Stickman Weekly  29/3/2009

Siem Reap, Cambodia

"Go there, go now!" he implored on me.  A good friend of many years, he had been passing through South-East Asia and could not stop raving about Siem Reap.  Or perhaps more precisely, Angkor Wat.  The massive Khmer temple ruins had made an equally massive impression on him.  Go there now before it is over run with tourists, he kept at me.

A few months later, and we're going back to early 2001 here, myself and a pal escaped Bangkok for 12 days and made the trip across the Eastern seaboard of Thailand, into Ko Kong in the southern part of Cambodia, across to Sihanoukville, up to Phnom Penh, on to Siem Reap and eventually overland back to Thailand.  The highlight of the trip was Angkor Wat.

Back then Siem Reap was a sleepy little town.  At the end of the day we would struggle to find where we were staying, a guesthouse in the true sense of the word, a house that took in guests.  We would be walking around in circles trying to find it.  At less than $10 a night for a twin share room, it, along with everything else in Cambodia at that time, was ridiculously inexpensive.  If I remember correctly, Beer Lao set you back a dollar.

But it was not the prices that made it so attractive.  It was that back then, Siem Reap was not that well-known outside of the South-East Asia backpacker circuit, the yellow book crowd.  Siem Reap's tourist explosion and massive development had not yet happened - although there was no doubt it was coming!  Looking back over the photographs from that trip, including the photo below, it is easy to see just how quiet it was.  That's the main temple complex within Angkor Wat and if you can see a single soul in that photo your eyes are better than mine.

How would Siem Reap compare in 2009?  Would it remain a backwater tourist attraction in terms of tourist numbers, or would it be overrun with international package tourists?  My Kodak was replaced with a Canon.  The Canadian had been changed for an American.  But one thing hadn't changed.  Cheap Charlie Stick was on a budget again.  How does Siem Reap in 2009 compare to the 2001 vintage?

The road on the Cambodian side of the border is supposed to be pretty good these days, not the dreadful pot-holed dirt track that a car could literally fall into that I had traversed 8 years earlier.  But we did not want to rough it to quite that extent.  We would fly into Siem Reap and at over 10,000 baht return that is rather costly when you consider the big bird is barely in the air for 40 minutes each way.

Arriving into Siem Reap there could be no doubt that this was a small town.  The international airport was smaller than many provincial Thai airports and there was just one other plane at the terminal, a puddle jumper emblazoned with Vietnam Airlines logos.

Initial impressions were good.  The airport terminal had been designed in a traditional Khmer style and the staff operated with the efficiency of a Swiss watch.  From getting off the plane to queuing in the visa on arrival line, to paying $US20 for the visa, to collecting it, passing through passport control, collecting our bags and leaving the terminal took no more than 12 minutes.  The Cambodian Immigration officials at the overland crossing at Poipet could learn much from their colleagues in Siem Reap.

Barely out of the terminal was evidence that this was not quite the same Siem Reap I had ventured to 8 years earlier.  On the main road into town we saw hotel after hotel after hotel, bland concrete boxes, the domain of package tourists.  Few of these hotels seemed to have been built in the pleasing classic Khmer architecture style.

There was more traffic on the roads than I remembered, a combination of bicycles, motorbikes and the local tuktuks which are rather different to anything you see in Thailand.  A carriage is attached to a motorbike to ferry passengers around on and then removed when the rider simple wishes to ride his bike without a carriage tethered.  What may at first seem novel is in fact a rather clever design.

Quickly checking into our accommodation, we wasted no time and headed out to the main attraction, the temples.

I won't even try to describe Angkor Wat for it defies all superlatives.  It is quite simply the largest and most amazing collection of temple ruins.  Trying to understand how it came to be some several hundred or more years ago just defies the imagination.  I am not usually big on temples.  It's a case of been there, done that so to impress me it's going to have to be something quite exceptional.  Angkor Wat impresses even the most jaded or fussy travellers, such is its immense size.  The spread of these massive temple ruins over such an expanse are the remnants of an area that once housed more than a million people, back when the biggest Europe had was but a fraction of the size.  You really have to see it to believe it.  No photographic essay can do it justice.  The grandeur can only be appreciated with your own eyes.

A couple of days in the temples will probably satisfy most.  A single day pass runs $US20, a three day pass $40 and a week-long pass will set you back $60.  If my memory serves me right, these prices haven't moved since my last visit.

Siem Reap is a dollar economy.  Everything is priced in dollars, from the temple pass to accommodation to tuktuk fares to restaurants and bars.  The local currency is the riel with the current exchange rate seeing the riel at 4,000 to the dollar.  You can use riel of course but dollars are the preferred currency.  The odd venue offered to accept Thai baht but the exchange rate was far from favourable.

