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Thai police are targeting male foreigners on Sukhumvit Road, east of the Asoke intersection. This grabbed headlines a few years ago and stopped for a while. It was wishful thinking that would be the end of it. It’s happening again.

For years I wrote about police stopping, hassling and conducting unauthorised searches of male Caucasians along a small stretch of Sukhumvit Road and down some sois. What bothered me almost as much as what was happening was the response of some readers who called it fake news – it hadn’t happened to them so it couldn’t possibly be true, right?! Some didn’t care, and said it was good that the police were doing their job. When the issue finally made the mainstream news those who called it fake news went silent. And some who had said who cares changed their tune when they found themselves stopped and searched illegally by those whose job it is to uphold the law.

I started writing about this issue way back in 2012. It finally hit the headlines in the mainstream press in 2014. It became such an issue that the Thonglor Police station distributed pamphlets in English explaining people’s rights in the case of being stopped by police.

The police need a reason to stop someone (such as an eyewitness account of a crime just committed by someone who looks like and is dressed the same as you). Any search must be carried out in a well-lit area. Anyone stopped by police is allowed to photograph / take video of the police before they are searched. If a urine sample is requested, it must be taken at a police station and not in a public place.

Unfortunately it seems the police distributed the pamphlets with citizens rights to the public at large, but not to the police officers who are stopping and searching people.

An email (edited a little as the fellow is not a native English speaker) from a Stickman reader this week shows Caucasians are being targeted.

I just experienced my first checkpoint from Sukhumvit police near soi 39. I was neatly dressed in jeans, and a polo shirt. It was before midnight and I was going to 7 Eleven.

The officer was very rude, and many times asked if I had drugs. Are you drunk? He wanted to put his hand in my pocket and distracted me by shining his torch in my eyes. I had a bag which he checked many times and he seemed sad that he found just my camera and my wallet. He tried to check the wallet too. He looked around to see if I had thrown something. When I showed him my passport, he said, “Go pee Thonglor!” He did not care about my passport. He kept saying I was drunk and taking drugs.

And he wanted to examine my mobile phone. I refused and he got angry. I kept calm, even if I did not like the way he touched me. It was all carried out in a dark place. 

As the cop was getting angry, another cop came along, speaking much better English. He was more polite. The good cop told me to move in front of 7 Eleven because it was light. I think he understood the bad cop was a bit too aggressive.

In the end, I asked my wife to come because I was not feeling good. She came and when they saw her, they just told me to go home. They did not open my passport as they were not interested in it. They are targeting males and are looking for drugs and electronic cigarettes.

The police were rude and aggressive. I can understand why people are angry about this.

One Japanese man was also checked and it was the same good cop, bad cop routine. The checkpoint was legal, and there were a lot of officers. Carrying a bag at night was a pain in the ass. Lesson learned.

They want money and obviously they wanted me to find something illegal on me. The police were trying to get their end of the month bonus.

You need to stay calm, even if what they are doing makes you crazy. It happened 30 minutes ago and I am still in shock.

This is not an isolated incident. This happened on Sukhumvit soi 39 which is popular with Japanese expats, and a Japanese blogger recently wrote about being stopped and searched not once, not twice, but 3 times in 10 days in that very area.

The police stop people who fit a profile in their mind of those who may have drugs or e-cigarettes (which are illegal in Thailand) on their person. They know that the average foreigner doesn’t want to get involved with the police, and doesn’t understand their rights. They also known from experience that some foreigners are willing to pay on the spot if anything illegal is found. For an e-cigarette or the smallest trace of drugs, the going rate to walk away is 20,000 – 30,000 baht. Getting drugs off the street and making Bangkok safer hardly seems like the main reason for carrying out these searches.

While you do hear about the odd foreigner being searched in other parts of the city, it is the area immediately east of the Asoke intersection i.e. in the direction of and just beyond Emporium and Emquartier, where these searches take place. For the most part they happen well after dark, often very late in to the night, from 11:30 PM until around 3:00 AM.

You do have rights in Thailand, but they almost certainly won’t be explained to you. Protesting that the search is illegal will fall on deaf ears. Asking why you have been stopped will be met with silence. Objecting to being searched in a dark area won’t stop them. You don’t have any rights! Do you really have the backbone to stand up alone to a gang of policemen bullying you down a dark soi late at night?

This feeling of extreme vulnerability was the reason a friend who had lived in Thailand for several years chose to leave. He was stopped at a checkpoint at the Asoke intersection some years ago, hauled out of a taxi, and had the fingers of more than one policemen delving in to his pockets at the same time. He was neither a drug user nor an e-cigarette user but it reinforced to him that he was a nobody with zero rights. He said lar-gon, Bangkok.

Foreigners need to stand up against being stopped and searched like this and I believe the only way to do that is for anyone who is stopped to post about it online. If you are stopped and searched and your rights are abused, post it about it to social media. Facebook groups like Bangkok Expats and Everything Bangkok would be a good start. Newspapers are always interested in this sort of thing, especially when a pattern emerges. Send reports to your favourite bloggers.

As word spreads that once again some police are carrying out searches down dark sois and asking for urine samples on the side of the road, it will make the mainstream news. Again. And then there will be a period of reprieve. Again. It’s all a game of cat and mouse.



  Mystery Photo

Last week’s photo was taken at the Ratchaprasong (Central World) intersection, looking south towards Rama 4 Road with the Police Hospital on the right and Hyatt Erawan Hotel on the left. This week’s photo is one of my favourite night-time views – or perhaps more specifically, early evening views – in Bangkok.



 

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

When to visit?

I have been to Thailand all months except April and October. I prefer January – March. Perfect weather (December evenings can be chilly sometimes and too many people during the holidays). Maybe March is my first choice – it’s cheaper and has a more laid-back vibe. For June to August, I agree with you. I have had bad luck with the weather in November and December a number of years, with rain when it should have dried up.

December through to March to be avoided?

In your months to visit column, note that there are very dangerous pollution levels from November through March. I suspect this is the new normal. It used to be that we enjoyed the cooler months of December and January the most, but this has changed the last 3 years and this is now the best time to get out.

Different fares from different countries.

You mentioned that July was a good time for flights to Bangkok. That may be the case from New Zealand but from the UK for most of July and August you are looking at near Christmas type prices for flights.

Airfares to Thailand from the US.

Airfares from the US during the summer months (mid-June through August), the best mid-week flight round-trip to Bangkok June through July is $757 while September through October is $457. School starts back in September and pretty much all flights domestic or international are at their cheapest from then until mid-November, Thanksgiving. The first 2 weeks in December have fair rates but mid-December through mid-January are very expensive for Christmas & New Year.

Pot, kettle, black?

Regarding the character / legend fellow you removed from your piece because he’s now “strongly anti-immigrant” and doesn’t want publicity? I don’t have hard data on this, but I’d be willing to bet money that the exact same farang expats who complain the loudest about immigrants in their own countries are the ones who live in Thailand for years without learning the language or caring about the customs, and try to exploit every loophole they can in the Thai legal system (including often outright breaking a number of Thai laws). Just food for thought.

Soi 7 goings on.

That building in the vacant lot on Sukhumvit soi 7 is being dismantled rather than bulldozed. I guess the old timber is worth something. That end of the soi reminds me of a scene in Northern Ireland during the troubles – steel barricades, derelict lots of torn down buildings, and a street going nowhere. Only the Biergarten stands alone, defying years of speculation of its demise. This will either kill it or revive it. About 2 years ago the Biergarten invested in new leather for its decrepit bar stools, perhaps their first investment since the Vietnam War. At the time I remember thinking, hmmm, do they know something?

Mad Professor venturing further down Sukhumvit Road.

I just now (midday, Sunday 23rd June) saw the famous Mad Professor busy at work outside one of the exits of Phra Khanong BTS station, near Starbucks. He had around 6 large pieces of cardboard and was busily scribbling away at them, rapidly changing between the different pieces of cardboard. He seemed completely oblivious to passersby and was shouting unintelligible sounds in an over-enthusiastic but not at all aggressive manner. There is a piece of his work on the pavement on Pridi Banomyong road which appeared recently.

Medical care in Thailand.

A few weeks ago I reported that a provincial private hospital in Khon Kaen charged higher prices than one would pay in Europe. Now it’s time for the other side of the coin. I had a bladder infection so I went to hospital. As it was recommended by friends, I went to Srinigarindra Hospital in Khon Kaen, a government hospital affiliated with Khon Kaen University. We got there early afternoon to register first, which went very smoothly, and I was told to come back at 16:30 to see the urologist. I had to wait for about 30 minutes for my turn, which is reasonable. The doctor was knowledgeable, examined my prostate as well and took 2 urine samples for 2 different tests. I was prescribed antibiotics for the infection and another medicine to shrink the prostate so my bladder could empty. So far so good. When I went back to the counter the nurse told me to go to the cashier and pharmacy which were in another building a bit away. When I asked how to get there she said follow that guy and handed him my paperwork. We followed him out to find a golf cart parked right in front. We got in and he drove us to the cashier. When I say to the cashier, I literally mean just that. When arriving at the other building he drove straight inside, through the corridors around a couple of corners for maybe 100 meters and dropped us off right at the cashier’s window with the pharmacy right next to it. The total bill for hospital fee, doctor’s fee, 2 lab results, prostate examination and 2 different medicines was 930 baht. After payment we got back in the golf cart and he drove us back to our car. Again, not just to the park but in to the park and right up to the car. My impression was that medically it was as good as any I’ve been to in this country and service-wise, as good as it gets. This just goes to show it is still possible in Thailand to get cheap, quality medical care. Forget the private hospitals, they are just money machines.



 

The gloom and doom is being felt across the bar industry by owners and staff alike, but there is one group of women who are said to be thriving. Freelancers. Word from a few readers is that there are more freelancers milling around Soi Nana these days than there have been in a long time. With crazy money being asked for barfines and by ladies working in bars, the 1,500 baht standard fee asked by those loitering on Soi Nana isn’t such a bad deal.

Access to Soi Nana late at night was blocked due to drainage construction a couple of nights this past week. Motorbike taxis heading for Soi Nana had to go to soi 1, head down the soi and then cut across to Soi Nana. There are two points where construction is taking place. It’s not known how long construction will continue for so don’t be surprised by disruptions.

Down in Pattaya, a name from the past is about to make a comeback. Beavers is set to return. Whereabouts will it set up? More in next week’s column…

A minimum number of lady drinks purchased as a prerequisite before you can barfine a lady. Tiered lady drinks with different (read: high) prices. Ladies getting double lady drinks (that cost twice the price) without telling you. Is this really good business practice? This nonsense is happening in one of the most popular gogo bars in Bangkok. PR girls AKA greeters / hostesses automatically get a double lady drink if a customer offers them a drink which will set the customer back 340 baht. To make that number easier to understand, $US11 / £9 / €10 / $AUD15. Say the price in a currency you’re more familiar with and it you get a better idea of just how expensive things have become. If the lady was to inform the customer that lady drinks for her are a double, cost more and he agrees to it, all good. But do you really think she’s going to say that a lady drink for her is double the standard lady drink price? When challenged by a customer about the higher price, one lady explained that the lower salary paid to hostesses is augmented by higher commissions on lady drinks. That customer was a Stickman reader and he said that he felt scammed. He will return to the bar because it’s one of the dozen or so gogo bars left in Bangkok still worth visiting – but no-one will be getting a drink from him in there ever again. Perhaps he should just spread his wings and flutter away to another bar?

Lousy exchange rates are a hot topic amongst expats, perhaps second only to visa issues and visa rule changes. The poor Brits have suffered for a while with the Pound now buying less than 39 baht – and more than a few Brits are taking a break from visiting Thailand. I predict a drop in the number of Aussie and Kiwi visitors for the very same reason. The Australian and New Zealand dollars have each dropped by around 20% respectively against the Thai baht over the last 2 years. Their respective falls have been slower than that of the Pound which plummeted following the Brexit referendum. Our English friends screamed when the Pound fell from 50 baht to 40 (it now barely gets around 38.9 baht), Aussies have seen their dollar drop from 27 baht down to 21 and Kiwis from 25 baht to 20. I think you’ll find the numbers of Aussies and Kiwis take a dip – specifically those who have visited previously and had been accustomed to lower prices and a better exchange rate. First-time visitors (from everywhere) will continue to flock to Thailand but as I have been saying for a while, how many will be in a hurry to return?

Current exchange rates against the baht 29/6/2019.

From a mate in the UK comes the following quote, “One of the things I learnt very early on in Thailand was just how selfish expats become.” Perhaps self-centred might be a better fit than selfish but there is some truth in what he says – and I think part of it is that there is little in the way of a sense of community amongst expats in Bangkok. In other parts of Thailand there might be a feeling of being part of an expat community, but in Bangkok, I’m not so sure. Expat society in Bangkok feels so fractured these days. And when there is no sense of community, why give a shit about anyone else seems to be the attitude of many.

According to Google, this site’s readership comprises approximately 13% females. Who would have believed that? For the ladies in the readership, Whisgars, the whisky, cocktail and cigar lounge on Sukhumvit Soi 23 is bringing back its Lipstick Society ladies night, with special prices on cocktails and wine. It will also featuring clothing, cosmetics and jewelry from select designers. Lipstick Society will take place at Whisgars at 7 PM on the first Wednesday of every month, starting this coming week. It’s 199-baht++ margaritas, mojitos and glasses of select wines. Groups of four women or more get 20% off select bottled wines. Drink while perusing jewelry, clothing, soaps, cosmetics and perfumes. On July 3rd, Kaya, an emerging skincare brand will showcase their product. Gents are welcome too, of course.

I used to dread visiting the Immigration office at Chaeng Wattana. It felt like a zoo and you never knew how long you would be there. You might get out in an hour, or you might get stuck for mot of the day – which would mean battling horrible traffic trying to get back to the skytrain and back to Sukhumvit. As the number of foreigners living in Bangkok increases so does the number of people visiting Immigration and from all accounts it’s bursting at the seams. There can be a queue of people waiting at 6:00 AM, notwithstanding that the office doesn’t open until 8:30 AM. Waiting times have blown out and some people report not leaving until close to 7:00 PM. The one positive is that if you are issued a ticket, you will get served and assuming everything is in order, your visa extension (or whatever it is you need to do) will be processed. Sooner or later, Immigration will have to expand the office or better still, open another Immigration office in Bangkok. A new branch nearer downtown would make a lot of expats happy and would sure lighten the load at Chaeng Wattana. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

The best columns – or at least those that seem to be the best-received – are when I write either about myself, or share things about myself in the article. This week a reader sent the following, “I think old-time readers would like to see a more detailed discussion from your own personal experience on how living abroad impacted your financial life and career, in either a negative or positive way.” It’s a column I’d love to write but it’s a column you cannot win with. Say that Thailand was the best thing ever for your financial situation and you’ll be labelled a bullshitter and / or pilloried for showing off. If you say that in retrospect you wasted the best earning years of your life there will be an avalanche of “serves you right!” emails. That’s why these days I tend not to say too much about myself. No matter what you say and no matter how hard you try to offer personal experience in the hope that others can take something from it, my experience has been that responses will most likely be unkind. It wasn’t always like this.

Reader’s story of the week comes from a reader who has had enough of Thailand and has returned to his homeland, “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish“.

Claims have been made that pollution in Thailand has been stable for the last 5 years.

A year on from a maritime disaster where many tourists died on a boat that sank in Thailand, visitor numbers have not fully recovered on Phuket.

Overdevelopment, overtourism and pollution are causing Chiang Mai, the rose of the north, to wilt.

Two Thai women are pickpocketed in the UK by a gang of pickpockets.

Naughty boys on a budget might find a better deal outside the plaza than in.

I know the tone of the column has hardly been positive recently but it’s not unexpected given everything that’s going on. There are still good times to be had and there are still plenty of good deals out there. Thinking about the places this column focuses on, Billboard and Butterflies are as good as ever. There have been 39 baht beers at The Aussie Bar on soi 11 for the last month. Vesuvio still does pizza as good as anywhere, save perhaps Naples. Many ladies on Soi Nana would be delighted to entertain you for 1,500 baht. I hope that my casting a critical eye over things does not put you off too much. I still venture to Bangkok myself so it can’t be that bad, can it?!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : stickmanbangkok@gmail.com

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I finally did it. I pulled the trigger and came back home, Thailand and me are done!

