One of the most important things for every expat is making sure that their visa / permission to stay is always valid. It may mean that from time to time you have to exit the country and re-enter again. I’d never heard the term visa run before I became an expat.
I made plenty of visa runs over the years and they were fun in the early days, a chance to see new countries. But they soon get old and there are only so many times you can go to Vientiane or Phnom Penh before it gets boring. Rather than do it myself, there were a few occasions when I got lazy and joined an organised visa run. The biggest and best known visa run operator back in the day was the curiously named Jack Golf.
Jack was a Korean who ran golf tours for Koreans in Bangkok. He saw an opportunity and diversified, offering a daily service taking foreigners to the border and back and smoothing out all the frequent hassles at the border.
Jack Golf became very popular with Western expats and at its peak in the late ‘00s, was the most famous visa run company in the country, operating two coaches daily, taking up to 80 foreigners from downtown Bangkok to the border crossing with Cambodia and back.
Jack Golf was headquartered in Korea Town, next to Sukhumvit soi 12 and that is where the bus departed from. That was convenient for me, just a short walk from my condo.
The scene was the same every night at the start of soi 12, where a little after 4:30 AM horny punters and hungry working girls stumbled out of Insanity hand in hand, heading for the queue of taxis while a bunch of Westerners stood standing around waiting for the visa run bus.
Register at a hastily set up table, hand over a couple of thousand baht and jump on the bus.
Typically, customers were 90% white guys. There’d be the odd East Asian, Filipino, or Russian and a few females, most of whom looked out of place.
The bus would leave at 5:00 AM, head up Sukhumvit Road past the Nana intersection and turn right on to the expressway, headed for the border crossing in Sa Kaeo province with Cambodia. 10 hours later you’d be back in downtown Bangkok with a new stamp in your passport and permission to stay for another 30, 60 or 90 days.
The ride to the border was a sombre affair. The lights would be turned off inside the bus, curtains drawn and most would try and get some kip. Invariably there would be someone who would try and start up a conversation with the person sitting next to them for which it almost seemed to be a ritual for other passengers to tell them in no uncertain terms to shut up. The rest of the journey would be in silence.
It’s flat all the way to the border and there’s very little of interest to see along the way. If you did manage to drift off you’d be woken from your slumber by a small Thai lady who was the “guide”. A few minutes out from the border, she would get on a microphone, crank up the volume and wish everyone a good morning, before giving instructions about what would happen at the border.
It was an efficient operation and the bus would pull up at the border just a few minutes before 8:00 AM. Off the bus and straight in to a melee with a large market over-run with Thais and Cambodians selling all manner of things from second-hand clothing to tasty and not so tasty treats. Young Cambodian children would approach Westerners, keen to walk you across the border for a 20 baht tip. Men with muscular physiques and short-crop hair hid behind their shades, striking a hard man pose. They were obviously undercover police and military on the look out for those smuggling anything from people to drugs across the border.
At 8:00 AM – and invariably just before you reached the border point – the national anthem would belt out over speakers across the entire area as every man, woman and child would stop, and stand straight-backed for the next 45 seconds or so.
Jack Golf had arrangements with Immigration and the entire troop of visa runners would walk straight past the Immigration officer with their passport open to the photo page. Not having to queue with the masses and go through all Immigration formalities was one of the benefits of using a visa run service. Passports were then collected by Jack Golf staff who took care of all of that.
For the next hour or two you found yourself in no man’s land, a strip of a few hundred metres between the Thai and Cambodian border crossings. Technically, you were in neither Thailand nor Cambodia. You had officially left Thailand, but had yet to enter Cambodia.
A broken road connected Thailand and Cambodia and on either side were large hotels and casinos. At street level, vendors sold all sorts from imported chocolate, Australian wine, cartons of cigarettes, ED drugs and more. A procession of Cambodians had all manner of wares on the back of carts, some pulled by an ox, to sell on the Thai side of the border. From the Thai side to the Cambodian side, it felt like stepping back 50 years in time.
Jack Golf staff would run all visa runners’ passports between the respective Immigration checkpoints, getting them stamped out of Thailand, stamped in to Cambodia, stamped out of Cambodia and then stamped back in to Thailand. Depending on your nationality and whether you had a visa in your passport, you would get a new permission to stay of between 15 and 90 days.
While this was happening, visa runners were shepherded in to the coffee shop of a hotel where a buffet breakfast was included as part of the trip.
There were some real characters taking these visa runs, and some real rogues, and amazingly I bumped in to a few people I knew.
I bumped in to David of the long-gone Bangkok website MangoSauce on one visa run. A regular on the Jack Golf bus, the buffet was the highlight of the trip for him and the one thing he looked forward to.
