Stickman's Weekly Column June 21st, 2020

Off The Menu



New Zealand went in to a frenzy this week after two Kiwis returning to the country were released early from quarantine early on compassionate grounds only to test positive for Covid-19. The test was carried out after they had driven much of the length of the north island. Don’t worry, this is not a column about New Zealand. Rather, it’s about how what is happening around the world makes me think it is going to be quite some time until any of us get back to Thailand.

The joy of overcoming Covid-19 has been celebrated in New Zealand, but we’ve become complacent. A blunder at the border allowed the virus back in.

Would we face another round of lock-down, essentially being locked up, and more economic carnage? The thought of returning to lock-down almost sent the population in to meltdown.

We are told the way to keep the virus out of New Zealand – and for life to retain some semblance of normality – is to effectively keep the border closed. But is the way things are now really normal? To be clear, Kiwis can leave the country at any time, but will face a mandatory 14-day quarantine on return.

For some of us, life without being able to travel is anything but normal.

As travel has become so affordable and so accessible, it has become something of a lifestyle choice. It is something many of us enjoy a few times a year in much the same way as some may enjoy an afternoon G&T, an evening glass of wine, or perhaps both. Having something you had become used to taken away from you takes some getting used to.

Until a few days ago I thought I would be back in Thailand later this year. New Zealand was virus-free, and effectively Thailand was too with the only known cases of Covid-19 all hospitalised. It seemed relatively straightforward for the two countries to create a safe corridor allowing Kiwis and Thais to visit one another’s country without major restrictions. I had mid-November in mind as a departure date, but after the border blunder this past week I’m not sure I’ll be doing any international travel any time soon.

The reaction to this week’s border blunder which allowed the virus back in showed how the average Kiwi is terrified of Covid-19 coming back. No-one wants to face a lock-down again.

It’s the same in Thailand where a survey of Thais this week showed that the general populace is not keen on foreigners returning at this stage. They are scared the virus will return and with it so will a curfew, restrictions on movement and more economic damage.

Like New Zealand, Australia and a good few other countries, Thailand is on top of the virus. While there are new cases of coronavirus in Thailand, they’re all Thais returning from abroad who are picked up at the border. Everyone returning to Thailand goes in to mandatory quarantine. There have been no cases of community spread of Covid-19 in Thailand in almost a month.

After what happened this week, my guess is there will be little chance of anyone from New Zealand flying to Thailand without restrictions any time soon. While nothing has been said publicly, talk of a travel bubble has gone awfully quiet.

Word out of Thailand this week is that there is no sign their border will open any time soon either. There was talk that Thailand is looking at targeting a select, wealthy set of travellers between November and February. In other words, the masses have a long wait to get back.

The ramifications of visitors not being able to return to Thailand and support those businesses I write about are obvious, but this column is not about that.

Having seen the frenzy caused after the virus returned to our shores this week, it feels like the timetable for international travel resuming has been pushed back by, well, months.

Countries which have successfully managed to eradicate the virus essentially have to lock down the border to stop the virus returning, lest the hard-fought and ridiculously expensive gains be lost.

You’re damned if you open up the borders, and damned if you don’t.

What is happening with airlines and their schedules isn’t helping. Thai Airways announced last week that its international flights would resume at the start of August. This week the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand announced international flights would not resume until September. It’s as clear as mud.

Having seen what happened when the virus came back to New Zealand this week, the reaction of the Kiwi public to that and the damage it did to people’s confidence, I just cannot see international travel without restrictions and or quarantine returning for a long time. And travel with a lengthy quarantine period is unpalatable to most of us.

I am keen to get back to Thailand. I’m keen to catch up with old friends. I’m keen to visit old haunts. And I’m keen to actually be there on the ground myself so I can gather news & gossip and build up a library of material to use in this column. Many readers are keen to get back to Thailand. Business owners in Thailand are very keen for us to get back. But the border blunder here in New Zealand this week shows that all it takes is for one person to drop the ball and everything changes.