The temples of Angkor are the reason for visiting Siem Reap.  While the city has a certain charm with a river running through it, architectural reminders of both its colonial history and the Khmer Kingdom's grander days as well as a friendly local populace, it is the temples that are the reason to visit.

Pulling up to the main temple sites you see tour buses parked side by side and dozens and dozens of tuktuks.  Would the sites be overrun with tourists?  Thankfully, the temple ruins are spread out over a large area and the main Angkor complex is huge, so even with many tourists now making their way to Angkor, there's no way it has the feel of say Bangkok's Grand Palace which is just overrun with tourists, too many people in too small an area marring the experience.

At the main Angkor temple, pictured below, myself and my companion were able to stand in the centre of the complex and not see another soul.  It was deathly silent apart from the occasional sound of a bird chirping.  Yes, you can still sit down, look in one direction and let the surroundings take you back hundreds of years as you imagine how mighty Angkor must have been in its day. 

The photo here is deceiving, the frame filled with Western tourists.  About two thirds of the tourism to Siem Reap is North Asian, meaning Chinese, Korean and Japanese.  The Koreans and Chinese can be rather loud and boisterous in their travels and their appreciation of the various sites and highlights really can hinder others' enjoyment.  There are no limits to what they will do and woe be tied you if you are standing in their way.  Fortunately, hailing from a country with a proud rugby history I can scrum with the best of them.

How long you spend touring around the temples is very much an individual thing.  For some one day will be more than enough while for others a week will be too short.  We spent two days which we felt that was just about right.

Western visitors might consider Thailand poor, at least in comparison with the West, but Cambodia really is a genuinely poor country.  It's plainly obvious that many are living way below the poverty line.  The average height and size of the Cambodians is both shorter and smaller than their Thai neighbours and the average Cambodian is often seen wearing threadbare garments that a Westerner would probably have long since discarded.

And then there are the children.  Wherever you go, you will be surrounded by kids.  At the temples, children surround you, hounding you to buy various trinkets.  In surprisingly good English they beg you to buy something and often follow you around, sometimes even tugging on your shirt tail.  What at first is charming becomes a nuisance.  It's economic necessity of course but it does retract a little from the enjoyment.  Thankfully they are kept out of all but the most remote temple sites so you only have to deal with them at the main entrance and around the car parks.

The temples are the main attraction but after sun down the temples close so you have to look elsewhere for entertainment.

In the main downtown area is Pub Street, which really should be called Restaurant Street for if you are looking for pubs in the true sense of the word, they're much less numerous than the many restaurants. Apparently in the old days it was more of a lane for drinking than dining but as the business owners began to realise that there was more money in food and alcohol than just alcohol alone so slowly they converted the drinking spots into dining halls.

There's no shortage of charming, chic eateries and don't believe what anyone tells you about Cambodian cuisine.  What is available on Pub Street - and it may be adapted to the Western taste for all I know - is very pleasant indeed.  We had expected to go for Western food and thought that French style food would be the way to go, but there really were not that many eateries with influence from the French colonial period.  If you want French food (and wine for that matter), Laos is a better option.

On Pub Street the meals we had were excellent and of a good standard.  $4 or so would get you an excellent sizeable Khmer style meal.  Beer could be had from as little as 50 cents a glass of draft if on a budget.  The local Angkor beer was a good drop.

A number of venues offered Thai food but the prices were much higher than what you would pay in Thailand, something I just could not work out.  A number of venues had fried rice for almost 200 baht - and it didn't even look that good.

Cambodia is not the gastronomic delight that say Laos is and arguably neither the local cuisine nor the adaptations of Western favourites are on a par with what is available elsewhere in the region.  A few days is all you need to sample the local dishes.

What makes Cambodia come alive and what really sets it apart from its neighbours are its people.  Forgot Thailand's land of smiles slogan and forget Laos' reputation for friendly people, Cambodia trumps them all with some of the nicest, friendliest and in many ways seemingly content people you could ever hope to meet.

And it's Cambodia's youngsters who really touch your heart.  There's something about their eyes that I just can't articulate.  It's like their big brown eyes hold all sorts of mystery but there's also a joy, like an intense joy of life.  When a Cambodian kid smiles your spirits are raised in a way it is hard to comprehend.  Here are these dirt poor folks - many families living each month on less than what many Stickman readers spend in a day - yet they have a joy for life that defies Western logic.

The Cambodian family unit seems to be strong with the whole family doing everything together.  No matter how many times I saw it, I never ceased to be amazed at the way youngsters were proudly and contentedly carrying around their younger brother or sister.