Do I feel any animosity toward Thailand and the Thais? Not so much to be honest, we all ultimately have our different reasons for choosing to live in the country and if it was all that bad then many of us would not have stayed as long.

Is it me who changed, or is it Thailand that has changed? Probably a combination is at play here, certainly I have changed and have grown as a person but there is little to no doubt that Thailand has certainly changed, in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse.

What follows is my personal story about why I have chosen to leave the land of smiles. I don’t claim to speak for anyone and I don’t claim to have all the answers.

What is “Home”?

Often it is said that “home is where the heart is” and there is little doubt in my mind that the majority of us on this site have at least a part of our heart in Thailand. But this is merely a romantised notion of home and the facts are that this will never truly be home, deep down we all know this.

To become a Thai citizen is near impossible, the likelihood of any of us attaining this are slim to none at best. Even if we were to become a Thai citizen we would never be seen to be Thai, it would never cross the mind of a Thai that someone of European descent would ever be Thai no matter how long they have stayed in the country and no matter their grasp of the language or culture.

If I had immigrated to virtually any European country, New Zealand, Australia or North America based on the length of time I have been in Thailand I would surely have been a citizen by now. Perhaps even in those countries I would never be seen as a full-blooded national but my citizenship would allow me the same rights and privileges as someone who was born and raised in the country.

Being in my mid-30’s and running out of time to qualify for entry into a first world country (I am South African), it struck me as a now or never time to leave the country.

Picture Perfect

There have been many magical moments where I have enjoyed a drink while watching the sunset and have been completely captivated by the beauty of Phuket where I spent the majority of my time. It was truly awe-inspiring at times but these moments were few and far between.

Ultimately when you are living in Thailand you need to be making money and work takes precedence. When you finally come to this realization you find yourself just wanting to go home and rest after working 6 days a week and over 9 hours a day.

Saturday nights may be spent having some drinks with your friends but Sunday for me personally was always a rest day, I had no interest in going out at exploring the island after a while as I just did not have the energy.

I came to the realization that I could be based literally anywhere in the world with similar working conditions and be paid a heck of a lot more. I lived in London for a year in my youth, it was a similar situation there as well. It may seem like a big city full of different things to do, but when you live anywhere you develop a routine based around where you live and work and Thailand is no different.

When you are a tourist you have 2 to 3 weeks to really take in your surroundings, work is not a factor and money generally is neither. You are free to explore, and explore you do.

So often we as tourists are sitting on the beach and staring out at the sunset and think “I need to move here, life is perfect”. Through tourist eyes it does seem that way, but once you live in a place it merely becomes “just another place”.

Stuck in a Rut

Back home I was a go-getter! I remember arranging meetings, hustling and always having to be on edge as the competition was fierce. My work colleagues like me all had high level degrees and board meetings would be animated to say the least. Great ideas would come out of brainstorming sessions and the owner would often have consultants and guest speakers in to help us develop.

I have a more than unique perspective I believe, I have lived and worked in Chiang Mai, Phuket, Koh Samui and Bangkok. I have also been an employer, an employee and a consultant.

Possibly the most daunting prospect for a new manager is gaining the respect of the Thai staff. When you are a business owner respect is automatic in my experience. You are “the boss” and even if they snigger behind your back they will do as they are told generally speaking, there are of course cases in which this does not happen.

I think the respect you get as “the boss” is due to the fact they assume you have money as you have purchased a business. When you are “the manager” it will always take a few months for them to warm to you and to respect you, if you are like me and are extremely competent in your field the process can hasten but if they see you have limited knowledge and spend most of your time “on the piss” you will never command the respect that is necessary to move the business in the right direction.

There are two terms you need to familiarize yourself with when you are merely a fellow employee – “Sabai” and “Sanook”. Make sure you don’t go in with a hammer and don’t belittle your team in front of other staff members, it’s a one way ticket to a “go slow”. A go slow is very simply when the staff do the least amount of work possible, enough not to get fired but just enough so the owner takes notice and that is when the complaints about your management style will reach their ear.

“Sanook” is a vital part of the game. I incentivized staff through sales competition, upsell competition and other games that they really enjoyed. I would also ensure that every quarter they were taken for moo-kata (Thai BBQ) and remember this golden rule, always allow them to have their meals together and not separately. I know this is a headache in the service industry but community meals are vital for their mental well-being, and I cannot stress this enough. If you follow these golden rules even a lack of knowledge will get your staff on your side.

But I digress, I often felt that I was losing my edge as the job was frankly easy and although there was need to innovate and try different things if you have a Thai boss or a long term expat- forget about it!

A Thai business owner and this ties into my point regarding consultation work can be the ultimate headache. My experience with Thai business owners was without doubt the hardest experience I had to endure. They simply do not want to listen to any advice as they seem to know everything better. I would often show P&Ls and various performance metrics as evidence that certain things needed to be changed yet they would always refuse.

An old adage in business that has always served me well is – turnover = vanity, profit = sanity but cashflow = reality. In an industry that is so affected by seasonality you would think the message would be clear and that certain cost cutting measures would be put in place? Every low season it was the same, either borrowing money or selling off of assets in order to sustain themselves until the high season hit. I explained time and again that building up a nest egg would not only cover costs during the low season but would also present unique acquisition opportunities during the difficult periods. Yet these business owners are often drawing 400K – 500K a month out of the business to keep their face and sustain what will ultimately be proven to be an unsustainable lifestyle.

I experienced the above in my role as a consultant as well as a manager and with foreign owners as well as Thai. I feared that staying in this environment would limit my professional growth and frankly it was taking its toll on me mentally, it is one of the major reasons why I chose to leave.

Property

I will never be able to own land in Thailand, that is just a fact. Sure I can set up a company and use proxies to get around it, yes there are long term leases for 30 years and yes if I setup a BOI company I can own land through that but I will never have a piece of land with a house and a white picket fence that will ever truly be mine.

Not that I am ready for the 2½ kids and a dog named Rover but it is ultimately something that I may want in the future and something that I will never truly have. Of course putting it in the wife’s name would be an option but that would mean I would have to marry a Thai, perhaps I would want to settle down with another person? These are things I simply do not have to worry about in other countries.

Business

Following on the above, the next reason I chose to leave was due to business opportunities. If you are in IT, tech or manufacturing then I think Thailand can present some unique opportunities. However I am in hospitality and in the current climate it is not likely that I can build a long term and sustainable business without a hefty investment.

Further to this you never really own a business as a foreigner, do you? The 51/49 rule will always be there and although there are ways around this such as the nominee system you are often left vulnerable to the whims of the Thai judicial system should issues arise.

I think back to an Italian friend who rented a hotel and was arrested by immigration for making a cup of coffee behind the counter as he was not “legally” allowed to do this. I think back to a Swedish friend whose Thai delivery driver had called in sick, he was forced to do the delivery himself but was stopped by the police after which he was told what he was doing was illegal and the vehicle was to be impounded unless a heavy “fine” was settled which of course it was. Again, in most Western countries you would be hard-pressed to find someone who had a work permit and visa arrested for making a cup of coffee or driving a vehicle and even if it was the case there would be some form of due process.

The foreigners I have known to have “made it” in Thailand either arrived at the right time (pre-boom) and rode the wave, have a passive overseas income which can support them during tough periods for the business or came here with a lot of money to invest in the right projects and were lucky enough to find the right people to work with them. Think for yourself how many people you have known to have done well in Thailand versus the ones who have lost everything, I think you know the difference is substantial.

The final issue is the exorbitant rentals especially in Phuket. You are hard-pressed to find a suitable location where there is enough foot traffic and should you find an ideal location the rental and the key money mean you have little chance of success particularly as the market is extremely seasonal. Of course it is doable but when I look at my negotiations with landlords in my home country you feel as if you are in a partnership with the landlord rather than it being adversarial in nature such as it is with Thai landlords.

Again the notion of face rears its ugly head as you will often find landlords rather seeing their building being empty than lower the rent to a level that can be a win : win for both parties. Again these are my observations and there will always be those who will have success but what is certain is that it will come at a price and with a high degree of risk associated with it. Which leads me to my next point and something that ties in with my reluctance to living in Thailand.

Demographic Changes

An aspect that has seen dramatic change in my experience that is undeniable is the change in demographic, particular the rise of China as a key player in the tourism market. This will not change and will long continue.

There are those who will mention that visitors of certain nationalities are still up significantly but is this really the case? In order for me to operate in Thailand and live comfortably I need a Western customer base, it’s simple – I understand this market and can relate to them. A Western market creates Western services and by proxy Western expats.

Like I always do, I did my research and the outcome was plain to see. First we cannot look at growth rates in Thailand as a standalone, we need to benchmark it against global travel trends.

Based on global international tourist arrivals the market has grown by 38% from 2008 – 2018. I then looked at same growth rate comparisons for the primary Western markets and compared the two. The results speak for themselves:

NATIONALITY GROWTH RATE DIFFERENCE GDP PER CAPITA
USA 46% +8% $62,518
UK 18% -28% $45,565
Germany 32% -6% $54,983
France 39% +1% $47,113
Australia 13% -25% $52,191
Sweden -14% -52% $54,474
25% -13% $52,804

As you can see there has indeed been a drop in core Western markets during this decade when measured against global tourism trends. The fact is that Thailand is no longer the exotic destination it once was and is no longer a cheap holiday, for Brits in particular sunny Spain which is closer and in some ways cheaper than a place like Phuket holds far more value for their tourism spend.

But Thailand expects to have nearly 80 million tourists by 2030, where will this massive increase in numbers come from if not Western? Again we should look at growth markets and compare them to global travel trends.

NATIONALITY GROWTH RATE DIFFERENCE GDP PER CAPITA
China 89% 51% $19,250
Malaysia 57% 21% $32,501
India 52% 14% $8,484
Russia 56% 18% $30,284
64% 26% $17,822

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is heading. The numbers clearly speak for themselves and with cheap flights continually opening and the fact that most of the world’s population is within a 6-hour flight shows clearly that there will indeed be massive growth within the Thai tourism market.

What did concern me however; the difference between the markets in terms of GDP per capita. The Western nations have 64% higher purchasing power than the 4 trending growth markets, basically for every Western customer you would need 3 customers from these emerging markets.

The problem is that as more Chinese, Russian and Indian customers arrive what will invariably happen is that there will be a decline in Western customers who will no longer feel that this is “their” holiday destination.

For every Western visitor who decides to look elsewhere they will need to replace them with 3 from these emerging markets, this puts additional stress on infrastructure and we have seen this in Phuket recently with the island running out of water.

More hotels are being built to accommodate this massive influx of tourists and a massive strain is being put on natural resources throughout the country, when your cost of acquisition is essentially 3 to 1 it is inevitable this will be the case. Further strains on resources will in all likelihood diminish the natural environment and it could very well be a case of paradise lost for many parts of the country unless great care is put into creating a sustainable growth model, but greed will always win ultimately in this country.

Expect within the next decade to see the majority of signs in Mandarin and expect to see a changing profile of expat with far more Chinese long-termers. If you are able to speak Mandarin and are looking for a job, look no further than Thailand – there are many businesses that have this as a prerequisite these days.

For me personally I don’t seek to learn Mandarin and have no real interest in Chinese culture and thus I knew I would become completely obsolete within Thailand in the very long-term and it was yet another factor that made my decision for me.

Relationships

The Thai and Western relationship, be it intimate or platonic, is one that is far more complex than meets the eye. There are times where you think you have cracked the code and understand the cultural nuances needed to have a fulfilling relationship but more often than not many long term expats concede that there is only one thing that they can know for sure about Thailand, that they know nothing.

I have been in a relationship with a woman for going on 6 years now, but if I had to benchmark my relationship with others in my country or a Western country I would compare it to being a sole proprietor versus being in a partnership. My girlfriend does not work and although her qualifications aren’t near as high as mine I still cannot help but think that she should contribute more, I have made it clear to her that if she was to move to my country I would expect her to find some form of work.

I have at times thought I had Thai friends but most of the time these were very superficial relationships, where they thought they were able to get something out of me rather than a friendship being based on mutual interest. After nearly a decade there I can say that I only truly have one Thai friend and the reason for this friendship was mainly because he is extremely Western.

If you had to see me walk down the road you would assume I had a ton of Thai friends, many people know me and I am happy to engage and talk with them. But these are acquaintances more than friendships. Friendship is where you know someone has your back and I highly doubt if push comes to shove any of these people would ever have my back.

The fact is that we are very low generally speaking on the list of importance to your average Thai. Family will always come before you and you will never be fully seen as a member of the family no matter how much they tell you this is the case. A good friend who fell on financial hard times found this out the hard way, when the money ran out his “Thai family” all of a sudden were not in contact as much.

Again there are cases where this does not happen and may people have found long lasting and fulfilling relationships, this just wasn’t the case for me and if it didn’t happen in just under a decade I find it highly unlikely it will happen any time in the near future.

Visas

The visa issues were another major red flag for me – remember I am thinking long term here as well. Having a work permit and visa means you are good to go, but if you plan on staying for the long term and have no path to citizenship one day you will need to qualify for a retirement visa and these are becoming harder to come by.

I have a theory as to why the visa situation has become a particular difficulty now. Perhaps I am wrong but let me explain my rationale and thought process.

Everything in Thailand no matter how significant or insignificant has to do with money and its relationship with power. Protectionism for the business elite in the country is a way of life, take vaping for example. The reason vaping has been banned in Thailand is purely to protect the tobacco barons – nothing to do with health concerns.

I think it is not outside the realm of possibility that the “Thailand Elite” visa program has some very powerful people behind it and perhaps these visa crackdowns are all a way to ensure that foreigners finally give up and buy a package. Whenever there is something confusing about always follow the money and I truly do believe that the current visa problems have a lot to do with this program.

Maybe I need to take off my tin foil hat but is it really outside the realm of possibility? I thought about purchasing an elite program membership and then decided against it, another thing that is not outside the realm of possibility is the Thai government cancelling the program all together and me being stuck with a card I have no use for.

Conclusion

There were a host of reasons as to why I finally chose to pull the trigger and leave but the main reasons are outlined above. Remember this is my unique perspective as a mid 30’s South African male in the hospitality industry, so these thoughts above will likely not apply to many of you who choose to make Thailand your home.

If I had to give advice to any young tourist that wants to make Thailand his home I would tell him to stay as a tourist as that way the magic never dies, to save his money and work to get to a stage where he has enough monthly passive income to move to Thailand without risk being destitute. You will always need an escape plan and god forbid you find yourself in a situation where your health or financial status is in question you will quickly find the smiles turn to frowns and discover that it can be an extremely lonely country.

Will I miss Thailand? Of course I will! But as you get older you realize that a place is nothing but a moment in time, memories that you can hold onto for the rest of your life and Thailand to me was set of very memorable moments and it is now time to build new memories.

I will miss the weather, the ease of living and the few true friendships that were formed during period of hardships. And of course I will miss the food and it is with that I say to Thailand – so long, and thanks for all the fish.

BokBefok

The author of this submission cannot be contacted.

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When is the best time to visit Bangkok? While I’m not sure that there is a time of year that stands out as the best to visit, I do think there are times when Bangkok is not at its best. A reader suggested I write a column on the topic of the best time to visit Bangkok, so here goes.

The issues I have considered are the weather (heat / rainfall / pollution), the number of visitors at any given time, the number of – and nature of – holidays in any given month and one or two other variables.

I have listed the months of the year in order from when I think is the best to visit to when I think is the worst. Admittedly, this is all very subjective.

Things to consider when visiting Bangkok:

December – February is the cool season when the weather is best with daily highs not too much above 30 degrees Celsius and pleasant temperatures at night when you can be equally comfortable in shorts or jeans. The sky is blue most days and if you’re lucky, there won’t be a single drop of rain.