I just cannot see things easing up any time soon and I have given up on the idea of traveling to Thailand this year. I think that for most of us, Thailand is off the menu for the foreseeable future. I hate to say it, but if you’re outside the country I wouldn’t get your hopes too high of getting back to Thailand any time soon.


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery Photo

mystery-pic101

This week’s mystery photo kindly provided by reader MP.

Last week’s photo was taken outside Shenanigans at the Suriwong Road end of Patpong soi 1. Once again, few readers got it right. Many thanks to reader MP who kindly provided this week’s photo.


Nana Plaza
 

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

Nephews and nieces.

I found it interesting that more Thai females go to university than Thai males. That got me thinking about my wife who has 9 nieces and 10 nephews. Currently, 8 of the 9 nieces have graduated or are still studying at university (only one niece decided not to go). So far, out of the 10 nephews, none has attended university. It will be interesting to see if the two youngest nephews who are approaching school-leaving age make it to university or not. The 8 nieces who have graduated from university all have well-paid jobs (such as hotel receptionists, teachers and nurses). Two nieces run their own successful businesses selling cosmetics and lingerie. The nephews, by comparison, have lower-paid jobs as tradesman or manual labourers. From what I can gather, the nephews were too lazy to study and had no desire to better themselves career-wise, which is the exact opposite of the nieces.

The dreaded City Hall letter.

I received a letter in Thai from the Pattaya Treasury / Finance Department wanting to verify the square footage and location information of my condo. I mentioned this to a farang friend who makes his living renting out condos he’s purchased and he told me Pattaya is hitting him up for 10 years of back property taxes. He wasn’t sure if this was due to his units being in a company name or due to the fact he owns several units. I used to brag to friends back home that Thailand had no property taxes, but now I’m wondering if I’ll eventually be hit up for back property taxes as well. Going by what my friend paid I’d owe just over 90,000 baht. If someone was scraping by, a bill like this out of the blue could push them over the edge.

Happy in love?

With all the Covid19 pessimism it might be time for a ‘good news’ post. I was thinking if you put out a call for readers to email you about their ‘successful farang / Thai relationship’, you may be surprised with the number of responses you get back. As with most news sources, articles tend to be negative because people complain when they are not happy, but seldom take the time to post good news. I for one, and many of my friends, are enjoying life with a Thai lady, whether it be in Thailand or back in Farangland. You may want to supply a template: Nationality, man’s age, Thai’s age, current location, how long, how you met, what makes your relationship work? Just a thought.

The condo market is complex.

Just read your latest column and some thoughts about the links to articles about the decrease in condo prices. My partner and I are looking to buy a condo, more for her sake than me as she still lives there. The majority of the funds will come from her so it will be her decision on what to pick. I mentioned to her that the condo market is plummeting and allegedly there are 100,000 condos on the market right now. Her response was interesting. She says that’s not the case. Condos which are sought after i.e. 1- or 2-bedroom condos in a decent part of the city are all still in demand. Who’s buying these? They’re not coming down in price. The condos which are losing value and can be picked up for a bargain are the tiny condos, or as we call them in the West, ‘studio apartments’. These are so small that you’d struggle to get a dog comfortable in them. Such is the size, they’re not exactly popular.

The model minority?

Whoever said Asians are the model minority has never lived in the US. Asians are regarded as the model minority: high grades in school, entrepreneurs, doctors, no agitating for change. But look at Thailand: reckless drivers, high rates of teen pregnancy, rampant cheating on university exams, dek-waan, women who cut off their cheating husbands’ penises, loud, foul language, scams, corrupt police, ubiquitous security guards, and so on.


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok
 

At Nana Plaza business has been brisk on the rentals front with the owners of Spanky’s acquiring Rainbow 1 on the ground floor.