It does rip at your heart, seeing these delightful people living in some dreadfully basic primitive conditions.  Just passing through the airport, you already start to see people in straggly clothes, people for whom money is clearly something they see precious little of.  Many of the kids are not just skinny, but scrawny.  Humbling doesn't even start to describe it.

But don't go thinking that the temples are the only thing to see and do during the day.  There are museums, the city itself to explore and best of all is the surrounding countryside.  As impressive as they may be, the ruins at Angkor was not the highlight of the trip...

Some distance to the south of Siem Reap is the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in South East Asia.  Keen to check out the countryside, we took a day trip to Kampong Klaeng, the largest village community on the lake and an area few foreigners venture to.  The whole time we were there we only saw one other long-nose.

The trip started early.  We were told it was best to be on the road by 7 AM - and with a full stomach.  In all likelihood we would find what little food on offer to our liking.  The village we were headed to was the real deal, not a sanitised destination for the tourist market like the closer riverside communities.  Meals for Westerners and souvenirs were not part of the program.

The journey through the countryside passed little but flat, barren plains.  There wasn't farm after farm and much of the land appeared to be unused.  Landmines perhaps?  Unlike Thailand there was little in the way of infrastructure.  The motorbike drawn tuktuk moved at a decent pace but we were passed by what appeared to be intercity buses moving at a fair clip.  Driving standards in Thailand might not be high but they far surpass what we saw in Cambodia where drivers do all sorts of crazy things.

Perhaps an hour and a half later we reached the riverside community.  Forget anything you have seen in Thailand, this was the real deal poor South East Asia.  Water was pumped from the ground and there was no sign of electricity anywhere.  Houses rose on stilts several metres above the ground and lined either side of the river that snaked its way towards the lake a few kilometres away.  Alongside the houses ran a dirt track, the local road that would be metres under water throughout the rainy season.

Just as we had been told there were few food vendors and what we saw really didn't appeal.  If it had been rural Isaan people would have been in front of their houses or sleeping, but those we saw were engaging in work of some kind.  The predominant industry is fishing and outside many houses fish were being sorted by size or cut up or being smoked.  The entire family would be working together, from the youngest kids to the great grandparents, all going about the same menial task.

What we could see of the houses was spartan with little resemblance to a Western home, or even a Thai shack for that matter.  But there were mobile phones.  People still had their mobiles.  Even here, in the heart of dirt poor South East Asia the locals clung to and played with their mobile phones.  I couldn't help but manage a grin when I saw that most people had a phone better than mine!

On to a boat, along the slow, shallow, winding river we headed, passing fisherman of all ages, from youngsters barely in their teens to those who must have lived through generations of atrocities and hardship, all were busy working away in the beating hot sun, the temperature now into the high 30s.  Perhaps 25 minutes later we made it out on to the lake proper and headed for a cluster of perhaps 100 small boats which doubled as the family house, many looking more like a floating house than a boat.  Predominantly Vietnamese - 4 million of the country's 14 million are of Vietnamese ethnicity - it seemed that everyone had a ready smile for the two long-noses who had ventured into their backyard.  There was none of the "farang, farang" that you get in Thailand, just lots of hellos, grins and waving.

We stopped alongside a fishing vessel and observed the work being done aboard.  My heart was almost ripped from my chest at the sight of two young girls, who I was to learn were aged just 8 and 5, whose job it was to chop off the heads of the catch of the day.  The tiny hands on the ends of their dark skinny arms smashed down on fish with such speed that it was difficult to follow.  They do this from dawn to dusk every day for the princely sum of 2,000 riel a day, the equivalent of about 18 baht.  5 years old and working all the hours that God sends and with the skill and speed at which she managed, I have no doubt she had been doing it for some time.

The journey continued across the lake and our requests to buy some water led us to the houseboat of a Vietnamese family.  Their boat was something of a general store with various items offered for sale from diesel to various boat parts to a few more general items.  We were invited on board and greeted by a most hospitable extended family.  Perhaps a little more affluent, the family boat had a TV on board which could be run by either battery or a diesel-powered generator, a DVD player and a few basic appliances.  Their Vietnamese ethnicity was not lost on us with calendars and pictures of their homeland adorning the walls.

A wonderful day out had to come to an end and we slowly made our way back towards terra firma where we took a walk through the village, exchanged greetings with the locals, many of whom had their words around the wrong way and rather charmingly said goodbye as soon as they saw us!  But it didn't matter.  When you see the warm joyous looks on their faces and know that they are delighted that you have come to see their little corner of the world, you feel the common bond of humanity.  But for a bit of luck it could have been us born into such poverty.  And even then, when you see the smiles on their faces and the obvious joy they have simply at being alive, you wonder if it really would be that bad.  Free of materialism and the trappings of modern day life, that riverside village and Kompong Klaeng really makes you think about the cards we are dealt.

