green line – or the Sukhumvit line as it used to be known – terminated at Onut. The line was later extended to Bearing. And then to Samrong. Now it goes all the way to a place I’d never even heard of, Kheha. Paknam is 4 stations beyond Samrong. and 4 stations from the end of the line at Kheha.

Heading for Paknam on the skytrain felt a little like the old days. Once you got past Samrong, the train was all but empty. Extending the skytrain lines is said to have massively increased the number of people using the network, but it wasn’t that way the day I went to Paknam. You had your choice of seats.

From the Paknam skytrain station you can see the Chao Praya River, just a short walk away.

Heading for the promenade, you pass a sign for the Samut Prakan Immigration office. They say the officers are much stricter than those at the main Bangkok Immigration office at Chaeng Wattana – and if you live in Samut Prakan, that’s the office you have to use. With that said, small Immigration offices usually means fewer people and short waits (at some Immigration offices these days, bad timing could see you could spend the best part of a day waiting for your visa extension.)

 

 

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The promenade at Paknam is pretty enough but there’s basically nothing there.

First impressions of Paknam aren’t great. The promenade is attractive enough, but there’s really not a lot to see. The river is quiet down this way and there’s not a single food vendor nor a river-side restaurant to be seen. What you do have is plenty of homeless milling around, some who looked dodgier than your average street person.

 

 

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Honestly, these water cannons set up to help with the pollution issue are a hoot!

Pollution in Bangkok had been horrible and a cannon had been set up by the promenade to spray water vapour in to the air. Apparently, this would clean the pollution from the air…..

With little to see at the promenade, we went for a slow wander and checked the place out. There were the usual temple spires, and a tall tower was nearby. Where once I would have checked if there was an observation level, we didn’t bother. I just didn’t think the uninspiring buildings, shophouses, narrow sidewalks and quiet river would look all that much better when viewed from above.

Many of the shops reminded me of what you see in provincial capitals, with stock that looked like it had been there since the ’80s.

There was the odd foreign fast food joint and a few coffee chain branches, but the area was largely free of international influences. It was much like parts of the central city in the late ’90s.

 

 

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Inside the wet market at Paknam.

Several hundred metres further along we came across a large fresh market. It’s easy to say that when you’ve seen one authentic wet market you’ve seen them all but that’s seldom true if you scratch below the surface. Pay careful attention and most markets have their own idiosyncracies.

Lunch time was approaching and we were looking forward to a nice seafood lunch by the river’s edge. But walking beyond the promenade in the hope of finding a riverside seafood eatery didn’t bear fruit. I hate to Google places before I go and much prefer to explore myself, the old-fashioned way. I had not done any research but with no decent seafood eatery in view, I had to go to Google. A quick check suggested Sompong Seafood was the place to go – and it was just a short taxi ride away.

Jumping in a cab and asking the driver what the best seafood restaurant in the area was, he also mentioned Sompong Seafood. Take us there!

 

 

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Mango and sticky rice, very good and very large, this was the “small size”, just 120 baht.

Sompong Seafood would prove to be the highlight of the visit to Paknam. The quality of the seafood was excellent and while the prices were no cheaper than central Bangkok, the portions were much bigger. A large fish, a shrimp dish, a vegetable dish, a large mango and sticky rice and a couple of drinks cost less than 1,000 baht. Good food, good value – I’d definitely go there again.

Another short taxi ride took us back to downtown Paknam for another walk around and to explore the heart of Paknam further.

 

 

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A cargo ship on the Chao Praya River at Paknam.

What little traffic there was on the river was mainly freighters easing by at a snail’s pace. There was nothing like the colour of the Chao Praya River in the old part of the city where long-tail boats and all manner of other contraptions with screaming engines and a colourful paint-jobs race around like dodgem cars but miraculously almost never collide with one another.

One thing surprised me at Paknam – and it was a big surprise – was the absence of the white man. In 3 hours we did not see another foreigner. Not one! And while I imagine there has to be the odd spot that caters to the local farang populace, be it a café, an eatery or maybe even a foreign-themed bar, we did not see any evidence of Western residents, the local Immigration office aside.

Paknam is quiet, sleepy almost. I wanted to see it with my own eyes and even though there was not much there, it was still fun to explore a part of Bangkok I’d never been before.

