Stickman's Weekly Column March 29th, 2020

Stuck In Pattaya



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

Colin was looking forward to his naughty boys holiday immensely. Kiwi Colin and a couple of mates would be the proverbial 2-week-millionaires, stampeding their way through Bangkok and Pattaya in a manner many have done before them. The trip started on March 14th and Colin was supposed to fly home today. But he can’t. His flight has been cancelled. Colin is stuck in Pattaya.

Colin hadn’t taken much notice of what was going on around the world in the days leading up to departure. He had been consumed watching Thailand nightlife videos on YouTube, with an evening diet of Bangkok112 and Kevin In Thailand. And when he wasn’t on YouTube he was all over Thai Friendly arranging girls to meet. The countdown to departure is just one part of the excitement, Colin told me. He was hyped and didn’t take much notice of what was going on elsewhere.

Let me tell you a little bit more about the star of today’s column. Colin is a friend of a friend, and I’d describe him as “solid”. What do I mean by that? He’s a typical middle-class, middle-aged Kiwi guy – friendly, cheerful, personable and likeable. He’d be a good neighbour and I’m sure he’s a great mate to many.

So 2 weeks ago the 3 Kiwis took off to Thailand, Colin and 2 of his workmates.

The first few days went well and Colin was firing back photos to a mutual friend of his conquests adventures.

Kiwiland was the last thing on their mind, but they still kept tabs with what was happening back home. And there was only one story. The virus. The situation wasn’t too bad in New Zealand. But elsewhere it wasn’t just serious, it was out of control.

A week after they had arrived in Thailand, one of their party got cold feet. Some might say he panicked. Others might say he had an epiphany. He managed to get in touch with his travel agent back in New Zealand who rebooked his ticket for the next available flight home. A week after arriving in Thailand, one of the three escaped back to the safety of home.

That left the two Colins. Colin and his other workmate, also called Colin, were enjoying themselves too much to even think about leaving. They know that you can’t do in Auckland what you can do in Pattaya. They’d been looking forward to this trip for ages and they were having a great time….why rush back?

But the news reports from back home were heating and the tone was getting more serious by the day. This was not lost on the two Colins. Covid-19 was the only thing people were talking about and the predictions and projections was all bad news.

And things were changing on the ground in Pattaya too. Bars were ordered closed. Restaurants could stay open, but could only sell food for take away. They made the decision to follow in their mate’s footsteps….they would get the hell out of Dodge!

Their tickets had been booked with Flight Centre back in Auckland. They would have to get in contact with the agent to get their tickets changed. But they couldn’t. Travel agents the world over were overloaded as others in a similar position raced to change their ticket and get home.

They became increasingly concerned as international flights were cancelled. Airline after airline announced it was grounding its fleet. Self-isolation measures were put in place. Quarantine. Some countries banned transit. Borders were closing. The situation was serious. They made the decision to head to the airport, change their ticket there and head back to the safety of home. The naughty boy trip they had so looked forward to would be cut short.

Arriving at the airport they were shocked at the scene that greeted them. Bangkok’s main airport looked more like a railway station in a big city in China at Chinese New Year. It was over-run with hordes of people, most in face masks. They weaved their way past hordes of travellers and piles of luggage, not an empty trolley to be seen. It felt like Thailand’s monthly average of 3 million foreign visitors had all had the same idea and flocked to the airport at the same time.

They fought their way along the concourse in the departures hall, looking for the QANTAS office. I believe one does not exist. The airport has many offices which act as agents representing various airlines but try as they might, they could not find an agent for QANTAS. Some offices were closed. Some had queues that seemed to stretch all around the airport. They couldn’t even find an information booth or anyone to point them in the right direction. The arrivals hall was a giant clusterfxxk, similar to many major airports around the world. After checking out of their hotel in Pattaya early and taking a taxi all the way to the main Bangkok airport, they felt deflated and dejected.

Checking the news online was more of the same. The situation was getting worse. And what really worried them was that flights back to New Zealand were evaporating faster than a soi dog’s piss against a lamppost on a hot summer’s day. What next?