Cambodia's reputation for the naughtier side of life is well-known and many folks who used to call Thailand home are now residents of Phnom Penh and increasingly Sihanoukville their choice of destination - where apparently there is a thriving naughty nightlife industry.

Siem Reap is not famous for nightlife because frankly there isn't a lot of it - at least not targeted at foreigners.  The small, sparsely decorated Zanzybar is one spot renowned for ladies of the night.  It doesn't get going until late and neither late nights nor hookers are really my thing so I can't report anything.  The word about town is that the girls who frequent Zanzybar are nasty and it is said that if your belongings are not nailed down or locked away then you're really throwing the dice.

Temple Bar on Pub Street just a little down from the hugely popular Red Piano had some girls lingering with the give away wandering eyes.  Again, you'd be a brave man to suggest that the two of you get better acquainted.  For those who like something a little spicy, the Cambodian equivalent of katoeys, the local ladyboys, can be seen wandering around the night market area.

But we just had to check out what was available, if for the purpose of reporting than nothing else, and so we sought out a tuktuk driver.  Off we went into the night, the tuktuk driver excited at the prospect of earning a double commission from two horned up foreigners looking for the best of the evening's offerings.  No more than 3 km from the heart of downtown we stopped and were pointed down a dark alley where, perhaps 30 metres ahead, we could see the glow of red lights.  Slowly and a little nervously making our way down the alley we were greeted by a Vietnamese man of absolutely no more than 5 feet in height.  Sitting around were a handful of Vietnamese girls.  We'd been taken to a local Vietnamese brothel.  Two of the girls were pretty, the others looked quite hard.  No English was spoken by anyone and needless to say, my efforts at Thai brought confused frowns to their faces.  No sooner had we arrived that we were back in the tuktuk heading into town.  The detour to the Vietnamese brothel had not been a pleasant side show.  The tuktuk driver, being the only one who could speak both English and Cambodian, had tried to sell the idea of taking a girl for the night for $40.  I would later find out from locals that the actual price is $20.  I put it to him that he could have had a round for $5 to which he responded with pride that the price for locals was even less.

There's been a crackdown on the naughty side of life in Cambodia and like Thailand, prostitution is illegal, but just like Thailand, there also happen to be certain rules and regulations governing the industry!  Locals informed us that 5 years there were more options - and it was more open - whereas these days it is out of sight for the most part.  Added to that is the fact that every hotel and guesthouse has been provided a registration book by the police in which they must record the details of any overnight guests.  Failure to do so can result in a venue being shut down.  Given the Vietnamese hookers' reputation for pilfering - and Cambodia has no shortage of Vietnamese working girls - protecting the customer is a good thing.  Siem Reap is not the place for naughty boys.  You're probably better off in the known quantity, Thailand.

Free wireless internet connections were available in many places but it has to be said that net access was very slow, the connections unstable, in fact the world "slow" doesn't even start to describe it.  At certain times, particularly from early evening until midnight it was almost unusable.  What was surprising was that given that a basic ADSL connection runs $US 220 a month - a fortune in Cambodia - many venues still offered it.

Siem Reap is a charming town with a passing resemblance to Chiang Mai and like Chiang Mai it is the cultural capital.  It's a place to slow down to the pace of the locals, kick back and relax.

Siem Reap is a great tourism destination and an ideal place for a get away from Bangkok.  Angkor Wat is magnificent, Pub Street charming and the Khmers love of life and their relaxed and laid-back nature make interacting with them a joy.  More than anything, Siem Reap, and for that matter Cambodia, feels like the land of real smiles.
 

Where was this picture taken?


 

Last week's picture was taken of the large backlit sign at Sukhumvit Soi 12, also known as Little Korea.  The first person to email with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British fish and chips restaurant.  The second person to get the picture right wins a fantastic roast buffet at Molly Malone's on Bangkok's Soi Convent.  The buffet runs every Sunday from midday until 7 PM and the winner gets one buffet free!  I like the buffet and partake of it myself often!  ThailandFriends.com is an online dating community that boasts over 50,000 members, hosts live events in and around Thailand and allows basic members to send 5 messages a day for free.  TF, as it is also known, offers a one month premium membership to the third person to get the picture right which adds more to the ThailandFriends' experience with unlimited messaging, detailed member searches, 24 profile pictures, and a whole lot more.  Bodyguard Condoms also provide large condoms as prizes.  So, for the forth, fifth and sixth people to get the picture right, I will send you a few packs of Bodyguard's high quality, extra large-sized condoms to try out.  In total, we now have SIX PRIZES EACH WEEK!