I am sure there is more to Paknam; those living there would know all the best spots. It is a very Thai area and while the sight of a foreigner with a camera around his neck didn’t cause anyone to look twice, neither is Paknam on the tourist trail.

There are attractions in the general area including the Ancient City (which is excellent), the Crocodile Farm, and the Erewan Museum, but for me it’s a case of been there, done that, no need to do it again.

 

 

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Water vapour is fired in to the air to <I’m trying not to laugh> reduce pollution.

Paknam is an easy trip from downtown on the skytrain – just a 48 baht / 30-minute journey from the Asoke BTS station.

Paknam might be a decent area to live if pennies are tight. Despite its distance from downtown, the skytrain means prime Sukhumvit is only 30 minutes away, even at peak hour. The Onut area used to be popular with expats on a budget – it was cheap and prime Sukhumvit was close by. Onut has been heavily developed over the past decade and condo prices / rents around the Onut BTS station have shot up. Somewhere like Paknam is now an option for those who don’t mind (or prefer) being a bit further out.

A few hours in Paknam was enough. I guess the area is worth a visit if you’re looking for a change of scenery and a part of greater Bangkok largely free of foreign influences. That said, it’s not exactly somewhere I’d recommend as there are so many interesting places to visit in Bangkok.

 

 


Billboard Bangkok

 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken of the classic (but recently renovated) Malaysia Hotel on Soi Ngamduplee. This week’s photo is a little trickier but I remain confident some clever readers will get it right. The first person in Thailand to get this week’s photo wins a copy of the first novel by Zach Brodsky, Bangkok Delusions. Please note the prize is only available to readers in Thailand and you MUST explicitly state in the email you’d like the prize.

 

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

Sometimes the fortune teller nails it.

My Mrs. has consulted a few fortune tellers over the years. One in her village told her our marriage would not last. 14 years later it is still going, Three other ‘famous’ ones told her the same thing, and not the usual positive nonsense. They all told her she talks too much and that she talks silly, is jai rawn / argumentative. Some of them are spot on!

Empty hotel room wins over 180 baht beers.

It all depends on the bar and the atmosphere as to whether 180 baht is too much for a drink. Certainly it is too much if the bar is about empty with girls sitting about looking at their phones. It might not be if there is a cracking show to watch and the atmosphere is fun. I spent a few days on Sukhumvit on my own for the first time in 15 years in March and was looking forward to reliving the past in places like Nana Plaza. When it came to it I just could not be bothered and the prices also put me off. For 180 baht I could get almost 3 Beer Lao Darks and go back to the hotel to watch TV, which is what I ended up doing. I found the bars held almost no interest these days and I felt like a vegetarian looking in a butcher’s window!

The 180 baht rip-off.

180 baht / 6 dollars a beer in Thailand? 180 baht for a beer in a gogo or any bar is taking the piss. That beer probably cost the bar 35 baht so a 3 x margin is 105 baht. Ok, add another 35 baht for the entertainment aspect and you are at 140 baht which in my opinion is still too high, especially when that extra entertainment is gonna milk you for an overpriced lady drink or 3. One can spout off about inflation but how much has kao man gai shot up over the years? Household appliances are cheap. And like you mentioned, the average expat doesn’t know what Thai salaries are these days. Go to Imperial World at Samrong and the neighbouring markets to get a snapshot of the costs most of the population must incur to get by on.

It all depends.

For me, 180 baht is not too much at all if the visual entertainment is good and the atmosphere is fun. If the venue is filled with unattractive fatties or the disposition of people is sour, even 50 baht drinks are too much. Like much else in life though, circumstances can also affect one’s feelings about prices. I suppose if I was a foreigner residing full-time in Thailand and getting a fixed income from abroad which is declining in Thai baht value, then I would not be too happy. But I would adjust. If I had to get an alcohol buzz, I could always stop at a convenience store and buy – or fix a drink at home – and then head for the 180 baht option and not drink so much. Not classy perhaps, but then sitting in a gogo bar may not be considered too classy either although I do it myself from time to time. But if I’m a periodic visitor to Thailand, then 180 baht is not too much to worry about. The cost of beer or standard drinks and perhaps other “activities” is built into one’s expectation and don’t create much of a deterrence. I live in Singapore, which is perhaps not a good example, because most everything is much more expensive here. So I feel I’m getting better value in Thailand – not counting the cost of air tickets and hotels, of course. So to summarise, everything is too expensive if you can’t afford it. So you adjust and carry on. If you can afford it and more, you don’t over-analyse. Having said that, when I’m in Pattaya or in parts of Bangkok, if I can find happy hour prices, I will gravitate toward those venues simply because I don’t throw money away needlessly.

