Stickman's Weekly Column December 15th, 2019

Looking Back, Only The Good Stuff



As the countdown to Santa coming down the chimney approaches, it’s time to look back over the year that was. 2019 hasn’t been a great year and negativity has featured far too much. So rather than review the year that is coming to a close and go over some of the same old stuff, I thought I’d look back at the positive changes from 2019, and recent times.

 

Dining Options Are Better Than Ever

There are more dining options in Bangkok than ever these days, and many are very, very good.

There is a movement amongst Thai restaurants to offer very high quality food in somewhat modest surroundings. Whether it’s an effort to make really top notch food using the very best ingredients more available to the masses, or whether it’s simply that the owner knows good food and doesn’t know good decor, I couldn’t be sure. Thai dishes running 500 – 1,000 baht – and sometimes more – served to diners balancing on plastic chairs at rickety steel tables isn’t romantic, but it works – and no-one is complaining when the food is this good.

The explosion of new foreign food restaurants shows no sign of slowing. Whatever foreign food you feel like, odds are you can find it in Bangkok. Want a good burger? There are literally dozens of places specialising in quality burgers. Fancy Mexican? At last count there were a few dozen Mexican restaurants in Bangkok alone. What about something more obscure like food from New Zealand? Downtown Bangkok has at least 3 Kiwi food outlets.

And with the influx of Indians and Chinese are many new Indian and Chinese eateries. Indian restaurants are popping up all over Sukhumvit…yippee!

 

 

Accommodation Options Galore

The massive increase in visitor numbers has seen a similar increase in accommodation options. The old days of choosing between the Nana, The Dynasty, The Federal, The Ambassador or one of a few other Vietnam era hotels are the distant past.

New hotels are opening up all over Bangkok and there are more and more appealing small properties promoting themselves as boutique-style, independent hotels with character and charm with rooms usually priced around or a little less than $US 100.

Chinatown has seen a flurry of activity with boutique hotels opening up all over. Sukhumvit has so many new hotels that you can just about find something for every budget in any soi on prime Sukhumvit.

Just like with all the new places to eat, when it comes to a place to stay visitors to Bangkok really are spoiled for choice.

 

 

New Transport Links Are Opening The City Up

The expansion of the skytrain and the underground with new lines opening up and existing lines extended this past year is opening up the city even more. It’s easier to get around and is a boon for expats who can live in suburbs where apartments are more affordable while easily commuting to work downtown. And visitors can take the underground extension beyond Hualumpong Station, to Chinatown and on to the old part of the city and the river.

And it’s not just the trains which have improved. For those on a really tight budget, bus stop signs are going up around Bangkok in both Thai and English with more information than the old signs had. With a bit of luck these new signs will go up across the entire network and make getting around easy for those who wish to use buses but cannot read Thai.

 

 

English Is Getting Better

The use of English is getting better in Thailand. Just don’t make the classic mistake of confusing the language ability of Thais with Thailand’s falling international rating for English compared to other countries. All that shows is that other countries are improving at a faster rate than Thailand.

And there is more signage in English than ever which, again, just makes things that little bit easier.

 

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Integration Of Technology With Everyday Life

Technology is being integrated in to many aspects of modern life and making many everyday tasks easier. There’s so much you can do online / with your mobile phone, with many companies using technology to bridge to make life easy for consumers.

There has been massive growth in the food delivery business as more operators enter the market offering to collect food from your favourite eatery and deliver it to you for not much more than the cost of a motorbike taxi ride. It’s not just food delivery, many are using the likes of Grab and Line Man for all manner of tasks, saving lots of time and costing relatively little. These services are like an urgent point to point courier service – and their rates are ridiculously reasonable. And the great thing with all of these services is that they are all automated and you just book the job via an app – meaning everyone pays the same price i.e. there is no farang tax!

Another example of technology making life easier is all of the different things you can do on LINE app is so integrated in to the lives of Thais that you can do all sorts of stuff with it. You can use Rabbit LINE Pay to add credit on your skytrain / underground card without the need to queue, amongst many other things you can pay for. OK, so things moving online is a worldwide trend, but in Thailand the level of integration and the adoption by Bangkokians is at record pace. And for the naughty boys there are now many online services to order a lady too!