Terms and conditions:  The Oh My Cod and Molly Malone's prizes MUST be claimed within 14 days.  Winners of the Bodyguard Condoms must provide a postal address within Thailand.  The TF prize winner can be anywhere in the world.  Prizes are not transferable.  Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per month.

FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.)  Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.

EMAIL OF THE WEEK - Policemen and ladyboys.

I was a victim of a ladyboy pickpocket last Thursday night about 9:30 PM between the Westin and Robinson's on Sukhumvit.  I was walking along and suddenly she pops in front of me, quickly pulls out her left tit from the red dress she was wearing, grabs my hand and places it on her breast and demands I go with her!  Quickly in my attempt to push her away she had her other hand in my back pocket extracting my wallet.  As I immediately realised what had happened I turned around to grab her and in her defence she dropped it and was very apologetic.  Momentarily in my fury I was going to take this further, however I realised 3 Thai guys were casually standing around close by and decided that she was not alone and kept on walking with my wallet in tact.  As I approached Robinson's I saw a policeman standing outside and informed him what had happened 50 metres up the road only a minute earlier.  To my astonishment his reply was "Ladyboy just do her job.  You must to be more careful.  Go police station speak them!"  I asked him what he was going to do about it.  "Mai pen rai, mai pen rai" he replied and walked away!  I have been coming to Bangkok every 3 or 4 months for the last 10 years but I have never felt so uneasy walking around Sukhumvit as I felt during my last trip.  Things are certainly changing for the worse.

Asoke BTS and in front of Robinson's are the hot spots.

Last night I was walking from Soi Cowboy towards Robinson's when I spotted 2 ladyboys and about 4 Thai boys hiding in the shadows next to the BTS stairs.  The ladyboy made a hand signal to the young Thais and positioned herself to intercept me.  It was a trap.  Fortunately I was sober enough to see what was going on and quickly moved my wallet to my front pocket.  The ladyboy saw me do this and gave a smile to the Thai boys.  At this point I reversed course, jumped back 3 feet, and stepped out into oncoming traffic.  The cement barrier between us protected me from what was sure to be something bad about to happen to me.  I took my chances with the oncoming traffic and am still alive today to tell the story.

Thai bargirls preferred to everyday Western women.

While we are feeling sorry for the poor deserted western wives, let us look at today's western woman.  As a divorcee in my 40s I went through 10 years of occasional bliss, thinking I had at last found Miss Right, but more anguish when the realisation set in that I was being dumped and it was a sham all along.  Oh, that first meeting, the dinner dates, the kisses in the car, the wonderful lovemaking.  Then the questions, so many questions, that I never even noticed being asked.  These western ladies are such skilled interrogators they could work at Guantanamo Bay.  The poor inmates would think they were already in heaven with their 72 virgins, and not even know they were being grilled!  Forget sleep deprivation and Eminem, although they are capable of using those as well, or more likely 'The Carpenters'.  Within a month or less they had found out that my company, although profitable, was as vulnerable to recession as anything else, the flash car was on HP, and the lovely home had a 90% mortgage.  Wham bam, goodbye man!  And you think the Thai bargirls can suck you in and spit you out?  Before I am accused of falsely representing myself to these little western angels, I have never pretended to be anything I am not, unless you regard dressing well and having good manners as deception.  Then I discovered the delights of the Thai bar scene.  After my English apprenticeship, the Thai girls were so transparent, but you know what?  I didn't care.  My 50s have been mostly 10 years of out and out fun.  My message is "forget that rosy, cozy image of self sacrificing good women who love you for richer or poorer.  Leave that to Disney and go have fun, not here though as I have enough competition already."


Thai ladies in Bangkok, Pattaya, and all over Thailand

The bad apples are in Pattaya.

I just read your comments about the guys at Lumpini helping with tourist translations for insurance reports and your comments and link to the drunk foreign police volunteer in Pattaya.  I'm not happy that you (and many other expats) tar ALL police volunteers with the same brush!  You know yourself that almost every bad story about volunteer police stems from Pattaya.  The guys at Lumpini are helping tourists who otherwise would be at the mercy of the Thai police.  Regardless of how corrupt / incompetent the Thai police are, why not look at the other side of the coin and understand that the Bangkok volunteers and Phuket guys (and Udon Thani / Chiang Mai volunteers etc) are helping tourists primarily through the goodness of their hearts.  Yes, there will always be bad apples, but it seems very clear from reports etc. that almost all those bad apples are in Pattaya.

Some Western teachers in Bangkok are intolerable.