Mercury will drop the ladyboy line-up when it reopens and revert back to 100% real girls and the name is likely to go too.

Talking of ladyboy bars in the plaza, contrary to last week’s comments that Casanova would continue as a ladyboy venue under new ownership, word reached me this week that the new owner has decided to drop that idea and Casanova will go all-girl too. With Chili set to become part of Rainbow 3, that is at least 3 ladyboy bars gone from the plaza. And to be frank, that will go down well with a lot of punters.

That means there are just a few spaces available in Nana Plaza – those vacated by London Calling, Playskool and Rainbow 3. In next Sunday’s column we’ll take a closer look at all three and their potential to once again become popular busy bars.

Hillary 1 on Soi Nana will reopen today. It should be noted that customers are required to check-in / out with the official government Thai Chana app.

Down Sukhumvit soi 7 at the new beer bar complex with the confusing name, Moonshine Pub And Restaurant has reopened and appears to be the only venue back up and running. How do they manage that? Not just drinks, but food is also being served.

The Paddy Field over in Patpong 2 might switch the lights back on this week and bring some much-needed life back to Patpong.

If you are looking for company, I am told you could do worse than stop by Top Secret on Sukhumvit soi 20/1.

Many expats pubs that serve food reopened this past week including many of the big name British pubs and popular sports bars. If you’re out and about, they really could do with your support.

Bars that only serve alcohol and which feature scantily-clad dancers have yet to receive the green light to open and there has been nothing official yet about when they can resume. It feels like the bars have been closed forever, but it’s actually just a little over 3 months.

In the ongoing debate over what is going to happen to the Biergarten in Sukhumvit soi 7, a long-time reader tells me that this week a member of staff was up on the roof performing some repairs and said they may be able to open next month, all of which suggests that we shouldn’t be preparing the obituary for the Biergarten just yet.

While the bars remained closed, lower Sukhumvit has a growing contingent of girls looking for business.

Another bar is up for sale, this time it’s one of the small bars down a side-soi of Sukhumvit 22, in this case the narrow soi alongside Titanium. The bar has 6 rooms upstairs that rent out to those on a budget or those looking for a very short stay. The asking price is 500,000 baht and the main expense is rent which runs 80,000/month. There are three years left on the lease. If you’re interested in becoming a bar owner, let me know and I will pass on the contact details.

 

tree-town-soi-buakhao

Tree Town, Soi Buakhao, Pattaya was booming this week. Photo kindly provided by a reader.

 

Down in Pattaya, as I have written a few times recently, in the Covid era ground zero has moved from Walking Street to the Tree Town area of Soi Buakhao. The photo above was taken at 8:30 PM this past Monday. Remember, booze is allowed in restaurants – and the definition of restaurant has been very liberal. My correspondent noted there were hundreds of people in the area and in surrounding bars. (I have since been made aware that very shortly after the publication of this column the area was busted by the police and essentially shut down. If the past is any indicator, in all likelihood things will resume how they were before long.)

Artbox on Sukhumvit soi 10 / the land also known as Chuwit Park has proven to be popular over the past year, and managed to open before Bangkok came out of lock-down. The vendors operating at Artbox have 6-month contracts, a clear sign it is all very temporary. There have been a lot of rumours about what will happen on that piece of land and word broke this week that a giant office tower and hotel will go up. To be called The Edition Hotel Bangkok, it will be 51 storeys and dwarf most buildings in the area. Artbox will be around for a little while yet…so enjoy it while you can.

A lot of people I knew in the day have moved on, not necessarily from Thailand but from the bar scene. I had a chat with the dirty doctor on the phone this week and we had a laugh about the good old days when we would be out 3 or 4 nights a week. He has grown out of the bar scene and doesn’t think he will ever step foot in a bar area again. Dave The Rave was someone for whom the bar industry was, to be frank, his life, yet he has moved on and is not looking back. It happens. People move on. Enjoy it while you can, but don’t look at it is a lifetime lifestyle choice. Everything has its time. I mention this because I still get emails from people whose primary reason for moving to Thailand (and in some cases burning their bridges) is because they are addicted to the bar scene. Trust me, almost everyone eventually tires of it. Move to Thailand if you must – but your reasons for doing so should be more than just the bars.