I remember a young American who sat next to me one time who was a spitting image of a younger Marty Feldman. I dreaded it when he wanted to chat but he turned out to have an interesting story. He was living in Thailand making his money as a professional online gambler. At first I thought he was another Bangkok bullshitter but it turned out he was the real deal and we met up a couple of times after that visa run.
The same trip I bumped in to MangoSauce David I also bumped in to Blackie, an Aussie expat and someone I called a friend. We later fell out with. Blackie was never shy to call a spade a spade and right near the border crossing he decided that there was no better time to let me know what he thought of me and call me a cxxt. Blackie never left you wondering about what was on his mind.
A friend ended up sitting next to Conan Stevens on a Jack Golf trip. Conan is a 7 foot tall bodybuilding Aussie actor who I interviewed back in 2009. I’m surprised Conan didn’t take up both seats.
Around 10:00 or 10:30 AM, the Jack Golf guide would come and collect the group who would be walked back through the Thai Immigration checkpoint with passports already stamped. Around 11:00 AM the bus would be back on the road to Bangkok.
But before you went through passport control, the little Thai lady guide would go around asking some people if they would be willing to take a carton of cigarettes across the border for her, from the Cambodian side to the Thai side. She would buy cigarettes duty free and obviously had a sideline selling them in Bangkok at a profit. To my amazement, many people agreed, seemingly undeterred that they could unwittingly be used as mules to transport something illegal across an international border.
The journey from Bangkok to the border may have been a sombre affair but the journey back was much more lively. Introductions had been made over the breakfast buffet in what would be the start of new friendships. There’d be much conversation on the trip back. I used to always laugh as seemingly every second person called their girlfriend back in Bangkok delighted to inform them that they were back on the Thai side of the border and had another 30, 60 or 90 days to stay.
The trip back could be slow going and depending on traffic you’d be back at Asoke around 2:30 or 3:00 PM, 10 odd hours after you first left. It was a long day.
Things didn’t always go to plan.
There was always the odd story of a bus that had broken down the week before. A replacement bus would be sent and get back to Bangkok well after dark.
There was the odd person who went on a visa run and then just disappeared. They were last seen in no man’s land and never seen again. The Jack Golf staff couldn’t find them and the one time I saw this happen I thought they didn’t try that hard to locate them. Who knows what had happened. Had they been enticed down a side alley for a bit of hanky-panky? Had they exploited that loophole where they were walked past Immigration Control before their passport was actually checked in the computer – and exited Thailand without a computer check on their passport? Who knows…
There were stories – confirmed – of visa runners who were found to be wanted when their passport was checked and who were arrested at the border.
Some people who took that bus ride were dodgy as; some were obviously up to something. But on the whole the service worked well and it was a bearable and inexpensive way to get a new stamp in your passport.
When I used Jack Golf, things were all a bit loose at the border. I would later hear that things tightened up and many of the niceties like not having to queue with the masses were taken away. Visa rule changes meant that perpetually taking the bus to the border and returning with new permission to stay every 30 days – as some people did – was no longer possible. Anyone who wished to stay in Thailand for more than a few months had to find a more permanent solution.
Jack Golf no longer exists and Jack himself long disappeared, allegedly owing big $$ in gambling debts.
Organised visa runs are not what you’d call a fun day out, but for many they are (pre-Covid, at least) a means to an end. A visa run with Jack Golf was all part of the Bangkok expat experience.
Last week’s photo was taken of a pedestrian bridge over a canal near Hualumpong Station. It is known by locals as a good place to pee. This week’s photo is taken on a soi off Sukhumvit popular with foreigners but note, it is not in the section between Asoke and Nana.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
Romance is but a flight away.
My heart goes out to poor Nee. If she’s as attractive as you say then such beauty should not be wasted on ungrateful, clueless Kiwis. Advise Ms. Nee to save her money and grab a jetliner to Texas. We have many happy, successful Thai ladies here and can always use more. I guarantee she will be linked up with a handsome cowboy before you can say Billy The Kid. Romance is but a trip half way around the world.
Dating aversions of 30-somethings.
As a single man in his 30’s with single friends my age, there does seem to be an inherent aversion to dating Asian women – which seems even more strange being from Vancouver, which has a large Asian population. I had no problem with Asian ladies but almost never pursued them. I believe part of my thinking was an assumption that they were mostly only interested in Asian men. After visiting Thailand and other countries in Asia, I found myself drawn to Asian women and I discovered that many Asian ladies were interested in me. I believe it’s a textbook case of bias, sticking with what we know and understand. What bothers me now is that my friends see my eye for Asian women sort of like a fetish.
Brits and Asian women.
The lady you refer to, Nee, would get snapped up in seconds in the UK. Here with my Thai wife, often after taking a pee in the pub there would be some bloke trying to chat the missus up. I have had to have words a few times. Brits, unlike Kiwis, have a liking for Oriental women. Then again, if you see the state of the women here you would understand why!