They took a taxi from the airport in to downtown Bangkok, headed for All Seasons Place. Next stop was the New Zealand Embassy.

But embassies are not the Mr Fix It for travellers in distress that many think they are and in situations like this there is not much an embassy can do. Colin and Colin’s details were taken as they registered with the embassy who told them to stay in touch.

They decided to head back to Pattaya. It had been a long day and they had to come up with a new plan. They had to face the reality that they might be stuck in Thailand.

The plan they come up with in the taxi was simple. Find cheap lodgings, hold out until they can get a flight, and then return home.

They checked in to a hotel for a few days. Like so many hotels, it was closing down. Staff had been laid off. It was suggested that they look for an apartment.

They wandered the streets and looked at a few different places. At around 5,000 baht / month, they were easy on the wallet. But these were basic rooms and some didn’t even have a proper shower. They weren’t keen.

They had previously stayed in rooms in the View Talay 6 condo, next to Central Festival / the Hilton on Beach Road which they thought was nice, but they did not fancy it long-term. They both thought it had a strange vibe to it. And when they later heard that a few foreigners had jumped to their death from units in the building they understood why.

Despite the gravity of the situation, Colin didn’t seem at all flustered when I spoke with him on the phone. He’d previously mentioned he had a 20-year old lovely on the bed next to him when I had been messaging him so I guess his mind was elsewhere.

It sounds like you’ve made the move to Pattaya and are not coming back, I said.

It’s a great practice run for a move, he responded.

He was joking of course. Thailand was ok for a holiday, but he’d never given thought to moving there.

I was impressed with the way Colin was taking it all in his stride. There was no obvious sign of worry, not even a hint that it was all that big a deal. Colin’s biggest worry was finding a place to stay from where he wouldn’t have too long a walk in the hot sun to get to a songthaew.

The more we talked, the more I got the feeling that Colin was in two minds. He wasn’t thrilled about being stuck in Thailand for a length of time, but neither was he concerned. He revealed that they had had the option of getting back to New Zealand but the ticket on Singapore Airlines was very expensive – $NZ 1,700 one-way, about twice what they’d paid for their return tickets.

Colin had sunk more money in to the trip than he had planned to. The original airfare to Bangkok was just $NZ 700, flying to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. But they cancelled that fare after getting nervous about what was happening in Hong Kong and the refund has yet to hit their bank accounts.

He is also expecting a part refund on the unused portion of the QANTAS ticket after their original flight home had been cancelled. That money yet to come through either. When they do find a flight to return home they will have to buy a new ticket – and odds are it won’t be cheap.

Money wasn’t the only reason they didn’t take the Singapore Airlines ticket when they had the chance to. The more they followed what was going on, the more they didn’t like the idea of travelling via a third country, and possibility of getting stuck there. Borders were shutting down, transit routes closing. They would much prefer a direct flight to New Zealand or if they had to transit / transfer to another flight, to do it in Australia. I wonder if they will come to rue the decision not to take the Singapore Airlines flight.

Colin is not rich. He has a decent job that pays well enough, but like so many middle-class, he’s just another guy on the treadmill. Mortgage, car payments and all the usual monthly bills. He lives pay day to pay day and while he has the backup of a credit card, the $NZ 8,000 limit – equivalent to $US 5,000 / 160,000 Thai baht – isn’t all that much.

Back home, things are up in the air at work. New Zealand is in lock down, and many businesses are shut. There is an income subsidy scheme put in place by the government so Colin should receive a portion of his salary for a while. But for how long? His workplace is aware of the situation and is sympathetic, but no promises have been made.

While he lives with his ex-girlfriend, technically Colin is single and their relationship these days is more like that of flatmates. She’s a bit nervous about the whole situation and that’s playing on his mind.

Colin has little in the way of commitments otherwise – no kids, no pets. But his sister is concerned and his ailing parents are both worried and confused.

I didn’t want to ask the question that was on the tip of my tongue because I wasn’t sure if it was something that he had asked himself: What do you make of the idea that you could be there for months, as in many months? And specifically, do you have the $$ to last?

