Covid-19 has put our lives on hold. While there is no precedent to compare with, the Asian Economic Crisis in the late ‘90s provides clues of how things might be over the coming months and, dare I say it, years. What happened back then?
For starters, the baht crashed. Steady at 25 baht to the US Dollar prior to mid 1997, within 6 months it had plummeted to 56 baht to the dollar. By the time I moved to Bangkok in early 1998 it had come back to the low 40s where it would hover for years.
For a good few years, living the good life in Thailand was really cheap. You hardly ever looked at prices in bars and restaurants because everything was so cheap.
I can remember eating chicken fried rice and having a small bottle of Coke which cost just 29 baht (20 baht for the friend rice, 8 baht for the Coke and 1 baht for the ice). At the time that was less than one New Zealand dollar – the equivalent of around 67 US cents. That is the cheapest decent meal I’ve ever had.
Covid-19 has crashed the Thai economy but the baht hasn’t fallen this time, something not lost on many readers who aren’t shy in saying they hope it crashes. There’s no reason to think it will.
Millions of Thais lost their jobs in the wake of the Tom Yung Goong Crisis with the press full of stories of Thais forced to sell what possessions they had to be able to feed their family. Tents were set up on parcels of land which had row after row of cars being sold on behalf of owners – and there were bargains to be had. Perhaps the most famous fall from grace was a former high-flying Thai businessman who resorted to selling sandwiches on Silom Road.
Will there be a repeat with lots of second-hand cars listed for sale? It wouldn’t surprise me given so many middle-class Thais insist on stretching their finances to the limit to buy
status a car. For those in the market for a vehicle, over the next 12 months might be a good time to buy.
I was an English teacher during the Tom Yum Goong Crisis in a language institute popular with wealthy Thais. My students would tell me that they were studying English because their parents had told them to do something productive.
I’m out of touch with language institutes these days but given the nature of the virus and social distancing restrictions, I can’t see language institutes seeing the spike in business some did back then.
Property prices crashed, and rents did too. There were some really good deals to be had for those who had cash and were willing to take a risk. A friend of a friend bought a 100-odd square metre condo on Sathorn for 2 million baht which was around half what the Thai owner had paid for it. That condo today is probably worth around 20 million baht. It was a once in a lifetime chance to acquire a downtown property – prices had crashed and the weak baht (remember, as a foreigner buying property in Thailand you have to bring in funds from abroad) were very much in a foreign buyer’s favour.
Property prices in downtown Bangkok are crazy these days. Will there be a similar drop? Maybe, maybe not, I really don’t know. While I do think property is severely overpriced in Bangkok, I am not sure prices will crash. Why not? Take the downtown condo market as an example. So many properties are owned by wealthy Thais – and they own them outright. There’s no finance on them. They don’t have any pressing need to sell so why would you? They are quite happy to sit on an empty property.
In the case of rents, I imagine they will come down a little, but again, it all comes back to the financial situation of the owner. Thai property owners have some odd ideas when it comes to property and many won’t rent out a property if they cannot get what they feel it’s worth. Many would seemingly rather leave it empty for years than rent it out for less than they think it’s worth.
Many expats were made redundant during the Tom Yum Goong Crisis. That was the era of real expat packages with a house in a good neighbourhood, a driver, a salary equivalent to what you’d get in the West and even a hardship allowance. The packages some expats earned back then would cover the salary of 20 – 30 Thais so it’s no wonder some were let go.
Will there be a clearing out of expats, like there was in the late ‘90s? The profile of the foreign populace in Thailand today is very different to back then. Juicy expat packages are much less common so I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see an exodus of suited expats.
On the other hand there are far more foreign retirees these days and everyone knows many are doing it tough financially. Plenty have pulled the plug already. Whether the Covid-19 crisis will cause more retirees to leave, I don’t know. If they leave it’s probably for reasons unrelated to Covid-19.
I still remember clearly in the late ’90s many long-term expats telling me that the economic crisis and the major shakeup of the economy and people’s lives had brought the Thais back to earth. Long-time foreign residents claimed that economic success had made the Thais arrogant. The crash had been something of a fix.
Personally, I find most everyday Thais are easy enough to get along with, especially those who have little or no exposure to foreigners. Many working in tourism and hospitality could do with some major attitude adjustment though! But whether there will be any change due to the Covid-19 crisis, I have my doubts.