Sticking with their own.
Your story about the attractive Thai woman who can’t get a date in a mid-sized NZ city was interesting. I wonder if it’s because there’s a stigma and 30-something year old guys view Thai women as beneath them, or as hookers. Or maybe it’s just people preferring to “stick to their own” and just being uncomfortable that they won’t have anything in common with a Thai woman.
Quarantine isn’t nearly as bad as a Canadian winter.
I am keen to get back to Thailand. If restrictions are not lifted by January, I will take the plunge on the two-week quarantine, and stay for a month. Being stuck in a hotel room for two weeks may be a pain, but let me tell you it’s really not that different to being in lockdown during a Canadian winter. I’m keen to experience the quiet bar scene before it comes roaring back post-vaccine.
Negotiating in Soi Cowboy.
I sat in a bar in Soi Cowboy and probably the most attractive dancer came and sat next to me. I was the only customer there. She asked for a drink. After asking how much, she said 200 baht. I said too much. “Oh, but you get a free beer!” After checking with the mamasan, the off-menu “secret promotion” was agreed. Always good to check if one is available. Naturally the conversation led to “I want to go with you.” “How much?” “700 bar, 3,000 short time.” I almost fell over laughing. “Ok, 2,500.” No, thank you. That currently pays for five nights in a decent hotel. After 20 years in Thailand, 3,200 baht for twenty minutes of active jiggy-jiggy simply isn’t worth it. She can wait until the two-week millionaires come back. It’s going to be a long wait!
What will happen to prices when demand soars?
With all that has happened in the world over the last year due to Covid, nothing has been more significant to Thailand than international travel being halted. I find myself thinking that this may affect the bar industry in a way nobody is considering, with increased prices above pre-Covid levels. With vaccines just around the corner, we are likely to see a mad rush to the boarding gate of cashed up Westerners, Asians and Arabs around the middle of next year. Many of the people I’m talking about, myself included, are 40+, largely financially comfortable, have spent next to nothing over what will be 12 to 18 months and are determined to make up for lost time. Couple that with a Thai female populace who have struggled over the last year, but who also want to make up for lost time, it’s a recipe for disaster. For years you have been proclaiming to the industry the benefits in foot traffic that would come if they dropped lady drink prices, barfine rates, short/long time prices etc, but have they listened? Now they are likely to get a sugar hit with inflated prices through until the end of next year’s high season. If prices do go up, will they come back down?
Girl Of The Week
Boombim, # 12, Playskool Erotica, Nana Plaza
Fun-loving Boombim likes making Tik-Tok videos, singing and dancing.
Feedback from those who have visited Nana Plaza’s newest bar, Whiskey A Gogo, is overwhelmingly positive and that it’s very much worth checking out. You enter the bar through a 700-year old antique wooden door from Chiang Mai, almost like going in to an old speakeasy with a certain style from that period. There are no mamasans and essentially the girls manage themselves. The concept is for a new style of boutique gogo bar. The girls themselves decide what to wear and how they will operate. This past week there were ladies in flight attendant uniforms, schoolgirl outfits, ‘car show presenters’, as well as the usual bikinis. Whether a lady sits with a customer or not is very much their own decision. With no pesky mamasans pushing ladies to sit with customers and customers not being pestered for lady drinks makes for a more relaxed atmosphere and allows interactions to take place naturally. The ladies have been described as playful, and the music playlist as flexible. There is no DJ but there is YouTube, and the girls can submit a playlist the day before. Whiskey A Gogo is just getting started so there aren’t many customers, but one regular reader had high praise, describing the vibe as reminiscent to Patpong in the ’90s. The ladies have been described as original with few signs of silicon noses or chests. Some ladies few have been blessed by nature with zero need for silicon anyway. Whiskey A Gogo could easily become a destination bar in Nana, which is to say one the punter specifically has in mind when he heads out for a night of fun. As an opening promotion, bottles of Leo, Chang and Singha are just 99 baht each.
For those of you in Bangkok (or Pattaya) at this time, have you had the feeling that you might just be experiencing something of a mini golden period? With fewer customers about, could this be as good as it gets? Of course, there are some who prefer the more vibrant atmosphere of when the bars are busier – but for those who wish to spend time with the ladies, things must be better now than they have been for a long time.
Dollhouse on Soi Cowboy reopened on Tuesday this past week and roared back to life this week with all seats full by 8:30 PM. A friend counted 26 customers present at that time. Dollhouse felt just like it did pre-Covid with a couple of dozen dancers, many familiar faces among them. The mood was upbeat, helped by the drink horn being sounded frequently with the owners keen to crank up the party vibe. My friend would disappear around 11:00 PM but noted there were still plenty of customers and the party atmosphere showed no signs of letting up. Business was still good later in the week and on Friday night, Dollhouse was packed at 9:00 PM. The owners are aware that they need to keep a close eye on costs and word is some girls were told not to come back because they had put on weight. What pandemic?!