Colin did say he might have to get used to street food, which he admits does not appeal. He’s had the odd kebab from a street stall but that’s it. Perhaps he’ll find some decent Pad Thai on the street, he said, but generally he’s not in to Thai food. The other Colin is even less keen on local food or eating from the street.

Colin is going to miss Kiwi food. In his words, “They have European food here but a lot of places are closed, and it’s not always like Kiwi food anyway.”

He says he will miss the freedom to jump in his car and just go for a drive around, but then that’s something you can’t – or at least aren’t supposed to – do at this time in New Zealand anyway.

In terms of entertainment, he has someone in tow, a massage house employee. It looks like she’ll stay with him while he’s there and the massage shop stays closed. I get it that he wants the company and someone to help out, but it’s another mouth to feed and, presumably, a salary to pay. Colin is not unfamiliar with Pattaya, but neither is he a local and he doesn’t speak the language.

All the bars are closed. Ditto all the massage shops. You can get food to take away but you can’t sit down in an eatery and have a meal. Beach Road has gone from busy last week to very quiet this week and with more and more confirmed cases of working girls contracting Covid-19, you wouldn’t want to take a chance on ThaiFriendly, would you?

In the back of their mind was the worry that a curfew would be announced. They scurried around looking at properties.

They walked in to another hotel to enquire about a long-stay. In the lobby, the sofas were covered, curtains drawn and there was no-one around. It looked like a resort in the south of Europe which opens for summer and is closed for the rest of the year. The people of Pattaya were hunkering down.

Luckily, they found a house at Wong Amart with lots of places to eat nearby. That’s one problem solved but more will present themselves. In the next couple of weeks they’ll have to extend their visa and at some point, money might become an issue.

How long will travel restrictions remain? When might they get home?

Here in New Zealand, the government has thrown everything at it. Billions in wage subsidies have already been paid out. Billions more have been promised to help shore up businesses. We’re on a 4-week lock down that many of us believe will become 6 or 8 weeks, maybe longer. The disruption to people’s lives and the economic cost is enormous. The worry is that there will be zero appetite for opening up the borders if there is even the slightest risk that it might allow the virus back in. There is no way the country wants to go through this again. Borders opening and international travel resuming feels like it could be a long time away.

Sign a long lease, Colin. Hang up some pictures on the wall. Your Thai is going to be great by the time you get back home!

I’ll check back in with Colin over the coming months to see how things are going in Pattaya.

To be continued….

 


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery Photo

mystery-photo87

Last week’s photo was taken of the steps beside the Thermae / outside the Ruamchit Hotel. Where was this week’s photo taken, clever readers?


Nana Plaza
 

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

Infected in Cowboy, spreading in Isaan.

A friend told me a young woman has returned to her province in Isaan from Bangkok. She tested positive for the coronavirus – and has apparently infected the doctor she visited. It turns out she was working at Soi Cowboy – or so the story goes – and at first refused to say where she had worked in Bangkok as she didn’t want her family to know. She was finally persuaded to say, however, so that contact tracing could be initiated. I don’t know if all of this is true – and my friend doesn’t either, but they are both from the same small village where word spreads quickly. My friend believes where there’s smoke there’s probably fire. The real issue here is that so many people knowingly or otherwise are transmitting the virus, but it gets really problematic when the people involved are not being truthful for fear of being stigmatized about their workplace – or in the case of customers, where they visit. This creates a situation where spreading of this highly contagious virus is not being stopped or slowed because some people don’t care about putting others at risk. I wonder how much of this is going on. I know the entertainment venues are shuttered in Thailand, but it may be too little too late for many.

A cxxx if you do, a cxxx if you don’t.