180 baht beers, no big deal.

180 baht for a beer is no big deal. But 350 baht for a (double) lady drink is steep. I usually spend an evening in What’s Up, in Pattaya. I know a waitress there and she brings 2, 3 or 4 girls with looks and good English skills to my table. I don’t barfine but I do party hard with the ladies all night and have a very good time. That evening costs at least 15K baht.

More expensive than London.

In my opinion, 180 baht for a bottle of beer is way too expensive. If you have 1 drink you’ll get 2 x 10 baht coins in change which they expect as a tip. 200 baht is £5 a bottle. That’s more expensive than London. Chuck in a lady drink and it’s £10 a round. Unsustainable on a night out. I’ll regularly do 15 to 20 beers a day / night, but only 2 or 3 in the gogo bars. In comparison, I’ve just been working in Phuket for a month and Suzy Wong’s gogo bar chain is 90 baht for a bottle of local beer all night. Legends Sports Bar does draught pints of Singha 110 baht or 90 baht happy hour, and also great food deals with beer each night e.g. a burger and half pint 200 baht. Kangaroo Bar on Bangla Road is 80 baht a bottle all night. I love Bangkok to bits and it’s by far my favourite city but the gogo bars are limited for me now.

Even the Swiss complain about the cost of beer in Thailand.

180 baht is really expensive. Imagine that in my country, Switzerland, I can have a beer for such price. This is Switzerland, one of the most expensive countries in the world! For 20 years I have been visiting Thailand and the prices have gone up and up and don’t seem to be stopping any time soon. I think a price of between 100 and 120 baht is already a good price.

 


Nana Plaza

 

 

It’s Songkran so it will be quiet around the bars this weekend and probably for the next week or so. Many girls head upcountry to visit family, and bargoers tend to avoid the bar areas which become the domain of assholes who revel in soaking those who want no part of it. Most bars are open but staff numbers will be down. The odd bar will close for a day or two. If you find yourself in Bangkok at this time, it’s a good time to catch up on TV or enjoy a good book. Venture outside at your peril!

It used to be that the end of the school year – usually mid-March or so – would be followed by an influx of girls in to the bars as those of borderline age sought to escape the boredom and heat of the hot season upcountry to seek fortune in the bars of Bangkok and Pattaya. But the bar industry has changed and bars self-police these days which means ladies not of legal age, along with those from neighbouring countries, are a big no-no. Bar bosses employing ladies aged under 18 or foreign nationals can find themselves facing human trafficking laws – a guilty verdict means a long prison stay. This is one of the big positives of the bar industry these days – underage seems to be largely a thing of the past. It wasn’t always this way.

If they had a happy hour at Lolita’s would they call it the orgasmic hour?

 

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In Soi LK Metro, Crystal Club is thinking outside the box with a sexy lingerie show performed every Friday night for Bangkok expats who do the Pattaya weekend thing. Ah, I used to love those weekend trips to Sin City. A couple of good nights out and you’d stagger on to the bus early Sunday afternoon and you’d see some of the same punters you’d seen the previous Sunday, all of you in a similar state. Crystal Club also has a great deal every night, the Crystal 350 which is 4 bottles of beer for just 350 baht. This special is available every night, all night long. It makes a mockery of the 180 baht average price for a beer charged in Bangkok gogo bars these days.

Remember, Songkran in Pattaya runs through until April 19th. It started in some parts of Pattaya, including soi 7, on Thursday – which is a couple of days early, as young farangs were amongst the first to fling water. Before you knew it the mayhem was Pattaya-wide. That said, at least one long-time Pattaya expat emailed me to say that in Pattaya this year the Songkran revelry may be a little down on previous years.