March to May is the hot season, and April and May can be brutally hot with daily highs touching 40 degrees in Bangkok in April. Some nights the Mercury won’t dip below 30. High humidity means it can feel 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. Brutal is not overstating it, this time of year can be terribly uncomfortable.

December through to May is when pollution can be a problem and it can be particularly bad in March and April.

The rainy season is officially June to mid-November in Bangkok with the heaviest downpours and rain more likely to fall in September and October. June and July often feel more like a fringe season with neither the heat of the hot season nor the frequent downpours of the rainy season.

July, the best month to visit

For me, July is the best time of the year to visit Bangkok. It’s hot, but not what I would call unbearably hot. The hot season has passed and the worst of the heat is over. July is officially a rainy season month but it’s not usually that wet and a number of days can pass by without any rain at all. Visitor numbers are fairly low so airfares and hotel rates tend to be good. You won’t be fighting high season crowds.

Where July stands out from other months is that there’s nothing terribly “bad” about it.

August

July and August are much the same in terms of visitor numbers. August is ever so slightly cooler than July but is usually wetter with more frequent downpours.

August used to be known as Italian month on Phuket and Samui and to a lesser extent in Bangkok when Italians would flock to Thailand to escape the heat of Summer back home, but those days are over and there’s nothing much remarkable about August, and specifically, few reasons to avoid visiting then.

Slightly less rain in July gives it the edge over August, but August is still a very good month to visit.

November

November marks the end of the rainy season in Bangkok and at some point during the month the rain in Bangkok will just stop, the clouds will disappear and the city may not see another drop of rain until after New Year.

If avoiding the end of the rainy season (which can see very heavy downpours) is a concern, it may pay to give the first couple of weeks of November a miss. From mid-November, the rainy season will almost certainly be over.

In November the days are getting shorter and it feels like you have an hour or so less daylight in November and December than you have in say April or May. No big deal if you’re a night owl, of course.

November sees visitor numbers picking up and saying goodbye to October is also saying goodbye to the low season for another year.

February

Weather-wise, February is a little like November in that it can be a month of two halves. The cool season is generally considered to be December through to February although you often find that by late February the hot season has arrived. In the space of a week the daily high in Bangkok can jump several degrees – daily highs jump from pleasant high 20s or low 30s, to daily highs of 35 / 36 / 37 degrees. A 7-degree temperature change mightn’t sound that much, but it sure feels like it is.

February is very busy although not quite as busy as January which is often sees the highest visitor numbers. In February I’d say visit earlier in the month because the change in weather can happen almost overnight as the cool season becomes the hot season and things go from pleasant to unpleasant.

Also, consider that Chinese New Year often falls in February and for a few days many hotels massively inflate their rates. (Chinese New Year may also fall in late January.)

June

June has a lot going for it – visitor numbers are down and while it’s the first official month of the rainy season, there’s not usually all that much rain in Bangkok (although every year is different and you just never know what Mother Nature will bring). Airfares are reasonable, hotel rates very reasonable and for the naughty boys it’s a time when the girls are getting hungry, following May – the quietest month of the year.

There are no reasons to avoid June although it can be quite hot and for that reason, I think July and August are better choices if you’re looking at the middle of the year.

March

The peak of the high season has passed but the low season is still a couple of months away. March is what I think they used to call shoulder season – in between peak season and low season.

March is hot in Bangkok and the skies can look clear and be great for outdoor photography, but your nose, throat and chest might tell you otherwise. Think of March in Bangkok as Pollution Month! I spent a few weeks in Bangkok this past March and it was not so much the temperatures that were a problem – sure, it was hot but I could cope with that – it was the pollution that was bad. Health experts said that time spent outside in Bangkok this past March was hazardous to your health. Outside you could smell it and literally feel it in your throat.

March isn’t such a bad time to visit so long as you’re ok with the heat and don’t plan to spend a lot of time outside.

 

May

May is traditionally the quietest month of the year for visitor numbers and many businesses with a lot of foreign customers have their lowest monthly take in May.

The last of the 3 hot season months, by the time May comes around many locals – Thais and expats alike – are fed up with the heat. Many Thais, especially those working outside, slow down in May. They’re in to their 3rd month of heat and they cope with it by moving slower and doing things more slowly. The fun of the holiday season of Songkran (mid-April) is but a memory and there’s little on the immediate horizon to look forward to.

My first visit to Thailand was in May and one of my over-riding memories was how hot it was and how even the locals were visibly slow going about their day.

May is hot and pollution levels tend to still be pretty bad for most of the month. But there are fewer visitors around which I think is a bonus.

December

December starts slowly and there can be a bit of a lull before the storm then bang, the peak of the high season hits with hotels full, flights jammed, long queues on arrival and departure at the airport. The peak of the high season lasts from around a week before Christmas through most of January.

There are many good reasons to visit in December. The weather is good / cool by Bangkok standards with no rain. It’s the end of the year, Christmas and New Year are upon us and people are happy and many are in party mode. There’s lots going on with parties thrown, beer gardens set up and plenty of things to do. For naughty boys, the bars may have more ladies working in December (and January) than any other months.

The downsides of visiting in December are airfares shoot up and hotel rooms can be hard to come by – so book as far in advance as you can to get a good deal.

January

January is usually the best month of the year in terms of the weather. Daily highs in the high 20s with the Mercury dropping below 20 plenty of nights in January. The weather is an anomaly in Bangkok in January and can genuinely be described as pleasant with light winds from the north sometimes making it feel a little cool after dark. If you can’t bear the heat, January is the best time to visit.

January is the peak of the high season. The difference in customer numbers in the areas popular with Caucasian visitors (Sukhumvit Road / Silom Road / Khao San Road areas) between say early January and September (when it’s particularly quiet) are night and day. As good as the weather is, if you don’t like crowds, then January wouldn’t be a good choice.

September

Typically the second wettest month of the year, September is usually the second quietest month of the year for visitors. Only May typically gets fewer visitors.

September is a typical low season month with fewer people around and plenty of rain, which is offset by lower airfares and cheaper hotel rooms. September is wet and the second half of the month can be a nightmare with heavy downpours most nights. Getting out and about after dark can be an ordeal if the heavens open and the traffic locks up.

Note, if the bar scene was your only reason for visiting Bangkok, September is probably the best month of the year to visit. Visitor numbers are low and some girls are very hungry by the time September comes around.

October

The wettest month of the year in Bangkok, it can rain damn near every day, although if you’re lucky the rainy season may come to an end before the end of the month.

October usually sees visitor numbers pick up a little from September but it’s still relatively quiet.

Just how the frequent downpours may affect you really depends on what sort of holiday you’re after. For a naughty boy staying at the Nana Hotel who is in town for the nightlife, the rain will have little effect on the 50-metre dash from the hotel lobby across Soi Nana and in to the world’s largest adult playground. But for someone after a beach holiday or who enjoys getting outside / doing sightseeing, October mightn’t work.

If you visit in October (or September for that matter) and are keen to see the sights, start your days early as rain typically falls from late afternoon and / or in to the evening.

April, the worst month to visit

There is no doubt in my mind that April is the worst month of the year to visit Bangkok.

April is the hottest month of the year, and can be hellishly hot. Officially, Bangkok can hit 40 degrees but many people report temperature gauges going well in to the 40s in Bangkok in April. High humidity can make it feel closer to 50 than 40. Pollution is bad in April and that combined with the heat, you can almost chew the air.

It’s not just the weather that’s bad in April. The Songkran holiday which falls in the middle of April is the biggest holiday of the year. Millions of Thais travel to their home from the capital or other major centres to spend time with their nearest and dearest and traffic can be crazy from a few days before the official Songkran holiday (April 13 – 15) until a few days after. Intercity transport (buses, trains, planes) is booked solid and bus and train stations can be a nightmare as masses swarm on them.

Some shops close while bars and restaurants typically stay open but might operate with a skeleton crew. In the naughty bar areas, venues typically lose half their girls and the staff who remain can seem more interested in having their own party than entertaining paying customers.

It’s not just the heat that is a problem. Songkran is a country-wide water fight. Even if you don’t want to “play”, odds are the locals will insist that you do – so expect to be soaked, irrespective of your protestations to be left alone.

Unless you love Songkran, I’d avoid April – and not just the official Songkran holiday, but the whole month when the country bakes.



  Mystery Photo

Last week’s photo was taken of the “other Egyptian restaurant”, the Nasir Al-Masri restaurant, right next door to the more famous Nerfertiti in the alley connecting Sukhumvit sois 3 and 3/1. It’s a great place to eat with magnificent food – just be careful to go over the bill with a fine tooth comb, lest you get a surprise.


 

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

Why there are fewer characters.

There are fewer characters in Bangkok and I think there’s a valid reason for it. Nobody wants to put their head above the parapet these days. Keeping a low profile is a much better / safer idea. Not only that, but for every online comment or post, there’s an army of negative expats ready to descend and attack the poster. I remember a few years ago when I took on an issue here in Bangkok. Ideally, I wanted to stay incognito, but my identity was eventually revealed in the Bangkok Post. Then I got to experience ThaiVisa first hand. I promised myself I wouldn’t look but of course I did. And it was amazing to see the illogical contortions and outright lies people were prepared to post. I read that I was a DEA agent. I was one of South-East Asia’s biggest drug dealers. I was working with the Thai police. It was a hoax designed only to provide publicity for my business. Despite it all being complete nonsense, it still bothered me that there were people out there that would invent this stuff and others who would believe it. These days, I keep a much lower profile online. It just makes life simpler.

The importance of being woke.

As far as characters go, the whole world seems to be turning more sterile. Here in the UK you have to be on your guard, or dare I say it, “woke” with everything you say and do.

La la la, life goes on.

Your column about some of the more colorful characters struck a chord with me, and I had the thought that you were simply writing about life. It comes in to better clarity the longer you live. Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve lost so many friends to some major illness or unexpected circumstances that it makes me think about myself in a similar context. All my interesting buddies with whom I’ve lost contact for one reason or another have become part of the stories I tell and the memories I have. And then it’ll be me who carries on only as part of the stories and memories of others who outlive me. As the Beatles said, “La la la la, life goes on.” Enjoy it.

The Bangkok Arsenal Alex knew has gone.

Interesting column this week. I can’t really argue with the part about myself. Will I go back to Bangkok in 2023? Almost certainly yes. But will it be for more than a visit? Almost certainly no. From your column, as well as from other sources, it seems the Bangkok I left and the Bangkok I would be returning to are two totally different places. The Thais have always been xenophobic, perhaps more so than any other nation, except Japan. This has always been the case as can be seen if a fight occurs between a foreigner and a Thai. Let’s face it, if you were walking down the street in Auckland and saw a fight between a New Zealander and a Thai would you immediately, without having a clue what the fight was about, jump in and start battering the Thai? Of course not. Nor would this happen in any other country I have ever visited. And the anti-foreigner sentiment seems to be getting worse, although your readers who live there will know if that’s true or not. I prefer Angeles City and the Philippines to the Bangkok I believe exists today. Visas and visa extensions are issued here with no fuss, I can travel and stay anywhere in the Philippines without having to report my movements to the local police. The Philippine people are friendlier than the Thais. That is a simple fact that anyone who has spent time in both countries will confirm. Basically, the Bangkok I knew has gone. I would imagine I am not the only one who feels that way. Arsenal Alex.

Smoke in the killbox.

I was certain someone would have commented on the “smoke” incident in a Nana Plaza go-go bar with punters within being sent to the place next door. In military terms, Nana Plaza is a “killbox” – one way in and out – and a place you don’t want to be in should the shit hit the fan. In the UK, if an activation was raised all premises would be cleared until inspections were carried out to ensure each place was safe and clear of any fire threat. Having been on a course where I was sent into a burning building, the first thing that you notice is lack of visibility.

Whitey started the bar scene’s demise.

I remember when whitey didn’t dominate bar ownership and everything was cheap and reasonable. Whitey changed the industry, saying he would pay more and have all the hot chicks in his bar, but now everyone is stuck paying higher salaries for all of the girls, the fat ones included. Beer prices and barfines were jacked up. This infiltrated the industry like a cancer and now the Thais who follow by example might taint the industry, but by no means did Thais start the demise.

Real life healthcare costs.

I have been living in Thailand for the past 15 years. I have NZI cover from the Thailand Insurance arm. I am 72 years old and it costs me 220,000 baht per year with a 150,000 baht excess. So the Americans saying heath cover here is cheaper than in the USA, just wait until they hit 70. No wonder older retired expats are worried about Thai Immigration wanting heath cover confirmation with visa renewals in the future. Lucky I budgeted well in advance before I moved here. Many did not.

Retire in Thailand? No thanks!

I’ve got a tourist visa for which I had to do an absurd “planes train and automobiles and long tail boats trip to get and I can’t face doing that again. I’m thinking of getting the easy 10-year residence visa for Malaysia. Thailand is really overplaying its hand if they think we farangs are so desperate to live here that we’ll tolerate shabby treatment like this. The need to bow and scrape for a visa and then report every 90 days like some kind of released felon is crazy. The visa run company representative said “but if you don’t do all this, you can’t live in Thailand!” like it was some kind of death sentence. I just said fine, and his face fell. Your recent article “Retire In Thailand No Thanks!” really drove it home for me. It’s amazing to see so many farangs living here when it’s such a hassle. The government of Thailand clearly doesn’t want farangs to live here, or they’d make it less onerous like Malaysia. I don’t blame Thailand for wanting to keep farangs away, when you consider the calibre of the average farang, but they should be mindful that with the Thai baht currency so strong now, Thailand is not even cheap enough any more to justify their high-handed approach to foreigners!



 

Peep by Dundee on Soi Cowboy opened on Friday night with zero fanfare or publicity. It was a case of switch the lights on, open the doors and hope for the best.

A few doors along, Lighthouse had a great night with their monthly theme party, 90’s Throwback. If Peep by Dundee wants a bar to replicate, the boys at Lighthouse are doing a lot of things right.

Bar areas closed at 1 AM sharp last night and the night before, due to the ASEAN Summit taking place in Bangkok. Gossip doing the rounds it will be 1 AM again tonight but I’d take that with a pinch of salt.

In Patpong, the new sports bar above Shenanigan’s will be opening very soon.

Management at Kazy Kozy are happy with the start they have made with big plans for a summer marketing campaign to put more bums on seats for their nightly shows. A contingent of new recruits have already taken to the stage with more expected next week.

Could something finally be happening at the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 7? The building still standing in that otherwise vacant lot adjacent to the Nana skytrain station that has been there for decades is being torn down. Could this herald the start of a new development? And will this have any bearing on the Biergarten just opposite, which has stood alone as the last venue still going on soi 7, refusing to budge, alongside barricaded empty lots.

No comments on business in the Bangkok girly bars this week because you know very well what’s going on without me having to say a single word about it. Curious whether it was just the girly bars that was suffering, I put the feelers out and word is that the ladyboy bars are hurting too with even True Obsessions – the busiest and best ladyboy bar in Nana Plaza, and probably all of Bangkok for that matter – doing less trade than usual. It has also been observed that the Japanese are fewer in number too.

Things are changing in Pattaya with some old names disappearing, seemingly without anyone so much as noticing. Long time soi 7 favourite, the Pig And Whistle, has finally closed with signs outside saying the space is available for rent. I imagine similar signs are popping up around town.

The doom and gloom in recent columns about how quiet it is in the bar areas should be looked at in context – those naughty boys who do visit at this time may feel a little more handsome than usual. Of course, that doesn’t mean they will find discounted prices…..Thailand just doesn’t work that way!

Girls in one Nana Plaza bar have commented that customers are keen to swap phone numbers and meet at the end of their shift and avoid paying a barfine. This is yet more evidence of what we already knew – that prices have reached a point that some just aren’t willing to pay them. You’d think bar owners might notice this and consider dropping the cost of barfines after, say, 1 AM. It might just help the bottom line.

The new Kiwi Pub on a sub-soi off Sukhumvit soi 8 celebrates its first birthday this coming week. The Kiwi has been around for much longer, assuming we’re talking the original Kiwi which was located on soi 8 proper. It is the new Kiwi, located at the end of the first sub-soi on the right-hand side, that is just a year old. The Kiwi does very well despite its awkward location and is popular for live sport. Rugby matches especially draw a crowd – and when big international rugby matches are shown the bar is packed. The new Kiwi pub celebrates its first anniversary..