 

 

Shop ‘Til Your Mouse No Longer Works

The emergence of Lazada – the closest thing Thailand has to Amazon – didn’t happen overnight, but the large online portal for vendors has seen such huge growth that it’s now the first place many look before making a purchase…..of just about anything. Want to compare prices? Look on Lazada. Looking for something obscure? You’ll probably have more luck finding it on Lazada than you will in shopping malls. Dozens of vendors selling the very same items keeps prices low and should you have a problem with whatever you purchased, you can go to Lazada about it.

Lazada makes shopping so easy for expats. There’s no need to battle the Bangkok traffic, no need to deal with customer service staff who have no idea what service is, and with delivery next day anywhere in Thailand and the option of paying by cash on delivery, shopping on Lazada is a no-brainer.

And it’s not just Lazada, Shopee is another big name in e-commerce.

They may not be quite Amazonian in range or price, but it’s a big improvement from how things used to be. (Just be careful as there are some dodgy vendors on Lazada based in China along with a few vendors peddling fakes of products you never know had fakes).

 

 

An Increasing Awareness Of, And A Desire To Preserve Heritage

Thais have a greater awareness of and respect for the heritage of the Thailand of old. They know much heritage has been lost already and efforts need to be made to preserve what remains.

The wanton destruction of so much history and heritage in Bangkok is not lost on many Thais and there is a growing awareness that history has been lost. Many seem to be reevaluating the notion that newer is better which is a real change in mindset. Genuine efforts are being made by various groups to ensure that the destruction of places dear to the hearts of many Thais does not continue.

 

 

Young People Are Finding Their Voice

Young Thais have found their voice and are speaking out about what they see or perceive as injustice. It has long felt like many in power could use their considerable influence to operate with impunity. The structure of Thai society meant most would grumble privately but didn’t dare say things publicly. That is changing.

Increasingly, young Thais have the confidence to say what they really think and speak out against perceived injustices or general wrong-doing, which is a real turnaround.

If the wealthy and / or the powerful openly disregard the law, they can expect to be called out on it – and they are. Thailand’s young have found their voice!

In the case of a perceived injustice that makes the mainstream news, the masses come out and say what they think. It bodes very well for the future.

 


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken on Sukhumvit soi 18, opposite Domus Condominium where some units of around 150 square metres can go for over 60 million baht. What about this week’s photo? It shouldn’t be too difficult…


Nana Plaza
 

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

Entrepreneurs, not chefs.

I’m in agreement with your comments about Pad Thai – I have never had a good Pad Thai in Farangland. It’s possible that a lot of the Thai restaurants here in Melbourne are owned by Thais (or sometimes even non-Thais) who are more entrepreneurs than chefs.

Indians everywhere.

I can’t believe that someone told you that there are no Indians in Soi Nana. It sounds like a bar owner to me! The soi is full of them and although they can be annoying, invade your personal space and can be loud, it’s largely cultural and unintended. The big bonus is that there might end up being a decent Indian food culture which would be a huge bonus.

Where the economy goes, the bars follow.

My personal impression is that the Thai bars have not been value for money for the last 5 years. If you must intimately mingle with Thai ladies, then body massage surely provides the best value. No histrionics, drink bills, meal bills or star fish impressions. Bill Clinton was quoted as saying, ‘It’s the economy stupid’, as to what provides the greatest influence on people’s decisions i.e. voting. We live in an era of ‘maximum affluence’, where money created at the click of a keyboard allows everyone it seems to live like a rock star. So why would an attractive woman with choices want to work in a bar? Unless of course it allows her to live like a rock star too. Men want as much sex for as little money as possible whilst women want as much money for as little sex as possible; what could possibly go wrong? If history does not repeat itself, it rhymes. Angeles City in the Philippines is a perfect example. Asia was booming up until the crisis of 1997 and that town was bereft of attractive women. The bars were open but no one was home. Washed up has-beens were all that was available as women had choices. When I revisited in 1999 with no prior knowledge of the state of the scene I walked in to Champagne bar. A single shop gogo bar I had been in before. As I opened the door I could hardly squeeze inside. Not because it was full of customers but rather full of bikini-clad dancers; maybe 40 in that tiny space. What a difference the economy makes. So where the economy goes the bars follow. I personally expect a breakdown in the financial system. The longer it is postponed the more severe it will be. They do say that ‘the market can stay irrational for longer than you can stay solvent’. Mongering may not be PC, but men will always be men.