Back on Soi LK Metro, Office A Gogo has been sold to an Italian who takes over on the 17th. Rumour has it that while rent is just 100,0000 baht per month, he parted with 8 figures baht to secure the lease. Given the state of the industry, that’s a lot of baht to part with for a gogo bar.

Le Pub in Soi Diamond in Pattaya has a unique offer, as seen in the graphic below. Bring in a newspaper from a Western country that is in reasonable condition and leave it with the bar and you get a free drink.

 

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If you click with a girl in the bars, strike while the iron is hot or in other words, make your arrangements there and then. Don’t put it off for another time, even if that next time is the next day. When the chemistry is right is the time to strike. Odds are it won’t be the same next time.

Sunrise Tacos has opened a new branch in Ari Soi 4 North and is open daily from 5 PM until midnight. Sunrise joined forces with the Pakalolo Tiki bar at this location. Another branch of Sunrise Tacos will open on Ekamai / Sukhumvit soi 63 in May, near Big C which will be convenient for expats who drive as there is parking there. Sunrise Tacos is always looking for new locations so if you have any suggestions, drop the owner an email.

From May 1st, the market at Chuwit Park will become a semi-permanent fixture. With a nice vibe, it reminds me a little of the New York Gardens at the corner of soi 12 which was dismantled a few years back. Some familiar brands have signed up for the market at Chuwit Park including Margarita Storm. If downtown Bangkok is your playground and you don’t get out of the city much, it’s worth dropping by for the ambience. Unconfirmed rumours have it that the organisers of the market have secured a 2-year lease.

 

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The market at Chuwit Park, between Sukhumvit sois 8 and 10.

 

I had done two photo shoots one night when I was in town, the second of which was at Glamour in Patpong, a fantastic bar. It had been a long night, was way past my bedtime and it was time to head for the hotel. It was too late for the skytrain so a taxi was the only realistic option. I was staying on Sukhumvit so I knew the route the driver would take: up Silom Road, turn right on to Rama 4 Road towards Rachadapisek Road where he would turn left – and where I just knew there would be a police checkpoint set up. That particular police checkpoint is infamous amongst expats who pass through that intersection late at night – and the coppers manning it are known for hauling foreigners out of taxis and conducting searches. It wasn’t that I had anything on me that I shouldn’t nor was I scared, but at the same time I just didn’t want to have to deal with the men in tight brown uniforms. And while not illegal, had they decided to rifle through the memory cards in my camera bag, the thousand or so racy shots I had taken in two gogo bars that night might pique their interest. As the taxi approached the intersection I saw the barrier and the red lights – a police checkpoint was in place. The cab driver knew the drill and slowed down, but at that moment not a single officer was manning the checkpoint. The men in brown were all over one fellow, a white guy who looked like a bit of a hipster. He appeared to be in his 20s and even from several metres away I could see he looked severely distressed with his arms flailing around. Three Thai coppers were all over him as it seemed like two were trying to hold him still and one’s hands were patting his body. I would not want to have been him.

But expats who like to party late aren’t taking these late-night police checkpoints laying down. For some time there has been a Facebook group where members post the location of checkpoints as they are happening. And there are LINE groups where similar intel is shared as expats work together to warn other expats of police checkpoints. These checkpoints tend to be set up late at night and it is those in to the clubbing scene who are most concerned – and my guess would be because that scene has more than a few recreational drug users. It’s drugs that the cops are looking for – find drugs on a foreigner and they’re either going to get a feather in their cap for arresting a foreign drug user / dealer or they’re going to get paid off. Win : win for the boys in brown.

 

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In the news article links towards the end of the column is a story from Pattaya where this week a Spaniard died while getting a massage. The media reports that the massage shop did not have a licence and the masseuse was not certified – neither of which is a surprise. Will there be a knee-jerk reaction from the authorities following this incident? Will massage venues have to comply with the law (which would be a good thing)? My feeling is that is not likely. This is hardly the first time someone has died while getting a massage. Just a few weeks ago the Thai media reported that a Thai woman had died under similar circumstances. Have you ever stopped to think that getting a massage could send you to your death-bed? Apparently there are all sorts of conditions under which you should not get a massage, such as if you have high blood pressure, are diabetic and more.