I've know so many teachers and only a couple of them are tolerable.  They all think the world would collapse without them when in reality they've gone into the job 'cos it's an easy wheeze and they get to boss children about.  Having 30 or 40 children seeing them as a master makes their egos go through the roof and fills them with an overinflated sense of importance.  There've been so many times I've heard them say "where would the world be without teachers."  If it wasn't for plumbers we'd all have died of cholera a long time ago.  If it wasn't for bricklayers we'd still be living in the forests.  If it wasn't for heating engineers in Britain half of us wouldn't have made it through the last few winters.  Most of them earn more than teachers yet they sit in the corner of the pub minding their own business while the teachers think the world should kiss their arse.

Let down by fellow farangs again.

I know what you mean about the pleasures and pains of teaching.  I've walked away twice and am about to do it for the last time in a few months.  The kids are great but the teachers can be a source of irritation.  Even in our supposedly high standard international schools, there are plenty of deadbeats passing time and collecting a check although I've never heard of anything so blatantly lazy and unprofessional as what you wrote last week.

Should teaching be termed a "profession"?

Your column this week was almost a mirror image of my experiences teaching in Thailand.  I just recently submitted my resignation too.  I taught at a large private high school and was paid a salary that only teachers at international schools surpass.  And I too did not appreciate working with large numbers of incompetent and undedicated teachers, although I did make a few good friends nevertheless.  At my school, many teachers, when not in class, left campus to smoke or drink or read the paper.  No interest in preparation or improvement on their minds.  And many Thai managers are insulting and at times cruel to teachers regardless of their age, education, tenure or competency.  My observation is that the schools do not care about finding and keeping good farang teachers.  They also do not care about education.  What they do care about is money; it is a business.  Looking good in the eyes of the parents is the barometer of success for them.  This means white faces in the English Program and that is it.  Maybe these things are not true at other schools, I do not know.  We all learn not to try to change Thailand.  That is a losing battle.  And the many pluses teaching here if you are at a decent school make the job livable.  But I would not recommend it to anyone unless they are highly dedicated or just flat out have no other choice to earn a living here.

The Strip in Patpong's soi 2 will host a wet T-shirt contest at Songkran.  It will run from April 11 - 15 and a bucket of water will cost you 100 baht.  If you take a booth, the water is free.  The girls will be outfitted in a white T-shirt with no bra.  You can get there by taxi, entering Patpong 2 from the Suriwong Road end and get the cabby to drop you right at the front door, meaning you remain dry.  To make it even more enticing, there'll be a free buffet until 10 PM.

A new sports bar, Strikers, has opened in what was previously a jewellery shop directly opposite the Golden Bar in soi 4.  On Thursday evening the site could only be described as a building site, with a dozen Thai workers beavering away through the night but last night the venue was open and in full swing.  San Miguel Light and presumably other bottled beers are priced as a reasonable 95 baht.  It's a small bar with a pool table and about six screens showing sport.  It also has a number of presumably barfineable waitresses and hostesses.  It should do well in such a prime location.

The new owner of Spanky's in Nana Plaza has really been changing the bar.   There was a lot of bad karma from the previous owner which he had the monks sweep out.  Business is better, the girls are happier and the environment has changed.  Spanky's is now proudly American owned, and the new owner is offering drink specials *any time* for anyone who goes to Spanky's and has a good story about The Arab!  I kid you not.  Additionally he has lowered lady drink prices and the ladies get more money from the drinks.  He has completely done away with The Arab's concepts, policies and approach to bar management.  The Arab used to price barfines at 800 baht for happy hour - happy for him, not the customers - but now they are 600 all night long.  And all the Arab's signs with all the silly dos and don'ts were taken away and burned.  It is said that the staff did some ancient Isaan dance around them and howled at the moon unleashing a vicious curse on The Arab!  As a reminder, they have a 50 baht happy hour and it should be noted that give all the money to the girls when a customer purchases ping pong balls.  Did you know that in many bars the bar actually keeps half the proceeds from ping pong ball throwing?!  That said, there's something about the whole ping pong ball that I find tacky.  Gogo bars just aren't the place for ping pong balls.  It should be noted that they have a policy that if a customer buys a girl a drink she stays with him until the drink is finished.  None of this take one sip and jump on stage nonsense.

Speaking of nonsense, who has been sending the police almost every night to shake Spanky's down?  One can but guess...