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The constantly changing Bangkok skyline

25 YEARS AND COUNTING:

In one of Stick’s recent columns there was a link to a Roger Crutchly article, reflecting on his early years in Bangkok. Roger has put in some serious time in the City of Angels, 50 years and counting, and it got me thinking how an earth does any farang survive half a century in this mad place? But then I realised I’m half way there already so perhaps Roger’s 50 years isn’t such a stretch after all. Compared to Farangland, time seems to fly when you’re in the LOS and looking back a lot of it seems to have mainly been about chilling out, hanging out, and enjoying one’s self. Not that there’s anything wrong with this but people back in the real world people often have a tendency to label long-term expats in South-East Asia as non-productive drifters, time wasters, or people who couldn’t make it back home. Water off a duck’s back of course and I find this outlook quite amusing. To those that have such a narrow perspective I offer a reverse analysis; how do those who live in the relative safety and welfare comfort of western, nanny states think they’d fare if they were dropped into South-East Asia and told “you’re here for the next 25 – 50 years, see how you get on.” Most probably wouldn’t survive 12 months. The reality is most long termers in the LOS, and other parts of S. E. Asia aren’t there because they are lost, or can’t make it back home, it’s because we quite like it here and feel relatively comfortable with our way of life.

Living in S.E. Asia suits my general outlook on life anyway. I’ve been flying under the radar for years, probably since I left high school, so dropping out of the western world some 25 years ago was just a natural extension of this. It’s definitely made for an incredibly interesting and exciting lifestyle and a life in the ‘burbs, on a quarter acre block, with one point seven kids, back in the “real world” was never going to be a fit for me anyway. Holing up in Thailand where I could cruise the beaches, enjoy an exotic lifestyle, drink cold Heinekens, and sample the charms of South East Asian lovelies seems a far better way to live. That’s not to say it has been plain sailing. There’s been quite a bit of drama along the way, particularly with the local ladies. But life moves on and lessons learned ensure a degree of hard-edged wisdom in our later years, enabling us to nimbly sidestep the pussy traps of those exotic little demimondaines in the region. In my 60s now and flying solo, the freedom and ability to go wherever I want in this colourful part of the world is priceless.

One of the many attractions of a life in South East Asia

One of the great things about living in the S.E. Asia region is the ability to travel from one country to another in no time at all. Feeling bored with Phuket? No problems, a one-hour flight will put you in Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, or even Bangkok for a long weekend. Phuket is my current place of residence and even though I feel quite comfortable living there, after a month or so, the crowds of the high season get a bit too much and I find myself needing a change of scenery. In the past couple of months I’ve made two short trips to the Big Mango and actually found it quite enjoyable. There was a time I seriously detested the place but I guess it’s just a matter of accepting it for what it is – a large, chaotic, vibrant, mega city – and having an ambivalent attitude towards the things that previously got under my skin. Even though I still live in Thailand, a trip to Bangkok now has the feel of being a tourist. I’m a southern beach bum going to the “big smoke” for a few days to check out the rat race. Taking a walk around lower Sukhumvit no longer has the feel of immersing myself into a sleaze pit. Probably because I’ve accepted that areas such as this will always exist in large tourist cities and despite the negative aspects often encountered in the nightlife areas, it’s just the way of things. Visitors and tourists want to be entertained, and the locals who work in the industry need to earn a living. It’s quite interesting cruising sois 4, 8, and 11 in the evenings just to experience the landscape and the way in which the locals go about their hustle. Truth be told, it’s quite amusing.

One of the things which helps to create the atmosphere and by extension the attraction for many to the lower Sukhumvit area is Bangkok’s climate. During the day it can be oppressively hot but once the sun’s dropped beyond the horizon, the temperature is almost perfect for hanging out at street side bars, enjoying a cold pint or three, and watching the world go by. I can certainly see how this is the primary attraction of Sukhumvit Soi 4 and the area around the entrance to Nana Plaza is one of the world’s great human zoos. While a venue like Big Dogs is just a bit too chaotic for my taste, a couple of hundred meters down the road at Chequers the ambiance is great at around 6 – 7 PM. On my past two visits I’ve enjoyed a sundowner or three at Chequers bar with an old buddy of mine who’s a long-term Bangkok resident. It was great just to hang out in the warm twilight at the street side bar and mull over the range of issues which seem to be the main conversation points for most farang in Thailand. In no particular order those issues are; getting by in Thailand, visa runs, the price of a pint, and the girls. A place like Chequers also seems to be a gathering point for tourists and the range of characters enjoying a cold pint were quite diverse. There was the airline pilot who lives in Hong Kong but was in town to complete his nuptials to his Thai sweetheart. Then there was the two Kiwi sheep farmers, regular visitors to Bangkok, who were also having a range of dental work done during their two weeks in town. The family from London who’d dropped in for a thirst slaking beer after a hot day out along the Chao Praya River were also quite entertaining. They must’ve been newbies because the fell afoul of the “National Palace closed today” scam and were whisked off to other venues they hadn’t planned on visiting.

Early evening and watching the world go by on Sukhumvit Soi 4

Being back on Soi 4 is a trip along memory lane for me. Back in the noughties I used to regularly stay at the Nana Thai Mansion, situated at the far end of the soi near the entrance to the Tobacco Monopoly. For anyone who’s interested the price of their 40-square-meter rooms hasn’t changed in over 10 years. It’s still 1200 THB a night and the buffet breakfast, with its numerous courses, is a bargain at 190 THB per person. A walk along Soi 4 evokes some strange old memories. Just up the road from the Nana Thai Mansion (aka Suites) there’s a condo complex called the Siam Court <You’d be amazed how many Bangkok bar bosses / managers / personalities have stayed at one time or another in Siam Court over the years – Stick>. Every time I pass by I think about an old buddy who lived there for a number of years in the early 2000s. He had a Nana girl as the love of his life and lost the plot completely the night he looked out his apartment window to see his paramour getting it on with another farang in the swimming pool.

Further along the road there’s a smaller, grimier apartment building where Nit used to live. Nit was a free-lancer I met at Angels Disco who had a fiery streak and large set of silicon boobs. One night as we were passing by the Nana Hotel I made an off-handed comment about her “not having to go to her office that night.” For some reason she took offence to what I thought was light-hearted banter, and broke down in tears telling me I’d “spoiled it.” Whatever “it” was. When we got back to the hotel room she sat in the corner of the lounge area with her head on her knees, sulking. Unmoved I put a one thousand THB note on the coffee table and told her she could leave whenever she wanted. 30 minutes later she hopped into bed and gave me one of the best shags I’d had for a long time. Made me realise that if you wanted a bar girl to perform, make them angry first. The last time I heard from Nit I was offshore on a job in Malaysia. We were close enough to the coastline to get a local phone signal and late one afternoon as I was walking around the heli deck I got a rather unexpected call from her. With hookers you can never know if the sob stories they tell you are genuine or just plain BS. When it comes to requests for a hand-out, it’s normally BS. It seems Nit had been beaten up in the wee small hours along Soi 4 and been robbed of her gold. Her facial injuries were such that she hadn’t worked for a month. Apparently when she went to a nearby Police station to report the assault and robbery, the boys in brown just laughed and told her to “find another farang.” I was in no mood to be handing out money to a bargirl so I just faked a poor signal and turned off the phone.

One of the benefits of being a long-term expat in the LOS is you’ve generally seen and heard all the scams and lines of BS that one might encounter in the tourist traps. A stroll along Sukhumvit Soi 4 inevitably gets the usual invitations from the massage girls and bargirls lining the sidewalks. All the usual nonsense of course such as “hello hansom man, buy me one drink, I give good massage and blow job,” blah, blah, blah. I don’t even respond these days. Which is not to say I’m cynical, I just smile, nod my head and keep walking. It’s just robotic, meaningless, jingoism on their part as they do their best to entice you into their establishments and have you open your wallets. It’s their job and you, the farang, are the job. And while it might all be nonsense, it’s still good for a laugh.

Inevitably I still meet farang in the LOS who don’t get it. That they are the job. Sometimes I’ll get emails from guys telling me they’ve enjoyed my submissions and asking for advice on their latest love interest they met in a bar or a massage shop. Many seemed dismayed when they find out their girl has been telling lies or being deceitful to them. My standard answer is always, “Why would you expect anything different?” That’s what they do. That’s their M.O. Expect lies, dishonesty, and deceit and you’ll never suffer disappointment. The clouds of illusion will clear from your mind and be replaced by good judgement when interacting with them. It’s a transaction, sex for money. If you happen to get a good-natured girl, with sense of humour then that’s a bonus.

No longer there and being replaced by another high-rise building.

All around lower Sukhumvit the landscape is continually changing with new buildings replacing the ramshackle constructions of yesteryear. On one corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 6 a new luxury condo has gone up and across the road, another is on its way. Down on Soi 8 another high-rise will go up in the space where The Kiwi Bar once stood. Along Soi 11 a hording of corrugated roofing iron blocks out the space where that fantastic beer garden / restaurant was an institution for years. Sitting in amongst those old growth trees enjoying great Thai food and a cold beer, while a local jazz ensemble belted out some fantastic music was part of the golden age of Bangkok. Further down the soi a new building with fast food outlets now occupies the space where one of the world’s best nightclubs once stood; the Bed Supper Club. And around the corner is another reminder the golden age has passed. A Villa Supermarket now sits on the corner the Q Bar once occupied. The Q Bar was quite possibly Bangkok’s best ever nightclub. It was a cross between Hernando’s Hideaway and a lounge club where serious clubbers would converge to listen to some of the best house / dance music on offer. It also happened to be a place where the best looking freelancers in Bangkok could be picked up. In 2011 I met Sabina at Q Bar. Sabina was an attractive, leggy freelancer I spent some time with under the misguided notion that, although still a whore, she might be a reasonable option for a girlfriend due to her university education. Unfortunately whores will always be whores and expensive whores even more so. The last time I saw Sabina was the night she chased me along a suburban Bangkok street in the wee, small hours of the morning, in her SUV. Sabina was just another pretentious, nut-job on the bar circuit in Bangkok.

Almost 10 years ago and the golden age, as I knew it, was well and truly over. Or maybe it’s just changed as I’ve changed. The clubs that are left along Soi 11 no longer hold any attraction for me. The noise, the smoke-filled atmospheres, and late night imbibing are a memory I have no desire to resurrect. The last time I was in town I hooked up with my old buddy 006 and against my best wishes, he persuaded me to join him at Soi 11’s latest clubbing venue; Havana. After 30 minutes I’d had enough of the jostling for position in the stale, smoked-filled air, and the thumping techno. After quickly downing my beer I made a beeline for the doorway and shuffled off into the clammy, Bangkok night. These days a cold pint on the terrace of the Landmark is a more satisfying way to enjoy drink or three while I’m in town. I’ll leave the clubs to the younger crowd, enjoying their golden age in the City of Angels.

BACK TO LAOS:

PAKSE (in Laos), your starting point for trip up to the BOLAVEN PLATEAU

By early March (2019) the high season crowding in Phuket was really starting to bug me and looking for a quieter, more sedate part of the world I put the wheels in motion for another extended trip to LAOS. My entry point for the trip would be PAKSE, after which I’d head up onto the BOLAVEN PLATEAU on a rented motorbike for another tour across this amazingly picturesque part of Laos. Getting to Pakse from Phuket involves a double hop with Bangkok Airways: Phuket – Bangkok – Pakse. Bangkok Airways has code share with Lao Airlines and a one-way fare, with a short stopover at Suwarnabhumi, costs as little as 5000 THB if you book early enough. As soon as you arrive in Pakse there’s a discernable relaxed mood about the place, when compared with being in Thailand. The fact that Laos is also one of the least crowded countries in the region (population = 4.5 million) also helps with the feeling of being in a place with a lot more elbow space.

Pakse is the largest town in Southern Laos and is the stopover point for travellers heading up to the BOLAVEN PLATEAU, or down to the 4000 ISLANDS. Note that I said TRAVELERS because it is mainly that type of tourist demographic you see in this part of the world: backpackers and budget travellers focusing on adventure activities as opposed to the mainstream tourist hordes you see swarming into Thailand. In Pakse there are no Chinese and Russian package tour groups to be seen anywhere. Please note that if your trips to S.E. Asia are mainly about whoremongering then there’s really nothing for you in Pakse. There are no girlie bars to be seen anywhere just small street side bars, and restaurants, with great Lao and western food, and plenty of cold BEER LAO.

TAD FANE is one of the spectacular waterfalls on the BOLAVEN PLATEAU

The BOLAVEN PLATEAU is an elevated region (1350 meters at the highest point) to the east of Pakse. The plateau has a wide spread and is formed by the remnants of an extinct volcano. The flanks are predominantly formed by rugged, jungle covered peaks with steep valleys and spectacular waterfalls. The top of the plateau is relatively flat and the volcanic topsoil, coupled with a cooler, drier climate make it an ideal coffee cultivating area. As you ride up to the top wide acres of neatly lined coffee plantations are in abundance and the primary bean is Arabica. If you’re someone who enjoys a good coffee, the brands that are being sold on the plateau are seriously good. And the prices per kilo for whole beans or ground are a bargain for Arabica. My favourite is a brand called BACHIENG. They have a coffee shop just 18 km out of Pakse on the road to PAKSONG (Hwy 16) and it’s well worth a 20-minute stop for an excellent cappuccino or latte. They also sell 250 gram bags of ground coffee for 30,000 LAK (120 THB) which beats the hell out of any coffee grown in Thailand.

Excellent coffee on the BOLAVEN PLATEAU

Most travellers heading up onto the BOLAVEN PLATEAU are normally doing the motorbike loop trip which covers approximately 400 km and takes in a number of scenic attractions along the way. For an in-depth report on the BOLAVEN PLATEAU: http://www.megaworldasia.com/laos/the-bolaven-plateau-champasak-province-laos/

YouTube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Twm50V-QTvw&t=3s

Situated approx. 83 km north-east of Pakse, TAD LO VILLAGE is one of the stopping points on the BOLAVEN LOOP TOUR. It’s a small village, positioned along a scenic river with a number of visually impressive waterfalls, which features guesthouse / homestay style accommodation. From TAD LO Village a scenic hiking trail runs up the western side of the river to the base of TAD LO FALLS, a distance of around 2 km. Much of the trail has boarded walkways, with steps leading down to each of the falls, and a number of viewing points providing expansive views of the cascading steps in the river.

One of the viewpoints along the trail to TAD LO Falls

As mentioned, the trail along the western side of the river ends at the base of Tad Lo falls where you can drop down and take the boarded walkway across to the eastern side. Tad Lo falls is a beautifully scenic spot where you can spend some time getting a tan and going for a refreshing dip in the natural pool at the base of the falls.

Nearer to TAD LO Village another popular attraction is the Elephant bathing which occurs every day at 4:30 PM. Situated adjacent to TAD LO LODGE is a smaller waterfall which is has a great natural pool on its lower side for swimming. Every afternoon the mahouts will bring their elephants down to the pool area for bathing. A large rock just above the pool provides a great vantage point for spectators as the elephants submerge themselves nearby.

TAD LO FALLS, a great place for a refreshing dip

Every day at 4:30 PM, the elephant bathing at TAD LO Lodge

TAD LO Village is on the northern edge of the BOLAVEN PLATEAU and for those doing the LOOP TOUR, continuing on involves an ascent up to the highest point at PAKSONG. With an elevation of 1350 meters, Paksong can be quite chilly at night during the dry season (December – February) and warm clothing is well advised for those venturing up that way. If you look at a map you’ll also see that Paksong is virtually at the centre of the plateau and the surrounding flat terrain is covered with acres of coffee plantations. Paksong has a number of coffee factories where you can buy bulk product if you’re so inclined.