Sukhumvit Road not for cheapskates.

Whilst having a foot massage in Sukhumvit soi 7/1, an elderly Indian walked in with the masseuse who was to give the Thai or oil massage upstairs. As they entered he proclaimed, “It is expensive here, in Pattaya massage is only 200 baht.” Without breaking stride the lass who was giving me my massage turned her head to him and growled the following, “Then get a taxi and go to Pattaya for massage.” Ouch!

Casualties of the downturn.

This year’s low season has taken its casualties. While walking through Walking Street during daytime (I avoid the place like the plague in the evening), I noticed some “For rent” signs where there used to be gogo bars. One of them was Peppermint which was long running and successful. A sign said “Our dancers can be found now in Happy A Gogo and Baccara“. I know Peppermint and Happy used to have the same owners, but I didn’t know of a possible link with Baccara. Anyway, when I mentioned this to an old Pattaya hand she told me that Happy had closed too! (She even mentioned a closing date of Nov. 26th). I have no confirmation of this, maybe you know more? But if it’s true it would be quite surprising, because since its opening (mid to late 90s) it always has been one of the most successful gogo bars in Walking Street.

Air quality a widespread problem.

It is not only Bangkok that suffers from dirty air. Up here in Udon the air can get filthy from field burning or, now, with the cold weather everybody and his kin folk burning fires to keep warm in the mornings. Today the AQI in Udon is 141 although truth be said I didn’t notice it much when walking the dogs around 5 PM. With the increase in interest of air quality, AQI monitoring stations are installed all over the country, some in unlikely places. There are two on the north side of Udon that feed right into the linked site. Here’s Udon’s AQI today.

Hanoi a haven for farang panhandlers.

I just arrived in Hanoi yesterday and had an evening stroll around the area of Lake Hoan Kiem in the Old Quarter during which I saw 6 or 7 Westerners entertaining in the streets. 2 or 3 were girls. It is shameful as there are enough crippled and poor people here who are more deserving of a handout.


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok
 

Another long-running gogo bar in Soi Cowboy is no more with news this week that Rawhide has closed. Rawhide – for a long time the sister bar to Long Gun – will merge with Penny Black and reopen as a more mainstream bar with music, pool, karaoke, a late night club and in Penny Black, rooms to rent by the hour.

It’s not all bad news from Soi Cowboy though with word that Neon Alley was busy on Friday night with plenty of punters about. And so it damn well should be at this time of year! Bar areas quiet in December would be very bad news.

The silly sounding bar on Soi Nana called Always  – formerly Bar4 – lacks the atmosphere of other similar bars on the soi. Even the tiny Rest Hub 2 further up the soi is full of life whereas Bar4 is anything but.

What happened with the retro disco Flairs that opened in Patpong for just a few nights before pulling the plug? Just the concept alone made it sound promising. I guess it wasn’t to be.

Further along Patpong soi 1, Twilo, the late-night live music venue, has had a facelift with lots of new outdoor lighting and neon, as has its sister bar next door, Bada Bing.

Someone ought to have a quiet word with bar owners in the new complex on Sukhumvit soi 7. Charging 130 baht for local bottled beers is fair, but in one bar lady drinks run 250 baht. Seriously? 250 baht?! Who is going to pay that? I guess some beer bar owners just don’t get it that part of the attraction of beer bars is supposed to be reasonable prices.

And it ought to pointed out that this new complex is not a beer bar area per se, rather a commercial building with space available, one side of which has been taken up mainly by bars. On the other / soi 5 side, adjacent to the Arab quarter – many spaces have been taken by small shops, eateries and businesses sporting signage that suggests their target customers are Middle Easterners.

And if you’re looking for a relaxing bar experience, it might pay to give this new complex a bit of time as construction is ongoing and there’s plenty of racket coming from workmen racing to get everything ready.

 

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Today @Soi8 is winning the battle of the new beer bars on Sukhumvit. Only a few spots have opened in the new soi 7 complex which is really yet to get going while the beer bar on the main drag which opened a few months back, Lek’s Last Stand, near soi 11, hasn’t exactly taken off. Lek’s Last Stand has a great location on the main Sukhumvit Road and has great views but it just doesn’t seem to have built up a following. Could it be that it’s too far from Nana? It seems that the further an open air bar is from Soi Nana, the less successful it is.