As I wrote in the opener of last week’s column, my main lens died when I was in Bangkok, which in retrospect was both a blessing and a curse. It meant that the photo shoots I did in Billboard, Shadow Bar and PlaySkool were all done with a lens that is over 15 years old, and one I have not used much in several years because it isn’t nearly as sharp nor does it render images (colour, saturation, flare control etc.) anything like the lens which died. The lens dying when it did was a curse because I had half a dozen photo shoots lined up. But it was a blessing because I could take it to the Canon Service Centre in Bangkok which did a great job repairing it in record time and at a much lower cost than it would have been in Kiwiland. What would have been a very expensive repair in New Zealand (estimated at around $500) cost just a fraction of that in Bangkok. It’s not the first time I have used the Canon Service Centre in Bangkok and let me say once again, they do great work. Repairs are much cheaper than at home and the turn-around is faster. I imagine it’s similar at the official repair centres of other camera manufacturers.

 

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I got the good lens back in time for the photo shoot at Glamour which will probably run next week.

 

A few weeks ago I commented that the price of hotels in Bangkok had shot up and I asked readers for hotel recommendations in central Bangkok for between 1,000 and 1,500 baht / night. Here are some, and it should be noted that the first two hotels were recommended by more than one reader.

The Park Hotel on Soi 7, Sukhumvit is still one the best value hotels in the area. It can’t be booked on-line but that doesn’t matter, as no matter when you travel you will be able to get a room for 1,600 baht/night. It is ultra convenient to all that frequent Bangkok visitors want to do and see.

For at least the last 10 years I have been staying at the PB Hotel (formerly called Playboy hotel) and have been very satisfied. A 5-10 minute walk from Nana Plaza and an easy cab ride to Soi Cowboy, it’s also close to lots of venues on soi 11. It is certainly in the inexpensive range at 860 THB for quite a nice room with a king-size bed, new air-con units that are whisper quiet and excellent sound-proofing. In addition, there is a 24-hour coffee shop with room service which serves decent, affordable food and even has Isaan dishes that some ladies might prefer. It is actually two hotels, with one being run as a curtained, short-time hotel on the ground floor, but above the main lobby is a separate hotel with about 30 or 40 rooms which are generally well-maintained and clean.

At the relatively new Rezt Hotel in Soi 24, opposite the Queen’s Park Plaza, ReztBangkok.com, the price is around THB 1,000 for a king-size bedroom. My son and his buddy stayed there recently, so I had a look. Incredible value, friendly staff, clean, stylish, right in the middle of everything, and very quiet. I cannot understand how they make money at that price. I reckon it is guest-friendly as well, as my son’s buddy brought his Thai girlfriend there several times, no questions asked. The hotel is small, so probably something just for a specific, targeted recommendation of yours.

 

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Quote of the week,I used to be happy to be in the spotlight but now I am just as happy to be out of it.” Care to guess which reasonably well-known expat said this to me when I was in Bangkok last month?

Reader’s story of the week comes from Jimmy, “Returning To Farangland“.

Yet another pretty young Western female is brutally raped and murdered in Thailand.

A complaint is made to police about sex toy vendors on Silom Road who set up a table with the accessories for sale right in front of a popular Mexican restaurant.

An attractive Scottish lady is the latest in a very long line of Westerners who end up in a Thai hospital and don’t have the funds to pay the bill.

A Spaniard died while getting a massage in a Pattaya massage outlet this week.

In September, the blue skytrain line will open and run through Chinatown and the historic part of the city making the best parts of Bangkok more accessible.

Old Crutch penned another very nice column in today’s Post, recollecting his first Songkran and how this week marks 50 years in Thailand for him.

A Kiwi who ends up in Thai Immigration Prison warns others not to break the law and end up in the same terrible situation that he did.

 

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The new Nana Plaza, with the roof and the beer garden at ground level.

In last week’s column I asked what you thought about the price of drinks in Bangkok gogo bars with the average price now around 180 baht. I published a bunch of your emails about that and there was one excellent email that I didn’t publish because it was just too long, but these words from it really encapsulate my feeling on not just the price of beer in a Bangkok gogo bars these days, but how I feel about visiting Bangkok, generally. “I think there is a trend affecting multiple industries globally right now. People either want cheap and good, or pay premium prices for the best. Anything in-between is falling away.” Those words hit the bullseye for me.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]