I don’t really want to touch on the bar industry as I wrote a few predictions about that last week, but let me comment on one thing which many readers have raised. The Tom Yum Goong Crisis saw a small influx of ladies who had never before worked as hookers in to the farang bar industry. As best I remember, it seemed to be less about women working because they had no money and were hungry, rather it was not wanting to lose a lifestyle they’d become accustomed to. No-one in Thailand wants to lose their car or condo – and with that, their reputation / face. Very few ladies made it in to the gogo bars – those who did try their luck with foreigners ended up in the likes of the Thermae, Nana Disco and CM2. Back in the day, those 3 venues were not strictly the domain of hard-core hookers and some girls who worked in offices by day would mess around with foreigners at night.
Girls from the mainstream – back then referred to as office girls (even if they worked elsewhere like a factory or a store) stood out. There were almost never slutty and were often better-dressed – if not always dressed appropriately. Decked out in a flowery dress with a bow on the front, some looked like they were ready for church. And their English was different – less slang and more proper. That’s how I remember a few who found their way to the Thermae. None lasted long. It wasn’t for them.
I can’t see many ladies ending up in the foreign bar scene due to Covid-19. Quite simply, they have better options. There are websites and apps where they can try their luck. Even a mildly attractive Thai female will have no problem finding Thai men willing to pay her, be it for a one-off or put her on a salary. Social distancing will put most off the idea of so much as stepping inside a bar.
How much of what happened during the Tom Yum Goong Crisis will be repeated this time around, I don’t know. Thailand has come a long way since then.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week
How does the future of the bars look?
Covid19 is a game changer. Will the Thai authorities allow the bars to open in the number and format they previously existed? The image of Thailand as the brothel of the planet does not sit well with wealthy and middle-class Thais. The epicentre of the industry is Pattaya. This could be seen as an opportunity to substantially reduce the number of areas where bars exist, and possibly develop Pattaya in the direction of exhibitions, conferences and family vacations. This idea has been mentioned before. A large reduction in the number of hostess bars aimed at tourists has already occurred in Phuket, Krabi, Hua Hin, Chiang Mai and, indeed, Bangkok. Pattaya’s Soi 6 with 10 to 20 girls or more crowded together in the front of the bars, basically thigh to thigh. How will social distancing take place? It is basically a street of short-time bars, where guys pop in for one beer and a quickie. We will never eliminate Covid19, and the rules of socialising and distance have been changed permanently. With the large number of staff testing positive in Hillary Bar, I don’t think we can seriously expect business in soi 6 to resume as usual. It would just take one Covid19 outbreak to run through a bar and the place would be shut. The official who says, “Let’s get the bars open again”, is taking on a lot of responsibility. I expect caution will prevail.
Preparing for the next Thailand trip while in lock-down.
I’m stuck in the UK, waiting to get back to Pattaya. I have been going for past 18 years and have spent a lot time over the last month speaking to girls and ladyboys on the Line app. Now I have about 30 freelancers as friends which is more than enough for when I get back. No more barfines – just call and meet up at the hotel and save loads of money with crazy lady drinks prices. I don’t think I’ll be back in the bars again, that is if they ever reopen.
Quarantine might be 4 weeks, not 2.
There are flights from here in Singapore to Bangkok next month. If my Thai wife wanted to go home to Thailand, she could. But it would take her a month to get there: 2 weeks quarantine on arriving in Bangkok and then a further 2 weeks quarantine when arriving at the Buriram “border”.
Looking in to the crystal ball.
I think airlines will massively cut down their schedules initially and I think we will see the end of the A380 and the B747. The retirement of these will be expedited. Smaller aircraft and fewer schedules means fuller flights which will be priced accordingly. The 787 and A350 will be the most popular long-haul aircraft. I think there has to be some kind of worldwide standard of international screening adopted by airports and border forces, maybe mandatory masks worn on board, and checks prior to boarding. I think there will be some great deals on top-end hotels for a while as rooms stand empty. Thailand will want tourists to return as quickly as they can. Tourism is a massive part of the economy. As for mongers, there will always be an element of the hardcore whose life revolves around the nightlife who will return no matter what. The only certainty is that the nightlife economy will shrink in the next few years. Like you have said before, is there demand for 3 nightlife areas?
The speed at which people have money problems.