On soi 11, the area that was once home to Cheap Charlies, Charley Brown’s et al is being prepared for construction. Word from those working on the site is that it will be a shopping area. No word of any entertainment venues.

A small number of naughty bars in Bangkok offer discount cards. Sometimes these are distributed to VIPs or friends of the owners; other times they are available for sale. The terms and conditions aren’t always clear i.e. just what the discount is or how long the card is valid for. The Bangkok Fun Card distributed by the Stumble Inn Group is perhaps the best known discount card and offers a flat 10% discount on food and drinks (not including happy hours / already discounted items / lady drinks). It costs less than 500 baht so if you’re a regular customer it may be worth it. Hillary Group also offers a discount card but I am not sure of the terms and conditions. Over the years some bars have launched discount cards which have turned out to be a disaster. Before long the card wasn’t honoured – which caused problems in the case of those cards that weren’t cheap. If you’re looking to save a few baht, the best advice is probably to stick with happy hours. Discount / VIP cards in the bars don’t always work as they should.

It’s party month at Billboard and Butterflies with another party lined up for next week. You can celebrate Christmas – both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – at the two best gogo bars in Bangkok. It promises to be another two big nights.

 

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Down in Pattaya, Le Pub, run by Mister Egg, is diversifying and in what is a sign of the times now offers freshly pressed vegetable and fruit juices with no added sugar or preservatives. A large glass runs ฿130. And for darts fans, Le Pub will show the PDC World Darts from London live every night. Le Pub is on Soi Diamond.

I also hear from Pattaya that Lion Pub – long popular with Pattaya locals – will close today. It’s a worrying sign when a pub popular with expats closes 10 days before Christmas. Another sign of the times.

Speaking of Pattaya, what’s nicer than a walk along Beach Road from Walking Street to the northern end, and back again? Word is that it might not be as pleasant as usual. Just a few days before Christmas / New Year – very much the high season – Beach Road and the promenade are in the worst state it has been in ages. The pavement is almost impassable in places with piles of dirt, rubble, paving stones and other materials used in construction. Did they not consider that this is high season and everything should have been finished months ago?

 

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Pattaya Beach Road…it’s high season, and it’s a mess! Photo kindly provided by a reader.

 

The operator of a major downtown Bangkok language school dropped me an email outlining some of the woes the business is facing due to the ongoing crackdown on ED visas. ED – short for educational – visas are available to those studying in Thailand. For many years abuse of the ED visa was rampant with visa mills language schools selling year-long Thai language courses super cheap with a visa for 15 months included. Thai language courses were sold at ridiculously low prices because most students had zero interest learning Thai, let alone stepping inside a classroom. All they wanted was the 15-month visa. They’d pay their 25,000 odd baht which essentially was the price of a 15-month visa and were registered as students at the language school but never took a single lesson. That lasted for a good few years until the abuse became so rife that something had to give and the authorities cracked down. Today, language schools have all sorts of headaches because the crackdown on ED visas has made it very hard – in some cases almost impossible – for them to provide the paperwork students need to get an ED visa. Genuine language students can get an ED visa for 3 months, but that’s it. The crux of it is that language schools are not taking up the invitation to donate to those who have the power to extend visas, as some language schools did in the past. At least one language school has had to refund course fees because they cannot get students a visa to study. If this goes on it could reach a point where the business may no longer be viable. What a mess!

With this in mind, I want to repeat the recommendation that all foreigners employed in Thailand who think they might stick around should grab the chance to become a permanent resident. Long-term visas are getting more difficult and there are fewer work-arounds. To apply for permanent residency in Thailand you need 3 years of unbroken work permits, be of good character (which basically means a clean criminal record in Thailand and in your homeland), be able to speak basic conversational Thai and show a commitment to Thailand. There are A LOT of documents to prepare in the application and most use an agent / lawyer to help them. In retrospect, it’s something I should have done. If you have a couple of hundred thousand baht to spare (the application fee) and you think you might stay in Thailand long-term, obtaining permanent residency status will make life easier.

 

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Sex enhancement pills are once again openly on display for sale by vendors along the busiest part of Sukhumvit. Just don’t count on any drugs bought from a dodgy vendor on Sukhumvit Road to doing what it’s supposed to.