SALAVAN:

KABAE CAVE, the primary attraction at PHOUPHASOUK NATIONAL PARK

Having already completed the BOLAVEN LOOP TOUR on two previous occasions I decided to head north from TAD LO to the little known and visited province on SALAVAN. Although only 32 kilometres from TAD LO, Salavan seems to be a location which most travellers aren’t much interested in visiting. Probably because the tourist infrastructure there (a lack of western food restaurants, hotels, and English language speakers) is barely developed. I spent four days in Salavan and in that time saw just two other westerners. Salavan is definitely OFF THE BEATEN TRACK in this regard. The primary attraction of Salavan Province is the recently developed PHOUPHASOUK NATIONAL PARK, approx. 32 km north of SALAVAN TOWNSHIP.

A full trip report can be seen on my website: http://www.megaworldasia.com/laos/salavan/

You Tube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khBJp-L6cd0

SALAVAN ANECDOTES:

Is it goat or dog?

The ability to speak basic Thai is a blessing when traveling through remote locations in Laos. Aside from being able to ferret out information on distances and directions, it can also help you avoid making a poor choice at meal times. If you want to lose weight Salavan is great place to spend a few days because the only thing that seems to be available to eat is noodle soup, sticky rice, and barbecue. The thing is though you need to be sure of exactly what the barbecue is before purchasing. On my second night in town I was riding around looking for a barbecue stand and stopped next to an open air restaurant with a stack of meat roasting over hot coals. There were a good number of locals sat around with plates stacked high and Beer Lao. Feeling seriously hungry after an arduous days hiking in Phouphasouk National Park, I enquired about the barbecue.

“Gai Yang mee mai?“

“Ma”, said the cheerful local tending the roasting chunks of meat.

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Some thoughts about retirement in Thailand. Some points below, such as the weather, are purely personal preference. But others such as Health Care are not just a personal preference thing.

Weather

It is a personal thing. I would prefer to wake up to the warm of Thailand 365 days a year, compared to tolerating a New Zealand winter. Was in NZ for 3 weeks winter last year, and it was not at all pleasant.

New Zealand 0. Thailand + 1 (Personal view only).

Tolerance for Bullshit

I cannot agree. New Zealand is way worse than Thailand.

I recent weeks I have been trying to get a heat pump replaced in NZ. First, it cost $167 for someone to come and clean it, but then to actually tell her it needed replacing. Then the performance I have been through for a replacement you simply would not believe. I will not bore you with pages of detail, but suffice to say, I get people lying, people not honouring what they promised, people quoting the (expensive) brands they want to sell, and refusing to quote what I want. Others that can quote, but will take almost to summer before it can be installed. It is a nightmare. I still do not have this sorted. It has been going on over a month! The attitude. The lies. The time it takes. A nightmare. Contrast this to my wife, who wanted to install a new air conditioner in a room at her mum’s place in Thailand. She goes to Home Pro and buys it. Within 48 hours it is installed. And the cost of the whole thing (air-con and installation) is less than what the Kiwis want to charge just to install in New Zealand.

Last year I had reason to be in NZ and deal with WINS. OMG! Have you ever dealt with WINS? Seriously, if you want bullshit perfected to a fine professional art form, then this is the place for you. In no other situation have I ever encountered so much bullshit. And the question I asked was, if you are putting me though all of this, how do you expect an 80-year old to both understand all of this, and navigate her way though it? It is impossible. If Thailand wants to introduce more bullshit into their system, I recommend they consult with WINS. They are the world experts on bullshit.

I have a friend who decided to re-settle in New Zealand after living in Australia for many years. I lose count of the number of messages he has sent me with a long story ending in, “this is bull shit”. A recent one was wanting to get a bank account. The NZ bank tells him, he cannot open a bank account without an IRD number. Go to get an IRD number, and he is told, can’t get an IRD number without a bank account ! He has found the rules, regulations and the speed to get things done in New Zealand a nightmare, that is rife with bullshit.

New Zealand minus 1. Thailand 0. (New Zealand way worse – probably should be minus 2).

Health Care

I personally know a case of a 93-year-old New Zealander who needs a (reasonably minor) operation. He is in quite a lot of pain and he has no quality of life. The good news is that as operations go, this one is low risk, and it will almost certainly address the issue and restore his quality of life. The bad news is that he lives in New Zealand. He is on a waiting list for gods sake. The operation has been scheduled more than 3 times and every time, last-minute, it gets cancelled for one reason or another. Of course he has the option of going private, but that will cost. And compared to quality medical care in Thailand it will cost excessively. A few weeks back there was some “caravan” going around NZ and they suggested they could do the operation in that! A caravan. New Zealand is becoming third world. He declined that option. He is 93 and still waiting. Totally disgusting.

You are right that medical care is no longer “cheap” in Thailand, but all the issues you raise about the costs and the need for insurance apply equally if you live in New Zealand. To think that medical care is more-or-less free in NZ is a myth.

I also had one short hospital experience in Australia a few years ago. To say it was a nightmare is a huge understatement. As I said at the time, if I have a serious issue and could die, then god help me, if I am in Australia.Give me Singapore or Thailand any day. I know of someone who died in an Australian hospital. While it can never be proved, in my mind, I am convinced that had she been in Singapore she would still be alive.

New Zealand 0. Thailand 1. (New Zealand health care is not free, and is more expensive than Thailand).

Expat Society

I don’t see the relevance of the points you make. It is up to you to mix with the right people. While what you say is correct, you sure can get into the wrong circles in Australia or NZ too. It does not matter where you live, you need to mix in the right circles. Personally, I have never had these problems. But that is true of every one of the 4 countries I have lived in (1 of which is Thailand).

New Zealand and Thailand 0. (It is not about the country, it is about you and the company you keep).

Visas

Agreed, they are a pain. But are they anymore painful than the Visa’s my wife needs for Australia, New Zealand, and Europe? Don’t really think so. Basically when you need VISA’s for any country it is a pain. It was not long ago there were stories floating around about NZ Immigration taking excessive periods of time to approve visas and people were loosing accommodation and flight costs due to not getting approvals on time. Thailand may be a bit of a pain, but I have not heard of these problems. So is Thailand really any worse? And from my own experience, I have more confidence that I could stay in Thailand for the next 20 years in retirement, than I have of being able to stay in Singapore.

New Zealand and Thailand 0. (They are as bad as each other).

Cost of Living

If you are looking for somewhere cheap, than Thailand is probably not where you should be. That Thailand is cheap, is a myth, similar to the free NZ healthcare. Some things certainly are cheaper, and others are not. It is plus/minus. We actually spend a lot more in Thailand than New Zealand, simply because there are so many more options on what to do in Thailand, and New Zealand is so limited in what you can do. So yes, if you really want to live cheap, find a country town in NZ, put up with cold, bullshit, and you can save your money while sitting on the endless hospital waiting list. Cheap. But not my idea of retirement!

New Zealand 1. Thailand 0. (New Zealand is probably somewhere where you will spend less).

Conclusion

In my twilight years, I mostly want to avoid bullshit and live an easy life. Avoiding bullshit is probably impossible to achieve fully anywhere. But I know I will have way less bullshit to deal with in Thailand compared to New Zealand. What I see in New Zealand completely horrifies me. And my stress levels in the last few weeks is not about Thailand – it is dealing with bullshit in New Zealand.

Of course there are alternatives to Thailand – especially for those coming from America or Europe, but for those of us in this part of the world, I think Thailand stacks up very well compared to the alternatives. I know of a few people who have returned to New Zealand to live (not all coming from Asia though). And I really struggle and scratch my head and wonder why?

New Zealand 0, Thailand 2. (Sum of scores above, makes Thailand somewhat better than NZ).

Stick‘s thoughts:

Obviously I have already said my piece on retiring in Thailand and think New Zealand is a better option, by far. But to address some of the points you make, I have made some comments:

  • I get it that some don’t like a cold winter – I absolutely get that and if it’s the case, then New Zealand would not be a good choice of place to retire. That said, it’s currently winter here in New Zealand and checking the local meteorological website, I see that the hottest day so far this month here was 19 degrees Celsius with the lowest daily high 13. Most days have had a daily high of 15 degrees or warmer (and remember, this is winter). The coldest recorded overnight low so far has been 3 degrees. Cold, but when you’re sleeping in a warm house and you wake up to temps warmer much than that, it’s not a big deal – at least it isn’t to me. And remember here, unlike Thailand, we have clean air year-round, zero concerns with pollution and in my part of NZ, some of the highest sunshine hours in the country. There’s none of the dangerous levels of pollution that you get in Thailand from November through to May i.e. for half of the year! That’s why overall I think the weather here is not just better, but much better. But if you like hot, super hot and muggy humid weather with air you can taste, Thailand wins hands down.
  • The BS in Thailand gets to me these days. In the past, when I was younger and more adventurous, it didn’t bother me so much….but as I get older I am much less tolerant of it. New Zealand is the most BS-free country I know and it’s something I like a lot about living here. Thailand, I am afraid, is at the very other end of the scale.
  • Granted, a tourist visa for Thailand will be issued much faster than a tourist visa for New Zealand. However, we’re talking retirement here, not a holiday so I don’t think there’s much relevance in talking about a visa for a holiday. It would be better to talk about visas for a long or permanent stay and in that respect New Zealand wins hand down. Permanent residency in Thailand costs 200,000 baht to apply for, requires 5+ years working in the country and the 70+ documents you must provide including many from your homeland. The application is so difficult to complete that pretty much everyone retains a lawyer – which increases the cost markedly. In New Zealand, permanent residency costs $210 (you do need to get a residence visa first which is a bit over $1,000) so let’s say a total of less than $NZ 1,500 or about 30,000 baht. It takes a few months to get residence granted in New Zealand, but a very, very long time for PR applications to be processed in Thailand. And in New Zealand, once you have a residence class visa (most people can get it within 2 years), medical care is paid for (note, I don’t say free because essentially your taxes cover it), you can vote, you can buy any property you like and you get all sorts of other benefits that a retiree in Thailand can only dream about!
  • Cost of living does come down to personal life choices and location and one could write a compelling case to show either country is cheaper or more expensive than the other. It’s all about personal choices. For me and the lifestyle I lead which I’d say is a typical Western lifestyle, New Zealand is cheaper. If you wanted to live in a quality property in Bangkok and compare it to a quality property in Auckland, I believe New Zealand would be cheaper, partly because properties in New Zealand are built to much higher standards. But certainly some things – like getting a repairman out – cost much more in New Zealand by a multiple of many times.
  • My thoughts on the people you hang out with are that New Zealand wins hands down. Kiwis are some of the nicest, most genuine people in the world – and I say that objectively. Expat society in Thailand, hmm, there are a lot of good people, but a lot of ratbags too. I don’t even think there’s a contest in this regard (and I imagine pretty much any Western country would come up trumps over Thailand).
  • Healthcare in New Zealand is world-class. Yes, if you are on the waiting list for a non-urgent operation, you might wait for some months. Anything urgent / critical to life and you will be seen to and treated immediately. This is no different to the public system in Thailand. And you might just be surprised when comparing private in NZ with private in Thailand. The best private hospitals in Thailand charge astronomical amounts these days! But really, this is all irrelevant because if you retire in New Zealand, it will be covered by your taxes whereas if one retires in Thailand YOU HAVE TO PAY! On the issue of the caravan, that has had a lot of press here and it’s a way to get surgeons to communities where people are less mobile and might not be able to make it to the centres where surgery is carried out. On the issue of healthcare, people seldom mention first responders. Have an accident in New Zealand and the first responders are medical professionals in a very well-equipped ambulance – your chances of survival are much greater than if you are picked up by a rescue crew in Bangkok and carted to hospital in the back of a pick up truck! Oh, and New Zealand has lots of helicopter ambulances too – and accident victims and those who have suffered a medical emergency in a remote area a long way from hospital are frequently airlifted to hospital so they can get expert treatment quickly. The areas where Thailand healthcare might be better is in terms of some specialties where simply by numbers (Thailand has 67 million people, New Zealand 4.5 million) some docs in Thailand might carry out procedures that no-one in New Zealand does. Medicine is cheaper in Thailand and many pharmaceuticals can be easily bought over the counter without a prescription and finally, the one which many Thai expats seem most concerned about: Thai nurses are definitely more attractive than their Kiwi sisters!

The author of this submission cannot be contacted.

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A recent contribution suggested that the cheap end of the apartment market might best be avoided. These are concrete blocks, five or six storeys high, split into small rooms with a cold water bathroom, not that dissimilar to modern student accommodation, though without the shared kitchen. Some have lifts, some have stairs to ascend five or six stories. Some have overhead fans, some have air-conditioners. Some are nicely painted, others are done out in the cheapest sludge-like colour the landlord could obtain. Most have balconies, used for cooking but baked by heat and pollution in the day.

Many Thais don’t like paying rent to landlords and often split the cost between three or four people, children sometimes thrown into the mix. It would have the socialists back in the West leaping up and down in angst and rage but mostly the inhabitants knock along amicably enough and strangely don’t produce an excess of noise and noxious odours.

For foreigners the rooms are equivalent to staying in a 800 baht a night hotel – quality wise – but can be had for 4,000 – 6,000 baht a month, depending on location… true, a long-term resident might have started out paying 4,000 baht a month within walking distance of Soi Cowboy but will probably have had to move to the end of the BTS line, these days, to get that kind of value. A corner, top floor room preferred if you are sensitive to noise as the concept of insulation is not one the low-end building market has any knowledge of.

There is a major advantage to staying in these buildings – for foreigners – Thais will assume that you don’t have much money and the really greedy ones will not have much to do with you. Cops and shakedown artists will merely content themselves with a chuckle at your reduced circumstances rather than seeing you as an easy mark. Possibly, the management charge foreigners a little extra but as long as you pay the rent on time they don’t cause any problems. Some try it on with the deposit when you move out but the few times it has happened I always brought them around by pointing out how a good a tenant I had been.

Unlike the West, where credit history is checked for transgressions, it is just a case of handing over a month’s deposit and rent in advance – unless they don’t like the look of you, when the building will suddenly be full. In the past, I have gone straight from the airplane down to Sukhumvit’s side sois and walked into a new apartment in a matter of hours. It really was that easy, if you knew where to look.

Of course, coming to live in Thailand for a long period and ending up in a cell-like room might not produce much enthusiasm, a luxury condo at ten times the price the solution for many. Throwing all that money away, though, does not work for me, I am kind of inured to my surroundings, as long as I have somewhere to sleep and a private bathroom. It certainly tests your tolerances of the girl of the moment, if she moves in and stays with you 24/7, confined and caged in such a small area.

As to interactions with surly moto-taxi boys hanging outside the apartment, all – as is often the case in Thailand – is not what it seems. Many of these guys are actually keeping an eye on their women who may be shacked up with a foreigner and therefore have to be kept under close scrutiny or maybe she will forget her purpose in life (to make money and face for the moto-boy). If one of these guys has lost his woman to a foreigner he may decide to take it out on another foreigner, regardless that he is not guilty of any wrong-doing other than being a farang in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Or it may be that the foreigner has been taking a different girl each night and refused to pay decent money or wronged a girl, either resulting in an angry Thai man hanging outside the apartment, pretending to be a moto-boy and spending many hours, days, weeks bad-mouthing the foreigner to anyone who listens. He may have convinced the management that the farang is a bad ‘un and needs to be taught a lesson. A vicious beating is the normal result but just getting some money back by robbing his apartment may suffice. Usually, everyone involved in running an apartment is part of an extended family, these bonds making it unlikely that they will do anything to rip each other off – unless some serious dosh is involved!

This does not mean that all cheap apartments are dangerous places to stay just that if you do something nasty to some girl it is then quite easy to get at you, one way or another. Bear in mind that even in expensive condos your post will not be safe from interference so if they want to get at your banking details they can, unless you keep everything routed to the West. I always kept my valuables in a safe deposit box (there is a business running these at the Lumpini end of Silom) and always carried my passport and cash in a money-belt so in a worst case scenario all they could strip from the apartment was clothes and a cheap computer. But never been broken into, even in a quite down and out apartment on the edge of Klong Toey – which was the worst one I stayed in, the concrete seeping out heat and idiotic moto-boys revving their engines five storeys down at three in the morning.