I’m seeing a lot of people with money troubles on Facebook and in the news. The news is full of food banks and people are in dire straits. In Bangkok, bargirls are getting hungry despite the top tier comfortably out-earning their customers. I find it difficult to understand how little it has taken to push some people under. It’s understandable for street food vendors and the like who probably don’t have so much behind them, but coyote dancers? I’m not saying this from a comfortable position as I’m bad with money myself – as soon as I have any savings, off to Thailand I go! The speed at which those earning decent amounts have found themselves in trouble is shocking, even more so in my own country.
Everyday Thais doing it tough.
Some golf courses in Thailand are re-opening on May 1st, with restrictions in place. Caddies will be happy as they will have an income. These are the kind of people that need help as they basically live off tips received on a day to day basis. I have 2 caddies in Bangkok and neither of them have any money so it’s tough for them to survive through this period. They never asked me for money but I checked up on both and the answer was the same, “Yes, we are struggling even to buy food.” We farangs moan about being locked up for 4 weeks but have all the mod cons. These girls have nothing and will be lucky to survive. As they say, there is always someone worse off than you. My caddies are now looked after as I felt that it was only right to send them some money to help them out during these difficult times.
A reader mentions that the Topless Beer Bar in Patpong soi 2 has become a place for Thai men to hang out in very late at night during the lock-down period. (Has anyone noticed that the few bars open during this time are amongst the least popular bars?)
The position of farang bar manager has (or would that be once had) a degree of glamour associated with it, even minor celebrity in bar circles perhaps – but don’t take that to mean farang bar staff are well-rewarded for their work. Most bar managers I have heard from since the bars closed are on unpaid leave. And some are increasingly worried about their financial situation. At least one bar manager is reaching out to friends to help him with money to buy food. He has no idea how he will pay his rent which is due next week. Some bar managers live a similar lifestyle to the girls they manage, enjoying the fruits of their labour, living very much month to month. The farang manager from one of the biggest, most successful Bangkok gogo bars is contacting some of his expat customers on LINE, asking if they would help him out with some baht.
Speaking of farang bar bosses, Dave The Rave really did leave Bangkok this past week, and is now happily back in the UK. So far, so good. In a few short messages, Dave said he was delighted at how helpful everyone has been. “The golden years of Bangkok nightlife are long gone. The show was over for me long ago. I knew that for ages but did not want to admit it“, Dave said to me this week on LINE. It’s good to know when time is up.
A couple of months back I mentioned that there were rumours that the owners of another big name Bangkok gogo bar were interested in acquiring Dollhouse. It didn’t happen, but it’s still very much a possibility. When the bars are allowed to open, it will be a case of sink or swim for Dollhouse. The bar has several different owners who are known to frequently disagree on how the bar should be run. But one thing they do agree on is that they won’t be throwing extra money at the bar when it reopens. If things go ok when they reopen, the bar is profitable and the owners don’t have to put their hands in their pockets to make up any shortfall, all is well. If, however, the bar is not able to pay its own way, they will look to offload it.
Down in Pattaya, The Pig & Whistle will reopen under new owners as The Big & Whistle.
Still in Pattaya, many locals feel business will be back to normal by the middle of May. Errr, do you reallythink so?!
Some serious claims were made on social media this week about how a popular bar continued to trade even when those in charge knew staff had contracted Covid-19. I hate to say it but this sort of thing doesn’t surprise me in the same way there have been reports over the years of HIV positive staff continuing to work.
For those of you in Thailand, has your Mrs prohibited you from getting out to the bars or massage shops when things open? Mine has been saying that if we were in Thailand at the moment she would be very nervous about me going out to the bars and being around that environment – and to absolutely forget the idea of getting a massage!
Just when the bars will open, who knows? There are a lot of rumours doing the rounds but it’s all conjecture. Will they pool all bars together and say that they can all open on a certain date, or will they perhaps allow bars that are as much an eatery as a bar to open earlier i.e. would the likes of the Robin Hood and Scruff Murphy’s open before Billboard and Baccara? Based on comments in the press, it appears that bars will be the last type of business to be allowed to open. The big concern is social distancing and whether there are ongoing restrictions – which would be very difficult to manage in bars, particularly those with chrome poles. Frankly, I don’t think the bars are going to be all that much fun when they reopen. Expect fewer staff, few customers and less ambience. That might sound like a positive and remind us of the old days but I don’t think it will be like that at all. I figure it will be more like going to a party and at the end of the night the only person you could go home with is your sister.
Will the booze ban be lifted at the end of the month is all the chatter in Bangkok this weekend. The bars won’t be opening anytime soon but not being able to have a drink at home is starting to annoy some people now.