I notice another website / app offering discounts to restaurants. HungryHub is similar to Eatigo and booking via the app / website gets you a discount at restaurants signed up with the app. HungryHub doesn’t have anything like the number of eateries as the more established Eatigo, but there is one thing I like about HungryHub over Eatigo – prices quoted are net, so what you see is what you pay. Eatigo is a little confusing because the price you pay is the full price discounted by a certain percentage and then a service charge and tax is added to the price. Where it gets confusing is that the 10% service charge and tax are paid on the full price, not the discounted price. HungryHub is clearer in that respect and what you see is what you pay.

A story of success from a massage shop on a Sukhumvit soi known for naughty massage outlets. I can’t say the name of the outlet or even the soi, but what I can say is that this venue is booming. Why is that? Because it’s spending 7,000 baht a day on marketing. The rough break-down is a Google AdWords spend of 2,000 – 3,000 baht per day, along with ads on websites read by Japanese, Koreans and Chinese. They advertise with just one site read by farangs. Spending so much money on marketing sounds crazy but it’s working, in fact it’s not just working it’s proving to be very profitable. Compare that to many gogo bars which baulk at the idea of spending 7,000 baht a month for something as silly as a Facebook page update that seems to be more about making the girls happy and does little to bring punters to the bar. Many gogo bars really don’t get advertising or marketing – and it’s no surprise that some are really struggling. Note: I mention this not to try and lure anyone to advertise on this site. Whether bars advertise here or not is largely irrelevant to me as what I earn from writing this column is fixed. Rather, I mention it to demonstrate how this shows many bars have got things hopelessly wrong.

 

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Thai massage in rural New Zealand is no bargain!

 

From rural New Zealand I note that Thai massage are gaining in popularity. I took a couple of day trips this week and noticed Thai massage outlets opening up in small towns – and in some small towns there more than one outlet. That surprised me because these towns are centres for farmers and the farming community who tend to be quite traditional and conservative. Thai massage outlet has long had a presence in Auckland – as you’d expect in bigger cities. But in rural New Zealand I was surprised to see it. How popular they are I have no idea but for sure, there are more Thai massage businesses in provincial and small-town New Zealand these days than there were in the past. And whether it’s real massage or a front for something spicier, I am not sure.

Also from the Thais in New Zealand files, we have heard recently from friends in Auckland about how more Thai women up there are shacking up with Indian guys. Many Thais are not shy in voicing their disapproval of Indians. The impression I get is that your average Kiwi guy is not actually that interested in Asian women, and neither is your average Kiwi girl that interested in Indian men. The net result of this is that in Auckland, at least, there are more Indian guy / Thai girl couples.

Brits in Thailand are rejoicing after the pound surged to north of 40 baht following the results in the general election, a level not seen in some time. I imagine that when Brexit finally goes through the Pound might take a hit again….so enjoy 40 baht to the pound while it lasts.

Bangkok Expats, part of Stick Media Ltd, and GC Partners have teamed up to provide preferential foreign currency exchange rates to its members and would like to extend this offer to readers of Stickman. Here is the link to sign up to get preferential exchange rates from GC Partners.

gcpartners

 

Quote of the week comes from a friend, “Have you ever stopped to think what your country would be like if it had been settled by Thais?

Reader’s story of the week from Bangkok Byron, “Heartbreaker“, is about the closure of the writer’s favourite bar in Angeles City.

The New York Times looks at how Thailand has become a hub for recycling old laptops and its environmental impact.

An Irish visitor is viciously attacked by a group of Thai males in Pattaya.

Police in Bangkok suspect a Brit drank himself to death.

An American flees Thailand after a stoush in which he dislocated his girlfriend’s jaw.

There are claims that visitor numbers to Pattaya are down 40% on last year.

The Thailand Elite Card, essentially a pay-to-stay-hassle-free-visa is going from strength to strength.

Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands is recovering nicely after it was ordered closed to visitors.

Were Japanese having sex in the back of a tuktuk, or weren’t they?

An American who has been causing chaos in Chiang Mai for months is to be deported.

 

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When I am on the road, the publishing schedule can get messed up.

This column is almost always published on time. I typically publish early afternoon on Sunday, well before the official 6:00 PM publication time. Next week there is a chance the column may go up late. I will be out of town and when that happens my schedule can get messed up…..which means the column may be late. I’ll do my best to get it up by 6 PM on Sunday Bangkok time, but if it isn’t up then it shouldn’t be too far away. Take this as a heads-up that next week’s column might be late.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]