Perhaps the big downside is that they do attract some of the dregs of farang residents, a couple of times have had drugged / drunk chaps running along the corridor hammering on the doors and shouting out nonsense in the middle of the night. I didn’t respond but Thai security eventually corralled them back into their rooms and the management eventually got them out of the building – of course, these idiots give all farang a bad name.

There does seem to be some karma involved in living in these low-end apartments, if you rub along okay with the natives and don’t cause them to lose face they tend to leave you alone… if you piss someone off, though, then things can get quite interesting.

Stick‘s thoughts:

In some ways I wish I was able to stay in such a cheap place (it’d save a lot of money) but I put way too much value on living amongst people with similar values, getting a good night’s sleep and generally spending my life in places that have a pleasant ambience. While I am no expert on cheap / low-end places, those I have stopped by have not left a great impression. Respect to those who can tolerate staying in a low-end unit, but it just wouldn’t work for me. But then it’s no different in New Zealand where I wouldn’t want to live in a down-market neighbourhood either for you would face some similar issues.

The author can be contacted at :  frankwest12345@gmail.com

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Expat life in Bangkok is full of characters, some of whom have featured on this site. Some characters have developed such a following that at times it felt like there was more interest in what they were up to than what was going on about town. What happened to these characters and where are they now?

Here’s an update on some of the characters featured in this column, as well as a few of the people who have written for and contributed to this site over the years.

Sharky

Sharky, also known by his real name of Tim Ward, is a Kiwi bodybuilder / former loan shark / Internet personality, and one of the most recognisible expats in Pattaya. With a physique like the Incredible Hulk and dramatic tattoos, Thais get a fright when they lay eyes on Sharky for the first time. Sharky used to be seen most days on Beach Road and was a regular poster online and given his quirkly lifestyle many took an interest in him. But that was several years ago and you hear much less about him these days.

Some were taken by his dramatic looks and the way he walked around Pattaya shirtless. He looked scary, but at the same time he had a big heart. He was always willing to stop for a selfie or a chat with strangers and was unfailingly polite.

But controversy followed him. Digging up his past online showed that he got rich being a loan shark, something some felt was a black mark next to his name. And that he offered protection to some street-walking girls in Pattaya was perplexing. At the same time there are lots of videos of him online feeding soi dogs and helping stray animals. It was hard to know what to make of him.

I met with Sharky and had a chat with him in his magnificent Pattaya beachfront condo. The Sharky interview was published back in 2012, but we have had little contact since.

Sharky hit the news in 2015 and was filmed ranting in the Pattaya Police Station. This YouTube clip of Sharky ranting at the Pattaya police station is worth 2 minutes of your time.

Rumours follow Sharky but who knows what is true, most rumours you hear in Pattaya are nonsense. What is known is that he went under the knife a year or so ago in what was described as an urgent operation to correct a problem caused by years of steroid use.

Sharky is still seen strolling along Beach Road from time to time. Whether Pattaya is his main base these days or he spends more time on the Gold Coast, I just don’t know.

Glitterman

As colourful as the streets of Pattaya may be, they aren’t as colourful as they once were. Some years ago Pattaya lost a character who, quite literally, brought colour to Sin City’s streets. That man was known as “Glitterman”.

Glitterman rode a circuit around the streets of Pattaya on an elaborately decorated bicycle, wearing a colourful outfit that featured a golden cape and at times, a Venetian-style mask. He was quite a sight – but unlike seeing Sharky for the first time, the sight of Glitterman brought smiles, laughs and made people happy.

Considered a weirdo by many in Pattaya, I found Glitterman to be only mildly eccentric. He genuinely wanted to bring happiness to people’s lives – and riding one of his decorated bicycles in his technicolour suit, performing what he termed the show did just that.

Glitterman left Pattaya many years ago to return to his native London where the show continued. A couple of readers sent me clips from a local Wimbledon community newspaper featuring Glitterman up to his old tricks. I dropped Glitterman an email but nothing came back. I wonder if the show is still going?

Arsenal Alex

Another Londoner, Arsenal Alex arrived in Bangkok with grandiose stories, telling all who would listen that he had 50 million baht to spend. I’m a rich dude from London with money from an inheritance and real estate investments and I want to buy some bars. That was all he had to say for bar bosses to be all over him like flies on shit. The list of bar owners entertaining Alex read like a who’s who of the bar industry. The head of the Nana Group, the founder of Angelwitch, the founder of Club Electric Blue, the Patpong family, the manager / owner of The Strip wined and dined Alex, all keen on doing a deal. The thought of getting your hands on 50 million baht does funny things to people.

The Arsenal Alex period, as I like to think of it, from the end of 2012 through until the middle of 2013, were good times – and Alex was in the middle of it. But without the dosh to back up his stories, the charade wouldn’t last and Alex would flee Bangkok for London just as an arrest warrant was issued in his name following unauthorised use of his Thai girlfriend’s credit card, funds from which he used to live the high life.

Alex’s love of South-East Asia sees him splitting his time between London and Angeles City, the latter of which has become something of a magnet for a few who have left Thailand.

I still hear from Alex and the emails are every bit as cheerful as they were during the times we hung out in Bangkok. He may be a rogue, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t likeable. We have a mutual understanding whereby I know he’s a rogue and he knows that I know it, but we get past that and still share the old email about Bangkok, and how our respective football teams are doing. And as a Liverpool fan, I have all the bragging rights.

I’d put decent money on it that come mid 2023 when the arrest warrant has lapsed, Alex will return to Bangkok. He has not said that to me, nor even hinted at it – but I am sure he will be back. And maybe he’ll try it on with the next generation of bar owners too?!

Dana

No-one delighted the readers’ stories section of this site in its heyday more than Dana. Dana’s unique musings and passion for Thailand had readers tuning in every Saturday for his latest article.

Dana was one of many who made frequent trips from Farangland to Thailand. He lived for his trips to Thailand, and he loved the ladies of Pattaya.

Dana stopped writing many years ago and circumstances mean he has not been able to visit Thailand. Dana has been in poor health for a long time and this week I touched base to see how he was and see if he was ok being mentioned in this column. This is what Dana had to say:

Dana is currently fooling around with advanced, stage 4, terminal prostate cancer that has spread to his bones. He has tumors on his clavicles, sternum, ribs, backbone, pelvic bones, and the femur bones in his thighs. One of his drugs (the one that is keeping him alive) is paid for by insurance but I do get a monthly invoice with my monthly pills that is $14,800 per month. It makes me wonder how much the four Rainbow bars spent per month back in my day.

If it was not for this stupid cancer I would be back in Thailand immediately. Unlike many of the fellows I spent time with, I miss it terribly. I always thought (and I used to counsel) that Thailand was a ten-year place. If God took away my cancer I would start all over on a brand new ten years. I miss Thailand. Towards the end of my Thailand adventure I cracked the code and learned to relax. The more I smiled, and the more I waved my hands, and the more I relaxed; the more the ladies wanted to spend time with me. It was magic. I miss Thailand. Luckily, I’ll be going to my grave with a lot of memories. An awful lot of this Earth’s men don’t have memories. Me? I don’t have to make stuff up. Thailand smiled at me, I smiled back: and I would love to be deplaning at 11:55 p.m. from a Northwest flight and headed for Immigration.

Sawadee2000

He may not have been the most prolific nor the most polished contributor to the site, but Sawadee2000 rivals Dana as the most popular. With perhaps the most engaging writing style of any contributor, Sawadee2000’s real-life adventures as an outsider in a medium-sized Thai town had a great following. We learned what it’s like to build a house, the trials and tribulations of teaching in Thailand, what happens when you have a vehicle accident and we lived through his wars with some neighbours. He simply told you what happened and what it was like as a foreigner in Lampang. He was always cheerful and I think that endeared people to him.

We met in Bangkok and became friends. I visited him a few times in Lampang and caught up with him whenever he came down to Bangkok. We also had a couple of trips to Pattaya together. Sawadee2000’s beautiful house in Lampang featured in the opening piece of a column in 2012.

A charming man with a genuine following, his health had been a concern for many years and he wrote about his frequent visits to hospitals in northern Thailand and ongoing health issues. At times it seemed like he was financing the good life of heart surgeons in Chiang Mai.

Medical issues would deplete his finances and eventually he bit the bullet and moved back to the States. These days he’s availing himself of medicinal marijuana to treat the pain of various conditions. He wasn’t entirely happy to leave, but at the same time he has no plans to set foot on Thai soil again.

BKKSW

A huge contributor to the site, I became friendly with the big, burly American military vet who also happened to be a highly accomplished photographer.

BKKSW contributed dozens of stories to the site and wrote the Bangkok Focus photography section, mixing digital photography with travels in Thailand and around the region.

BKKSW was a bit of an oddity – at a time when many expats were out and about in the neon jungle, he had zero interest in that. It was never part of his life. He’d prefer to be at home with his tropical birds, BBQing steaks on his gigantic balcony.

BKKSW left Bangkok several years ago. He’s happy living Stateside, close to his sons, and running a business using the skills he learned during a long career in the military. He misses the Thailand we used to know and love, but is happy to be living back home.

Pattaya Gary

Pattaya Gary is another American expat who wrote dozens of articles for this website. He was open about his lifestyle in a way most sexpats are not. He was not one of the stars of the readers’ submissions section but there was an openness and honesty about what he had to say, and completely free of pretension. In a world where so many try to present themselves in a positive and at times inauthentic light, and sometimes try to make themselves out as someone they may not be, Gary was just a good, down to earth bloke.

Gary left Pattaya many years ago for Angeles City. After many visits he found that he clicked with the Filipinos in a way he couldn’t with the Thais. And unlike many who leave Thailand, he didn’t miss the place he left. To quote Gary this past week, “I’ve forgotten all about the so-called amazing Thailand.”

But Pattaya Gary is no longer Angeles City Gary, but New Mexico Gary. He is Stateside, recovering from a bone infection after questionable hygiene during surgery he underwent in the Philippines. In his words, American medical care is far superior to the PI’s or Thailand – Gary has undergone a number of procedures in all 3 countries.

Despite a dodgy knee, Gary is enjoying the perfect weather of Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I may have a great girlfriend over there in the Philippines and 3 condos but I want to sell them and stay in the US. I don’t want to be vulnerable to Asian medical care. I was in West Palm Beach, Florida and it was nice too. Asia and its heat are for someone else.”

The Dirty Doctor

The dirty doctor has been mentioned in this column more than most and for many years was my sidekick on nights out on Soi Cowboy. A regular on Soi Cowboy (he doesn’t care for either Nana or Patpong), he knows lots of the girls and has long been a great source of news and gossip.

In 2007 and 2008 he went on a one-man crusade to rid Sukhumvit of fake monks. He got so annoyed with being hassled by them that he fought back, quite literally, and disrobed some of the fake monks on the street, ripping off their robes and taking off with them.

The doc still gets the odd mention in this column and he enjoys living in Bangkok as much as ever. Like most of us his lifestyle has changed and he seldom makes it out to the old haunts, preferring to spend time at home with his lovely girlfriend. I spoke with him earlier this week and he mentioned he hadn’t been out in the bars since March, nor had he had a drink. He was thinking of giving up alcohol altogether.

Final Thoughts

Many of these characters have either left Thailand. Some have headed back home, others departed for greener pastures. Of the 6 out of 8 characters featured who lived in Thailand, only the Dirty Doctor still lives there.

These days, it feels like there are fewer characters around the farang haunts and the areas popular with farangs. Or is it simply that as I no longer live there, I don’t see the new generation of characters. Will we see another Glitterman on the streets of Pattaya? Will there be another Dana delighting us with his prose? I don’t know that there will….



  Mystery Photo

Last week’s photo was taken of the expressway just a little south of Ploenchit and Sukhumvit Roads. The photo was taken from what is sometimes referred to as the green route, the walkway connecting Benjasiri and Lumphini parks.



 

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

Survival of the fittest.

I think (especially with Thai owned establishments) most bar owners are so inward-looking that they really have no grasp of just how much bad exchange rates are making prices unacceptable. Older punters are becoming much more selective about how much and how often they spend as budgets become increasingly stretched especially amongst expats. Then there’s the younger traveller. I don’t know about NZ but in the UK they are growing up differently and just don’t have the pub-based lifestyle the older generation had. Here at home, pubs are going bust at an alarming rate because people no longer want to waste money like we used to. The best bars will survive, a lot won’t.

Farang falls from Phuket hotel to his death.

Last night as I approached my hotel around 2 AM I made room for an ambulance to turn in to the lane entrance of my hotel. As I walked towards the entrance there he was, laying motionless on the ground. Dead! The paramedics tried giving him press compressions – these guys don’t carry much with them, no oxygen or whatever. But he must have been dead for some time. He wasn’t responsive, and I think they must have just been going through the motions. Feedback from the hotel staff is that he was drunk and jumped. Was it intentional or accident – who knows?

Thailand health insurance, cheap for Americans.

I got a chuckle out of your column about “no thanks” to retiring in Thailand. While I pretty much nodded my head to everything you said, I laughed when you talked about how expensive health insurance gets once you hit your 60s, stating that it could be several thousand dollars. For people most everywhere in the world, that would indeed be expensive. Except for us Americans. We think that’s cheap! I currently pay $6,000 a year for health insurance, and I have a $6,000 deductible on top of that, which means I have to pay $12,000 before my insurance pays for anything. And I’m in my early 50’s. I know older people who pay $12,000 a year for their insurance. We have a truly horrible system here, so the cost of premiums in Thailand looks like nothing to us. I used to know an American retiree who lived in Udon Thani. He was in his late 60s and he told me his health insurance cost $3,600 a year. We both thought that was an absolute bargain!

To have medical insurance or not?

I fail to understand why the medical thing seems to be an issue with expats there. I have had insurance in Thailand since 2002. BUPA until it was taken over last year by Aetna. I pay under $2,000 for the year and it’s good major medical coverage. No out-patient stuff, but surgeries. As I have hit 60, next year it will go up, but over the years it started at around 600 per year if I remember right and I had less coverage. After a major surgery where I had my gall bladder taken out, I opted for a platinum plan. That lesser insurance got me 7K covered out of an 8K surgery in higher cost Bumrungrad. I think some will find that insurance won’t take sign ups after 60.

The secret is out.

When the column yields up five mentions of the bar scene’s tedious rip-offs there’s no longer any point in reading between the lines now is there? In the immortal words of Bill Clinton, I feel your pain.

Gruesome death with an expat connection across the border.

Some body parts started washing up on Phnom Penh’s riverside a few days ago, leading to much speculation. It turns out that the dead lady was a moneylender, and she was murdered by a local woman who owed her $3,000 and didn’t want to pay it back and / or didn’t want to tell her husband about the debt. Her husband is a long-term American expat. Together, they own and operate the Alamo Cafe, a Tex-Mex restaurant. The wife has confessed to the murder, and says she killed the money-lender in the restaurant – which is their home and they live above it – and then kept the body parts in the restaurant’s freezer, right next to the french fries. The Texan is smitten with her and previously borrowed from expats to pay off her gambling debts. Now he’s trying to borrow more to get her a lawyer. News reports say he’s her fifth husband. Friends tried to tell him she’s bad news, due to her drug use and gambling and cheating on him, but he didn’t listen. Some reports say he was involved in the murder or dismemberment, but that’s contrary to her confession that she acted alone and drugged his iced tea with sleeping pills so he wouldn’t wake up while she was cutting up the body.



 

It’s the news section of the column and yeah, I’m going to play the same broken record this week as I did last week, the week before that….and probably the week before that too. It’s not merely quiet around the traps in Bangkok, trade has been described as absolutely dire! One bar owner reported they had their worst daily take one day this past week. I know this is hardly what you want to read – but at the same time it’s what everyone seems to be talking about.

Whether Chinese visitors are hitting the bars in Bangkok I am not so sure but down in Pattaya the Chinese are venturing in to bars on Walking Street. If not for the Chinese, some owners would probably throw in the towel. Say what all you want about Chinese and other non sex tourist visitors, on Walking Street they are keeping some bars afloat.