As was mentioned in the column a few months ago, the iconic Dollhouse sign that towered over the soi is no longer. It was taken down because it had rusted in parts and there were concerns it may come crashing down. A smaller replacement sign is now up in its place and takes the form of a large monitor which runs animated promotions and information about the bar.
From Patpong, long-running and much-loved old-style soi 1 gogo bar Safari is now open on Fridays and Saturdays.
Has the worm turned? Multiple sources report more customers were out and about on Soi Cowboy this week. An aberration or are things picking up a little?
Business is all over the place, with some venues picking up others closing, completely out of the blue. In Nana Plaza, Diamonds didn’t last long at all. The middle floor bar reopened on November 1st….but only lasted a month and is closed again.
If you swing both ways, Obsessions on the ground floor appears to be the only ladyboy gogo bar open in Nana Plaza at this time.
Many venues continue to struggle. A few hundred metres up the road from Soi Cowboy it was tough going for the ladies at Thermae where a rough headcount put their number at around 50 – and all of about 10 punters for them to fight over. With few prospects, ladies are not limiting themselves to Asian men as some have in the past.
Speaking of freelancers, the streets around Lumpini Park have long been a spot for Thai men to pick up working girls. Crackdowns take place from time to time but many still do their thing with numbers swelling after 9:30 or 10:00 PM. Foreign men picking up these ladies isn’t entirely uncommon but beware, street walkers come with a greater risk.
Butterflies has joined Billboard in offering 2-for-1 drinks on Tuesdays and Wednesday throughout December. It’s 2-for-1 on all local bottled beers and house pour spirits.
Suzie Wong has ordered new outfits for the girls. Any bar willing to spend more money during these challenging times must be doing ok.
After School in Soi Cowboy is a fun name for a bar but one wonders in this crazy overly politically correct world that we live in how long such a name can last. Will the day come when the PC crowd makes a song and dance and cause the bar to be renamed?
Playskool Erotica has introduced buy one, get one free Chang bottles on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, all night long. The Tiger draft promotion (90 baht glass / 249 baht pitcher) also continues every night of the week. Playskool Erotica seems to be flip-flopping between opening and closing on Mondays. It was open Monday this past week.
Popular soi 8 restaurant & bar Monsoon was featured as the mystery photo in the column recently – or at least the spot that once was Monsoon was featured. Was that the end of Monsoon? No chance! Monsoon is being rebuilt and by the time you’ve been jabbed twice in the arm and make it back to Bangkok, the new Monsoon should have been rebuilt and better than ever.
A friend was stopped by two clowns in tight brown uniforms on a motorbike this week in the usual area between Asoke and Emporium. Based on their manner, he nicknamed one “Docile” and the other “Belligerent”. After showing them some ID, when he gently protested at being stopped, they tried to give him a hard time for not wearing a mask. Correct me if I am not wrong, but the wearing of masks is not mandatory when out in public (and from all accounts these days, walking along Sukhumvit you’ll have the pavement to yourself). Best guess is that they were trying to justify stopping someone who knew they had no grounds for doing so. My friend noted that they really didn’t like having their respective photos taken, notwithstanding that it is quite legal to do so. In fact, some years ago Thonglor Police published a brochure outlining your rights when stopped by police – and taking a photo of the officers was specifically mentioned as being ok.
There is irony in Thailand’s dreadful performance in the recent EF English Proficiency Index (2020) which ranked 100 countries for English skills. Thailand came in at 89th, and was deemed very low proficiency. It’s ironic because every year it seems like there are more foreign English teachers in Thailand. It’s not like the country has not put money in to language teaching. That said, the impression I have is that the standard of English in Thailand these days is a good deal better than when I first arrived. Standards may be low generally but there are still many Thais who do speak English well. So it’s not all bad news.
This Week’s News-Feed / Thailand-Related News Articles
Reader’s story of the week comes from Kloth, “Reversal Of Fortune“.
Tourism in Phuket is predictably struggling.
The price increase of the Elite visa finally made the mainstream news.
Is exposing abusive teachers considered worse than teachers abusing students?
You can watch movies in bed with strangers in Bangkok.
Speed limits on some roads in Thailand will increase to 120 km/h.
Online liquor sales are banned from December 7th.
There won’t be a high season this year. That said, a few people have told me that things felt like they had picked up a little this week on Sukhumvit. Bars reopening attracted punters. Bars with drinks specials saw an increase in customer numbers. Some bars which had been closed are reopening for a few nights per week. Maybe all this talk of vaccines on the way has buoyed people’s spirits?
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]