I feel for the girls who work in the bars. I am expecting the “have no money” message soon. The girl sends me that message on a regular basis. No matter how many times I tell her I have no job at the moment (I was made redundant last year), she keeps asking. I know she has nothing and lives in a windowless box in Pratunam where, even in a place like that, rent money is hard to find. More fool me for sending some in the first place when I thought I’d be nice and send her a little for her birthday. She works at an outside bar at Patpong, barely speaks English even after working there for several years and isn’t able to do much else. I feel bad for not contacting her to ask how she is because I know what the reply will be. The last time I relented and sent a small amount, she promised, as she usually does, that that would be it. Speaking on FaceTime, I made her promise and we did that thing they like to do, via the screen, linking little fingers where she said she wouldn’t ask again for 3 years. I don’t know how long she will be able to hold out. And then, as always, it’s that catch 22 moment for me. I feel like a c**t for sending it and feel like a c**t if I don’t.

Adding value.

The pain is just beginning, but already most of the women I know, with whom I have never dallied, are messaging me offering the only means of exchange they think they have – and at bargain rates to boot. One woman told me she wasn’t worried, because the closure is almost over and she’ll be back at work next week. Blessed are the meek and all that, but I don’t see that she’s going to inherit the Earth. Anyway, I’m the proverbial sucker, so perhaps I can add some value here and there.

Pattaya this week.

Pattaya is really dead now. Restaurants are still open but there are hardly any people around, and many of them have limited opening hours. Hotels are as good as empty, with some of them closed already. In the evening it is surreal. I’ve been taking walks at night and Pattaya is like a ghost town. I took a walk around 9:00 – 10:00 PM from North Pattaya to Walking Street and Beach Road was dead, even the stretch between soi 7 and Walking Street. The Coconut Bar was deserted. I expected to see many desperate girls there but I saw just a handful. Normally I never walk on the beach side of the road in the evening because I don’t like to be grabbed or forced to make evasive moves to avoid thieving ladyboys, This time I could do so without being bothered. Don’t say the current situation doesn’t have its advantages!

Thai government erecting barriers for returning Thais.

In a few weeks of unprecedented events, the single most bizarre action is the rules the Thai government imposed on their very own citizens. Basically, they forced their own citizens to crowd together so the virus could be spread as they waited for a worthless piece of paper enabling them to board a flight to back to Thailand. Most countries are reporting the majority of Covid-19 cases are imported. For Thailand, assuming Thais can get on a plane, expect it to be dramatically worse, given they were forced to spread the virus among themselves before arrival. Shocking!

Pessimistic about the future.

A lot of us won’t be able to return to Thailand any time soon due to the worldwide recession that will be upon us. The tourist boom is over for Thailand unless prices go down and the exchange rates return to favourable levels. I don’t see how the Thai government can expect tourists to return in previous numbers. No-one knows how long the recession will last for but it’s going to cut a swathe through middle-class wealth in the developed world. Maybe this will force the tourist and nightlife industry to re-evaluate their prices?

Dismal times ahead.

No surprise at all to see the bars have been ordered closed. I figured that would happen sooner rather than later. Even if they are able to open again relatively soon, a bigger problem is that it will be a long time before the overseas client base can get to them. And depending on how deep this recession goes, it could be a very long time. Dismal times are ahead, I’m afraid.


Demonia Bangkok
 

Bars remained closed in Bangkok and Pattaya – and are expected to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Those restaurants and eateries – including street vendors – which are open can only offer food for takeaway and delivery. As such, don’t expect much news from the entertainment or hospitality industries.

Adding to the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in foreigner bar areas, a cluster was reported on Soi Bangla in Phuket this week where a number of staff tested positive. And sadly, one of the deaths from Covid-19 reported in Thailand this week was a fellow who may have been familiar to readers who did the Sukhumvit soi 11 circuit. Said fellow was once a bouncer at Q Bar, and more recently was security manager at Levels, Q Bar and Sugar Club. Extremely popular, sadly he succumbed to the virus earlier this week.

And a coyote in Tilac bar in Soi Cowboy bar tested positive for Covid-19 after returning to her home province of Roi Et.

The situation has gone from bad to worse for foreigners managing bars and / or involved in the bar industry in one way or another. Anyone without a work permit is basically up a creek without a paddle. And even some with a work permit haven’t fared much better. Some are on unpaid leave for an indefinite period. Some have been told that due to all the uncertainty, they’re probably better off heading back to their home country. Whether bars survive is one thing, but I would expect a lot of familiar farang faces won’t survive – and some have left Thailand already.