And that’s probably why there are so many touts on Walking Street these days, promoting those awful ping-pong shows. One Bangkok expat who visited Pattaya this week says the touts on Walking Street are just as bad as they used to be on Patpong soi 1.

And word from Walking Street is that new bars are doing well, with Pin Up and Tantra both said to be worth stopping by.

It is expected that Dundee on Soi Cowboy will reopen real soon. New signage went up this week revealed it will have a new name, The Peep by Dundee.

Since reopening, Bada Bing, on Patpong soi 2, has gone from quiet to busy again with a good line-up of familiar faces from around Patpong.

The Wednesday quiz night at The Royal Oak on Sukhumvit soi 33 is packed with locals / expats which just goes to show that some bars do have pulling power when elsewhere is quiet.

A not long retired Bangkok gogo bar boss is writing a book about his time in the naughty nightlife industry and it shouldn’t be long before his account of 5 years in the bar scene is available on Amazon. Names will be changed but those familiar with the industry should be able to work out who is who. I am really looking forward to it because the guy can actually write so it should be a decent read. More when it’s available.

Bangkok’s newest expat pub, The Craic, opened on Sukhumvit soi 22. It’s just a short stroll some 50 or so metres up the soi from the main Sukhumvit Road. It has been described as a fun, relaxed bar with cheap drinks, live sports, friendly staff and late closing. Great deals on pints too. You can find more on The Craic’s Facebook page.

A new bar is coming soon on Sukhumvit Road, near soi 13. Work is well underway and it should be up and running sooner rather than later.

Word is that the building on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 11 which has had all five floors gutted will be home to a new bar on the ground floor. Again, details are thin and there’s no word who is behind it.

I’ve been getting my jollies recently reading comments from Thais responding to news articles posted on Facebook. Many Thais have a way with words that makes their responses amusing. Many are especially sarcastic when commenting on silly news articles. The recent articles about Thai police  inspecting Walking Street in Pattaya and announcing there was no prostitution to be found elicited some hilarious responses, translated here in to English, “Do you think foreigners go to Pattaya for the beautiful beach?!” And my favourite, “You can report this in the English language press but please don’t insult us Thais with this.”

A pal who calls South-East Asia home said to me recently, “I’ll take wrecked tits and a few stretch marks with a pretty, undistorted natural face any day.” He absolutely hates it when the angels of Asia get their nose done. Nose-jobs are more popular than ever with bargirls these days. I have never been in favour of surgical enhancements just as I remain adamant that tattoos, bright contact lenses, fake eyelashes, blonde and unnatural hair colour can ruin an otherwise perfectly pleasant lady’s looks. What do you make of working girls getting nose-jobs?

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Frustrations are mounting for landlords and tenants as immigration authorities enforce the ‘new’ TM.30 reporting requirements for foreigners. Landlords face hefty fines while some expats are experiencing difficulties renewing their visas. 1D Property owner, Wandee (Lekky) Iamyoung, demystifies the reporting requirements, clarifies roles and responsibilities, and forecasts the future for this unpopular law.

Important note: The below account of the TM.30 requirements is based purely on 1D Property’s own practical experience as an expat real estate agency. It is not a definitive legal opinion, for which readers are encouraged to seek qualified legal advice.

The author is continually updating her blog as new developments about TM30 come to light. Please see her blog for important new information.

What is TM.30?

TM.30 is a form for reporting the accommodation of a foreigner according to section 38 of the 1979 immigration act. Under the law, house owners, heads of households, landlords or hotel managers who temporarily accommodate foreign nationals must notify the local immigration authorities within 24 hours. This includes landlords who lease their properties to expat tenants.

This law has existed for many years but was mostly applied to hotels, which automatically report guests at check-in. However, since 28 March 2019 the government is now enforcing this law more strictly to include landlords and tenants as well.

Who is affected by this?

There is a misperception that TM.30 is for landlords only, who face fines for not reporting their tenants to the immigration office within 24 hours of their tenants’ return from a trip. This applies to every trip, whether in Thailand or abroad, even if only for a single night.

However, tenants must supply their landlord with the necessary documents for reporting purposes, and they may face difficulties having their visas renewed if these reports are not done properly. For example, immigration officers at Chaeng Wattana claim they will not provide services for visa extension applications, 90-days reporting, and multiple re-entry permits. We know of cases where this is being applied.

Therefore, both landlords and tenants need to take this seriously, and understand their respective roles.

Is this happening everywhere in Thailand?

Most of my business is in Bangkok, but some organisations, including the Danish-Thai chamber of commerce, are reporting that the new requirements are currently being enforced in Bangkok, Samut Prakan, Nonthaburi and Chonburi, with plans to extend it to other provinces in future.

How does the law apply to me?

The law is unclear about specific circumstances, such as when a tenant stays overnight with a friend, for example. However, to understand the risks, it is important to understand the way immigration officers work. In our experience, they look for matching records of a tenant’s departure and return, e.g. a hotel report when a tenant arrives at their destination plus the landlord’s report when they get back. It may seem self-evident that the risk of detection is low if there are no records at all, however the examples below illustrate why this is important:

Example 1: A tenant lives in a rented property in Bangkok and travels to Pattaya for 2 nights, staying at a hotel. Immigration officers will check the hotel’s report of the tenant’s arrival against the landlord’s report when they return home. If they match then there shouldn’t be a problem. However, if one report is missing then they might investigate further.

Example 2: A tenant lives in a rented property in Bangkok and travels abroad for 1 week. Immigration officers will check the record of departure (e.g. your TM.6 departure form at the airport) against the landlord’s report when they return home. Again, there’s no problem if they match.

Example 3: A tenant lives in a rented property in Bangkok and attends a nearby dinner party at a friend’s condo. At 2am the tenant decides it’s too late to go home and stays overnight. Strictly, the law says the owner of the friend’s condo must report the visitor’s stay, as must the tenant’s landlord when they return home. If only 1 landlord reports then this could raise a red flag with immigration officers. However, if both landlords fail to report then this might escape their attention, but it’s still an offence.

Clearly, examples 1 and 2 are higher risk because there are mandatory records of the trip that you can’t avoid, such as the hotel’s report or the TM. 6 departure form. Therefore, it’s important that the landlord reports as well so there’s a matching record. But in the third example it appears you are still technically breaking the law, but the risk of detection is low if neither landlord reports the overnight stay.

As is often the case with a new legal development in Thailand, authorities aren’t doing much to clarify confusion. In our experience, answers depend on which immigration officer we speak to! We will likely have to wait and see how very specific circumstances are treated. Please note that what I’m saying in this article is based only on our own experience and might not conform to what others are saying. Anybody who lives in this town for long will soon learn how quickly misinformation and rumours spread!

Why is this law necessary?

This is unclear, as for many years the law was mostly ignored. The recent clampdown is hugely unpopular as it’s a lot of work for landlords and tenants alike, and ultimately will make Thailand less attractive to foreign investment. There is also legitimate concern that immigration officers can’t cope with the enormous mass of paper shuffling, which will slow processing times and frustrate the process further.

There are several suggestions as to why this law is now being enforced, including to stem the rash of condo purchases by foreign investors for the purposes of running an Airbnb business, which has been generating a lot of negative news lately. Another alleged reason is to clamp down on long-stay foreigners who don’t have visas/work permits, but that’s nothing new. Tax evasion is another.

Do you think the law will change?

Something must surely give as landlords face more fines, more expats face visa refusals, and immigration officers drown under the growing backlog of paperwork. It’s hard to see how this won’t impact the property market and eventually the economy more widely.

The difference this time is that it’s not just foreigners who are affected. It’s directly impacting Thai landlords – many of them influential – who rely on the expat market to lease their investment properties. It’s also driving concern among influential business organisations. For example, 1D Property is a member of Austcham (Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce) which is watching this matter closely and may join other chambers to express concerns through appropriate channels.

For good or ill, it’s not uncommon in Thailand for existing laws to be ignored by authorities, as was TM.30 for many years. This is a likely scenario but hard to say when this could happen.

Another possibility is that the law is changed or dropped entirely as influential landlords apply pressure on the government, supported by business organisations. In my view, this is more likely now that elections are past and the new government looks for ‘wins’ to justify its appointment. I’ve heard rumours that TM.30 is up for the chop, but rumours are dime a dozen in this town!

Who is responsible for reporting?

Reporting is the landlord’s responsibility, and face fines for not doing so. Tenants must provide landlords with the necessary documentation for reporting, such as a TM.6 departure form.

The reporting responsibility doesn’t absolve tenants entirely, who risk problems renewing their visa. We know of actual cases where visa renewal applications are currently not being processed until landlords have cleared the TM.30 reporting backlog. It remains to be seen what happens when their current visas expire and they haven’t managed to clear the infractions.

Bottom line: It’s critical that landlords, tenants and agents work together. This is where a good agent can help, as maintaining the important tenant-landlord relationship should be at the heart of their ongoing service.

How do you report?

The landlord can submit a TM.30 form several ways:

  • In person at the immigration office, or through an authorised person (Chaeng Wattana office for Bangkok and Paknam office for Samut Prakan)
  • By registered mail
  • Internet (website and app)

Is the reporting process easy?

Sadly, no. The queues at Chaeng Wattana are hideous. 1D Property has employed a fulltime person just to wait in them on behalf of our clients. It’s clear the immigration officers can’t cope with the workload, and there are literally dozens of desks piled high with mountains of paper, with few computers to be seen.

Several of our landlords are experiencing problems with the online option, including very long waiting times for their registration to be approved and issued with a password. Some have been waiting 3 weeks while calls to the immigration office go unanswered. If a landlord can’t report in person or through a proxy then we recommend the registered mail option as they will be issued with a receipt. Hopefully this will count as proof!

At Chaeng Wattana, there appears to be some leeway to the 24-hour notice period. In our experience they are currently allowing 5 days before fines are applied, but we don’t know if this is official policy or for how long it will last. My guess is they are overloaded and can’t cope.

What if a landlord refuses to report their tenant’s movements?

Tenants can’t report themselves, so it’s critical there is a good working relationship with the landlord. We already know landlords who plan to sell properties or avoid expat renters. I doubt this is sustainable as there are too many investment properties in Bangkok that depend on the expat rental market.

I understand the frustration on both sides but this situation impacts both parties and they need to work together. I hope we can avoid friction because neither party is at fault, and they both share an interest in getting this law changed. I am always here to help in any way I can.

My advice is to maintain a productive working relationship with your landlord or use a good agent who can do that for you. At 1D Property the tenant-landlord relationship is central to our ongoing service, and we will ensure that landlords are aware of their reporting responsibility before the tenant signs a lease. If necessary, we will continually remind both parties of their responsibilities throughout the lease period.

What documents does a tenant need to provide to their landlord?

  1. Copy of current passport, including the visa stamp page
  2. Copy of TM.6 departure card (often attached inside passport)
  3. “Name of Aliens in Residence” form

You can contact 1D Property for samples of any of the above.

What documents does a landlord need to report?

  1. 30 notification form
  2. Copy of blue book (ทะเบียนบ้าน)
  3. Copy of ID card or passport
  4. Lease agreement
  5. Power of Attorney (if using a proxy)

How can 1D Property help with the TM.30 reporting requirements?

1D Property is reporting on behalf of a number of landlords as their proxy. The important tenant-landlord relationship is central to our ongoing service, and this is proving to be the critical factor. Our services include:

  • We can report on behalf of Bangkok-based landlords at the Chaeng Wattana and Paknam immigration offices.
  • We can provide detailed samples of documents that tenants and landlords need.
  • We can answer questions to the extent of our experience as an agency (but we cannot provide a qualified legal opinion).

This article was produced by 1D Property for its mostly expat client base in Bangkok, as well as the Thai landlords who rely on them. It is based on our practical experience with the new TM.30 requirements and does not purport to be a definitive legal opinion, for which readers are encouraged to seek their own legal counsel. 1D Property is a registered company in Thailand, owned by Wandee (Lekky) Iamyoung, who prides herself on a highly personal, professional and ethical home search service for expat families in Bangkok.

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Getting a visa for Thailand in South-East Asia is more difficult and more time-consuming than ever. Policy changes at Thai embassies and consulates in the region have made things easier for the visa section staff, and more difficult for the visa applicant. Could recent changes mean the days of overland visa runs are coming to an end?

If the term visa run confuses you, let me explain. A visa run is a journey you make when your visa / permission to stay in Thailand is about to expire. You leave the country and return with a new visa / new permission to stay granted. One might simply cross a land border, exit Thailand, enter a neighbouring country, exit that country and be back in Thailand in less than an hour. Or one might depart Thailand and travel to a Thai embassy or consulate in another country, apply for a new visa there and then return to Thailand. Visa runs have been a fact of life for those who wish to stay in Thailand long-term and don’t have a work permit / marriage visa / retirement visa.

Most who make visa runs do so on a budget and traditionally, visa runs have been done overland.

In the late ‘80s through the ‘90s, the most common visa run was a long trip to the Thai consulate in Penang, Malaysia. Most of the 20+ hour journey was spent on a train as well as a short ride on a boat. A couple of days later with a new visa in your passport, the return journey was made. Some people did this for many years; one well-known expat made that journey every 90 days for the best part of a decade.

As neighbouring countries opened up, new visa run options presented themselves. Phnom Penh in Cambodia was considered a good choice by many – it’s a fun place to spend a night or two. And the most popular spot for more than a decade has been Vientiane, the capital of Laos. A visit to the sleepy capital with its charming cafes, French bistros and cheap but excellent Beer Lao was no great hardship. Most found Vientiane a pleasant and relaxing break from Thailand.

French bakeries, cafes and bistros are a real highlight of a visa run to Vientiane.

But things changed a few months back in Vientiane when the Thai embassy there introduced a new system. Anyone who wished to apply for a visa had to book an appointment online. To make matters worse, the number of bookings was limited each day, mooted to be just 250 people. No appointment = no chance of lodging a visa application in Vientiane. Vientiane’s popularity has seen bookings made for weeks in advance so you can no longer go there to lodge a visa application on the spur of the moment.

In last week’s column I wrote that the Thai consulate in sleepy Savannakhet (a small town in southern Laos directly across from the Mekhong River from the Thai city of Mukdahan) had transformed from a sleepy outpost consulate to an uber busy consulate. I mooted that this was in the wake of the Thai embassy in Vientiane introducing the online appointment system. Vientiane had been processing an estimated several hundred visa applications some days and with the new system limiting numbers, the overflow had to go somewhere. It looks like Savannakhet was many people’s choice.

To recap what was reported in last week’s column:

This week a long-time reader made the annual pilgrimage to the Thai consulate in Savannakhet, Laos, to apply for a new non-immigrant O visa. The Thai consulate in Savannakhet has long been favoured by some as it is quiet with relatively small numbers of people applying for a visa. Or at least that’s how it used to be. Not any more! It might be the low season in Thailand but said reader said it sure didn’t feel like that in Savannakhet. This week it was far busier in Savannakhet than he had ever seen it. He was on the first bus across the bridge in to Laos, but when he arrived at the consulate there were already hundreds of people waiting to lodge their visa application. He finally handed his passport in at 2:30 PM (the usual cut off time is midday) and was given number 379 – and he wasn’t even anywhere near the end of the queue. Could it be that Savannakhet has become so busy after the Thai Embassy in the Lao capital, Vientiane, put in place a booking system whereby you must book an appointment online – fail to do so and you will not be able to enter the embassy and cannot apply for a visa there. With the number of applicants at Vientiane thought to be limited to a few hundred per day, the spillover had to go somewhere – and it looks like Savannakhet is the number one choice.

In a crazy reversal, the sleepy outpost consulate at Savannakhet (I can’t get my head around why they opened a consulate there in the first place) is now as busy as the embassy at Vientiane was. Some mornings, the queue outside the consulate has hundreds of people. Getting a visa in Savannakhet has gone from heaven to hell. How sustainable is this? Does Savannakhet have the staff numbers to handle these sorts of numbers?

What about elsewhere in the region?

The Thai embassy in Phnom Penh hasn’t been visa runner friendly for years. A 4-day processing time is the standard, meaning a long stay which may not be convenient for those who have to get back to Thailand. On top of that, anyone with a history of visa runs to Thailand may find their application declined.