For the past couple of weeks I have been helping a friend in Bangkok who has been relaying my thoughts and ideas to his long-term girlfriend who was recently laid off. He wanted advice on Thai labour law and specifically, what she is owed by the company having been laid off while the company continues to trade. The law is clear. But I have been confused by what he has been coming back with. I couldn’t work it out, that was until I explained the situation to my other half who gave me her interpretation of the whole situation. My other half reckons in cases like this, one partner (irrespective of whether they are male or female, Thai or foreigner) doesn’t tell their beloved that they got a pay-off because they want to keep that money for themselves. My other half reckons this is common, particularly when it comes to bonuses. Often a husband / wife tells their other half that they only get a month’s bonus when in fact they got 3 or 4. The other half specifically said I should mention this in the column, hence this paragraph. Can’t say I’d like to be in relationship with someone with ideas like that.
The Immigration department has announced that all visas due to expire between March 26th and July 30th will be automatically extended until July 31st. That means if you are in Thailand at this time and your visa is due to expire, there is no need for you to go to Immigration to extend your visa. It will automatically roll over until July 31st. That saves you a trip to Immigration and you avoid being in close proximity to many others there for the same reason. It also saves you the 1,900 baht extension fee. And it applies to 90-day reporting which automatically rolls over too!
If there is going to be social distancing on air travel once flights resume, will there also be social distancing on bus journeys? After all, you’re on a bus a whole lot longer than you are on a plane!
Tahug.com is a new dating and chat messenger app. It is 100% free to sign up with no restrictions on chats and messaging.
Plenty of people doing handouts and donations of food and water but I am told that some feel it is starting to feel like a dick measuring contest. Who can do the most which suddenly makes it all look and feel like anything but charitable and trying to do good for the communities they are feeding.
I enjoy watching the morning TV news from Thailand during the week. The past two weeks one type of story has stood out – suicides. If the news is anything to go by, everyday Thais are saying game over due to money problems, and in many cases related to job loss or lost income due to Covid-19.
I was looking at the stats of this site this week for no other reason than I was a bit bored. I’ve never taken a lot of notice of the stats and have always had the attitude that I will do my best and hope that readers like it and tune in. The three countries with the most readers all have very similar numbers – USA, Thailand, UK. It’s usually in that order – and there’s seldom much between the 3 of them. Australia comes in at 4th – I’ve always been very well supported by Aussie readers….and it’s daylight to 5th which is usually Germany. Interestingly, New Zealand now usually features in the top 10 countries for reader numbers, ahead of the likes of the Scandinavian countries. Take last Sunday, for example, when over 400 Kiwis tuned in – which kind of surprised me. I can remember in the old days when the total number of visitors was about twice what it is now and I’d be lucky if 50 Kiwis tuned in to read the column on Sunday.
From a nurse in Thailand who is a friend of a friend comes the theory that one reason anyone in Thailand who tests positive for Covid-19 is admitted to hospital for two weeks treatment is not just about the treatment, but also about making sure they are isolated away from the general populace to break the train of transmission. In other words, it’s as much about isolation as it is about treatment.
Quote of the week comes from a friend, “Bangkok is, both literally and metaphorically, a facade of cleanliness atop layers of filth.”
Reader’s story of the week comes from Kloth, “The Corona Survival Girl“.
Bangkok’s booze ban is extended until the end of the month.
A Thai-American freelance journalist spends two weeks in Thai-government quarantine.
The Thai police have just leased a fleet of Tesla model 3s.
Thailand’s handling of Covid-19 gets a roasting in an excellent Bangkok Post opinion piece.
CNN talks with the original Lonely Planet Thailand author, Joe Cummings.
An American using a forged passport is sentenced to 4 years in the monkey house.
Scenes from a Japanese TV drama were filmed on Soi Cowboy.
A Russian couple stuck in Thailand have been found living in a cave in Krabi.
How is the Covid-19 situation in your part of the word? Things are looking up here in New Zealand with very little community transmission, just a few new cases each day (and a whole lot of testing being done) and we’re down to around 300 active cases. In a few weeks’ time it’s possible New Zealand might have eradicated the virus from these shores. I note it’s much the same on the other side of the Tasman. I also note the numbers coming out of Thailand look very positive. It makes me wonder just when borders between our own country and Thailand might open up. Could we be back in Thailand this year, or is that wishful thinking? I get the feeling that things are looking a little more promising than they were just a couple of weeks ago. What do you think?
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org