And just to prove that this guy just loves to be highlighted in bar news each week, The Arab and his cronies strike again, literally!  Soi Cowboy is a place of fun and it should be the furthest place from Taliban mentality.  Early evening Saturday a person who just happens to be a doctor in the mental health field decided to check out Kiss Bar.  After ordering his first beer of the evening, a few mouthfuls later he decided to take a quick look at the time.  Most bars don't have a clock so he took his phone out to check the time, an innocent action that virtually everyone has done at one time or another.  However, the owner of the bar just happened to be walking past and shouted at him to put his phone away, pay his bill and leave!  The doctor being a doctor overlooked this abrupt rudeness and politely said he had just arrived and had no intention of ordering a beer and not being able to finish it.  Within seconds the owner had his thugs descend on the doctor and beat him up!  After being kicked, slapped and punched for the heinous crime of checking out the time on his phone, the doctor concluded in his professional opining that this bar and others owned by the same owner should be avoided at all costs.  "There is a genuine psychotic desire to inflict physical harm on people without any reason to do so" meaning that even if you do nothing wrong, there is a chance you could be a target of violence sanctioned by the owner.  So rather than even taking a chance that you will be a target of random and spontaneous violence that mimics Taliban mentality, select a bar where such absurd extremism does not happen.  There are certainly plenty to select from where the staff and girls will make you smile and not beat you up on a whim.  After all, it is Soi Cowboy and not rural Afghanistan.  This guy can be set off by anything.  You had bacon for breakfast?  That may be enough...

Club Mistys in soi 15 off Walking Street in Pattaya has introduced a new happy hour from 8 - 10 PM with draught Chang beer, bottled Chang and Leo all at 45 baht.  ALL bottled beer (with the exception of the above and Corona) is 90 baht.  All house spirits are 50 baht.  Also don't forget the infamous Mistys show time from 10:30 PM - 1:00 AM.  Finally, there's a second happy hour from 2 - 3 AM where in addition to fair drinks prices, ALL barfines will be reduced to 300 baht.  It's good to see bar owners giving punters a reason to visit their bar.

Sisterz in Pattaya has a selection of cheap shots including Kamikaze and Pussy Juice at only 50 baht and if that does not tickle your fancy there is a whole list more at 750 baht for 10 shots.  Try the whole list, mix 'em up or enjoy 10 shots of your favourite.  Sisterz is also introducing a selection of imported beers which they hope will appeal to the more discerning drinker - that sounds like the Stickman readership!

For those cheap Charlies who prefer to drink in pleasant, almost swanky surroundings, you don't have to throw yourself at the mercy of the less comfortable venues around town.  It is indeed possible to enjoy pleasant surroundings and happy hour prices at Hanrahans which has 50 baht beers from 4 - 7 PM.

But then I have to admit I am a bit of a hypocrite.  I used to always say that the Nana area needed a good British or Irish pub and in Hanrahan's it exists at long last.  But how many times have I been there?  Ooops, can count them on one hand!

In response to a piece in last week's column about girls in some Cowboy bars disappearing upstairs after their dance shift, it has been suggested, by at least one girl, that they go upstairs to drink whisky to overcome their shyness.  I heard a similar story from a friend's bar in Pattaya where one particular girl has to chug down a few shots at the start of the shift EVERY night to deal with what goes on in the bar.

There are many reasons why Tilac really is the best gogo bar in Thailand at the moment and one of them is that the mamasans get on top of the girls and tell them *not* to pester the customers for drinks.

I could delude myself into thinking it was the power of Stickman or I could give credit where credit is due to the management of Sheba's.  Following on from the note in last week's column about Sheba's girls being found upstairs nattering amongst themselves when not dancing, the management made announcements this week that such was not allowed and the girls had to stay downstairs.

Girl of the week is Tilac's #211.  I don't know her name but she is cute, cute, cute!  The dirty doctor uttered something about a test drive, whatever that means...

Down Soi 7/1 way reveals that Absolute 7 has been reincarnated as Bangkok Beat.  It looks busy.

The thieving ladyboy problem is escalating on Sukhumvit as can be seen in the emails to Stick section of this week's column.  In fact it is probably worse now than at any time I can remember.  In some parts they now control both sides of Sukhumvit!  Yet another reader tells the story of a stroll he took one night recently, not that late, about 10 PM or so.  He saw two foreigners surrounded by ladyboys next to Chuwit Park.  One foreigner was on the ground picking up money that was all over the ground and the other was pushing the ladyboys back at a distance.  One ladyboy had her top down giving a public silicone showing.  Was it ever this bad in the past?  Desperate times, desperate measures.  It would be nice to think that the police might do something about it.

There are no laws against discriminating when hiring staff in Thailand.  You can specify sex, age, nationality, look or just about anything you like.  And so it happens that applicants for openings at Lolita's are now only accepted from girls from one Thai province, SeeSucket.

If you had wondered why there is a small but noticeable increase in the number of girls online on TLL at around 3 AM, think what sort of businesses just closed an hour earlier...