Apparently Bangkok taxi drivers are turning on the meter immediately without any thought of trying to negotiate a fare – or do anything that could cause a customer to get out of their cab and in to another.

A friend commented that in his 20 years in Bangkok, not once had a motorcycle taxi rider asked him if he wanted a ride. Now they are asking him multiple times per day.

 

patpong-march-2020

Patpong this week. Photo: Reader Peter.

 

This week Thailand closed its borders to all foreigners except those who hold a work permit with the Thais basically saying, “We’ll let in those of you who are useful to us but not the rest of you.” If you hold a valid visa issued on the basis of being married to a Thai national and / or having children in Thailand, you cannot enter Thailand at this time. It’s the same for those with a retirement visa. And even those who parted with anywhere between 500,000 and 2,000,000 baht for a Thai Elite card, the door is firmly closed. Their country, their rules – and this week they showed their true colours: only those of you who are useful are welcome.

I get the feeling that some Thais just don’t get this situation nor grasp just how serious it is. If your Thai lady friend or for that matter, any Thai you know doesn’t really get it, take the time to explain it to them. I saw news reports this week of tens of thousands of Thais at Morchit Bus Station, heading for the family home in the countryside. There were throngs of people crowded together, a perfect way for the virus to spread. If this virus goes wild in provincial Thailand, God help them.

Many Thailand families now get to look after girls who have for so long been looking after them. Bargirls send money home to their family but with most now without an income, they are heading home where they can live for next to nothing, and where it will be a reversal of roles, and it will be their family looking after them.

 

pattaya-covid-19

Pattaya Beach, earlier this week. Photo: Andy.

 

The beaches of Pattaya, Phuket and Samui can get crowded, perhaps not quite to the same extent that beaches in Southern European do, but they can be less relaxing with all of the jet-skis, parasailing, tour boats etc. But this week even much-derided Pattaya Beach looked almost idyllic. For Pattaya-based expats, there will never be a better time to enjoy the beach.

Is the reason that the skybridge from the Asoke BTS doesn’t connect with the Nana BTS because the BTS might miss out on fares as some choose to walk that short distance instead?

Sunbelt Asia has been around for almost as long as this column. It was started by a good friend and the company was a great supporter of this column for many years. Sunbelt changed hands 18 months or so ago. Staff were blindsided this week when told entire departments of the company would be closed, immediately. It’s all ended up rather messy. As best I can understand, the accounting section is gone but the legal section will continue.

A Thai female friend of ours here in New Zealand who operates a Thai restaurant in town was filthy this past week. She was walking in town when a white Kiwi woman asked her out of the blue if she was from China. Said Thai woman turned to the Kiwi woman and responded, “Are you from Italy?” Touché!

And said restaurateur has not had a good week after the hand gel she had placed on the counter for customers to use was stolen. Hand sanitizer has not been available in stores in New Zealand for weeks.


 

How are expats in Bangkok going to get on over the coming weeks – and possibly beyond – with fewer dining options? I imagine many expats live a lifestyle similar to what I used to and take advantage of the low cost of eating out – and never cook in their condo. That was part of the appeal of Bangkok for me at one time. You can still get food from outside but there are fewer options. I get the feeling that many expats not only don’t cook, many can’t cook. Interesting times.

If you’re in that situation, you could always treat yourself to a really nice hotel stay. Amongst the great deals on offer, the Hyatt Erawan – one of the top 5-star hotels – is offering a rate of 5,999 NET for two nights, including full breakfast. That’s a fantastic deal.

But I do wonder how they get around the no restaurants open policy. One of the things I like when visiting Bangkok these days is the hotel buffet deals. What’s the deal with that now? If restaurants aren’t allowed to offer dine in, does that mean that all hotel buffets are effectively shut down? I guess it does.

One of the positives from the Covid-19 crisis is that Thais will be able to eat their much-loved durian this year. Last year many Thais were most unimpressed when China bought tens of thousands of tonnes of the king of fruits, reducing the supply in Thailand and causing prices to reach record highs. Not this year! Thais will be eating durian (and the many other tropical fruits Thailand grows so well) at prices much easier to stomach.