 

bangkok-immigration

Photo provided by a reader.

 

A long time reader sent the photo above which he took at the main Bangkok Immigration branch at Chaeng Wattana. Trips to Immigration are the bane of expat life in Bangkok and it would be a dream if it was as quiet as that all the time.

I like the simple things in life. Generally, I’m not someone who seeks out luxury goods or adrenaline experiences. I’m a creature of habit and I am generally happiest around people whose company I enjoy and visiting favourite old haunts. The mystery photo in a recent column was taken in Took Lae Dee, the diner-style restaurant attached to the Foodland supermarket in my old stomping ground, Sukhumvit soi 16 is a place that filled those needs nicely. That particular branch was the very definition of cheap and cheerful. I also quite like the branch in Patpong soi 2. I know many like the branch at Sukhumvit soi 5 but I am not at all keen on it. The staff there often come across as jaded, it’s counter seating only and all about turning over customers fast. Popular with Thais and foreigners, some of the Took Lae Dee diners are expat institutions and have hardly changed over the years. The menu is much the same. Prices have pretty much only moved in line with inflation. Menu items are very consistent across all the branches. Foodland is not fancy, but it’s a step or two up from street food. And lunch-time on weekdays aside, it’s generally quiet and relaxing.

 

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The Took Lae Dee branch on Sukhumvit soi 16.

 

I thought something was up when I went to my email this past Monday morning and there was only a small number of emails, far fewer than normal. Surely the column wasn’t that bad?! I checked the email address and whaddya know, it was wrong. So if you emailed me last week in response to the column and didn’t get a reply, that’s why.

Thailand is diverse and there’s something for every budget, but at the same time the impression I have when I think of Thailand these days is that the country occupies a weird niche. It’s actually getting a bit pricey for budget travellers unless you go really low-end – and if you go down-market things can get kind of grim. And for the wealthiest visitors whose expectations are for a seamless experience, while avoiding the seemly and more down-market aspects of the country, I wonder just how the country manages to deliver. Sure, there are some wonderful 5-star hotels – but getting between them and some of the amazing eateries and nightspots and you’re rolling the dice. This is not criticism, it’s more that it seems to me that Thailand has this really weird niche.

 

vitamin-iv-booster

 

Quote of the week comes from a reader, “You will know normality has returned to Bangkok when taxi drivers refuse to use the meter!

Reader’s story of the week comes from Larry Cameron, “An Expat Learns From The Flu Hysteria“.  And there was another good article from a name from the readers’ submissions section of the past, Casanundra, who penned, “Quarantined By The Government In Thailand“.

A poll this week shows 75% of Thais are not in favour of foreigners returning to Thailand yet.

Thailand is looking at protocols to attract foreign visitors back to Thailand and may target the wealthy.

An American hotel designer resident in Bangkok’s incredible house is featured.

This is a good, clear video showing what is happening on Sukhumvit from Nana to Cowboy this week.

The Penny Black on Soi Cowboy will be back.

Ann’s Chip Shop is the place for fish and chips in Bangkok.

Initial plans drawn up for travel bubbles to facilitate travel to Thailand have been rejected.

 

nana-plaza-feb22-2020

Nana Plaza, Saturday night, 22 February.

 

The bars remain closed and while pubs and other venues are opening up, the red-light areas are still in darkness. Could they reopen in July? It does seem to me that the reasons for keeping them closed become less and less valid as the days go by. With a bit of luck this column will spring back to life when the bars reopen, or at least that is what I am hoping for. Some good news is what we all crave….the bars opening again and a path back to Thailand. How long will we have to wait?

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]