I was all ready to run an opening piece last week titled "How The Other Half Parties".  It was to be a report of the Pent Club, a high end venue a friend invited me to.  I had visions of it being similar to Pegasus Club, where the same fellow has kindly taken me a couple of times.  The Pent Club is split into three sections, a main lounge, sort of like a larger version of soi 33's Monet, a large coyote bar like a cross between Pattaya venues Beach Club and Secrets (but with prettier girls who really can dance) and a third section, a large indoor pool.  I can only imagine what sort of carry on takes place in the pool although for the time being very little as it is being redone, apparently due to a leak.  20,000 baht gets you a 2 year membership which entitles you to 100 bottles of beer or a number of bottles of top shelf alcohol.  The main bar area which I will term the hostess section sees hostesses similar to what you find in soi 33, although a little more attractive and refined, who can sit with you for a few hundred baht for an hour or so (the exact details I am not sure).  In the coyote section you can buy the girls a drink and they will linger with you.  Apparently the women are not necessarily available for take out as such although arrangements can be made to meet them outside.  The coyote dancers sure can dance but I was disappointed to see a few had tattoos - and big fugly ones at that.  Pent Club is an alternative to Nana, Cowboy and perhaps more so, the hostess bars of soi 33, but frankly I didn't think it was anywhere near as impressive as Pegasus Club, the girls were not as attractive and hence it only gets a paragraph and not a full-length report in the opening piece.  Pent Club can be found on Wireless Road, between Ploenchit and Petchaburi, just a couple of minutes walk up from the British Embassy and is perhaps best described as a multi-format Thai-dominated bar / nightlife venue.

Stickman reader's story of the week I Love My Wife To Bits But... by the prolific Mr. Anonymous contains some good advice.

Quote of the week comes from Sawadee2000 - "The bad thing about marrying a really good Thai girl is that you never get to kick the tyres before the deal is done."

Did you know that there are actually two weekly columns at this site?  My column and BKKSW's excellent photography column with a Thai slant.  If you have any interest in photography whatsoever, check it out.

From Askmen.com comes an article on why single men can't go to Bangkok.

Spiderman comes to the rescue in Bangkok.

Have you ever looked through the window in Tilac Bar?

A Brit is hacked to death near Satun province in Southern Thailand.

The shoe is on the other foot as an Aussie throws his Thai wife out the window - and she survives to tell the tale!

Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick is happy to answer any questions regarding inter-racial relationships as well as cultural peculiarities that may be confusing or baffling you.

Question 1:  What kind of small gift should I buy to my wife?  I'm returning from my home country after a month away.

Mrs. Stick says:  I think you can buy her something that is a symbol of your country or something we cannot buy in Thailand.  It's good if it is a brand name that she knows or is famous from your country.  It does not have to be expensive.  Also, if you can buy her some sweets she can take them to work and share them with her friends who will be impressed.

Question 2:  Would you know how to seek child support if your American (Brad from Michigan) farang boyfriend of many years leaves you pregnant and no support?  There is no question about who the father is.  Do you file a claim in your Thai city or USA embassy or is there a law or lawyer that could help answer this question?  I am submitting question for a Thai girl left to fend for herself.

Mr. Stick says:  My feeling is that this is in fact a very complicated situation that could potentially become a legal nightmare as we are looking at two different legal jurisdictions.  I am speculating here, but I imagine that first and foremost, it would need to be proven that the fellow in Michigan is indeed the father and to do that, presumably a DNA sample would be required.  If he has returned to the States and the lady in question is in Thailand then it starts to get difficult.  I am guessing that the very first step would be to get a court order for a DNA sample and then we're into legal issues already.  Frankly, with situations like this I think a *very good* lawyer is necessary - and that means serious money.  Mrs. Stick and I are way out of our depth on this one.  There are many issues to be considered, most of which we have almost zero knowledge of.  Good luck!



One of the things that perplexes me about Bangkok - and I think this is more a Bangkok thing than a nationwide thing - is the amount of money some people earn in the Thai capital.  Talking with friends and reading posts on the various forums, it seems to me that Bangkok-based employed Westerners earn an absolute truckload of money.  I would say that 50% of the people I know employed locally earn over a quarter of a million baht a month.  OK, that may not be massive money in the West but it is still way, way above average in ANY country.  It is the equivalent of a salary of in excess of $US 100,000 per year and obviously the spending power in Thailand makes it even more again.  I used to think that 100,000 baht a month would be a lot of money and Thais earning 20,000 baht a month were doing very well but that was all rather delusional!  Bangkok might not be Singapore or Hong Kong, but there are opportunities to make a lot of money here.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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Stick can be contacted at: stickmanbangkok@gmail.com.