 

don-meuang-covid-19

The Arrivals Hall at Don Meuang Airport this week. Photo: Reader Peter.

 

It’s kind of amusing reading how some people are keen to get back to Thailand when it reopens and how cheap it will be then. I beg to differ. It could be many months before those of us in Western countries can make it back to Thailand and there’s going to be economic carnage between now and then. Many people who would like to go won’t have the money to do so, but I reckon that will be outweighed by a backlog of people keen to visit. Then there will be all the Thais stuck outside the country desperate to get back home to family etc. I expect flights will be expensive for some time and once hotels see visitors flooding back I imagine room rates will go up, possibly higher than they were before all of this. I know I’ll be excoriated for saying this but it’s what I think.

I’m aware of one person who has contracted Covid-19 in Bangkok or at the very least, everyone in the building in which he lives suspects he has contracted Covid-19. I don’t know the person per se – he lives a few doors along from the other half’s sister in the same condo block, and that’s how I have heard about the poor fellow’s plight. He has literally locked himself in to his condo and does not come out at all. Some kind residents (who don’t know him) place fruit and takeaway meals they have bought with their own money at his door, knock, call out that there is food for him and then walk away. He opens the door, grabs it and slams it shut! He has been ostracised and none of the vendors in the area who happily deliver food to rooms in the condo development will deliver to that building – not just that floor, but that entire building! One wonders when this is all over whether he will stay there. I found this is all interesting given the way that a few Thai celebrities who have contracted Covid-19s have come out and be so open about it.

Tahug.com is a new dating and chat messenger app, an easy way to find and make new friends and communicate. It is 100% free to sign up with no restrictions on chats and messaging.

Thailand isn’t even in lock down (yet) and some readers are already showing signs of cabin fever and going a bit loopy. One regular sent an email asking me when the column would be published, to which I replied, today is Saturday, you’ve got another 24 hours to wait!

These are challenging times for everyone, not least this website and the group it is part of. Ironically, traffic is surging and the Stick Media group will get over 15 million eyeballs this month which is a massive audience. While enticing businesses to advertise at this juncture is far from an easy sell, we are still available to promote those businesses which continue to operate. If you know of anyone looking to promote their business at this time, do get them to drop me an email and maybe we can work something out.

 

vitamin-iv-booster

 

Quote of the week comes from a reader, “One of the allures of Thailand was decent prices and an indecent nightlife.

Reader’s story of the week comes from Kloth, “Not A Lot Of People Know That“.

Thailand’s condo sector is headed for a 10-year low.

Bangkok’s oldest residence is still owned by the family which built it 200 years ago.

Many foreigners are being denied entry in to Thailand as they don’t have all the documents currently required.

Visiting the Bangkok branch of Immigration looked like a total nightmare this week!

Hundreds of Thais are denied boarding of a Thai Airways flight from New Zealand and now find themselves stuck in the country.

A Soi Cowboy gogo dancer tests positive for Covid-19 in her province of Roi Et.

Two Germans were in a massage parlour when it got raided by coppers.

Major Thai ISP True triples its bandwidth to keep up with the huge increase in online activity.

 

patpong-march-covid-19-2020

Early evening in Patpong soi 2, this week. Photo: Reader Peter

 

In the opening piece about Colin being stuck in Pattaya, I touched on the timeframe he may be stuck in Pattaya for. With that in mind, how long are we looking at? When might things get back to normal? Two weeks ago I would have guessed 3 months. Last week I was thinking 6 months. Now, I doubt if many of us will get back to Thailand this calendar year. These outbreaks are so widespread, the numbers infected so vast and the projections for what’s to come so scary, that it’s hard to see many places getting on top of it until much later in the year. It would be nice to have something to look forward to, something to get excited about as Colin was before his trip to Thailand. But the more I think about it, the more unrealistic it seems to get excited about international travel any time soon. It looks like we’re in for a long haul.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]