A few days in Phnom Penh is no hardship, especially if you’re a drinker / in to the nightlife.

Old favourite Penang is no longer the friendly, soft touch it used to be, especially for tourist visas where a history of back to back stays in Thailand will also see your application declined.

It wasn’t always like this. Visa runs used to be easy, fun and a nice break from Thailand.

I made my first ever visa run in July, 1998. The Thai embassy in Vientiane was a ramshackle shophouse in the middle of town. The visa section operated from a small window facing out on to the street where you handed in your documents. You did so outside in the scorching Lao sun while the visa officer was inside a cool air-conditioned office. Had there been a queue – there wasn’t – it would have been awful. Worse still if the heavens had opened.

21 years later in Savannakhet and it’s not much different. The infrastructure at the consulate was not built to cater to hundreds of people queuing up in the street.

Given that some in the queue will be retirees, older and their health might not be what it was, how will they fare wilting waiting in the sun as the queue slowly creeps towards the consulate? And then they get to experience the very same the following afternoon when they go to collect their passport. Thai embassies and consulates in the region just aren’t geared up for the number of visa applications they get.

It’s a far cry from applying for a visa for Thailand in our homeland. The Thai consulate in Auckland operates out of a law firm in the middle of the city. The waiting area is the lobby of a law firm so it’s plush and comfortable. Every time I have been there I have been in and out in less than 5 minutes. Friendly service with a smile.

But flying to your homeland every 3 or 6 months to apply for a visa is not an option for most. So what are the best options for visa runners today?

You CAN still apply for a visa at Vientiane. Appointment slots may be booked up for weeks in advance and the available slots depend on the type of visa you’re applying for (it seems they limit numbers by type of visa), so you’ll have to be organised and book ahead. If you are organised and disciplined, Vientiane remains a good option.

Phnom Penh is the only Thai Embassy in Cambodia and is known to be difficult. Processing is slow so you’re looking at staying at least 4 nights. And anyone who has a history of back to back visits might find their visa application declined. The positive is that Phnom Penh is inexpensive and has a vibrant nightlife so it might work. Once.

You could fly to Myanmar for a few days and apply for a visa at the embassy in Yangon which is said to be relatively quiet. Probably a nice place to visit once too. Overland is not practical so like Phnom Penh, you’re looking at an airfare, a visa for Myanmar which you need to apply for in advance – which is a pain – plus accommodation which is said to be pricey for what you get. It’s no cheap and cheerful overland trip.

Hanoi and Saigon in Vietnam are both options but again, you’ve got the triple hit of an airfare, a visa (not everyone needs one, so you need to check) and accommodation. The embassy in Hanoi and the consulate in Saigon are both said to be getting busier and each has its own unique document requirements (proof of funds, airline ticket in and out of Thailand and a confirmed hotel booking may all be asked for). Hanoi and Saigon are both fascinating but I wouldn’t want to go there every few months.

The bustling backpacker district of Saigon.

Down in Malaysia, Penang is not the soft touch it once was, Kuala Lumpur is difficult and no-one wants to stay in Kota Baru unless they have to. It is easily the most boring place I have been in all of South-East Asia (the local food is excellent, however).

What if you’re willing to travel further afield?

The Thai consulate in Brisbane, Australia is great. I like Brisbane – it isn’t Sydney or Melbourne but it’s still got enough going for it to keep you busy. Very good food, laid-back people, wonderful weather and fantastic beaches just an hour or so away. Thai Airways and QANTAS both fly between Bangkok and Brisbane if you’re willing to pay the several hundred dollar airfare. It’s a good option if money is not an issue, especially if you can wrangle a multiple-entry visa (which they may issue to non-Aussies).

Making a visa run is almost like a rite of passage for Thailand expats. That said, there is a pretty good argument to get your visa situation sorted long-term so you avoid the whole visa run circus. At the same time, being forced to take visa runs is an opportunity to visit neighbouring countries. It’s fun for a while but it gets old.

There has been talk that within 2 years Thailand will introduce a whole new online visa application system. You submit all documents online and when (if?) your visa is approved, you collect it at a Thai embassy or consulate of your choice where it is affixed in to your passport. As convenient as that sounds, the very idea of such a system has some worried – will it be prejudicial against those with a questionable visa history i.e. those have stayed long-term in Thailand on short-term visas? Time will tell.

The combination of huge numbers applying for visas at embassies and consulates in the region which are not geared up to handle such numbers, limiting the number of visas issues each day and a mooted new visa application system could put an end to overland visa runs. That leaves me with mixed feelings.

 

Mystery Photo

Last week’s photo was taken from the Onut skytrain station of what is often referred to as the Onut Food Court, which is located by Sukhumvit sois 79 and 81. It proved tricky and only a few people clever readers got it right.

 

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

The real Thailand.

I needed to go to an early morning meeting and found myself on the Bangkok metro at 7:45 AM. The car was quite full and I found myself squeezed in and looking about. While other people might see an overly crowded train, I saw economic prosperity. Here it was, quite early, with hordes of Thais, mostly young women, going to the office. I saw a vibrant economy, and one not linked to the sex trade. To those who want to understand Thailand today, ride the metro or BTS early one morning and look around. Women going to a proper job, with nary a tat or braces to be seen. This is the real Thailand, not the one found in bars.

One foot out the door.

I retired last February from San Francisco and moved to Bangkok at age 59. I have been traveling to Thailand since 2003 and planned my retirement since then. I live quite comfortably in Bangkok in a high-rise condo one stop on the MRT from Terminal 21 and my rent is 30,000 baht / month. My monthly income from my 401(k) is 4,000 USD. Nevertheless, despite my ability to live quite comfortably here I have one foot out the door. The immigration requirements are absolutely preposterous. There is so much uncertainty about what new rules will be enforced that it’s hard to feel you can reside permanently here. The constant reporting is a joke. Health insurance requirements and coverage are the next scam. Unlike others, I do not have a Thai girlfriend, wife or children and have no plans to do so. That would be economic suicide. I am in good health, and enjoy fitness club visits 5 or 6 times a week, I cook my own food and eat very little Thai. And while I used to be a regular visitor of the naughty nightlife, now that I actually live here I rarely visit Nana or Cowboy. The whole gogo thing is an absolute rip off and no longer the fun it used to be. That being said, I do like the fact that it is there any time I want to go.

Prefer Thailand to California.

As I am an unhappy resident of California there is one area of your comments about retirement that I would like to respond to. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area (wildly expensive) I can attest that it is not a pleasant place to live (unless you really are one of the 20-something high-tech billionaires). One is bombarded with hate from extremists who have no toleration for any difference of opinion. This is particularly the case from hostile feminists who constantly blame everyone else for their bad attitudes. It is not that Thailand is so great that attracts many of us so much, it is that it is NOT California. Did you know that a survey of Bay Area residents just posted in the media found that 44% of Bay Area residents are planning to leave the area in the next two years? Just a hunch but I guess that 95%+ of the residents of New Zealand like it there. There is a huge difference between happily living in New Zealand and being trapped in miserable California. It is not that expats like me think that everything about Thailand is great, we just find it so much better than California.

Different place, different bullshit.

I can confirm your mate’s experience at the Brisbane consulate. I got a multiple-entry tourist visa last year, and was shocked when they told me to come back that same afternoon. A massive difference to the single-entry tourist visa I just got in Europe a few weeks ago. It was dead, but they still needed 4 working days to process it, and the kid there was a seriously snotty little brat. He went completely ballistic when I couldn’t find my passport ticket and wondered out loud if he had given me one. It really reminded me of how fragile the egos of so many Thais are, and the inward-looking arrogance that readers have mentioned. I’ve been going to Thailand for nearly 30 years, and was always going to retire there, but now I’m not so sure. I spent a lot of time in South America a few years back, and am in Portugal now, checking things out. Yes, there are a lot of alternatives. But I imagine there’s plenty of bullshit to go around, just a different flavour thereof.

Feeling unloved.

When I left Mukdahan for Laos this week for a 90-day exit, a fat, sloven and sullen immigration officer – the only one on duty – made it obvious I had interrupted his mid-morning lunch as he slowly cleaned his hands and went just as slowly through every page of my passport, even the empty ones. If that is how they treat people who have a marriage visa and are supporting a Thai family, heaven knows how they treat tourists. I get the same slow, looking through every page of the passport every time I enter and leave the country now, despite clearly having a valid marriage visa. They really couldn’t make it more obvious that we are a nuisance wasting their time.

 

May has continued in to June with business super slow in the bar areas of Bangkok. A handful of bars are doing alright despite the lack of naughty boy tourists around. Those bars doing well all have one thing in common – a farang owner or manager in the bar most nights.

One of the odd things some bar owners have done is cut advertising during the low season in what is an apparent bid to save money. Is this not the time of year they need exposure most? Some gogo bars such as Playskool, Enter and Bada Bing have even stopped updating their Facebook pages which strikes me as just plain madness.

There was a blackout on Soi Cowboy last night at around 11:15 PM when the power went off, came back on seconds later only to go back off for another hour. Needless to say, it ruined trade and Saturday night’s take probably looked more like a Monday’s.

And it wasn’t plain sailing at Nana last night either, although the fun and games were limited to one bar. At around midnight, Bangkok’s best gogo bar, Billboard, was evacuated due to smoke in the bar. Customers were told not to worry about their bills, just to leave and go to Butterflies. The issue was related to some dodgy air-con servicing. It’s all been fixed and it will be business as usual tonight.

Word on Soi Nana is that Hillary 4 is on the market and there are several interested parties. The Hillary name is very unlikely to be part of any deal.

And what about the long-closed Climax which was also part of the Hillary Group? Will it ever return? Word on the street is that a venue that fits the bill is still being sought.

Over in Bangkok’s oldest bar area, Patpong, the gay bar influx continues and some say the vibe at Patpong is changing.

Still in Patpong, how do those beer bars towards the Suriwong Road end of Patpong soi 2 survive with so few customers?

The recently relaunched Strip – or should I say, The Strip V2 – has extended its 90 baht drinks special through until the end of June. Al drinks are priced at just 90 baht, all night long until the end of this month (but not lady drinks, of course).

On the subject of happy hours, the local bottled beer 39 baht happy hour at the Aussie Pub on Sukhumvit soi 11 has caused quite a stir. Compare that with the dingy bar area at Queen’s Park Plaza where in one bar the size of a shoebox a lady drink will cost you a quite ridiculous 240 baht. And some bar owners wonder why they have so few customers!

Some bars in Nana Plaza need to do something to attract punters. The big 3 – Billboard, Butterflies and Spanky’s – are cleaning up while other bars are fighting for the left-overs. With punters squealing about poor exchange rates and high prices, happy hours early evening with prices below the psychological 100 baht level is one way to get customers in the door. Just look at Soi Cowboy where Tilac, Dollhouse, Shark and Lighthouse all have fantastic happy hour specials – and customers respond. At 90 or 95 baht, the bar still makes a profit and if the vibe is good, punters will stay, buy more drinks, remain beyond happy hour and pay full-price for drinks – and they might buy some lady drinks. They might even pay a barfine. And who knows, they might return the next night. You’ve got to give them a reason to go inside in the first place and once you’ve got them inside, treat them like a long-lost friend, not some sucker to be milked. Make them feel like leaving the bar is the last thing they want. It’s not rocket science but some bars, especially Thai-owned bars, just don’t get it.

Authorities descended on Sukhumvit Road between sois 5 and 7/1 on Wednesday night and rounded up vendors selling sex toys, sex enhancing drugs and other sex related paraphernalia. It was the 3rd bust on that strip this year and several vendors were arrested and taken away.

Down in Phuket, Indian melodies have been replaced with tunes from further west as the sons of Allah descend on Bangla Road in pursuit of things I am not sure the one they worship would approve of. The changing customer base is good for the ladies of Patong who had been complaining that some Indian gents had been doing their bit to uphold what some say about them not wishing to open their wallet. It is said that the Middle Easterners flocking to Phuket now that Ramadan has ended have plenty of cash and are very happy to spread it.

It was funny reading comments from Thai men on Facebook this week after an article was published in Khao Sod about an incident where a Thai man went for a massage, wasn’t happy with the experience and tried to grab the money he had paid for the massage as he left. A scuffle broke out, the police were called and Khao Sod reported on the incident. The incident itself was hardly newsworthy, but the comments posted online provided an insight in to what Thai men experience in massage shops. What struck me was that what they complain about really is no different to what foreign men complain about. Many Thai men commented on the service provided by these grey area massage outlets where extras might be available. The complaints concerned rushed service, high asking prices, that she was not in to it at all and that it’s not what it used to be. While foreigners think they may get a raw deal these days, don’t think local men get it any better. Amazingly, some women who work in massage shops joined the discussion and were quite graphic in their responses about what the work is like as well and how little money they make. The days of Thais being reluctant to talk openly about sexual matters appear well and truly over. Many were open and this all played out on Facebook – where most people were replying under what I assume was their real name.

This year’s

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The one irreducible thing about life is suffering. Nothing makes us more human. In love, we can feel ourselves blissed out, living as if in a dream. But nothing brings us closer to the nature of existence than pain. Crank up the voltage high enough, and you’ve reached the height of mindfulness. No matter how hard you try, you will undeniably be stuck in the moment.

Some of us pay for play. Some never do. Some of us found love in Southeast Asia. Some hate. Some something in between.

Some of us are young on the way to being old; some of us are old wondering where our youth has gone. Some of us have found ourselves smack dab in middle age, assuming futures that might or might not come. Some find peace in those points and processes; others live and die in fear and trembling.

But as much as binaries blot out the complexity of life, I have realized there are really only two types of people (on top of 10,000 clichés) in this world: those who love other people (generally and specifically) because we all suffer, and those who hate people because, like the ego-inflated monsters they are, they are only conscious of their own suffering, as relatively minor as it might be.

We’ve all come across people like Ride the Waves, prideful of that which we all inevitably lose (youth and good looks, if we ever had it), and entitled to things we never earned (birthrights in rich lands where education and opportunity are on offer regardless of our own efforts).

But whether you are young or old, whether or not you pay for play, you should never let your patho-adolescent resentment and arrogance turn you into a monster. Which is to say, never, ever be like Ride the Waves.

If you make the moral choice to be a monger, the least you can do is see the women you sleep with within the full cultural and economic matrix from which they came.

Are you really surprised a girl born in a typhoid-infested shack dripping with dysentery who never received an education, possibly suffered sexual abuse, and is forced (or “chooses”) a life of prostitution might try to milk you for a few more dollars which deep down you know you can afford to pay?

Whether you’re from Chechnya or Chelsea, you’ve likely grown up on some variation of the Robin Hood story. She’s “stealing” for a higher cause. Perhaps your moment of indignation lasts that poor girl’s family a while.

There is no center, no protagonist … it’s all about perspective. No one is beneath you as a person. But we all have different roles and different choices.  Count yourself lucky if you’re born into a life where a relatively rich man isn’t calling you a whore for asking for what amounts to a Western hour of minimum wage’s difference more for a few hours of intimacy.

Look, I’m not saying you should be taken advantage of, even as you are exploiting others. In truth l, we are all exploiting others (and to varying degrees, being exploited). Exploitation is at the heart of the global economy. If the Bhagavad Gita teaches us anything, it’s this — we are all party to the destruction of life.

And the minute you start getting cocky about your mostly unearned place in the global hierarchy, the moment you start resenting and denigrating the people whose station in life is to fulfill your desires, the moment your own transient youth, looks and health become points of pride and not gratefulness, you, my friend, have lost the fucking plot.

Every last one of us could have been born someone else. Hell, maybe the Buddhists are right — maybe the monger of this life is the demimondaine of next.

There is no joy without that realization, the one we all secretly know anyways — we’re not so special; we easily could have been born and raised to be the exact people we hate. And what is that hate really? The lie that we could never be that which we despise; the fear that deep down, we are that already, despite all of our relative advantages.

Stay humble people. You may be riding the wave for now. But just like the rest of us, one day you too are going under.

The author of this article cannot be contacted.

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